[Over at sister 'online worlds' site Worlds In Motion, Mathew Kumar continues to expand the Worlds In Motion Atlas by giving overviews and impressions of a whole bunch of online titles that don't really get discussed in the game media. This time, he takes a look at another impressive web browser-based title, Travian - this one's all about empire-building.]

Here's an overview of Travian, one of the most popular browser-based civilization building games.

2008_12_15_trav.jpgName:Travian

Company: Travian Games

Established: 2004

How it Works: Travian is browser based and runs in HTML and Javascript. Navigation and gameplay are accomplished via mouse and keyboard input.

2008_12_15_trav2.jpgOverview: In Travian, users create a village on a randomly assigned plot of land, where they must use local resources to develop their village in the aim of eventually creating a world wonder before the end of a set amount of time. Players can attack and trade with other player-owned villages.

Payment Method: Travian is free to play, and earns revenue via "Travian Plus", which allows users more functionality, and the purchase of "Gold" which allows players in-game advantages.

Key Features:

- Massively multiplayer real-time strategy title
- "Always on"—players' cities are constantly working, even when they're not logged in
- Players can not only fight with each other, but perform diplomacy, forming alliances and trade agreements
- Includes a regular "end game" where after a set amount of time the game ends and a new one begins

Travian: In-Depth Tour

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I think that one of the major mistakes that I make when writing this Online World Atlas is underestimating how much of a time sink the majority of these worlds are. Not merely that in some cases I find myself so drawn in that I spend more time fiddling with them than writing my next piece of the Atlas, but that sometimes they simply require such a huge amount of time to really "get going" that I find it hard to write my next piece!

Travian is a perfect example of that—I'd hoped that within a few weeks I'd have seen a variety of the game, but I've barely managed to leave the tutorial!

Let's get this straight—Travian is complex for a browser-based game. Developed by a German-based company (similar to a lot of the browser-based empire building games, actually) if you're familiar with the German love of board games—sometimes very complex ones—this game will instantly make a lot of sense.

When the game begins, the player is given a choice of playing the Romans, Gauls or Teutons—tribes which will be wel known to fans of the Asterix series—and as a result of my aforementioned love of Asterix I chose to play the Gauls, naming my first village Osismii; after the tribe which inhabited—roughly—the area where Asterix and Obelix lived.

I set about with all of the early tasks that these games tend to begin with—developing my croplands, clay pits, iron mines and wood cutting operations—while developing new buildings inside my village, such as granaries and marketplaces.

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Initially, Travian seems like it's a little faster than other games of the type, but in retrospect it's slower; as in other games you are tied to developing one resource/building at a time, and while each development can take only a few minutes, the amount of resources required to build the next can take hours, if not days, to build.

Which means, quite honestly, that it could take weeks (!) before you even get involved in any play with other users. However, once you have reached that point, the game actually makes playing with other players far more important than it is in other games of the type.

You see, as it's based around eventually reaching the point where you can build a "wonder of the world", with a defined end game, you have to work with other players to succeed. The game has a well built alliance system that allows players to trade with each other, reinforce each other villages, and so on. Much like, say, Eve Online, alliances can get so large that they outgrow what the game can support, with multiple alliances agreeing to work together.

Of course, you don't have to work together, and there are multiple options available for attacking and pillaging other players, and you can lose villages (other than your capital) so there's a lot of risk involved.

But is there reward? Though I don't feel like I've necessarily seen all I can of Travian, I'll conclude my thoughts in the next Online World Atlas installment.

Audition: Conclusion

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If there's a lesson to be learned from Travian, I think it's to be wary of complexity. Though the game features simplistic, cute, welcoming drawings of Romans and Gauls in the vein of Asterix, it is, honestly, the most hardcore civilization building game that I've yet played on the web.

I think that in some respects I could consider that a good thing, but for the fact that its tutorial—which takes forever to progress through thanks to the demands of the turn-based, one development at a time design—teaches you almost nothing doesn't help. You learn how to develop your land and village, but very little about what makes up the majority of the game (largely, interacting with other players.)

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Once you've left the relative safety of the tutorial, Travian is a bitter, unwelcoming place. Expect your city to be pillaged constantly, with (in the early stages) few ways to retaliate. The game is an intense struggle for survival, not the "dip in, dip out" kind of game you could often expect from web-based titles of its ilk, and after a while it is simply exhausting.

Travian's dated interface adds to the general sense of desperation, with a clumsy and poorly explained navigation that rarely gives you the information you need when you need it (and paying extra for Travian Plus's interface improvements generally doesn't add enough.)

Perhaps it's unfortunate that I played its most direct competitor, Ikariam before I played Travian, but in comparison the game is deeply disappointing, suffering all of Ikariam's flaws and more. It does ultimately offer more to the player willing to put in the effort (especially when it comes to interactions with other players) but I can see few reasons for the average gamer, or online world connoisseur, to bother.

Useful Links:
Official FAQ
Official Forums
Unofficial Wiki