Commander: Conquest of the Americas is a hybrid trading and real-time strategy title and can really best be compared with Colonisation in terms of your goals and the general setting. Starting in the year 1600, players can choose from 7 different nations, which each have their own strengths and weaknesses. In this review we follow how The Netherlands found their first colony. Can we conquer the Americas or will we be defeated by one of the rival powers, or perhaps even the Native Americans? Read on!
Arrival in the new world
The year is 1600 AD. A somewhat douche-bag looking Captain of the Royal Dutch Navy by the name of Ruud Derrick commands a small fleet of 3 vessels; one lightly armed warship, the Carrack Theodora, and two merchant Caravals. Their ongoing mission: to explore a strange new world, seek out new… wait, we’ve been here before. Ruud has been tasked with finding a suitable spot for the first Dutch colony in the Americas, a hugely important task – surprisingly entrusted to such a douche-bag looking guy.
After a month of sailing, the fleet hits an island group which looks promising. “Capt’n, we ought to finish our mission and create the first colony here”, his first mate argued. Ruud however, had quite different plans. Ever ambitious and eager to prove his worth, he wanted to found the first colony in the most lucrative location possible. And an island with only the prospect of some sugar and whales, wasn’t what Ruud had in mind. Another month of scouting the coastline nearly lead to mutiny among his men – but eventually Ruud found exactly what he was looking for. And so it was that the first Dutch colony in the new world, ‘Goudstad’ was founded. As the name implies (Gold City), the colony had more than a little access to the precious mineral…
Commander: Conquest of the Americas is really pretty similar to Colonisation in this respect, with the biggest exception being that the game is in real-time. You start with a small fleet that carries a bunch of colonists, and race off to find a suitable spot to found your first colony. Once founded, you ensure that you build some basic upgrades such as a smithy (which unlocks other upgrades), a garrison for defense, a church to increase morale and usually a building to process the resources this colony has access to into more valuable level 2 or even level 3 resources. It’s a good idea to bear the potential of your colony in mind before accepting the location – as access to a couple of different valuable resources can make a huge difference. In our case, Goudstad had access to 3 (!) gold resource spots, and an additional native camp which also supplied gold. It was quite literally, a goldmine.
Commander includes a total of seven factions: Britain, The Netherlands, France, Denmark, Spain, Portugal and Empire and each have their own strengths and weaknesses. In our case, The Netherlands gains increased profit from level 3 items, upgrades gem-cutters for less gold and can build trade ships at a reduced price. The first and third abilities are pretty useful, given that most of the game is about trading and making a profit. Other factions have various other advantages, such as better warships, more production from certain resources, etc.
The development of Goudstad did not go unnoticed by the other factions – and the offers for diplomatic relationships piled on top of one another. The Netherlands quite literally experienced a ‘golden’ age in the next years with fleets overloaded with gold shipping back and forth between Amsterdam and Goudstad. Within a few months a goldsmith was established in Goudstad to convert gold ore to gold bars on spot – making transport of large quantities a lot easier. (And more profitable!)
A huge amount of interest developed in the new world, and colonists literally stood in line in Amsterdam to emigrate to Goudstad. Ships returning from Amsterdam to the lucrative city were packed with colonists, and Goudstad grew rapidly. Meanwhile, another fleet set out from Amsterdam to found a new colony not too far from Goudstad – where large piles of Tobacco and Cotton could be found. Soon after, Utrecht was founded, establishing the dominance of the Dutch over the other powers in the region.
Resources & Trade
The resource system in Commander: Conquest of the Americas is pretty simple. Each city has a sphere of influence determined by the number of colonists that live in the colony. If a resource falls within this sphere of influence, the colony has access to it. When you first found a colony, it will tell you the potential access the colony has over time, so you don’t have to sit calculating this with a ruler or anything like that. Generally speaking your colony will have immediate access to one or two resources, and gain access to the rest as it grows.
Each resource produces an x amount of that resource a month – and a lot of resources have a production chain that allows you to convert that resource to its level 2 and 3 equivalent. For example; cotton can be made into cloth, and cloth can be made into clothes. Or iron ore can be turned into steel, which in turn can be turned into steel items. Some resources come ‘as is’, such as Cocoa. Resources are turned into their next level through various buildings which can be purchased in your colonies, which is generally worth doing. The next level item is worth more gold, and requires less space in comparison to the base resource – which means you can transport more of it.
