Pondering over the map, you prepare plans for battle...

When you turn the page to reveal Powermonger in the 1001 book, you're shown a screenshot that looks similar to the one shown above, and similar to a game like Populous.

If you had a bad experience with Populous, you are perhaps dreading your time with Powermonger, described as its spiritual and technical successor. Reading it makes it sound great. The land you play on is vast, almost staggeringly so, and its inhabitants all have names and jobs and histories within the world.

But what do you do with this playground? Probably fight a lot, given the title.


What I did in this world was look at one teeny tiny blob of it while struggling to navigate the menus of the Sega Mega Drive port, to the point of quick frustration and a just as quick quit. I probably spent more time naming myself before the game than actually playing inside of it, and that's bad.

Once again, I went in blind - totally blind - with regards to basically everything about this game, but when you're struggling to even point to the map or cycling through which windows or menus you are highlighting in order to use, then the potential fun that a game could have given you is just sucked away in an instant.

One bad experience with a Powermonger port  - self-inflicted or not - and I don't want to play Powermonger again.

Years ago, that might as well be unheard of. You bought your one game for the season, you better get your money's worth. Nowadays, I've got games that I don't even remember purchasing, so playing them for five minutes and abandoning them is no big thing, especially when there's five, ten, twenty more to take their place.

But let's imagine I'm not a blithering idiot and I absolutely must find the fun in Powermonger. What do we have in store?

Fun Times

Firstly, I can't deny how good it looks. It's got its quirks, sure, and discerning just which wobbly collection of pixels is yours and which belong to the computer may be a bit tricky, but this place feels alive from the start of the game. Having it rain out of nowhere already makes this map more of a real place, rather than a board on which a game takes place.

However, I'm still not really sure just what is going on, and what the point of Powermonger is. Being able to zoom into and rotate the map, albeit in steps rather than smoothly, is great, but what am I looking at? Why am I looking at it?

As suspected, Powermonger sees you trying to take control of the majority of the map through amassing your armies and taking other villages by force. The inhabitants of those villages can work for you, your army grows, the balance of power shifts and, eventually, you win.

But it gets more interesting the more you read up on the game. Orders to the captains of your army are delivered by carrier pigeon, and this introduces a delay to those orders, so you'll have to wait for the pigeon to do its job before your captain and the troops under his command can hopefully do theirs.

If that captain dies, his troops disband, going their own ways, back to their hometowns, back to old lives as fishermen or farmers. Maybe they'll go back and cut too many trees down, resulting in changes to the weather patterns, leading to increased frequency of rainfall, for example.

This world is that complex, it has had that much thought put into it so that it is no mere backdrop but a character itself.

Final Word

And yet I can't play it. Certainly not in this frame of mind, and definitely not a home console port. This is a game for PCs, and I'm going to have to track down something that looks like a manual and feels like a mouse and keyboard before I even think about trying again.

The concept perhaps seems a bit stale - grow your army, attack anything smaller, grow your army some more - but the way it is presented just pops. I don't mean the look, though it looks far more advanced than Populous did, but just the idea of this living world makes heads turn and ears prick up.

I want to play Powermonger properly. I almost owe it to Powermonger to play it properly. If and when I do, I'll be updating this post, but until then, I'll have to hope that you can flood the map with your armies and take it all for yourselves.

Fun Facts

Troops in an army can carry multiple weapons, providing you have enough to go around, automatically dividing them up equally amongst each other. If there are any weapons left over, the captain carries them all, which means the more he carries, the slower he and his troops will move across the map. This is the level of detail in Powermonger.

Powermonger, developed by Bullfrog Productions, first released in 1990.
Version played: Sega Mega Drive, 1993, via emulation.
Version watched: Amiga, 1990 (William Hunter)