Let's start with a sample turn report extract, typical for the quality of its text:
Here's what happened to Your Majesty this turn: De Fuego's forces initiated a campaign of conquest in Oaxaca, a Plains province owing allegiance to Brunhilda. De Fuego commanded the attacking armies. Brunhilda was there to lead the defenders. The armies were drawn up into lines of battle as shown here:
191st Elf 192nd Elf Bowmen Bowmen |||| ||||
23rd Elf 27th Elf Bowmen Bowmen |||| |||| -------------------- front line |||| |||| 80th 79th Axemen Axemen
De Fuego led a host of loyal soldiers. Standing at the ready with her warriors was Brunhilda. The 191st Bowmen outflanked the enemy and charged in with full force. The 23rd Bowmen fought with the 80th Axemen, who were infused with a spirit or righteous, fanatical elan by their good Queen, and battled them to a standstill. The 192nd Bowmen outflanked the enemy and attacked with full strenght. The 27th Bowmen fought with the 79th Axemen, who were infused with fanatical fury by their good Queen, and gradually shoved them back. The battle ended victoriously for the soldiers of de Fuego as they broke through the lines at a crucial moment. The 27th Bowmen destroyed the 79th Axemen. The 191st Bowmen chased after the enemy and panicked the 80th Axemen with their ferocious attack and demolished the 80th Axemen. Oaxaca was overrun by the Fuego in de Fuego's bloody campaign. The battle affected the quality of our forces: we could not have been better satisfied with the fighting spirit of the 27th Bowmen, and we have elevated its ranking to Veteran.
Thus began my experience with Adventurer Kings (AK). What will probably surprise you after looking at the turn excerpts is that the game is 100% computer-moderated. All the text and graphics above are generated by the very sophisticated programs of its creator, David Snell. Althought you do see a pattern to them after a few turns, the description and language is different each time, and can be quite amusing. Stray griphons confuse enemy lines, omens appear, battle standards are stolen and much more. My personal favorite is when a superior unit "...crunches their enemies' head as if they were eggplants". I understand that David started writing PBM games during his senior year at college. I've been afraid to ask whether he managed to graduate, because it's obvious a lot of effort went into making this a truly exceptional game. The player assumes the role of a small-time king setting out to conquer the world from scratch with one province (generates taxes), three armies (conquer provinces), two loyal heroes (lead armies/explore/adventure), and ten gold (pay heroes and armies). All of the above can be added to and improved as time goes on. Quite soon, you and yours will expand into interaction with the other players, and have to deal with the consequences. Thus far, AK probably looks like standard fantasy wargame fare: armies are recruited and march around, provinces conquered and taxed to make more armies... experienced PBMers will know there is plenty of competition in this department. Well, it is a fantasy wargame, but it has tried to go further. To broaden their appeal, many distinguished PBM wargames have expanded their focus into the realm of economics. You delve deeply into your medieval economy, counting your cattle and knights and peasants, and trying to keep them all humming along. Now this can be loads of fun, but if that's what you want, this is the wrong game for you. Economics in AK are very simple: provinces produce 0-10 gold per turn, all armies cost 2 or 3 each, and hireling leaders run you 1-5 a turn. Nothing too involving there.
The Lure of Adventure So, why play AK? Well, what has made the classic Arthurian legends so very readable down through the centuries? What makes us remember Lancelot, Parcival, Tristram, and the rest? Think back to what Arthur had in mind when he founded the Table Round: that the natural distraction for bold hero types was adventure! You know, slaying dragons, pursuing quests, bashing villains and the like. Now plenty of people have written good games along these lines too, but this is probably the first PBM design to incorporate the adventure aspect convincingly into a fantasy wargame.
Thus, AK revolves around the players' leader characters. Each leader is specified by fifteen requisites (skills), five each for different aspects of combat, magic, and general knowledge (espionage, exploration talent and more). The requisites can range from 0-4, and each has a matching aptitude score which influences the hero's progress in that skill. A king persona begins with seven requisite points, and a total aptitude of about 40. Other heroes start with 1-3 skills, and much lower aptitudes (15-20 total is common). More about magic below.
Skills can increase when used or practised, but poor aptitude can hinder progress, so characters tend to specialise. One hero may lead your armies, another may explore or do research, while another seeks out 'intese situations'. But the really interesting thing about these skills is the way they overlap and influence each other. Witness the battle below, where my hero's white magic and melee ability are set against a Renegade Priest's illusory skill:
"Midsummer's night came and went and a hot late summer arrived. I downed a nervous gulp from a flask of old scotch, and entered the Pyramid. I encountered the Renegade Priest. The Renegade Priest raised his hands and gestured mightily, intending to cast a Mirror-Image Phantasm spell, but it backfired and a rabbit popped out of his hat instead. Gesturing with my arms, I orchestrated otherwordly forces of magic, casting a Spiritwrack spell, and the Renegade Priest began to quake and shiver with spiritual convulsions. I could not cast a Holy Symbol spell because I had alredy cast my allowed number of White Magic spells. The Renegade Priest advanced to bow range. I closed to melee range, seething with blood-lust. The Renegade Priest then swung at me with maximum strenght but his staff whiffed harmlessly through the air. I maneuvered to a good defensive vantage. Then I thrust at the Renegade Priest and scored on the Renegade Priest, inflicting 5 points of damage. The Renegade Priest swung at me and scorched me with 1 damage point.
