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A History of the Ancients Game

March 10th, 2008 by Troy Goodfellow · 19 Comments · Ancients, Feature:Anc, Retro, Review

It should be no secret to regular readers that I am an ancient history nerd. I watch sword and sandal movies, I read scholarly monographs for fun and collect games with ancient themes. I have suggested naming my first born son Germanicus.

And it is even less of a secret that I enjoy what Paradox does. They are far from perfect – Victoria never really fulfilled its potential and Diplomacy was terrible – but I am looking forward to next month. One my favorite developers married to my favorite topic?

So, in anticipation of the release of Paradox’s Europa Universalis: Rome, I will be writing a series of articles about ten significant ancient themed strategy games. This will not be a “best” list; about fifty ancient strategy games have been made – most of them sequels – and once you get past the top six or seven, you’re really pushing it in any case. I may wrap up with some thoughts on the worst of the worst, though.

Sticking with the Roman theme of the upcoming title, the games I have chosen to write about are:

Legionnaire (1982)
Annals of Rome (more here) (1986)
Encyclopedia of War: Ancient Battles (1988)
Centurion: Defender of Rome (1990)
Caesar (1993)
The Great Battles series (1997-98)
Age of Empires (1997)
Legion (2002)
Praetorians (2003)
Rome: Total War (2004)

I admit that Roman legions are my own personal fetish, but I hope you all will forgive the indulgence. I hope to trace the genealogy and evolution of Roman games, how they reflect history, entertainment and the expectations of gamers. Like all evolutionary trees, there are some dead ends.

With about five weeks between now and then, I’ll try to do two retro reviews each week, with as much research as my schedule will allow.


19 Comments so far ↓

  • Darius K.

    My Parthian horse archers will route your legions any day.

  • Troy

    Pfft. Parthians are the most overrated nation of the ancient world. You’re on.

  • Kalle

    Haha, personal fetish indeed. You probably don’t want to know the image that popped up in my head when I read that line.

    Otherwise, cool idea.

  • Scott R. Krol

    Mmm, interesting to see Praetorians on the list. And no Punic Wars.

  • Troy

    Punic Wars was a close run thing. It was originally on the list, but I dropped it for two reasons.

    First, it’s too soon to be sure what it’s legacy is or if it has a legacy at all – is it the first in what will be a long series for HPS or just a one off?

    Second, there aren’t a lot of interesting things to say about it beyond the fact it is a very good game. It’s also the only game on this list that I have already reviewed for this blog, so there’s less incentive to write about it.

  • Scott R. Krol

    Gallic Wars just came out so Punic Wars is at least not a one off. But yeah, I had forgotten you’d already written it up.

  • Troy

    I didn’t notice Gallic Wars. That’s great news. They really need to do something with their PR.

    There goes another 40 bucks…

  • Bill Abner

    The Great Battles series (1997-98)

    Man I loved those games. They were an obsession for a few years.

    Commands & Colors: Ancients. I know it’s not PC, but have you played this yet, Troy? If not, you oughta.

  • shanicus

    Centurion: Defender of Rome (1990) was a great game! I had it on the Sega Genesis.

    Put out by Electronic Arts, it was quite comprehensively a game that, basically, is a prequel to the great game Rome Total War.
    And, it was out on a 16 bit system!

    My favorite part was when, during a chariot race, if your chariot was broken and you were left on the track, that sometimes the medics would pick up your wounded body and then put it back down unceremoniously on the track! They would then just scamper off, with an empty stretcher! That really made me laugh! The Ceasar, just left to die on the tracks!

  • JonathanStrange

    I enjoyed HPS’s Punic Wars – which, btw, I bought because you’d mentioned it – and I hope to get the followup (Gallic Wars?) in the near future.

    And I, too, enjoyed Centurion Defender of Rome. What a gem it was.

    I look forward to your articles. And any ancient military themed books you might suggest too.

  • Scott R. Krol

    Ya know, this got me thinking…why haven’t there been any good standalone chariot racing games on the PC? Wouldn’t a Circus Maximus (or even Circus Minimus, or for pure fantasy the Renegade Legion game whose name escapes me for the moment) done up as a first person/management/RPG/simulation be pretty damn kewl?

  • steve

    A co-worker of mine was the designer of Centurion. (As well as Defender of the Crown.)

  • Troy

    I assume you mean Kellyn Beeck? As I noted in my CGM Revisionist History article on Centurion, there are similarities between Centurion and Defender of the Crown, especially with the whole minigame thing.

    More on why I hated that in my Centurion entry.

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