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Publisher: Virtual Programming    Genre: Strategy & War
Min OS X: 10.2    RAM: 128 MB    Hard Disk: 600 MB    Graphics: 16 MB VRAM

April 5, 2005 | Joseph Cadotte

Click to enlarge

Spartan is a turn-based strategy game, similar in design to the Civilization series. There are spreadsheets, a city management screen, a map screen, and even an optional battle screen. There are also different nations and ethnicities to play, each with unique powers and goals.

The game takes place amongst the city-states of Greece and Asia Minor (modern-day Turkey) from 900 to 300 BC. Each turn is a single month, so the time you spend in each game is a realistic approximation of a single tyrant's or dynasty of tyrants' reign. You control how each of your cities grows and how your nation deals with the rest of the Hellenic world.

In addition to the standard features of such games, Spartan adds a feature that needs to be in more strategy games: an optional battle system. In it you perform much as ancient generals would, giving basic orders and arranging the various troops into formation, and then watching the battle play out based on your and your enemy's decisions. The units may or may not follow your orders, based on their morale and experience, and a smaller, well-ordered army can win against a larger, less-disciplined force (not that I managed it, but they were quite effective against me). The fact that this system is optional means that those (like myself) who couldn't win a battle in any circumstances are able to rely on the computer to run the numbers and it does a serviceable, if not stellar, job.

There is an immense amount of research that informs this game, and it is of fairly high caliber. The text is a history lesson in and of itself (although it needed a last pass through the editor), and the various nations are given a fair amount of character. This does not just apply to major nations, like Athens, Sparta, and Macedon, but also to the most minor city-states, such as the small colonies on the edge of Asia Minor. The broken terrain of the area drastically affects movement and the economy, much as it did historically.

This research has informed the needs and powers of each nation. For example, Spartans can't build walls and Macedonians have the best heavy cavalry. In addition, each nation belongs to an ethnicity, which also affects it. Greeks specialize in infantry, while the nations of Asia Minor excel in archery and cavalry. The ethnicity comes into play when a city is conquered, as well. If the ethnicity is too different, the city is more likely to revolt.

Each city is limited in what it can produce based, again, on its historical ability. While all cities can produce bricks, the basic building material, fewer can produce food, and fewer still can produce essential materials like iron, copper, or marble. Trading becomes essential for the rarest materials and the ones that you are simply lacking. Frequently, you will need to acquire a city outside your territory to have the resources you need to build the most basic of armies. This, combined with ethnicity, drastically informs your expansion.

Although games of this sort need very little in way of visual presentation, the graphics in Spartan go beyond serviceable. If the 3D battles are turned on, the game has quite a good presentation. Although the main map has no ability to zoom out, it is otherwise an excellent interface, providing immense amounts of data without cluttering up the screen. The city management screen is much the same, showing at a glance most everything you would wish to know about the city, including its economic contribution, the state of the garrison, and how far the city can grow.

The sound in Spartan is all it needs to be. However, the background music is exceptional. Usually, I turn off the music within an hour of gameplay (or sooner). In Spartan, the music was pleasant and appropriate, and I only turned it off in a vain attempt to improve performance (more on this later).

Together, the sound and graphics save this game from a much lower score. Unfortunately, they are also the two least important aspects of strategy games of this type.


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