Castles 2: Siege and Conquest logo

Verily, Sir Knight, 'tis on the Eve of Lammastide that thou wilst ride out in search of derring-do and a half-way decent strategy game.

I f you think the current bicker over European union is bad, you ain't seen nothing yet. At least nobody has invaded anybody else in the name of a united Europe, and nobody has applied to the pope to become king (or queen) of all he (or she) surveys. I could be wrong, but I do not think that there has been much in the way of castle-building on since the signing of the Maastricht treaty.

All of this, and more, could be yours with Castles II - Siege and Conquest. The time is the 14th century and you play one of five rivals for the throne of France from the territories of Albion, Burgundy, Anjou, Aragorn or Valois. Becoming king (or queen) is simple in theory; all you need to do is overrun sufficient territory and gain enough points to convince the Pope that you are the right man (or woman) for the job.

However, the practicalities of this are a little different. With four rivals hell-bent on achieving the same thing, life can get complicated. As soon as one starts to get big and powerful enough to claim the throne, the other four gang up and overthrow him. And so on...

The other four players are controlled by the computer, and you all start off with only one territory and limited resources. Fortunately, you are surrounded by several neutral territories just begging to be invaded and their various resources piled into your quest for glory. However, make sure that you check their status first, since the pope is not likely to look kindly on your claim to the throne if you invade territory that you think is neutral, but actually turns out to be his. So, the first thing to do is start recruiting an army and send spies out to check the neighbouring states.

You control your actions by assigning points to tasks in three categories: administrative, military and political. To begin withyou only have a few points, but as you conquer other territories, your points in these categories increase. Unfortunately, you are limited to a maximum of two tasks in each category, which rather slows down the pace of the game. So you can be attacking up to two territories, mining or collecting two commodoties and scouting two territories.

Get a move on
Once you have built up a few points in each of the three categories, you can speed up any particular task by assigning more points to it, but you are still limited to two tasks per category and all too often you are left waiting for a task to be completed, even after you have assigned plenty of points to it.

Given the general slow pace of the game, this really does not help. Once you have built up a bit of an empire things do get faster, but it is still a very slow game.

Graphically, the game betrays its PC origins, with both AGA and ECS versions contained on its nine disks. There is an intro sequence which gives you the background on why you are aiming to be king (the old king has popped his clogs without naming an heir, so it is down to the pope to decide who is more worthy). The AGA version is, as you would expect, much nicer in the graphics department, with 256-colour screens ported straight from the PC version.

There are also several digitised animated sequences in the game which play back when various events such as battles, successful spies or whatever happen, but these do not add much, since they are only 16 colour blck and white. Frankly, after you have seen them once, you skip past them quickly.

The in-game music is more irritating than atmospheric, but it works well during the intro sequence, which informs you as to how you got into this situation in the first place.

There is a good game in there somewhere, but it is rather lost under a badly designed control system which slows the game down. It will appeal to hardened strategy freaks, since there is plenty of potential for wheeling and dealing, buying and selling and annoying the pope. However, problems with controlling the game make it difficult, and the pace of a game is extremely slow.

Castles 2: Siege and Conquest logo

At last! A highly-detailed simulation of The Hundred Years War and medieval power politics. In full.

History doesn't record what the popular tunes were in 14th Century Europe, or the favourite styles of decorative codpieces, or whether princesses, fair maidens and all that lot preferred slingback or high-heeled shoes. Why doesn't history note down these facts that seem all too essential in modern lifestyle magazines?

Well, the main reason is that people in the 14th Century had much grittier and down-to-earth problems to worry and write about - specifically, a war. A big war. A hoofing great war. It's hard to believe, but as well as having no sanitary water, medical services or Yo! MTV Raps, those unfortunate medieval lice-laden folk also had to contend with a scrap that dragged on for over a hundred years. Talk about being born under a bad sign.

Castles 2 attempts to recreate this tumultuous period of history by making you the ruler of a small European province. The game's based in the fictitious kingdom of Bretagne, which is apparently where the original Castles was set, and looking at the map it appears to be the lower half of France.

But anyway, this geographical speculation hardly matters, as the idea's for you to become King of Bretagne by means fair and foul. How you go about it is up to you - you can trade with neighbours and be peaceable, or simply walk over their countries callously beheading livestock as you go.

The manual states that during the period of The Hundred Years War, (that's 1337 to 1453, history junkies) the blood of English and French soldiers saturated the soil and the peasants were forcefully removed from their homes or killed, so from this you've got a good idea how to go about gaining that all-important crown.

But it's not all war, war, war, as there's all those annoying domestic chores to deal with as well, such as feeding your minions, putting the rubbish out on bin days, guarding your lands, washing the car every Sunday, trying not to get excommunicated by the Pope, and so on. With all that lot to do, it's no wonder so many people keeled over and died in their late 20s - they must've been knackered!

