Warlords (game series)

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Warlords is a computer game series created by Steve Fawkner, in which role-playing elements are combined with turn-based strategy in a fantasy setting. The series includes four official games and two extension packs. Several remakes (both officially supported and fan-contributed) exist.


The central aspects of Warlords game series are units, heroes, cities and diplomacy.


Units are the expendable resource in Warlords, produced and/or purchased in all active cities. Units come in different types such as light infantry, archers, elephants, and even mythological creatures such as minotaurs and unicorns. All units in Warlords have several standard properties: strength, distance of movement per turn, cost, and upkeep. Some have additional special abilities such as fly, bonuses to defense or combat, or traverse difficult terrain without hindrances.[1] Since the introduction of Warlords III, units also have hit points.

Allies are a special type of unit only found by searching ruins or hidden temples. Allies are relatively powerful compared to regular units, don't require upkeep, and often include one or more special abilities. Allies include units such as wizards, dragons, devils, and archons (angels). Some versions of the game, such as Warlords II, have an option to allow cities to produce allies like regular units. In this case, the allies require upkeep and have a production cost.


Heroes are a special type of unit with a unique set of properties and special abilities:[2][3]

  • Possess items - Heroes may pick up items found in ruins or in hidden tombs. These items increase your hero's or his stack combat abilities, player income, or the ability to cast spells (Warlords III);
  • Search ruins and hidden tombs - Heroes may search ruins and hidden tombs to fight a special enemy unit. If successful, the hero is rewarded with money, items, or allies;
  • Receive and complete a quest - A hero may receive a quest from a temple, whereupon completion results in a reward of money, items, or allies. Only one hero at a time may be on a quest;
  • Cast spells - Starting with Warlords III, heroes may gain the ability to cast spells.
  • Experience Points - Heroes are the only units to gain experience points by killing enemy units, conquering cities, and completing quests. More experience results in higher levels, up to a maximum of level 5 (except in Warlords 4) increasing the unit's combat abilities and movement per level. Within Warlords 4 you may keep 3 units from each battle as a personal retinue, this creates a replayability within the game and allows you to obtain very high levels with each of the units you hold in your retinue (waaaay above level 5).

Each player begins play with a level 1 hero at the start of the game. Unlike other units, additional heroes can not be produced by cities or discovered in ruins or hidden tombs. The only way to gain a new hero is to accept an offer in exchange for money. Newly hired heroes often come with allies.[1] Heroes have the potential to be the most powerful unit in the game.


The game flow of Warlords typically involves capturing the cities. The default winning condition is to conquer most of the cities on the map.

The cities are the main source of new units in the game.[1] Up to four different units can be available in a single city with an ability for player to buy production — to replace the currently available units with others at some initial cost. Once the player owning the city orders production of unit, the city will provide new units of a kind until another order is issued. The production may be forwarded from one city to another, allowing player to concentrate armies on the borderline or in another location of strategic interest.[3]

The cities also serve the defense purpose: the defenders of city enjoy the "city bonus", which increases armies' strength. Several units have the special ability to cancel the city bonus.

Once a city falls to another player, he has a choice whether to occupy, pillage, sack or raze it. Once razed, the city can't be rebuilt. Sacking the city removes all the production options returning the player half of their cost. Pillaging the city results in removal of some production options (those being the most expensive units in Warlords and Warlords II and the units player can't produce in Warlords III).


The relations between the players are regulated by the diplomacy: the players should declare wars before actually engaging their armies in battles. While there is a possibility to attack another player without prior negotiations, such behavior may be followed by unilateral declaration of war by all other players on a violator.[2]


The battles in Warlords (with the exception of Warlords IV) are non-interactive. The process of battle is shown as two enemy stacks opposing each other; when a unit is killed it disappears from the battle screen. The outcome of the battle is calculated using the units' abilities and several other factors using a sophisticated algorithm.[3]

Original games of the series[edit]

The games of the series are noted for the strong AI.[4][5]

The games are set in the fantasy world of Etheria, and tend to be based around the traditional premise of good versus evil, with neutrality in between. Heroes on the side of good are the Sirian Knights, the mercantile Empires of Men, the elves and the dwarves. On the side of evil are the demonic horsemen: the Lord of Plague, the Lord of Famine, the Lord of War, and the ever present Lord Bane, Lord of Death.

