I generally don’t go in for management and strategy sims. Most of my sessions with said games eventually deteriorate into me watching as my empire slowly crumbles around me. At this point my faithful subjects are usually put to the sword as their houses burn, the board fires me for lack of productivity, or my harsh reliance on nuclear warfare brings about the apocalypse.
I’m not sure what it is, I think I may just not be cut out for the patience and long-term thinking that such games involve. As such very few management sims actually manage to grab my attention, Stronghold is however one such game. Originally released by Firefly Studios in 2001, Stronghold is once again available in an HD release on Steam at the meagre price of $6.
Taking on the role of a would-be lord of the realm, Stronghold gives players a rather tongue-in-cheek and Monty Python-esque approach to the world of medieval castle life. Playing through skirmishes, multiplayer or the main campaign, it’s your job to balance the economic needs of your people with military force making use of whatever kindness or malevolence you can muster.
Combat is generally rather interesting with each unit type bearing their own strengths, weaknesses and abilities with which to maim their enemies. Of particular mention is the siege warfare which may actually see you shut up inside your castle on starvation rations as your enemies catapults hammer rocks against your defences.
The campaign story begins after the murder of a medieval lord throws the lands of medieval England into disarray. As the sole surviving heir of the murdered lord it your job to fight back against several evil rival lords who rise up in a scramble to claim the now disputed lands.
Although decidedly humorous in its delivery, Stronghold keeps closely to the tactics and daily struggles of the citizens of the Dark Ages. Half the beauty of the game is building your castle to the point at which it becomes self-sustaining and then simply sitting back to watch your loyal subjects go about their business. Hunters hunt, farmers farm and woodcutters woodcut in a charming and simple graphical style that almost makes you yearn for the pastoral life.
One of the strengths of Stronghold is that it always remembers that it’s a game and in doing so it’s the little things that count. Like the way the narrator reminds you “You’ve been playing for rather a long time my lord” during extended game sessions or will remind you that its late you should probably go to bed, or even wish you merry Christmas if you find yourself playing when you should be eating turkey.
Stronghold has been followed by a slew of sequels that have never really had the same impact as the original. Firefly have stated that they continued making sequels at the behest of fans even though the games have received rather poor reviews. Maybe they should look to going back to the 2D hand drawn basics that gave the original their charm. For now the HD release is a pretty good place to start and at such a great price on Steam it’s an awesome buy for any strategy or management gamer.