In one of E3 2015's most striking presentations, Microsoft's Saxs Persson demonstrated how Minecraft might be played on a table using the HoloLens. That demo was much on my mind as I played Grand Ages: Medieval last week, a grand strategy game that would make for a similarly effective HoloLens demo.
Imagine, if you will, a grand map of Europe tagged with cities controlled by you and your rivals with castles, armies, and trade routes that can be seamlessly observed at close range. Now imagine this on your dining room table. It's not going to happen anytime soon, but it excites the imagination, doesn't it?
For now, Grand Ages: Medieval has to be enjoyed on either your television or your computer monitor; but even there, it's pretty cool. As I mentioned above, you can seamlessly zoom in on castles, villages, and carts, leaving you the impression that you're looking down on a grand board game. Throw in some epic music and it might feel almost like the opening from Game of Thrones.
From the standpoint of gameplay, Grand Ages: Medieval functions as something akin to a hybrid of SimCity and Civilization. It moves in real-time, but you can speed up, slow down, or pause the game at will. Like Civilization, you are in competition with other leaders who can be defeated in combat or won over via diplomacy. Their opinion of you sits on a sliding scale of love and hate that can be influenced with bribes, making it somewhat similar to that of Sins of a Solar Empire - not a huge mark in its favor given that diplomacy was by far the weakest component of that game. Mechanically speaking, it seems like it's a step down from the likes of Civilization, its options being comparatively limited.
Where Grand Ages: Medieval stands out - aside from its seamless map - is in the way it handles economics. Its developer is Gaming Mind Studios, a Germany-based development house with a good deal of experience with strategy games, most notably Rise of Venice and Port Royale 3. Their focus in their other games has tended to be on the economic side, and that is reflected in Grand Ages: Medieval, where moneyed interests tend to rule the day.
In starting a new game in Paris, my early moves consisted of building up my resource infrastructure, making contact with nearby rulers, and then trying to trade my goods at a net profit. Unlike in Civilization, you don't work the tiles, but there is still a great deal of benefit to getting a settler out early and founding a new city so you can expand your reach and acquire new resources.
Once times passes and the scope expands, you will undoubtedly find yourself in combat. True to the era, conquering a new city frequently requires a protracted siege in which you will either starve out an opponent or lose enough soldiers that you have to retreat. You can also meet opponents on the field, and here it's fun to zoom in and watch the little soldiers battle back and forth.
As usual, it's tough to get a real sense for the overall strategy in the course of an hour long demo. These sorts of things tend to play out over the course of many hours. But from what I've played, what stands out about Grand Ages: Medieval is the intricacies of the trade between the different powers. It almost seems a shame to wreck it with a war.
Worth noting is that Grand Ages: Medieval is actually the sequel to 2009's Grand Ages: Rome, which was developed by Tropico's Haemimont Games. It received mostly middling reviews, its main criticism being that it tended to fall back on established city-building mechanics. With luck, Gaming Mind Studios will be able to break out of that mold with its economic model when Grand Ages: Medieval launches next month on Steam and PlayStation 4.
Barring that, it really is a nice looking strategy game. It may not usher in the future of the HoloLens, but one can always dream that something like it will be able to do so very soon. In the meantime, Grand Ages: Medieval is a good start.