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.