Just back from some serious chess playing down at the local, the Queen's Pawn and Ferret, the last thing I wanted to do was review a chess compilation. I had just beaten the best, old Fred, like a thug with problems. My middle game had been incisive, the end game had been brutal but sharp. I knew all there as to know about the game.
Then I got my first glimpse at this non-
The menu screen showed a map of the world with the names of ten different chess variations in boxes. I clicked on Byzantine and the two-
Two minutes later I was a shredded, beaten, fascinated man. This form of the game is played on a circular board. The strategy is most ly similar to chess but the differences really put a hook into me. I clicked on to top menu bar and brought up the History option. Fascinating. I read it again, then moved on to the rules. This really started to look interesting.
Luckily, instead of having to return to the Rules option every time I forgot how a certain piece moved, I could click a Help icon on any piece on the board. Its moves were shown and I was able to continue. I sent out for pizza. This looked like it was going to be a long night - there were still nine other options to play.
I decided to check out the options. The board, background and piece colours were changed pronto - yellow pieces on a purple board with a puce background. Then there was 'The Narrator' to contend with. He, or she, shouted things at me like "It's not your turn to move yet!" so I altered the volume and brought down the pitch to more relaxing levels.
The pizza arrived and I was ready to play Loas Alamos chess. Very similar to the recognised game except there are no bishops and the board is 7x7. Try making the English opening (knights out for the lads) on this and you're looking for a bloodbath. By the time I'd got to grips with this, in a childish manner, the pizza was cold crust.
Time to move on to Chinese chess, or Chaturanga, or Decimal, Shatranji, Courier or Turkish chess. It was like being a food freak at the most exotic meal ever. Each new game threw up new strategies to learn and new tricks to try. It made Laser Squad look tame. I went out the next day and bought a new Amiga specifically to play this package...
GRAPHICS AND SOUND
Sound is not something you look for in a strategy game. So, save for The Narrator and the 'tone' option, there is none to talk of. Graphically they've done a fine job. Each game has its own board; Chinese chess has a wide blue strip down the middle, Chaturanga has pieces shaped like elephants. The movement is smooth, even on the 3D view, and even the text for Rules and History is well done.
Graphically it's an eloquent piece which doesn't intrude on the gameplay - it heightens it! If I was forced to think of a negative criticims, it would be that the female narrator sounds like a blues singer with a throat infection the morning after cheering for the Chicago Bears.
With ten games to choose from, each one as addictive, brainteasing and generally wild as the next, this little package should run and run. The ability to change skill levels, learn more about the history of the great game, test yourself to your limits and come out of the experience with more than a trifling nickname on a hi-score table means that Distant Armies should keep being taken out of the disk-
The only thing which might inhibit is the cowardly player who loses constantly - and in the beginning you will - and then decides that the package is no good. Sure it's hard, b ut so was riding a bike when you started.
A gem of a package. Not only will Distant Armies reawaken tired chess players, it should also create a stir amongst strategy gamers. I would have liked it to see a bigger manual, containing the text files for perusal on the train or in bed. One thing missing might be a conventional game for relief.
Aside from this quibble, Distant Armies is one of the most intelligent uses yet produced for the Amiga - and it's Amiga-