Discovery - In the Steps of Columbus
for Amiga (OCS/ECS)

Mr Creosote:
Company: Impressions
Year: 1991
Genre: Strategy
Theme: Business / Historical / Nautical / Pirates / War
Language: English, Deutsch, Francais, Castellano, Italiano
Licence: Commercial
Views: 29273
Review by Mr Creosote (2021-01-16)

In 1992, the “discovery” of the American continent had its 500th anniversary. Just in time, Impressions released their take on this, plus the conquest/colonization which followed, well in time for this celebration. Based on their own Merchant Colony engine, development effort was probably limited.

Taking the role of one of the major European powers of the time, your ships set sail westwards until they hit the soon to turn prosperous shores. It doesn't make a difference whom you pick, so if you fancy a bit of ahistorical weirdness, nothing should prevent you from picking Prussia (clearly a land-locked power, and not even all that relevant in the 15th century) or Genoa (whose purely Mediterranean colonial empire had just collapsed around this time). Adventurous small settler figures swarm out in real time to chop some wood, dry up swamp, build their new homes and start some farming. Wait, don't these mountains look promising? Maybe ores could be found?


Good thing we still have our ships to send goods back home to Europe or any other major port of the world to sell at a nice profit. Which, obviously, could be higher if we didn't just transport and sell raw materials, but processed or manufactured goods. For this, factories need to be built. Higher profit, finally, leads to more power obviously – the player's precise goal being selectable at the beginning (most gold, most settlements etc.) and leading overall strategy.

In a change from Merchant Colony, there is a stronger focus on land-based expansion. The natives, while initially somewhat peaceful, don't react well to our expansion. So we secure our stakes with fortresses or even take the offensive route. As soon as we need their land, this will happen anyway. Boom! Another European power is sitting on those gold mines? Well, not for long – boom! Or maybe we should rather play it dirty, letting them do all the hard work, but sending some privateers to capture their transports? This way, Discovery plays out in a remarkably historical fashion completely and organically driven by player needs.

The same land focus also has the nice side effect of working around a couple of the previous game's issues. For instance, ship pathfinding is still awful, even up to the point of fleets just getting irreversably stuck on some coastline until they turn to real piracy out of demoralisation. Though with the main route just being east-west, across the open ocean, and ports simply being directly selectable as targets, such annoyances are less frequent.


A noteworthy transition happening throughout a typical game is the focus shift from away from micromanagement. While it is absolutely necessary to give each settler figure exact orders in the early game to get settlements started, as they will – in the best scenario – otherwise do nothing but chop wood or – worst case – be eaten by the swamps (yes, still, but at least swamps can be dried now, albeit manually), once a certain threshold has been reached, the player can safely focus on the bigger picture. I.e. the game changes from detailed, fine-grained optimization to global strategic decisions. This helps long-term motivation immensely.

Although Discovery doesn't actually solve most of its predecessor's issues, it is a winner, because it works around most of them to a just sufficient degree. After the fairly stressful, but also interesting beginning, the feeling of reward and gratification grows and grows as your little figures move about the countryside, seemingly carrying out their business, not always quite targetted, but just nice to watch. It is a sort of charm which later games may have used to an even stronger effect, and in some cases coupled it with a much more elaborate economic model (most notably The Settlers), but in its own small ways, Discovery remains a piece of art on its own right in spite of interface imperfections.

Archived Review(s) ↓

Review by Mr Creosote (2002-08-03)

Impressions never had the best reputation with the mainstream gamers. They mainly produced quite inaccessible (granted) strategy titles. Caesar and Cohort are maybe their widest known classic titles. The vast majority of their games completely disappeared though.

Discovery - In the steps of Columbus is one of the games sharing this fate. It might be mentioned on a handful of sites, and on those, it is usually presented in a negative light. But as usual, I doubt if all of these people have actually played the game really - or what would you think if the game's 'review' is only a quote from another site with the only 'personal addition' being “utterly boring game”?

To understand the points I will raise in favour of the game, let me describe it a bit first. You take control of one of Europe's main superpowers of the late 15th century (the addition of Prussia seems a bit strange though) and control the colonization of the 'new world' (doesn't have to be America, there are other fictional worlds, too).

You send out ships with settlers who found new cities once they reach land. Little settler-sprites swarm out, chop wood, build bridges, fill swamps until they're dry, build farms, warehouses, factories and so on. If you've planned well, your settlements flourish, more settlers are 'born' and goods are produced. In that case, you build trading ships and send your valuable goods home to Europe (or Asia if the cities there offer a better price).

This economical planning is the main part of the game. But what good is a lot of gold when your neighbours can just take it away from you? The Indians are of course not too happy about you occupying their land. And the European settlers of other nations aren't too friendly, either.

So you build forts which then automatically produce soldiers which you can use to defend your own cities or launch a (purely defensive of course ;)) strike against them. On sea, war ships fulfill the same purpose: you can let them patrol your merchants or even attack the enemies ships and steal their cargo...

The game takes place in real time. Large 'realms' with many cities are therefore a lot harder to maintain than small ones. Especially since there is a lot of micromanagement: you can control every settler individually and to be really successfull, you have to! There are general commands like into which general direction a city should expand, but those will only make the new settlers walk there and produce wood. All the buildings have to be constructed by your direct command. Settlers will also blindly run into swamps and die there if you don't tell them otherwise.

That may sound awful now (and it is maybe one of the main reasons so many people dislike the game when they've only tried the game briefly), so I should add that this extreme micromanagement is only necessary to get each city started. Once it has grown to a decent size, you can safely leave it unattended for a while and only casually give some new general orders.

Another thing which certainly repulses players would be the controls. In theory, they are very good - extremely well thought-out and easy. But firstly, the main window showing the 'map' is too small (not enough overview), and secondly, it's hard to choose a specific settler, city or ship in the swarming or the later game stages. Whenever some 'unit' is chosen, the game is paused though which balances this out.

The really biggest downside is the pathfinding routine. Settlers run into mountains, ships get stuck on the coastline all the time! This is most fatal with trading ships because those, like all units and cities, have a 'moral' value. This value decreases with the time on open sea. Since this time of course increases indefinitely because of these 'escapades', it very often reaches zero - and then, the ship turns to piracy. Unfair and annoying :(

Now it seems I'm falling into bitching about the game, too. Don't let all that fool you though: the easy, yet clever economic model is quite addictive - players of Colonization will find quite a few similar ideas in Discovery which was released three years earlier: the job system (which is only hinted at here, but the idea was obviously there), the production system and a lot more.

Discovery is a good game with quite a few little flaws in the detail, sure, but those can't spoil the fun - no matter what some wannabe experts are trying to tell you :)

Important note: At the time of writing, this game ran only in Fellow, not in UAE! If you're dependant on emulation, keep this option in mind.

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