Overall Score 78%
Battles of Norghan
The crowds gather in their thousands. It's the big match tonight - everyone's ready to cheer on their favourites. Managers arrange training, teams and their kit, all vying to reach the premier league. Except this is not the Premiership football season - this is gladitorial combat in the fantasy land of Norghan.
Battles of Norghan is a strange combination of tactical combat and management sim. You control a "clan" of various warriors, wizards, monsters and mythical creatures. You hire them (under a range of contracts), train them, buy them equipment and spells and choose which to send into battle. You then play a series of battles against rival clans in your bid to become the champions.
You operate the battles yourself too, in the time honoured tradition of movement points and a grid of squares to battle within. Your task is simple - kill all the enemy units, who are trying to do the same to you. Battles involve melee attacks (hand to hand), missile weapons and magical attacks. The most successful teams usually have a mix of these. Score cash by making kills.
There are three subtly different game modes and the range of weapons, units, spells and armour is vast. Even after hiring some units, buying them equipment and starting battle you're then faced with a range of options. Hit or assault? Head or torso? Shoot a bow, cast a spell? New players may well find themselves utterly overwhelmed by the array of choices they must make.
But, as Alanis Morrisette sang - you lose, you learn. After some commitment to unravelling the mysteries of Norghan I have not only fathomed out the basics and some of the more advanced stuff but my band of mercenaries are now up several divisions and I've discovered that I'm now addicted. Once you work out what things do you find yourself thinking "just one more match". You can play for half an hour a week if that's all you have.
Norghan's graphics are largely tactical. Units are different according to species but (say) two minotaurs look the same. This also applies to units from different teams, so one can get mixed up. Fortunately the game will not allow you to attack friendly units! Menus are clear, though text boxes can sometimes overwhelm you with verbiage, and helpful tooltips identify categories in the shops.
Animation is minimal, however, with units moving in 'jumps', again aimed more for strategy than realism. Attackers do not swing their weapons or anything like that - instead one sees a splatter of 'blood' from the target. Deaths are signified by the target disappearing in a blue fireball. BON is definitely aimed at the more thoughtful, strategy inclined gamer.
There is a significant lack of music in the game. Two tracks make up the entire score - one for menus and one for battles. The menu music in particular starts out as atmospheric and effective but, as time goes on, it becomes rather repetitive. It also takes some time to switch between the two, even if you switch the music off (hmmm). Sound effects on the other hand are highly varied - each unit has a different selection of grunts and cries when hit, and there are many weapon sounds too. I particularly like the 'arrow hitting shield' sound effect!
The game does, however, suffer from some minor bugs (which are discussed and squashed via the website forums) and the game balance is, perhaps, a little off in places. It can be rather difficult to start a game - initial units available for hire are generated randomly and strong opening units are usually snapped up by other clans. It is sometimes difficult to obtain a starting force with any clout. Then there are the cup matches - the Small Clans Cup is excellent, but once you hit Division 5 you enter the Glory Cup and will be routinely trounced by the first division teams. Also, some game modes restrict the equipment and spells you can buy but do not seem to do the same for the AI clans.
Battles of Norghan is, however, a long lasting game. Keep an eye open for patches and updates, read the forums for any tips and experiences that other players can share and don't be afraid to experiment with new spells and units. The journey to Division 1 (and victory) will take you at least eight game years, which is a fair amount of game time, and there are so many other targets to aim for. Once you get into this game, you're hooked.
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