If your only knowledge of diplomacy came from computer games, you'd be forgiven for thinking that the only way to win in life is to wipe all your rivals off the face of the Earth.
While that tactic may have its merits, it has certain drawbacks rarely discussed in instruction manuals or FAQs.
Sea Empire has gone the other way. There's no combat whatsoever, and you have to outmanoeuvre your rivals in the world of resource-gathering and trade to stay ahead.Sea change
With either a single-player campaign, single map, or random scenario, your aim may change but the mechanics remain resolutely the same.
You're presented with a series of islands that produce one of three resources: wood, stone, or iron. With these you can build a handful of buildings, or sell them off for money with which to buy more ships to mine the natural resources more quickly.
Most maps will have one or two other AI captains trying to reach that map's goal faster than you, and the rivalry adds to some tense moments as you compete for the finite resources. Just because you can't kill your opponents, that doesn't mean you can't get in their way, and vice versa.
The main meat of the game is keeping an eye on the islands' resources, and adapting your ships' orders around the scarcity of resources and your opponents' activities.
All of this is controlled with simple taps of the touchscreen, and as you're simply setting instructions for ships it works pretty effectively.
The trouble with the game becomes apparent as time goes on: it's incredibly samey.
Although the targets vary (X days to mine 5,000 stone or set up five fortresses), the route you take won't change much between levels. Even the order in which you construct buildings will follow the same pattern, as one usually requires an element of the structure below it (like the miner's house, which can't be built without steel, requiring a foundry).
No matter what spin the game's story puts on things, you can't shake the feeling that you're doing the same thing over and over again to slightly different time limits. Because you are.
On top of this, the variation in difficulty is purely down to the number of days you're given to finish each map. It would make more sense to just give you gold, silver, or bronze awards, rather than making you decide how quickly you can do it before you start.
If you decide to tackle a level on Easy mode, it doesn't matter if you complete it within the tough Hard mode time limit, because you'll still only get credit for an easy completion.
This small complaint comes into sharp focus when the game informs you, without warning, that you can get no further in the game without completing a certain number of Hard mode levels.Bland-ho!
Graphically, Sea Empire is simplistic but it gets the job done. Each island's produce is clear from the images, and the ships are distinct from each other. For the most part, the instructions are clear as well, and the game does a great job of introducing you to its concepts with a simple tutorial and easy-to-follow text.
Unfortunately, the initial novelty of a strategy game without combat is quickly replaced with a jaded sense of déjà vu.
The short missions allow enough time to hide the familiar feel of each level, but ultimately you may find yourself craving other, more aggressive, strategy games that manage to mix up the pace more successfully than this peaceful experiment.