Don your helm and rule the realm...

Realms logo

VIRGIN GAMES * £29.99 * 1/2 meg * Mouse * Out now

Consider the situation. Your father has been killed and the entire kingdom and all its wealth are now in your hands. Seems pretty enticing, doesn't it? All that money and property.
Well there's just one teeny problem - the condition of the kingdom upon the old man's demise is somewhat less than perfect. In fact it's safe to say things have reached crisis level.

Famine is flourishing, poverty is rife and other realms are vying for dominance of the land. And you have to sort it all out, while ensuring that your realm comes out on top. Flipping inconsiderate of dad to get killed like that, leaving all this mess to clear up. Anyway, someone has to do it so you might as well get on with it.

The aim of Realms is to ensure that your kingdom reigns supreme among the others. To achieve this, you have to fortify your cities and recruit and train armies and cavalry. Oh, you also have to look after the welfare of the citizens of your newly-acquired land (bloody civvies, nothing but a nuisance if you ask me. Can't they see you've enough on your plate as it is?)

So, it's off to the nearest clearing to appeal for justice from the Gods. Now these Nordic Gods are pretty accommodating. Just raise your fist to the skies, scream, and Bob's your uncle - divine assistance to take away. So with emotions swelling your soul and rage filling your mind, you cast your eyes to the heavens and demand justice.

The clouds part, the sky booms and the Gods give you... a belt buckle! Well, it looks like a belt buckle - the kind you might find on a Iron Maiden groupie - but it is, in fact, the Symbol of the Serpent, giving the bearer powers beyond belief.
"Oooh, this will come in handy!" you say to yourself and promptly set off to restore your Kingdom I suppose. You could compare Realms to Powermonger. You know, moving little armies around the landscape causing all manner of mischief. But Realms has more responsibilities for you to attend to.

You must impose taxes to generate enough money to equip your armies with varying weapons and armour, so they can attack any enemy towns (thereby weakening your enemy or enemies). You must buy grain to feed the populace, develop your towns to make them larger and more resistant to attack and generally ensure the survival of your people. In fact, the number of duties to attend to are just right. Some games go over the top, requiring you to control innumerable activities which can completely spoil the game.

Realms is graphically excellent, and the overall game system is pleasing to use. You view your surroundings via the common isometric representation, and there is also an overhead map giving you the entire land to survey.
The animation of the armies as they trundle about the land on their merry way to mayhem is quite nice too. At the start of the game you are placed in a fairly simple default scenario, but there are eight more increasingly difficult scenarios to choose from via the disk icon. The battle sequences are my fave part. Your individual units are displayed on a battlefield along with the enemy's units, and you can select the type of formation you assume from wedge, phalanx, line, and square, each having its own merits. You can change the direction in which the unit attacks and also select whether to fire any missile weapons such as bows. These enable you to diminish the opposition before you close for hand-to-hand combat.

Last but not least, you have the attack or retreat icon, which lets you start your attack, or, if things go dismally downhill (as was frequently the case with me), lets you scarper! The entire battle sequence runs in real time, which leads me on to a couple of gripes. With numerous units to control and the large number of controls at your disposal during a battle, it can become too hectic to deal with at times.

Having to switch quickly between units to give differing orders requires some manic mouse manipulation, I can tell you. Also, the required position of the mouse when selecting a unit is a little too precise for comfort. You need to have the pointer directly on the unit flagpole, for instance, for it to be selected.

Sound effects are good, with an accompanying theme constantly playing in the background. During battles you hear the clanging of swords which adds a touch of atmosphere to the events.

Overall then, Realms is a competent addition to the increasing God/War game domain and is worth taking a look at.

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"Realms - there can only be one," screams the blurb. The thing is, not only does it resemble another game, but wouldn't 'Realm' be a more appropriate title? The goal in this war-strategy game is total world domination. Is it worth the effort?

Trying to become the ultimate ruler of the known world is a tricky business. There's an awful lot of blood, sweat and even a few tears involved, not to mention having to calculate the fiscal projects of the next five years.

