Discovery: In the Steps of Columbus is a mix of historical strategy gaming and turn-based naval battles, somewhat based on the adventures of the famous explorer Christopher Columbus. Small tidbits of historical information appear on the screen during the game, telling of the various encounters experienced by the real Columbus.
At the start of the game you are greeted by a sort of terrible music that has the ability to strip paint, but fortunately the music dies off after a while and the sounds are reduced to a minimum. You are then given a choice to play one of eight nations, and then a choice of five colours, after which comes a screen where you can choose from six worlds: All this without any hint to give you an idea of why you should pick Portugese instead of British, or why Prussia would suit you better than the Spanish. There is nothing to differentiate the world types, either, from the Americas (which is the only world with a name) to the remaining five worlds, (in)conveniently named World 2 to World 5.
The game has no tooltips, and is as user friendly as flying a UFO; in other words, you will crash, burn horribly and die many times before realising what you need to do, and by then you will be too frustrated to want to try anymore. After picking a game mode - Free For all, Eldorado, Cash Race or Land Race - and finally the difficulty setting, the game begins immediately.
In a game so user-unfriendly that you won't be given any idea as to what's going on, you start in the middle of the ocean with no backstory, like a stray fleabitten puppy tossed alone into the wide world. You will eventually figure out that you must buy a ship, find land and create a settlement. In the "Bank" tab you can take a loan, buy a number of ships varying in price and upkeep as well as in weight, speed and number of guns, as well as view your income, expenses and current power in the form of number of ships, various buildings and lands. This sounds easy enough, but in this game it's not that simple; when you do find land, your ship disappears when you reach your destination for some reason.
You need to land in a large high resource area and manage the ports, men and trade to create an income of gold and build up a permanant settlement, while surviving natural disasters and attacks by natives. On a good note, it's fun to watch the settlers deforesting the area and beginning to gather resources - you feel as if you are impacting the world once you have a good few settlements up and running with trade routes protected by your battleships. The combat is pretty straightforward as you take turns to click an option; you can choose from attack, outrun, trade, and so on. Also, the occasional historical fact that pops up can serve as a treat for anyone interested in the history of Columbus.
All in all the game is not easy to start, you play with little help to get you going, and even less to keep you playing, but once you have figured out how to transform a settlement into a number of cities and eventually an empire with a considerable force of ships and good productive trade routes, you begin to enjoy the feeling of power that you have achieved.