If you've never taken up arms in the Kohan universe, this is your second chance to introduce yourself to a new brand of real-time strategy game--and you shouldn't miss it again.
Kohan: Ahriman's Gift is billed as a "stand-alone prequel" to this spring's excellent fantasy-themed real-time strategy game, Kohan: Immortal Sovereigns. Those who have never played Kohan: Immortal Sovereigns will find Ahriman's Gift a substantial revision of the old RTS build-and-rush formula, which introduces a slower pace and a focus on tactics. However, those who played the original will simply find the same game in a new package.
Kohan: Ahriman's Gift is not an expansion pack to the original game. Aside from the addition of some new units (like the crossbowman, who functions as a sort of heavy archer) and very minor tweaks to the original units, Ahriman's Gift plays just like Immortal Sovereigns. Ahriman's Gift does include new campaigns, but these seem easier to complete than the ones in the original, which had a few extremely difficult missions. For the most part, this is a rerelease with new maps, campaigns, and a few new multiplayer game types.
The Kohan game engine attempts to eliminate the frenetic pace and mouse-clicking that had become associated with so many real-time strategy games, as well as to introduce a strategic depth reminiscent of classic turn-based games. It succeeded in the former by organizing units into companies. Players choose the composition of the frontline and support units, and the company then functions as a single entity. Because you will have far fewer companies than other RTS games have units, micromanagement is greatly reduced, while the fact that each company has multiple units means that you still feel like you're commanding a substantial army. You can't give specific orders to the individual units, and you can't give orders to companies once they have become engaged in combat (except to order them to rout), and the result is a feeling of larger-scale strategy.
The focus on cities is imperfect, however. Because there are few on-map resources to control, cities are self-contained production engines that drive your war effort. In the Heroes of Might & Magic series, the turn-based system to which Kohan is sometimes compared, castles are essentially useless without the special resources that can be found only in mines scattered across the map, and simply marching from castle to castle does you little good if you don't have the resources to take advantage of a castle's production. Kohan's improvement-based system means that taking enemy cities will rapidly shift the balance of power in your direction, and the most effective way to do that is by massed force. In the end, there is less maneuvering and tactical gameplay than there could be.
A problem with the Kohan combat is that while units have certain special bonuses (for example, paladins are more effective against shadow units), these bonuses are not enough to overcome the standard real-time strategy focus on sheer numbers. Kohan is still about building the largest army (regardless of composition) and throwing it at the enemy. Hero units are also not powerful enough to make up for enemy numbers.
The last problem with Kohan is that it lacks atmosphere, and this hasn't changed with Ahriman's Gift. The fantasy setting seems rather flat, and the feeble back story doesn't really add anything to the game. The graphics, while clean and sharp, are also somewhat uninspired, and this is made worse by the small units that don't allow for the game to express much visual style. The appeal of Kohan is definitely in the gameplay.
The artificial intelligence in Ahriman's Gift is still remarkably good and will challenge the newcomer even on the easy level. The computer's tactics are generally quite good, and you'll find that just when you think you've concentrated an overwhelming force against your enemy, it has somehow managed to bring forces to bear against your weakest spot.
Whether or not you buy Ahriman's Gift has everything to do with how much you enjoyed Immortal Sovereigns in the first place--if you even played it at all. If you've never taken up arms in the Kohan universe, this is your second chance to introduce yourself to a new brand of real-time strategy game--and you shouldn't miss it again. However, if you merely enjoyed Kohan: Immortal Sovereigns, full price is a lot to pay for a set of new campaigns. And if you absolutely loved the original, then you probably already own Ahriman's Gift, so you don't count.