Hi, my name is Cosmic and I have been a Grepolis addict.

grepolis

What is Grepolis? It’s an online wargame that is (very, very) loosely based on ancient Greek warfare. The name appears to be a portmanteau of the English word “Greek” and the Greek word “polis” meaning “city-state.”

First of all, it is only fair to point out that the ads you may have seen on TV imply that the game looks something like this:

grepolis ad

It doesn’t. The most action you will see on the screen in the game looks like this:

actual grepolis battle

There is no interactive, simulationist graphics element to the game at all, unless you consider a static image of your city being built, all exactly the same, to be so. I don’t.

But that doesn’t mean the game isn’t addictive.

The basic premise of the game is that you are some sort of king in the Grepolis world, and as such you reign over a city or cities. Following the rules of the game properly every player begins as the king of a single city, and then through colonization and conquest you can take more cities. The game attempts to provide some limitation to growth by having a point-buy system to allow players to found new cities (either by colonization or conquest). You can only have as many cities as you have “culture points” to spend. Culture points can be obtained four ways:

  1. Battle (an ever-growing number of ‘battle points’ can be converted into culture points by holding city “victory celebrations” which take 4 hours each.
  2. City festivals, which cost resources (see below) and require a certain level of research in the “Academy” to hold. City festivals take 12 hours each.
  3. Theater plays, which are like city festivals in that they take resources (but significantly less) and time (3 days) but you have to build a Theater to hold them.
  4. Olympic games, which require spending “gold”. More on “gold” below.

Obviously the more cities you hold, the more powerful you are.

Well, back in early April my brother, Drax here on CC, invited me to play the game. I sorta like wargames, and this invitation predated the TV commercials so I had no actual knowledge of how the game was played so I went online and checked it out. It looked interesting from a strategy wargame perspective, so I agreed to play and soon received the invitation and found myself the king of a tiny little city next to one of his sprawling metropolises on a small island in a huge ocean.

So I looked around. The game “board” is a series of literally tens of thousands of essentially identical islands separated by a world sea. Basically for all practical purposes your cities are located on small islands and there are colonizable islands in every direction as far as you can plausibly sail.

Which brings me to sailing. The game is deliberately slow-paced. On an island it might take 10 – 40 minutes for infantry troops to walk from one city to another. A catapult might take hours to move from one city to another. Horses move faster and flying troops (more on that below) move faster still.

Ships move faster than land troops, but they still take hours to travel between islands. To sail from one island to another nearby island can take an hour. To sail to islands far away can take days.

When I talk about minutes, hours, and days here, I’m not talking about some arbitrary game-clock. I’m talking real, honest to god clock-based minutes, hours and days in the REAL WORLD. Just wanted to make that clear. In other words if you want to attack a city on an island a couple islands away from your starting island, you launch your ships and it might take three hours of real world time for your ships to get there.

While the game gives an allegorical nod to actual historical military technology, the actual game mechanics themselves are highly abstracted and simplified. Boiling the game down to its essence, there are four types of attack, and four types of defense. Each military unit, be it ship, soldier or mythological creature (more on that below) has an attack and defensive rating.

Land units have an attack type (blunt, sharp or distance) and a defensive value against each of the three attack types. Sea units have a sea attack and sea defense rating.

Battles are resolved by calculating the attacking armies damage done against the defending army’s defensive values. Most units, land or sea, are primarily attack or defense, meaning that attack units have virtually no defensive abilty, and defensive units have virtually no attack capability. There are a very few units that can do both, but they obviously tend not to be the best at either.

The strategy of the game is to win battles by utilizing units with higher attack values in an area where defensive units have lower defense values.

Well, that’s the theory. In practice players tend to just build huge “bombs” of a single unit and simply overwhelm the enemy with numbers. Sea battles lack even the pretense of any sort of strategy, there is simply a sea attack and sea defense value and that’s it.

A typical battle goes like this:

Attacking cities join together to target a single city. That city’s owner will call for help from his allies and those allies will send support to the targeted city.

While you can attack cities with normal forces and gain battle points and resources, to conquer another city requires sending a “colony ship” which is a special battle unit that allows an attacker to take over the defending city if their attacks are successful. The thing is that colony ships are excruciatingly slow. They are basically about 1/7 as fast as a battle ship. That means a trip that takes 10 minutes for a bireme can take over an hour for a colony ship. Attacks from islands even just a few islands distant can take seven or eight hours. Colony ship attacks of 24+ hours are not uncommon.

The targeted player is notified of any incoming attack. There are no “surprise attacks” in the game, unless the player simply isn’t paying attention. This includes colony ship attacks. So that means any attempt to take over a city generally gives the defending player a lot of time to get support into their city from their other cities or from allied players. Which means that the attacking city has to pull in support from other cities or allies of their own to boost the attacking forces to the point that they can overcome the combined defensive forces.

Land troops only fight land troops. Sea forces only fight sea forces. To get land troops onto the targeted island, you either have to destroy all the defending ships, or you have to use a special attack type (which you have to research) which allows you to sacrifice a huge amount of your attacking ships attack value in order to land a percentage of your troops onshore. This can be a very useful tactic, but it is very costly, meaning to use it requires having even more ships doing regular attacks.

The “proper” approach to taking a city is to send “clearing waves” of pure sea attack ships to “clear the harbor” of defending ships, and then to land land troops to clear out any troops in the city. Only when the target city’s harbor is empty AND the city is clear of land troops can a colony ship begin the process of conquest, which is called a “siege.” A siege takes 12 hours to complete, so once the siege begins, the defending player has 12 hours to send whatever they can gather together to break the siege. If they can destroy the colony ship, then they retain control of their city.