If this all sounds a bit confusing, it's simply because there's a number of things going on at the same time, but it's all handled in a fairly logical manner.
First, you need to have enough building blocks for your empire, which in this case are food (for eating, obviously), timber and iron for construction, and gold. This is vitally important as you've got to pay your troops, bribe or grovel to the Church and simper at rival leaders.

Neither interesting, nor particularly evocative

It's also handy because you can use it to buy any of the other three that you may have run out of, which happens because each region is rich in only one of the four commodities. So, to maintain a steady flow of goods, you either have to trade with your neighbouring states, or invade them. Hmm, which one shall I go for?

Having decided you want to take over another region, you can either scout it to find out what it produces, send in spies to find out how strong it is or just amass an army to stomp it into the ground. Each option takes up valuable man-hours, and the main problem posed by the game is how you can manage your limited resources most effectively.

Since once you've set a task going (such as building a castle or trading) you tie up the units until it's finished, you've got to work out if you're going to be attacked before you start policing your realms or recruiting soldiers.

Although this allows you to do all manner of tasks simultaneously, all this productivity manifests itself as little bars gradually filling up with colour, which is neither interesting nor particularly evocative of feuding medieval warlords. You can tell that the programmers thought this as well, as they also included a few other options to spruce up the overall look of the game.

The first of these is the combat sequences, and the only nice thing to say about them is that you don't have to look at them if you don't want to. I reviewed a wargame called Cohort 2 back in issue 26, and although I was far from impressed by it, the battles in Castles 2 make it look like CD32 technology. They really are dire.

The next slightly gimmicky thing that's thrust your way is the 'design a castle' section, where you can build round or square towers and thick or thin walls around a central keep. The size of the castle determines its ability to quell unrest in that region, and the existence of the castle makes the combat sequences slightly interesting in that at least there's something to look at and also you have to buy siege weapons to knock them down.

Finally, there's the entire gimmicky video sequences from various movies which crop up at moments of high drama. They take up a lion's share of the nine disks (count 'em) that the game comes on, and are entirely irrelevant to the actual game, but hey, they're not really worth it. Shame that.

So there you have it, a game that consists for the most part of watching little coloured bars. At random points little 'Answer A, B or C'-type questions appear to test your judgement, so if you behead an emissary from a rival or turn down the Church's plea for money then you'll more than likely be labelled a bit of a bad 'un and everyone will invade, but if you're firm but fair then the Pope will love you - which is handy as he's the only person with enough power to declare you king.

It's all just so dull though, with lacklustre combat failing totally to lift the game out of the 10-year old mould that it was cast in. Last month we saw games such as the hugely fabulous Dune 2 and the almost criminally awesome Syndicate which both took the ideas of conquest, world management and combat, and turned them into two of the best Amiga games ever.

And Castles 2? Well, it's the same price as either of the above, and it really doesn't even reach the starting line, let alone the finishing post. Tch.

Castles 2: Siege and Conquest
  1. You can tell how many men you've got by checking these little boxes here.
  2. These little, er, boxes show the extent of your conquests by even smaller blue boxes.
  3. The resources of your realm are laid out in these, er, little boxes here.
  4. Interestingly, elongated wooden boxes contain small coloured lines.
  5. Clicking these boxes sets various tasks going. See above for details.
  6. Options, messages and film clips come up in this LARGE box. Like, wow.

Castles 2: Siege and Conquest CD32 logo CD32

Interplay * £29.99 * Out now

Do you sometimes wish you had been an administrator, politician and great leader 700 years ago? If the anwer is yes then Castles 2 should be right up your street.

You choose to take on the role of one of five feuding families with the ultimate aim being to convince the Pope that you are the right candidate to be crowned King. In the meantime, to gain this bellsing, you must overrun as much territory as possible in time honoured feudal fashion. Unfortunately, the four rivals are equally keen to get the nod from the religious bloke and do their best to prevent you completing your task.

So, recruit yourself an army and off you jolly well go. Beware who you choose to invade though, because if you are on the Pope's patch he will be on the phone to his amtes before you can say "woman priests". Castles 2 is not the quickest of role playing games due to the fact that you are lmited in the amount of tasks that you can do at one time and this can become a wee bit frustrating. Another thing that I found annoying is that the control system is somewhat fiddly.

Despite these gripes Castles 2 is a decent strategy game, particularly for the more experienced RPG-er. And cheers to Interplay for knocking a fiver off the floppy version.

Castles 2: Siege and Conquest CD32 logo CD32

Was lange währt, wird deswegen nicht unbedingt gut - leider gilt diese traurige Weisheit aus der Konvertierungsbranche in begrenztem Umfang auch fur Interplay's Zweitschloß auf dem CD32!

Die Burgherren vom PC wissen schon seit einem Jahr, daß dieses Game mit seinem Vorgänger nicht mehr so wahnsinnig viel gemein hat. Beherrschte damals noch der leicht an "Sim City" angelehnte Schloßbau das Geschehen, so geht es hier in erster Linie um den strategischen Aufbau eines der fünf miteinander konkurrierenden Fürstenhäuser aus dem 14. Jahrhundert.