The politics of the world, however, are more complicated than they first appear, particularly in the third installment of the series. For example, the Minotaurs, who were created as servants for Sartek, the Lord of War, are a neutral race rather than an evil one. Also, the third game opens with the human Empire pillaging and exploiting the newly discovered lands of the peaceful Srrathi snakemen, in an obvious nod to the historical European conquest of the Americas. Most importantly from a player's point of view, a Hero's race is not as important in determining their moral alignment as their choice of class. For example, while the Undead are evil as a rule, an Undead Paladin would be treated as good (though such a thing is only possible in the third game, wherein all previous restrictions on race and class combinations have been removed).


The first game in the series, Warlords, was created in 1989 by Steven Fawkner and was published by SSG. It featured eight different clans battling for the control of the mythical land of Illuria: Sirians, Storm Giants, Grey Dwarves, Orcs of Kor, Elvallie, Horse Lords, Selentines, and Lord Bane. Each clan could either be controlled by the computer or by a human player, allowing up to eight participants taking turns in hot seat play. Gameplay consisted of moving units, attacking opponent units or cities, adjusting production in cities, and moving hero units to explore ruins, temples, libraries, and to discover allies, relics, and other items. The goal of the game was to conquer the land of Illuria by capturing or razing at least two thirds of the cities in the land.[1]

Reviewers cited the basic sound and average graphics of the game, compensated by simple user interface and "high dollar-to-play value".[1][6] Computer Gaming World favorably cited the sophisticated computer opponents, and concluded that the game "has everything to offer the strategy gamer who has a taste for a bit of the fantasy genre", especially those who enjoyed Empire or Reach for the Stars.[7] The magazine named the game and Command HQ as its 1991 Wargames of the Year.[6] In a 1993 survey of pre 20th-century strategy games the magazine gave the game three stars out of five, stating that it was "eminently playable".[8]

Warlords II[edit]

Following the success of Warlords, SSG released Warlords II in 1993. This version included five maps (although the later released mission pack increased the number). Another new feature was 'fog of war' - optionally, enemy units or even the map could be concealed from players without units close enough to see them. The interface of the game was improved, as were the graphics (with additional unique city graphics for each different player). Moreover, the game featured multiple army, city, and terrain sets (still in 16 colours), play by e-mail as well as hot seat, and a random map generator and map editor.

The updated version of the game — Warlords II Deluxe — was released in 1995. It allowed for custom tile, army and city sets for maps and provided support for 256 colours. Thanks to the publication of the editor, Warlords II Deluxe led to an increase of user-created content. Many new maps, army and terrain sets, and scenarios were distributed on the Internet for the game.[2]

Computer Gaming World in 1993 stated that other than the lack of a better victory screen, "every other aspect of Warlord II is worthy of respect and admiration", praising the AI as "one of the finest on the market".[9]

Warlords III[edit]

After a four-year hiatus, SSG developed Warlords III: Reign of Heroes.

The game was released for Microsoft Windows and used new system capabilities to dramatically improve graphics:[4]

The heroes acquired the ability to cast spells to receive the temporary benefit. Each spell has its price expressed in mana points, which became the second (after gold) resource in game.

The campaign system also became more advanced: the heroes from the previous game of the campaign followed the user to the new game, keeping their experience and items.[3]

Another new feature of the Reign of Heroes is the flexible races concept: every player had a number of pre-defined units he was able to produce, and an additional number of units that could join him. This allowed for more consistent storyline in the campaigns and made players' advancement more challenging, as the natural production of the further cities normally wasn't matching the player's race.

Unlike the previous versions Reign of Heroes provided several hero classes. Each class has its own upgrade paths and costs of upgrade options. The upgrade options themselves became user-selectable, giving the player more control over the heroes' development.

The city levels in Reign of Heroes became more important, as in battles it equaled to city bonus. The players received ability to promote cities to next level for a fixed amount of gold.

The units received hit points, making more powerful units the harder targets for the weaker, and bringing more diversity to the army sets. The increased number of army bonuses led to more complicated battle outcome calculation. Furthermore, several army bonuses allowed respected armies to kill the more powerful enemies from the first attack, which made the battle outcome yet less predictable.

The concept of diplomacy was further refined by adding new state of diplomatic relations: Treaty. This state allowed players trespassing each other's cities and winning the Allied victory exterminating all other parties. Another diplomacy-related feature introduced in Reign of Heroes was the ability to bribe enemies, thus influencing their diplomatic decisions. The amount of bribe was fine-tunable; the more substantial bribe was, the greater chances of needed decision were.[3]

In addition to the previously available multiplayer modes (hotseat and play by email) the Reign of Heroes introduced the ability to play over network.[10]

The game CD included the soundtrack in CD-DA format.

