Ancient Art of War, The

Name: Ancient Art of War, The
Genre: Strategy
Designer: Dave
Developer: Evryware
Publisher: Brøderbund
Copyright: Brøderbund
Year: 1984

Rating: 12.6

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Review - Wikipedia

The Ancient Art of War is a computer game published by Broderbund in 1984. It is a battlefield simulation loosely based on the classical strategy text written by Sun Tzu (circa 400 B.C.), The Art of War.

The purpose of the game is to enact a series of battles using three types of troops; Knights, Archers, and Barbarians. (A fourth option, Spies, were included but had no effect in battle, instead having strategic advantages in the overall campaign.) In a simple "Rock-Paper-Scissors" type of unit balance, each type of troop was given twice the weight as one opponent but only half the weight of another. Thus a Knight could easily defeat a Barbarian, but be easily defeated by an Archer. While very simple by today's standards, the core elements of such a design is still heavily used today in game-play balancing.

As the game progressed you were given quotes from Sun Tzu's book which related to you strategies that should be implemented into the mission. While the game was not nearly as detailed as the work it was based on, it did illustrate certain aspects of Sun Tzu's philosophies and wartime strategies fairly well.

At the start of the game you were able to select a list of campaigns to play. While many had "capture the flag" type missions, the terrain layout and initial starting units provided a variety of strategic options for game play. Furthermore advanced rule sets such as Training New Units and Supply Line Lengths allowed for more customization. You also selected an opponent AI which were represented by various historical figures such as Geronimo and Napoleon. Sun Tzu represented the most difficult level.

The missions consisted of a map with forts, terrain features (bridges, mountains, forests, etc.), and squads. Squads could consist of up to 14 units, made up of any combination of the three types. Formations could be chosen to take advantage of a squad's make up. (For example, all Archers could be in the back while the Barbarians could be in the front.) Squads who lost units had to make do until another squad could be merged with them.

A number of factors influenced the outcome of a battle which elevated the game beyond a simple A beats B beats C beats A mentality. Hunger, distance, terrain, and morale all affected the units' effectiveness. Care had to be taken to avoid marching knights full speed across a series of mountains or else they would arrive at the battle too fatigued to fight.

Besides having a robust campaign system, The Ancient Art of War also allowed players to create their own maps, formations, and missions. Though not flashy and having simplistic animations and battle resolution mechanics (by today's standards) the game was remarkably sophisticated without being difficult to learn or play. It went on to spawn a sequel (The Ancient Art of War at Sea.)

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