American tourists ahoy, it's...

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INTERPLAY * £29.99 * 1 meg * Mouse * Out now

The castle is surely one of the most stupid housing ideas in the world. They're cold, draughty, unhygienic and take years to build.
And then hundreds of years later, they fall to pieces and American tourists come and trample them to the ground in their loud Hawaiian shirts and take pictures of all the rubble because it's "quaint".
No, castles are not high on my list of great places to live. But here comes a game that promises to recreate the fun and excitement of building a castle, or three. All the joys of laboriously dragging huge chunks of stone across the country to construct a big, smelly castle.

In fact, I think the only reason people lived in castles was because they took so long to build that they had to live in them, or they'd have wasted half their lives building very big and heavy garden sheds.

So, can you make an exciting game out of such a dubiously entertaining subject? Well, almost. Naturally the rather sedate pace of such a task is going to startle the hardcore shoot-'emup junkie, so if you feel that applies to you then go and paint your toenails or something.
On the other hand, if you're a more laid back kinda person who likes to ponder over problems and stroke your chin in a thoughtful, Jimmy Hill-type way, then stick around and we'll get stuck into Castles.

You just design the castle, making sure you stick loads of walls in for no good reason all over the place and silly towers just for a laugh, hire some peasants to actually build the thing for you, tell them which bit to start work on and leave them to it.
When they've finished, tell them to start work on another bit. And if you don't build the walls at the same rate, they become unstable and the whole thing crumbles to the ground. Not particularly tricky, and to be honest, it's too long-winded to be any fun either.

So, just to keep your regal mouse button a-clicking, there are a profusion of other kingly tasks for you to turn your attention to.
Recruiting and maintaining an army in case of an attack is always important. Keeping a close eye on your spending should prevent you running out of readies, and if by some stupidity you do run low (ahem, like I did) then just up the tax rate and take it from the little people.
And every now and then, you'll be approached by one of your subjects asking for some divine advice from your good self.

So Ethelred the Obscene has been bothering livestock again, has he? Will you let him off? Will you send some knights round to give him a kicking? Or will you have some of his more tender organs removed with a large axe? Decisions, eh?

Everyone knows that a good medieval king just chopped everyone up, and it's pretty good fun bellowing "off with his doodahs!" at the monitor.
You don't just make decisions concerning the private functions of your more dubious peasants, either. You could become embroiled in a scrap between two feuding dukes or something and have to prevent a Civil War. Or you may be approached by a rival king who offers a truce. Do you trust him, or do you chop his head off? Exactly! You're getting the hand of it already.

All the while, just keep an eye on how the castle's coming along. Give the little fellas a holiday now and again, make sure their pay is just enough for a scabby loaf of bread and some dead pig, and they'll be as happy as Larry Whoever Larry is.

Inevitably, you'll come under attack and be forced to defend your half-built homestead. This is where the army comes in. Strangely enough.
You'll be given ample warning of where the enemy are attacking from, and then you get to arrange your archers in the towers of the castle, and along the walls, and set your infantry facing the enemy. When they're in sight, click on the infantry and watch them scuttle off to get beaten up while the archers do all the work and kill the enemy from afar.
If the enemy get close enough, they'll start to topple the walls and undo all your hard work.

The enemy also have another rather fiendish contraption. It's like a big tent on wheels full of dead pigs and stuff. They wheel it up to a part of your castle, usually one of the supporting towers, and then all the gas that builds up inside the pigs as they rot explodes and the wall collapses covered in bits of big. Very tasty. Who said chivalry was dead, eh?

After the battle, providing it wasn't a complete massacre, you start to repair the damage and mutter under your breath about what those dastardly Celts can do with their battleaxes.
And so it goes on until you've finished your castle, at which point you get to go to bed with a nice mug of Old Rumble's Gut Rot Real Ale and have a snooze in your new house. Probably (I couldn't actually finish my castle without running out of money).

