An ambitious but disappointing clone of Blue Byte?s popular The Settlers series, Knights and Merchants offers little to distinguish it or lift above the commonplace, although it does try to eliminate the tedious micromanagement that plagues the final stages in The Settlers-- not successfully, though.
The idea in the game is simple: build villages, example, and conquer your neighbors. You place different structures on a regional map and connect them with roads to provide the goods and services your burgeoning village needs. You then create little people to work in and on these buildings, create more little people and give them weapons to fight, and then watch as no one does what you tell them to do.
Similar to games of this ilk, the gameplay of Knights and Merchants hinges on a logical chain of dependencies between buildings, units, and raw material. But unlike The Settlers, the production chain may break down without a warning, for example when the woodcutter decides to go to lunch, i.e. break for meals. Unless you have the foresight to lay up stores in advance, production will grind to a halt. Exacerbating the problem is the serious lack of user control over units: many workers simply decide to ignore you no matter how often you tell them to do something.
The military element is equally frustrating. You are able to recruit and equip a wide array of soldiers (archers, pikemen, lancers, knights, etc.), then send them into battle. Unfortunately, they are none too bright as they regularly fail to defend themselves or take any attack initiative. And to add insult to the injury, victory requirements for each map are never clearly stated. Fortunately, the enemy AI is as pathetic as your units: the enemy?s army will often stands just out of range, oblivious to your village?s utter lack of defense, until you build up your army and attack him.
Overall, Knights and Merchants is an ambitious game that fails too many counts of poor AI. Despite some interesting building elements and an intricate production web of interdependencies second to none, Knights and Merchants simply lacks what it takes to lift it above average. If you enjoy The Settlers, try Beasts & Bumpkins or the recent Cultures. instead for a good alternative.