Sierra MacPak

A review of a game package in general and Lords of the Realm II in particular

Written by Ingemar Ragnemalm.

Recently, Sierra released a number of older games as the MacPak. Packages like this generally contains a few good, once successful products, and a number of more or less worthless ones. This is no exception. The question is, of course, if the good titles are good enough to justify a purchase.

MacPak constains the following games:

A total of 7 games makes it fairly promising, although many other packages hold as much as 10 games. It comes with thick printed manuals for three of the games, namely Lords II, Caesar II and Nascar Racing.

Installation is done in a snap. For most games, just put in the CD, open it and drag the installation folder to the place you want it to be. If you like, peek in the system stuff folders to see if they use something alarmingly new. They probably don't. Oh, by the way... don't be alarmed if you insert one CD and think the game you were looking for is missing. Two of the CD's were mislabeled in my pack. That certainly isn't a major problem.

Let's start from the top:

Lords II

Lords II is a strategy game, and a pretty good one. You play on a map divided in a number of counties, and you control a single one at the begining of the game. A number of counties are neutral, and your opponents (1 to 3) have one each.

The game is part turn-based, and part real-time. This leads to high complexity, but the game is still fairly easy to learn, not least due to help windows and pop-up help texts.

In the images below, I have made screen shots from a campaign I played on the Germany map. This is one out of almost countless maps. As you will see, this particular campaign didn't turn out very well. I (blue) have only three counties, while The Baron (red) has five. Numbers alone doesn't say all, because one rich and happy county is better than several poor and unhappy ones, but I'm afraid I did not quite have that.

The strategic part, where you manage the economy and production of your counties, and raise armies, is turn-based. Actually, there is a little bit of real-time as well even there, but if you let all others make their moves, you can take your time with your moves until you are satisfied.

While on the strategic view, you have a number of sub-views. You have the overall capaign map, information and production information for the selected county, and a close-up of a part of the map.

When you manage the land, you decide how much land to use for crops and cattle, how much your people are allowed to eat, what they should work with, and how much taxes they must pay. The biggest problem of all is to keep the people happy. If they are happy, they will multiply, work better, and more people will immigrate from other counties. The problem is that drafting not only reduces your population; it also makes people unhappy.

In the county selected in the map image above, I have 929 people, a happiness of 75 and good health (which you can tell from the green thermometer). This is pretty good, and should give me good chances for growth and drafting armies. I keep the taxes low (4%) in order to make the happiness raise. I could go down to 0% to make it to 100% quick, but I needed at least some money at the time. I usually flip between 0% and the most I can get without making people unhappy.

Battles are played in real-time. A battle in the open feels very much like playing Warcraft, except that you aren't producing while fighting. There are also sieges, where you attack or defend a fort or castle. This is much fun, at least in the beginning.

A result of this half turn-based, half real-time design is that the battle part is much, much more realistic than Warcraft II or any of its clones (Starcraft, Age of Empires etc), where you can build entire armies in the time it takes to fight a battle. The production is also more realistic, with a large number of civilians to take care of, who produce the resources and who can be drafted to form armies, rather than buildings pumping out units.

Another result of the design is that you won't get as exhausted by a game. Sure, the constant stress you get by Warcraft-style games, where you can't pause a second to breathe without losing tempo, has its points, but Lords II can be played in a more relaxed manner, altering between action-filled battles and figuring out how many cows to sell.

As if this wasn't good enough, the game is solid and bug-free. Sierra doesn't have the world's best history for producing bug-free games (I still would like to finish Roger Wilco, but it crashes every time!), but this one simply works!

The game supports network play, using either Appletalk or TCP/IP. You only need one single copy of the game to play. The Mac starting the game must have the CD in the drive, but all other players must only have the game installed on the hard disk. I must mention that I have NOT had any chance to try network play.

As any Sierra game on the Mac, it is ported from the PC, so it is of interest to see how the Mac-specific problems are solved. The game is designed for 640x480, but fortunately, it changes the screen resolution automatically, and sets it back afterwards. Want to switch out and come back later, without quitting? No problem, Just hit escape and the Mac menu appears. Nice. All it lacks of MacOS features is that it doesn't open save files by double-clikcing them or drag-and-drop to the application icon. Well, Sierra, you are excused.

So much for the good parts. On the negative side, the game has some quirks that leave me puzzled or irritated. You can hire mercenaries (a great way to avoid unhappiness and keeping your population high), you can't combine armies with different mercenary forces in them. That is quite OK when the mercenaries are from different countries (and they usually are), but why can't I combine two armies of exactly the same kind and origin, say, english macemen?

The strategy map graphics is nice, with the same view as in many other newer strategy games, like Civilization II. However, the battle view has the more traditional, square grid of Warcraft II. That makes the strategy view feel more modern than the battle view.

There is a system for diplomacy, but it is completely pointless concerning computer opponents. An opponent can even ally with you while holding one of your castles under siege!

The mouse control is surprisingly poor when you click on just about any symbol in the game, except rectagular buttons. When selecting armies, moving workforce, and even clicking on arrows for increasing and decreasing mounts of goods, you often miss and get unexpected results.

The information you get is usually adequate, but not quite. When you want to sell off cattle in order to reduce the herd to what your people and land can handle, you never know exactly how many to sell, so you often need to go into the trade screen several times.

After a couple of games, the game gets pretty repetitive. In particular, you will figure out some strategies that will easily take out a castle belonging to a computer opponent, and you will find their sieges rather easy to handle in comparison. The computer opponents are also fairly predictable concerning army size and composition. If the opponents could observe what kind of armies you use, and adapt, then they could have been more challenging.

