Spartan Review (PC)

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Greece has always held a special place in the history of man. From its beginnings in the half remembered days immortalized by poets such as Homer, to the defiant stand against the Persians, to the Golden age of the Athenians, the Greeks are well remembered in history. No Greek city state was more renowned in war then legendary Sparta, who breed its population for war and nothing else. The Spartans, led by their mighty king Leonidas, stood against the invaders from the east and died to a man, to protect the Greeks and preserve a way of life that is a legacy passed on even to this day. The honor and glory of the great ages of Greece can be relived in the latest offering from Slitherine and Graphsim entertainment, Spartan.

Spartan, unlike the current trend in games, is a turn based strategy game, simulating the rise of the Greeks from their early beginning up to the era of Alexander the Great. Players can select, in a number of scenarios, to command a number of Greek city states. 10 different nationalities in all are represented, and players can re fight the wars of the Ancient Greeks, or change the outcomes and alliances as they desire. The object of the scenarios depends on the nation state selected, in each scenario, the victory conditions rest on the tribe selected. Victory usually requires players to capture enemy cities, amass silver, or build great political wonders, all within a given time limit. How you go about acchieving these victory conditions is the heart of the game.

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Each turn, you can issue orders to each city you control, and to any field armies you have. In addition, there is a full diplomatic sub game, as well as separate trade functions and research, all of which I will discuss a little later in the article. While you are about your attempt to win, the computer will randomly generate barbarian invaders, AI controlled nations may attack, battles may be fought on land and sea, walled cities may be besieged, and trade deals may be done.

Learning the game is simplicity itself, the manual is detailed and well laid out, and the game includes full tutorials to help in ease of play.You will quickly learn how to move armies about the country side, how to form fleets and engage in combat. Combat is at the heart of Spartan, the game requires a certain amount of aggressive behavior, as you will always need or want cities and commodities other nation states possess. There are also complete tutorials on city management, trade and diplomacy, so all aspects of the game are easily grasped. A few easy scenarios with limited objectives are included, so that players can put to practical use what they learn in the tutorials, before jumping into the game's more detailed and complex scenarios. To secede in the game of Spartan, players must develop their cities, recruit effective armies, secure needed trade good, research technology, and make sound decisions on where and when to attack the enemy.

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Each city in your nation can produce certain raw materials, or, I should say may have the potential to produce them, if you build the proper improvement for the city. Not all cities can produce every one of nine featured trade commodities, and players will have to make tough choices about what they build in their cities, as space is limited. Unlike other TBS city builder games, cities and towns in Spartan only have a limited amount of slots for development, and they gain only a few more slots as the city grows. Not every town will grow into a city, players will have to learn the key areas for large growth, and a knowledge of history helps, as the historical towns will grow. As in the real world, people in cities must eat, as must field armies, so you will have to either grow food, or import it through trade. Not every city is capable of growing food, and you usually will not be able to trade for enough, so players are compelled to capture cities that can produce food, simply to survive. The game has an excellent tool for this, across the top of the game map, there are symbols for the 9 commodities, that show your current stockpile, as well as what you are producing or need, as a + or - number. If you run your cursor over the items, cities on a mini-campaign map will light up if they can supply that commodity. You can also run the cursor over each city to see what it provides, and whom owns it.

Every building you produce requires bricks to either build it or maintain it. You will have to build brick factories to keep up a constant supply of them, or your buildings will crumble into dust. In addition to bricks, the time a given building takes to make in shown in months, as each game turn is a month long. The basic building types are brick factories, military camp, silver mine, copper mine, iron mine, gold mine, marble quarry, wood factory, horse farm, and lastly, the homestead, which is a farm. To improve the building types, and learn how to make new buildings, you will have to spend research points. Each factory and mine has a number of levels, each level requires building time and bricks, and produces far more of a given commodity. However, some levels of improvement are unavailable to some of the tribes in the game, you will only find out which through game experience. In addition, some towns can have their center expanded, so they become larger town, and as they grow, can be expanded into small, medium, and large cities. This kind of improvement requires marble as well as bricks, and many advanced buildings require commodities to make. After research, you can make libraries, schools, and guilds, it is these buildings that generate research points. One thing to keep in mind, however, is that their must be excess population to actually work in a given building. The working population in Spartan is expressed by black and white stick figures on the city screen, Black is the total population, white is the unassigned workers. Each building requires a certain amount of workers, or it will produce at reduced capacity, and if nobody is assigned, it won't produce at all!. Research will also teach you the medical arts, which will allow you to build improvements that increase the population. Research will also bring you better barracks for producing troops, and eventually, city walls, which greatly help to protect cities, but require a precious slot to build, so always, players must balance what they build with what they may want. Larger cities will grow unhappy over time, and may require a temple, and this also may be improved through a number of levels. At the higher levels of research, players learn how to make guilds for offensive and defensive weapons, shields, ships, learn how to train generals, and lastly, their is also a series of diplomatic structures that enable players to train more diplomats, and increase the range of abilities and options the diplomats can use.

