Anrea is the perfect place for a good-time dragon. Up at around lunchtime, a leisurely stroll down to the egg incubators to see how junior's cooking and off for a bit of gratuitous rape and pillage. If only the master would lay off the whip and those barbarians would bog off and stop eating everyone...
Dragon's Breath gives you a chance to manage a stable of winged wonders in a quest for the secret of immortality. In the centre of its fantasy world lies Dwarf Mountain, a place more evil than number 10 Downing street. Legend has it that the throne room contains the secret of eternal life. But before you can pop over and scoop the manufacturing rights for whatever is to be found there, three pieces of talisman must be found and guarded by your dragons.
Since you only start the game with one beastie, it's time to get breeding. At the outset, you have 20 eggs, up to four of which may be put in the incubator at any one time. But as in real life, nothing comes free and to breed dragons an income must be generated. This is done by conquering villages and generally extending your sphere of influence. The more unscrupulous you are, the more dosh you'll rake in.
Dragon's Breath Is a three player game. Alternatively, the computer can be co-opted to take the place of any or even all the three central characters: Bachim the alchemist, Ouered the she-vampire and Ametrin the green beast. The computer is a pretty hot player, so it's probably wise for the beginner to play all three and deliberately kill two of 'em off. You perish when you have no dragons and no money - it's a bit like being a professional horse breeder without a stud and no money to buy one.
An important part of the game - and certainly the most difficult part to master - is the casting of spells. These can be used to increase your wealth, affect your dragon's powers and bring fame, fortune and disaster to various villages in the Anrea arena.
Spells are not predetermined, which gives you free rein or a headache depending on how you look at it. The process is phenomenally time consuming and complex and although you can play without casting magic, erm... you'll lose.
Tim: At first glance, Dragon's Breath is fearsomely complicated. You have to juggle dragons, eggs, money, pieces of talisman and plan world domination all at the same time. But because every action on screen is icon-driven, it's pretty easy to get into quickly. Well, erm... perhaps 'quickly' is really the wrong word to use, but we'll get to that in good time.
Boot up and move through the stunning opening screens. To business. Select the players and you move to the Main Game Screen. Each player takes a turn before clicking on the egg timer to move the action on by a month.
To plan your turn, click on the player icon to take you to your real estate: the Castle Screen. Each player has their own pad, complete with dragons' lairs, map room, library... everything in fact that the self-respecting rich oppressor could wish for. Take Bachim for example. (Preferably somewhere a long way away). This is what the poor dear did in Rhintrim ora (month to you) 2045.
A MONTH IN THE LIFE OF A BORED RICH PLAYBOY
1st: Up early (midday). Went to the library. Checked out my accounts. What a smug rich dictator I am. Looked at current affairs. Those dratted peasants are all at war (what a surprise, yawn) and Xian has taken hostages. Hold on, Dinon's offering a reward for their return. (Greedily rubs hands.)
2nd: Went to the hatchery. Put an egg on the boil, low heat. When he hatches, I'll call him Clifford. That way I might flog him off to Listerine when he's old and decrepit.
3rd: Went to the lab to cast a spell. Cocked it up as usual but it smelt nice so I drank it. Wow!
4th: Visited Calgor in the lair. He wanted to go and burn up a few peasants but I've got a hangover after drinking that gargle blaster.
5th: Wandered over to the map room. Tried to decide who to invade next and chose Xian because it'll earn me dosh, it's not too far away and 'cause I don't care for the name.
6th: A bloomin' trader woke me up at 10 in the morning and tried to flog me dodgy, black market spell ingredients for making Clifford big, fast and strong. Decided Calgor would be jealous so I told him to stuff his Tius up... (Snip. Ed.)
Okay, so it was a silly diary but it gives you an idea of the sort of thing you have to do every month. You have to keep an eye on current affairs, accounts and spell inventory in the library. This helps you plan who to conquer and how much you're likely to get out of it. A visit to the lair lets you take a close look at your dragon's powers and cast spells to increase them. You have the opportunity to buy ingredients off traders (when they call) if you're short.
