Image: Luminous

Circle Empires forces me to constantly worry about merfolk shooting my troops with orbs. When it comes to dragons, I can deal. Zombies? No problem. But merfolk with orbs can hit my melee troops with an freezing attack, turning them into sitting ducks for the mer-archers. It’s a problem.

I enjoy experiences from all over the wide world of strategy gaming. From turn-based to real-time, combat to builder, I like the idea of taking a little world and transforming it using my noggin and a little elbow grease. Circle Empires claims to be a “fresh take” in the world of PC real-time strategy gaming, and I’ll be honest and say that it’s one of the few games in this big tent of a genre that really does seem to do something new because it forces me to rely on my gut. I need to be able to read those merfolk and make an orb call immediately.

A level that I had almost completed when I took the screenshot.
Image: Luminous

Circle Empires has three big pillars: circles, resources, and combat. The first is the big change for the RTS game mode. Instead of a big battlefield or a region, the play of Empires takes place on a big game board of circles. Each circle has an environment (swamp, desert, grassland, and so on) and some creatures or people.

The work of the game is to navigate this big board of circles in such a way that you can accrue more resources. By procuring food and wood from these little sky islands, you can power up your army of melee and ranged combat troops. That’s it. That’s the basic flow of the game. All you need are circles, resources to facilitate taking more circles, and the combat capability to do so.

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Reducing the RTS game down to this elemental formula means that Circle Empires has some fast maps that reward viewing the grid of circles and determining how you’re going to get to the end of the map. “Monster Hunt,” the game mode that I have been playing exclusively, is all about finding one Big Bad and taking them down, and it means that I’m not playing the game in a slow, methodical way that I might play other RTS titles. I’m just looking to melt a specific monster as fast as possible.

You choose a leader for each game you play, and Laura established universal healthcare on her circle.
Image: Luminous

Instead of deep thinking, Circle Empires produces a scenario of what I can only call “gut strategy” in which I am constantly moving my army from circle to circle while building new troops on the fly. To do so, I’m heavily depending on the information I’ve learned about the monsters and enemies of the game in won or lost fights before. So when I get to a sea circle, I’m worried about those merfolk with their orbs. But after enough losses to them, I know to move my archers up so that they can start firing before my melee troops can get zapped with a freeze ray. I don’t stop to think about this strategic move. I just start splitting my archers and sending them to different places. Pure gut.

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I got a dragon in this game.
Image: Luminous

It’s one of the few strategy games that makes me feel like I am always flying by the seat of my pants, and I mean that in a good way. In the game, there’s very little benefit to sitting around and waiting. I’m rarely stopping to think “do I want to create a giant deathball that rolls around the map?” Instead, it’s a game where I am constantly deciding where my deathball goes next.

Circle Empires is an RTS game that is more loose and less formal than many others in the genre, and that’s a good thing. It’s a game that asks you to think just as hard as other games do, but it wants you do be doing it on the fly, and it also wants you to be building workers to harvest pumpkins at the same time. It’s a pretty engaging experience, especially if you think you have good orb strategies.