Cool fall knights. (Merit's Lords of the Realm and Eidolon's Millennium Action computer games) (Gameplay) (Buyers Guide)
by Denny Atkin
Lords of the Realm is the latest entry in the "medieval warlord tries to conquer England" genre, which includes such classics as Defender of the Crown and Castles II. You start as mayor of a county; of course, you're not satisfied with one territory - you want to be king of the land. You'll raise armies and move across the land, attempting to steal territory from the Knight, Baron, Earl, and Countess, and up to three other human players.
This isn't just a war game. Along with managing your armies, you also build your territories' economies and keep the people fed. You decide whether to plant grain or hops on a patch of land or use it to raise cattle or sheep. You'll have to allocate some workers to mining, some to collecting stone or timber to build castles, and others toward weapons development, Economic and social decisions abound: Do you use the newly harvested grain to feed your people, or do you trade it for goods and risk a peasant revolt?
Once you have your economy established, you'll start building castles, making it much more difficult for others to conquer your territories. A number of predesigned castles are included, but the fun comes in designing your own.
Of course, along with managing your own territories, you must send your armies on the road to annex even more land. Neutral territories can be conquered without a fight; if another player owns the territory, you'll have to battle the local army or peasants. Combat can be handled automatically, or you can control the battles in realtime. Your strategy will depend on whether your army is equipped with hand-held weapons such as swords or axes or with projectile weapons such as crossbows. Don't count on winning just because your army is bigger. If it's hungry or unhealthy (finally, a medieval game that factors in disease!), morale will be down, and your forces won't fight well. If there's a castle in the territory, you'll have to lay siege to it first, filling in moats and using catapults, ladders, and other tools to try to gain entry to vanquish enemy forces.
Merit promises to add modem support in the release version. A hybrid of the best aspects of war games and Civilization, Lords of the Realm is definitely worth a look.
Eidolon's bid. A complete change of pace from typical PC game fare, Eidolon's Millennium Auction aims to attract an adult audience as the first "artistech" game. This CD-ROM game of strategy and deception should appeal to folks who enjoy the bluffing aspect of poker as well as those who've always wanted to attend high-society art auctions.
The game lets you choose one of seven characters, ranging from a sardonic German art critic to a Japanese cyberpunk entrepreneur. (Kudos to Eidolon for offering male and female characters of various cultural backgrounds.) The characters are animated 3-D ray-traced figures that resemble a weird combination of Disney animatronics and the puppets from the old Thunderbirds TV series.
You'll start by examining the portfolios of your fellow bidders, trying to get a handle on their backgrounds and goals. Then you'll spend some time exploring the gallery and looking at the items up for sale. Despite the odd-looking characters, the graphics in Millennium Auction are among the finest ever to grace a computer screen. You won't believe there are only 256 colors - the portfolio and gallery scenes are true-color quality.
Then it's off to the bidding room to battle for art works. If you've paid close attention to news reports and other information, you'll know which objets d'art will fetch the highest resale values, and you'll be able to spend your money wisely, Some of the objects you'll bid on are classic pieces of art. But this game's set in the future, so other objects are humorous guesses as to what may appeal to future collectors. These include a plaster cast of Amy Fisher as well as a mainframe computer made by an old company called IBM (the portfolio notes that a tiny remnant of the company still exists, producing mailing labels for Microsoft). The winner is the bidder who's amassed the most personal worth at the end of the auction.
Played solo against computer opponents, Millennium Auction loses its appeal once you've figured out the best bidding strategies and seen all the items up for sale. But the game supports up to four human players, and that's where it shines. Get a couple of friends to play, and you'll find Millennium Auction encourages the same kind of fun social interaction as Pictionary or Scruples.