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Video Game / Centurion: Defender of Rome

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Centurion: Defender of Rome is a Turn-Based Strategy video game with real-time battle sequences, designed by Kellyn Beck and Bits of Magic and published by Electronic Arts. Originally released on the DOS platform for the PC in 1990, the game was later ported to the Amiga and the Sega Genesis in 1991. Centurion shares much of the concept and feel with Beck's earlier game Defender of the Crown (1987) and might be regarded as its Spiritual Successor. In turn, the Total War Series borrows a lot of concepts from both games.

The game begins in Ancient Rome in the year 275 BC, placing the player in the sandals of a centurion in the Roman army, at first leading a single legion. The player's ultimate goal is to become a Caesar through a mix of successful military conquests and internal politics of Bread and Circuses.

The bulk of the game involves turn-based strategic planning and management on the world map and the real-time battles (with on-demand pauses to give orders to formations - i.e. Real-Time with Pause) against various enemies of the Roman Empire, such as the Celts, Carthaginians and Parthians. Centurion also features other "side-show" activities, such as gladiatorial combat (the player's duties involve financing the ludi events), chariot racing in the Circus Maximus, and naval battles. There is also some diplomacy (it is even possible to seduce the queen Cleopatra after forming an alliance with Egypt).

Fan site with information, hints and links to some Abandonware pages that may harbor the game.

Tropes used in Centurion: Defender of Rome include:

