screen3.pngSimulation games all lie somewhere on a spectrum between highly accurate and highly fanciful, the latter end eschewing realism and instead relying on theme to create a hopefully cohesive and engaging experience. Dreamsite Games's Empire TV Tycoon lies somewhere near the fanciful end and definitely succeeds at being engaging. I started playing it for this review and realized what seemed half an hour later that I'd actually been playing for five hours and wasn't going to get a full night's sleep as a result.

Empire TV Tycoon, as its name implies, is about building a successful TV channel that outclasses the competition. This is done by getting more views than rival channels in as many time blocks as possible. As each time block ends, all three channels gain fame based on how well they did comparatively and the first channel to reach the target fame level wins.

However, that's easier said than done. A raw breakdown of all the things that must be balanced to achieve fame and fortune would be boring, but it involves boosting viewership through marketing and channel upgrades and then matching content and ads to target demographics.

It's possible to overreach, taking on more ad contracts than can be filled or spending too much on producing original content and leaving no cash on hand for purchasing additional content when the player has nothing good to fill a given slot. There's a lot of depth to the game that is best learned through playing. The player can definitely get behind the competition, but it always feels like the player has ways to make up the difference if they plan well enough.

The game's lack of realism shows itself here and there, but even though the channel's modest studio is mysteriously capable of producing everything from TV shows to 3-hour big-budget flicks, the TV channel management theme makes it work. It's great that the theme allows for such variety, because it can be cheaper to produce original content, which can then also be entered into awards shows, but sometimes you need a 1-block, high-quality western aimed at the elderly right friggin' now, and the movie guy in the basement has you covered.

If I had to pick out a flaw in the game, it's that it doesn't have the clearest tutorials. However, I don't think the tutorial could be better. Tutorial windows pop up when appropriate and don't go into full detail because walls of text are bad. It nudges the player in the right direction and then lets them figure out what to do in detail on their own. I wouldn't consider that a strength in most games, but it works here because the player is playing a long game and has time to make and learn from mistakes.

screen4.pngOverall, Empire TV Tycoon is a good game with a relaxed but absorbing pace and a great deal of choice to give it depth. Aside from upgrading the channel whenever given the chance, there's almost never one clear best option to go with. If you like simulation games and tycoon games in particular, you should give it a try.

Empire TV Tycoon is available for Windows, Mac, and Linux for $9.99. Update: The Linux version has been removed from Steam because it doesn't work on all versions.