Dazu dürfen auf wirtschaftlicher, diplomatischer und militärischer Ebene Aktionen der unterschiedlichsten Art getätigt werden, während im Hintergrund leise, aber unerbittlich die Uhr tickt. Am Anfang wird man erst mal in der Landwirtschaft aktive, schürft nach Erzen und schachert mit Rohstoffen, um die Voraussetzungen zur Errichtung eines standesgemäßen Gemäuers zu schaffen. Für dieses entwirft man dann den Grundriß auf einem Extrascreen, die anschließende Bauphase übernimmt der Rechner in eigener Verantwortung.

Als nächsten Schritt auf der feudalen Karriereleiter sollte man die Verstärkung der Armee durch frisch angeworbene Rekruten einplanen, denn der eigene Besitz will verteidigt werden, und man könnte ja auch selbst zum einen oder anderen Eroberungsfeldzug schreiten.

Die Schlachten spielen sich dann auf einer isometrischen 3D-Karte ab; dabei kann der Wohnzimmergeneral das Gemetzel entweder komplett der Maschine überlassen oder die einzelnen Truppenteile (Infanterie, Bogenschützen, etc.) per Menü jeweils separat befehligen.

Je mächtiger das eigene Reich wird, um so wichtiger wird auf die Diplomatie: Verdirbt man es sich z.B. mit dem päpstlichen Legaten, droht gar die Exkommunizierung mit allen jenseitigen Konsequenzen.

Ansonsten kann man nach Herzenslust spionieren und intrigieren - zumindest solange man genügend geschürftes Gold auf der hohen Kante hat, um das Volk im allgemeinen und die Armee im besonderen bei Laune zu halten.

War die Präsentation auf dem PC noch durchaus akzeptabel, so muß man diesbezüglich am CD32 schon sämtliche Hühneraugen zudrücken: Die Grafik sieht jetzt etwas krümeliger aus, die Sprites zuckeln mit dem Cursor um die Wette, und die gelegentlich eingestreuten SW-Digifilmchen werden in der Praxis zur reinen Diashow, weil das Spieltempo irgendwo zwischen Vollbremsung und Rückwärtsgang angesiedelt ist.

Aber gottlob ist Castles II ja kein Actionspiel, und gottlob kann man es auch mit der Maus steuern, denn unser Kommentar zur Joypad-Steuerung würde garantiert nicht jugendfrei ausfallen. An der Soundbegleitung gibt es indessen rein gar nichts zu mäkeln.

Man hätte bei der Endnote für diese nicht gerade liebevoll gemachte CD-Konvertierung also auch strenger sein können, doch ist das Spielprinzip trotz aller technischen Widrigkeiten immer noch sehr reizvoll und zudem am CD32 nicht gerade alltäglich - geduldige Adelsherren mögen mit diesem Strategical also dennoch glücklich werden. (mic)

Castles 2: Siege and Conquest CD32 logo CD32

Interplay £29.99

A value for money improvement here, as Interplay's 14th Century strategy game gets stuck straight onto CD with (as far as I can tell) no changes whatsoever, but at £5 less than the floppy version.

Unfortunately, this was a game that really did need a bit of tarting up, because as it stands it is just way too dull to shine against the dozens of reasonably lively strategy games that the Amiga is already blessed with. Not a great way to show off your new machine.

Castles 2: Siege and Conquest CD32 logo CD32


This game is set in the fourteenth century, and you are a local lord who's out to become king of Bretagne. Several other lords also have their eye on the throne, and now the Church has intervened so you have to start crawling to the Pope if you want to get that kingship.

The route to the top involves grabbing as much land as possible, fighting the occasionally battle and keeping in with the church. The manual goes to great lengths to explain the politics between the various factions, but it doesn't really make any difference to the game.

The land is divided up into over a dozen territories, each of which has one of four natural resources, wood, gold, iron and food. You need all four of these to construct a castle and raise an army, so if you're missing any, you have to trade with your enemies or go without. Once you've got a few territories you can start buttering up the Pope by giving him any spare money or land you have.

Once you've consolidated your land and are sharing a border with your enemies, the game starts to slow down. Invading another territory is tricky because, even if you win a battle, your army is depleted leaving you open to invasion from other powers. The game has a few sub-plots but this doesn't alter the fact that nothing much happens and you don't need to do much to complete it. Just keep buttering up the Church who will eventually allow you to apply for the job as king, at which point all the other powers will attack you, to no avail, as you've spent the last half-hour building up you army.

When it does come to a battle you can either let the computer sort out your tactics, which saves a lot of time and hassle, or coordinate the mayhem yourself, which invariably results in defeat. Castles 2 is a disappointment when compared to its playable predecessor.