Legionnaire. (video game) (evaluation) James V. Trunzo.
The name Avalon Hill has long been synonymous with board wargames. Chris Crawford, the author of Eastern Front 1941, is known as an outstanding Atari programmer. It should come as no surprise, then, to find a successful effort being produced by the two in the form of Legionnaire.
The game places you, the player, in the role of Julius Caesar and places at your command between five and ten legions which are commanded by famous generals like Creassus or Cicero. The computer becomes a formidable antagonist, controlling a wide variety of barbarian infantry and cavarly who outnumber Caesar's legions by at least two to one.
The game begins with a series of prompts asking you, as Caesar, to select the number of legions you wish to command and to select which two of the 16 barbarian tribes you wish to oppose.
The computer then places the opposing armies somewhere on the multicolored graphics map and awaits the start of combat.
Playing The Game
When you are ready to begin, you press START, and you hear the sound of marching as the barbarian host advances upon your current position. Because Legionnaire is a real time game, it is important that you begin issuing orders to your legions at once.
All commands and movement are entered with the joystick. By placing the cursor over any symbol, and depressing the button, you will be provided with the following information: the general in charge of that specific legion, the number of unwounded men available, and the effective fighting strength of the unit.
Orders are given by placing the cursor over a symbol, keeping the button of the joystick depressed, and moving the joystick in the direction you wish the legion to travel. Up to eight orders can be given at one time in any combination of horizontal or vertical directions. Orders can be given to all units at any time during the game. Furthermore, orders can be canceled at any time prior to the completion of a unit's movement by simply positioning the cursor over the selected unit and pressing the spacebar on the keyboard. One press on the bar cancels the last order given; two presses on the bar cancels the last two orders given, and so on. You can, of course, give orders only to your own troops. The artificial intelligence routines take care of all the details for the barbarians, and you will soon discover that your opponent is far from being a predictable victim.
Combat takes place when any unit attempts to enter an area occupied by an enemy force. Various sound effects high-light the conflict and signal the elimination of a Roman legion or barbarian unit. Sides take losses in relationship to the relative strengths of the opposing units and results can be monitored.
The game ends when either side loses all of its units or Caesar quits the game by pressing the OPTION key. In the former case, it should be noted that even if Caesar eliminates all barbarian units, his campaign may not be considered a success. If, for example, you wipe out the Gallic tribes but at the cost of most of your men, you will quite probably earn a negative score, indicating that you paid too high a price for your triumph.
If Caesar chooses to quit, the computer responds with a prompt to make sure the OPTION key was not pressed accidentally, thus safeguarding the game in play. A second pressing of the key, however, terminates the game.
As A Computer Game
From a computer gamer's point of view, Legionnaire succeeds in many areas. The graphics are well done and easy to identify, and the sound effects range from fair to good. In fact, the rhythmic marching, which gets louder and faster as an attack approaches, can be down-right frightening. The terrain, though simple, is adequate in terms of graphic depiction, and the multi-colored bands that make up the informational area do much to offset the somewhat bland appearance of the predominantly green map.
Scrolling is accomplished quickly and smoothly; images are flicker-free, and the joystick-manipulated cursor is very easy to use.
As A Wargame
From a wargamer's viewpoint, Legionnaire offers many of the intricacies normally associated with the genre without the work involved in implementing them. To begin with, each barbarian tribe is unique. The offensive and defensive strength of each specific tribe, its ability to recover from an attack or its susceptibility to panic after an attack, and its style of fighting (aggressive, cautious, fanatical, disciplined, etc.) are all taken into consideration. Such factors as a tribe's speed, fatigue, and weakness to flank attacks also play an important part.
The Roman legions under your command are subject to the same factors, but are further affected by the capabilities of their commander.
Other familiar facets of wargaming taken into account by Crawford in Legionnaire include the effect of terrain on both offense and defense, the amount of time elapsed between movement of a unit and the launching of its attack, the advantages of positioning during combat (frontal, flank, and rear attacks), and the strengths and limitations of cavalry as opposed to infantry.
Don't let all of this overwhelm you; Legionnaire does not require a degree from a military academy to play and enjoy. Keep in mind that the computer does all the work and allows you to concentrate on basic strategy. Indeed, as wargames go, Legionnaire does not earn even an average complexity rating. Yet, that's the beauty of the game. It is challenging, but simple to play.
The many combinations that can be achieved by varying both the numbers and types of combatants assure that Legionnaire will not become predictable or boring. Furthermore, Legionnaire will not bog you down for hours, moving hundreds of counters across acres of game boards; a game takes from fifteen minutes to an hour and a half, depending upon the number and types of forces selected for play.
Now if you'll excuse me, the Helvetti infantry are manhandling poor ol' Flavius; and the Belgae cavalry are bearing down on Galba's flank. It's Caesar's tenth legion to the rescue.
Products: Microcomputer Games Legionnaire (computer program)