Two things can happen when you come up with a game thats part wargame, part strategy and part rpg. The first thing is that reviewers will waffle on for at least a paragraph or two before you have any idea of what sort of game youre reading about. The second thing is that theres a better than even chance that the fans of each individual genre will be mightily disappointed or avoid it completely.
Very few games of this type have really made it: Civilization got away with it by combining brilliant gameplay with superb detail and, although it hasnt yet been bettered, there are still people trying. Witness the latest offering from the US, Conquered Kingdoms.
Dont ask me why its called Conquered Kingdoms; if all the kingdoms have been conquered, its hard to see why youre supposed to do it all over again. Mind you, once you read the manual, you suddenly realise just why they dreamed up the illogical title: they cant speak English. In places it reads as if its been translated in stages from Taiwanese through a dozen different dialects of Swahili. There are even spelling mistakes on the game screens. Well, okay, bad spelling and grammar wont bring about the end of the world, even a fantasy one, but if its been this loosely flung together, what hope is there for the game?
The state of play
Actually, Conquered Kingdoms isquite a competent little fantasy I wargame thats stronger on strategy than anything else Ive come across in a while. Conquest is what this game is all about, and it can be set on any one of nine pre-drawn maps or a randomly generated map up to several screens in size. You can either play with human units only - archers, cavalry, knights, swordsmen, lancers, boats and catapults - or a combination of humans ancf fantasy creatures. The latter category includes all sorts of things from wizards and dragons to trolls, ogres, gargoyles, phantoms and rogs. And dont ask me what a rog is because I dont know except that its fat, its green and it walks on water, okay?
The game revolves, not surprisingly, around combat, but production of new units and the capture of castles, towns, villages and other resources play an important part too. Resources include gold, coal and wood, all of which can be exchanged for units in various combinations. To start with there are single battle options on any of the game maps but for the game maps but for the more adventurous theres a campaign game too. This adds a few extra rules and includes officer figures with various healing powers and advancement capabilities. Play is harder in the campaign, and the maps can be quite huge, with up to 120 different countries to conquer and hold.
The opening screens consist of several layers of rather second-rate fantasy pictures and some digitised music that is nothing at all to write home about. The first task is to choose a commander - confusingly referred to as a personal officer (I though they were people who sifted through cvs) and a royalty in the same section. That done, its on to the map selection screen and finally the set-up screen from which you can change the default options such as army size, type of units, starting locations and so on. Although the manual claims you can fight with human armies only, it isnt possible on most maps, so that option quickly gets forgotten.
You then get to choose and place your pieces on any or all of your chosen start locations, paying close attention to the whereabouts of resources and castles. Castles are vital as reinforcements can only appear inside an owned castle.
Pieces can be selected with the right mouse button and moved using the left button. One minor grumble is that you cant give a unit marching orders beyond a single turns movement which is a pity. The pieces move on an almost invisible square grid. The squares are actually rectangles so allow two units to each. This can be rather confusing and placing units is awkward until you get the hang of it. The map tends to get cluttered too and, quite honestly, Id hate to see it on an ega screen even though the colours are good and the detail clear (as long as too many units arent stacked in one spot). Scrolling around the map isnt too smooth either, even on a fast pc, and some screens seem to take ages to clear and change.
Once youre into the game, the quality of the sound effects leaves a lot to be desired but at least you can turn them off and speed up some of the animated combat sequences if need be. Combat is a little simplistic and it wont endear itself to purists.
Fights are really slogging matches with little or no tactical skill involved bar some defensive advantages if you happen to be in a castle. Theres no value in surrounding or flanking enemy forces for example: its just point for point with the winner being the one left standing.
The computer plays a good game but its not long before youre playing at the upper levels. Games can be short or long - always worth extra points in my opinion - but tend to end up in the same way, with forces of dragons and gargoyles (which seem to be the best pieces on the map) slugging it out with the knights defending the last castle. Apart from the knights, the human units are invariably too weak to be useful for anything more than guarding captured resources.
While play is predominantly against the computer at one of 21 difficulty levels, there are options for modem play if you really do have money to burn. According to the manual, the games artificial intelligence simulates several different personality types, offering even more variety. Not only is it dyslexic schizophrenic.
Useful bits and bobs
Conquered Kingdoms comes on two disks, and both 3.5" and 5.25" formats are present in the box. The ever helpful manuals troubleshooting section says it needs quite a bit of free memory but the game seems quite tolerant of other tsrs and indeed a disk cache such as SMARTDrive is recommended. Installation is quick and easy using the supplied utility. Also in the box are the 55 page manual Ive already bemoaned, a full-colour booklet showing the nine pre-drawn scenario maps and a simple photocopied card showing the combat results table.
In the end, though, the gameplay itself is good and varied enough to keep you coming back. If you can stand the nonsensical manual and the pretty ropy finish, theres a good game waiting to get out. It certainly wont be leaving my hard drive for some time yet.
Download Conquered Kingdoms
- PC compatible
- Operating systems: Windows 10/Windows 8/Windows 7/2000/Vista/WinXP