I'm not the sharpest tool in the shed, but it's still somewhat rare that I encounter a game that instantly makes me feel like I'm way out of my depth. And yet here I stand with The Ants: Underground Kingdom, trying to build up an ant colony and feeling like an absolute newb in the process.
The Ants is a strategy and resource management game where you're appointed as the ruler of your own tiny kingdom, which you need to build and expand as far as you can to obtain insect dominance. The depth to this unique title and its great production value make this an easy contender for our best Android games.
Your colony revolves around your queen, of course, and you need to mobilize workers and soldiers to your advantage. The game's tutorial does a decent job of holding your hand through the first few chapters to ensure you get the gameplay before eventually setting you loose on your Formicidae foes.
Your colony revolves around your queen and you need to mobilize your workers and soldiers to your advantage.
Building up your colony involves digging out tunnels and filling those spaces with (mostly) realistic resources like leaves, fungi, water, sand, and food stores. I particularly liked this aspect of the game, as I appreciated the grounded approach to what it would actually take to maintain a massive ant colony. Over time you can start to amass multiple copies of resources and begin to organize them within your colony to your liking. This facet of the game really reminded me of Stardew Valley, in a good way.
The intricacy of the game is quite striking and it's clear that the developers put a lot of thought into making sure experiences feel real. It's a small thing to get so much enjoyment out of, but I loved the full-screen portraits that the game gives showcasing special new ants when you obtain them. They look especially lovely if you've got a killer phone in hand. The variety of ants and the effort put into making them look like their real-world counterparts was a welcome surprise.
On top of expanding your colony, you'll also need to defend it from encroaching rivals. These can come in the form of other invading insects, spiders, and even scorpions later down the line. You'll need to start building up your army and amassing special ants to do some heavy hitting for you to defend your minuscule kingdom or risk losing it all to invaders.
The intricacy of the game is striking and it's clear that the developers put a lot of thought and love into the design.
But here's where I feel like we come to the big catch of The Ants. At a certain point, it becomes an online game where you send your colony to raid others to get resources and loot. In turn, this means that your colony can also be raided and if you're raided by someone much higher level than you, then you probably don't stand much of a chance. There is, however, an alliance system that you'll want to take advantage of to both gain more loot with your allies on raids and to call them to your side when your own colony needs some extra defense.
The raid system can be very frustrating if you prefer to play solo and you're having trouble finding other folks around your same level to play against. It can even feel like you're in an uphill battle against a pay-to-win system where the player with the most diamonds (the in-game premium currency) holds the clear edge.
Enter The Ants' monetization scheme. Many of your resources, ants, and upgrades in this free-to-play title function on timers and once you're out of the beginning chapters of the game, those timers get lengthy. Some of the better ants and resources have timers of 22 to 24 hours, so the temptation to purchase speed-ups or use diamonds to skip the timer is very high. This is compounded by the online raid system and could easily be a big turn-off for more casual players.
The monetization can feel like a pay-to-win scheme when it comes to raiding and being raided by other kingdoms.
In short, there are parts of The Ants that I really enjoy, mainly the resource management aspects, designing and upgrading the underground colony to suit my personal tastes, and the good production value in the graphic quality, sound effects, and overall good UI. On the other hand, the online build and conquer aspects of the game don't appeal to me as much and I worry about the raids becoming more of a hassle for me later on. My hope is that future updates may introduce a raiding level system to protect lower-level new players from getting constantly steamrolled by more established kingdoms.
I don't really consider myself to be a very competitive person, though, so keep that in mind when you're weighing your own interest in the game. For you, the raiding aspect may be what you wind up enjoying the most in this unique title. I also strongly feel that there are myriad ways to optimize your gameplay and strategies and methods that I haven't realized yet, as the math involved with crafting a perfectly functioning colony is perhaps beyond me.
In many ways, it feels like I have barely scratched the surface of what The Ants has to offer, and while I may still be on the fence about certain parts of the experience, I can easily see how this type of game could be somebody's jam. If you're the kind to enjoy resource management and build and conquer games, then The Ants: Underground Kingdom might just be your perfect match.