Shortly after releasing Reign of Heroes, SSG followed with Warlords III: Dark Lords Rising — a stand-alone expansion pack. It featured the new maps and units and contained the sample graphics to facilitate development of alternative tile, army and city sets. The plot of the main campaign continued where the previous game had left off.[10]

Warlords III like Warlords II had a campaign editor and realistic terrain model.[10]

By the time of Warlords III games' releases the real-time strategy game genre was in full-swing, so there was less of a market for turn-based games. The oncoming rush of first person shooters and first generation MMORPGs also didn't help the popularity of the series. The turn-based strategy genre in general would take a hit during this period.[11]

Warlords IV[edit]

Warlords IV, released in 2003,[12] used pre-rendered 3D sprites for its unit and city graphics and particle graphics for various effects. Despite this, the game had an overall 2D look to it.

The game flow was dramatically simplified. Diplomacy played virtually no role in the game, and micromanagement of units was scaled-down to a great extent. Rather than having multiple units battling it out at once, combat is one-on-one: the players could choose which unit they wished to send into battle, one after another in the stack. The units with ranged attack capabilities get involved in every round in the battle regardless of active unit though. In warfare, the cities no longer added a fixed amount to the fighting value of the defenders, rather they have random archery shots between each strike of the defenders.

Although heroes were still obtainable in the usual way, it was now possible to routinely produce them in the top level castles as well.

The city upgrades became more important, as the level of city determines the range of units it can produce.

The races in game became predefined: knights, empire, elves, dark elves, dwarves, dragons, undead, demons, orcs and ogres. Each of these races had their traits, giving them advantages and disadvantages regarding the race of opposing player. Each player had a certain favored race, and the pace of production of units belonging to other races depended on the interracial relations.

The player's character in this game was personified as a special unit which only involved in battles over capital city and couldn't move around the map. The defeat of the warlord led to defeat of the player, so that all his cities became neutral. Depending on the traits the player picked at the time of warlord creation, he got some benefits and limitations in the game. The warlord character could be reused in other campaigns.

Warlords IV received a lackluster reception. Game Rankings, for example, shows an aggregate review score for the game of 70%, about ten percentage points lower than both Warlords III games.[13]

One of the reasons this version was not as popular was due to the poor quality AI.[14][15] The game was easily beaten on any difficulty when playing against computer players. The 1.04 patch fixed many of the AI issues, rebalanced the races, and fixed issues in the original version. This patch was released at the beginning of 2006 long after the original game's release, which may have affected its ability to revitalize interest in the game.

According to Steve Fawkner, this game was built from scratch in 6 months by Infinite Interactive after being handed it by SSG in an incomplete form, and is why the game is not up to previous standards.[14] To date it remains the least popular game of the series.[16]


Warlords II for Windows Mobile[edit]

On 27 October 2003 Pocket PC Studios released a Windows Mobile clone of Warlords II.[17] The game featured the graphics and gameplay of the Warlords II for DOS with the slight user interface changes (related to devices' capabilities) and 200 pages of manual in Microsoft Reader format. Unlike the original game the remake featured several multiple language support with several localizations available.[5]

Warlords Classic[edit]

On 26 October 2010 ALSEDI Group release Warlords Classic — a remake of original Warlords game for iPhone.[18] The remake preserved most of the game traits with only the subtle changes: the user interface of the game was adapted to iPhone and the game is saved automatically after each turn.[19] On 10 June 2012 ALSEDI Group also release "Warlords Classic" — more accurate port of original game for iPhone and iPad. This version implements artifacts, production vectoring & more powerful AI.


FreeLords project was started in 2000 by Michael Bartl with a goal to create a FLOSS game closely resembling classical Warlords.[20] Game was written in C++ and in 2006 the developers started rewriting the project from scratch, this time with Java.[21] Latest release is from December 2014.[22]


The abandoned C++ code base of FreeLords was taken over by Ben Asselstine, who named his project LordsAWar!.[23][24] The goal was set to reimplement Warlords II as close as possible. The development began with removal of features not found in the original game. Identification and implementation of missing Warlords II functionality followed.[25] As of October 2011 the game is playable locally and mostly feature complete, but network play is still broken.


