empire: The self-proclaimed pinnacle of strategy games

A few weeks ago, I was haunted by references to a game called “empire,” that supposedly offered a terrifically complex online nation-building strategy game. I was familiar with empire, which I have seen off and on over the years, but I wasn’t aware that it had network play, or was more complicated than already shown.

Eventually I unraveled a second empire from that knot, tracked it down, and got it going.


I will share with you my exceedingly sparse knowledge of the game, and the way it works. You can thank me later. 😉 Just keep in mind that any or all of this could be wrong. 😕

empire — in this site’s rendition, “Wolfpack blitz empire”, suggesting the group that hosts the games and their particular rendition of the rules — works and plays a lot like tabletop counter wargames that were prevalent in the days before home computers became powerful enough to handle high levels of detail.

You’ll start the game with a small territory on a very large map populated by other players. You’ll get a brief “sanctuary” period to make minor adjustments, and during that time, other players are prohibited from encroaching on your realm or assaulting your newborn nation.

Once you elect to drop that sanctuary, you need to scramble to explore your map, claim ground and immediately initiate resources and development. Over time, expect other players to test your boundaries, make forays into your homelands and perhaps even just crush you like a bug. That’s what the game is about. 😉

Development cycles occur at a rate determined by the server, and the servers I connected to seemed to have 10-minute updates, and were reset after an hour. So you roughly have 10 minutes between a replenishment of your resources or to see improvements complete.

That might sound like an awful lot of time to spend between the next allocation of fuel oil, but I get the feeling that might be just barely enough time to submit all your orders and commands.

What’s difficult to show here, and what isn’t portrayed in the screenshot, and what I found most intimidating, is the sheer intricacy involved. Commands are given to singular citizens or military units moving in explicit directions on a hexagonal map, which is only a small sector in an enormous world.

Just placing the units and roads you see in the screenshot took me about 20 minutes, and that included the time it took to refer to a manual, correct my mistakes, and learn a few tricks. 😮 I relish intricate detail, but I may have met my match with empire.

The SourceForge link above has tarballs for both the server component and the text-based client that you see in the screenshot. The vanilla 4.3.32 version built fine for me in Arch; Debian has the same packages in Wheezy as empire-hub and empire-lafe, I believe.

A couple other tips:

  • This guide is the only reason I know anything about the game at all. I saw a few other sites that had “guides,” but they didn’t offer enough starting detail to make any sense. Use that guide as a walkthrough, and you should be building structures and exploring before a half hour is up.
  • If you connect to the games offered through the Wolfpack servers above, the blitz games are the best places to learn the ropes. They’re relatively quiet, I saw only one other player who left before the first hour ended, and no one seems to care if you don’t know what the heck you’re doing with your country. And unless I’m mistaken, after an hour the games restart and the playing field is leveled again. Connect there, and pick a country numbered 1 to 8 (I think) and the name or password is the same number.
  • Be prepared to invest some time in a game. I get the impression games stretch over days, if not weeks, with nations trading commanders when the original leader is unavailable. On servers that reset after an hour that’s probably not necessary, but I remember notes and rules against sock puppet nations or running more than one nation at a time.
  • Believe it or not, you might want to run this game under X, even if the client you see there is strictly text-based. Reason being — and one of my minor complaints about the client — there’s no history feature, meaning you have to retype commands in their entirety each time. Since some of the commands get quite detailed (like the map command you see above), part of the challenge is somehow automating longer commands and movement sequences. One of the guides suggested it, but I had already realized that a text editor open in a terminal emulator with some of my more common commands could speed up retyping the same map command, or if I sent a unit along the same road over and over again. Ah, the magic of the middle mouse button. …
  • This is another game with a very steep learning curve, and very little in the way of gratification until you reach some considerable levels of proficiency. If you’re not interested in swarming teams of citizens over a map with hex coordinates, then finally building up roads and agricultural centers, all done line by line and command by command, you’ll be forgiven. This is obviously not a game for everyone.
  • I believe there are other clients available, and I believe some of them are graphical. (I only tried the text-based one though.) If you struggle with touch typing and counting out tiny characters arranged in hexagons, see if another client will work for you. And yes, there is a Windows client, so you can keep yourself occupied in your desk job without the need for a virtual machine. 😉

That being said though, this really is a game of unmatched detail and precision. From the earliest steps of commanding a citizen to wander outside the citadel walls, to tips on how to survive a nuclear bombardment by initiating a news blackout, this game takes all points and brings them into a singular experience on a scale I’m only beginning to appreciate.

It may not have color, but it definitely gets a gold star from me: ⭐ I am humbled.

14 thoughts on “empire: The self-proclaimed pinnacle of strategy games

  1. Pingback: nibbles: Considerably less taxing, mentally | Inconsolation

  2. Ander GM

    Install rlwrap in order to get a readline history and shorcuts for command line input applications.

    For example

    >$ rlwrap dc

    empire-lafe works too. Forget X 😀

    1. K.Mandla Post author

      I’ll give it a try. That was a big problem while I was trying empire, because the commands are long and detailed, and I was often sending units in the same direction over and over. I’ll see if it works, thanks. 😉

  3. Ander GM

    And for the map command (and any app using readline) , after using rlwrap:
    C-a begginning of the prompt
    C-e end of the prompt
    C-u delete all before the cursor
    C-k delete all after the cursor
    C-w delete word
    C-left/right a word back/forward

  4. Ander GM

    BTW, a gem: VMS gaming.

    telnet gein.vistech.net
    telnet manson.vistech.net
    Login as games:pressplay

    The number pad works for most games.

  5. Ander GM

    Sorry if I bother you.

    My final empire-lafe invocation, with command autocomplete , a new promt and all:

    rlwrap -a -pGREEN -if ~/.lafe -r -s ~/.lafe -S “Orders:>” -c lafe


      1. Ander GM

        Nice 🙂

        Oddly, the -a switch of rlwrap mangles the empire output for thinks like “report”. Disable it and leave everything as is, it will work.

      2. Ander GM

        Final valid command , which does not bork the lafe output at all:

        rlwrap -a -pRED -r -s ~/.lafe -c lafe

        With a little tweak, it works for adventure. Sadly, I am still with problems for autocompleting frotz 😐

      3. K.Mandla Post author

        Thanks, I’ll try this next time I get a chance to work with empire. The hard part for me is finding the three or four hours it would take to invest in playing the game. … 🙂

  6. Pingback: Bonus: 2014 in review | Inconsolation

  7. Pingback: okiworld: Host-to-host turn-based text strategy | Inconsolation

  8. Pingback: okiworld: Host-to-host turn-based text strategy | Linux Admins

Comments are closed.