  • Alternate History: Winning the game requires conquering nations that were never under Roman rule; Ireland–northern part of Britannia, barbarian peoples between the Rhine and Danube rivers and the Ural Mountains, and Middle East enemies like Parthia.
  • Alternative Calendar: Subverted; the intro uses Ab Urbe Condita (years since the foundation of Rome) but then the game uses the Gregorian calendar (BC / AD).
  • Anachronism Stew/Popular History: The in-game historical date is only a turn counter; the game mixes elements and leaders separated by centuries such as Darius the Great, Hannibal, and Cleopatra.
  • Ancient Rome: An amalgam of The Roman Republic and The Roman Empire.
  • Anti-Cavalry: Not present in the game and the player usually learns it the painful way because enemies with huge cavalry armies are a very hard nut to crack.
  • Arbitrary Headcount Limit: Partially justified, the number of legions you can rise depends on your rank, and you are only a magistrate of Rome, not a supreme ruler.
  • Arch-Enemy: Carthage and Partia never ally with Rome. Lampshaded by their leaders.
  • Artificial Stupidity: The enemy generals only know one tactic, Attack! Attack! Attack!, and sometimes the extremely vulnerable leader is in the first line of combat. Once he dies a big chunk of his army retreats or loses morale.
  • Artistic License – Military: Centurions commanded 100 men, not entire legions, that was done by a Tribune or a Legauts, mid-game ranks. In the game the lower ranks can command 1 or 2 legions.
  • The Assimilator: Given time, barbarian peoples will become Roman citizens, akin to the real life romanization process.
  • Attack Its Weak Point: Attack the elephants from the flank or rear, or the'll make mincemeat out of you. Doesn't apply to the easiest difficulty level, though - they're much weaker there.
  • Attack Pattern Alpha: There are several possible formations and battle plans available before a combat. The enemies rarely use most of them, relying more in frontal assaults.
  • Barbarian Tribe: All the peoples the Romans considered to be "uncivilized" are depicted as savage, hairy, half-naked barbarians. They have different unit graphics and battle music than the "civilized" nations.
  • Beard of Barbarism: Played straight — barbarian infantry has big, unkempt beards, and so do all but one or two of the barbarian leaders (the leader of Dalmatia is a notable exception, having a neatly-trimmed beard).
  • Born in the Saddle: Parthia and Scythia field all-cavalry armies.
  • Bread And Circus: Taxes affect the mood of your people, and the citizens of Rome get rebellious if they don't get frequent Gladiator Games.
  • Break Meter: Courage: Fierce, Good, Weak, Panicky, and Panicked. Every Roman legion or enemy army has a morale rating dependent on the province it originated from (though Roman drill will eventually raise the morale of subpar legions). As a unit takes casualties, and especially if their general is killed, its morale will drop. Once it reaches Panicked, the unit will cease fighting and attempt to flee the battlefield.
  • Chariot Race: One of the mini-games, required to advance your rank. You can pick a chariot weight, place a bet on winning, and engage in skullduggery.
  • Combat by Champion: The fleet battles are represented by the two flagships fighting. The trope is subverted, since winning the flagship battle is not guaranteed to win the fleet battle, as a fleet that lost its admiral will still win if it vastly outmatches the enemy.
  • A Commander Is You: And a leader of several historical field commanders, one per legion.
  • Conscription: Legions are levied and reinforced locally, raising or strengthening one lowers the manpower of their current region and their initial courage depends on that of the habitants of the province where they are raised, it reaches the maximum eventually, thanks to some offscreen BootCampEpisodes going on.
  • Decapitated Army:
    • The death of a general is followed by the general retreat of a significant part of his army. If the units aren't very brave to begin with then it overlaps with Keystone Army. It is even worse if it happens to the player, since he will no longer be able to control his units precisely.
      • Mauretania is a particularly spectacular example. Their morale is so low that their entire army will instantly rout if their general falls.
    • If the player loses Italy, taxes are no longer collected in any province.
  • Dialogue Tree: Each nation has a dialogue tree, where there is only one path that can get the option to assign tribute. Access to the tree is limited by player's rank, number of nations conquered, or for any other reason. For example, some nations respect strength, and will not ally with you if your army is smaller than theirs. Others are the exact opposite - they will distrust you if you bring a huge army to their doorstep.
  • Divide and Conquer: While Carthage will never ally with Rome, it is possible to sway Carthage's colonies and dependencies (Hispania, Sicilia and Sardinia).
  • Easy Communication: Played with. Orders reach units instantly and they will always obey unless they're Panicked. However, you can only change the orders of the units who are within the leader's range of voice (and each leader has a different one.)
  • Empty Promise: You can promise a certain tax setting during a negotiation and then set it at different level, with no real consequences.
  • Exactly What It Says on the Tin: Check, you start as a Centurion and your task is to be a defender of Rome. The Romans however had a particular view on the subject of defense; what a better way to defend a territory than to conquer all the ones around it, crushing any potential enemies... so they spiralled into known-world domination fairly quickly (The Mediterranean Sea was called Mare Nostrum, "this sea of ours").
  • Game Over: Sic transit gloria mundi, the Roman Empire has fallen.
  • Gameplay and Story Segregation: The initial narration states that you are a "Centurion", yet you start the game one rank below as "Officer"
  • General Failure:
    • Enemy generals will use really stupid tactics most of the time. On the higher difficulties this is just as well, since their units are a lot more powerful than yours.
    • Some of your generals have really rubbish stats, meaning you will have less control over your troops, and their morale will be lower. Marcus the Meek comes to mind.