Warbarons can be played for free within a web-browser. Being web-based makes it easier to find human opponents to play with. Development was started in 2009 by Mattias Carlstrom and Jonte Rydberg, initially not intended to be a Warlords clone. However, with help from members of the Warlords' player community, the game developed many striking similarities: map with square tiles, stacks of up to 8 units, the entire combat system, ruins, cities, temples, heroes, allies, etc. Notable differences to Warlords are: the level system for heroes (similar to Warlords III, but differing skills and classes); the absence of hero quests (sages just improve hero abilities) and that ships for water movement are not built, but instantly bought instead. As of August 2015, Warbarons[26] is fully playable online and still actively maintained and improved by its original developers.

See also[edit]

External links[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e Lesser, Hartley; Lesser, Patricia & Lesser, Kirk (August 1991). "The Role of Computers". Dragon (172): 57–58. 
  2. ^ a b c Barnett, Glen (27 June 1995). "Warlords II frequently asked questions list". GameFAQs. GameSpot. Retrieved 26 December 2011. 
  3. ^ a b c d e Kasavin, Greg (2 September 1997). "Warlords III: Reign of Heroes Review". GameSpot. Retrieved 26 December 2011. 
  4. ^ a b Sengstack, Jeff (7 February 1997). "Warlords III: Reign of Heroes Preview". GameSpot. Retrieved 26 December 2011. 
  5. ^ a b "PocketPC Studios introduces Warlords II - Pocket PC Edition". 3 November 2003. Retrieved 28 November 2011. 
  6. ^ a b "Computer Gaming World's 1991 Games of the Year Awards". Computer Gaming World. November 1991. pp. 38–40, 58. Retrieved 18 November 2013. 
  7. ^ Emrich, Alan (April 1991). "The Game Which Would Be King". Computer Gaming World. p. 73. Retrieved 17 November 2013. 
  8. ^ Brooks, M. Evan (June 1993). "An Annotated Listing of Pre-20th Century Wargames". Computer Gaming World. p. 136. Retrieved 7 July 2014. 
  9. ^ Dille, Ed (November 1993). "Art Thou A Worthy Opponent?". Computer Gaming World. pp. 186–188. Retrieved 28 March 2016. 
  10. ^ a b c Shamma, Tahsin (18 September 1999). "Warlords III: Darklords Rising Review". GameSpot. Retrieved 5 May 2009. 
  11. ^ Wojnarowicz, Jakub (22 February 2001). "Editorial: What Happened to Turn-Based Games?". FiringSquad. p. 6. Retrieved 21 October 2011. 
  12. ^ "Warlords IV: Heroes of Etheria". GameFAQs. Retrieved 13 February 2008. 
  13. ^ "PC » Strategy » Turn-Based » Fantasy » Warlords IV: Heroes of Etheria". CBS Interactive Inc. Retrieved 21 October 2011. 
  14. ^ a b "Warlords IV: Heroes of Etheria Wrap Report". IGN Entertainment. 2004-01-05. Archived from the original on 4 February 2007. 
  15. ^ Abner, William (8 November 2003). "Reviews: Warlords IV: Heroes of Etheria". GameSpy. Retrieved 21 October 2011. 
  16. ^ "Which one is your favourite Warlords game?". Warlorders. Retrieved 24 November 2011. 
  17. ^ "Warlords II". GameSpy. Retrieved 28 November 2011. 
  18. ^ Uskov, Grigoriy; ALSEDI Group (26 November 2010). "App Store - Warlords Classic". App Store. Retrieved 5 November 2011. 
  19. ^ "Warlords Classic". GameFAQs. GameSpot. Retrieved 26 December 2011. 
  20. ^ "About FreeLords". FreeLords project. Retrieved 21 November 2011. 
  21. ^ "Commit for Java". FreeLords project. Retrieved 6 May 2013. 
  22. ^ "Release 0.0.3". FreeLords project. Retrieved 6 May 2013. 
  23. ^ Asselstine, Ben (31 March 2011). "LordsAWar! a Warlords II clone". LordsAWar! project. Retrieved 21 November 2011. 
  24. ^ Asselstine, Ben. "AUTHORS". SVN. LordsAWar! project. Retrieved 21 October 2011. 
  25. ^ Asselstine, Ben. "LordsAWar! todo list". LordsAWar! project. Retrieved 21 October 2011. 
  26. ^ "Turn based strategy game for free in the browser". www.warbarons.com. Retrieved 2015-08-28.