My husband bought the first Age of Empires game for my then 6 or 7 yr old son a few years ago. I trusted his word that it was an appropriate game, noted that it seemed to be a typical strategy-type RPG (think Kingdom Hearts or Final Fantasy), approved that it seemed to have a historical framework, but didn't give it much thought beyond that. My son proceeded to thoroughly play the game, and a few of of its successors or expansion packs, inside outside and backward for the next year or two, still without me giving the game much thought except in the rationing of his computer time (as I typically have no personal interest in RPGs).
Then we began some hard-core history lessons. And THAT'S when I realized what a TREASURE there was in this game! Lesson after lesson after lesson, I would introduce a new civilization, notable figure, vocabulary term, historical event, or cultural concept to my son, and almost every time I found out he was already familiar with the subject from the "firsthand" history lessons he'd experienced in his game. Years later, I'm still finding that there almost never a bit of history that I have to present to him that he doesn't already have some sort of basic understanding of - from cultural relationships and wars to climate, economics, and religion - this brilliantly written series of games covers it all! Every major event, every major historical figure, and every major civilization (and many many minor ones) are ALL covered to one degree or another. Of course, the lessons we do in our homeschooling are much more in depth, and as his teacher I am able to fill in all the gaps for him. But never am I presenting him with a completely foreign subject from scratch which he then has to not only retain but understand. The groundwork has already been laid for me! And I LOVE that!
I'll never forget the time that he made a trebuchet for us out of his K'Nex, and proudly presented it to us, through no teaching on our parts. When we asked him what it was, he eagerly announced that it was a "Tree Bucket". (There's not much audio in the game, and that was his best prounciation of the awkwardly-spelled French word, hehe.)
I can't tell you much more about the game, because I have not played it myself. But from talking with my husband and son, and watching a few tutorial videos online, I CAN tell you that it is MOSTLY exploration, strategy, and character interaction, low-definition army battle scenes with only tiny specks of blood stains as gore, and occasional high-def battle scenes with really no gore at all.
Lastly, I just want to reiterated how much my son LOVES THIS GAME! And the game has given him a passion an intrigue for history as well, making our lessons all the more exciting. I can't imagine how I would have muddled through homeschool history lessons without it.
Here are the games that I know of, and some of the civilizations that kids can play as or learn about in the course of the game.
Age of Empires I:
Mycenaeans, Greeks, Minoans, Phoenicians, Egyptians, Assyrians, Sumerians, Babylonians, Persians, Hittites, Shang, Choson, Yamato
Age of Empires - The Rise of Rome:
(Alexander through the fall of Rome)
Romans, Palmyrans, Macedonians, Carthaginians
Age of Empires II - The Age of Kings:
(the Middle Ages)
Britons, Byzantines, Celts, Goths, Teutons, Franks, Mongols, Chinese, Japanese, Persians, Saracens, Turks and the Vikings
Age of Empires II - The Conquerors:
Aztecs, Mayans, Spanish, Koreans, and Huns
Age of Empires III:
(age of colonial empires)
Spanish, British, French, Portuguese, Dutch, Russian, German, Ottoman, Pirates, Circle of Ossus, Native Americans (12 tribes, including Inca and Maya)
Age of Empires III - The War Chiefs:
(expansion pack with mainly North American history)
Iroquois, Sioux, Aztec
Age of Empires III - The Asian Dynasties:
(expansion pack with mainly, you guessed it, Asian history)
Chinese, Japanese, Indians, Sufis, Shaolin, Zen, Udasi, Bhakti, Jesuits
Age of Empires - Online:
Greeks, Egyptians, Celtic, Persian