Preview - Legions (Windows 3.x, 1994)

Mindscape, formerly Software Toolworks, will soon be giving strategy gamers a realistic and fun look at the ancient world with Legions, a game of armies and empires focusing on the late bronze age, up to the time of the last days of the Roman Empire. We were able to interview the game's designer, Manny Granillo, and this is what he told us:

"Legions is a strategic and tactical product that allows a player to assume the role of a head of a dynastical household as the king of an empire. He's able to control the political, economic and military aspects of his empire. His overall goal in the random scenario is to control the other cities using diplomacy, economics, or his military to do so.

"The historical scenarios - there are ten - depending on which empire or city-state you pick will determine your goal for that scenario," said Granillo. "It's a turn-based product; the turns are one month long. The scale on which you maneuver your troops is a traditional `Warlords meets Civilization' type of interface and look . . . the troops are anywhere from strengths of anywhere from 500 to 2,000 men."

Unlike other large-scale empire games like Civilization, there is no single leader for each empire who manages to live for thousands of years . . . the number of available heirs is one of the principal ways in which scenario difficulty is measured in Legions. Granillo said "I wanted to make this as historically accurate as possible with available information . . . so we didn't really focus on any one particular individual in the game . . . what we did - myself and programmer Brisco Rogers - we took the design approach that we wanted to create the world around you first. And instead of focusing on one particular character we created a world. This is the ancient world . . . we created the markets, the trading routes, the seasons are in there . . . so we could overlay the people and scenarios that would be there.

"I took ten scenarios that really reflect the multiplayer/multi-empire interaction that would happen in the ancient period. A scenario that would not really do well in a product like Legions would be Rome-versus-Carthage . . . we felt that there were enough products that were focusing on one type of empire or city-state, what we wanted to do was to create situations that would involve multiple empires," said Granillo.

"For example, the very first scenario - which is also the easiest scenario - is the struggle for dominance which starts in 1200 BC. You can pick any one of the empires - you don't HAVE to be the Egyptians, you don't have to be the Libyans or the Nubians. You don't have to be the Babylonians. You can be any one of the empires. They each have their own intrinsic abilities, their own "plusses and minuses" as far as special troop types that they can build that no one else can build, or something characteristic to them." Even the economic models for each empire is different, and based on available historical information on the societies involved. "The lasting gameplay value here," said Granillo, "is the fact that you can actually play the Egyptians, and see how you can do compared to how the actual Egyptians of 1200 BC were doing at the time . . . to see if you can be another Ramses and really do Kanesh, and expand to the Euphrates or not . . . you can just be subdued by the Nubians and the Libyans who are on your borders.

"The way it works if you're playing by yourself on the computer there's a sophisticated AI that deals with each individual king . . . He has emotion . . . you can literally have envoys and spies in all the different empires," said Granillo. "You can get an idea from the statistics chart on whether they hate or love you . . . you can manipulate their feelings in the traditional ancient ways: marriages, gifts of various sizes, erecting statues in their honor, or parking soldiers on their borders and threatening them."

This promising game doesn't just limit itself to the Near East and Europe, either - ancient China is also included, along with central Africa . . . China had a different battlefield than the Near East, for instance - they were the only ones with Crossbows . . . the game explores seriously the tactical differences between the empires of the era, the relative powers of infantry and cavalry, and so on - the development of military technology is also considered.

Legions runs under Windows, with the requisite scaleable and movable windows within the game . . . this convenient packaging for the interface will be facing a complex but friendly simulation of a world that has been far too ignored by game publishers. It may very well be great . . . we'll tell you!