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Publisher: Virtual Programming    Genre: Strategy & War
Min OS X: Any Version    CPU: G3    RAM: 64 MB

June 6, 2003 | Dean Browell

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With the plethora of Caesar movies on the way, Legion's appearance on the Macintosh at this moment is timely. Legion's game development is courtesy Slitherine Strategies (an independent developer in the UK), porting via Virtual Programming, and distributed in North America by the fine New York outfit Freeverse. I was a fan of the original Legion game back in the 90's when I was playing it on my LC III, and I was eager to bite into the new version designed for OS X.

To play Legion is to become an armchair strategist of the highest order. As the leader of a particular culture (and you do get an impromptu education on everything from battles to tribe names to military garb) you control and advance your culture through several tracts: economically, militarily, and even socially in terms of your interaction with other tribes, states, or institutions.

It is worth noting at this point that Legion is meticulously crafted in a historian's mindset for those that are interested in accuracy (or education). Everything that is bothered to be paired up with a proper noun has been carefully chosen, and historically accurate scenarios play out surprisingly well, with a much tighter control and vision for your choices than the chaotic land-grab many games opt for. From the start you can pick one of several pre-crafted situations based on models of the past (including the unification of Italy, conquering Great Britain, and the general rise of the Roman Empire). I found these instantly immersing and relevant to my interest in historical military altercations, and much more satisfying than the hodge-podge quick-start games of Civilization III.

Comparisons with Civilization III are inevitable and not out of place; Certainly many gameplay elements mirror or resemble that of the Civ games (from the terminology, icons and even mechanics) but I found nearly all of these either invisible assistants in helping me understand the game even faster (as if it spoke a language I already understood) or as familiar improvements on a game I was found of. And I'm not particular in mincing words about Legion vs. Civ III. I believe that these two can coexist, and they both have their strengths and weaknesses. Legion certainly makes for an easier pick-up historical game and for all its complexity still retains the average gamer's attention (whereas Civ II can lose players in its expansiveness and speed). At the same time while Legion hits the walls of its scope in its basic premise of Roman-Empire style conquest, Civ III balloons to include even space travel; Therein lies your difference, and to put it into gameplay analogies: Legion is to Civ III what Shadowrun is to D20 or GURPS (sure you could emulate Legion's theme and purpose with Civ III, by why bother when such a beautiful and comprehensive job has already been done for you?); Legion is more than just a niche player however, and it is worth noting that while it is centurion-flavored, this turn-based strategy game is distinctly fun for its gameplay regardless of its themes.

Playing the game involves some understanding of turn-based strategy games, namely the control and management of armies, assets, town/city properties and keeping an eye on your enemies and allies. Management of all this is, for the most part, done with a very savvy set of large buttons that makes the game appear deceptively simple top play (until you grasp that there are hundreds of ways any particular story, culture, battle or diplomatic resolution can go). The inside-city view utilizes a handy circular lazy-suzan of building or recruitment options, along with data on your cities population and growth (as is the case with much of the game, simply rolling over an item, button or choice displays a description in the lower pane). The battles provide a unique perspective for these strategy games and in fact exhibit a historical factual caveat that is almost totally convincing: that once your orders are placed, the battles are out of your hands since there was no way to quickly communicate with the lines; You therefore (as you were warned in the manual) largely play spectator for the battle scenes which can be both marvelous and frustrating (depending on which end of the sword you're on and forced to witness).


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