Trade is pretty simple as well. Your fleets can pick up resources in your colonies, then sail to your homeport in Europe to sell them there. Once there you can pick up items which your colonies cannot produce, or bring colonists or soldiers back to your colonies. This process can be handled manually, or you can set-up an automated trade route to take care of this for you. Trade routes can include as many as 5 different ports with as many products being loaded/unloaded at each step as you would like. It’s a very robust system that works incredibly well once you get the hang of it. So well in fact, that it leaves you with little to do once you’ve got it all running…
Goudstad and Utrecht combined started to produce a serious level of Gold, Dyes and Tobacco – so it was decided to implement permanent trade routes to these colonies. Large merchant fleets were constructed by the new shipyards of both colonies, and soon the area was absolutely bustling with activity. Ships would come and go at regular intervals, fully loaded with riches. Huge profits were made, rivaled by no other Rival Power on the planet. It did not take long at all for pirates to notice these juicy targets though, and pirate activity in the area increased tenfold…
The Dutch navy has always been known for their no-nonsense approach to piracy, and the order was given to build two large fleets of small, fast warships to counter the pirate incursion. All merchant fleets were escorted already – but with pirate activity on the increase they did not want to take any risks whatsoever. One lost shipment easily equaled the complete monthly income of any other power on the planet by this point – and the Dutch had absolutely no interest whatsoever in losing even one gold coin of their profit!
Combat in Commander: Conquest of the Americas gave me a mixed set of emotions. On one hand, the combat is vastly easier to oversee and control than for example naval combat in Empire: Total War. On the other hand, combat just isn’t incredibly exciting and seems like a distraction from the trading side of the game rather than something you would actively seek out. Any combat in Commander essentially equals a loss in profit, as your ships will require repair – need upkeep, etc. Anyway, about the actual combat engine…
First I need to mention that it looks quite nice – though perhaps not as nice as Empire: Total War. This is balanced by the fact that it is ten times easier to actually do anything, which can only be a positive. One thing that it does lack is a tutorial, so you’ll need to experiment and be a little frustrated while you learn the combat mechanics. Personally, I don’t like having to figure everything out for myself and I felt a little let down by the game in this point. This is further enhanced by the ‘take direct control of a ship’ mode – which allows you (alledgedly) to control a ship personally – and experience naval combat from that point of view. I had absolutely no idea how this worked and the UI gives absolutely no feedback on your commands, so I found it confusing rather than an interesting feature. Again, a tutorial would potentially have prevented the ‘lost feeling’ I experienced here.
There are various tactical options during combat, such as different ammo types, abilities from your commanders – and various formations your ships can sail in. One of the things I experienced when sailing in formation and giving orders like that is that only the lead ship actually fires on the enemy. Again I could potentially have been doing it wrong – but there was nothing that told me otherwise. Selecting a group of ships and giving them a target is a pretty standard feature to me. It was resolved by individually giving the ships orders – but that broke formation and would be tedious in a larger battle.
After the completion of the pirate hunting fleets, it didn’t take long before the fleets saw their first action. Many a pirate found their demise during the years that followed, and pirate activity came to an abrupt halt. Unfortunately, so did the progress of the Dutch Empire, as their Commander had grown a little bored of the detached feeling he had with his Empire. To see both the demise of the first pirate ship as well as the campaign map in action, please watch our game-play video below.
Commander: Conquest of the Americas is a good game, but is really mainly aimed at lovers of the trading/colonisation genre. The combat is interesting and pretty well done, but I would not play this game purely based on its tactical RTS potential. There are other games which would give you a far more satisfying experience for that. The biggest downside of the game for me is that after a while you don’t really have that much to do on the campaign map. The tactical choices you need to make are incredibly limited, and I don’t think you could replay the game very often before you find you don’t have all that much new to experience.
The main reason to keep playing the game is to unlock more buildings and ships – but you can’t really do all that much with them afterward. Sure, you can transport even more goods – and have even stronger ships in combat, but the real question is what would motivate you to do so? I’m not sure what exactly is missing in the game – it does give you limited missions, and your commands gain levels which gives them additional abilities. But there isn’t all that much you can actually *do* with that in the game. The map is explored pretty early on, once your trade routes are set-up they operate independently and well… I don’t know. It’s not a bad game in any way, shape or form, but it also did not grip me.
So should you buy it? If you like this type of game, it’s probably worth a shot. However, at £35 retail, I’m not so sure you’re getting a good deal. The game is £25 on Steam and can be found even cheaper on Amazon, so if you can find a bargain, go right ahead – but ensure you watch the videos so you have a good idea what you are getting yourself into.