Still, that's your ultimate goal in Virgin's attempt at a strategy game. You are the leader of one of the empires that are battling it out for supremacy in a mythical world. There are eight of these strange worlds for you to plough your way through. Each scenario gets harder than the last one, and up to seven different races (elves, orcs and so on) can have realms in one world.

Completing a scenario is easy, in theory that is. Each realm is made up of a number of cities, including the capital. All you have to do is try and take over or destroy the capital of each rival realm and Robert is truly your close relative.

At the beginning of the game you should be thinking more about improving your own cities than attacking the enemy's. Apart from your capital, most of them are just small two-hut affairs that are out in the sticks that need careful nurturing if they're to grow. You have to allocate the available money from the treasury wisely: if a city's small, you could spend it on clearing land so it can expand. If the people start starving, your first priority is to buy them more grain.

The treasury money comes from the tax that your citizens pay, the amount governed by the rate you set. Raising the rate obviously brings in more cash, but beware because that won't please your fair subjects, who may rebel and join the other side.

Once a city is in a fairly stable state, then you can think about training an army or cavalry there. This, too, costs money. The more wages that an army unit gets, the more loyal it will be to you. And of course the best armour and weapons don't come cheap.

When you've managed to gather a reasonable-sized army together, send it off to an enemy city. Units are targeted simply by clicking on them and then on their destination.
Assuming they get there without being attacked on the way, they lay siege to the city, and may draw out the enemy. Any minor skirmishes are handled automatically, with the relative strengths and weaknesses of the two sides taken into account, but large battles take place on a separate screen and are left entirely in your hands.

While you're off gallivanting around it's important for you not to forget your own cities, particularly the more remote ones. The enemy is doing just the same as you, and it's very easy to be bashing away at the enemy's capital and find that it's Game Over because you forgot your own.

Most of the time you play on an isometric three dimensional representation of the landscape, which will have you jumping up and down and shouting "Populous!" as soon as you see it. It's undoubtedly, er, influenced by that game, though if anything the landscape in Realms is less impressive. The problem is that everything is just so small: the cities are represented by a single feeble tower, units which consist of a thousand cavalry by one little bloke on a horse. There are no trees, no rocks, no 'atmosphere' graphics, just the rolling brown and green landscape (oh, with the occasional bit of white for snow). Sadly there's just never any of the hectic full-screen chaos that you can experience in the superior Populous 2 for instance.

There's not much wrong with Realms, but it seems to be hidden under a garb of 'sophistication' that seems superfluous.

The same is true of the battle screen. Although there's little more action to be had, the graphics are still disappointing. Flights of arrows disappear in mid-air before they hit their target, and a killed unit sort of suddenly appears on the floor and tries not to get in the way. At least the sound effects manage to buoy things up a bit though - there's a suitably battle-like and vaguely Jean Michelle Jarre-ish little ditty that accompanies your every effort, with some extra spot effects thrown in here and there.

Realms is a war-game that seems to be more encumbered by its god-like appearance rather than helped by it. It gains nothing from having a 3D view as opposed to a conventional overhead one, it just makes finding your units and cities far more complicated. It's a bit like playing Battleships with real 3D cardboard models - rather pointless. If Graftgold, the game's programmers, had gone all the way and done a full-blown 3D landscape à la Powermonger with some decent graphics and animation, then the effort might have been worth it.

There's nothing much wrong with the content of Realms but it seems to be hidden under a garb of 'sophistication' that just seems to be superfluous. When you come down to the basic nitty gritty of the game it's really quite a simple mix of the look-after-your-village type of management game and the attack-every-single-thing-in-your-sight war-game. So why on earth try to hide it?

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Der eine hat nur eine kleine Zweizimmerwohnung, der andere gleich ein ganzes Königreich - doch irgendwann stehen beide mal vor genau demselben Problem: Mit diesen schrecklichen Nachbarn ist einfach nicht auszukommen! Es hilft alles nichts, da muß die richtige Strategie her...

