Computer Game #14: “Romance of the Three Kingdoms” (1989)
While you could play against a single opponent from the earliest days of Pong, games that allowed you to take on a multitude of friends were a rare thing. Back before there were fast modems, LANs, and real-time strategy software, the only way you and your buddies could play a computer game together was via the hotseat. Each gamer would take a turn in front of the same computer while everyone waited in the next room, usually talking trash and how they were going to wipe out your army next turn. All of your plotting, scheming, and attacking would have to planned and executed quickly, and it wasn’t uncommon to hear diabolical cackling come from the person in the hotseat — either that or copious swearing, when they realized you had just wiped out their army the previous turn.
The best of these hotseat games was “Romance of the Three Kingdoms,” a rich, dense wargame set in 3rd century China. For all the limitations of the hardware and software, you (and up to a half dozen other players) could still recruit hundreds of historical characters in your bid to take over ancient China. You also had to make sure your followers were happy, your fields full of rice and your people safe from flooding. With the right group of gamers, like we had a couple of afternoons on the Amiga in a friend’s basement, it could be a chaotic, challenging and hilarious session. RTK was so successful it is now in its 12th version, and is available on the iPhone, playable against anyone anywhere. While no doubt faster, it probably doesn’t give you the same experience at the hotseat, with your friend cackling in the next room as he burns your crops.