Civilization. If you’re of a certain gaming bent, that word will make your happy place tingle.

Yet Civ on mobile has been a disappointment – somehow both bloated and limited. By contrast, indie upstart The Battle of Polytopia’s spearman merrily downs its inspiration’s stealth fighter, largely through learning to focus.

The basics remain: you’re dumped in a little isometric world, a single fighter surrounded by the unknown. Delving into the fog uncovers a little more of the map or – often – someone intent on kicking your face off.

Fight or flight

Early on, duffing up opponents in this turn-based contest isn’t the smartest of moves. Instead, it pays to send units off to explore, using scant resources to grow your city, press-ganging local villages into joining your tribe, and expanding your knowledge by way of a tech tree.

As noted, though, this is a streamlined effort. You only gain new cities through discovering villages or conquest.

The tech tree abruptly ceases before anyone has the chance to learn about guns or anything that flies. Multiple units can’t even lurk in the same space, be that a field, city or chunk of ocean.

A dash of perfection

If you think that all sounds limited, you’re right, but then that’s by design here – this game is limited in the right way.

Polytopia wants to be the mobile title that scratches your 4X (eXplore/eXpand/eXploit/eXterminate) itch – a relatively quick blast of empire building and world domination rather than a sprawling effort that will rob you of days.

On that basis, Polytopia succeeds on its own merits, especially in its 30-turn Perfection mode. This dash to the finish line ramps up the tension as the fixed deadline approaches and you realise you need to smash up a few cities with an army that has seen better days.

Killing blow

For the more bloodthirsty, a Domination mode lets you continue cracking heads until there are no heads to crack – but at that point Polytopia’s own cracks become evident. Play well and you amass more resources than you can sensibly do anything with, and may end up covering the entire world with temples.

Even then, you might argue the game is urging you onwards, rather than encouraging you to faff. If you’re toying with a final city, all your existing territory filled, it’s time to put your digital foe out of its misery, ramp up the difficulty level, and see whether next time you’ll still be victorious.

The Battle of Polytopia is available for Android and iOS.

Stuff says... 

App of the week: The Battle of Polytopia review

A superb mobile-oriented 4X. That it’s free feels wrong – so buy a couple of IAP tribes to rebalance the world
£Free
Good Stuff 
Focussed and streamlined play
Varied levels and start points
Pass and play multiplayer option
Bad Stuff 
Some players might feel hemmed in