Stronghold Crusader 2

Enemies at all sides. The sound of catapults firing. Boulders come crashing down. Archers yell as the supports give out beneath them as the foe has penetrated the walls. Rubble falls and enemies rush through the opening. My men cant just can't get there in time and eventually the lord is slain. Its a game over for that round. But each time I play I learn a little more. Those are always the most satisfactory games. Not the ones where you get frustrated, but the ones where you can see where you went wrong. Each loss giving you a little something in the process.

Sometimes the lesson is you were simply outnumbered. Sometimes you just spread your forces too thin. Maybe you see where an extra tower with supporting archers would have been handy. New things to try, different tactics viable. That is what makes a good strategy game. The planning you put into it. Devising tactics and a play style that suits you. From my initial few plays, it was clear that my play style could use some work.

Stronghold Crusader 2 is a sequel to the 2002 hit, Stronghold Crusader. A castle building, resource managing, troop building, real time strategy. There is a campaign mode to get you acquainted with the basics, and preset and custom skirmishes for playing against the AI, as well as Multiplayer for playing against people online. The campaign follows the crusades of King Richard the Lionhearted, and the other Saladin, teaching you how to use the Arabic Mercenary units.

A round can have up to 8 players or AI depending on the map size. You can also have a mix of AI and human players. Maps themselves have a special note on if its a balanced one or not. Balance simply meaning every player is on equal footing with similar starting areas.. You can choose a unbalanced map to give yourself a challenge or advantage as you prefer. Others options include giving a handicap of gold to the human or computer players, the amount of goods you start with, and if you want random events. Random events are things like lightning strikes, and locust swarms which add extra challenges. Nothing like assaulting an enemy castle only to have a catapult or two taken out by a rogue lightning bolt!

Game flow starts with you placing your stockpile and granary. From there you want to start the production of food, and wood. You can only place farms of various types on fertile land by an oasis. More food types available helps keep your peasants happy. Stronghold Crusader 2 doesn't require you to wait for buildings to be built. Once you have the wood, gold or stone needed it is instantly created the moment you place it down. You do need peasants to run your buildings though. To get more peasants you need to have hovels. Housing works slightly differently in this game. Instead of having different types, the housing's number of beds depends on how close it is to the lords keep. Within close proximity each is can house 8 people, while if placed on the outskirts they will only provide 2. An armory stores your weapons, which are made from your workshops such as blacksmiths and other weapon smiths.

These get materials from your wood cutters and iron mines. Your Iron mines and quarries deliver their goods to the stockpile via oxen. You have to plan what to build, and when. Slowly constructing walls as your stone comes in, balancing defense with offense. The enemy wont hesitate to send a squad around to take out your iron mine when you least expect it or send flaming carts into your farms, dealing devastating damage. If a fire breaks out, wells and water pots can help deal with the damage. If a fire breaks out on your farming area you will have to wait a short bit before you can build on it again. So basically in addition to building defensive, and raising troops, you have to maintain a stable economy to keep affording new buildings as well as keeping people happy. Nothing could be worse than an enemy mounting an assault right as your people decide to leave and leave your buildings unmanned or without any one to conscript to your army!

In addition to an assortment of troops and mercenaries, you also have siege equipment available. From rangers and swords men, and catapults and trebuchets, you will need a variety of troops to take on a properly defensed castle. The Lord himself is a capable fighter, but seeing as how if he dies you lose, its oft best to keep him out of combat. With out siege equipment you can still destroy walls, it just takes longer as your men try to pick down the barriers. The sights and sounds of the towers and walls falling after a successful attack is very satisfying. These still screens simply cant do it justice.

Of course you are not without means for defense! Braziers will allow your archers on the walls close to them to fire flaming arrows. you can build towers and station them on top for greater range. hoardings will provide scant cover for those on the parapets, but are easily destroyed by catapult fire. You can build defensive towers such as ballista that act as a sort of giant arrow turret. Pitch ditches are used by your archers standing next to the aforementioned braziers. Enemies cant see these until you decide to light them on fire making them an excellent defensive trap to compliment others such as barricades. You can even pour boiling oil on your foes.

I found that the enemy, even on the lowest AI, likes to keep up the pressure and will constantly send troops your way at regular intervals. Of course these kinds of games tend to vary, sometimes greatly, between plays so your experience may vary. Speaking of AI, there are 8 of them to choose from. From the lowly Rat to the intimidating Wolf, each AI presents different challenges. The Sultana for example, likes to send assassins after you as well as mix up her units. As you take on the harder difficulties you will want to get an idea for what unit counters what. Of course the AI will never be able to match the unpredictability of playing against another human opponent or 8.

There is also a free build mode for those who would prefer a more peaceful castle building experience You have an option to give yourself as much gold as you need, which in turn you can use to buy as many resources you need to layout your ideal castle. It makes for a fun time waster if nothing else. You can also enable events, both beneficial and disastrous to make it more interesting.

Stronghold Crusader 2 was a rare game that I got lost in. I started playing and before I knew it, it was six hours later.  Who can resist a game about castle building, economy raising, and taking on large castles full of troops and hazards?. Especially when you can soften up the numbers by launching diseased animals over castle walls.