The brightly glowing sword rising slowly out of the water on the title page sets the scene for the adventure-war game Excalibur. It transports you back to the days of Arthurian legend and the small kingdom called Camelot. Here Arthur forged a new kingdom, with the aid of Merlin the magician and the prowess of the knights of the Round Table.

Chris Crawford and his staff of programmers at Atari's Games Research spent twenty months developing this mammoth game, perhaps the largest ever designed for the Atari computer. For you to play the interconnected segments of the game, you must constantly reload disk files. The object is to unite Britain. This task proves difficult because Camelot, a small kingdom, has few knights to aid in the conquest. In addition, rival kingdoms with power-hungry kings surround it. Arthur must bide his time, meanwhile raising and training an army both for defense and offense. To achieve his objective requires diplomacy rather than fighting, lest he weaken his meager forces further in profitless combat. Instead he makes alliances, demanding tribute for protection. To accomplish this, he must first prove to the lesser kings that he can defeat them in battle. Solving this problem requires subtlety and experience. Luckily, he has the aid of his knights and Merlin. Merlin is both powerful and loyal, but the knights less so. Watch where they stand in the throne room. Loyal warriors stand close to the throne. Some can be influenced by gifts or honors, and may flee to save themselves in battle rather than fighting for their king. Merlin, however, uses his magic to help Arthur. But the more he uses his power, the weaker it becomes, and this limits his ability. He has constructed a map room for the king that shows al of the British kingdoms and reveals enemies and news. All magic takes place in his own room. There he can cast a plague on an enemy's army, or pestilence on a rival's crops, weakening them in their opposition to Arthur. From here he can invisibly transport Arthur to another king's castle to spy on the treasury (to determine the enemy's wealth), the throne room (to tally the power of the king's knights), or the map room (to gauge the king's feelings towards Camelot or another kingdom).

Arthur's own treasury room marks the location of all financial decisions, such as raising taxes and spending money to raise an army. Here he keeps records of tribute paid to him or that he must pay. One column in the records lists the actual values, while a second lists projections (subject to change by joystick control).

If Arthur decides to battle a neighbor, he goes to the map room and declares war on that kingdom, which then turns red on the map. Green signifies neutrality. Next, Arthur moves to the Round Table Room and chooses knights to help him fight. Each knight brings along the peasants that he has trained as soldiers. Arthur should leave at least one knight behind to defend the kingdom. When he exits the throne room, he enters the countryside outside the castle. The computer pauses here to load a large, scrolling map that shows the entire island of Britain, its rivers, seas, castles, and farmland. Arthur and his small band of knights march cross-country to the enemy king's land and begin to pillage his crops. If the enemy king decides to fight, a sword appears in challenge. The computer now pauses to load the battle portion of the game, which resembles Crawford's Legionnaire war game. Two rows of knights face each other on the field, each designated by a shield (one of which spells Crawford's name backwards). Moving the cursor to a knight reveals his name and the number of soldiers with him. You give commands by moving the cursor to a knight, pressing the button, and repositioning the cursor to where you want the knight. The battle can become quite dynamic, with new orders given constantly as the battle progresses. When the knights meet, they flash and you hear clanging sounds. Strength, courage, and tactics determine the outcome. The novice relying on weaker forces often loses the first battle and thus the game.

The game's graphics vary widely. The castle rooms are plain yet informative, but Merlin's room is superbly rendered. Images there sparkle and fade magically. The scrolling map of Britain employs wonderful detail and color, but the battle scenes show only the shields to represent knights.

Excalibur is destined to become a cult game. A highly complex game of strategy, it requires hours, sometimes tens of hours to play. Fortunately, it has a Save-game option. It appeals mainly to the seasoned wargamer or fantasy role-player. Although slow, it holds your interest over an extended time once you have mastered some of the basic elements of play. It requires patience and restraint, certainly, and the novice will need to exercise them to avoid losing the game quickly and becoming discouraged. The level of difficulty alone may discourage many beginners, but those who persevere will find an ample reward in the game's incredible depth.

Overall rating : A Controllability:A-Error handling:N/A
Game concept :ASkill involved: ADocumentation:B+
Creativity:A-Challenge:A-Holds interest ?:B+
Game depth :AGraphics:BValue for money:A-