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Medieval: Total War

Running short of last minute Christmas ideas? Want to understand what it’s like to be a ruthless statist? Look no further than Medieval: Total War. I was at a loose end last week, alone with a laptop, a CD drive, a hotel bedroom, fifteen quid burning a hole in my pocket, and a nearby South London branch of WH Smiths. There are many terrible things such a situation can tempt a man into, so I leapt into one of them regardless. Finding a bargain-basement copy of Medieval: Total War, for £14:99, I loaded up the sucker and got going. I started as the English, on the easy level, from 1087 onwards, my mission to conquer the whole of Europe by 1487. Three hundred and fifty years later, virtually the whole of Europe is now dominated by England, I’ve destroyed the French and the Germans, almost as good as beating Australia at Rugby, and I’m about to conquer Constantinople. Unfortunately, I remained unable to do any of this without keeping the provincial tax levels at ‘Normal’, i.e. 50%, rather than ‘Very Low’. Though as an Austrian, I did resist going for ‘Very High’ taxes, at 70%, to pay for my insatiable desire for more troops, better weapons, Royal Knights, and Welsh Longbow men.

If you do get the game, try to get up to the Halberdier and Swiss Pike men level of building technology. Both soldier types are lethal, especially at cutting up enemy cavalry.

In a two-way split game, you first of all play a game of strategy, sort of like a complex form of chess, on an Olde Worlde map of Europe, with the construction of buildings, fleets, the training of soldiers, assassins, princesses, and various alliances. You have to build up certain levels of technology, based on your provincial castles building program, before you can train up certain types of more professional soldiers. You then press an ‘end of year’ button, a bell tolls, and you move into the second stage of the game where your campaigning soldiers go into full 3-D battles, with opposing armies, with the same battle engine currently being used in the Time Commanders television series.

What I really liked about the game was its insistence that you look after trade, and keeping your provincial populations happy. Yes, only in order to keep your tax levels up, and to avoid expensive rebellions from the serfs, but Professor Hoppe’s analysis that monarchy is better than democracy, though still much worse than proper liberty, becomes more persuasive by the day.

Is the game addictive? I’ll say. I’ve had to ask my wife to hide the disks when I got home. But have no fear. I have a sneaking feeling I’m getting Railroad Tycoon for Christmas, so I can pretend to be Dagny Taggart. I wonder if it has a John Galt extension pack? Should a man my age be doing such things? I have absolutely no idea. But it certainly beats watching television, especially the vacuous rubbish on the BBC. I wish I could give up the BBC completely. Has anyone in the UK tried it? I’d miss Top Gear, of course, but virtually all of the rest of it you can keep. Except for John Humphries on the radio, this morning, when he literally laughed in Chancellor Gordon Brown’s face, as El Gordo tried to persuade the Welsh Rottweiler that his new open-ended National Insurance tax is in some way different from income tax. It was almost worth the licence fee. Almost, of course, but not quite.

21 comments to Medieval: Total War

  • Alfred E. Neuman

    …as El Gordo tried to persuade the Welsh Rottweiler…

    I assume you know what El Gordo means in Spanish.

    I’ve been playing Civilization III as the English (for that groovy Man O’War bonus–time to recreate the Empire and control the seas) but I am not doing as well as I hoped.

  • luisalegria

    I feel for you. I had to play this (Medieval Total War) compulsively until my wife made me give it away.

    My Spanish had just finished converting Arabia to Catholicism with the aid of the Inquisition.

    It was curiously satisfying.

  • Byna

    I thought I’d offer these games for the capitalist libertarians amongst us. They are really good, just not “wowzer” on graphics when they were released. Try them out and see what you think.


    Byna, must admit that his best friend’s brother is behind these games. Go profit motive!

  • Andy Duncan

    Alfred E. Neuman writes:

    I assume you know what El Gordo means in Spanish.

    Alas, I don’t. Would you mind enlightening me? I hope it’s rude! 🙂

  • I’m an Age of Empires man myself, but those kind of games are seriously addictive.

