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A strategy game based upon the War of the Roses that features intrigue, factional politics and bloody warfare. US Gold's newie certainly isn't cricket!

There are hundreds of gamers out there who love strategy games. Unfortunately most of them have been stereotyped by a lot of people. Yes, if I asked you to describe a strategy games fan off the top of your head you'd probably say that they wear anoraks, NHS specs, balaclavas, ill-fitting trousers, have spots and harbour a fondness for trains.

This is not the case, although there are probably a few "anoraks" out there who give strategy fans a bad name. There is definitely a stigma attached to the name "strategy", but hopefully US Gold's Kingmaker can do something to try and get rid off or at least dent it.

In recent times, the computer strategy market has been the movement away from "hex and square", super detailed games (SSI-style war games) to graphically competent products with very userfriendly control systems. Products such as Powermonger and Civilization have been amazing successes and show just what you can achieve with a strategy game.

Kingmaker is a strategy board game that has been on sale since 1974. Excuse me for being ignorant, but the only Kingmaker I'd heard of was the top indie band, but older members of staff do vaguely remember it.

Te board game is an abstract recreation of the chaos, war and intrigue that epitomised the period of British history known as the War of the Roses. In four turblent plays, Shakespeare portrays the War of the Roses as a conflict of treachery, murder, fearsome vengeance and bloody battles. For those who lived in Shakespeare's era - a century later - the Wars were a time of violence, devastation and anarchy.

Only when Henry Tudor killed Richard III of Bosworth did these evil times come to an end. For those bold enough, the War of the Roses provided opportunities for advancement and power as established noble families fell by the wayside and local rivals were slain.

Hands up who now thinks that a strategy game about the War of the Roses would be naff and not interesting or exciting in the slightest? It's almost like finding out the Shakespeare isn't boring and is, in fact more like an olde worlde Quentin Tarantino.

Kingmaker kicks off with a fancy intro presented by William Shakespeare who is accompanied by a series of digitised pictures detailed the occurrences of the War of the Roses.

It's then right down to business and you are presented with the main screen which is split into three sections. Your objective is to control the last surviving royal piece and so become the undisputed King of England. You are in charge of a faction of nobles representing actual historical personalities from 15th Century England.

Kingmaker accurately reflects the changes in strengths of the factions as they are decimated by battles, plagues and failed ransom attempts, or have new honours bestowed on nobles with attached troops and castles US Gold reckon that most people lose interest in other titles because their artificial intelligence programming is weak, meaning that the player can learn the "perfect" strategy. Kingmaker is different from its rivals because there is no such thing as a perfect strategy. As a general rule, board games don't translate to the home computers well.

For starters you lack the human interaction which makes them so enjoyable. Secondly, there isn't a lot more a computer game can do that the board game can't and the board game will probably cost you a lot less to buy.

Kingmaker, fortunately, features a lot of features that wouldn't be possible to achieve with a board game, such as tactical combat and cinematic action sequences. Instead of a battle being lost on the turn of a card, you can now fight and decide the battle for yourself. The computer's artificial intelligence has been carefully designed and tries to recreate human thought processes as best as it can, and so can read favourably to an ever-changing tactical and strategic situation.

A nice little touch is the in-game help feature. An important objective of the game was to make the game accessible to novice strategy game players and this was achieved via a help or "chronicle' system which prompts players at key points in the game with suggestions on strategy and tactics. This can be altered to different levels depending on whether you're an expert or a beginner.

It also means you can practically chuck the weighty manual in the bin, but it does contain a wealth of historical information and sets the atmosphere and scene, as well as more detailed instructions on how to play the game.

Control of Kingmaker is via the mouse with a completely intuitive icon system that gives you easy access to all of the game functions. As mentioned before, the game is played on a digitised map of the UK using "counters" represented by the 100 per cent accurate heraldic shields of the historical nobles.

Several of the towns and cities have digitised pictures of the historical castles or cathedrals in existence in the 15th century. All this detail is very impressive and gives a good feel to the game.

Before you head off into action, a menu asks you to select the number of factions (1 to 5) you face in the game. The more factions the computer controls, the tougher the game becomes, although the computer-controlled factions will compete against each other just as fiercely as they compete against you.

