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Game #90 : Excalibur (1983)

[Chris Crawford, Atari]

Disclaimer : This article is completely devoid of Monty Python jokes

Well, that’s the darndest thing. I was acting as the squire for my brother when I realized I had forgotten his sword in the inn. Then I got lucky : someone had stuck his sword in the middle of stone slab in front of the inn, so I pulled it out and brought it to my brother. Then everyone made quite a scene, crowned me in a hurry and sent me packing toward some odd place called Camelot.

I already used this reference in my AAR on Richard Bodley-Scott’s King Arthur, but it was my favourite among the 3 Disney VHS I had as a kid.

It was weird. My tutor started to give me way too much information on how I was conceived :

Sex talk from Hell in the 60 pages novella appended to the manual :“I played wingman to your father so he could deception-rape your mother and 9 months later you were born”

My tutor then explained that my destiny was to accomplish what father (whose existence had just been revealed to me 5 minutes prior) failed to do, and unite all of Britain under my rule. He also dissed my old man :

“Oh I can answer this one” interjected Arthur. “The short sword does 1D6 slashing damage and the scepter does 1D4+1 blunt damage.”

I am not sure Merlin has my best interest at heart.

Let’s visit my new place ! Follow me ! I am easy to recognize in a crowd : I am the only one with a crown.

The first room is the hall, where you can find the famous round table. It is where I can choose which knights will accompany me in war, which knights I will shower in gold and honour, and which knight I will banish from my realm. At the moment, we have only 6 knights : Sir Lucas, Sir Noskikta, Sir Sremmus, Sir Drofwarr , Sir Lamerok and of course my brother Sir Kay. Each of those knights have his own strengths, weaknesses and ambitions – and each of them has good or bad relationships with me and the other knights. For now I will not bother you with these triffles.

If you need to know, the table is a Listerby. I managed to assemble it alone even though the instructions specified you need 3 squires to do it!

The next room is the map room, from where I can declare war to other kings, or pay tribute. It is also there that messengers bring me news from abroad.

A good chunk of the news is about Kings raiding one another

The next room is the treasury room, also known as the boring room. That’s where I set the level of my taxes and of my army on the left – on the right I can see how much I am actually collecting and the current size of my army. Chris Crawford Merlin made sure to make it simple to understand thanks to the rule 1 soldier = 1 unit of tax in maintenance.

I can also see the experience of my army, how much tithes I receive or pay, and what is the wealth of my Kingdom (top-left) and the size of my treasury (top-right).

Finally, I don’t like to talk about the last room. Merlin is there, his power ready to be used. We will use this room later.

The weaker Merlin is, the less visible he is. When out of magic power, he disappears totally.

Finally, let’s leave Camelot and visit our kingdom :

Well, that was short. It is was also instructive : the green squares you see are the farms – the more there are the more prosperous my Kingdom is. As for the village in white, it has absolutely no role in the game so you can forget about it.

I also have some of the worst neighbours possible :

The game happily mixes semi-legendary non-Arthurian characters from the 5th century (eg Hengist and Horsa), 7th century historical characters (eg the larger-than-life King Penda of Mercia), and rulers pulled directly from Arthurian legends (eg King Pellinore).

In the North, my neighbour is King Penda, a great military leader who I hope will not attack me early on. Merlin describes him this way :

The King is the West is a lot friendlier – family even. Unfortunately, he won’t be carrying his own weight :

But the real threat is in the East. The two brothers King Hengist and King Horsa are weird foreigners, and Hengist in particular is a piece of work

“But, Merlin, I read a book once and it said Hengist and Horsa were Jutes, not Angles”

My army is tiny : the 6 Round Table Knights, and less than 5 extra soldiers – I am probably the weakest ruler of England. I slowly increase the size of the army, increasing at the same time the tax level. Apart from that, I have absolutely nothing to do, except watch the paint on Camelot dry.

A few week later I have 10 warriors in addition to my 6 Knights. And then, I realize the “peace time” has ended and that all Hell breaks lose.

Moving from the treasury room to the map room 5 minutes and 10 seconds into the game. The hardcoded peacetime ends after 5 minutes.
  • King Hengist is raiding King Pellinore of Gwynedd
  • King Penda is raiding King Garwin of Powys,
  • King Horsa is raiding my father-in-law, King Hoel
  • King Balduff of Elmet is raiding King Idres of Reget,
  • King Coldrin of Beornice is raiding King Lot of Lleudiniaw,

The two latter wars are in the North of Albion (in modern Northumbria) so I don’t care much. On the other hand, with all the alpha males of the South occupied, I can grow my army further. It looks like no one sees me as worth raiding. Fine with me.

More time passes. I bring my army to 14 men, and a new Knight decides to join the Round Table : Sir Gawain. There are raids everywhere. Hengist is the most sociopathic, attacking random Kings (except his brother Horsa and the powerful Penda), and returning full of loot every time. Meanwhile, Horsa focuses his aggression on my father-in-law. Soon, messengers line up in my map room, telling me Hoel has been raided by Horsa, that Horsa has returned to his Kingdom, that Hoel is being raided by Horsa, that Horsa has returned to his Kingdom, and finally that Hoel is being raided by Horsa.

Suddenly, my crown starts to blink : I am the one being raided. It must be Penda, he has been awfully quiet lately. I rush to the map room to check my message. I am attacked yes, but that’s not King Penda. That’s my North-Western neighbour : King Royns.

