Knights and Merchants: The Shattered Kingdom

7Don’t be surprised if Knights and Merchants bears more than a passing resemblance to The Settlers. This is because a good part of the team that worked on The Settlers also created this current game. Knights and Merchants is a strategy game set in a quasi-medieval fictional world. There is no magic, just the types of humans you’d expect to populate such a world: serfs, skilled labor, tradesmen, and soldiers. You supposedly play the role of Captain of the King’s Guard, although you’re really more of an Alderman.

While the game runs in “real-time,” it’s not an RTS game, except perhaps when it comes to combat. Other than in the all-combat scenarios, most of gameplay involves building up a village and its complex economy to the point where you can deploy armies and take them on the offensive. And despite the “Merchants” part of the title, there’s little trade outside of your village. Nevertheless, there is an economy that’s fairly extensive for a city builder.

Instead of just one or two resources and single-level production you’ve got up to five raw resources and multiple levels of production, much of it cross-linked. Resources and items can be kept in a central storehouse or moved right to where they’re needed, all without money; it’s. If you’re at all a fan of the building phase of other games (SimCity and Caesar come to mind), this part of the game is initially quite engaging. For fans of RTS combat there is fighting (the “Knights” part of the title), and it’s pretty hood. Individual units form into larger groups, complete with facing and formation control.

Problems minor and major, however, really drag the game down. The manual is at best decent, but is altogether incomplete. The original game ships with only two tutorial missions and an 18 mission campaign. The strategic AI is pretty much pre-scripted and trigger-based, and the computer players often outnumber you (but don’t do much in the way of building or repair); the tactical AI, on the other hand, can be competent in battle.

8The first major problem is the pacing-it can take hours to build up your village and forces, but much of this time you’re left twiddling your thumbs waiting for supplies to move or things to be constructed. As in The Settlers, you have no direct control over your workers and can’t tell them to focus on a particular part of the economy. A simple speed control would have done away with this problem.

The tedium of building up your economy and other minor bugs aside, this is an above average city builder / real-time combat game.

System Requirements: Pentium 133 MHz, 24 MB, 12 MB HDD, Win95/98

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