I energetically swung at the Renegade Priest and inflicted 2 damage points on the Renegade Priest. The Renegade Priest pretended to panic, then pivoted and thrust at me and damaged me, scoring 1 damage point. I acrobatically flipped over the Renegade Priest and swung at the Renegade Priest and missed. The Renegade Priest feinted in one direction, then switched over and thrust at me but his aim was just off the mark. I thrust at my nemesis and inflicted 3 damage points. The Renegade Priest swung at me but I evaded the blow. Showing no fear, I moved closer and thrust at the Renegade Priest and scored on the Renegate Priest, doing 2 points of damage. The Renegade Priest staggered, stunned by the force of the deadly blow. I shifted my attention to the treasure of the Renegade Priest. I bagged the Large Hoard of Gold. I looted 17 gold from the treasure of the Renegade Priest."
All activities in a turn are performed by the king or his heroes. Armies cannot move or do anything interesting on their own; a hero must recruit, move and lead them into battle. When an army conquers an NPC province, the hero who controlled the hex becomes recruitable. If hired, that hero expands the horizons of the player, because each hero owned can perform five actions in a turn. As you may guess, the player with twenty heroes generating 100 actions each turn has a decided edge over someone with only their original trio, plodding along at 15 actions per turn. Each can involve any of 16 basic orders, including further conquest, womping monsters and so forth. There are five schools of magic (white, psychic, illusory, elemental and necromancy), each counting as a separate skill to be learned, and each allowing a mix of five action and personal combat spells. Action spells are cast on a macro level, and include great strategic maneuvers like flooding provinces. Personal combat spells like the "Mirror-Image Phantasm" and "Spiritwrack" are useful for defeating monsters or other heroes. Exploration skill finds new monsters to conquer, and also helps a would-be conqueror find favorable terrain in battle. The interweaving betweeen personal combat and army conquest is the heart of AK. Not to be neglected is the Sage skill: you need to find and develop some high-aptitude sages to discover the secretes of the world. These generally fall into one of three categories: they enhance your tax revenue, improve one or all characters' skills, or blunt the impact of enemy magic. Analytical Psichology, for instance, makes the Charm spell much less effective against your men: they struggle against the insidious strands of magical entrapment with the forensic skills of Dr Freud, and will refuse to do anything dangerous for the enemy magician and revert to your control at the end of the turn.
The Enemy Alignements An important starting decision is which alignement will you follow. The world is disputed by seven great factions, from Divine via Good and Druid to the morally agnostic Neutral, down to the murky hearts of Pagans, Evil and Undead. Each alignement has specific advantages and drawbacks appropriate to their nature. The good and divine players will inspire their troops to heights of fanaticism beyond those achievable by evil leaders, but evil and undead players can break treaties at the start of the turn, allowing surprise attacks forbidden to more virtuous kings. Druidic kings, skilled in communing with all manner of species, can declare alliances with other players without their consent (the other player must specifically declare war to prevent it), while neutrals and pagans have the aid in duels of expert swordsmen and potent magicians respectively. Alignements also affect the aptitude which your character will have: undead kings, for instance, will have the greatest difficulty learning white magic. Last but not least, victory points are affected by the alignement of the emperor: the more it differs from your own, the more your points are reduced. Reasonable enough, since being, say a Good High Chacellor in an empire led by an Undead King would be a pretty dishonorable end to your Good career! Starting players also choose initial skills, as noted above, as well as personal temperament from Berserk to Cowardly.
The Call of High Office Typical orders will be a mix of military operations and personal activities by your brave leaders. This game cannot be won merely by conquering terrain. In fact, being World Emperor (sovereign of half the world's tax base) is only good 20% of the endgame scoring. Althought the declaration of an emperor determines when the game will end, there are seven other offices which each count for 10% of the total victory. Grand Marshal is given to the individual commander hero who has defeated the most enemy units; Arch- Mage is the most powerful magician; and so on, with rewards for each type of activity (the last 10% go to artifacts holders). The would-be Napoleon who ignores these other aspects of his realm may be in for a nasty surprise at the finish line. There is a free programavailable to help write your orders! This nifty creation looks at a specialmachine readable version of your turn, and will guide you through writing orders. It makes sure you remember all your characters, follow correct order formats and don't overuse your abilities. If you try to do something dubious, it warns you that it looks illegal, but you can still override it. Very useful if, say, you expect your magic rating to increase due to previous practice sessions. The program did in fact warn me about the 'Holy Symbol' attempt you saw before, but I was feeling optimistic.
To summarise: Adventurer Kings offers a smooth computer- moderation coupled with vivid reports, and a challenging fantasy wargame coupled with heroic adventuring. It's a unique combination!
This text has been slightly modified from a text by
Rich Eisenman (extract from "The Flagship Guide to Adventurer Kings")
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