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Combat in Spartan is a little different then in most turn based strategy games. Armies may hold up to 16 units, which may includes generals. General officers increase the moral and fighting ability of the troops, but they have a limited command span, and may be killed. The unit types in the game are limited by many factors, which include what tribe they are from, the technology level of the city that made them, the type of barracks available, and lastly, the experience of the troops themselves. Depending on the tech level and troop type, the forces have a number of formations available, as well as a series of orders, such as advance, hold, and so forth. Battles may resolved in two ways, you are given the choice of a simple quick resolution, and the AI tells you if you lost or not, or you can fight on the 3 D map. On the map, you place your units, and certain types of units may be hidden, depending on your scouting level. Horses and light troops scout best, but fight poorly. Once you have placed units and given orders, the battle switches to a 3D view of the battlefield, and you have only three commands, of which you can use each but once. These are charge, rally, and retreat. Battles in this era, as in this game, are mostly all or nothing, and once engaged, generals had little control. Charge makes your troops rush the enemy, rally gives a boost, and retreat is an attempt to save something from a lost battle. You will watch the battle rage, and eventually, one side will begin to run off, and the winner will be announced, and a battle screen will give a breakdown of losses.

Diplomacy is the last factor of the game. In each scenario, you usually have two or more diplomats to send to their nations. Once they arrive, they can find out troop movements, hammer out better trade rights, undermine the enemy in various ways, and help improve relations. Other states will also be sending diplomats to you, and this increases your income, so don't expel them if you don't have too. The diplomats will also tell you the state of affairs in other empires, their relations to you, their economic ability and war ability. If you attack another nation to often, your diplomats may be expelled, or have his eyes gouged out, or even killed. If you do the same to their man, expect frosty relations and plenty of attacks. In one scenario, the Romans (who appear as invaders) blinded my diplomat, so, in retaliation, I boiled their man in oil! Needless to say, they attacked the rest of the scenario, reconciliation was impossible. Your options diplomatically are limited until you build better diplomatic buildings in a city in your empire.

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Research in the game is represented by points, the points being generated by research type buildings the players construct. Players can launch research into each of the nine commodities, and this allows improved buildings to be constructed, better troop types, better weapons and defenses, and increased diplomatic ability. In a large empire it was not uncommon to go through the entire tech tree. Once you do, you can sell off the research buildings and construct something else in those valuable city slots.

Every aspect of this game has a slick, clean and effective look to it. The campaign map is a beautiful relief map of areas that were important to the Greeks for each scenario. The campaign map clearly displays all of your commodities, has easy access to the city, diplomatic, and trade screens, as well as displays the active army. Infantry sprites represent the armies on the map, unless they have a general, then a white horseman is shown. At sea, tremes are used as sprites, and in movement, armies are displayed with a green path for the distance they can move per turn, and red for the total distance required. There are no roads or farms on map, only cities, hills, mountains, forests plains and beaches, just as in the ancient world. The combat units all have Greek names, but an easy explanation is available in game when they are constructed, as to their function. The city screen shows a Greek city, and available land slots are clearly shown, as well as a large box that shows available buildings that can be constructed. Everything is clearly labeled, and interface is an excellent example of how to do it it right in a game, yet still be attractive and functional. The diplomatic screen shows face shields for your diplomats, and where they can be sent, what they can do, all of it clearly explained and available by either a click or by scrolling down. The musical score is appropriate to the game play, and enhances the gaming experience. Perhaps, best of all, the game is extremely stable, so slowing up, bugs or crashes to desk top, it works, and works well.

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About the only complaint I had with the game, was that while playing the scenarios, it didn't seem as if the correct history was happening around you. I thought the AI was somewhat timid, even on the higher difficulty levels. The game includes a number of historical events, but these seem to have little effect on game play. For example, I often saw warnings of Persians nearing Greece, but they never seemed to turn up. But this is quite a minor point, the game is fun, easy to learn and play, plays well, and can be played in one sitting. I would hope more scenarios would be made for it, I went through those provided rather quickly, but they do allow players to play a number of different cities, so there is some variety. Overall, an excellent effort from Slitherine, I highly recommend you give it a try.