Now, this sort of thing isn't normally my bag, I have to admit, but Richard Blane (who's our big YS Strategy & Wargame Expert) isn't around at the moment, so Ive had to have a go. So let's see - what we've got here is a strategy wargame based, fairly accurately I'd say, on a couple of 11th century battles that took place between Viking invaders and various English armies (in one case Anglo Saxons, in the other Anglo Normans).
In the first one, the Battle Of Stamford Bridge, the Saxon army, led by King Harold, surprised a lightly-armed bunch of Vikings on their way to pick up some hostages surrendered by the city of York, while at the Battle Of Menai Straits an English army attacked a Norwegian fleet as they landed at Anglesey. The history of the battles, descriptions of the terrain, the different sorts of soldiers involved and so on are outlined fairly comprehensively in the game's very atmospheric manual - one of the best bits of the package. As for the game itself, well, let's load up one of the battles and have a go.
Right, I'm playing the Saxon forces on the left of the battlefield, represented by a lot of red and yellow squares - some archers, some cavalry and a lot of foot soldiers. There's a river in front of me with just one bridge across it, so let's move some of my men in that direction, shall we? Each unit has a movement allowance of about four or five spaces, so if I bring two lots of Huscals (heavy infantry) onto the bridge, back them up with some cavalry, stick some bowmen in a flanking position, and then end my move there, we'll see how things stand. Hmm.
The screen scrolls (very jerkily) to reveal one Unit of Viking infantry defending the other end of the bridge, while about one and a half screens further on lies the bulk of the Viking forces. Now, in the real battle, the Saxons got across the bridge without too much trouble, attacking the main Viking force with cavalry. It wasn't exactly the same story when I had a go though. "Right, let's get rid of those Vikings defending the bridge," I thought and moved two units to simultaneously attack the bridge defenders from both sides (as soon as a block of your men touches a block of Vikings both units move into combat mode). "That should sort 'em out," I thought, but no - it took about nine moves to finish them off, at quite a cost to my men, and that was time enough for the rest of the Viking force to come onto the offensive, with their archers taking position to fire at my men as they crossed the bridge! Oi! That's not meant to happen! Let's start again. So I did, and fared rather better. I had a go at the other battle too, and, what's more, rather enjoyed both, though it did seem to take an age for anything to happen. That's wargaming for you, I suppose.
Rating it is rather difficult though. To my untrained eye, graphically it looked on a par with Austerlitz 1805 - pretty primitive by action game standards but enough to do the job. The three skill levels, choice of battles and so on also make it as good as most CCS stuff, so a buying decision basically comes down to a) do these battle scenarios appeal to you (they did to me), b) dos Challenge deserve your support (yes again) and c) are you a fan of strategy games (well no, not especially). Basically, if you nodded your head three times your bound to enjoy it. If not, various niggles like squeaky, 'hiccuppy' sound and the plodding pace of gameplay will confirm your doubts.
Nice to see more professionally-produced wargames, but whether this'll convert anyone to the cause is another matter.