But, all in all I find Lords II fun and well worth playing. This game alone makes MacPak a good buy, if you like strategy wargames.




Caesar II

Caesar II is well-known, and has been reviewed frequently before, so I won't say too much. It has sometimes been described as SimCity in a roman setting, but it is more. It is also a wargame, although I don't find the battles as exciting as in Lords II.

Caesar II has been in the bargain bins for ages, so you are likely to have it already ­ but if you don't, MacPak is a good opportunity! However, I definitely wouldn't get MacPak only to get Caesar II, since the same money would buy Caesar III.

There is one thing that should be mentioned, though: The biggest weakness of the game is that it is quite buggy. It will lock up once in a while, and, worst of all, you can't trust "save"! You must do "save as", or it will not save properly! This, and only this, is what keeps it from a 4-star or even 5-star rating.




Nascar Racing

Nascar Racing, like Caesar II, has been a low-cost game for a long time, in the same triple pack (with 3D Ultra Pinball as the third). The difference is that while I still find Caesar II a good game worth playing, time has left Nascar Racing behind. Compared to modern racing games, it just doesn't cut it. The graphics are old-fashioned, flat-shaded. That would be OK if the game was fun, but the action isn't exciting. The response to the controls feels inaccurate and slow, and the cars feel slow for some reason. The feeling of slowness is not from the graphics ­ the frame rate is quite OK (on my 250 MHz Mac). Perhaps the problem is that the game tries to simulate a real race too well?

You may argue that there are so few modern racing games on the Mac (if any), but even if you settle for an old game, Al Unser Arcade Racing is more fun.


3D Ultra Pinball

3D Ultra Pinball is the first in Sierra's long series of pinball games. Throughout the series, the games have been more spectacular than realistic, with obvious problems like balls passing through obstacles, jerky animation and unrealistic bounces. These problems have gotten better in later releases, but in this first game, it was pretty bad. Even when it was new, gamers looking for realism were better off with Pro Pinball: The Web, and gamers looking for a fun and challenging game should consider Littlewing's Crystal Caliburn. 3D Ultra Pinball came third as a game that had fancy special effects and three different boards. Today, its niche is better covered with the later games in the series, Creep Night or Lost Continent.


Hoyle's Solitaire

If 3D Ultra Pinball isn't a strong player in the pinball arena, Hoyle's Solitaire is the same in the solitaire card game field. Lots of games, sure, but there are several others that offer that. This one lines up with other poor offerings like Solitaire Antics and America's Greatest Solitaire, all games that offer little more than just the basic playing. A good solitaire card game should provide good features for making playing fun and easy. Hoyle's lack things like highlightning of legal moves (not even when a card pass over a valid destination), and the interface feels quirky.

You may know that I've released a solitaire game myself (Solitaire House), so surely I am a bit biased, but I can safely mention two other games, significantly better than Hoyles, namely Eric's (Ultimate) Solitaire and Solitaire Till Dawn.


Trophy bass

I remember when I read a review of Trophy Bass in a magazine. The game was panned pretty badly for being boring. Thus, I expected lilttle when I started it up. But in any event, should I expect much action from a fishing game? No, I'd rather expect a rather relaxed game.

When I played it, I found it pretty entertaining. I have a fantastic set of lures to choose from, in all kinds and colors, as well as rods. I have large lakes to fish in, with many places to look for fish. Even when I have spotted a fish in the water, I have to pick the bait that the fish wants.

When I finally managed to make a fish take the hook, the most exciting part of real fishing takes over, trying to bring it in. Trophy Bass does its best to provide that feeling, with music and all.

One alarming problem occured when I was playing. At one time, the speed went down a lot, making it slower than what is really playable. That shouldn't happen with a game like this on a 250 MHz Mac.

All in all, I like Trophy Bass, perhaps most of all because it is more fun than I expected from a fishing game. If I had got this in the days when fishing was one of my hobbies, I would have loved it! Today, OK, I won't be playing it much, but I didn't mind trying it out. If you get MacPak, you should at least give it a try.


You don't know Jack!

You don't know Jack! is a quiz game. Let's start with something positive: I didn't have any game like this among my favourite Mac games before. Then the negative: I still don't.

Frankly, I havn't played You don't know Jack all that much, simply because I didn't enjoy it much. First of all, you really need to be two or three people. Second, you must like that american-plastic-TV-show style that the game has. And third, you better be american yourself, or too many questions will be unsolvable. For me, a swedish guy who don't like TV shows, it gets pretty frustrating.

Take this for what it's worth; I'm not sure if there are any quiz show computer game lovers out there. There are plenty of quiz game lovers, playing not in front of the computer, but aroud the kitchen table. Will this game appeal to them? Well... if we were three people, I could consider playing You don't know Jack! instead of Trivial Pursuit, for a change.

As I said, I have seen few games of this kind on the Mac, apart from quite a number of simple shareware programs. You don't know Jack! isn't *much* better than them... but a little. Sounds and graphics are, if not great so at least polished and professional. It is reasonably varied, with several variations on the basic premise.

Therefore, I find it hard to rate the game. I am leaning towards a third stars, just for being original, for not being yet another 3D shooter, but I'm afraid it will have to be two. The game isn't quite using the computer medium well enough for the third.



MacPak is best bought for a strategy gamer who wants Lords II. If you have neither Caesar II nor Lords II before, it is a winner! I bought it for Lords II alone, and I'm not disappointed. But, if you expect half a dozen good games for the price of one, you won't be as happy.

Rating: if you like strategy games, if you don't play them at all

Tested on: PowerMac 8600/250.

Copyright ©1999 Ingemar Ragnemalm.

Updated: October-1999