DomiNations Impressions: Conquering History

DomiNations is a free-to-play world history themed real-time strategy game for mobile devices, designed by Brian Reynolds and Tim Train, of Civilization 2 fame. Together, they're bring back Big Huge Games, and its debut game is bringing historical strategy to millions of mobile gamers worldwide. We go hands-on with the soon to release iOS release of the game.


DomiNations, a free-to-play real-time strategy (RTS) game for mobile devices, lets players take a small tribe from the Stone Age to a full-blown civilization in the Space Age. If that theme sounds familiar, it might be because Brian Reynolds and Tim Train are involved; both of whom worked on Civilization II and the RTS game Rise of Nations. So, having rival nations battle each other for control of history should be pretty familiar territory for them. DomiNations is not only a new history themed game for the two, but it represents a comeback for the development studio Big Huge Games, which the two originally founded and re-founded when it became collateral damage after 38 Studios' collapse. DomiNations could bring the challenge and thrill of historical strategy to millions of mobile gamers worldwide.

While speaking with Tim Train, we went hands-on with an early build of DomiNations for iOS. In it, you start with a small tribe and a handful of buildings. It's up to you to gather resources, clear away the surrounding forest, construct buildings, purchase upgrades, and raise an army. There are two main resources, Gold and Food, which are used to purchase buildings, upgrades, and perform some actions. Gold is generally acquired through structures or mining, while Food can be gathered from trees, farmed, or you can hunt the various animals that roam the forests. You can also acquire significant resources by attacking and pillaging neighbors. Ultimately, DomiNations is a game about war.

The only thing pacing your expansion is the number of workers you have at your disposal and time. Every task, from hunting rabbits to building Wonders, requires a fixed number of resources, workers, and time. Players have the option to spend Crowns (real world currency) to speed up construction and replenish resource stocks faster, but you can get plenty of Crowns for free (at least you can early on). However, the game does reach a bit of a standstill when you have your workers assigned to long tasks, leaving little else to do except watch them hammer away. There's no way to pause construction, only cancel or pay to accelerate it. 

Animations and graphics are pretty cute, and DomiNations takes on a certain SimCity feel, as you move structures around and plan out your road network. Eventually, you'll work your way to the next Age, which provides you access to a host of new structures and technological improvements. Evolving also make you vulnerable to attack by other players, just as you can attack them. So, you'll have to spend quite a bit of time thinking about defense. Fortunately, the game balances out by only allowing cities within certain eras to attack each other, so you never have to worry about modern soldiers killing your medieval knights in a hail of gunfire. This also means that you could technically stay in the Stone Age forever and be safe from attack, but you won't be able to grow. There are a number of ways the game encourages you to move on to the next age, which are mostly found in expansion and technological limitations and how animals don't respawn until the next Age.

As stated earlier, with all things considered, DomiNations is a game about war. You can choose to ally with friends to share resources and gain bonuses, but hunting and gathering can't match up against sending soldiers to raid your neighbors. Barracks and garrisons hold a fixed number of soldiers, and can be upgraded to hold more. When invading an enemy town, you tap to drop soldiers onto the field and they'll attack the first thing they see. You start with only one special ability, but you'll get more as you progress through the game and choose a nationality.

There are currently seven nationalities to choose from: China, Japan, Rome, Greece, England, France and Germany. Each feature a different aesthetic, unique unites, and different bonuses. For example, the British--with its long history of imperialism--gains extra loot when raiding enemy towns in addition to having unique ranged units. Greeks, thanks to the leadership of Alexander the Great, have a cavalry unit and can build Wonders at a reduced cost. As players move up the ages, they'll be able to build more sophisticated armies that include siege units. So they'll be able to roll catapults into battle and lay waste to walls and structures. Although the feature won't be ready for the iOS release, I was told players would eventually have the option of inciting a revolution to switch nationalities, so they'll be able to experience how other nations play.

It takes a lot of time and resources to work your way through the Ages of history, so it's a good thing DomiNations is free-to-play. The game is available now for Android and launches for iOS on April 2nd. Players on one device can link their account so that their games can carry over to another, even across platforms.

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