M-Cmpter-Gmes-art - 12/15/14
"Medieval Computer Games" by Master Richard the Poor of Ely, OP.
This article was submitted to me by the author for inclusion in this set of files, called Stefan's Florilegium.
These files are available on the Internet at: http://www.florilegium.org
Copyright to the contents of this file remains with the author or translator.
While the author will likely give permission for this work to be reprinted in SCA type publications, please check with the author first or check for any permissions granted at the end of this file.
Mark S. Harris...AKA:..Stefan li Rous
stefan at florilegium.org
Medieval Computer Games
by Master Richard the Poor of Ely, OP
A good "Period" movie can, in addition to being entertaining, serve as a launching point for discussion and stimulate research. So can a good game.
As with movies, when a game is set in a particular historical era, the designers do take pains to get things right. And when they do, they are often not afraid to show it. The rules for SPI's "Agincourt" included an essay on how armies of the era were financed, and Impressions' "Lords of the Realm" included a 60+ page booklet titled "England Under Edward I" that's at least as good as any "standard" introductory book on the era.
Games have been and are being used as educational tools. For centuries, military leaders have used war games to test battle plans. Even the U.S. Justice Department has gotten into the act - their computer game "Quandaries" guides federal employees through business ethics.
One problem that game designers have that movie makers don't involves accuracy. The more historically accurate you make a game, the less likely it is to be entertaining and playable. Perfect accuracy means that the players cannot deviate from history at all. What fun is that? Especially if you're on the losing side! Though you don't need to worry about this in a computer game (who cares if the computer loses?), it can still get very boring very quickly. Designers can avoid this by focusing on an era or milieu rather than any specific battle. If they do choose to recreate a given battle, campaign, or war, then they have to include things in the rules that balance out the play.
Computer games have one major advantage and one major disadvantage over board games. On the plus side, the game can allow for a lot more "bookkeeping" – keeping track of unit strengths, finances, inventories, and the like – which is all handled by the computer. The computer also handles the potentially complex calculations involved in determining the outcome of a battle. Some games may even have an in-game help file that adds background information to a particular object or scene, which is often where you find out if the designers have done their homework. On the other hand, it's very rare that you find a game with good multi-player capability (and you do miss something when you're not facing your opponents in person).
Here are a number of games that are good examples of what is available. Note that I have not played all of these, and so cannot vouch for either the playability or usefulness of all. Many of these may be "out of print", but fortunately, thanks to the Internet, they could be found on auction websites, second-hand dealers, or overstock clearance houses. For shareware and freeware games, links have been provided to the websites where they can be obtained. Some games, if especially popular, will have active "fansites" on the Internet where you can find additional information.
1. Annals of Rome
PSS, 1986, DOS
From back in the days when "color" meant cyan and magenta. You control the Roman Republic. Build the empire, then hold out as long as you can against the invaders. They appear at the right time according to history, and follow the right paths.
2. Cosmology of Kyoto
Yano Electric, 1995, DOS/Mac
An adventure game where you wander through Heiankyo (10th c. Kyoto), encountering people and events from the fact and fiction of the era. Learn about "Pure Land" Buddhism as you die and go to hell – more than once. An in-game reference explains what's going on. Intriguing, and unique.
3. Europa 1400 Gold
JoWood Productions, 2002, Win XP
Sort of what "The Sims" might be like if set in the 15th century. Choose a career path- blacksmith, preacher, etc., raise a family, gain power and influence. A long and detailed role playing game. It does have some fantasy elements, but not many, and they fit well within the context.
4. Gloriana (aka Elisabeth I)
Ascaron, 1996, DOS
As owner of a small trading company, you work your way up the social and political ladder by gaining wealth and influence to become Elisabeth's counselor. In addition to the normal merchanting, you can choose to be a pirate, or buy goods at auction.
5. Lords of the Realm
Impressions, 1994, DOS
LotR II - Sierra On-Line, 1996, DOS
LotR III - Sierra On-Line, 2004, Windows
A classic of the "3C" type game (Crops, Castles, Combat) where you set out to conquer the country. In the original, combat was extremely simplified (even though you could design your own castles) and crop rotation was important. In the second version, resource management was simplified and combat greatly improved (though you only had five stock castles to choose from). More (and shorter) campaigns were added, as well. The third version involves greater military strategy and brings back custom castles, and adds the effects of the Church into the mix.
6. Machiavelli: The Prince
MicroProse, 1993, DOS
Trading game set in 15th c. Venice. You're a young Venetian nobleman, starting out with his own business. Buy and sell goods all over the Old World, hoping a storm doesn't sink your nutmeg fleet. Get enough money and buy senators and cardinals, then hire arsonists and assassins to deal with your rivals.
7. Medieval 2
Incredible Simulations Inc., 2000, Win 95/98
Hex-based tactical simulation of medieval combat. Scenarios cover over thirty historical battles, and the game includes factors like morale and fatigue. SHAREWARE
8. Spice Trade
Juha Holopainen, 2005, Java application
Created as a multimedia artwork, you play a Baghdad spice merchant in the 14th century. Build up your business, then take it overseas to Europe and spread the Word of the Prophet. Graphics are perfectly suited to the milieu. FREEWARE
Firefly Studios, 2001, Windows
Collect resources, build a castle, gather a community, then defend it against attackers. Includes several scenarios, and the original has an expansion pack that covers castles in the Crusader states and has some historical scenarios. Stronghold 2 has improved graphics and more opponents.
Yavsoft, 2004(?), Windows
Lighthearted non-violent adventure game set in medieval Russia. Wander around the New City, trying to find out what the princess' real name is. That's the only way her father the Tsar will let you marry her, you see. SHAREWARE
11. Vikings: The Strategy of Ultimate Conquest
GT Interactive, 1996, Win 95/98
Stay at home and govern your province, or set sail and go a-Viking! Earn money and glory through peaceful trade, or plunder away! Think of Sid Meier's classic Pirates! adapted for the Viking era.
Copyright 2007 by Richard Solensky, 2221 Palmer Ave 4C, New Rochelle NY 10801; richardthepoor at hotmail.com. Permission is granted for republication in SCA-related publications, provided the author is credited. Addresses change, but a reasonable attempt should be made to ensure that the author receives a copy.
If this article is reprinted in a publication, please place a notice in the publication that you found this article in the Florilegium. I would also appreciate an email to myself, so that I can track which articles are being reprinted. Thanks. -Stefan.