is one of the few British software houses regularly
producing strategy software for the Commodore. With
such a large body of high-quality disk-based games available
(admittedly, at prohibitive prices) from America in
this area, British companies have a difficult job to
compete in what is - sadly - a limited market over here.
In America, they tell me, it's a different story: the
average age of the game software buyer is higher, tape
access is unknown, and thinking games outstrip the shoot
'em ups. Unfortunately for PSS, releases tend to have
a slightly homegrown air in comparison, simply because
they're levelled at a different market. It's ironic
that British arcade games should be, on the whole, more
sophisticated and interesting than those that come from
America because these are the ones designed for the
local mass market.
fantasy wargaming is something that has only recently
become widely popular in live gaming, and it's not at
all common on the computer. For some reason, games designers
seem to imagine that the buying public don't want conventional
wargames with full fancy-dress fantasy backdrops. If
dragons, orcs and wizards enter the picture, the game
system plunges to the simplistic level, giving the player
a chance to throw a few fireballs about and little else.
Combat sequences in pseudo-roleplaying fantasy games
are often extremely detailed and sophisticated, but
there's a lack of straightforward cardboard counter
army-manoeuvring wargames that happen to have legions
of elves and chaos dwarves instead of German and Allied
divisions. Sorcerer Lord is one of the rare attempts
to do something of the sort.
the forces of Galanor involves constant
combat with the invading forces
set in the Lands of Galanor, three kingdoms of human
races south of a deep and dark region of mystery known
as the Shadowlands. For several millennia the Shadowlands,
apart from playing host to a race of powerful and decadent
sorcerers, have given their southern neighbours no trouble.
But when a new Shadowlord comes to the throne, he's
ambitious. He wants to march into Galanor, recapture
the Rune Rings which his race enchanted when they ruled
the whole land, and re-establish the Shadowland empire.
So, in the best tradition of these things, he proceeds
to gather an army of vile creatures conjured up by a
kind of enchanted genetic engineering, and marches them
southwards under the command of humans enslaved by the
Shadowlord. Not unnaturally, the player takes the part
of the upstanding clean-shaven men of Galanor. Fantasy
wargames of any type never let you be the evil chaos
hordes . . .
are three difficulty levels to choose from, and the
game gets under way without further preamble. The screen
map bears a disquieting similarity to that of Battlefield
Germany; disquieting, because it was distinguished
by a hexagonal lack of atmosphere. Fortunately, in Sorcerer
Lord this is remedied by the inclusion of a nicely-produced
map printed on fake sepia paper. This clearly shows
and names all the fortresses, and gives a good indication
of the terrain. What appears on the screen is a rough
and visually unattractive hexagonal approximation of
this, although in terms of moving units about the countryside
it's much more exact. My only complaint about the paper
map is that it doesn't show the boundaries between the
Shadowlands and Galanor and between the five nations
of Galanor itself.
Shadowlord starts the game in possession of eight fortresses.
The player is in control of large number of fortresses
and several citadels, and all of the rune rings: but
this does not mean that he has large forces immediately
at his command. Despite being under the collective guidance
of the Sorcerer Lord of the title, most of the leaders
of Galanor have not realised the danger that their land
is in, and it takes a few turns for them to become aware
of it. Without leaders, troops cannot be moved. There
are only three leaders awake at the start of the game,
but in subsequent turns other leaders become aware and
materialise for use at their own fortress. The only
really efficient way to muster forces is to send the
leaders already under your command on recruitment drives.
are represented by units which contain warriors, riders
and a leader. Information about each is displayed at
the top of the screen, giving the name of the leader,
including his race -- which apparently has some effect
on his ability to fight in certain terrain -- the number
of warrior and riders under his command, his leadership
value, his sorcery ability, the general fighting ability
of his troops and movement points available. It's impossible
to do anything without a leader, and a leader, once
killed in battle, is irreplaceable. At the start of
the game they're plentiful.
rulebook gives some good imaginative backing to the
various races that go to make up the player's forces.
There are five races; elves, barbarians, mountain warriors,
Men of Herdach (hardy northern types) and Men of Rovanium,
the most southerly and the most civilised. Particular
troops fight best under home conditions, so the Mountain
Warriors of Morgalion are most proficient on the mountain
ranges and the elves excel in woodlands. The types are
distinguished on the screen map by the shield of their
aspects of this game may begin to sound familiar, and
it's true that elements of the design seem to be borrowed
directly from Doomdark's Revenge, particularly
the need to increase your initial force by recruiting
the help of friendly leaders, and the overriding importance
of commanding officers if you want to do anything at
all with your troops. I have no quarrel with honest
plagiarism -- a goad idea is worth re-exploiting --
but it's fair to warn the prospective purchaser who
might be attracted on the strength of the similarity
that Sorcerer Lord, absorbing though it is, has
very little of the atmosphere of Doomdark's.
This is almost entirely due, I'm afraid, to the unattractive
are five phases in each turn, starting with the Shadowlord
movement. This opens the game and tends to induce an
initial feeling of panic as the Shadow Legions move
rapidly out from their strongholds and proceed to capture
at least two of the player's castles before he has a
chance to do anything about it. Being evil chaos spawn,
the Shadow Legions can move at a greater rate and can
cross mountain ranges and water with unfair ease. Shadowlord
combat follows movement, in a separate phase. Each battle
is resolved separately, though rather rapidly; much
as in Battlefield Germany, although you don't
have to press a key to move onto the next battle. Combat
is initiated by moving a unit on top of an enemy unit,
and is influenced by the leadership rating of the commander,
the fatigue level of the troops, the numbers -- obviously,
though fortification makes a great difference -- and
whether or not sorcery is invoked.
role played by sorcery is cleverly balanced. Far a start,
you may be in battle with a leader who has no sorcery
ability at all, and the Shadow Legion commanders always
have. But what matters more is which side controls the
rune ring nearest to the battle, because if there's
to be any sorcery at all, that side is able to use it
to its own advantage. The nearer the battle is to the
rune ring, and the greater the sorcery ability of the
commander, the more powerful is the sorcery summoned.
