The Evil Crown
This one player game is all about running a Barony in feudal medieval England. It's an icon driven game which allows the modification of various factors surrounding the running of your estate. Apart from the now fashionable use of icons, the game employs some animated sequences (to depict battles and revolts) and a redesigned character set adds atmosphere to the game.
The main screen is split into two halves. On the left is an overhead view of the fields worked on by the peasantry. The cultivated areas are shown in blue, over the forest region. If the harvests are not too good, it's possible to select new areas for farming, using an arrow cursor. To the right of the screen are nine main icons which allow you to alter the tax rate, alter the toll rate for passing traders; pay scutage to the king (to avoid having to send your militia into battle for him); modify the size of the militia; give food hand outs (if the peasants are particularly poor); spend money on tournaments; check your progress; continue to the next stage of the game and quit.
All of these icons are well defined and responsive to commands. The idea is that from the first year (1156), the estate has to be managed in yearly turns. By maintaining the right balance of taxes and forces and proving yourself in the annual tournaments. The main strategy part of the game takes place in the first part of the game where the allocation of available resources is planned. The option to continue is then selected.
The first part of this section shows a repetitive sequence of animals wandering through the forest. The more creatures, the less efficient the use of labour and land. A 'go away' icon allows the scene to change to the tournament sequence. This is the only part of the game that requires physical dexterity. The player takes part in a joust, and the top half of the screen displays the riders approaching each other. The bottom half has the jousting score on the left, and a view of the oncoming knight on the right. The cursor now becomes the point of a lance, itself made to move jerkily to simulate the effects of the galloping horse. By the time the two riders meet in the centre of the screen, the point of the lance must have been guided into a position that will result in a strike against the opponent. Enough successful passes and the tournament will be won. This section is particularly difficult to master, however, so practice will be necessary.
Whatever the outcome of the tournament, the next stage of the game deals with any battles and/or revolts by the peasantry that have to be resolved. Another option, to pay the militia for their participation in these events, is provided. A simplified graphic sequence showing a couple of figures in combat is used to convey the result. The colour of the figures also reflects how large the battle is. Assuming you are not totally defeated at this point, the next screen shows the harvest result. The greater the harvest the more efficient the labour force and use of land. Random elements like the effects of weather are accounted for by animated clouds covering the sun. If all is well at this point, the game progresses to the next year.
In some ways, the instructions to the game were misleading, saying that icons would be highlighted when they were not, and they failed to explain the jousting display. Moreover, the actual quantities of money used in various aspects of the game were simply left as abstract units without any guidance as to what those units were actually calculated in.
Having said that, eventually the game mechanics become clear (before frustration with the game has mount too high) and enjoyment can be got from the different extremes of game type employed throughout the turn from the rather exploratory nature of choosing new land for cultivation to the deadly sequence in the tournament section. The game could have been a lot better, however, had it explained the consequences of your actions. As it stands, you are left somewhat in the dark when it comes to deciding on a strategy for play. If you can handle the initial ambiguities, this could provide a stimulating and entertaining change from the conventional wargame.