Time to change into my Criticism Hat now, for a bit of nit-picking. First of all, it's slow. Not slow in a "badly programmed" sort of way, but slow in a "sit watching for 15 minutes while some stick men slowly build a wall" sort of way.
This means that it takes absolutely ages to build a proper castle, as they're usually made up of about 50 or so sections. Plus, and this really annoyed me, the manual doesn't actually contain instructions as such.

It tells you what to do in the form of a waffly tutorial about some king or other being told how to play Castles by one of his chums. Very funny (not!) and very useful (double not!). This meant that for ages I was watching absolutely nothing happen and I had no idea why.
A simple step-by-step list of instructions would have made it so much clearer, but instead you have to wade through endless crap medieval puns to find out where you're going wrong.

Other niggles are the jerky scrolling, which makes the combat a real drag to watch and control, and the fact that it's sometimes hard to tell whether or not you actually did click on the options.
Some nice clear icons wouldn't have gone amiss. Still, even after these gripes, I quite enjoyed playing Castles. But it took a while. Let's just say that if you're looking for an instantly appealing game then you should run away from this screaming.
But if you like a bit of strategy with some building site-type bits bolted on, and you can ignore the sloth-like pace of it all, then this may suit you.

All in all, a nice idea that just doesn't work in the long run.


Castles 1 logo

For a moment, imagine you're a lord of the manor, in the 12th Century and you are looking for somewhere to live. Do you choose: a) a small brick building on the outskirts of a village, replete with your own privy, or b) a sodding great brick building which virtually is a village, replete with en suite privies in every chamber?

Castles begins just after you've chosen b). To wit: you must design, build and ultimately defend your own castle.

The designing bit is easy. Having chosen a suitable bit of land, you're presented with a plan view upon which you can lay various components of the castle: towers, wall segments (of varying thicknesses) and of course a gate. The only restriction is that you can't change a wall's direction without sticking a tower to support it.

New castle
Once your design is OK, you need to hire some labour. There are seven categories of labourer available, such as diggers and masons, and it's down to you to hire the right mix of workers to get the castle cracking. They're all important in their own way.

Next you need to assign each section of your blueprint a number of labourers. Then off they trundle, collecting raw materials, sawing wood, breaking stone and lo and behold, there in the 3D view, your castle begins to grow.

There's another problem here. It's impossible to build a wall segment more than four-feet taller than either of its adjacent segments, because it just won't stand up. Thus is you start building mid-wall the workers will soon stop with the message "Unstable", forcing you to build up the side segments before you can continue. While all this is going on it's wise to hire some military - because sooner or later your prize castle is going to be attacked. There are two sorts of military, archers and infantry, and they need training if they're going to be any good in battle. Food, too, is a good buy. If you're sieged by the enemy, a good scran is a damn handy thing to have about. Bear in mind, though, that it's far cheaper just after the harvest and very expensive in the spring.

You don't get anything for free: your labourers need wages, as do the military, on top of the food and supply costs. Your only source of income is taxing your subjects; if you're short, you can bump up the rate, but then there's the risk of having a mob of peasants coming round to, er, complain. You can always contact your treasurer for advice.
Advice is available, on how you stand with the plebs, from Sir Richard of Westhampton, a reliable man who tells it like it is.

Roy castle
Just as your castle is coming along nicely you're attacked. By what depends on whether you chose to play the game in the real world, in which case it's usually berserk Celts, or in a fantasy world, when it's generally ogres. Either way you have a limited time to arrange your military around your castle before the onslaught. Each unit attacks the enemy closest to it, though you can direct them otherwise. If the enemy manages to reach the castle and destroy enough of it, it's literally back to the drawing board.

Occasionally you receive a messenger with news of happenings in other parts of the kingdom, and a request. For example, you might be told that Sir Richard of Norshire has completely ballsed up in battle again, and then you're given the choice of "sacking" him, sending him some money or ignoring him. Your decisions here affect your popularity with both the peasants and the church.

