Review of Six Ages: Ride Like the Wind
Developer: A Sharp LLC
Available in the iOS app store for $13.99 Canadian
Years in the making, Six Ages is technically a prequel and spiritual successor to King of Dragon Pass. David Dunham produced, designed and programmed Six Ages. He Reassembled a number of people who worked on King of Dragon Pass in order to build on that game's wonderful legacy. Robin D. Laws was the head writer on the project. By his calculation, there are over nine novels worth of text packed into this game. Stan LePard took charge of sound and composed music for Six Ages as he also did for King of Dragon Pass. A number of the testers and quality control people were drawn from those who helped make King of Dragon Pass the marvel that it is. These people included Zachary Kline who helped make certain that the game was fully accessible to users of VoiceOver.
Six Ages: Ride Like the Wind, is the first in a planned series of six similar and related games taking your clan through ages of Gloranthan history. It seems as though these future games will be aded into the Six Ages app as they are ready. King of Dragon Pass is still a favourite game for me so I was very eager to get my hands on Six Ages when it was released in the Summer of 2018. It improves upon and surpasses King of Dragon Pass in many ways when it comes to accessibility. Blind people are treated to a specially crafted exploration system which eliminates the need to deal with the hex map. Contextual help is provided for all game screens. Also, textual descriptions are included for the many hand-drawn scene pictures and other art present in the game. These are still a work in progress with game updates incorporating more of these descriptions along with other game improvements.
Overall, people who have played King of Dragon Pass will feel right at home. The core of Six Ages is the same as that of King of Dragon Pass. You are in charge of a clan and need to make decisions about what happens to your people. There are other clans present which are all run by artificial intelligence and simulated quite extensively. You play the game by accessing a number of control screens which allow you to allocate people and resources. Also, you must make choices for the clan during events which come up as time passes. The game never rushes you and always waits for you to make decisions. This is a thinking person's game with no need for quick reflexes. It is all about considered choices and their consequences. It's about being caught up in an epic story that you are helping to shape with your decisions.
Six Ages has largely stuck to what worked so well in King of Dragon Pass when it comes to controlling the game. VoiceOver users can flick left and right between elements and double-tap on choices or checkboxes. Double-tapping on the "menu" button will bring up a ribbon of options which overlay whichever screen you are on when you activate it. You can get onto this menu by touching the middle of the screen and then flick left or right through the options. Double-tap on the one you want to activate. There are sliders on some screens which you flick up or down to adjust. There's really nothing too complicated about operating Six Ages.
As with King of dragon Pass, blind players should make certain that VoiceOver hints are enabled. Six Ages uses the feature in a creative way making pertinent information about people, clans, and other game elements presented in lists easily available without needing to hunt for it on the screen.Other helpful additions especially for blind players include a "Help" button on each screen that provides contextual explanations about the current screen. Besides this brief help, it is also possible to access the full game manual from these help screens. This manual is nicely laid out with headings separating various topics. This makes it easy to navigate with the VoiceOver rotor set to headings. The manual is also available from the "controls" and "Lore" screens.
When dealing with events or scenes, it's a good idea to flick right as many times as possible beyond any choices that are available. Doing so will reveal a text description of the artwork present in the seen presuming the description has been written for it. This is still a work in progress but the descriptions added so far add a richness which goes beyond what is found in King of Dragon Pass.
The only place where things sharply diverge in terms of interface is when it comes to the map and exploring it. Sighted players will find a hex map which they can explore just like in King of Dragon Pass. For blind users, the struggle of dealing with a virtual map has been eliminated. Instead, there are a series of buttons representing nearby randomly chosen known and unexplored sectors. You simply flick left or right to the one you want and then double-tap on it to select the area as a mission destination. They are in order from closest to farthest away. Once you discover things about places, such as who owns the land, a note is made on the map. Any named places you discover will also be available options. They can be flicked to and double-tapped. The first four represent explored places around your own land. The next four are random unexplored places. Gradually, the percentage of the map which you have explored will increase as you venture out. Flicking past these buttons, you will come to options such as the type of mission to be conducted, choice of leader, and how many people to send.
