PowerMonger. (computer game) (Software Review) (Evaluation)
by Richard O. Mann
Save PowerMonger for a day when you're frustrated with life, a day when you need a socially acceptable way to vent your aggressive energies. PowerMonger gives you the glorious opportunity to ride roughshod over an entire land of unsuspecting peasants. In fact, it requires that you do so.
As PowerMonger begins, earthquakes and volcanoes have destroyed your kingdom. You and a small force of loyal troops need a new home, but the only lands available are already ruled by local nobles. You see no alternative but to carve out a new kingdom by whatever. ruthless methods come to mind, including battle, diplomacy, and espionage. (This is not a politically correct game; most people today would characterize taking countries by armed aggression as evil.)
PowerMonger is from Bullfrog, the maker of the prize-winning Populous. PowerMonger uses the same basic interface, built around an entertaining 3-D terrain map on a war-room tabletop. From your overhead perspective, you see small people, houses, workshops, sheep, trees, boats, and other objects as they move through their daily activities. A palette of game control icons surrounds the map, and the figures of your general and his captains loom over the table.
You use the icons to control your followers and wrest control of the land from the natives. When you attack a small settlement, for example, an army of tiny animated vassals marches across the countryside to the target and engages in battle. Little souls fly into heaven as soldiers die. Once you've won the settlement, you commandeer its equipment (weapons, boats), seize its food (soldiers have hearty appetites), and move on. The degree of aggressiveness you've assigned to your captain controls his rapaciousness. Only at the highest aggression setting does he completely strip the settlement of food and supplies, leaving the peasants to starve.
It sounds simple, and it is--for a while. The first few of the 195 territories fall easily, but as you continue, the natives become stronger and wilier. You encounter marauding armies suspiciously similar to your own. Simple methods of attacking, seizing resources, and advancing no longer work. You must become more clever.
The far-reaching effects of your decisions come back to haunt you. If you order your craftsmen to make catapults, for instance, they're likely to strip the neighboring forests; this alters the weather patterns and delicate ecological balance of the land. Inattention to proper routes to new battle sites can string your men out too far and leave them open to attack. Tribes you've allied with can become too strong, forcing you into battles you cannot win.
You won't learn the nuances necessary to succeed at PowerMonger overnight. There's plenty of challenge in the ever-increasing need to fine-tune aggressive tendencies, battle strategies, logistics management, ecological management, and diplomatic relations. As you progress, the antics of the little people who populate your tabletop map are a joy to watch--except, of course, when the angel-winged souls gently rising into heaven happen to be those of your soldiers.
The game's documentation is excellent. It includes a detailed strategy guide that explains how to gain control of the first 30 or so territories. You can add a whole new dimension to the game by hooking up with a second player by modem.
So, wait for a day when the Saddam Hussein in you needs some exercising--or exorcising. PowerMonger can relieve those tensions and teach valuable lessons about the consequences of wielding power.