Overall Score 70%
Capture The Flag
After the quietly and severely addictive Conquest comes another offering from Sean O'Connor. Much like Conquest, the objective of this game is swiftly summed up by the title - capture the flag! You command half a map and a team of eight intrepid men. So does your opponent. Each of you has a flag in your territory and your aim is twofold - get one of your men to the enemy flag, and stop your opponent from doing the same.
At the start of the game you only have half the map visible - your own territory. Across the border remains dark until you send your men out to scout out the territory. Note that you'll only see enemy men if one of your men can see them, so you have no way to know whether the enemy are far away or just behind the next bush. This works both ways - it is important to keep your men out of sight while keeping an eye out for any men attempting to sneak by you.
Each of your eight men is individually named and has different levels of skill for speed, stealth and vision. The first affects how far they can go each turn. The second affects the likelihood of them being spotted by enemies as they wander through trees, etc. The third affects the likelihood of them spotting enemies. If you spot an enemy in your territory, grab them to send them back to the start with a six turn wait before they can move again. If the enemy spots you while you're in their half of the map, run for cover!
Controls can be entirely mouse driven. Click on a man to select him - click and hold the mouse button to have him run along the route marked out by the white line. Pathfinding is generally very good. The amount of movement each man has left is indicated by a white bar under their picture on the control panel. You can select different men by clicking on this control panel and end your turn by clicking on the button in the bottom right, upon which your opponent makes their move.
Graphics are simple and clear, with a range of trees, fences, paths and so on to add variety to the terrain. Lakes and hills add to the landscape. The simple style means making your own maps is relatively simple, though I would have found it easier to nagivate with some form of zoom mode. Your men all look the same but their names are given on screen and, skill levels aside, operate much the same in any event. Enemy men are shown when seen and an outline is given if they wander out of sight again, showing their last known position. Sound is, as with Conquest, rather minimal - there are sound effects for winning, losing, running and spotting enemies, but that's about all.
Capture The Flag is perfectly playable and very straightforward - the challenge comes purely from the use of strategy and tactics. Do you send lone scouts into the enemy camp, or attack en masse? Defend the border or concentrate around the flag? To avoid simply blocking all access, the area immediately around the flag is inaccessible to the team it represents. Since, unlike most XCom-type games, there are no weapons or special items involved, moving your team about is very simple and easy to learn.
This lack of complexity is, however, also a big drawback. Perhaps it is best to think of Capture The Flag as an intermediary step for the casual gamer with no experience of turn-based hunting games a la XCom or Taskforce. Part of the appeal in such games is not just the strategy involved in finding and pursuing the enemy (and protecting your own objectives) but in the range of weapons to experiment with and enemies to engage, none of which are possible here. Fans of this genre may be disappointed as Capture The Flag has no intention of taking this route.
All this aside, Capture The Flag is a good way to spend a coffee break rather than an entire afternoon's campaign and features no violence whatsoever, so it may appeal to tacticians without the desire for violence. If a game is taking longer than expected you can always close the program and save the game for finishing later. The included map editor is an excellent idea that could greatly increase longevity and, as well as sharing your own maps, you can find more on the website. You can play the computer with a range of difficulty settings (affecting the skills of the AI team) but, unlike Conquest, there appears to be no option to play over a network connection - I hope this can be rectified in the near future. That aside, Capture The Flag is a charming little diversion and well worth a look.
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