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Pixel art Civilization 6 rival deals in the dark side of diplomacy

Pixel art 4X strategy game Imperial Ambitions focuses on the age of imperialism, dealing in the small details of managing a European empire.

Imperial Ambitions is a pixel art 4X game rival to Civilization 6 - A boat sails across the ocean.

With Civilization 7 still yet to rear its head, another rival 4X strategy game is set to challenge the likes of Stellaris, Endless Legend, Age of Wonders, Solium Infernum and of course the mighty Civilization 6 itself. Imperial Ambitions is a game that focuses on the core European superpowers during the era of Renaissance and imperialism, and along with an impressive level of depth in its management, you’ll have the option to deal in the darker sides of diplomacy as you attempt to expand your empire.

Part of Steam’s ongoing Turn-Based Thursday Fest, developer aioti hopes Imperial Ambitions offers a “unique 4X gameplay experience” filled with rewarding tactical decision-making and a focus on “the dark side of empire building.” While it adopts the hex-based maps now popular among many of the best 4X games, Imperial Ambitions lets you move armies in formation or split them out for tactical excursions, allowing you to attack from range and enforcing more tactical thinking about how you approach battles.

Like any good 4X game, however, conflict isn’t the main focus – more a means to an end. A free Steam demo available now allows you to experience in-depth tutorials for settlement management, resource gathering, and production elements, along with a demonstration of how trade works in Imperial Ambitions and a brief look at combat. After running through the full thing myself, it’s definitely a game I’m keeping a close eye on.

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Managing your cities and towns is all about ensuring you have the resources and supplies necessary, so you’ll need to scout the land to ensure you have enough of each resource, and can then allocate your workers manually to produce the food, luxuries, and supplies you need using different recipes based on what you have. Don’t have enough grapes to make wine for your citizens? Wheat can be used to make beer instead, fulfilling the need with a different resource.

Of course, you can also trade for what you need – although to do so in Imperial Ambitions requires you to train a diplomat and send them to the city you want to trade with. You can establish embassies or trade consulates to take advantage of this. But what if they won’t give you what you need? Then you can turn to the black market, using a shadow agent to found an underground syndicate in an attempt to entice locals to smuggle the goods you want onto your trade caravans.

Another key distinction in Imperial Ambitions is that you can’t see the full tech tree from the start; instead, you’ll only be able to see the available research projects based on what you already know. That’s both a more realistic approach, and one that aioti hopes helps to enhance “the discovery experience – you learn by doing.” Similarly, you’ll also need to be making use of a related action – you won’t discover the Sextant unless you’re already sailing the oceans, for example.

With many games getting shown off during Steam’s Turn-Based Thursday Fest, this is one to keep an eye on.

Imperial Ambitions is a pixel art 4X strategy game - The player funding a syndicate to initial black market trade in the French city of Rennes.

As with all such historical strategy games, the setting of Imperial Ambitions necessitates approaching more troubled elements of history such as slavery and colonialization. You’ll have to deal with social class differences, and will have to balance the desire to help your citizens reach higher levels of education, training, and success with the higher demands they’ll make in turn. The team says it hopes the simple, bright art style helps counterbalance its handling of “controversial events of our recent history.”

Imperial Ambitions is set to launch on Steam in 2024. You can head to the Steam store page now to try out the free demo, which includes several in-depth tutorial missions, as well as to sign up for a chance to join the game’s playtest or add it to your wishlist for a notification when it’s made more widely available.

Alternatively, there are even more granular breakdowns to be found in some of the best grand strategy games and the best management games, and we’ve picked out our favorites of both that you should check out in 2024.

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