This represents a tremendous reduction in learning to play the game. Many blind people struggled or just gave up on King of Dragon Pass due to the need to deal with its accessible but cumbersome large map. Despite the map for Six Ages being four times larger, I don't believe any blind players will give up for similar reasons. Exploration is now a simple pleasure to manage. This takes nothing away from the decisions related to exploration missions which make up so much of Six Ages. No corners are cut on that front whatsoever.
One element which could prove problematic in King of Dragon Pass was the tutorial. The box with helpful messages could be frustrating to deal with. Now, the tutorial is a separate item in the "play" menu and has been greatly improved. Beginners shouldn't have any problems learning the ropes using the Six Ages tutorial, contextual help and manual. And of course, there is your clan ring comprised of people who will offer advice. Just go to the "advice" button and double-tap it. This will bring up a ribbon much like the menu where double-tapping on a character name will switch to their advice at the moment. Flick right and you'll eventually come to the "hide advice" button. Double-tap this to return to the game screen you were on when you sought advice.
Sound and Music:
Six Ages features an entrancing and evocative score which never grows tiresome. The music changes with seasons and events as they come up. If you go into the Settings app and find the "Six Ages" subsection, there is a "sound volume" setting which allows you to set the volume of the music and sound so that VoiceOver can be clearly heard overtop of it without needing to have audio ducking engaged. This makes it easier to fully enjoy the sound and music and was a happy discovery for me. In the "controls" screen within Six Ages, it is possible to turn music and sound on and off as desired just like in King of Dragon Pass.
While the music is extensive, sound effects are minimal. Rather than fully depicting events, they are brief sound symbols evocative of the action or event taking place. When I increase the number of warriors in my clan, there is a short cheer giving the sense of an induction ceremony. When I sacrifice to the gods in hopes of learning a new blessing, there is a brief sound portrait with rattles and drums along with a deep gonging evocative of mysterious supernatural matters. Overall, the sounds don't get in the way of hearing VoiceOver read the text describing what happens during the game. The story is meant to be read leaving you free to imagine things rather than have everything fully portrayed. Overall the sounds give Six Ages the feel of a sort of narrative board game which is precisely what it ultimately is.
At the heart of Six Ages: Ride Like The Wind is a fantastical bronze age world of magic and adventure. This world, Glorantha, has been in ongoing development since the late 1960's. Developers of Six Ages have taken its mythology and lore seriously and present players with a rich tapestry to weave their clan through. They have also created a fantasy which resonates strongly with our current troubled times. Your clan is forced to flee the city where it formerly resided due to climate change. Deep questions such as what traditions to keep, which gods to worship and seeking friends in a strange new land are all central to this game. To play Six Ages is to grapple with the consequences of decisions made with imperfect information. It is to explore the implications of relationships, religion, power, and possibility.
Provided you are able to enjoy fantasy, mythology, and some truly mind-expanding ideas, this game is an absolute must play for blind gamers. There's enough help available to make it welcoming for novices just getting used to their new iOS devices. On the other hand, there's enough variability and challenge to keep experts coming back for just a few more moves. Six Ages also lends itself to episodic short play cessions as well as whole afternoons lost in its endless rich story. Blind gamers are unlikely to find a game which welcomes them as fully and deeply into a space which very easily could have been left completely inaccessible. VoiceOver has been leveraged in many different ways. Beginners could learn a great deal from playing this game about how to use VoiceOver effectively in other contexts.
While controlling Six Ages is simple, there is a tremendous amount of complexity behind the scenes. There are hundreds of possible events which never play quite the same way since they're influenced by many variables. No two games will play through the same way. It's impossible not to start to care about the characters in your clan as they age, develop over seasons, and strive to implement the decisions that you make. There are different levels of difficulty further increasing the staggering replay-ability of Six Ages. While its price might seem high, you won't find a game which offers more depth, replay value and wonderful accessibility for blind players. Like its predecessor, this game delivers imaginative and engaging fun of the highest order. It's worth every penny.
The developer of Six Ages is always interested in feedback and has been quick to respond to questions or ideas from players. You can find out more about this incredible game and what went into making it at: www.sixages.com
Thanks for such an awesome review. I never completed the game, but will get back to the game soon. I really enjoy playing the game. I never really got used to King of Dragon Pass, but I managed to get used to Six Ages. Maybe because of the improved tutorial.