"Lead your armies through new lands using brute force or the delicate art of alliance to seize power.  PowerMonger, the ultimate war game on the ultimate format."
Game Information
Developer Bullfrog
Publisher Electronic Arts
Copyright Date 1993
Players 1
Age Rating(s) None given
Save Type RAM
Cart Version Yes

Part Numbers
Game T-50035-50
Front Cover E139SCXI(1)
Back Cover E139SCXI(2)
Manual E139SCXM(1), E139SXCM(2)
Spine Card E139SCXA
CD 1 E1395CCD
Bar Code 5 015839 139925


The first thing that hits you about PowerMonger is the weight of the box.  This game comes with two full size, very thick manuals (one in English and Spanish, the other in French and German) which immediately lets you know you're not in for an easy ride - the English instructions alone run to 56 full pages.  The cover art on both manuals is identical.

For those of you who haven't guessed, PowerMonger is a very in-depth strategy game that requires a high degree of micro-management.  There's no building a base and churning out troops here, men must be recruited from towns you pass (or conquer) on the way, equipped, fed and generally looked after until you send them to an early death in the big end of level brawl.  Once you've crushed an enemy settlement whatever is left (both soldiers and items) immediately passes to you.  This means that it's not always the best idea to send the whole army in set to full rape, burn and pillage mode, as you'll want to ensure that the end result is worth the trouble.  Food is the "currency" as such in this game, and must be harvested, gathered or otherwise obtained ("battling" sheep is a personal favourite), and if you run out everyone downs tools until enough has been gathered for them to continue on a full stomach.  There isn't a true tech tree to climb either, though the "invent" command sets your men to work designing new items which are influenced by their surroundings - for example, give the command when they are stationed at the coast and you'll probably get a boat even if you really wanted a cannon.  The raw materials available are also determined by the workshop's location, but are reasonably obvious (forests for wood, high hills for mines to produce steel etc.), and if there's nothing in the vicinity then a plentiful supply of baked mud pots to trade with other settlements can be yours.

The PowerMonger world is broken up into levels, with you starting in the top left corner.  As you proceed through the game, you can choose to play the levels adjoining territory you've completed (either conquered or made alliances in), and the game world is big enough to make this a time consuming challenge.  Each level opens with a (badly) rendered fly-by of the land which gives you a rough idea of the layout and elevation you'll be dealing with but doesn't do a lot else.  Then it's into the game proper and a baffling screen full of icons and settings.  Thankfully the manual gives you a good walk-through of the first level and it is very detailed in many respects, but success can boil down to trial and error.  Sometimes if you conquer an opposing force their captain will join you, appearing next to you at the map table, and allowing you to split the troops into separate divisions, though you retain command of both throughout.  After all that the fighting itself is a bit of an anti-climax, involving setting an aggression level from a choice of three, pointing your troops at an enemy and seeing who's the last one standing, leaving little room for tactical flair.  Of course you could always send tribute to try and make an allegiance and extend your influence by peaceful means - but where's the fun in that?

PowerMonger was never going to be an easy game to squeeze onto the Mega-CD (and even less so the cartridge release) but kudos to Bullfrog for having a very good crack at it.  This game cries out for the MegaDrive mouse as strategy games often live or die by their interface - this being no exception.  Three buttons and a D-pad are no replacement for a desktop rodent, and though it's hard to say how it could have been made any better, the controls will take you a while to get used to.  Once past the intro (which confusingly has great music and moving mouths but no speech or subtitles) the graphics are reasonably sharp and have been touched up a little from the cartridge version, the most notable change being that the command icons have been moved from the right of the screen to the bottom.  Individual soldiers are tough to make out, but are generally treated as whole squads of units rather than individuals anyway.  The world map scrolls one tile at a time in each direction rather than smoothly but this can be forgiven as it's a miracle it's running at all.  Background sounds are very clear (though you can only sit through so many sheep noises) which is a definite improvement on the cartridge's racket, but spot effects can crackle and aren't as good as they should be.

Aside from the end game in Dune, PowerMonger stands alone as the only RTS on the Mega-CD, being a completely different experience from Shining Force CD.  As a technical achievement it's astounding, and if you're a strategy fan it's a very good game too if you're willing to put the time into it to learn how everything works.  There's nothing here that you'd miss if you get the cartridge version, but if you're looking for a game that doesn't involve FMV or fast reflexes, then this certainly deserves a place in your collection.  On this one occasion, do crack the manual open first...