Legionnaire For Atari
E. P. McMahon
Chris Crawford has created a playable, fast, and enjoyable war game called Legionnaire. This game is sure to be compared with his magnum opus, Eastern Front, and, indeed, there are some similarities. He has retained the attractive features of fine-scrolling across a detailed map and the simple joystick input command concept from Eastern Front. But there are significant differences. The most striking difference is that Legionnaire is realtime. That is, once START is pressed, the enemy launches its attack and does not stop until the game is over.
Legionnaire is a simulation of Roman-barbarian conflict during Julius Caesar's campaigns in Gaul. You define the scenario by selecting one to ten legions to command. Of the ten, two are cavalry, Crassus and Labienus, and the rest are infantry. Caesar's legion, the Tenth, is the strongest and steadiest.
After choosing the number of legions you wish to command, you must select the tribes of barbarians to be the enemy. The barbarians come as infantry and cavalry, and range from the inept Aedui and sword-fodder Auscii up to the very challenging Helvetii and Huns. Once the order of battle is defined (by joystick), each group of combatants is placed on the map in (almost) random locations.
The Barbarians Are On The March
Before pressing START, you move the hollow square cursor over the map to locate the units and inspect the terrain so you can plan your strategy. Roman units appear in an orange-pink color, and the barbarians are blue. Infantry is symbolized by swords, cavalry by horse heads, and Caesar's unit by an eagle. As you move the cursor to the edge of the screen, the map will fine-scroll under the cursor to show the entire 2¼ by 3½ screen map. Details on the map include effectively visual elevation contour lines and various forest symbols.
Now push START. A drum-beat signals that the barbarians are on the march. They continue to march and attack until they are all eliminated or until Caesar is destroyed. They march whether or not you give orders to your troops. It is in this sense that the game is played in realtime.
Let's examine the differences from Eastern Front for a moment. Legionnaire's continuous action and ten units make it a reasonably fast game (it takes roughly between 2 to 15 minutes to play). It is fast enough when battle is joined to keep the interest of an arcade-game aficionado, but it also rewards good tactics enough to give those of us with slower reflexes a chance to win. Good tactics lead to fewer command corrections or panic moves.
While commanding your units, you should be aware of the effects of fatigue, slope, forests, and the differences in direct and flank attacks. Some units tire easily when marching or fighting and must rest to recover strength. Some units break up easily and should be backed up and given a chance to reorganize. Some are better at defense than offense. All these characteristics are spelled out in the 20-page booklet that accompanies the game. The booklet also has short sections on getting started, Caesar's campaigns, and helpful tactics.
The Legion That Has Trouble Standing Up
Crawford points out that the traits of each tribe are fictitious and are not meant to be historically precise, but do offer you a wide selection of game scenarios. By the way, as you choose more and more legions to command, the added legions are, generally, less and less capable. On your tenth pick, you get Sabinus, whose legion has trouble standing up, let alone fighting. Oh yes. For every legion you pick, the enemy gets two units: one infantry and one cavalry. That can make things interesting.
You might want to play your first game against the Aedui and Auscii to become familiar with the mechanics of the game. Count the loss of any of your units against these tribes as a devastating defeat, and aim for a score in the 30s.
On the other hand, choose the Huns as opponents only when you want the ultimate challenge, feel lucky, and want to play for the least negative score. It doesn't matter which tribe you select for the enemy infantry. The Huns will get to you first and the game will be over before the infantry arrives. When I can reduce the Huns from five to three units before losing, I consider it a success.
The middle choices are fun. One of the most enjoyable games I played was against the Senones ("average troops … neither aggressive nor steady … unreliable when attacked from the flanks or the rear") and the Nervii ("most circumspect…generals value preparation…do not recover from combat shock easily"). The random placement was favorable, and allowed me to deploy my five units in good order at the top of a hill and then rest before the Nervii cavalry arrived.
I counterattacked their up-hill charge and hit their flanks with Crassus and Labienus. They broke, and I eventually conquered them with the loss of only one unit, but with permanent reduction in strength to my remaining units. By this time I was on low ground, so I fell back to the forests and allowed the Senones to tire from marching.
They did not immediately attack when they got close, but stopped to rest to rebuild their strength, so I had to attack before they recovered too much. Since the enemy was tired, I was able to break their units away from each other one by one and use the speed of Caesar and the cavalry to surround and then reduce each unit. Without too much fight left in any of my units, I finally won.
Legionnaire is not the historical simulation that Eastern Front is, but I think it will appeal to a much broader audience because the game is faster-paced, has fewer units to control, and is, therefore, a faster game. The choice of scenarios makes the game rich enough to hold your interest and offers a variety of skill levels. Legionnaire is an entertaining, attractive game in which thinking is more important than fast reflexes.
Legionnaire comes on cassette tape for the Atari 400 and 800, and requires at least 16K RAM.
Avalon Hill Game Co.
Microcomputer Games Division
4517 Harford Road
Baltimore, MD 21214