The territory of King Royns is in blue, mine is in red. King Royns is an ahistorical King from the Arthurian Legends.

I was not expecting King Royns to attack me, as he had been described by Merlin this way :

An aversion to warfare” and “would rather not use his army”. You are a great judge of character, Merlin. I would have appreciated if you had mentioned his weird fetish for Kingly beards, too. Apparently, he is missing his fifteenth beard to finish a cloak, and all the other Kings shaved.

I have no time to berate Merlin, I need his magic to know what’s coming. I use his power of “See[ing]” and enter Royns castle as a ghost, inspecting his treasure room :

23 men-at-arms, plus an unknown number of Knights. That’s a much larger army than mine, with the same level of experience. I don’t have the time to inspect the rest of his castle – he is a neighbour so he could arrive in front of my castle anytime – I return to Merlin’s room and ask him to cast a second spell : a plague on Royns’ army !

Merlin’s magic was later outlawed by the Geneva Convention

Seconds later, Royns’ army arrives.

It looks like ridiculously small armies, but chroniclers called 35 warriors an army during the Anglo-Saxon colonization, and some historically significant battles of the 5th century are said to have involved 200 men in total

When an enemy army invades, I have the choice to stay safely hidden in my castle (allowing the invaders to burn crops) or to fight. You can never been forced to fight, but as long as you don’t fight there is absolutely nothing you can do (you are “stuck” in the screen above) and your opponent will slowly burn your crops. Eventually he will leave – for instance because someone is raiding his own kingdom – but he will be a lot richer and you will be a lot poorer.

But after being hit by a plague King Royns has only 17 men (Knights included) versus 22 on my side (including 7 Knights). Of course I accept combat.

I start the battle with 22 men against 17, but because I am defending, I get immediate support from my peasants, who immediately kill 6 enemy warriors, so now I have a 2:1 ratio !

My army is at the bottom. Each of my Knights has his own coat of arms and has some of my 10 non-Knights with him

Undetered, Royns’ diminutive army – all 11 men – marches on me. I hold my position, waiting for them.

On my right, Royns Welsh knights rout before contact – it turns out that one of my Knights, Sir Lamerok, brought something special with him:

On my left, there is no giant stallion to terrorize the enemy. I am confident that Sir Kay and Sir Lucas – my best knights with Sir Gawain – should be able to hold their own. I am soon proven wrong as I watch them fall in combat !

WIth his left flank faltering, King Royns shows less determination than Cruella de Vil in finishing his hairy piece of garment and starts retreating. Sir Sremus and Sir Noskikta are in hot pursuit, and they defeat him. His army immediately dissolves.

The battle. Unlike in Legionnaire, units move freely and not on “tiles”.

Don’t worry about King Royns. He will soon be back in his castle. Alas, that’s not the case for Sir Kay and Sir Lucas, they are lost forever. I am down to 5 Knights of the Roundtable, and honestly mostly the Tier C ones, except maybe Sir Gawain and Sir Lamerok’s horse, but I could not make the latter sit at the table. Still, it was a victory.

As I returned to my castle, I received two messages. The first one was from King Uriens of Dairiada :

Badly battered by his Northern neighbour King Augusel, King Uryens of Dairiada is looking for a protector, and my victory put me on the shortlist. Honestly, he is a bit far to be helped, but he is paying a tribute so he does not have to know that right now.

The second message is from King Hengist :

Hengist is coming for me. Merlin mentions something about Camelot going DEFCON 2.

This is all for now. Next update I will expand my influence – or die trying – and focus a bit more on Knight management ; many of them have some interesting quirks. Of course, that’s if I am not slain by King Hengist in singular combat.


  1. Gubisson Gubisson

    Sounds like Chris C. had almost more fun writing the manual than programming this game!

    Also, I now know more than I ever really needed to know about The Cloak of Kings’ Beards

  2. Argyraspide Argyraspide

    Heavy is the head that wears the crown.

    • Of course a French commenter had to make a reference to Kaamelott.

      I also had to put a link for everyone not aware of this staple of French culture from the 2000s.

      • Dayyalu Dayyalu

        That’s the kind of content I come here for, Frenchposting.

  3. Argyraspide Argyraspide

    This reminds me of the Lords of the Realm games, although those had more agricultural management and less magic.

  4. Dayyalu Dayyalu

    Got some Excalibur vibes from this (particularly the creepy Merlin, dunnow why). The movie is 1981, so I guess there’s some chance….

    • Gubisson Gubisson

      Agree this Excalibur game is giving off some Excalibur vibes! XD
      (no offense intended, the comment just made me chuckle ^^)

      • Dayyalu Dayyalu

        No offense taken, I walked right into it. The movie is a favorite of mine, so I never even considered the game title relevant compared to it ;_;

  5. baud baud

    > It looks like ridiculously small armies, but chroniclers called 35 warriors an army during the Anglo-Saxon colonization, and some historically significant battles of the 5th century are said to have involved 200 men in total

    Maybe the chroniclers were counting only the knights, which were usually accompanied by men-at-arms, squires and such, who could then take part in the fighting…

  6. Alexey Romanov Alexey Romanov

    So the historical Penda is an Angle, but he’s Celtic in the game?

    • I was going to say yes, but then I checked and there are some hypothesis that Penda is actually a Celt because Penda is not a Germanic name and some of his relatives have Welsh names – so a Welsh King of an Anglo-Saxon kingdom. What’s sure is that he had absolutely no issue with allying Welsh kingdoms to slay the Anglo-Saxon King Edwin.

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