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"Tired of just building civilisations?" enquires the copyline for Imperialism. "Why not conquer the world?" This new game promises to combine the constructive features of "God games", particularly Civilisation, with the Machiavellian aggression of Diplomacy. It's a logical step; indeed, Marxist-Leninist theory would assert it is an objectively necessary one. As any Chinese Communist Party cadre will tell you, imperialism is the highest stage of capitalism, initiated when a great power has reached the limits of expansion within its own territory. That's when the ironclads and Dreadnoughts roll down the slipways.

Or did, in the golden age of imperialism during which the game is set. The era is the 19th century, punctuated by technological innovations such as the Bessemer converter and the compound steam engine. Miners hew raw materials from the mountains; engineers build railways; troops manoeuvre. And what about the workers? Despite warnings about agitators in the newspaper, evidently government-controlled, that appear between turns, the workers neither riot nor strike. They eat. Some won't eat anything but fruit and canned food, some insist on grains, and all in all it's like trying to feed a kindergarten. Resource management, they call it.

As the ruler of the land, the player is offered advice by Foreign, Interior and Defence Ministers. They don't necessarily have the larger picture, and their insistent recommendations to build huge fleets or industrial showpiece projects make one suspicious of their motives after a while. The newspaper was nothing if not frank about my foreign minister, describing him as a "wealthy nobleman who believes in the balance of power and the pre-eminence of his own class".

This was Prussia, in 1848. Rather than allowing the game to generate a random scenario based around imaginary countries, I opted to undertake the reunification of Germany between the Year of Revolutions and 1890. The manual categorised this assignment as "hard". "Try to keep Russia friendly," it advised.

That didn't seem like a pressing problem, since a check on the Diplomacy screen indicated that the two powers were in alliance. More urgent was the need for revenue, resources, railways to transport goods to the factories and ports, trade deals with foreign nations, and the workers' incessant appetite for fruit. I became completely absorbed in the jigsaw of economic development. Britain and France fought naval skirmishes, but Prussia's borders remained untroubled. Apart from saving up for an ironclad, I was not inspired to build up the Prussian military. Although I quite wanted to extend a railway line into Austria, it hardly seemed grounds for invasion.

Unlike a minister's job today, playing Imperialism requires constant attention to trade and industry. The only invisible hand is the one that organises the graphics. Despite its name, it is suited best of all to nostalgic socialists, whom it offers an entire virtual economy to command. They might also have the discipline to read the instructions properly. I was a dirigiste in a hurry. By the end of the afternoon, my Prussia had entered the 1860s bearing a marked resemblance to East Germany, with empty shelves in the warehouse and huge mills idling because of shortages.

In the real world, the Prussia that Bismarck took over in 1862 was able to win wars with Denmark in 1864, the other German states in 1866, and France in 1871. In mine, the Danish flag would have been flying over the Brandenburg Gate before you could say, of militia, "their morale breaks easily and their fire is normally inaccurate". But then, I guess Bismarck read the manual.

'Imperialism: A Game of Strategic World Conquest through Economic, Diplomatic and Military Means, featuring Nationalistic Industrial Development, and the Exploitation of Minor Powers and Natural Resources for the Glory of Your Empire' (Windows 95/Mac CD-ROM, Mindscape, pounds 44.99)


The Elephant's Memory is a pictorial language with a mission. "As the Internet turns into a global multi-lingual community, [it] searches for new ways to bridge cultures, and builds a transitional space between natural languages." It's primarily oriented towards children, and kids will certainly love the sentences presented as examples on the Elephant's Memory pages: "Do you hear the frog shout?", "I am thinking of her everyday" (top), "The rabbit is bleeding because a car hit it", "The plane explodes crashing against the mountain", "Seeing elephants shot by men makes me cry", and "I am so happy that you are pregnant" (above).

'tofu, by-product

when lard is removed from the

gelatinous cube'

Anonymous contribution to John Cho's SPAM Haiku Archive, devoted to the leading luncheon meat brand. Number 7454 in a series well on its way to five figures.


Let Web pages breathe free, says Technofile, which is thus happy to salute H's design sensibility. H's bio explains that she was born Heather Champ on the shores of Hudson Bay, Canada, where "she was suckled by polar bears who taught her, among other things, the virtue of brevity, white backgrounds," and "what it means to have a great drop- shadow". The difference between life and death, one imagines, in those latitudes. Her speciality is backgrounds for Web pages, such as this white space with a police-tape border: an apt combination for a child of the frozen North who now lives in New York. This and other images are available free from her Jezebel site.

'ISDN? "It Still Does Nothing". Or,

"Innovation Subscriber

Doesn't Need".

Bottom line: is it worth

pounds 139-pounds 493 connection charges, then over pounds 100 rental a quarter, to get on to the Net at twice the normal speed?'