When we think of management games, the usual suspects come to mind. Sports, theme parks, and vehicle management have dominated the market for years.
Then, on the other hand, when thinking about a Dungeons and Dragons campaign, we normally envision a group of adventurers exploring, fighting, and planning on their own accord. Rarely (unless part of a specific – and rather obscure – quest) does a group of adventurers work directly for a management firm. It’s this mix of two strategic genres that are rarely seen together that makes Epic Manger an exciting concept.
In Epic Manager, the Astraeus is experiencing an era of peace after years of war between the various factions. In this time of peace, former soldiers find themselves without work and in need of methods to feed their families. Groups of soldiers banded together to form adventuring parties, and set out for riches and glory. Without proper management, many good men were lost to a comedy of simple errors. To combat the loss of life, agencies were created to manage the adventuring parties. Eventually an adventuring guild was created to keep the agencies regulated.
You play as CEO of a newly-formed adventuring agency. The game begins with a rookie draft, where you choose an adventurer from a variety of fighters. The player is always the third overall pick, with the first two picks going to random AI teams. The first two picks are actually cameo characters, Shovel Knight and Rogue Legacy Knight.
When the player first enters the main game screen, they are greeted with a lot of different buttons and information. The tutorial does a good job of explaining everything, but it can still be quite overwhelming at first. The base concept of the game is simple: control your adventuring parties to complete quests and gain fame. Be the most famous agency by the end of the season to advance to the next division up, and eventually become the top-rated team in the Gold division.
The main way the player achieves fame is by completing quests. Quests each have their own little storyline associated with them, and some even have loyalties to neutral parties involved. The quests for neutral parties tend to follow overarching storylines. The player can continue working with a faction to progress the story and gain favour with them. There is little to no variety in the actual gameplay of the quests, which is quite disappointing.
Besides the management and map exploration, the main gameplay of Epic Manager is turn-based tactical combat. The combat is a mix of standard RPG combat with an energy system similar to the likes of Divinity: Original Sin. The energy system, abilities, resistances, damage types, and more, are all great elements of a tactical game. However, without movement or a grid, the combat feels stationary and simplistic, and falls into the same routine battle after battle. There is even a Battle Sim mechanic so that the player can just roll a die to determine the outcome of combat instead of trudging through another identical battle.
The management elements of Epic Manager are pretty well done. Although it’s easy enough to stay as the top agency in the division, there are a ton of minor decisions that can add up to big failure. The game is a constant balancing match of trying to earn more money than you spend. Negotiating contracts plays a huge role in your agency’s success, and it’s a mix of luck and skill to get the best deals. The player has to weigh the cost of the potential contract with the risk of the adventurer rejecting the contract outright and abandoning the agency.
The map is another big positive for Epic Manager. There is a surprising amount of strategy involved in navigating the map in the most efficient way possible. Every time the player moves from one area to another it takes a full turn, with the exception of portals, so planning your move out is paramount. The player can place portals on any city they’ve discovered, and freely travel between portals. Portals are in limited supply, so they must be placed carefully. The player can also strategically choose quests that are in close proximity to save on walking distance. Overall, the map is wonderfully done, mechanically, visually, and comically – it’s full of puns; ‘Elijuh Woods’ was one of my favourites.
When moving around the map, the player has a chance of running into random encounters. The random encounters are usually simple multiple choice scenarios. However, depending on what type of adventurers you have in your party, you may unlock additional dialogue choices or skill checks. The skill checks give a difficulty rating, and the player rolls a die to decide if they succeed or fail, similar to Dungeons & Dragons. These random encounters really feel like you’re playing an RPG adventure and are a nice little break from the normal gameplay. Better yet, the rewards can be pretty beneficial, but the punishments for failure are rarely devastating.
The map is graphically very pleasing; it carries a nice art style mixed with a classic hexagonal style. Other than the map though, the visuals aren’t much to look at. The game resembles a simple Flash effort for the most part. The audio follows suit, with only a handful of songs, and sound effects that are nothing to write home about.
As a whole, Epic Manager is a great idea that falls short of its potential. The game masquerades as an in-depth RPG management game, but feels shallow after playing for a few hours. A lot of the mechanics, like the map, contract negotiations, and the random encounters are fleshed out and well-designed, but core gameplay elements like the turn-based combat are so simplistic that the game quickly becomes tedious. With more polish and depth, Epic Manager could have been a multi-genre defining game. Instead, Epic Manager is a game I would only recommend to people looking to get their feet wet with management games.