The main strategically limiting factor of the game is that while defending fleets and armies stack together, attacking fleets and armies do not. An “attack” is accomplished by sending a fleet or army or combination of the two at a city, and the attack takes place in a split second, the results are tabulated, and any remaining attacking ships or troops return immediately home. That means that if you send two attacks and they land one second apart, by the time the second attack lands, the first fleet/army is already headed home. Of course in the meantime, in between the two attacks, a defending force can arrive from another city and be in place for the second attack to have to deal with.

To visualize this I tend to think of fleets and armies moving through wormholes. You send them off somewhere, and they then disappear from the world while in transit (you cannot “intercept” a moving fleet or army, they simply are not on the board at all), and then pop out of the wormhole at their destination, the battle is resolved in an instant, and then they are whisked away back through the wormhole to their originating city.

You cannot stack multiple cities worth of troops in one city and launch an attack or defense with the combined forces either. Each city has its own wormholes they send their troops through.

So, battles are settled by these fleets and armies popping into the battlefield. Supporting fleets and armies stay in place once they land, but attacking fleets and armies do their damage, and if any survive, flit away again in an instant. The battle impact of this game design is that defending cities don’t have to defend against all of the incoming troops. If they want to, they can dodge the incoming attacks and wait for the colony ship attack and try to time their defense so that all the incoming attacks have nothing to attack and the colony ship finds an instantly materialized massive fleet and army in the harbor and city when they get there.

To further complicate matters, the wormholes themselves have a ten second random jump built into them. So you send your troops to a destination, and they can arrive anywhere from ten seconds before or ten seconds after your targeted time. So basically you end up with a crap shoot at the key moment of the battle and whoever “rolls the dice” best can win the battle even if their troops are far less than the other side. The purpose of this is to allow players with fewer cities to have some hope of defending themselves against players with lots of cities. I personally hate it.

OK, I mentioned “gold” and “mythological units”. So I’ll cover them here.

Building anything in the game, troops, ships, buildings, research, etc. requires “resources.” There are three types of resources: wood, stone and silver. Everything you build has a cost based on these three resources as well as a “population” cost. The population cost is the most important since each city has a maximum population count based on the number of farms the city has built and there is a maximum number of farms a city can build. This means that no city can become more powerful than other cities. Each city reaches a maximum size pretty quickly and can only produce buildings or troops equal to the free population. When the population limit has been reached, the city can’t build anything else. This drives major players to build as many cities as possible and to tailor each city to a particular purpose. Some cities build nothing but offensive ship fleets, some build nothing but “sharp” land units, some build nothing but mythological units.

But “gold” is different. Gold isn’t really part of the game mechanic, gold is something that you gain from outside the game. While there are some ways to attain gold through player activities, the main way to get gold is to spend actual real world money on it. If you do buy gold you can use the gold to do things like accelerate the build speed of units or buildings, hold Olympic games (meaning you can essentially “buy” new cities) and purchase the services of “helpers” which provide advantages to the player such as a 30% improvement in troop strength for land troops.

Buying gold is the profit means of the game. I admit that I purchased gold when I first started playing the game and used it to help get up to speed more quickly so that I could be a meaningful player. But I haven’t used gold for a while once I got to a reasonable number of cities and no longer needed it to grow.

“Mythical units” are military “troops” based on Greek mythology. Minotaurs, harpies, medusae, manticores, etc. These are very costly units but they provide abilities and power far beyond “normal” troops. The main benefit they can provide from a purely strategic perspective though is that some can fly. Also the best defensive unit in the game is a mythical unit, so if you are hunkering down in a city, filling it with cerberuses (I want to say “cerberi”) is a great idea. Manticores, harpies and pegasi can fly, meaning they can get to battles or defend cities faster than any other forces and can completely ignore fleets in doing so.

Well, to make a long story short (HAH!) I just quit the game last night. While it’s a generally fun game with some nice strategic elements, the bottom line is that the game is a massively multiplayer, international, 24×7 endeavor and that means you have to constantly monitor your cities to avoid being “indisposed” when some enemy player decides to take one of your cities. Plus the whole game is based around resource management and the more time you spend clicking on buttons, the more resources you gain, so you find yourself in the position of either constantly getting online to build resources, or falling behind in the resource management battle. (There are some “illegal” ways to build resources, such as “farming bots” but those will get you banned from the game).

I was literally waking up half an hour early every day to check on my cities and gather some resources, then checking on break and at lunch to see if I was getting attacked, and then spending a good chunk of my evenings and weekends doing resource management, moving troops around and otherwise just making sure my cities were smoothly functioning.

And that doesn’t even begin to address the effort involved in planning and executing a battle. A “good” battle will take hours to execute, and if you are managing a couple dozen cities, that may mean that you have as many as 30 or 40 individual fleet/army launches to initiate at very specific times so that they arrive in the battle as precisely as possible. Running a battle for me meant creating a list of all of the troop movements I needed to initiate with the proper time listed for each one, and then pulling up the battle screen in Grepolis and selecting the appropriate troops and then hitting the “attack” or “support” button at the proper time for the troops to get there when they were needed. That meant for the course of four or five hours I might need to be sending troops every ten minutes or so.

Anyway, it was too much. So I am now an ex Greppaholic.