Hegemony III: Clash of the Ancients (H3) received some mixed reviews when it released back in 2015, but since then it has got a handfull of updates, including a DLC "The Eagle King" which brought new game play options and an expanded Sicily-map in 2017. Now the game is looking forward to a second DLC "Isle of Giants" in 2021 focusing on the nuratic tribes of Sardinia and Corsica. Time to look at this game again!
With it's setting in ancient Italy before the Rise of Rome, at first the map may seem small in comparison to other titles, but actually it is not, especially when considering that the DLC add the islands of Sicily, Sardinia and Corsica. In fact, the map offers a lot of game-play opportunities and different factions and if that was not enough, the modding community has added additional content.
H3 combines a strategic map with a tactical map and at any point one can zoom in from the strategic map to the tactical map, where individual armies can be manouevred through the map terrain and one can muse over the visuals for buildings, terrain and units. This in fact is exceptional and conveys a great feeling of control. Control that one must exert, however, relentlessly, because otherwise armies will starve and factions in conquered cities revolt. Supply is king in H3 and the player must care to always have enough food for cities and armies while juggling the other ressources and the needs of defending the city or empire against foreign intruders. When winter comes, this is not just a visual effect like in other games, it actually does matter. Beware those who have not planned and build up their food stocks in advance!
A feature I particularly like is the leader upgrade and the technology tree. The player can assign leaders as general to his armies or as governors to his cities, giving specific perks. In fact every army gains experience points through batlle and the player can level it up with different abilities (e.g. siege specialists). In the end of this levelling up process a leader can be drawn from this army and reassigned to other armies or cities. This feels organic and satisfying. The technology tree actually makes sense and is fully integrated into game-play decisions, making new and interesting options available while progressing. However, at times this requires to make quite some hard choices!
On the other hand, the diplomacy system only knows war or truce. If the player is not at war by default, then he either pays tribute or receives tribute from a foreign power, based on relative strength. Vassalage or other diplomatic options are not yet known in H3. Similar for trade, which basically only occurs inside one's empire (except from the slave market, which comes with more advanced technology). Trade agreements with other factions to balance a bit the stress on ressources would help, but they are not available in H3, although the supply system would seemingly lend itself for that. These are certainly some critical issues that need to be ticked off by future expansions/DLCs and would round off the game.
I can whole-heartedly recommend to everyone who's already played a few other strategy games and feels mature enough to suffer a few set-backs while playing, to get this game into his/her game library. In summary, these are the pros and cons I can see at the moment.