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Review by
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Welcome to Game of the Week! Each week there will be a new featured game on this page. The game may be good, average or diabolically bad, it really doesn't matter! Just look at the pics, read the text and enjoy the nostalgia! :-) Game of the Week! is open to contributions so if you would like to contribute a game article for this page you're more than welcome to! Every article we receive will be considered!
Lords of Conquest
1986 Electronic Arts
Programmed by ?
 
Most text of the present article comes from the review published in the thirty second issue of the British C64 magazine ZZAP!64 (street date: November 12th, 1987).
 

LORDS OF CONQUEST
Electronic Arts, 12.95 disk


On its back cover, Lords of Conquest describes itself as 'a great strategy game'. I'd agree with that. However, I'd hesitate to agree with its other claim: 'better than any board game'.

It is not a war game. Although it concerns itself with conquest, it is of the most abstract kind. Lords of Conquest is an attractive attempt at a computer version of the type of glossy board games which keep students who have better things to do with their time dice-rolling and negotiating until four o'clock in the morning. And the designers have made good use of the opportunities for frills, extra bits and easily-adjustable parameters afforded by the computer medium.

Lords of Conquest presents the player with a map -- one chosen out of many -- which is divided into territories. These territories are under the control of one side or another (the program allows for up to four players). The gameplay concentrates on acquiring territories that were the rightful property of the computer, or one of your friends. If this were an end in itself, things might be too simplistic: but the ultimate aim is to build cities on your own territories by means of wealth generated by those territories which produce resources, so money rather than power is the real name of the game.

The stylised Lords of Conquest battlegrounds

There are twenty maps built into the program, representing places like Europe, the Caribbean and the Sea of Japan in a very stylised way. So stylised that it doesn't really make any difference that a handful of the maps are of fictional places like 'Boarderlands'. Some of the maps are single land-masses, but moat have groups of territories which are inaccessible except by crossing water.

At the start, the player is given the opportunity to adjust the parameters. This seems to mean the adjustment of a few simple difficulty scales, but the nature of the game is changed quite significantly by the player's choices at this stage. There are five 'levels', which govern how many types of resources are available and what you can use them for. On the 'beginners' level there are only two resources, gold and horses. On the 'advanced' level, you can have all five resources, gold, horses, iron, coal and timber, and you can build boats with them. Playing on the first two levels, which don't allow boat building, realistically has to be restricted to maps with single land masses. The difficulty scale is a separate quantity, and ranges from 1 to 9. On level 1 the player is given four territories more than the computer, and on level nine, four less.

The player can also choose whether to play with a chance level of low, medium or high. This affects the basic nature of the gameplay too. A low chance level means that the outcome of attacks can always be predicted, and so the game is very severely strategic. A high chance level means, essentially, that dice are rolled. An attack which is numerically stacked against the opponent has a high percentage chance of succeeding, but there is always a random element and any attack can fail -- or indeed, succeed. I found it to be more natural and more interesting to play on the high chance level. The rulebook promises a tougher computer opponent on low chance, but the game seems to be designed for dice-rolling.

After selecting for a few minor options, like whether or not to be regaled with music, the player is presented with a blank map and asked to make a choice of territories. Computer and player select alternately until the whole map is claimed, and this part of the game is as important as any other, so much so that first choice of territory is one of the advantages you can select for yourself, and I preferred it to first attack. The safety of a territory depends very much on how many territories of your own surrounds it, so it's a good idea to get your resource-producing areas nicely embedded. The computer's tactic at this stage seems to be to prevent you building up too strong a power-block, and to place its territories beside any of yours that look valuable.

I played the beginner's level first of all, but soon realised that the game is much more interesting when all five resources are in play. Certain territories, bearing the appropriate symbol, produce resources every turn. During the selection stage the resource-producing territories are obviously the ones to take first, and the game revolves around the capture of the enemy's.

The game is organised into multi-stage turns, supposedly representing years. Firstly, except in the first turn, both sides have the chance to use their resources to build either a weapon, a boat or a city. Weapons are invaluable in combat and cost either two gold or one iron and one coal. Boats can be bought with three timber or three gold. Cities, which win the game, cost four gold or one each of the other resources. Cities are a good buy because they count towards the victory condition, they have an attack/defence value in themselves, and they double the production of their own territories and those surrounding it. You can choose where to site any developed item, and because of the relative immobility of weapons this needs careful thought.

A production phase follows, and you can watch wealth rolling into the computer's coffers or your own. On the high chance level, production might not happen. The reasons given for this are entertaining, and display the cheerfully artificial nature of the game. So far I've seen 'legalistic excesses', 'outbreak of sanity', 'terrible heresies', 'feverish apathy' and 'astounding prophecies' preventing production. I'm still waiting for 'feeble excuses prevent production'!

On the highest game level you can move weapons and horses in the next phase. I preferred to play without this refinement. The restricted movement of the second-highest level seemed to make things harder, and call for more careful planning of strategies. You do get the opportunity to move your stockpile -- the territory in which all your wealth is kept -- which is advisable if it looks like the enemy might be in position to capture it.

The real business of the game comes in the next phase, which is conquest. Every territory which is bordered by an opposing territory has some sort of chance of being attacked. Its defence value is worked out in straightforward numerical terms, and is determined by how many friendly territories surround it, and whether it or any territories next to it have a horse or weapon or city in them. After a bit of practice it's easy to work out roughly what attacking and defending values are, but you don't have to do it yourself -- there's always an information menu available, which tells you the force count of any territory on the map.

In practice, I found that it was a great advantage to be the first boat-owner on the board. The computer doesn't seem to anticipate attacks by boat very well, and if you load your ship with a horse and a weapon, its total attacking value is seven.

The game can be over quite quickly, especially on those maps which only have a few territories. There is no facility to quit a game if you see your position is hopeless, but the computer opponent is adept at it. Lords of Conquest is the only game I've ever played in which the computer is programmed to be a bad loser. It abandons a game with surprising abruptness with messages like 'I know I'd win if we kept on, but I've lost interest for some reason' and 'You must have cheated, but I can't see how'. This can get irritating!

When you've played out all twenty maps you can ask the computer to generate a new one randomly or create one yourself.

 

I have some doubts about the balance of the game -- it's too easy to win too quickly -- but there's no question that Lords of Conquest is extremely enjoyable. The possibility of endless maps doesn't entirely make up for the lack of other varied elements, but although each game follows much the same sort of course, I found I could play as many as I had time for in succession and still be eager to load it again. Don't expect a sophisticated wargame, but as a strategy game for relaxation it's addictive.

   


Presentation 80%

Of a high standard, and the irritating jingles can be turned off.

Graphics 69%
Reasonable, but nothing spectacular.

Rules 75%
Adequate, but sometimes a bit difficult to find a specific piece of information.

Playability 89%
Very more-ish.

Overall 86%
Very enjoyable.
.

 
 

 

Htmlized by Dimitris Kiminas (29 Jan 2006)
Only the first from the above screenshots existed in the original review.

Can anybody rip the SID tunes out of this one?

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