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.