As mentioned previously, to win at the game you must control the last royal heir. To achieve this you must capture and control on heir, eliminate all his/her rivals and have your heir crowned king in a cathedral town or city by an archbishop or two bishops.

Planning the risk-free capture of a heir is one of the most important parts of the game's opening period. Your faction's opening dispositions and moves should be geared primarily towards the capture of at least one royal heir.

Choosing the right one is a quesiton of balancing a number of variables. How close are the forces of opposing factions? How well guarded is the heir? Is there a noble in play who can capture the heir easily by virtue of an office they hold?

In fact, Kingmaker is a game where questions like these arise on every turn and decisions must be made which will, in turn, decide your victory or defeat.

For your first few games, the right strategy might seen bewilderingly obscure. Until you get used to the game you are advised to set yourself a simple goal and go for it. You'll soon get used to the advantages and disadvantages of certain combinations.

Kingmaker is relatively simple to use and control, but you'll have to spend many a long hour at your monitor before you'll be able to master it.
On my first go I played on the easiest level and managed to beat the computer (they there's skill for you), but on the harder levels I was like a fish out of water.

This is perhaps the best way to go about playing because if you leap in at the deep end you tend to stumble your way through and in turn learn about how to play as you progress. There is always the Help option available and the computer opponent tends to be fairly slow, so it won't defeat you in a couple of turns.

I could go on about US Gold's strategy jaunt for ages because there is a ton of information to tell you, but lack of space prevents this and it'd get fairly boring anyway. Conclusion time it is, then.

I must hold up my hands and admit that Kingmaker is a damn fine strategy game. I found myself engrossed and determined to see the game through to the end whether I won or lost.

The graphics for the main part are fairly bland but that's only because they were translated from board game. The introduction of the digitised screens livens things up a bit and the battles are well animated, if not a bit slow.
There are also a few choice animations slopped in there for good measure, the execution scene being a good example. The sound is sparse, but as the baord game distinctly lacked noise I shouldn't grumble too much.

The only real complaint I have is the fact that the computer does take rather a long time to decide what to do next. This does give you the ideal chance to plan your next moves, but after a while it gets on your nerves.

Kingmaker impressed me and coming from someone who is not overly fond of strategy that can only be a good thing for strategy fanatics, who are going to love it. Obviously it's not going to appeal to everyone, but if war/strategy is your thang then you'll be more than happy with Kingmaker.

Icon make you feel good

Faction Build Key
Kingmaker This returns you to the Faction box where you can make changes to your faction's line-up. You can also use the review function to observe where other factions have their armies, and where the royal heirs are.

Family Tree
Kingmaker This lists the royal heirs, by house, in order of precedence. Where a royal hair has been killed, that character's name is "crossed-out". If captured by a faction it is indicated by a bar in the colour of that faction. If crowned king, the character's name will have a crown beside his name.

Secret Support
Kingmaker During the Reinforcement phase of the game, factions may be joined by additional nobles. These can be brought into play by clicking on this icon.

Chronicle Key
Kingmaker By using the menus you can discover detailed information about various parts of the game. To read about an item all you have to do is click on it.

Kingmaker This allows you to discover the whereabouts of royal heirs and enemy nobles.

Where is?...
Kingmaker Use this to track down nobles, royal heirs, bishops, towns or anything else currently in play.

Save Game options
Kingmaker You can store up to 8saved games, allowing you to stop and continue play when you feel like it. You can also restore saved game from here.

Game options
Kingmaker From here you can restart the game, quit, toggle sound on/off and alter the auto-help setting.

Fresh Horses
Kingmaker Fresh Horses allow a Faction to move twice as far in one go. This icon records how many fresh horses your faction has.

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The period of British history between 1455 and 1483 is known as The War of the Roses - indeed, you may have seen the film starring Kathleen Turner and Michael Douglas. And in 1974, a board game about that period of history was introduced with the title of Kingmaker. Now it is time for the blody war battles to appear live and direct on your Amiga. This is your chance to rewrite the already muddied annals of mediaeval history.

Brief history lesson. The Hundred Years War with France ends in ignominy for the English king. Some of the folk in the kingdom are a tad peeved and decide that a new king would not be an altogether bad idea. Naturally, the king is a bit reticent in the departure lounge. Then a Tannoy announces that the House of York are gather together a major posse, while the House of Lancaster are fairly busy in the old 'getting some chaps together' department. And so it kicks off for a few years.

