Set in a bright, idealized version of the 1400s, Dawn of Discovery is a charming game of exploration and city building, with mechanics that are straightforward enough for anyone to grasp yet complex enough to stay satisfying in the long term. Dawn of Discovery for the Wii and DS share their title with a PC game, but aside from the era in which they take place and the most fundamental gameplay concepts, the games are quite different. This actually benefits the Wii and DS versions, streamlining the number of resources and the overall scale into something more comfortably manageable for these platforms. It's not without its flaws, but it gets most things right, and the various elements come together to create a captivating experience.
The interface in Dawn of Discovery makes selecting and placing your buildings a breeze.
There are two modes of play. The Story mode is a lengthy campaign that takes you from building tiny fishing villages to founding massive cities of stone. The tale it tells is populated with overly broad characters--generous sultans, arrogant nobles, treacherous women--but it breaks up your path to progress into a series of bite-size objectives that make putting the game down very difficult. It also serves as an effective tutorial for the Continuous Play mode in which you customize a variety of aspects to your liking, including the overall size of the world, the size of the islands in that world, and whether you must compete for islands and resources with any AI opponents. Then, it sets you free to play in that world for as long as you like. In either case, the controls and interface work very well, laying out all the buildings you can construct in easily managed menus that let you simply tap where you want the structure to go and plop it down on the ground. Of course, the act of creating cities is nothing new to games, but Dawn of Discovery's effective interface makes it feel playful and pleasurable.
Regardless of the mode you're playing, you'll need to settle islands and create pleasant living conditions for your residents, helping them advance up the social ladder from simple pioneers to lofty aristocrats. It's not out of sheer altruism that you do this; the higher your citizens' quality of life becomes, the more taxes you can extract from them. Pioneers require only food, milk, and a nearby chapel to become settlers, but with each successive rank, the needs become more numerous and complex, and your people more demanding. For instance, in addition to carrying over all the needs of pioneers, settlers also require herbs, clothes, nearby convent schools, and guest houses to become citizens. Production flows become a bit more elaborate, as well. Producing clothes, for instance, is a two-step process, requiring hemp farms to grow the material and huts for weavers to process it. The complexity develops enough to stay interesting as your society advances but not so much that it significantly slows down the pace of development.
You also need to be mindful of your overall economic balance. Each production facility drains a set amount of gold coins over time, and you'll need to avoid creating redundant facilities and manage the tax rate for your residents to ensure that those operating expenses are outweighed by a steady influx of gold. You can also sell surpluses of your own goods or buy goods you're lacking on the open market. Once you get the basics down, you'll be able to see your settlements advance from level to level in no time, and watching your towns flourish into ever-expanding cities is a joy. As your settlements grow, they'll become prone to such problems as fires, rat infestations, and even the plague, which require firehouses, rat catchers, and hospitals to deal with these threats.
The more advanced your people are, the more precious gold you can milk them for.
Sadly, managing the resources you need to produce isn't straightforward, which makes the otherwise delightful business of city building occasionally irksome. With any of your production facilities, you can tell at a glance at what percentage of their peak efficiency they're operating. However, it's not clear how this translates into tons of goods produced. Naturally, as your population grows, so too does the amount of each goods that the population consumes, but there's no clear way to determine just how many tons of a particular good your residents require. This makes it needlessly difficult to anticipate upcoming shortages, and it's easy to get frustrated when you find yourself in the midst of a dairy crisis or similar shortage that could have been avoided with clearer information regarding supply and demand. Scrambling to create more facilities to produce whatever you're suddenly lacking works, and over time, through trial and error, you'll develop a better sense of how many production facilities you'll need for each of your goods, but that's hardly an ideal way to handle this important aspect of gameplay.