Wie zu vermuten, geht's hier natürlich nicht um eine Zweizimmerwohndusche - Papa war schließlich König! Nun ist Papa allerdings im Monarchen-Himmel, und wir haben sein riesiges Fantasy-Reich geerbt. Dank einsichtiger Programmierer ist das Erbe ziemlich Abwechslungsreich ausgefallen, man darf sich nämlich aussuchen, welches Reich es sein soll: entweder die Heimstätte der Zwerge, Amazonen, Barbaren, Orks, Elfen oder Wikinger.

Nachdem man sich für sein Lieblingsvolk und -land entschieden hat, übernimmt der Computer alle anderen, die von nun an Nachbarn und Konkurrenten darstellen. Jeder will die Vormachtstellung im Gesamtreich erringen, aber wie sie das anstellen, bleibt den Herrschern selbst überlassen. Man kann mit den Kollegen Handel treiben oder einen Krieg gegen sie anzetteln, jede Strategie ist erlaubt, nur erfolgreich sollte sie sein!

Sowohl vom Spielprinzip als auch von der Präsentation her ist Realms unübersehbar an "Powermonger" angelehnt. Wie beim Vorbild gibt's eine kleine Übersichtskarte des gesamten Spielfeldes und einen vergrößerten 3D-Ausschnitt, auf dem der Großteil der Aktionen abläuft: nur bei besonders gewaltigen Schlachten wird zu einem eigenen Kampfscreen umgeschaltet.

Es sind insgesamt sieben Szenarios vorhanden, allesamt etwas umfangreicher als bei "Powermonger"; in einer limitierten Sonderauflage des Spiels kommen sogar noch zwei weitere dazu. Was hat man nun als regierender König zu tun? In einem Wort: alles! Steuern müssen erhoben werden, das Volk will was zu futtern haben und seine Städte ausgebaut und eingezäunt sehen; wenn man fremde Siedlungen erobern/plündern/zerstören möchte, sollte man vorher tunlichst seine Armeen mit Rüstungen, Waffen, Schiffen, Pferden etc. ausrüsten - gottlob vermehren sich die Leutchen wenigstens von alleine.

Im Vergleich mit "Powermonger" ist Realms vielleicht noch einen Hauch strategischer, so wird beispielsweise bei den Truppen sehr genau nach Kavallerie, Infanterie usw. unterschieden.

Anderseits waren auch ein paar kleine Schludereien zu entdecken, etwas die mangelhafte Übersicht bei richtig großen Kriegszügen oder daß die Schiffe manchmal noch ein Stück über Land fahren. Grafisch und soundmäßig geht der Vergleichskampf unentschieden aus: Die Bildschirmdarstellung bei Realms ist zwar nicht ganz so detailreich, dafür ist das Drumherum (Intro, Zwischenscreens, Game Over) viel aufwendiger. Musik und Effekte sind gut, die Maus/Icon-Steuerung ist sogar vorbildlich. Im Olymp der "göttlichen Strategiespiele" werden "Populous 2" und "Mega lo Mania" also ein bißchen enger zusammenrücken müssen - ein vollwertiger Kollege ist da! (mm)

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The popularizing of strategy continues with Graftgold's 'almost-a-god-sim'. Is this the wargame to beat the phenomenal crossover success of Powermonger?

A year ago the Bullfrog's isometric offering Powermonger set something of a standard for military strategy games, combining the traditional game with the style and presentation of god sims, and lo! The people saw that it was good, it's a year on, and Virgin now seek to further the sub-genre (which currently consists of, erm, Powermonger) with its forthcoming and really ever-so-slightly-similar-looking new release Realms.

Billed as more than a mere god sim or wargame, Realms plunges the budding acolyte into a hodgepodge world of mythical races battling for supremacy - his job is to make sure his realm trounces all the other realms to form one great big realm (hence the title) - and, for once, the billing is pretty accurate. It's not a god sim, but still a 'divine will' sim - you're still a spotty-faced earthlet and unable to visit Populous-style divine wrath upon thine enemy, but your powers do extend beyond those of any real earthly commander. You get to see exactly how all your far-flung forces are faring, for instance, as well as the rather useful ability to instantly issue orders over vast distances.

