Machiavelli The Prince

a game by Holistic Design, Inc.
Platform: PC
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See also: Relaxing Games

Okay, time for a little history test. Hands up all of you who have heard of Niccolo Machiavelli before. Come on, put them up. Not one of you? Sigh, typical really. What was I thinking? You're all well and good when it comes to reciting Wu Tang's special moves in Gang Killer 39 Turbo, but ask anything about world history and you're about as much use as a guidebook to Swanage. What are they teaching kids these days?

Game review... take two

Forget the history lesson, then. All you need to know about Machia-velli the Prince is that it's a Civilization-style strategy game set in the 14th century (that's lost another 60 percent of you); you have to explore the world in sailing ships (there goes the techno-brigade); engage in historical politics (so long to anyone under 18); and it's actually very, very good. So who am I left with? University students without dates and some old man who just wandered in to keep out of the rain. Well, at least we know what the target audience is.

That's perhaps the only problem Machiavelli faces - finding an audience. Which is a shame because, as I said, it's a very good game indeed. Very challenging, highly addictive once you've sat down with it, and everything that High Seas Trader should have been but wasn't (even if it doesn't have a pseudo-Doom-style sailing section).

I'm not going to harp on about the graphic quality, since this never seems to be an issue with strategy games, although I would dearly love a programmer at some point to say, "Right, there's the Hyper-Accurate Artificial Intelligence routine sorted, now where's the Silicon Graphics workstation and those rendered visuals?" It'll never happen, of course, but we live in hope.

I'm still he... urgh

Other than that, Machiavelli is excellent. It manages to combine both world exploration (either the real 14th century globe - or "disc" as they thought it was back then - or a randomly generated one) with cunning political savvy. And I'm not talking about pointless bickering sessions between opposing political parties but real politics. Violent politics. Treacherous politics. A smile, a policy and a dagger up the strap politics. If your opponent is getting too powerful, kill him. If you want to control elections, bribe the senators to vote for you. If you want the church's mighty (and profitable - these are the days of the Inquisition, after all) influence, buy some cardinals.

All the time you are juggling this internal strife with the need to barter with foreign cities, to set up trade routes that bring in the cash and to fend off natural enemies like storms at sea, plagues wiping out cities and bands of pirates and mercenaries looking for a quick florin.

Basically, I'm thoroughly impressed with Machiavelli but saddened by the knowledge that it's going to struggle to find itself a large audience. It's cut itself off from the shores of mass appeal due to its subject matter, and without superficial niceties, such as glorious animations and other special effects, it's not likely to find its way back. Still, I've got my copy, so what do I care? Who knows, thanks to its unique play-by-e-mail feature, maybe it'll find itself alive and prosperous on the Internet. Maybe it'll be a trendsetter, a bandwagon builder. Maybe.

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System requirements:

  • PC compatible
  • Operating systems: Windows 10/Windows 8/Windows 7/2000/Vista/WinXP

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