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MC Lothlorien Ltd
Not Known
1987
Strategy: War
£9.95
Multiple languages (see individual downloads)
ZX Spectrum 48K
None

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97,98
Philippa Irving
Chris Bourne

A curiously uninformative title, behind which lies a game concentrating on simulating the role which naval warfare played in the Punic Wars. The Punic Wars were quite as important as the Napoleonic Wars, and were largely about who was going get the chance of making an empire of the world, the Romans or the Carthaginians. It is to this conflict that the famous episode of Hannibal and his elephants belongs, but the wars in their entirety lasted from 264BC to 146BC. The turning-point came in 203BC when Rome won a decisive land victory at the Battle of Zama, after which Carthage was a doomed city and its eventual destruction was inevitable.

The main reason for the Cathaginian defeat was the Roman success in neutralising her powerful naval position. In 264BC the Roman people voted to aid the Mamertines of Messana against the Carthaginians, and met Carthage for the first time on the Island of Sicily.

The objective of the game is to move ships into neutral and enemy ports, and ship gold from them to the capital city. You must also engage the enemy when they happen to be encountered in the pursuit of these goals.

The player must first design his fleet, in a manner which is inevitably slightly artificial but nevertheless contains an impressive variety of choice and detail. He starts with a treasury of 1000 gold pieces with which to buy the navy. There are five basic models of ship offered, in ascending order of price from the small two-oar bireme to the slow and massive Ct Heptares. Once the type of ship has been selected the player can decide what kind of crew to assign to it, including whether to have specialised marines and archers aboard. He must also decide on 'optional extras', like towers and sails, to add to the basic design. A good crew and extras increase the fighting efficiency of the ship but they all cost money. The most expensive ship it is possible to design costs 214 gold pieces, and only four can be bought with the initial funds By contrast the cheapest ship, a bireme with a crew of slaves, no marines, archers, or extras, only costs 15 gold pieces. In between, there Is a vast permutation of possible prices and the maximum fleet of sixteen can be built up of any combination of ship designs. There s a copy facility to duplicate a ship you've designed if you want more than one to that specification.

Once the fleet has been built to the player's satisfaction, the program moves onto the main map screen. There are two maps, one a static large-scale representation of the Mediterranean area between Italy and Carthage and the other a scrolling small-scale map showing detail. Most of the action takes place in the small map, as orders are given via it, and the ports and ships can only be seen on it.

Orders are given to the fleet by a series of icons. After the idiot-proof clarity of the purchasing procedure, this is where the operation of the game can get slightly confusing. With a little perseverance and patience you can get the hang of the system, and it does not remain hopelessly cumbersome to work.

Each ship must be given its orders individually after being selected by means of a cursor on the small-scale map. Movement is subject to how fast the rowers have been instructed to go and which course is set for them. If fully rigged, the ship will go with the wind direction without intervention from the rowing crew. The system is clumsy but no doubt reflects real-life difficulties of navigation and co-ordination. Gold can be loaded and unloaded from ships when in port, and damaged ships can also be repaired at a cost.

Combat with the enemy can only happen when ships collide, and the result of these encounters has already been influenced by the type of ship and crew selected. The players role in these encounters is limited to the option to grapple or degrapple. Combat can go on at the player's choice for as many rounds thereafter as it takes to sink one of the ships.

One Interesting feature is the user-definable victory conditions, which add variety but detract greatly from the feeling of historical authenticity. Victory is defined In terms of gold accumulated, enemy ships sunk, and ports captured.

It is very easy to set an extremely low set of victory conditions and win after the first turn, but the maximum victory conditions of 2000 gold pieces, sixteen ships and fifteen ports take a long game to achieve.

There is a two-player option, but in one-player mode the player is always Carthage. This may well be to disguise the fact that both sides start with exactly the same naval resources, something else which detracts from an authentic feel.

The game lacks variety, there is nothing to do beyond ferrying gold to the capital and bashing into enemy ships that get in the way. As an end in itself this presents a satisfying task, but it is slightly divorced from a real historical context despite the Greek trimmings of the construction stage. The overall impression is nevertheless refreshing, and anyone with an intrinsic interest in the era, or in naval warfare, will find a lot to enjoy in the game.

CRITICISM

91%
The on-screen impression is excellent.
80%
The rules are not extensive, but they are concise and cover everything. The flow-chart is a nice try.
82%
Slightly sticky sometimes, but after practice it's easy to get into a rhythm.
86%
Functional and very attractive.
79%
There is a cosmetic authenticity, but the gameplay doesn't really recreate anything.
81%
Pity you can't choose sides in the one-player version.
84%
This should keep you going for a while.
84%
An interesting and good looking game.

Screenshot Text

The larger map shows the entire playing area, the smaller the details of movement and combat.