Have You Played… Fantasy General?

Have You Played? is an endless stream of game recommendations. One a day, every day of the year, perhaps for all time.

Fantasy General [link to GOG page] is a 1996 game best described as Panzer General with Dragonknights and centaurs. Hexes, turn-based warfare and an enormous variety of weird and wonderful units.

I first played Fantasy General around the time of its release. Around fifteen years old, I must still have been stuck in my rebellious ‘wargaming and transport management sim’ phase. I don’t remember the specific qualities of the game in detail but I do remember the thrill of playing a serious strategy game that had been packed with creatures from the RPGs and fantasy novels that formed the other half of my groovy teen years.

The appeal is similar to that of the recent Warhammer 40,000: Armageddon, which is a bolters and all take on Panzer General’s basic setup. Fantasy General’s armies are extensive but well-balanced and the scenarios are tightly designed. Most of them, at any rate. Some of them. Admittedly, I never finished the game back in 1997, or whenever it might have been, because I dropped out of that particular phase when I realised that there was music outside Top of the Pops.

At the time of release, Fantasy General was often dismissed as a reskin of Panzer General but there were alterations to the rules that supported the new setting. Tanks can’t rest for a couple of turns to heal their wounds, for instance, and even Heinz Guderian couldn’t buff his forces with spellcraft. The lack of supply line rules simplifies matters and the game sticks fairly rigidly to a rock-paper-scissors format, which tends to reduce those exotic units to variations on a theme.

It’s a strong theme though and Fantasy General wears it well.

23 Comments

  1. Brosecutor says:

    Didn’t play it too much, but LOVED the soundtrack which was on the CD.

    • mgardner says:

      This. There are few games where I can remember the music so vividly. This is one, Tunnels of Doom for TI 99/4A is another.

      • ScubaMonster says:

        Wow Tunnels of Doom. That’s a game I haven’t heard mentioned in years. I loved playing that at my friend’s house. First RPG I ever played.

      • Warduke says:

        Oh wow, Tunnels of Doom on the TI 99-4A. That brings back memories.. Had TONS of fun on that game.. I remember it came on a cassette with “Hunt the Wumpus” on the other side. The only side of the cassette that was labeled was the Wumpus side which caused me much consternation as a child until that fateful day I wondered if there was something on the unlabeled side.. :-)

  2. BloatedGuppy says:

    Played a ton of this back in the day. Never managed to finish it. Every few years I’d revisit it, thinking I would dominate the game that once frustrated me so with my newly honed skills of a gamer. Only to discover that nope…it’s just hard as balls.

    There was a modern reskin/remake in all but name called Elven Legacy, which is saddled with a spectacularly woeful and poorly acted storyline but in all other respects is Fantasy General right down to the marrow of its bones. Can usually be found for a couple bucks during Steam Sales. Might be an easier entry point for people interested in the concept but allergic to excessively retro gaming experiences.

    • Baines says:

      I picked up Elven Legacy some time ago in a bundle, but had no idea it was anything like Fantasy General. Never bothered to install it. (Most of 1C’s games are bundle fodder.)

      • Jurple says:

        As it happens, Elven Legacy is right this moment on sale as part of the Humble store sale, for €1.24. Tempting!

    • cpt_freakout says:

      See also the Elven Legacy “prequel” Fantasy Wars. Even the name’s a dead giveaway, and it’s a very fun little game.

  3. NathanH says:

    I really liked this game when I was young. I had a feeling that it probably wasn’t that good a game really, but once it went on GOG I had a go and I found it is still fine. Clearly when I was young I must have played on Normal difficulty because I remember finding it really easy by the 4th continent but this time on the “between normal and hard” custom difficulty, it is causing me trouble.

    Playing on Hard difficulty is funny, it changes the game into an odd “do not kill any enemy units” game. Not exactly entertaining, but certainty different!

  4. Yserbius says:

    If you’re going to recommend Fantasy General you may as well recommend the entire Five Star series, from Panzer General up to Pacific General.

