Warning : This is out of date.

a harmless guide to empire

under construction, send suggestions to harmless@empire.net. Beginners and browsers are especially encouraged to reply with questions so I know where to make improvements. Examples and a section on syntax have been added.
Empire is a contemporary real-time wargame. The pieces include a variety of land sectors, planes, ships, infantry, armoured divisions, civilians, ... a fairly long list. Your opponents are other players. You can ally with whomever you choose, or go it alone. A game typically lasts for months, and ends when a single player or a group declares victory and no one can or will offer significant resistance. Most players play to win, though you can play to survive, or to attain the highest tech, or to be entertaining, or anything else. The rules and tactics are enormously complex, and will take years to master. The rules are also changing as you read this. This document covers the commands and rules I thought were most important for beginners.



This guide contains links to hypertext versions of the Empire info pages (online documentation). You'll need to compare the date of this document to the date of the empire page in cases of discrepancy. This document is targeted for Empire 3.0.x.

Setting up

To play empire you need two things, a game and a client. The game itself (called a server) is run on a unix workstation by someone called a deity. There are usually several games running worldwide. Read rec.games.empire for new game announcements and players looking for corulers or substitutes. The Planet's Empire Archive also lists current games. Blitz games typically do not require pre-registration, you just take a country from a list (usually numbers between 1 and 10, password=country number) and change your name and password once you login.

Getting a working client is more difficult. A Java Client has just been released, if you have a Java-capable browser. All other clients are distributed from the ftp.empire.net Retrieve the client appropriate for the machine you will be playing from. If you have an account on a unix machine, get a unix client (emp_client, eif, pei). If you want a graphical interface, try xemp or myxec. If you want to play from within emacs, GEET and GENIE are emacs modes. VMS, VM/CMS, MS-Windows, and Macintosh clients exist, but are not as well developed or maintained as the unix clients, so "install an operating system on your poor lonely computer the way God and Dennis intended". Browse through the ftp archive for a client you think you can use.

If all else fails, you can use telnet as a client. You will suffer until you obtain a real client! telnet does not hide the empire protocol from you. It will be ugly. You also lose the ability to save or pipe command output. It will probably be confusing (ignore the first character of each line). MUD clients may also be used, but are ugly like telnet.


telnet empire.ivory.edu 1617
user myid
coun Fodderland
pass tHg86RRv
You can also kill a hung connection by typing kill instead of play with the telnet method above.


In empire there are nations, sectors, commodities, and units. There is one nation per player. That player has control of a set of sectors and units, each of which can contain commodities.

Sectors come in two different types, land and sea. Sea sectors cannot be owned or hold commodities (see info bridges for an exception). Land sectors may be designated at any time to produce certain commodities, build units, or to have other special properties. A sector may have only one designation at a time. The actual designation change takes work, which only occurs at the update (typically once a day).

Your country must have a capitol and a positive treasury in order to issue most commands. Protect your capitol (it's where "you" are) and don't go broke. You can change the location of your capitol to another capital at any time with the cap command.

Locations are specified using x and y coordinates, but the map itself is a hex grid. To reconcile this, only certain coordinates are permitted (the even sums of x+y). Directions are specified using the six characters surrounding the h key. You'll get used to it.

  -2 . = = = . -2  	  	  y   u	 
  -1  = f = =  -1  	  	   \ / 	 
   0 . = ) m = 0       	       	g - h -	j
   1  . = m m  1   		   / \ 	 
   2 . = * k = 2   		  b   n	 

First Commands

Print a help page, or help on a specific command.
version, show
Print data on this particular game
Break sanctuary and begin play. You must issue this command before you can change anything in the country.
Draw a map of your sectors and surrounding sectors.
map #
. is ocean, - is wilderness, and ? is foreign. An example is shown above. Many Sector-types exist.
Occupy wilderness.
explore c 0,0 1 ggh
Move one civilian (c) from 0,0 two sectors to the left (gg) and stop. Note that in some blitzes, all the adjacent land is already occupied for you. You only need to explore to '-' sectors.
reso, cen, des, move, cap
Other commands used at the beginning of the game. Just type the command, and answer the prompts.

Global Commands

Shows all countries in the world in order of relative strengths
Print recent worldwide events.
ann, wire, wmail
Make or read announcements to everyone
tele, read, mail
Send or receive private messages.
Display data on your nation
Print estimated treasury after next update.
Change your name and password. In non-blitz games, changing your name is discouraged by charging money and btus.
declare, relations
Change and examine your status with respect to other nations.

Looking around

map, bmap
Show a map of the world as you know it.
census, res, comm, dump
Examine your sectors.
look, llook
Look at adjacent sectors and units from ships and land units.
Look for ships off your coastline
radar, lradar
Print a map around a radar station, ship, or land unit


Move commodities from one sector to another.
dist, thresh, level, path
Set up and examine automatic distribution paths
deliver, cutoff, route
Set up deliver paths. Deliver is being phased out. Dist is better.
nav, order, sail
Move a ship.
Move a land unit through your sectors
fly, recon, sweep
Fly a plane. Recon and sweep perform additional activities en route.
load, lload, unload, lunload
Load and unload things from ships and land units.


All production occurs at the update, which is usually scheduled once a day. People in a sector work, producing avail. This avail can be used to build units or bridges, or to produce commodities, depending on the sector designation. 100 people produce one avail per empire time unit (etu). Military are less efficient workers than civilians and only produce 40% the usual avail. Civilians with less than 100% work efficiency produce less work as well.

