[dregenrocks] The player has to explore the continent of africa in search for a valuable tomb containing the so called "Heart Of Africa". You start in Cairo or another main african city at the coast and buy some basic equipment like a canoe, weapons, tools, food and gifts. With this stuff you start to explore the inner land, by canoeing down rivers or just by walking through the deserts, jungles and wide steppes of the continent. On the way you discover famous landmarks to earn some money and meet villagers, to earn some valueable informations about hidden crates and treasures (i.e. gold, silber, ivory). For this you have to give other treasures or a lot of gifts instead to the village-chiefs, who tell you about those secrets. You will also trade for food and may need to get back to one of the harbour-towns to refresh (save game), get money and new equpment. This will become a "treasure-trade-circle" until some chief may tell you about the "Heart Of Africa", your goal to get riches of your ancestor...
[Mr Creosote] The 'civilized' port towns are definitely always in the same places. Also, major landmarks like the Nile are always in place, of course. The minor stuff is randomized, though, like the exact location of hidden valuables and tools which differs slightly every time you start the game. So, your goal is to find this.... tomb?
[dregenrocks] Yes, it is. To find the Heart of Africa within 5 years.
[Johann67] And claim your inheritance.
[dregenrocks] Since it's nearly impossible to finish this game the first time, you'll need more than one try, to learn some basics about the African landmarks.
[Johann67] And having some idea about what you can expect in what town. Once I found a crate about two millimeters away from my starting position.
[Mr Creosote] To understand these hints the chiefs give you, the official map which came with the original game is very helpful, because the chiefs always make references to names of regions. It's of course also possible to make such a map by yourself with some patience.
[dregenrocks] Yes, at least I hope that.
[Mr Creosote] What I spent most of the time with in the game is paddling down rivers in a canoe.
[dregenrocks] Which is probably the most efficient way to explore most of the country.
[Johann67] True, but canoes do slow you down on land.
[dregenrocks] But I think most of the valueble crates are far away from rivers, well hidden.
[Mr Creosote] It's funny that this is basically how Africa was actually 'explored' in those days.
[dregenrocks] Yes, the atmosphere is really great.
[dregenrocks] But the controls are somewhat... slow?
[Mr Creosote] Yes, the controls are a major hurdle at the beginning. It's not very intuitive.
[Johann67] True. Glad to see that I'm not the only one with that problem
[Mr Creosote] Once I got the hang of it, it worked quite efficiently, though, so there has been some thought put into them, apparantely.
[dregenrocks] It's really hard when you're in town and try to walk diagonally. Way to slow. Altough, I like the look of the interface.
[Johann67] Plus you have to dodge villagers who steal your stuff there.
[dregenrocks] Yes, sometime they steal randomly, which is really annoying.
[Mr Creosote] You can avoid that by carrying gifts in your hand, though.
[Johann67] Not always. Most of the time the villagers will steal what's in your hand, but occasionally it will come from your inventory even if you are carrying something in your hand.
[Mr Creosote] It should be noted that the interface sometimes also plays a role in the gameplay itself. For example, when you get poisoned or wander around the desert without water for too long, the controls don't really work anymore.
[Johann67] I found that a nice twist
[dregenrocks] Yes, very funny for the author of the game, but if you are not really into it, it's very annoying.
[Johann67] But a nice attempt at semi-realism, IMO
[Mr Creosote] It does add to the urgency of the whole situation. Like when you row down a river and only have rations for two weeks left.
[dregenrocks] Yes, there has to be some strategy or you're lost in Africa.
[Mr Creosote] What's really great about the interface is how it really does everything for you. There is no need to take notes on a sheet of paper, as everything is recorded in your diary automatically. Everything the chiefs tell you, everything you've found and so on.
[dregenrocks] The journal is a really nice, unique feature, which adds a lot to the atmosphere.
[Johann67] And since there are no big side-quests, the journal doesn't get garbled. Nice atmosphere, and I think one of the first games to get that feature right.
[dregenrocks] Yes, but the interface can also be dangerous. For example if you forget to put away your gun and you walk into a village, the people are scared and attack you next time.
[Mr Creosote] But at least you can steal their stuff, then.
[Johann67] That raises another question: are there vital people you can't kill?
[dregenrocks] I think not. I don't think there is anyone to kill, expect youself in the desert. Everything seems to be done automatically for you. Also the items are used automatically, when they can be used, which ist really useful, especially for finding crates. But may be sometime annoying, too. But not very often.
[Johann67] No, I think that is done nicely.
[dregenrocks] Sad, that you can't put away something so easily.
[Johann67] That's true. like leave your canoe on a river bank automatically.
[dregenrocks] I always had to drop everything and take again what I wanted to have, which was always everything, but the canoe.
[Mr Creosote] The limitation of how much you can carry can get annoying. Realistic, but annoying.
[dregenrocks] With the drawback, that all items weight the same.
[Johann67] However, the realism adds to the atmosphere. At least for me.
[dregenrocks] A smaragd weighs the same as the canoe.
[Johann67] Yep. That's a bad point.
[dregenrocks] A way to bypass the inventory limit, is to open storages on open terrain, where everything except food can be stored, although storing food at strategic places in the landscape would really make sense. But to create a strategy based on encampements in important places, the given time (5 years) is not enough.
Accessibility / Replayability
[Mr Creosote] In spite of the interface quirks, I found the game quite easy to get into. After some thinking, I found out this was because of the lack of a money problem. You earn money just by exploring the land in the beginning, so you can't really do much wrong as long as you always have enough gifts to buy food from the tribes.