Keeping an eye on the hatchery is essential. You need to know when a dragon is going to be born and adjust the heat according to these requirements. But the crucial activity takes place in the map room: sending dragons on assignments...
The main map shows the whole of Anrea. Flags of the three different colours show which player owns what. At the moment it's just their own castles. Clicking on the magnifying glass allows you to look at a specific area. Using the arrows to scroll around, you can place the cursor over villages to see their population details. The colour of the box around them denotes their race: different races wage war against each other. You can even click on the village to look at a picture of the settlement close up.
Once you've found a suitable village to annexe, you click on the dragon icon to arrange a sortie. You have the choice of just attacking or of trying to conquer and keep the village.
The actual attack can be handled by the computer for you: the easy way out. Select how much Zeal you want your dragon to use (not much for an attack on a tiny village, maximum to conquer a large settlement) and quite the screen. It doesn't happen straight away; all the dragon missions are resolved at the end of the move in turn for each player.
The computer-controlled sequence is nowt short of pathetic when it finally arrives. A dragon appears at the top left, glides across the screen spewing fire and disappears off the right. Fortunately, it only takes a few seconds: just enough time to locate a tinny and crack it open for light refreshment.
Alternatively, clicking on the training option lets you play the attack yourself in the form of an arcade sequence...
THE BAD BREATH SHOOT 'EM UP
A bit of a disappointment on this front. It looks pretty enough, but the play is not stunningly original. The screen scrolls vertically, with your dragon flying either up or down depending on which ay you're yanking the wibble stick. The four rails of the abacus on the right show dragon's health, breath power, village population and the technological sophistication of their defences.
Aerial objects have to be burnt up at close range, the ground detail from a distance (dragon breath firing diagonally downwards, that makes sense).
Since losing dragons is bad news (it takes ages to incubate new ones) it's fortunate that you can quit the arcade sequence while the going's good. If you do die on either computer-controlled attacks of the shoot 'em up, you get taken to a nifty dead dragon screen featuring a bleeding dragon's head and an angst-ridden owner.
Because you're so busy burning up villages, increasing your income, countering opponents' activities and breeding dragons, there's little opportunity to search for talisman pieces in the early stages. When other players are out of the game, there's the chance to send out dragons on search missions. The fragments may be in open country or villages, so there's a vast area to scour. Once you've found them, you need at least three dragons to guard the bits of talisman, at which point you get transported to the Throne Room. And the secret of immortality is... (Snip. Ed.)
AT THE END OF THE DAY...
As I explained earlier, at first play Dragon's Breath seems vast in scope. But it's soon clear what's going on, although it never becomes simple. Unfortunately, the gameplay soon becomes repetitive. Every month you end up doing much the same: nurturing eggs, going on raids, keeping an eye on admin and casting spells.
Whether you'll enjoy the magic system depends on your patience. The initial excitement of creating recipes soon became a drag in my case, but the system at least gives infinite possibilities.
The graphics are bootiful throughout, with a conscientious eye for detail. More animation would have been good but I s'pose you can't have everything. (Unless you're Paul Getty. Ed.) Sound is also of the quality you'd expect of the Amiga: the music is as atmospheric as the rumblings of the plumbing when the heat is cranked up in the hatchery.
However, there is one major flaw to gameplay in Dragon's Breath: Disk accessing. Virtualy every time you click on an icon to go elsewhere, it has to load all the screen data. It takes between about two and ten seconds depending on the screen, but in total you probably spend more time waiting than playing because it happens so often.
Yep, that's the price you have to pay for visual glory. If you happen to have the patience of Job, it may not bother you. But it sent me to sleep. "Let's look in the library." Click, whirr. "The green book." Click whirr... you get the picture - in both senses. There's not much disk juggling (plus there's a two drive option) but it hardly improves improves matters.
Strategy buffs will probably enjoy Dragon's Breath. And if graphics tickle your fancy, it could come high on the shopping list. But if you can't stand the waiting, then get out of the hatchery...