Spectrum 2.0

Review of 'Encyclopedia of War: Ancient Battles'

Rating:5 User: Matt_B

After having pretty much perfected WW2 wargaming on the Spectrum with Arnhem, Desert Rats and Vulcan, R. T. Smith's final strategy game for the Spectrum turned his attentions elsewhere to warfare in the ancient world. The game pretty much does what it says on the box; you get to pick your army from anything from Ancient Egypt up to the latter days of the Roman Empire, and fight against a similar force.

There are five set scenarios that depict such luminary generals as Alexander, Scipio, Hannibal and Atilla. More interestingly though, you can make your own scenarios from scratch using the armies available and a map editor. Unlike in the earlier Confrontation, there's scope for a huge scrolling map and you get a vast array of armies to choose from.

The computer AI is much more advanced than earlier wargames, although it needs to be to cope with the varied scenarios. You can pick whether you want a computer general to fight an aggressive or defensive battle and choose to let it deploy its own units or place them yourself. However, beyond infantry shoving matches its limitations aren't too hard to find. Things still work best as a 2-player game as more strategic subtleties and good use of the terrain can come into play.

The game has a few other issues. Combat resolution and movement is rather simplistic compared to Smith's earlier games; there's also no ability to stack units; it's strictly one per square. The game is an awkward multi-load on the 48K machine, although not so much of a problem with 128K. 128K users also benefit from an extra scenario and the ability to create scenarios with larger maps.

On the whole, it's not quite so great at its specific scenarios as Arnhem, Desert Rats and Vulcan were. However, the editor and the comprehensive database of armies more than makes up for that; unlike the earlier Confrontation, it's still sophisticated enough to make playable scenarios that appeal beyond the hardcore wargamer. It's something of a shame that this was the only game in what was, presumably, intended to be a series. However Smith later resurfaced as one of the developers of the Total war series which can be seen as something of a continuation of the concept.