    Especially when you can annihilate the French.

  • Scott

    I am about 80 years into a Medieval: Total War campaign where I’m the Germans, one of the easier factions to play. Unfortunately I’m losing territory to… the French! I’m also afraid I gave into the dark side and cranked the taxes up to “very high” in every province. I’ve had the game for a year now but have only played a couple campaigns because RTS games take so much time, and the only chance I get to play is after the two-year-old goes to bed. Thank God I still have the Xbox to fall back on for quick 30-minute bouts of mayhem!

    Question: Has anyone played Command and Conquer: The Generals? You can play the U.S., the Chinese, or a terrorist group. I am wondering if it is worth getting?

  • Andrew Duffin

    In what period of history was 50% tax regarded as “normal”?

    No medieval one, that’s for sure.

    What a frightening idea.

    It must be a French game, I think.

  • Brian Swisher

    El Gordo = Fatso

  • Alfred E. Neuman

    El Gordo = Fatso

    Exactly. Andy, you called Brown “fat person”, and you didn’t even realize it. Is he fat? That’d be even funnier.

  • FeloniousPunk

    M:TW is an excellent game. I’ve lost weeks to that excellent time suck. BTW, the developers of that game are working on Rome: Total War. Can’t wait!


    IMO, Germany (Holy Roman Empire) is one of the hardest factions to play. Too many borders, too much exposure to too many foes. The game says they’re an easy faction, but I think they are way off on that.

    Right now, I prefer the English due to defensibility of the home territory, and ability to levy Welsh longbowmen once you conquer Wales.

  • James

    I put in my vote for the Danes, if only at the earliest starting year. Their early access to ships is an overwhelming advantage and let you take the British Isles pretty quickly, giving you Longbow men, and more importantly, Highlanders. For my money, there’s nothing quite as satisfying as overwhelming the Continent with hordes of Vikings and Highlanders. Whatever faction you play, control the seas at all costs.

  • I’m surprised no one has mentioned Europa Universalis II. This game allows you to play nearly every political entity that existed from the Renaissance to the end of the Napoleonic Wars. It’s an astonishing game — modelling military, economic, social, religious, cultural, and diplomatic forces. And doing a pretty good job of it. I’ve managed to play two games (though not to completion — I don’t have the required quantities of leisure time), one as the Portugese setting up a trading empire, and one as the Chinese trying (and failing) to conquer Korea. For those that dream of managing the challenges of running a nation, there is nothing like this game.

    The company that made it has a new game out, Victoria, which looks even more detailed, if possible.

  • R. C. Dean

    Stop it, all of you! I had to swear off computer games of all kinds, and currently have none loaded on my machine. You are tempting me back to the Dark Side!

    Must . . . not . . . go to . . . computer store. Must . . . keep . . . job.

  • Scott asked:
    Has anyone played Command and Conquer: The Generals? … I am wondering if it is worth getting?

    Scott, I’ve had C&C: Generals since it was released at the beginning of the year – it’s thoroughly addictive in online multiplayer mode although I wasn’t particularly impressed by the single-player ‘campaigns’. The three forces are the US, China and the ‘GLA’ (‘Global Liberation Army’ – AKA Al-Qaeda). The game is set in 2030 and the single-player game revolves around the joint efforts of the US and China to counter GLA terrorism. The game is a bit lacking in depth but the unique advantages and disadvantages of the three sides seem to be loosely grounded in reality and the fact that ‘super-weapons’ (weapons of mass destruction, if you like) cannot be disabled in multiplayer mode (as they could be in C&C: Red Alert 2) adds a lot to multiplayer games and the fight over resources and weapons development. The ability to upgrade vehicles and units also makes things more interesting.

    It’s good fun but make sure your computer exceeds the minimum recommended hardware specification – and you’ll definately need a broadband Internet connection (or a home network and a group of friends) to take full advantage of the game. Given that an expansion pack has recently been released I suspect you’ll now be able to find Generals for a very reasonable price.