  5. Mycenaeus says:

    This was the first game I ever beat. I felt so proud.

  6. LogicalDash says:

    Anyone care to give me the over/under on playing this vs playing Battle for Wesnoth?

    • DrHuge says:

      Wesnoth is both free and regularly updated, so it’s at least worth a shot if you don’t already play it.

    • EhexT says:

      Fantasy General is the peak of fantasy wargaming and arguably the overall best wargame SSI ever made. It is unbelievably tight in it’s design, cutting the fat of the more complex Panzer General it’s based on (limited ammo, supply lines, detailed entrenchment and morale, air units tied to airfields) and replacing it with some new simpler and extremely cohesive mechanics.

      A simple yet effective tiered system of attack ranges (ranged -> skirmishing -> melee) that determines if units get to hit back at their attacker, simple terrain modifiers (being on rivers is BAD, being in forests and mountains is good if you’ve got a loose formation and bad if you don’t, cities make you tough as nails) plus a load of multi-hex interactions (archers supporting adjacent units, sky hunters flying air support for bombers, catapults assisting in sieges). It’s simple systems layered on top of each other in delightful ways that no other game has yet managed to capture.

      Games like Wesnoth and Elven Legacy have tried to copy the same quick and casual style, but they’ve all cut too much and have lost too much depth. They’re all less-than-Fantasy-General, so it remains unbeaten.

      Plus you can fight Sauron with Mecha-Dragons. Beat that Wesnoth.

      • Kaeoschassis says:

        While I agree whole-heartedly, I’d still say that anybody who likes Fantasy General should at least TRY Wesnoth. No, it doesn’t quite topple or replace it, but it does manage to be a hell of a lot of fun in its own right.

  7. PostieDoc says:

    Loved this game when it came out.
    I was a big fan of Panzer General (still am) and also heavily into the Forgotten Realms books, so this was a perfect mix of the two.

  8. Archonsod says:

    This and Star General sucked up a significant amount of my teen years.

  9. Premium User Badge

    Bluerps says:

    I think this was the first strategy game I ever finished. Also the only game of the Stuff General series I ever played.

  10. Kaeoschassis says:

    Oof, right in the childhood. Was not expecting this one.
    Pretty nice surprise though. Yeah, Fantasy General was (and I suspect is still) just great. Spent so much damned time on it when I was a kid.

    Also, I somehow had no idea it was on GOG despite shopping there regularly. Thanks for that one, might have to go pick it up again.

  11. RobertB says:

    This game was certainly great. I was a noob as a kid, so I always had to play with Fog of War off.

    Things that were great about this game:
    -Great secondary mission design. There were a number of branching paths where certain missions might be unlocked if you completed objectives in a fixed amount of time.
    -Really atmospheric. The music has been mentioned. There was some great art too. Each unit detail screen had a big line drawing of the unit, a lot of which were really beautiful.
    -The environments were great too. It was pretty standard stuff (forest continent, winter continent, lava continent, etc.), but they did a great job of making each map feel like a real distinct place. Another great thing was that the lore presented in between missions would call out named lieutenants of the Shadowlord, and subsequent missions would include AI hit squads led by that lieutenant as a hero unit. Created lots of drama during missions and a feeling of accomplishment when you killed them.

  12. Lexicon2000 says:

    Look into The Battle for Westnoth. EXTREMELY difficult but also very very interesting. Turn-based hex-based with RPG elements and a story.

  13. Lexicon2000 says:

    Sorry, The Battle for Wesnoth (not Westnoth)

  14. Joshua Northey says:

    This game was amazing. I played it once when it came out and I was 14 or whatever, and once again in 2006 or so. Had a great time both playthroughs, though I don’t think I finished either one because the campaign is so so long and something shiny and new came by both times.

    A full campaign is like 50+ 1 hour long scenarios. I honestly might play it again someday, especially if I retire early as planned.