Once the castle is finished and you've fought off several thousand rampant nasties, the level is complete and it's off to the next area.

Caernarfon castle
Castles is a good example of how to make what is on paper a thoroughly dull concept come alive in practice. Designing castles is great fun on its own, but watching while they're built is almost mesmerising. The graphics and character animations are actually quite primitive, but when enough men are working away on screen at once, you really get a feeling of business. The messenger screens gradually add an element of medieval soap opera to proceedings as you follow the fortunes of your subjects, and the enemy's attacks are spaced far enough apart not to be annoying - unlike the music.

Sometimes the game becomes a little plodding when there's not much going on but castle building. You will need to set aside a couple of hours to play it properly, even with the save function. But on the whole Castles is innovative, well-designed, fun and built to last, in that order. Unlike en suite privies.


Castles 1 logo

Als die PC-Version dieses Games erschien, behauptete ein englisches Magazin, sie wäre eine Kombination der besten Elemente aus "Sim City", "Populous" und "Railroad Tycoon". Nun, die Amiga-Ausgabe scheint eher das genaue Gegenteil zu sein...

Bevor bei diesem mittelälterlichen Bausparer-Strategical der erste Mauer seine Kelle schwingt, sind ein paar grundsätzliche Entscheidungen fällig: Will man nur eine Burg bauen oder gleich derer acht? Soll der Schwierigkeitsgrad simpel, moderat, angemessen oder gar Königlich sein? Bevorzugt der Bauherr als Szenario Mittelalter pur oder eine Fantasy Welt? Anschliessend muss noch ein Bauplatz ausgewählt werden, schon können wir den Betonmischer anwerfen.

Aber natürlich muss sich hier niemand selbst die Hände schmutzig machen, wofür hat man denn Menüs? Es existieren insgesamt sechs, wovon sich eines ausschliesslich mit dem nötigen Arbeiterheer beschäftigt. Man kann z.B. Zimmerleute, Steinbrecher, Maurer, Führleute, Schmiede oder universell verwendbare Tagelohner einstellen. Weil die aber allesamt nicht umsonst arbeiten, gibt's ein weiteres Menu für die Steuerhabung. Darüberhinaus wollen die Jungs gelegentlich was zwischen die Kiemen, diesem Umstand trägt des Food-Menu Rechnung.

Ebenfalls nicht zu vernachlässigen ist der Einfluss, den die Witterung und vor allem heranstürmende Feindeshorden auf den Baufortschritt haben - auch hier haben die Programmierer vorgesorgt und geben dem Spieler Bogenschützen und Infanteristen and die Hand, die zwar nur wenig gegen General Frost, umsomehr aber gegen die Kelten ausrichten können. Schliesslich und endlich waren da noch das Options- und das Design-Menu: letzteres enthalt die allesentscheidenden Türm-, Tor- und Wandbausteine.

Was sich bis jetzt recht vielversprechend anhört, erweist sich in der Baupraxis leider als ziemlicher Langweiler. In der Hauptsache besteht so ein Digi-Schloss aus genau vier Bausteinen (Mauern, Tore, runde und eckige Türme), die per Mausclick positioniert und dann von den Arbeitern "faktisch" errichtet werden. Hin und wieder muss man einen Keltenangriff abwehren, damit aus dem Rohbau keine Bauru´ne wird, aber dieses Feature wird durch seine ständige Wiederholung auch nicht gerade interessanter. Dasselbe gilt fur die gelegentlich hereinschneienden Bittsteller und Boten, die man im Multiple Choice-Verfahren abspeist - und für die obligaten Volkaufstände wegen zu schmertzhaft angezogener Steuerschraube.

