BALOR OF THE EVIL EYE / Koei / PC
Like most Koei games, Balor is a strategy/war game set in a rough approximation of real human history. Unlike most Koei games, the setting is Ireland (Eire) rather than the East. Like most Koei games, it's complex and a little difficult to get into, especially if you don't have a manual. It's not as complex and off-putting as the Romance of Three Kingdoms games, however, and the interface is actually mostly intuitive and the rhythms of the game are pretty easy to learn.
So I guess evil dwarf dude Balor rises up in Eire and uses his violent bloodthirsty clan to totally take the place over. There's about twenty fragmented tribes but they aren't really united in any way, and Balor is extorting yearly "tribute" payments of grain and cattle from them. The situation actually didn't seem tremendously bad to me since Balor doesn't jack you for all that much loot, but no one likes a tyrant so we'll choose one of eight of these tribes and work to build alliances and run Balor off the island once and for all.
Most of your hassle actually comes from your neighbors rather than Balor, who seems to remain an unprovoked element in his own province unless you refuse to pay his yearly demands. They'll be forever jumping you in your territory and trying to steal your cattle by night and there's really only two things to do about it - bribe them into alliance with gifts of resources, or conquer their asses and subjugate them (no one said anything about having to have the moral high ground on Balor, I guess.)
So the game is almost like a turn-based version of Warcraft, really. Each character starts out with a handful of Champions, who are your only units in the game and who perform all your vital activities. Turns take place on a monthly basis. You can have them chop wood, mine for metal, tend cattle or play stickball to boost their combat stats. Every now and then they need a month-long snooze to recover their stamina too. You also send them exploring one territory in each cardinal direction, which tells you whether or not anyone is there and allows you to start interacting with it. If you enter an unoccupied territory first, it's yours by default, but you could get jumped at any time by one of the other tribes. If the territory is already occupied by another tribe, you can start up diplomatic negotiations with them, which largely involves plying them with the resources they need.
Combat isn't very exciting, as it's basically just two units colliding with each other while numbers tick down, but I guess it's functional. Some characters can cast Druid spells by using combinations of runes, to melt enemies in a lava orb or drop rocks on them or things of that nature. You learn new spells from wandering Champions who pop into your Champion Tents in your territories, and who seem to wander the land randomly. This aspect will be very familiar to those who played Inindo and/or Uncharted Waters, as it's quite similar to the system of recruiting ninjers/sailors in those games.
Overall I like the game, but it's kind of slow and not all that exciting most of the time. The artwork is really nice, the music is OK, and I like the depth and replay value - tribes start out with very different strengths and positioning on the map is a major factor, and NPC characters actually act with marked personalities that dictate what you can expect them to do. I like the Celtic theme as a nice change of pace from the usual gaming fare, but I wish they did more with it than make it a fairly by-the-numbers resource mining and war fighting sort of game. If you like that, or Koei games in general, this is a very solid one that doesn't have the steep learning curve or make the mental demands on you that their more complex stuff does.
* Gameplay Video