Strategic city-building games have always had a home on the PC, but the Nintendo DS and Wii and their touch screen and pointer capabilities make managing a budding civilization just as easy. Ubisoft is bringing Dawn of Discovery--originally called Anno 1404--to both systems. It's an easy-to-play strategy game that guides you through the process of exploring and cultivating new lands. We played through the first few chapters of the game to get a feel for the controls, and we liked what we saw. It's virtually stress-free, which might be considered less challenging to some players, but there's always a more efficient way of building an empire than just slapping down some huts and dairy farms and hoping that everything takes off.
The year is 1404 and King George is having some serious problems in regard to drought and widespread famine. Doing what any sensible king would do, he delegates his priorities and sends his two sons off into the open sea to acquire new land and produce goods to send home. You play as William, who offers to explore the lands to the south and find a way to collect resources. Your slightly off-balance brother, Edward, wants to go the more aggressive route, but for the meantime, he's not your problem.
The game does a good job of slowly introducing the various buildings that you need to build in order to have a functional mini-society. You'll begin with a fisherman's hut to provide food and will eventually build houses for your hard-working pioneers. If you build a church nearby as well as a dairy farm, your people can essentially be upgraded to settlers and then move on to more sophisticated statuses, like patricians, and finally to aristocrats. Cash flow isn't going to be coming from your king, so you'll have to tax your new settlers. There is a helpful meter that indicates the threshold of how much taxation your people can stand, so you can always hover near the high end without turning into a tyrant.
In the beginning, the king expects you to sail off into the new world to produce food, clothes, and other goods to send home. Each island that you come across is relatively small, so you'll quickly learn that you'll need to build a shipyard so that you can send out a vessel to discover new, unpopulated islands. Eventually you'll run into islands that aren't uninhabited and you'll make friends with people from other cultures and learn new technologies from them. The end goal is to complete all the challenges and manage a lively metropolis. An advisor who accompanies you on your journey will constantly be giving you hints and tips as you go, so if you happen to forget what you were working on, a quick reminder will point you in the right direction. Everything is clearly spelled out for you, and icons will sparkle and flash if there is something you should be selecting. The number of hints the game provides can be adjusted, however, so if you want helpful guidance, you can always set it to high. There are also three difficulty settings for those who want to challenge themselves.
We enjoyed our time with Dawn of Discovery since it's a relatively slow-paced, casual strategy game. There is no combat or excessive natural disasters to ruin all your hard work, so instead, you can focus on keeping your inhabitants healthy, happy, and productive. The story is told through cartoon still images with voice acting, which is a nice touch. Despite being on the small screen of the DS, everything is well laid out so that you can see everything, and the controls are straightforward. Look for Dawn of Discovery when it is released in June.