Castles. (computer game) (Software Review) (Evaluation)
by Scott A. May
Take a leap back in time with Castles, an enticing blend of Old World simulation and pragmatic role-playing. Designer Scott Bennie transports would-be kings to the age of feudalism, where the difference between fortune and failure could be measured in the strength of your castle walls.
Inspired by the medieval courts and conquests of thirteenth-century Welsh ruler King Edward I, the program challenges players to build castles capable of sustaining an expanding empire. Success depends on a variety of elements: stability of design, utilization of work force, shifts in political climate, military prowess, and economic stability. The fate of the realm rests in your decisions-choose them carefully.
The game begins from the ground up, teaching fundamental castle design. Players learn not only the best type of terrain (avoid trees, rocks, and heavy marsh) but also the strategic benefits of specific locations and designs. Build on unstable ground and risk eventual collapse. Likewise, neglect areas of probable attack and face almost certain defeat. The game's manual includes a detailed, albeit somewhat superfluous, tutorial to help first-time feudal lords get started.
The goals are first to build and then tosuccessfully defend a castle on one of eight neighboring territories. The game offers four levels of difficulty and the choice of either one- or eight-castle campaigns. Game saves are necessary for this last, rather lengthy, option.
Fortifications don't just magically appear, of course. As general contractor, you must hire, fire, and assign wages to seven categories of workers. In advanced levels of play, allocation of specialized labor is affected by factors such as availability of materials and terrain limitations. At all times, the castle's Master Builder offers his assessment of construction efficiency.
Another matter to consider is the constant threat of invading Celts, who destroy walls and towers much faster than you can build them. For this you must employ an army of archers and infantry, whose number is determined by the size of your castle. Battles lend a much-needed sense of urgency to the game, which otherwise moves at a leisurely pace. Whether fending off small suicide runs or a full-scale siege, surviving battles is the single most important aspect of play.
Other elements under your direct control include tax collection, food distribution, and random matters of diplomacy. This last feature provides much of the game's rich atmosphere, because you entertain quandaries as frivolous as naming a baby or as profound as defying the will of the Church. Each decree, no matter how small, affects the course of play,
A fantasy setting replaces real-world conflicts with the stuff of Middle Age myths: dragons, ogres, wizards, and the Wild Hunt. Although not nearly as rewarding, this mode provides an amusing alternative style of play. A separately available data disk, Northern Campaigns, promises to expand the game's horizons.
Interplay's conversion from the IBM original is faithful to a fault. Graphics are functional but offer little variation from the standard isometric view. Missing from the Amiga version, for no discernible reason, are the game's excellent introductory screens, as well as the ability to play a three-castle campaign.
Although decidedly not for all tastes, Castles is a game that few can walk away from without a deeper appreciation of this fascinating era.