In Chainsaw and later versions of Empire, people reproduce before avail is counted, so you can produce a bit more avail in low-population conditions. Most games have 60 empire time units per update, and population increases 30% each update, up to a maximum of 999 people per sector. See info reasearch for more on population maximums.

Commodities can be either derived from natural resources or are produced from simpler commodities. Iron and food are produced by m and a sectors with high mineral and fertility resources. These never deplete the natural resources. Oil, dust, and rads are produced in oil wells, gold mines, and uranium mines. These three commodities reduce the natural resources of the production sector. The amount of commodity produced in all cases is proportional to the resource content and amount of avail produced by the workers in a sector.

People (civilians, military, and uncompensated workers) consume food. The amount eaten is proportional to the number of etus and the number of people. See version for the proportionality constant. Some games (blitzes usually) do not need food.

Lcm and hcm (light and heavy construction materials) are produced from iron in j and k sectors. Lcm and hcm are in turn used to produce education, happiness, technology, research, guns, shells, ships, planes, land units, and nukes. Gold bars are made from gold dust in a bank, and produce money to supply your war machine. Some commodities and all units have a minimum technology level at which they may be produced. See info quick-ref and show for specifics.

Education, happiness, technology, and research are nation-wide variables, not commodities. They are also produced on a logarithmic scale, so doubling tech production does not lead to twice the technology level. Technology and research require a minimum education level of 5, and preferably around 20. Happiness keeps your populace from rebelling (see nation for recommended happiness level).

prod, neweff, budget
Estimate results of next update.

Attacking and Exploring

Attack adjacent land sector with military and units.
Use civilians or military to claim unowned sectors.
Attack coastal sectors with military and units on ships.
Attack sector with military in planes.
Capture ships with boarding parties.
fire, bomb, torp, launch
Use ranged weapons to damage units or sectors. Beware of return fire and interceptions.


Missions define the "rules of engagement" for your forces. They occur in response to another player's actions, and occur automatically whether you are logged in or not. Since you probably need to sleep, you should learn how missions work. Some empire players don't sleep, or have allies who call them at 5am.
assign and query a variety of missions for all unit types
range, lrange
Change the range at which planes and land units will react. Missions can assign ranges up to a max of this value.
retreat, lretreat, morale
Set up conditions and directions for ships and units to retreat. Not typically used, as it's a lot of work and difficult to predict the best retreat path.
order, sail
Ships sail towards a destination each update. Used for destinations further than one update's mobility away. Empire 3 allows fishing boats to automatically unload and sail back out using order.
Land units that do not have a mission set will "react" to any sector within their reaction radius, if that sector is attacked by a superior force.

Ships without missions will return fire against any artillery or naval fire, or against any boarding attempts within their range. Forts always return fire.

Planes without missions will fly interceptions if they are interceptors (fighters). Interceptions are flown against hostile planes when they overfly your territory. The "air patrol" mission is similar, but flies only against "at war" nations, and can overfly territory you don't own .

Other commands

See the info pages for complete (and possibly outdated) documentation on the many commands I've missed here. Type list in a game to see which commands are enabled.

enlist, demob
Reserves cost 1/10 the maintenance that active military do. These two commands convert mil into reserves and back. Reserves can be re-enlisted immediately in any sector.
Lists sectors where people will starve. See version for details on the amount of food required. Don't try to cut corners on food. You will be sorry. You will make headlines. Everyone will attack you.


When a command requires a unit(s) or sector (s), you can type in a specific unit number or sector coordinate, or you can specify several units or sectors at once, depending on location and various stats for the item.

The required first part of a multi-item specification is as follows:

Items (units or sector) at x,y.
census 0,0
Items between x1 and x2, and y1 and y2.
bmap -10:10,-5:5
Realm n, shorthand for x1:x2,y1:y2. See realm to change the default realms. # is an abbreviation for #0. map #
All items within r sectors of x,y.
dist @4,2:3 4,2
Every location or unit.
dump *
A character representing a set of units. See army, wing, or fleet to set this identifying character. Multiple units may be assigned to the same letter. ~ is the default character if unset.
ship f
Multiple unit numbers. A single / means no units. A single number is just that unit.
recon 23/47 / 12,8 nnnnnnnyyyyyyyh
The second, optional part of a multi-item specification is the selector. This begins with a ?, followed by a series of comparisons of various stats. See info Selector and info Syntax for more details. Examples:
   census * ?oldown=own       sectors I'm the oldowner of
   ship * ?food=0             ships without food
   news 1 ?actor=5            news performed by country 5
   cen * ?des=h&lcm<100       harbors with less than 100 lcm
   level * ?distpath=0        sectors with no distribution set
   thresh i * ?newdes=j 1000  set iron threshold in lcm plants to 1000
   land * ?mob=127&mission=0  land units with unused mobility and no mission
   sect # ?mil>5              highlight sectors with more than 5 mil
   des * ?gold>0 g            designate gold mines
The parser will allow you to swap the selector and region parts of the specification.(sect ?mil>5 #). Some people prefer this syntax. Many people create exec scripts to set thresholds for all sectors quickly using selectors.
A multi-user, multi-processing operating system written by programmers at AT&T. The lowercase in this document refers to other Unix-like operating systems.
This document is explicitly placed in the public domain in the hope that it will be updated.


Last modified: Mon Jun 24 13:32:43 1996 by dld