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Robert T. Smith
Strategy: War
ZX Spectrum 48K/128K

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Marcus Berkmann
Chris Bourne

Now this is my sort of program. CCS has published some excellent wargames for the Spectrum over the last few years, and if Ancient Battles were just another goodie then I would probably be telling you to rush out and buy it.

But the program is actually far more than that: it is a system by which you can design your own battles, choosing two armies from a total of 24 historical nations from the ancient world and picking the topography of the battlefield as well. So I'm ordering those of you who are strategy buffs, to rush out and buy it. On the double.

When you first load up the tape the program automatically sets up the battle of the River Hydaspes, one of the four pre-designed scenarios which come with the game. Hydaspes was a battle fought in 326 BC between Alexander the Great and an Indian army which far outnumbered him. He won, of course.

Hydaspes is an excellent simulation. The graphics are very crisp, and the mechanism by which you can give your troops orders is simple. You scroll about the map, observing where your units and the enemies' are. Then you put the cursor on one of your units, and hit fire. You can either order it to move to wherever you move the cursor to, or you can tell it to follow another unit. This means that you can set the whole thing up so that you only have to tell four or five of your 20 or so units what to do each turn, and the rest will follow them. Much more realistic, and much less time consuming than giving each unit individual orders.

You can choose to play against the computer, or up to two of your friends. You can also pick something called 'shared command': this means that the computer takes the roles of the subordinate commanders in the battle, and decides what they will do within certain guidelines which you lay down at the start of the game - advance, defend or skirmish.

Generals are important, as you can only give two orders per General. If you don't have enough, then you won't be able to use all your troops effectively. There's not a lot more that needs to be said about the actual battle program. Judging from the various factors listed in the rules book, it is a faithful and successful attempt to translate table-top wargames rules into a computer format. It takes into account morale fatigue, flank and rear attacks, the psychological effects of friendly units and a host of other things. Given the three other scenarios you get, what you have is a brilliant package of games for the wargame or strategy afficionado.

The real strength of the program is the 'design-your-own' battle option. What I was expecting was a program which let me choose which two of 24 possible nations I wanted to have a battle between, to choose how big the armies were going to be and what units they would consist of and to design my own battlefield. In short, I thought I was going to get all the flexibility of table-top wargammg in a computer program. And I did - plus some extra bits that I hadn't expected.

What I hadn't expected was the flexibility and ease of use of the whole system. Plus I hadn't expected the sheer detail it offers when you are choosing an army. Not only do you get to choose what nation you want to fight with: you also get to choose a particular type of army from a particular campaign. So you can choose a Professional Roman army, from the first century BC and onwards, from the eastern or western half of the Roman empire...

Having designed your own army (and saved it!) you can then design the battlefield you want to fight over. Very simple just choose the size, then start slapping scenery down. Move the cursor to where you want a wood to be, check the terrain list at the bottom of the screen for the right key for woods, hit it and presto! you've repaired part of the damage caused by the October Hurricane without getting your boots muddy! Same thing for everything else - just remember rivers should go somewhere too!

Even without the do-it-yourself option, Ancient Battles is a great package. In fact it could well be the best buy for a strategy gamer tor 1989. Unless, or course, CCS releases another in what I suspect is going to be a series of Encyclopedia Of War games.

An excellent package: good game with added bonus of 'design your own battle' mode.