Ikariam is a browser based strategy game set in the archipelago of Classical Greece. The core gameplay is similar that of other strategy games that came before it but Ikariam manages to do enough differently to stand out in the crowded genre. Players start with a single town (or ‘polis’ as they are called) on an island that accommodates up to 16 players. There are hundreds of islands scattered across the world. Each island has two collective resource spots, one that produces wood and the other that produces one of the other four resources. This means all islands lack at least three resources that players need to expand, forcing players to either trade, raid, or colonize other territories across the seas.
Ikariam Featured Video
Ikariam Full Review
By, Erhan Altay
Ikariam is a strategy game released back in February of 2008 by the German company Gameforge, which publishes other internationally popular browser games including BiteFight, Gladiatus, and Ogame. Ikariam has an unmistakable resemblance to previous strategy titles, but manages to do enough differently to stake its own claim. The game is set in the Greek isles during the Classical age and places a strong emphasis on the ocean. Players must conduct trade and warfare at sea using both cargo vessels powerful war ships. To add more flavor, even steampunk inspired units such as gyrocopters, hot air balloon bombers, and mechanized steam giants make an appearance.
Kalos Orisate! (Welcome!)
Ikariam is already available in dozens of languages and easily accessible from one web address, ikariam.org. Registration is a simple process that only involves choosing a server, providing an email address and providing a username/password. Email verification isn’t required right away but many features are disabled until players do so. There are currently 14 servers available, all named after Greek letters which is a nice touch. There is no tutorial or quest system available in Ikarian to help beginners learn the basics. Even older games like Travian and Tribal Wars offer some guidance to new players so the absence of some sort of guide came as a surprise. In any case, there is plenty of information available on the forums and wiki for those who need it. The game isn’t very difficult to figure out anyhow. Players start the game with a single (empty) city, some gold and some wood. There are several construction spots scattered across the city but only two buildings are available for construction, an academy and a barracks. I’d recommend the construction of an academy right away as it automatically researches new technologies once it is constructed and has villagers assigned to it.
Eventually, after stumbling around with the interface a bit, players will make their way to the island map which displays an overview of the particular island they started on. Each island looks a bit different but has many things in common. All islands support up to 16 players, have a collective Saw Mill (that generates wood), a statue dedicated to one of the Greek Gods, and either a Crystal Mine (generates crystal glass), Quarry (generates marble), Sulfur Pit (generates sulfur), or Vineyard (generates wine.) Wood is the primary resource required in the construction of most buildings and so is naturally available on all islands but players are forced to trade with those on distant isles to acquire stocks of the other resources. Players must assign workers to the communal Saw Mill in order to start generating wood but for every worker put to work at the mill, fewer are available to generate gold and other resources so players must find a balance. To make more interesting, players can actually donate resources to the Saw Mill (and other resource generating buildings) to upgrade them. Upgrades take a vast amount of resources so every player on the island is expected to chip in. How many workers you have assigned to the saw mill and how much you’ve donated is displayed to all other island inhabitants so be sure to chip in or you may find yourself receiving a stern warning or even a military response from one of your neighbors.
Cooperate and Trade
Fellow players on your starting island make natural allies but there is nothing stopping them or anyone else from occupying your city. Unlike other strategy games, Ikariam provides no newbie protection. I found myself occupied on my second day with no way to resist. My barracks had just been built and I was told that my units would cost twice as much to train since I was under occupation. My only recourse was to beg my neighbors for help. The fact that my neighbors had some interest in my well being (they needed me to contribute to collective upgrades) bound us together. With my city free again, I went on to build a trading port and several cargo ships which are used to trade with other players and generate resources. During these early stages, only a few buildings are available to players, the rest must first be researched at the academy. The Academy plays a vital role in your city’s progress, new research is done there automatically in one of four fields, Seafaring, Economy, Science, or Military. Players can switch between categories at anytime and assign more workers to the academy as they level it up.
The Daily Grind
By now browser MMO gamers have come to expect slow paced gameplay, especially in civilization-building games like this but Ikariam offers no ‘instant build’ option which is a common feature in newer games like Freesky Online and Evony. Even premium users who are willing to pay real cash for Ambrosia (the premium currency) can only purchase +20% resource generation boosts and better management tools with ‘Ikariam Plus’ for 7 days at a time. Ambrosia is available for purchase for 8-15 cents per, depending on the quantity you buy at a time. I did some quick number crunching and determined it would cost about $150 a year to maintain all premium features permanently, not including the trading post where players can exchange resources at a 1:1 ration on a per-use basis. As far as balance goes, Ikariam ahead of its peers though a streamlined beginner experience wouldn’t hurt. One major benefit paying players do receive is a building queue which makes it easier to plan out the day without having to check back as often. Luckily, Ikariam places a timer on your browser tab which makes it easier to play while surfing the web or doing work.
Civilization, Browser Style
The cute, cartoon visuals in the game are presented in an isometric view that give the game an interesting design. I couldn’t help but think of the classic Civilization series when I saw the faces above the ‘towns’, ‘military’, ‘research’, and ‘diplomacy’ tabs. And like Civilization, Ikaria is a game for patient gamers who aren’t afraid of losing months of work from a single attack. While browsing through YouTube I even came across the intro movie to Civilization 4 incorrectly labeled as the ‘Ikariam Official Trailer’ and I almost believed it since it fit so well. It may be a long time before new players in Ikariam are ready to colonize new islands or participate in large scale alliance wars but the tools are there for those who enjoy long term strategic games.
Final Verdict: Good
Ikariam is a unique strategy game with cartoon graphics and an emphasis on trade and cooperation. Communal resource spots and sea based warfare are great concepts that Ikariam pulls off well. While the game has a slow start, it is more balanced than many other strategy games currently available.