  • MTW is a fun game. I was completely hooked for a year or so. I”ve beaten it on Hard dozens of times – the only hard factions to play are Denmark and Poland. If you’re Muslim or Catholic you can rack up massive piety points and zeal by launching endless crusades/jihads (not to mention the free units crusades give you). Poland and Denmark are the two hardest factions to play.

    The Age of Empires series was the best strategy series, but now I play Return to Castle Wolfenstein: Enemy Territory. It’s a FREE first person shooter downloadable at http://www.castlewolfenstein.com, and it rules! we should start a samizdata server sometime 🙂

  • Sandler

    Poland and Denmark are the two hardest factions to play?

    Both of them can build up Baltic trading routes to England quickly and, with a little elbowing, Poland can gain control of the eastern breadbaskets like Lithuania.

    I played as the Poles from 1087 onwards, and by 1280 I’d removed the Holy Roman Empire, French, Italians and English from play! The only downside of being a Pole was not being able to lauch crusades against the Egyptians, who would insist on attacking me for no apparent reason.

  • Tony H

    I’m glad someone mentioned Wolfenstein, since that’s the only computer game I ever played – for a short while, six or seven years ago. It was fun in a sort of mindless escapist way, but I resolved not to look for anything more demanding because I could see such things might be addictive…
    My 10-year-old plays these medieval warfare games. I worry about this sometimes – they all seem inherently fascistic, inhuman & murderous, and I don’t want him growing up as Alexander the Great mk2.

  • Andy Duncan

    El Gordo = Fatso

    Cheers Brian and Alfred! 🙂

    I knew it sort of felt ‘right’ all along. It must be some kind of Steven Pinkeresque language rule at the back of each human mind, that certain phrases just ‘feel’ right, in whatever tongue.

    BTW, yes El Gordo is a fat boy. Tall, as well, like most successful politicians, to fulfill the old stone age ‘leader of the tribe’ look, I suppose. He hides it well though, with big dark suits, but I reckon he must be close to 18 stone. Just take a look at his neck, next time you see him. Though I can hardly do this, these days, as when he smiles when asked awkward questions (which is more and more these days), I physically feel nauseous.

    Being less than slim myself, I can’t really talk, but at least I pay for all the food and drink I consume to excess.

    He just sits like a giant fat Shelobesque spider, in the Treasury, working out new and exciting ways to rob us, eating meals provided by the taxpayer or lobbyists eager to gain access to his power. Sorry, ‘our’ power which we’ve lent to him. How silly of me to forget. Go, democracy! 😉

  • Scott

    Ahhh, my head is thick with fatigue this morning after a session with “Medeival: Total War” kept me up until 2:00 a.m. Once I got on a booty-kicking roll the game became really addictive. In one blow I took three French provinces. Now they only have two provinces left, and one is in a state of open rebellion. I would have kept going to finish them off but my wife finished her movie, and I was on the early shift at work this morning.

    My most important battlefield finding: it pays to send a really strong unit or two after the opposing general. Routing, capturing or killing the enemy general gives your boys serious momentum. The converse of this is to keep your general out of harm’s way. In one battle last night, I neglected to realize that the unit my general was in was composed of just one soldier — himself! I had to stick him up on a hill way in the back and move him every so often when enemy soldiers appeared to be heading for him. He looked kinda funny standing out there all by his lonesome, holding his army’s banner!

    Next up, the Italians…

  • Lynch

    I love the HRE. A lot of folks don’t like how exposed they are, but I’ve found that by acting quickly to snatch up the rebel provinces early on, and converting all the cities on the edge of my territory into castle, and interior castles into cities, I can hold on long enough to amass enough forces to take out the Danes, then the Italian pinnensula. That turns four fronts into two, which I find much more manageable.

    Hint: Cities will pay the upkeep for their own malitia garrisons, so it’s wise to keep at least a small force in there, at least to mantain order. It’s really easy to forget that but really helps out when the peasants are feeling antsy.

  • Greg

    They were talking about Medieval Total War 1. A more difficult game than its sequel. Not much in the way of tricks to get out of hard fighting as the HRE in MTW1.