[REVIEW] Dawn of Discovery

August 4, 2009 at 4:13 pm Leave a comment

Title: Dawn of Discovery
Media: Video game (Nintendo DS)
Primary Subject: World History
Secondary Subjects: Economics, Land management

Dawn of Discovery is a deceptively complex civilization building game (like Sim City or Civilization) for the Nintendo DS. It is marketed alongside Ubisoft’s Imagine series of games which are aimed at pre-teens. DoD is much more complex than what you’d find in those games, however. Still, the game is fairly simple to pick up despite the complex underpinnings. Essentially, as with most civ builders, your goal at any given point is to get more people to pay more taxes so you can build them more buildings so you get more people to pay more taxes, etc.

The entire game is essentially a tutorial. Your first mission, for example, simply tasks you with building a couple houses and raising their tax rate. The next has you building a church and a dairy for your settlers. Doing this allows them to “advance” to pioneers which opens up new building options. The game adds new mechanics at a fairly regular clip keeping the game pretty fresh for a few hours. By about hour four you’re juggling rock quarries, spice farms, and tax rates, all the while buying and selling goods in the market and sending ships out on exploration missions (and even searching for buried treasure!) The game didn’t get hard at any point during this ramp up.

Until I hit mission 6. By mission 6 you’ve unlocked most of the building types. You are now juggling roughly 15 different types of buildings to keep your citizens (not pioneers any more!) happy. That, however, isn’t the problem. The game doesn’t have any disasters that say wipe out your food supply so if you’ve set up a proper civilization you’ll be fine. The problem comes in that by mission 6 the land size is very limited. It requires serious pre-planning and continual re-planning to squeeze in all the needed industry along with houses. The game, in some points, will not advance until you’ve hit a certain population level and that often means leveling an entire island worth of houses and rebuilding somewhere else. It can be daunting but is never overly challenging.

It is also worth mentioning that starting by mission 3 you’ll have to deal with Corsairs roaming the seas attacking your ships (and eventually your towns.) These battles are 100% icon based and have no violence whatsoever short of a few sword-clanking sounds. Your blue disk “battles” the Corsair’s black disk and the game calculates a winner. It is fairly shallow but definitely adds to the mental challenge as you now have one more thing to juggle.

The game is single player only but there is an “infinite” mode which would work well for classroom competitions. The teacher could simply set a goal (most money, most people, etc.) and give students X amount of time to do so.

Motivational Potential
It’s a video game and the graphics are cool (you can see your citizens walking the streets or working which is a nice touch), but it certainly isn’t flashy by any stretch. It is not a game that I think students would pick up and play on their own. One can’t just jump in and be drawn to the action. The action really is all in your mind as you try to juggle multiple variables.

The historical content is also poorly presented. It is there, sort of, but I can’t imagine any student wanting to study the Age of Exploration simply because they played this game. In fact, I think the reverse is more likely to be true. Students will want to play the game more if they already know about the time period.

Educational Potential
I think the game works best in teaching very general concepts about economics and the growth of civilizations. The story told in story mode is fictional (though often based on real people like King George) and goes off in weird directions (you end up working with a Sultan and there are mosques in the area you’re “discovering”) that aren’t really historically accurate. I’d recommend the game to kids to play and if someone I had a DS for every student I’d certainly use it in an economics unit. Otherwise, probably not.

I’ll admit I liked the game more than I expected. The reviews I’d read were pretty awful but I’m a huge fan of civ building games any way. I think the developers missed a huge chance to make the game educational by basing it on real historical events more closely. The story in the game now is boring anyway and, I feel, adds nothing to the experience, why not at least make it educational in that case?


Entry filed under: Video Games. Tags: , , , .

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