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Review by
Philippa Irving

 

 
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!
Annals of Rome
1987 PSS
Programmed by A.D.Boyse & J.G. Langdale-Brown
 
Most text of the present article comes from the review published in the thirty third issue of the British C64 magazine ZZAP!64 (street date: December 10th, 1987).
 

ANNALS OF ROME
PSS, 12.95 cass, 17.95 disk


Annals of Rome's scenario represents the ultimate in long-range wargaming. Strategically planning the invasion of a country over a period of months telescopes into invisible detail in the epic backdrop, and in this game you're responsible for the construction and maintenance of the whole Roman Empire. There's something breathtaking about the grandeur of this design, which caught my imagination when I reviewed this on the Spectrum at the beginning of the year, and I'm disappointed to find that it has mysteriously lost most of its inexplicable playability in its translation to the Commodore.

Several elements combine untidily to produce a simulation of the historical conditions which moulded the fate of nations in general, and Rome in particular. There are economic forces, represented in an ineffectual way by a selectable tax rate and a treasury full (or otherwise) of gold. There are personalities, providing unexpected human interest in a saga which you might expect to be remote from the affairs of individuals, and, of course, there is military conquest.

The game opens in 273BC, by which time the Roman Republic had gained control of Italy itself and was poised to conquer the rest of the ancient map. The main display shows a rather squashed version of what the known world looked like around this time which is thankfully supplemented by a map in the rulebook. Rome's rival powers are spread across it, their dominion of regions indicated by a race-specific pattern. When the game opens, the Gauls' heavy black dots are smeared over most of Europe and I learned from experience that it was expedient and fairly easy to crush their dominance as soon as possible.

Before going into combat, the token economics phase gives the player the chance to set the tax rate between one and two for the next phase. A high tax rate induces unpopularity, and the popularity of a regime is an important determiner of stability. I was unconvinced that being poor had any detrimental effect on me anyway, and the rulebook is most unclear on the matter.

Next, the player is presented with a roll-call of Roman VIP's. There are 21 characters at any one time, and they all have individual, convincing-sounding Roman names like Tiberius Cato and Aurelius Maximus (of course, to be pedantic about it, Romans had three names, not two). They all start out as senators, but can he turned into commanders, legates and governors. Each has a personality of his own which is defined by ability and loyalty ratings. They age naturally, and as they die from phase to phase they are replaced automatically. The first personnel decision the player makes is whom to appoint governor of Rome. Choosing a senator with a low loyally rating will almost inevitably mean treachery, but this needn't always be a bad thing.

If the popularity of the regime is low, and it can drop far below zero, a more damaging kind of treachery is possible -- a governor in charge of a large force of legions can decide to rebel and rampage across the empire to take power in Rome. There's nothing to stop several governors deciding to do this simultaneously, and in fact a phase -- the civil war phase -- is set aside for it. Part of the army usually remains loyal to the state, and this means that you waste resources fighting yourself. Civil war can be devastating, and to be avoided if possible; it's dangerous to put any governor however high his loyalty, in charge of too many men.

At the start of the game Italia sits by itself on the map, surrounded by enemy empires and possessed of a highly efficient fighting force. Legionary forces are so much better organised than the rabble of the rest of the World that they have little difficulty in defeating them, even when outnumbered two to one. In the combat phase, each region of the world -- and there are twenty-eight of them -- takes its turn in random order. The player has to watch the rest of the world fighting its own battles in the initial turns, and the Spectrum version of this stage was infuriatingly slow. It has been speeded up considerably in the Commodore version, but clumsily. A disconcerting absence of sound effects of any kind makes it difficult to follow what's going on. It's ridiculous, of course, to expect the conquest of countries to be accompanied by any sort of appropriate noise, and I remember I made a sarcastic comment about the one supplied with the Spectrum version, but silence is worse.

When Italia gets its chance, the choice is fairly simple: do nothing or send the legionaries marching into an adjacent region and claim it. Each country has only one move per turn, but if you capture a country before it's had its move then its turn falls under your control. This means that the order in which the countries move become of paramount importance, and luck determines whether you can capture five territories in one phase or only one.

The presence of an enemy in a country is indicated by a number, counting in units of ten thousand. Confusingly, the Roman armies are counted and shown in units of five thousand. To take control of a territory, the Roman army has to eliminate all opposition, which, as long as you're careful in using a large enough force, it usually has little difficulty in doing. The resolution of combat has been speeded up again, and is now too quick to be interesting, and once more it's conducted in eerie silence.

Once conquered, Roman possessions are under external and internal threat. Adjacent enemy powers attempt to take them from the player, and if the province is the homeland of a particular race, the native population raise a sizeable army of ploughshare-wielding peasants and attempt to rebel turn after turn. Holding onto a homeland is tricky, but it's worth it because gradually you can starve an enemy race out of existence. Without access to their treasury, they can't raise real troops and, sat on for a sufficient number of decades, they dwindle and die. The most powerful threat to the empire comes from outside the map, from the masses of barbarians who appear in historically scheduled waves in astronomical numbers and who always win in the end. They are unstoppable largely because they're uncontrollable.

With some tactical practice it is not difficult to bring the whole map under Roman control within a respectable number of turns. The difficulty lies in keeping it that way, with the threat of civil war and native rebellion always simmering underneath the organised exterior, and the threat of barbarian invasion on the horizon. Theoretically it's possible to sustain the Roman Empire long past its historical downfall, though the forces operating against you are overwhelmingly powerful. Although the Roman legionaries start out in 273BC as the best soldiers in the world, by the time the Vandals and the Huns arrive in the fifth century their methods are old-fashioned, and the barbarian hordes have attained a degree of sophistication which matches them equally. There's no such thing at winning in this game.

 

The grand sweep of the scenario is inspiring, but there are several odd things wrong with the Commodore version. The lack of sound is a more serious deficiency than I could have imagined, the population breakdown of each region is missing, and so, more seriously, is the phase which explained how many troops ware being recruited from various regions. To my surprise, the result is a piece of software that is even more shoddily presented than its Spectrum counterpart, and so uncongenial that it was unable to recreate the same fascination, or ensnare me with its addictive gameplay. Compared to the high standard of much software available for the Commodore, Annals of Rome makes a poor showing.

   


Presentation 49%

Stylistically incongruous, and having a confusing turn structure.

Graphics 60%
Some of the lettering is too small to be legible, and the main map is cluttered and untidy.

Rules 65%
There are some useful tables and charts, but the rules are ill-arranged and difficult to consult.

Authenticity 80%
The author's knowledge of Roman history is well imparted.

Playability 64%
The poor presentation defeats what can be an addictive game.

Overall 68%
An interesting idea and a good game, rather disappointing in its Commodore incarnation.
.

 
 

 

Htmlized by Dimitris Kiminas (4 Feb 2006)
There were no screenshots in the original review.

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