King of Dragon Pass

Review - epic turn-based strategy of the beard-scratching kind

Version tested PC

- A SharpSystem Requirements -   Pentium or equivalent   16Mb RAM

Deep

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Time for a raid...

King of Dragon Pass is certainly one of the more unusual games that we have come across in recent times, putting you in charge of a clan in the fantasy world of Glorantha, as used by the popular pen-and-paper role-playing game RuneQuest.

At heart it is a turn-based strategy game, with screen after screen of mind-numbing stats to wade through as you decide how much of your land to assign for crops and grazing, how many farmers, warriors and craftsmen you want in your village, and which gods to sacrifice to. You can explore distant lands to discover new tribes and treasures, raid or trade with other clans, carry out diplomacy, and choose which advisors to put on your Clan Ring. At first sight it's all a bit overwhelming, although there is a comprehensive manual provided if you need some help.

The sheer number of options on offer and the depth of the gameplay is also daunting. Even starting a new game results in a lengthy multiple choice quiz which lays down the history of your clan and sets up the starting and victory conditions accordingly, although thankfully you can skip this if you just want to get started. Battles are just as complicated, with a choice of initial tactics (skirmish, evade, charge etc) and objectives (such as pillage, kill or capture land), as well as the possibility of sacrificing to the gods, using any magical items you possess, or assigning some of your clan magic to aid your warriors.

Decisions, Decisions

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A ghostly protest group - just one of the bizarre problems you may face

Once you have chosen how you want the battle to be fought the outcome is in the lap of the gods - the computer goes away and calculates the result, and it's not always immediately obvious how your choice of tactics has effected this. Sometimes though you will have to make further decisions before the battle ends, such as whether the leader of the raid should take on an enemy hero single-handed or lead the fighting from the rear.

These kinds of interlude are common, and every turn you will face a decision of some kind. Your warriors might complain about the way they are treated and need to be dealt with, members of your clan will get into trouble, curses must be lifted and spirits appeased, friends and allies will ask for aid, mysterious items and races are discovered, and strangers will come to your court requesting sanctuary. Each problem comes with a wide range of possible solutions, and depending on which course of action you choose the effects on your clan's morale, health, reputation and relations with other settlements can be drastic. Luckily the members of your Clan Ring will provide you with advice if you need a helping hand.

You can also carry out mystical quests which bring blessings on your clan in the form of magical items, hidden knowledge, increased stats for your clan leaders and other benefits. Completing a quest involves answering another lengthy series of multiple choice questions as you guide your chosen hero through his trials and select which approach you want him to take at each stage. Mistakes can lead to injury or even death for the character carrying out the quest.

Conclusion

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Your annual overview

King of Dragon Pass is obviously not going to appeal to everyone. The painted graphics are attractive but static and the music can soon get annoying if the cod medieval soundtrack isn't to your taste. The game also insists on running full-screen for some reason, which means that if you're using a high desktop resolution the game will appear as a 640x480 box in the middle of a big black screen.

The gameplay is complex and slow paced, requiring a lot of time and effort to get anywhere. But if you have the necessary patience there is a strangely addictive turn-based strategy game hiding in there, with a dose of adventure and role-playing elements for good measure. The range of options on offer is positively bewildering, giving almost limitless replay value.

King of Dragon Pass can be bought from the developer's online store for $29.95 plus postage, and a 67Mb demo version is available to download which will you give you one year (five turns) to get a taste of what's in store. We certainly recommend you give it a try for yourself before buying, as this is likely to be one of those games that you either love or hate. Release Date - now available

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