- The Washington Times - Sunday, July 12, 2009

Junior explorers help save a kingdom from starvation and create a thriving empire in Dawn of Discovery (Ubisoft for Wii, $29.99).

As part of the famed German franchise Anno, this game has been rebranded in a title built for Nintendo’s Wii.

For the first time, Wii owners can experience real-time city building and resource management in an easy-to-use interface through a colorful storybook presentation.

A player helps King George and his two sons, William and Edward Riley, expand their empire and take care of its citizens in the 15th century. That means a set of maneuvers requiring scouting out an island with adequate resources, building modest settlements, improving living conditions, adding to the population and setting up an infrastructure.

Specifics include maintaining factories to handle manufacturing hemp clothing, building a firehouse, mining stone, building ships and purchasing maps to continue exploration. Also, don’t forget to send bountiful tribute back home and to partners to keep the main kingdom stable and receive help with more resources.

As William, the player uses both controllers to quickly navigate menus and units and zoom into locations with near perfection. Using the Wiimote to drag ships around at sea is a piece of cake and easily placing roads works great.

A shaky hand, however, can place a structure in the wrong position. Unfortunately, I can’t figure out a way to move the structure, I can only demolish it (a giant anvil crushes the error) and start over, with a loss of my investment.

As resources are demanded and developed for citizenry, a player moves to higher civilization levels, from pioneers to settlers and on to citizens, patricians and aristocrats.

For example, pioneers want milk to drink and a church near them to become settlers, so drop in a dairy farm and house of worship.

Delivering on goals means the player can levy higher taxes and collect revenue to balance the expenditures. If funds cannot support the latest civilization, the populace levels may take a step back.

What essentially starts out as a clever way to introduce basic economic theory expands to encompass high-seas treasure hunts, use of technological innovation, naval conflict, island invasions, cultural exchanges and military combat.

By the way, battles require much more hands-on movement of units and strategy.

The main story mode offers a leisurely pace and acts as one giant tutorial spread out over seven chapters. Characters such as adviser Cornelius Davenport are always offering tips, to the point of annoyance.

A continuous-play mode is much more challenging as a player sets conditions for success as well as the number of world powers he must compete against.

Although the back of the box teases with a two-player cooperative mode, I couldn’t find anything about it in the instruction manual or when fiddling around with the on-screen tips. I did plug in a second controller system, but what I got was hardly teamwork. The second player added junk to environments but never worked with the primary player, as far as I could tell.

Age range: The game works great for the younger player and is right in the wheelhouse of an intelligent 10-year-old who has never enjoyed a real-time strategy game.

Learning time: Decision-making skills are mixed with problem-solving to delightfully exercise the brain. Hearing phrases from on-screen narrators such as, “If we pay more than we earn, we will have a negative balance” and “Grain fertility level is 75 percent and makes it impossible for farms to work at peak efficiency,” will get youngsters thinking like Alan Greenspan.

Parents can jump in immediately and offer real-life lessons to explain a bit about how a country uses its resources, and even the current state of the U.S. economy. Don’t be too brutal though, we wouldn’t want to scare the future leaders of the world.

Final advice: I am a huge fan of Civilization Revolution, so Dawn of Discovery was just too simple for my tastes. However, this is a great, user-friendly introduction to world building and is a definite delight for the family that Wiis together.

Joseph Szadkowski’s ROMper Room is a place for children and their parents to escape the world of ultraviolent video games and use that gaming system or computer to actually learn something while having fun. Send e-mail to [email protected]

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