Right royal adventure
Kingmaker is a point 'n' click strategy adventure game in which the ultimate aim is to be in control of the one surviving royal piece, becoming, in the process, undisputed King (or Queen) of England. To do this, you must capture an heir and kill all his rivals before getting him crowned King in a cathedral. It is not as easy as it sounds.

All the historical personalities in the game are factual (you will have to take US Gold's word for it) and you control a faction of nobles - you can also choose how many factions you wish to face (between one and five). Other options include two difficulty levels, and the enchantingly named 'Advanced Plague' when infection can break out across towns, cities, parts and the countryside. It can even kill the royals. Cue demonic laughter. Aha ha ha ha. Aha.

There is an Autohelp facility which provides help and advice on all facets of the game, useful for those who are new to strategy games, and for those that have not got a clue what is going on.

Taking a pasting
But the path to righteous justice is not smooth. The Plague can be a pest, peasants can revolt, and vast armies can give you a pasting. Control is via mouse and keyboard, and after the initial learning process, the icons become familiar. The 150-page manual is packed with historical info and it is one of the few I have enjoyed reading from cover to cover.

Kingmaker is not purely icon clicking - there are graphic interludes and you can control the visual combat scenes using the mouse. Similar to a board game in that you move, and then your Amiga counters it, Kingmaker is an enjoyable, if bloody, romp through one of England's most turbulent periods. Even though it is well researched, £38 is a tad too steep for even the most enthusiastic battler.

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Ausflüge ins militärpolitische Strategielager veranstaltet U.S. Gold ja eher selten - und nach dieser gründlich mißlungenen Brettspielversoftung ahnt man auch, warum...

Wie bei der Pappvorlage von TM Games spielt das Geschehen in England zur Zeit der Rosenkriege, als sich diverse Blaublüter um die Thronfolge zankten. Im Wettstreit mit bis zu fünf Digi-Feldherrn soll man seinen ganz persönlichen Kronenkorken unterst:utzen und die Konkurrenz von der britischen Landkarte fegen.

Das macht man durch rundenweises Umherschieben der eigenen Einheiten auf eben-dieser Karte; sobald es dabei zur Begegnung mit dem Feind kommt, wird das Ergebnis der Schlacht wahlweise auf einem separaten Kampfscreen (in Echtzeit à la "Centurion") ausgefochten oder einfach vom Amiga ausgewürfelt.

Daneben sorgen aber auch die Pest, das englische Wetter und die eigenen Leidadeligen für Ärger; letztere, weil sie ständig mit Titeln und Pöstchen bei Laune gehalten werden wollen.

Aus diesem Konzept läßt sich vieles machen, also auch ein miserables Spiel: Die Landkarte ist schon arg spartanisch ausgefallen, aber der Kampfscreen sieht nur noch nach Grafikfehler aus. Dazu flackern die Sprites erbärmlich, der Sound wird von jeder Textverarbeitung übertroffen, und das Spieltempo ist selbst auf dem 1200er reif für das Guiness-Schwarzbuch der Negativrekorde!

Ansonsten könnte man über die Maussteuerung sogar noch diskutieren, bei den eingestreuten Bugs und sonstigen Merkwürdigkeiten des Programms hört der Spaß dagegen auf: Manchmal verschwinden ganze Armeen vorübergehend einfach vom Screen, und siw die Schlachten ausgehen, bestimmt anscheinend der nackte Zufall. Nö, diese Rose hat eindeutig ein paar Dornen zuviel.. (mic)

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As Tony Horgan said, 'They're a crap band, aren't they?'. That may be the case, but Kingmaker is also the latest tabletop RPG to computer game conversion from US Gold and boy does it smell.

As the title suggests, all you need to do is raise a king from your army and get him on the throne. While you are doing this, up to five other factions are also trying their luck, and before you know it bloody war breaks out all over the land and the whole game starts to look like a poor man's Defender of the Crown.

Visually, the thing is flat and lifeless, and the full map of the UK just doesn't look right. I don't remember seeing mountains in Cornwall, and isn't there supposed to be a river in the south east of England?

Poorly designed and scrappily laid out Kingmaker looks like it was thrown together - a complete disappointment.