The main thrust of the gameplay is strategic. Set in quasi-Nordic times, your job is to manage the affairs of a capital city, plus smaller cities and ports, while sending out armies to capture enemy cities in a bid to take over the entire game map. Curiously enough, the powers with which you are equipped to achieve this task are handed down by Wotan, not Odin (fact fans may like to note that Wotan is a Germanic name, not Nordic - there's no hard and fast sticking to real history here).

As in many things in life, success largely comes down to money. Money to feed and care for the people, recruit and equip armies, build defences around cities and bribe elements of the opposition into fragile alliance. To make more money, you nobble enemy satellite cities with a view to taking out the capital and absorbing the entire neighbouring realm into your own - "there can only be one..." says the packaging, in true Highlander tradition.

Okay, so how does it play? Well, once you've chosen which realm and thus which race to be - elvish, orcish, Amazonian, barbarian or dwarvish - it's time to build up your forces and resources ready for a spot of annex-'em-up action.
There's a fair old bit to do as the game progresses. Not only do you ahve to keep equipping armies and making sure the peasants are fed, there's the ever present threat of covetous enemy forces sieging your own strongholds too.

Messages on the state of play are relayed via a message crystal which, when the going gets busy, pings away like a thing possessed. It's not a clever idea to ignore this - I found it best to at least keep an eye on the messages coming back as, while I was busily engaged ordering troops about, my city communities were starving and all set for revolt. Salvaging such situations requires much deft manipulation of the various icon-driven control screens. They're not spectacularly intuitive to use and there's much swapping back and forth between them to keep your realm from crumbling - we've certainly seen better.

If by now it's all sounding like an accountant's dream and a psychopath's nightmare, don't fret your blood-crazed sensibilities. There is action to be had when the two armies collide, and pretty finely tuned it is too. When equipping an army, there's the opportunity to create cavalry or infantry, armed as light or heavy units, and to equip them with a variety of offensive weaponry. Different races have different weapon skills - for example, elves and orcs are hot-shots with missiles - and the reliability of an army comes down to its morale which, as with most things in life, is governed by how much you pay them.

The battle scenes make for a striking cross-appeal

All this mucking around with weapons and wages becomes relevant on the battle screen. This is the best part of the game: ranging your own units across a close-up view of the terrain while enemy forces leave their positions and prepare to sally forth. Units of your own army can be pointed in any direction (even about-face for a nifty retreat) and made to adopt different formations - things like wedges, phalanxes and our old friend, the defensive square.

Again, the control icons confused me for a while and I had my troops firing arrows at each other while the cavalry went careening off sideways. But, once I'd got the hang of it, the level of control offered over individual units, combined with the speed of the exchange, had me chasing armies around the game world in sabre-rattling glee just looking for a fiht (and paying scant regard to the game's main objective).

Speaking of which, Realms does have one or two irritating little foibles up its... whatever its foibles are kept. The obvious course to take in the pursuit of world dominance would be to pick off smaller neighbouring cities and gradually absorb another realm until you can take a crack at its capital city. This is pretty much what the computer opponent tries to get away with. I tried this in the first few of the 10 progressively more difficult game scenarios on offer, and while I laud the inclusion of such realistic factors as the morale of foreign races press-ganged into one's own army and the food and health concerns of civilian communities, all this detail tended to muddy the metaphorical waters of my cunning, if piecemeal, plan.

Several times, while trying to get dispirited mobs of conscripts off their backsides and into the fray, I become completely bogged down with pinging messages informing me that people in one or another city were starving. This meant leaving the action to much about buying grain, building up the city and otherwise trying to keep the peasants from storming the Winter Palace.