[Johann67] The game is easy to get into, but a map and manual are definitely advisable.
[Mr Creosote] Finishing it is another question, of course, but at least you can play quite carelessly from the start.
[dregenrocks] Yes, also without a target the game is worth playing. Some sort of a continental, mini-elite? Although the "world" is a lot smaller and not that deep.
[Johann67] True. More characters to interact with would have been nice. But it's an old game, and disk space was precious.
[Mr Creosote] Actually, the whole game feels very much like its predecessor, 7 Cities of Gold. The whole exploring, the trading,...
[dregenrocks] In fact there is "only" the big map to explore with some landscape and exploration-aspects. And some "dungeons" (villages). Even the crates are "only" some place with earth and item laying around.
[Johann67] What I really liked about the game, is that apart from small things like the emerald/canoe thing, there aren't any real unatmospheric elements in it.
[dregenrocks] That's right. But at some point it's not replayable.
[Johann67] True. Little replay-value because of lack of depth. This is one of the first games I've ever seen with the combination of good atmosphere and little depth.
[Mr Creosote] Sure, it's a pity that the map is basically the same every time. Although in general, I prefer 'real world' maps in strategy games, an additional world randomizer would have done wonders.
[dregenrocks] Yes, at least for the unknown villages and deep-africa terrains, still to explore. But probably it was not possible back than. Lacking CPU-power.
[Mr Creosote] We've praised the game a lot now. What about downsides, though? I found searching the villages for the two important huts quite annoying. It's just a matter of walking the lines of buildings from left to right, but sometimes, there are huge gaps between buildings, so you can easily miss an important one.
[dregenrocks] Yes, that's a drawback. You can buy a map from the villagers, though. But, since it's always the same pocedure and the village-maps don't change from game to game its usefullness is questionable.
[Mr Creosote] Also, the graphics are ok, but basically, everything is just.... yellow. Nice touch to have different 'tribes' look differently, though.
[dregenrocks] That's right, but I think the graphics are quite fitting, expect the main window could be bigger. The different ethnics are really joyful, but on the border of political correctnes...
[Mr Creosote] That's where the game shows its age.
[dregenrocks] I also like the people look all so anonymous. That's a very nice design-touch.
[Johann67] That's what i dislike.
[Mr Creosote] Could you explain that?
[dregenrocks] Well, the adventurer has no face and every african of a tribe looks the same. There is still a lot room for imagination.
[Mr Creosote] Ah, yes. I guess that's more of a technical limitation, though. Saves memory and disk space.
[dregenrocks] It's only a help for imagination, like illustration for books. But I like it though. There is not everything given like it has to look. A big difference to media these days where there is no more room for any imagination.
[Johann67] I don't agree. Faces, even limited, add depth.
[Mr Creosote] Sure. I agree up to a certain degree, but I still think it's not really wanted as a design feature, but a technical limitation. The designer certainly would have wanted to have it differently. That's speculation, though.
[dregenrocks] That's probably right.
[Mr Creosote] So, anything else you can think of?
[Johann67] No hazardous encounters... or not enough.
[dregenrocks] Yes, the event-list is quite limited. You can "meet" animals, but that's always bad luck. On the other hand: What could happen in African bush?
[Mr Creosote] It's quite humorous how they're documented in the diary, though.
[dregenrocks] Agreed. some sort of a generator which creates sentences from a limited repertoire.
[Mr Creosote] So, everybody could write some sort of conclusion?
[dregenrocks] It's a nice and unique game of exploration. A lot to discover with a lot of atmosphere. Due to limited depth the replay value is limited. too. the graphics fit, still not perfect, while the interface is quite intuitive. There is no sound.
[Mr Creosote] It does have an opening tune...
[Johann67] Which is nice, by the way.
[dregenrocks] True, and some beeps... So: nearly no sound since the opening tune is only heard during the opening.
[Mr Creosote] Right.
[dregenrocks] It's very easy to get into the game at first and it can be quite addictive at first, since the player has early success easily. But at some point, when you try to finish the game, it may become boring and one-dimensional.
[Johann67] It's an adventure-style game with a real 19th-century-style atmosphere, which is done quite well for an old game. The interface is difficult at first, but you can get used to it. Graphics are a weak point, occasionally, but they don't really detract from the atmosphere, so it doesn't really matter. Inventive cgenerators have been added to a very nice diary-function. And even though the towns are strangely set up, maps are at hand to help. So at a whole, if you're into adventurous gaming, and aren't daunted by a head-first plunge into the depth without a manual, get this game. If you are easily turned away, don't try it, because the game can get difficult. On the whole, I give it a four out of six, closer to 4.5
[dregenrocks] Nothing to add. 4 from 6 stars.
[Mr Creosote] I'm quite impressed with the game. Especially the accessability was a rare treat in those days. The exploration always keeps me motivated, and I don't remember ever getting bored with it. Although it certainly could be better with more maps / randomized ones, the limitation of the setting and the actions you have to take never put me off. So, I don't really agree with the lack of depth. It's a very unique mixture of adventuring / trading / exploration indeed, and that alone seperates it from the typical shallow level of those days. Graphics are alright. Practical probably describes it best. The interface is efficient, I think we all agree there. So, on the whole, I give it a 5.
[Johann67] Efficient? True.
[Mr Creosote] True classic - nothing more to be said.
[dregenrocks] Yes =)
[Johann67] Originality factor? High, so a classic in the making.
[dregenrocks] That's exactly the point. It's highly unique, the idea is really great and despite a few quirks it's well made.