  • Gladiator Games: One of the mini-games. The citizens of Rome get restless if they don't get one from time to time. Also, if you put on a very good show it can speed up your promotion.
  • Hollywood History: Done deliberately, together with lots of Anachronism Stew.
  • Hollywood Tactics: Averted; units are more vulnerable in the flanks and rear and orders can only be given to units in range of their commander. And then played straight by the AI, it usually relies on head-on charges with their very vulnerable leader leading the attack, when the leader dies, most of his army flees. On the higher difficulty levels, relying on this is the only way to defeat some armies without massive losses.
  • Hordes from the East: Scythians and Sarmatians fit the trope best, as Romans see them as fierce barbarians from beyond the edges of the civilized world.
  • Hulk Speak: The leader of Narbonesis talks like this.
  • Idiosyncratic Difficulty Levels: Galley slave (super easy), Legionnaire (medium difficulty), Senator (very hard), Emperor (unwinnable without lots of Save Scumming).
  • Last Stand/Suicide Attack: Required against powerful enemies and in high difficult levels; as only one legion at a time can be deployed in combat often his sole purpose is to soften up and decimate the enemy forces so the next legion have better chances of victory.
  • Lightning Bruiser: Cavalry, which is both faster and more powerful than infantry. Its only weakness is its relatively slow turning speed.
  • Luck-Based Mission: The spawning of marauding armies, enemy fleets, and the opponents you face in the mini-games is mostly random. See under Nintendo Hard, below.
  • Mini-Game: Chariot races and gladiator games, with some parameters that you can adjust with money. Naval battles qualify too, they are just a combat between the flagships and not the whole actual battle, whose outcome does not depend much on the former.
  • Nintendo Hard: The highest two difficulty levels are quite hard to win without Save Scumming, as your enemies get advantages across the board. Much of the difficulty is Fake Difficulty, though. For example: the spawning of enemy marauding armies is mostly random. This means that, on any given turn, an army from Carthage can appear, or a much weaker army from Armenia, or no army at all. It is also extremely difficult to win chariot races without resorting to bribes/cheating simply because your opponents move faster than you, even if you have the same type of chariot. The number of ships in enemy fleets is randomized, too, meaning that you can simply reload until you get better odds.
  • No Indoor Voice: Most Barbarians speak LIKE THIS.
  • Opening Narration: Romulus and Remus founded Rome [snip] and some years after that there you are, an ambitious young centurion sitting idly by the banks of the Tiber river, with a legion.
  • Optional Sexual Encounter: The player can attempt and seduce Cleopatra succesfully if certain conditions are met. The scene is implemented as a special form of diplomatic bargain and ends with a Sexy Discretion Shot.
  • Password Save: The Genesis version uses a 24-character password. The password doesn't contain information about legions, which are redeployed upon load.
  • Permanent Elected Official:
    • You, the game spans decades and centuries but you are an immortal Roman magistrate, with a better rank as time passes and you progress.
    • The political leaders of the other nations are permanent, too. Hannibal will greet you at the gates of Carthage no matter in what century you pay him a visit.
    • The Roman generals hang on in there too until they are killed in battle.
  • Proud Warrior Race: Several, but the Gauls, Sarmatians and Dacians are the most prominent examples.
  • Rags to Royalty: You start as a simple Centurion with a simple legion and end up as Caesar when you win the game.
  • Rank Up: From Officer to Centurion, Tribune, Legatus, General, Praetor, Consul, Pronconsul and finally Caesar.
  • Rape, Pillage, and Burn: The legions can plunder a province for a one-time bounty. Deconstructed as it makes the province poorer for the rest of the game and it annoys the rest of the world.
  • Real-Time with Pause: The battles. Notably, you cannot command troops that are too far from your general.
  • "Risk"-Style Map
  • Save Scumming: You'll need to do this to win on Senator or Emperor difficulty. And even then its hard.
  • Screw This, I'm Outta Here: Panicked units make a 180 degree turn and leave the battlefield. A lot of units panic when their leader is killed so massive routs are common.
  • Shout-Out: The chariot races to Ben-Hur and there are some to Cleopatra (she looks exactly like Elizabeth Taylor) and to Spartacus, among many others concerning classical antiquity.
  • The Smurfette Principle: There is exactly one named female character in the game: Cleopatra.
  • Spiritual Successor: To Defender of the Crown, from the same creator. The Total War series could be considered this to Centurion, since they share a lot of concepts and gameplay.
  • Take Over the World: The goal of the game.
  • Video Game Cruelty Punishment:
    • Plundering an occupied nation makes its romanization progress slower and makes other free nations reluctant to sign an alliance with you.
    • Outrageous taxes often lead to popular uprisings.
    • Sentencing a brave gladiator to death is received poorly by the people, they get more entertained and appeased with a fair pardon.
  • Violence is the Only Option: Averted, you can sweet talk other nations into signing an alliance with you. Unless you're dealing with Carthage, Parthia or Sarmatia - they will never ally with you.
  • War Elephants: Carthage's signature troops. Hispania and some people from Africa and the Middle East field them too.
  • A Winner Is You: A notable aversion, the game gives you a nice compendium of your deeds with numerical data and then you are honoured with a victory parade
  • You Require More Vespene Gas: Talents (money), acquired via taxation of provinces, plundering and winning bets at the races.
  • Zerg Rush: Since legions can't be combined the player has to send wave after wave of them againts the more powerful enemies (e.g the one with huge cavalry forces) that cannot replenish fast enough. Enforced We Have Reserves.