"Ah, but that's the whole point - as realms expand, the greater their internal problems," you may say. Well yes, fair enough, if we're being realistic about it all, I guess - that's what you get when you give your little computer people a semblance of free will. Me, though - I'd rather have done without all that stuff. I wonder if it wouldn't have been more tactical, wargaming fun without so many extra problems to worry about..

Anyway, back with me playing the game, and what this all boiled down to was that it was high time for a tactical change of tack. A bit of thinking and I found a method taht worked too - though unfortunately, the optimum way of dealing with all this grumbling discontent while swiftly achieving victory rather knackers the earlier levels' longevity of gameplay.

So, the busy tyrant's guide to a quick win: rapidly build up a medium-sized army by levying the bejeezus out of the citizens, head straight for the enemy capitals, raze them to the ground one by one ( the opposing forces haven't yet had time to amass a worthwhile army) and boot, that's that.

However, as you progress, the game map and the forces ranged against you become rapidly more challenging. Enemy realms become more numerous and more vigorous in their territorial ambitions; fewer resources become available, and the action takes on a frenetic edge as you try to keep armies on target while desperately running around keeping your cities from devolving.

This struggle to keep track of everything while striving for world dominance pitches Realms solidly in the strategy buff's camp, but the battle scenes make for a striking cross-appeal. They're fast, detailed - even the slope of the terrain is taken into account - and you have a direct effect on the course of conflict. There are even dead bodies littered all over the place after an exchange. In fact, the battlefield screen is more of a game within a game, requiring a completely different method of play. Consequently I spent much of the time arranging no-win scenarios in the wider game just so I could mess around with different troop formations and attack tactics in battle.

I like Realms a lot, and (to be honest) I wasn't too sure if I would at first. The game's underlying design philosophy is well sorted, the battle scenes (at least) will appeal to most open minded games players, while the forthcoming extra data disks make it a good long-term bet for any budding imperialist. A specialist taste, certainly, but if you even think you might like it, you probably will.

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Not that long ago, some bright spark thought it would be a good idea to give players the illusion of having great power over their weedy sprites. The first batch of these so-called 'God sims', Populous and SimCity, became two of the most successful computer games ever created.
Publishers are keen to jump on the bandwagon, and so we've seen a recent spate of sequels. Realms is the latest but does it add anything to this overcrowded genre?

"Realms is more than a mere 'God Sim' or war game," proclaims Virgin Games at the beginning of the manual. "Realms is a fully-functioning fantasy world".

An impressive series of animated screens skilfully create a sullen mood at the start of play. It's the old story of famine, poverty, war and a new king itching to prove himself. No bonus score for guessing who you take the role of. It's your job to balance the budget, give the peasants plenty of food and weapons, and make sure your butt remains intact during a battle. The twist is that you're lording over a fantasy land populated by the likes of Orcs, Elves, Dwarves, Barbarians, Vikings and Amazons. Orcs hate Elves more than Dwarves, so watch your back when going for quick alliances! There's always an enemy lurking somewhere nearby and the task ahead is to crush them without mercy and win overall control of the realm.

Software development team Graftgold has supplied eight scenarios with the game, although there's no reason why these couldn't be expanded via datadisks in the future. This product is very much like Powermonger from Bullfrog/EA, except there are less icons and nitpicky details to worry details to worry about.

Both games are played in real-time and a mistake can turn into a masterstroke in a matter of seconds, providing you don't panic. The big difference between the two is that Realms lets you control vast cities of plebs and is on a much grander scale than Powermonger.

Once you've selected a crippling tax rate and seen the overall state of your nation on the World Map, you can drop into an isometric 3D world. It's possible to scroll across the land in four directions to view all the armies, settlements, grasslands, deserts, water and forests lying around. Graphically, Realms is beautiful. You can't zoom or rotate the landscape as in Powermonger, but at least this screen is updated in a much quicker fashion. Some of the fractal maps have been constructed from nearly 200 polygons and look superb.