Etwas mittelälterlich sind hier aber nicht nur Szenario und Gameplay, auch die Präsentation passt sich an. OK, bei der Begleitmusik muss dass wohl so sein, aber bei der Grafik?! Die Baustelle sieht weder in der 3D- noch in der 2D- Ansicht nach irgendwas aus, zudem ruckelt das Scrolling im Schleckentempo dahin. Sonderlich flott ist auch die Maus/Menu-Steuerung nicht, klappt aber ansonsten relativ reibungslos. Castles ist somit kein echter Flop, aber auch bestimmt kein Grund, den Bausparvertrag zu kündigen! (mm)


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So we have had (or are about to have) city sims, global sims, even ant colony sims. Winding the clock abck 700 years or so for an Englishman's-home sim seems like such an obvious idea it is a wonder nobody thought of it a long time ago. Imagine it, designing your own medieval stronghold, lording it over the peasants, covering attackers in boiling oil. Ah, the life of an oppressive, sadistic, peasant-bashing feudal baron is the one for me.

Well, Interplay did think of it a while back, as Castles has been around on the PC for some months now. Now out on the Amgia, it offers the challenge of ruling a kingdom and building and defending your own stone castles. The simulation model is based on the castles built on by King Edward I (reigned 1272-1307) to consolidate the kingdom's hold on those wild Celtic devolutionists, the Welsh.

I say 'based on' the 'real world' scenario is of a fictionalized medieval Albion, packed with all kinds of dubious characters who carry a sort of sub-plot to the main exercise of castle building in an attempt to give the otherwise mundane stone-stacking a storyline. And for those with weirder or wilder tastes, there is a fantasy world option featuring dragons, trolls and wizards too.

So how does it work? Well, to start with you can build either a single castle or conduct a campaign to subjugate the Celts by building a series of eight. While you are doing this, other factors are thrown into the pot such as attacks by berserk Celts, knights popping up to report on distant battles, annoying bishops hassling you for a game of chess - the usual petty trials of castle ownership. At least there is a dungeon handy for double glazing salesmen.

So, to building. Four levels of play are offered, each of which presents a different scale of resources. Such considerations as the convenience of local stone quarries; how much money you can raise through taxation; and the availability of labour serve to give the impresssion that building a castle takes a good deal more thought than knocking up a garden shed.

The main screen shows the local terrain and it is up to you to decide whereabouts to build. You cannot go building on rock, in forests (very ecological, I am sure) or, for obvious reasons, in a swamp. The best option here is to look and see if there is a convenient body of water handy, and, if there is, to build near it, thus limiting the number of directions from which an enemy can approach.

Next, it is time to lay out the foundations. There are two types of tower to choose from - square and the more difficult to undermine round tower - plus the facility to specify height and whether or not to have windows. To plan out your castle, you select the appropriate tower and paste it on the map several times to form the outline of whatever shape you want. Be careful though. If you get carried away and start mapping out a small city, your resources will rapidly dwindle, leaving no scope left for those most useful of defensive devices, walls.

Wall segments come in thicknesses of nine or twelve feet and, again, their heights can be specified. You can also include arrow slits and cauldrons (simmer oil at gas mark 6 for three hours), just to make the lives of any aggressors that bit more miserable. Finally, it might be nice to have a gate - getting in and out can be tough without one.

And there we have it. An impressive fortification standing all of about four-feet high. Not too good at keeping out the draughts really, so it is off to the Labour menu to hire some workers to build it up a bit. The size of the workforce depends on how much dosh you are raising from taxation (egad, sir, you mean to pay them?) - fork out too much on wages and they will all bog off when the money runs out. You can allocate work teams to parts of the castle, then sit back and watch as the little figures on-screen slowly start to build it up. And boy, is it ever slow. Things get really tedious as wall sections and towers gradually take shape, but - presumably in a bid to keep you awake - attacking bands of utterly anti-social types come wandering along regularly.


Falls somewhat between two stools

UNDER ATTACK - MEDIEVAL DEAD
Suddenly you are thrust into battle. The workforce has run off and the marauders come and knock down everything they have built. Damn, I knew that Military menu was there for a reason. You can hire an army of foot soldiers and archers, the size of which depends on how many components there are to your castle. Of course, they will need paying and training, so there is yet more financial juggling to take care of. In battle, your faithful fighting units (a maximum of 20) are deployed in the same way as castle components are placed and, once given a target to attack, pretty well conduct the fight themselves. Hum. Do I really need to be here or would the computer have more fun on its own?

