Let’s be clear upfront: Bronze is a poor man’s Settlers of Catan. While not innovative or particularly unique, a poor-man’s Catan is not necessarily a terrible option. Bronze’s crippling flaw is that despite having roughly half the features and appeal as Catan, its price is nearly triple (Bronze is available at shrapnelgames.com for $29.95, while Catan can be bought on XBLA for $10). Guess that man is not so poor after all.
Bronze does come with redeeming features. It presents the sort of gameplay that Catan pioneered and popularized, boils it down to its purest form, and then slips in some of the addiction of Othello. Players take turns building structures on a large rectangular grid, which represents a slice of territory somewhere in the Fertile Crescent, circa 1500 BC. The objective is to continue to expand onto adjacent tiles and enlarge your zone of control until you occupy the majority of tiles, preventing the other players from making a move. When you bump into areas your opponents control, structures like armies and ziggurats can be used to convert those tiles to your faction.
There's not much more to the gameplay. There’s a campaign mode where you battle a multitude of other factions in your quest to become the dominant power of the Bronze Age, but it mainly acts as a hub map you click through to switch from one battle to the next. As far as presentation, Bronze is extremely modest. Its graphics are very turn-of-the-century and its audio design is, to put it generously, very simple and streamlined. Though most of us don't demand mind-blowing visuals from our video board games, some flash and pop or an interesting art design would have gone a long way towards distinguishing Bronze in a crowded market. The game feels flat and very dated as is, and leaves you with a distinctly “budget” taste in your mouth.
Bronze lacks more than budget values, though. Where the game truly falls short is in conveying any sense of epic scope or progress. There’s very little to connect players to their civilizations: You make an initial choice based on a very small handful of gameplay factors, and from that point onward your “grand culture” largely consists of a color of tile. The campaign map fails to present you with strategic choices or demand that the player decide where or how to allocate resources or focus production. It’s simply a matter of picking which of the boxes you want the next “battle” to take place in.
The fact that the developers chose to exclusively focus on one era is a major shortcoming. This sort of historical strategy game would benefit immensely from the ability to progress through a series of eras and watch your civilization grow and evolve. As provided, the structures you can build in your first match will be the same ones available to you in your tenth, or fiftieth. After you’ve played through the helpful (and lengthy) tutorial missions, you will already have experienced nearly all of the content the game offers. Actual campaigns are simply tutorial battles with all the structures unlocked from the beginning and multiple opponents with which to contend. All that’s left is to master some fairly basic patterns and strategies and hope that the AI takes a misstep.
Bronze would be a lot easier to recommend if it were a $1-5 download on a phone service. Despite its very narrow boundaries, the game plays fine and is mildly entertaining in short bursts. At its current price, however, Bronze ends up looking (on platforms with such vastly superior offerings) like a historical footnote, at best.