A single man can represent up to one thousand troops. Friends are distinguished from foes by the colour of their flags. Yellow is your colour, the enemy is dressed in red and waverers denoted by blue. There are sound effects for major events and the crystal ball on the bottom left-hand corner of the screen will flicker into life. Clicking on this will reveal a brief description of what's happened.

It's in the cities and towns where crucial decisions are made. If the settlement is big, you can recruit some soldiers. Groups can be armed depending on your cash flow. And watch out for poor morale. A few coins in their greedy hands should appease them. Money really does make the world go around... without it, you won't be able to buy grain to feed the hungry hordes, build stone walls to protect them or pay your armies to extend your empire. When push comes to shove, you'll also require lots of cash to take care of life's little worries like outbreaks of plague and rebuilding razed cities.

One little tip: Always keep approximately one assignment of foot soldiers or cavalry outside every city under your control. It keeps the occupants from getting out of line.

The real fun begins when the crystal ball shows a pair of swords. This lets you know that a full-scale battle is about to commence. If you activate it, the display changes to a more classic computer representation of a wargame, until the battle is won or lost. Individual units can be positioned into place and perform a combination of attack and defensive actions.

Flags at either side of the battlefield provide you with a clue to the morale of both forces. Ultimately, the idea is to field more troops than your opponent - but blind luck or a cunning strategy can swing the tide your way. There's nothing more satisfying than to see the enemy take flight and retreat off the screen.

The battle sequence could have been expanded. It's the best part of Realms but doesn't go far enough. Perhaps the designers could have placed more powerful creatures in the armies to help balance an unfair situation and add a bit of spice? There were many times when I could have used the aid of a fire-breathing Dragon or a tough legion of Trolls to sort the opposition out. And why is sieging a city so boring? Where are the massive mobile wooden tower things you always see soldiers using to smash fortifications in the movies? I suppose expanding the game further would have caused the introduction of irritating disk-swapping. Oh, I didn't like the annoying tune that constantly plays in the background, either.

Powermonger and Mega-lo-Mania are tough acts to follow and Realms isn't as exciting as either of these epics. Not that this Graftfold game doesn't have its gripping moments, it's just there are too few of them. This omnipotent outing has something what missed the boat, especially with the imminent launch of Populous II - the almighty 'Zeus of God Sims'!
Then again, players couldn't handle the complexities of Powermonger should definitely give it a go.


According to fantasy novelist supremo JRR Tolkien, Melkor tortured many Elven folk in his dark dungeons thereby transforming them into the horrific race of Orcs during the First Age of the Stars. These loathsome red-eyed slaves, twisted by pain and hate, were solely created to satisy Melkor's evil curiousity and to do his bidding.

Although they were fierce and deadly warriors, Orcs often resorted to cannibalism and feared the light. Huge armies of Orcs went on the rampage throughout Middle Earth until a final battle before the Black Gate of Morannon.

After Sauron's One Ring was destroyed at Mount Doom, their numbers and power dwindled until Orcs merely became known as mischievous Goblins. If you want to find out more, try reading The Hobbit, Lord of the Rings or The Silmarillion.

THE BRAINTREE BOYS So much for those tacky Essex Man and Girl gags, this is the place that spawned hardcore dance music raves from The Prodigy and some of the best known computer games in the mid-eighties. Steve Turner and Andrew Braybrook, partners in code, have an extensive list of hits on the old Spectrum and C64 to their credit including 3D Lunattack, Avalon, Gribbly's Day Out, Paradroid, Uridium. More recently, the dynamic duo have produced the appealing Rainbow Islands and Simulcra. Their latest effort is a brave attempt to relive former glories. Sadly, Realms doesn't quite manage to pull it off.

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"Blimey, Populous 12," said Duncan MacDonald, as Realms, the new God sim from Virgin Games, loaded into the Amiga. He was wrong, of course. (Sort of).

"In a fit of rage, the heir raised his fist to the skies, swearing vengeance. His mind in turmoil, he appealed to the Nordic gods for justice. As if in answer to his cry, the growing storm clouds replied with a deafening clash of thunder. Blinded by grief, the heir failed to notice the clouds billow and gradually change their shape to the form of the great god Wotan.