At least there are the visitors to keep me amused while the game plays with itself. In the fantasy scenario. Battered and bleeding knights arrive with dark warnings of savage troll armies on the move, and you are presented with a choice of answers: ignore them, send troops or form an alliance with the Celts. Decisions made earlier in the game supposedly affect how the story develops, but you know it will all end up with an army having a go at your castle so you may as well say 'nay' to messengers on the game options screen.

While it all sounds quite jolly, and while the sight of your castle design taking shape is fun, it can get rather boring. The battle scenes are more of an intrusion than an exciting aside, for the simple reason that they are not very dramatic. The pace at which the workers do their thing is somewhat snail-like too, and it is a tedious business having to manually relocate manpower every time a section of the castle is finished - haven these guys never heard of initiative?

But my main gripe is that, in trying to offer something a little lighter and more action-orientated, a lot of potential has been overlooked. A greater variety of military units - such as the inclusion of cavalry - would have been nice, and more fortification options should really be here. Sure, you can dig a moat, but that is the only earthwork on offer.

Castles as a sim is not very realistic and as a game verges on the tedious. There are some thrills to be had, but the ease with which an enemy can slight what you have spent hours putting together makes you wonder what the point of building it was in the first place. This is a game with plenty of potential, but too little of it seem to have been realised. I am sure oppressive, sadistic, peasant-bashing feudal barons used to have much more fun.


WHERE IS THE REALISM?

If, as the manual says, the purpose of Castles is "to allow you to experience both the romance and the reality of medieval castle building", then perhaps a little more thought could have been given to that old favourite - realism.

For starters, one reason castles evolved was from the importance of cavalry as a weapon of war - plonk a virtually impregnable fortress into hostile territory and you have a base from which to send out the medieval equivalent of the ultimate weapon. So why is there no cavalry in the game?

Another problem: the siting of castles in Castles has too few factors bearing on it. Castles were often built on hills or on man-made mounds for the very good reason that it is a swine trying to mount an assault uphill.

Okay, so 13th-century castle deisng may not have made so much use of the artificial mound (it is an unstable platform for a heavy stone fortification), but a more evolutionary model - perhaps featuring the whole range of castle design, from wooden motte and bailey fortifications to the stone castles that replaced them during the 12th and 13th centuries - would add more interest.

Finally, real castles had a lot more wood in them than Electroni Arts' game supposes. Towers had pointed roofs, like witches hats, and wooden huts and lean-tos were common - However, your computerised carpenters pack their toolbags when a Castles castle's crenellations are done.

The game has potential for something really fascinating and educational - but Castles just does not do its subject matter justice. I hope Castles 2 (if there is ever going to be one) takes advantage of it.


Castles 1 logo CU Amiga Screenstar

To consolidate his Welsh holdings, King Edward I ordered a line of eight castles to be built, deterring any further Celtic uprisings. This is where you come in. As king of Albion, your job is to construct these fortresses, managed their armies and deal with any problems which invariably occur.

Naturally, you have to design your castle before you can build and protect it. This is the easiest stage. The two main elements of a castle are the keep, and the outer wall. For his you;re given an overhead view of the land where it's to be built, and a bank of five icons: a wall, square tower, round tower, a gate and an eraser. By clicking on a castle segment, and clicking on the map, you lay the foundation of that piece to be built. To build a stable castle you must have one tower for every three segments of wall, if you don't, you're liable to find things coming crashing down around your head. Once placed, you must then enter how high you want the piece to be built.

There are very few restrictions placed on design, so you can go all out on the spiky 'Fortress-of-Dread' look, and create something that will really put the wind up the Celts. What you have to consider, though, is cost and time. The more complicated your creation, the longer it takes to build, and you're liable to run out of cash halfway through construction.

