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Stronghold (2001)

From the Database of Home of the Underdogs

GAME DESIGNER:

GAME DEVELOPER:Firefly Studios

GAME PUBLISHER:Gathering of Developers

Copyright 2001, Firefly Studios

This game didn’t quite sit right with me to start with, I’ll admit.

The problem is that, while you use troops and build fortifications and set up resource-gathering chains and so on, making it looks very much like a real-time-strategy game, Stronghold is not a real-time-strategy game.

It is a castle-defence game.

The differences are extreme, but because most gamers will have an instinct about how to play RTSs by now, you’ll probably spend some time getting taken apart by the PC before you manage to start winning.

Let me just give you a rundown of how defending a big stone castle in the Middle Ages worked. Two words:

Tank. Rush.

That’s really all the tactics the enemy have, be it historically, or in the game. They throw a HUGE mass of troops at your defensive position, set up a couple of immense rock-lobbers and all you can do is hope that your archers kill them all before they breach your walls. If your walls are breached, you hope and pray and cry that you’ve got enough troops to fight off the attackers so that they need to retreat and you can mend the breach. If the walls are breached and your troops start to falter: You. Are. Finished.

Medieval warfare was not nice, was not healthy, and generally didn’t involve the taking of prisoners other than for the purposes of raping and/or casual torture for the amusement of the more sick-minded of the troops.

Your defenses, other than the obvious examples of archers, crossbowmen include men with pointy sticks, who will be killed in large quantities, men with spiky metal balls attached to chains, who actually get to wear armor, and so might actually last a second or three and swordsmen, who get to wear huge, heavy suits of full-plate armor so they can be easily riddled with crossbow bolts as they trudge towards the castle. The spearmen are mainly useful for destroying the siege-ladders which runners will prop up against your walls in order to allow the invading forces a way in to the castle walls.

Apart from the fighting units, you can build traps, such as spikepits, flaming pitch-ditches and moats to slow down and kill the enemy forces. While the game features an intricate and complex chain of supply, with four types of food-supply, two building materials and a satisfyingly detailed model of your citizens’ happiness levels, this is only there to keep you supplied with food, gold, weapons and warm bodies with which to defend, build and repair your Stronghold.

Stronghold is a game that can leave you mentally exhausted after playing a level, desperately shoring up defenses, fending off invaders deploying troops and managing the vast supply system that holds the whole thing together. It isn’t a pleasant game, but it’s an immensely satisfying one, and it has an occaisional moment of welcome humour. If you fancy a challenge, put this one at the top of your list.



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