Argus has been a bit naughty with this game. It's called Legions of Death - and what a great title that is, all blood and marching feet - yet there isn't a single legion to be found in it.
In fact, there aren't any soldiers as such at all. So how can you have a wargame without soldiers? Simple, you make it a naval wargame. And that's what it is.
What we have here is a two-player strategy game, which gives you the option of having one side controlled by the computer. The playing area is the Tyrrenian Sea, which for the uninitiated and the non-Diplomacy players means that bit of the Mediterranean which lives between Italy and Tunisia.
One player is the Romans, the other the Carthaginians. Capture a certain number of enemy cities, destroy a certain number of enemy ships, or collect a certain amount of gold in your capital city. I'm not certain whether you have to do one of these or all three - the instructions given with the game don't actually make it very clear. Anyway, whichever, you get to set the victory conditions yourself, so you can make it just as hard or easy as you like.
You get 1,000 gold pieces to spend on ships. You can choose between five types: bireme, trireme, quinquereme, quadreme and ct heptares. Ct stands for cataphract and apparently means it's armoured.
Choices are made by using an icon-driven menu. You have the option of designing a ship or - to cut it short - you can copy an existing design. If you choose to design one afresh, you get a menu-driven checklist covering all the different things you can spend your hard-earned sertertil (that's Roman dosh) on.
As ever it's a trade-off. The bigger the ship the more fighting men and gold it can carry. But it also costs more and is slower. Then you can fill your ships with armies and archers; these are important because combat at sea in Roman times wasn't like today, where you shoot at each other from miles away. Galleys would ram each other, grapple together, and the troops on board would fight just as if they were on dry land. You can also buy extra equipment for your ships, things which will make them go faster (Roman equivalent of go-faster stripes), or will give you the edge in combat. Another thing you should consider very carefully is what sort of crews you should give your ships. Can you get away with cheap slave crews, or should you splash out on seasoned seamen who will sail and manoeuvre better?
So much for the setup phase.
Now you have to decide where to put them.
Switch from the right-hand third of the screen, where all the menus appear, to the maps. There are two, one strategic and one tactical. Who said this isn't complicated? The strategic map shows you the whole playing area, while the tactical one only shows you the small area immediately surrounding your cursor. Move over a coastline on the strategic map. Ships appear on the former as little (one pixel) dots, while on the latter you get a little graphic representation, about two characters long by one wide.
Once you've placed ships, you have to start being cunning and working out where to move them to. Be very careful, as movement is a hell of a lot more difficult than it looks, and it's very easy to crash into your own vessels. That's not the idea - the idea is to crash into the enemy's ships. Then your marine and archers battle it out.
You can also win by capturing enemy towns - by having your ships there and none of theirs - or by getting a certain amount of gold back to your capital. Each of your towns will produce gold, and you have to use your ships to carry it home.
If all this sounds confusing, just try playing it... But don't worry though - you soon get the hang of it.
Legions of Death is actually a pretty excellent game, even if it's not what I expected from the title.
A great little strategy game that should keep the dedicated gamer busy for quite some time.
Reviewer: Gary Rook
Great stuff for the strategy gamer. Complex - first ships then hand-to-hand fighting. Tough and addictive.