The next step is to hire a workforce. Stone masons, quarrymen, blacksmiths, carpenters, diggers, carters and labourers have to be brought in. As your funds are limited to the amount you can tax, or extort, from the local population, you are forced to limit the number of people working for you. Getting the best mix of people is important, with carpenters building scaffolding, smiths making rivets and bars, diggers laying the foundations, and masons building the various bits. The master stonemason, who oversees the construction, gives you his opinion on the staff mix, and the worse it is, the longer it takes to build the castle.

Hiring and firing staff can prove very tedious, and striking the right balance between classes is more down to luck than skill, and I would have preferred a preset mode which hired a basic work force. You also need to hire and train troops to defend the half-built, which soaks up even more cash and time.

To build an area, simply click on it, and assign a number of workers to it. Almost immediately, a number of little figures will appear and start beavering away. Once everything's up and running there's plenty of action in the area, with loads of little people running around, and sometimes disappearing into thin air. This is all very interesting for a while, but it soon becomes very boring, despite the occasional attack of mad Celts. To cap it off, one of the little guys building the castle usually scales the wall and throws himself off of it - still, every castle needs its ghosts, I suppose.

When the Celts do launch an attack, you must place your troops near the castle walls, and select the units for them to attack. The Celts who raid your first castle are easily beaten off, but on later levels they come armed with catapults and many more troops.

Despite being slow in places, Castles has a lot of depth and a great many features. If you're bored with the real world, you can switch it to fantasy mode, and have ogres, elves and dragons added to your already substantial tribulations. If you enjoy games such as Populous and Sim City, you'll enjoy this. I certainly did.


CHARITY BEGINS AT HOME
Occasionally, you receive visits from people requesting aid or advice. You're shown a picture of the visitor, their question, and a choice of three answers. The answers are usually arranged so that you can be a nice guy, completely indecisive or a real git. Most of your visits come from the local bishop, and as the church was exceedingly powerful in those days, it pays to do as they ask. That said, in one game I had several visits from a nun who claimed that half the Masons working on my castle were witches who should be executed. She ended up kidnapping the bishop and claiming that the forces of evil were out to get her. The end result was me sending in 100 troops on a rescue mission then paying for the damage they caused to the monastery while they were about it.

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US Gold/£40.99/Out Now

Amiga reviewIan: Castles gives you the opportunity to march into a foreign land (Wales) and attempt to subjugate the locals by erecting a whopping great stone structure in their back yard. You can then lord it over the peasants from the lofty heights of its walls and turrets.

If things go wrong, however, you can find yourself with rellious peasants, no funds with which to pay armies and workers, and your most trusted allies stabbing you in the back.

Managing your resources is the order of the day. First, choose the basic design for your castle, its location, and whether you want round or square turrets, thick or thin walls, a moat etc. Then start building with a blend of stonemasons, carpenters, diggers, double-glazing and Jacuzzi fitters and such like. The more men you employ, the faster their jobs are completed. To defend your creation from the likes of ogres and Welshmen, archers can be deployed along the walls, and infantrymen recruited. Sounds fun? It is. Sounds simple? It's not. All these men require payment, and this is more or less the crux of the game. Tax the peasants to pay for your extravagances, anything from being generous to tyrannical. Finding the correct balance is very challenging, but there can be no denying that it's most enjoyable.

As well as all these decisions, every so often you'll get a close-up of yourself (a noble, kingly-looking chap) and a messenger will appear. The nature of his message will require a further decision. For example: "Do you require pine, lemon or elderberry fragrance salts for your Jacuzzi?". Your decision could well determine the course of history.

The graphics are excellent, with tiny, cute men scruttling around carrying out your bidding. The only real drawback with the game is that it lacks that certain something which ensures repeated play.

The blurb on the front of the box misquotes this very magazine, saying: "Castles combines the best of Populous, Sim City and Railroad Tycoon." They should've added: "But it's not as good as any of them."