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What are you going to do on your Mac today? The usual--emailing, updating your enemies list, removing the geotag data from all the photos of your secret underground lair? That all sounds pleasant enough, but to really flex your world-domination muscles, we found two turn-based strategy games that ape the classic gameplay of Risk. So whaddya say, after lunch we try to conquer the world?
Hyperaddictive Lux Delux is different every time thanks to its staggering number of maps. The game starts you off with 10 built-in maps, then its Plugin Manager provides another 600-plus others for download--and more are coming out every day. Most of the maps are made by developers using Sillysoft’s Java-based SDK, but Lux Delux also has a built-in map editor so you can roll your own with no coding required. It’s hard to imagine ever getting bored.
This keyboard-shaped map is a good example of the creativity in Lux Delux's map selection.
In each game, you can battle up to five opponents drawn from any mix of players using the same Mac, network players, and computer-controlled players. The AI opponents come in 11 flavors of difficulty, and you can also download more AI profiles--so, yeah, variety is everywhere in this game. Finding and joining online games is a snap, and the in-game text chat lets you taunt or beg for mercy. With most of the super-fun, stress-busting matches lasting between 10 and 20 minutes, it’s easy to jump into a game during a break at work and finish quickly or save it for later. Charming graphics, helpful hints, and little explosion animations during battle just make each match even more entertaining.
Thanks to its boring maps and complete absence of sound (?!), iConquer starts like a loser, and if you make it that far, the gameplay doesn’t fare any better. Its setup options are promising, allowing you to play against up to five computer-controlled opponents and assign them difficulty levels like Aggressive, Defensive, Vindictive, Unpredictable, and Cheater. Of course, you can also play against humans on one Mac or over the network. While local-network play is easy thanks to Bonjour, setting up an internet game is a little trickier because everyone has to type in the correct server address (found in Network > Server Status), and some routers might require port-forwarding.
The most interesting iConquer map we could find kind of reminded us of Call of Duty: Modern Warfare.
Once the battle’s underway, iConquer’s difficulty seems way out of whack. When our nine-army position was attacked by two lousy armies and all nine of our armies perished while the two attacking armies both survived, we wanted to throw the mouse out the window in disgust. If you’re looking for answers in moments like that, the game tracks statistics (number of armies, countries held, victories and defeats, etc.) and even graphs them, but they’re pointless when gameplay balance is the real issue. Worse yet, there’s only one built-in map, though a couple-dozen extras can be downloaded in the Plug-ins menu.
Rounding out the game’s disappointments, developer KavaSoft’s site mentions a Boss Mode--you press Command-E when your boss walks by to disguise your game as a spreadsheet--but it didn’t work. KavaSoft also offers a Plug-in Kit, but developing your own AI players requires knowledge of Cocoa and Objective-C, while creating maps requires Photoshop or another graphics editor that can create TIFF images with transparency. Who’s going bother, though, with a game that’s in such sorry shape?
Since both of these games cost $25 but only one was fun to play, the contest is over: Lux Delux rules, and iConquer, well, kinda drools.
REQUIREMENTS: Mac OS 10.3.9 or later
Great graphics and detail. Quick map download. Simple difficulty levels. Online play with built-in chat. Additional downloadable difficulty settings.
Difficulty level seems to change randomly.
REQUIREMENTS: Mac OS 10.5 or later
iChat button opens a chat with network players.
Boss Mode (which cloaks your game as a spreadsheet) didn't work. No sound. No graphical representation of your armies. No difficulty-level explanations. Boring maps with little detail. Current version (3.0.1) requires Leopard or Snow Leopard, although earlier versions are available.