The heir stared in awe as a bolt of pure force, silenced by its speed, hurtled towards him. A billion volts burned into his wrist and flowed over his body. Yet he felt no pain - only the unprecedented power of the heavenly serpent. For an instant, he stood between two worlds, overwhelmed by visions of ages past and every possible future, the reality superimposed on the reality of the present... Then it faded like a dream, leaving only what was and what shall be..."

What a load of old twaddle, eh? It really is. It's the opening blurb from the Realms manual. What does it tell you about the game, for goodness sake? It may as well say: "Onions, 50 pence a pound," or something. If I'd written the manual, there's how my intro waffle would have gone: "Take over the world with your armies - but look after the people staying at home or you'll lose (because they're the ones who pay the taxes)." And that would be it. Much simpler and totally to the point. And that is what you have to do, albeit in a rather icon-driven fashion. Ah... a screenshot covered with letters seem to be coming on, and I can't stop it. Blaaaaaargh!

Amiga reviewDunc: "Peter bloody Molyneux," that's all I can say. He started all this, didn't he? Not that you probably give a toss - all you want to know is whether or not Realms is worth buying. But spare a thought for me - that's all I ask. Gone are the days when I could simply say: "Oh well, it's a quite good horizontally scroller with power-up icons and giant end of level nasties."

Thanks to Bullfrog, I now have to explain exactly why a game isn't like Populous. Or isn't like Powermonger. Or isn't like any of the other clones of the Bullfrog genre. Unfortunately, in this case it's rather hard to do, because Realms isn't different. It's very much the same, in fact - the same as lots of the God sim games. The troubleis that it's taken a bit from here, a bit from there and a bit from somewhere else, which, all in all, leaves me with something of a nightmarish jigsaw puzzle to break apart. Yaaargh! Where do I start?

Okay. In case there are any pedants reading, Realms isn't a God sim. It says so in the manual - there's a sentence which goes something like "You're not playing a deity and so you lack omniscience." In this case I can only presume that you're playing an astronaut then, because you can view your entire kingdom from a height of 200,000 feet. Let's call a spade a spittle and call Realms a God sim, eh?

Realms pulls bits out of Populous, Powermonger, Castles, Sim City and Centurion (and probably others but I can't be bothered to think any harder). The view, obviously, is Populous as are the little people (although there aren't as many of them). The strategy is a sort of slow motion version of Powermonger although you can't zoom in our out.

Which brings us onto Centurion - when one of your cities is attacked, the view changes to an icon-driven battlefield screen - choose a formation, highlight cavalries and things, tell one lot to shoot arrows, another lot to charge and so on (it's a hell of a lot better than Centurion though.) So what's left? Oh yeah - Sim City and Castles. Well, your success depends upon your people being happy and having enough money for you to tax them. Make sure they're well and the dosh will flow. And if the dosh is flowing you'll want to protect your investment, so you build castle walls. Populous, Powermonger Centurion Sim City and Castles, just like I said.

But does Realms score - though - rip-off or not? The answer is yes. It's quite hard to get into initially, but once you do suss it out, you can't stop playing. The action bits are enough to stop the strategy bits from getting boring, and the strategy bits are enough to stop the city management from getting boring.

It certainly is a 'zap around with the mouse' job. No sooner have you sorted the problems in one of your cities, than a message informs you that the inhabitants in another city are getting twitchy. In the middle of taxing yet another city to pay for things, you'll be informed of an imminent attack on a city you totally forgot you owned. And on it goes, getting harder and harder over the nine increasingly more complex levels.

Get the idea? Actually, you'll stay up all night getting the idea. You'll occasionally think, "Wouldn't it be nice if..." but you won't really mind when you've got the biggest, meanest city on the map and everyone is too scared to attack you. Tax the poor, I cry. Tax the smeggy poor to feed the rich! (Fascist! Ed.) Stop