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An Early Effort At Edu-gaming

May 18th, 2007 by Troy Goodfellow · 8 Comments · Education, History, Retro

SSI’s Medieval Lords: Soldier Kings of Europe (not to be confused with the recent game from O3 Entertaiment) can be seen as a direct ancestor of the Paradox grand strategy games, though I can find no evidence of lineage. You serve as the advisor to a monarch, expanding power and wealth in the name of your liege. As monarchs die, they are replaced by heirs of varying ability, forcing you to change strategies. You have to deal with a divided medieval society (nobles and towns) and press claims on neighboring states. Medieval Lords is Crusader Kings 1991. (If you want to take a look, Home of the Underdogs has an “abandonware” download. I used Ebay.)

The “Author’s Note” in the manual is a little surprising, since Martin Campion (a history professor at Pittsburg State) didn’t necessarily see his game as entertainment. The note is subtitled “Using Medieval Lords in a Classroom.”

MEDIEVAL LORDS was originally conceived as a game in my course, “World Civilizations,” taught mainly to college freshmen and sophomores. The game is also suitable for high school students. A few words to the teacher thinking about such use may be helpful.

Campion then goes on to discuss the basics from proper group size, appropriate scenario choice and the like. The debriefing (to my mind, the central part of any teaching effort that deviates from the traditional lecture/read/write model) is curious, though.

Debriefing the game can be done by having the students write histories of the alternate universe they created with their decisions and comparing the way things seemed to be going with the way things actually happened in history. Students can be encouraged to keep track of their positions by coloring in copies of the outline map while the game is in progress.

In effect, the debrief is an after action report of a multiplayer game, with each student group making decisions for a realm.

Campion reportedly had success with his classroom games. He also wrote SSI’s Rails West, based on a classroom game, and designed two classroom only titles not released to the general hobby market, one based on the Slave Trade and another on the settlement of Jamestown.

As always, my major concern as a teacher would be the balance of time and payoff. The game box “boasts” that the game has a playing time of 20 to 80 hours – a gross exaggeration for a single session, but trust me – this game can take a long time even in the suggested 100 turn version. Remember that this is multiplayer. Now add in group decision making. Now add the writing. Next the oral debrief. And the student outcome compares what happened in game with what happened historically. In a high school setting this is a two week project. In college, maybe longer, though you can probably trust the kids to do more work at home.

The manual is fairly clear on the lessons Campion wants to teach. War costs money, debts are best relieved by calling assemblies, but strengthening these weakens the king’s hold on the country. The alternative, relying on feudal levies, means that the king has to circumscribe some of his ambitions. The pope likes it when you kill heretics, but hates it when you get too strong in Italy. A series of invasions from the East will remake the map in dramatic ways. The big lesson is that politics, religion and bad luck in leadership can undo even the soundest plan.

Whatever its educational merits, as a game, Medieval Lords still holds up really well – much better than most other strategy games from 1991. Even though the monarchs are nameless and there is no log of events, the world it creates is fascinating in the way all well written history (or alternate history) is.

So whatever happened to Martin Campion? He’s no longer at Pittsburg State. Apparently dissatisfied with the academic life, he moved into educational game design full-time with Perspicacity Software. It’s curious that the company doesn’t seem to have a website, though they made it GenCon Indy 2005. If anyone knows, drop me a line. I’d love to interview the guy.


8 Comments so far ↓

  • Malcolm M

    I bought SSI’s Rails West for my Atari 8 bit. A friend and I played it for many, many hours. It was in many ways the predecessor to Railroad Tycoon. Everything except route selection was text based screens, the game was written in Basic.

    Rails West was one of the fews games that made good use of a printer. Each person took a few minutes making his moves for each turn, in the meantime the other player(s) could review the printed reports from the last turn and make plans. Anyone interested in this game can find it at atarimania.com, you need something like the atariwin emulator to run it. I believe there was also an Apple II version.

  • Troy

    “Rails West was one of the fews games that made good use of a printer.”

    Wow. I never even thought about games making good use of a printer.

    Rails West is on my list of games to find (even if I never play it) so I appreciate you chiming in.

  • Martin Campion

    Whatever became of Martin Campion? I often wonder that myself. The “company” I’m with is a name I pulled out of the hat one day because everybody has to be with a company. It comes and goes and has never needed to file a tax return. Rails West not only makes good use of a printer, but it is almost impossible to play it without a printer. That is why you probably don’t want to play the emulated version, which, as far as I can see, can’t use a printer (this is the apple emulator, I have not looked at any atari emulators).

    Anyway, I greatly enjoyed your very intelligent comments on ML. I had forgotten about my author’s note, although I am not surprised at the sentiments I expressed back then.

    Occasionally, I go online and google myself mainly to see if anyone is talking about RW! It is a shameful but ultimately harmless habit. So that is how I discovered your blog, and amazingly soon after you posted it! I will be happy to submit to any interview you may devise. I also have an article published once upon a time in Simulation and Gaming which you might be interested in reading.

    I am mostly retired, working at various game projects, but nothing is jelling, and living in Louisville, KY. And I am always glad to talk to RW! and ML fans. I usually attend Origins and GenCon. This year only GenCon.

  • Alex

    Hi, I loved this game but I can’t find a copy to download free anywhere on the net. I own a copy in 5.25″ floppy format but I can’t use it. Can you please send me a copy via email? I’d really appreciate it, many thanks.


  • Troy


    You can find a download copy at Home of the Underdogs. (http://www.the-underdogs.info/game.php?gameid=694)

  • Developer Interview: Martin Campion

    […] few months ago I wrote about a strategy game from the distant past, Medieval Lords: Soldier Kings of Europe. The game’s developer, Martin Campion, stumbled upon […]

  • Shane

    One of the best financial games I’ve ever played over the last 2o years. I can’t figure out why nobody produces games like this anymore. Does anyone know where I could purchase a copy of it?

  • Matt_in_TX

    Agreed – Great game, great design!

    Atari800Win PLus 4.0 emulator works pretty well for Rails West!. Unfortunately, a crash occurs often (at least for me) probably during graphics mode changes(?). (Save early save often.)

    On a modern PC, the no printer problem can be gotten around pretty easily by copying screen captures into MS Paint windows ;)