Sorcery ranges through five degrees from weak, which
alters the weather conditions in the caster's favour
(presumably it only rains on half the battle field)
to devastating, which brings a host of demons to the
casualties resulting from each battle are flashed onto
the screen, rather too rapidly for comfort. If the defeated
army is not entirely wiped out, it is forced to retreat
to an adjacent position.
the enemy and the player's movement and combat phases
is the Galanor Alliance phase, in which leaders around
Galanor become alert to the danger and are available
for use. Later, when all leaders have been prodded into
awareness anyway, this phase becomes more important
for the reinforcements it offers. Reinforcements are
quite generous, and represent recruitment of troops
from the countryside surrounding the fortresses. Unfortunately,
it's often the case that 500 riders materialise in a
stronghold miles from the main action and beyond the
immediate reach of any leader.
player's movement and combat phases follow. During the
movement phase, if the player has a Leader in a fortress,
he can be used to pick up any troops that may be there
to increase his own army. He can also deposit troops
to be picked up later by other, perhaps more powerful,
leaders. Movement is affected by terrain in the usual
way, and in fact by just about every geographical feature.
gameplay centres around the taking and defending of
fortresses, and rune rings to a lesser extent. If the
Shadowlord holds any fortress or rune ring of Galanor
for more than twelve turns the player is defeated --
in theory. I must admit that in practice it didn't really
seem to work like that. Galanor certainly falls if the
citadel of Yarthos, deep in the south, is captured.
I first played this game on the Spectrum, haunted by
memories of Battlefield Germany and unsympathetic
to its clumsy presentation, I was impatient with it
and unable to enjoy it. However, meeting it again on
the Commodore I found that I was able to get thoroughly
embroiled in it. My second game, which totally absorbed
me, lasted with only reluctant breaks for ten hours
and had me, after a slow and struggling start, beating
the chaos spawn back beyond the boundaries of their
own land. This was on level one, and I didn't trust
myself to start on another game at a higher level.
month's Tactics is dedicated to my own experiences of
fighting back the Shadow Legions from the lands of Galanor
in the world of Sorcerer Lord.
The opening Shadowlord's turn is likely to induce a
feeling of panic as you see what appears to be impossible
numbers of Shadow Legions pouring out from the Shadowlands
against a handful of your own men. Don't worry. Remember,
initial losses -- probably of Throll and Olphid immediately
-- are inevitable. Also remember that the game is about
defending fortresses, and fortified defenders have an
absolutely massive advantage.
first thing to do, after you've watched the initial
onslaught in display, is to study the paper map and
plan a strategy.
leaders you're powerless, so it's a priority on the
first few turns to send every active leader to the nearest
fortress. On the next turn, send him back to his own
fortress to defend it and repeat the operation with
the newly-activated leader. Never forget to recruit
all possible troops from a fortress to the leader's
personal army before you move him anywhere. Leaders
who are awake at the start of the game tend to be on
the front line, but the odd leader deeper into Galanor
will probably become spontaneously active during early
Alliance phases. It only takes a couple to rouse the
whole continent, if you make it a priority, and it's
less risky to do so quickly in regions where the Shadow
Legions have not yet advanced.
is worth defending with care and concentration. Although
Olphid will probably fall in the first turn, make a
stand for Elvios and bring troops up from Sithrin. Recruitment
is always greater at a citadel. The recapture of Olphid
may have to be left until late in the game. If Elvios
does fell, concentrate on Albeth rather than Sithrin.
It's a mistake to give up the minor fortresses as unimportant.
The less fortresses that are under your control, the
less opportunities you have to gain new recruits.
building up forces at Yarthros immediately. Engage the
help of Mercunus and Roldon, and move all troops that
appear there to Yarthros. It takes time for the Shadow
Legions to get there, and by the time they do the numbers
they meet ought to be formidable.
vitally important to retain control of the rune ring
nearest to Yarthros, which is the one to the left behind
the mountain range. To do this, build up defences at
both Jaline and Ishterre and sit a large army on the
rune ring itself.
fighting battles in the open. This is suicidal, for
the Shadow Legions have their numbers more concentrated
into single units. Avoid, in fact, all unnecessary fighting
and concentrate on defence. The defender of a fortress
has a great advantage over superior numbers, and six
thousand men should be quite enough to hold Yathros
against any onslaught if you have control of the rune
battle in the north will inevitably concentrate on the
defence of Oberdun, which tends to be self-supporting.
Threskill, probably one of the earliest casualties,
can be recaptured by a force moved gradually from Khalaz
via Herlom and Shadra. Pavanda and Rharta ought to be
seen as part of the effort to wear down the Shadow Legions
before they get to Yarthros.
my experience, trying to storm a Shadowlord fortress
is a pointless exercise as the numbers defending it
always regenerate automatically between turns. I have
no idea whether it is in fact possible to reach the
Shadowlord citadel and wipe out the menace forever .
. . perhaps one of you could tell me.