Have You Played? is an endless stream of game retrospectives. One a day, every day of the year, perhaps for all time.
Are grand historical strategy games in vogue, or will I have to laud Lords of the Realm on its own merits instead of relative to what’s currently popular? Hmm. Let’s find out.
It’s a game about military conquest in a medieval realm, without dragons or exhaustingly accurate historical context. Lords of the Realm favours economic management of a modest, decentralised land and its workforce, rather than re-enacting Crécy or memorising the exact statistics needed to reliably kick a knight in the clackers.
It’s an obvious ancestor of Total War, combining turn-based territory management with real-time mass stabbing, but scaled down and more concerned with managing your lands, balancing a need to design and build castles with food supplies dependent on human labour and capricious agricultural cycles. Even today it’s intuitive, both conceptually and in terms of control and feedback, making what could be a dull number cruncher nothing of the sort, and somehow turning micromanagement into a virtue. A well-run realm became less, not more dependent on your meddling. Also you could send envoys with customised messages to rival Lords, who’d express outrage at being called “the smeggest of heads”. Oh, the mid-90s.
The sequel was probably better, but paid for it in charm, and as with its cousin The Settlers, by the third game the focus fell more heavily on fields of battle than of wheat, and managing lordly delegates rather than booting serfs into quarries. A sad end.