1986
Strategy: War
£5.95
£1.99
English
ZX Spectrum 48K
None

50,51
Sean Masterson
Chris Bourne

Sword and Shield is a mediaeval strategy game concocted by the same team that brought you Seventh Cavalry. A king of somewhere lost in the mists of time has allocated control of one of his territories to you. Your orders are to make 1000 groats (local currency) from development of the crop farms. However, there are more than natural disasters to contend with. Invading knights and their infantry can cause trouble and rebellious farmers, known as the masked men, are set on making your life impossible.

A number of parameters end the game should they be exceeded. If you ever have less than thirty crops, or your own contingent of knights becomes .exhausted or you take over 200 years to reach the objective, the game ends in defeat. The only way to win is to amass the groats and avoid any of the above.

The game turns are one year long, and the player can order forces to keep the enemy at bay, send knights out to look for treasure in neighbouring castles and set the tax rate. The player can select a short or full length game and the facility to load and save unfinished ventures has been thoughtfully included.

The game isn't a purely historical saga however. BLACK KNIGHT have gone down the fantasy road by populating the wilds with up to four rather unfriendly dragons. These dragons have an inverted hibernation habit in that they only appear in the winter (though they remain in play unless dealt with). They are also the strongest of the player's possible adversaries.

Knights are a major asset they are strong and fast, adaptable, and can conscript peasants to create infantry. At the end of the year, when treasure chests appear (for some strange reason), only the knights can venture to get them. Movement and orders for knights and others are carried out with a cursor (known as your 'shadow') and eight directional scrolling of the landscape can also be achieved with this.

At the end of the year three summary screens appear. The first is the obligatory SAVE option. The second tells you the current tax rate, the quantity of crops grown during the year, how much income has been made and the balance in your treasury. The final screen displays the number of knights, farms and infantry you have with another reminder of your balance. At convenient points in this sequence are the options to change the tax rate (arbitrarily set at 20% at the start of the game) and purchase new knights, infantry and farms. Play then continues to the next year.

Play is simple and straightforward. There's no obvious flaw in the game it's just that there isn't enough game there. The trouble with products like this is that they are immensely difficult to get anywhere with until the correct balance is found. After that, all the challenge disappears. Enter yawn mode.

If there was something of interest to look at on the screen, it might have been more bearable. As it stands, the visual aspects of the game are bland and unimaginative, with smooth scrolling being the only saving grace. The price adds insult to injury. It costs at least two pounds more than it's worth. The company probably don't have the resources to bring the game out more cheaply, but they should have gone for an improved product to justify their pricing. They stand to gain little from overpriced mediocrity.

If you're really stuck for a new strategy game, then this one will provide a challenge for a while. But play becomes as predictable and hackneyed as the plot itself before long. The game is a throwback to the days when strategists couldn't afford to be choosy. Nowadays we can, of course, and I suggest you choose to leave this one alone.

CRITICISM

39%
Passable title screen.
40%
Not bad - what there is of them.
45%
Easy to play if you can take the monotony.
33%
Good scrolling but little else to catch the eye.
10%
I don't think this game is true to anything - itself included.
37%
Difficult to beat at first.
36%
Two years ago this might just have been reasonable, but not nowadays.
35%
Very mediocre.

Screenshot Text

A knight moves into the fray to protect frontier farms from the terrible masked marauders.