Remember being a child and having to use the children's versions of things? The chunky plastic guitar with buttons where the strings should have been; the computer that could only play tunes and perform simple calculations; the remote control car whose range of motion was confined to backwards and forwards; the oven that lit up but never grew warm; the plastic phone that wasn't plugged into anything and wouldn't allow you to make phone calls…
It was a fairly frustrating existence. After all, who was it who decided that children enjoy playing with functionless versions of adult accoutrements?
Well, whoever it was has clearly influenced those responsible for porting Anno 1602 from PC to mobile. Which isn't to say that this isn't a good mobile game. It's pretty, the music is jaunty, and gameplay is more than passable. What it is, however, is a massively simplified, child-friendly conversion of a sophisticated licence – a shame, when both the mobile phone and its gamers are capable of handling more.
Your task is to enlarge your queen's empire, and you win the game either by colonising an entire archipelago or earning enough promotions to become an aristocrat. You have a fixed number of moves in which to achieve either of these goals, and if all of your islands are conquered during play, you've failed.
As usual with such titles, the soul of the game consists in maintaining balance, ensuring that you are both fortified and equipped to fight and expand, as well as being able both to import and export should the need arise. Aside from attacking and defending, you also have the option to negotiate a temporary peace and conduct trade.
Earning promotions is a matter of meeting targets. Each step-up requires you to obtain a fixed amount of a range of five resources, some of which you can generate on your own and some of which you need to acquire through trade. What you can't use them for, disappointingly, is building structures or military units.
While in most strategy games resource management requires you to decide how to deploy your commodities, in Anno 1602 every commodity – except cash – only represents itself. The images in the promotion screen depict wood and water, but they might as well be cakes and staplers for all the relevance they have to what's happening in the game. Nevertheless, while this does undermine the strategic depth of the game, it isn't fatal.
You have gold, after all, and you can plough this into four different assets: fortifications, production facilities, ships, and cannons. Four assets is a disappointing count, though, and there's nothing so far to disabuse the casual observer of a growing suspicion that Anno 1602 has streamlined the strategy game to the point of pointlessness. Until, that is, you come to the main attraction.
Trading, building, attacking, and defending all cost money, and the first three each carry more than a little risk. If you want to attack Countess Emilia with a depleted fleet, the chances are you'll be repelled. You can increase your chances of winning by simply investing money into the enterprise as it's about to begin, but if you're short on cash you won't be able to. Anno 1602 presents you with another option, though: you can take control of the ships and do it all yourself.
Likewise, you can steer your own ship through a perilous trade route, steer your own cannons when you come under attack, and lay the bricks yourself when you want to construct a building.
Each of the four subgames is fairly playable, and you can hone your skills outside the game by selecting Training from the menu screen. As time wears on and the novelty wears off, you're likely to lean more towards financial solutions and away from manual ones, but the option to apply your own particular practical skills to improve your tactical position enriches the game massively, and repairs much of the damage done by the paucity of unit types and resources.
So, Anno 1602 on the mobile phone is part strategy and action. But it's the child-friendly answer to the Civilization's intricate complexities, suitable for keeping the mobile audience busy while the PC grown-ups get on with the business of serious gaming. We'd be offended, if we weren't having fun.