Castles cashes in on the early success of previous builder-type games (SimCity certainly comes to mind) by expanding the basic idea of building (a castle vice city in this case) to incorporate a defensive (combat) and diplomacy (messengers) aspect to the game. While these latter two modes are not the major focus of the game, they cannot be ignored if you hold out any hope of winning the game and escaping the ignominy of exile for failure. The main core of the game is construction of your castle. As King or Queen of Albion, you must make all the decisions at a very basic level in such areas as manpower distribution for workforce or military, taxation, responses to other kingdom demands for trade or battle (if the messenger option is on), castle design, food and so forth. In fact, the further you advance into Castles, the greater the juggling act required to manage all the aspects. Several options in initial setup make Castles a delight for the would-be medieval architect. You choose from one of four possible difficulty levels (Peasant, Duke, Prince or King), whether to play the short version (single castle) or undertake a three or eight castle campaign, and at the very core whether to use a medieval based real world setting or liven up the proceedings with a mythical fantasy world complete with dragons, ogres, wizards and the Sidhe. The ultimate goal is to construct an integrated web of unconquerable castles through territorial assimilation turning each into a safe haven for the populace.
Since the main focus of the game is castle building, you as ruler and master architect make informed decisions on a myriad of tasks involved in construction. Choices include design of your castle (blueprint) from a top down perspective, what type of towers to construct (round or square), where to place the walls (three varying degrees of thickness replete with arrow slits and cauldron drop points), the consequential location of the main gate(s) in conjunction with castle design and where to place the all important keep (a sort of castle within a castle) which serves as a last ditch defense. Laborers (the workforce) consist of diggers, carpenters, masons, quarrymen, carters, smiths and common workers, each with a specific wage rate. Taxation can make or break your kingdom by inciting riots and desertion if too high or subsidizing castle building and military needs if handled properly.
The game can be played with joystick, keyboard or mouse with the latter highly recommended. Except for the top down view in designing the blueprint for the castle, most of the game's perspective is from a three-quarters view with an option to flip the screen 180 degrees to assist in checking out the detail work being done on the castle. Combat is the weakest facet of the game with very little control other than placement of troops. Animation is minimal but fun to watch. There are better building simulations on the market but Castles is absorbing enough to warrant a look.
Graphics: Even with 256-color VGA, Castles isn't a particularly "pretty" game. It relies on many static screens to further the action not connected to castle building. The animations of the workforce (builders) are cute and give a sense of liveliness to the building process itself.
Sound: Uses a medieval-esque musical score produced by George "The Fat Man" Sanger to set the mood. Sound effects are for the most part realistic although not overly numerous.
Enjoyment: For those who enjoy a nice diversion into the world of building simulations, Castles delivers the goods at a very basic level. Satisfaction of seeing your design take shape as the tiny workers inexorably work toward completion is high. If combat and diplomacy aren't your forte, turn off the options and play single castle mode. Seemingly simple in design, Castles actually provides a tough challenge for even veteran gamers.
Replay Value: With several options (difficulty, single or multiple castle campaigns, diplomacy, combat) available, Castles' replay value is solid.
Build a series of castles to gain dominion over all the land. You'll have to make decisions that will affect your favor with the Church, nobles, and peasants. Keep a strong military and a large workforce while watching the level of your treasury.
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Castles 2: Siege and Conquest, Castles: The Northern Campaign, Civilization 2, Civilization, Civil War Generals 2, Age of Empires, Caesar, Call to Power 2
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