Rise & Fall: Civilizations at War

We're playing Rise & Fall's multiplayer, against one of the programming team. One of the producers is acting as our tactical advisor, explaining the intricacies of this historically inspired real-time strategy game. Rise & Fall 's trick is to let you directly control a "hero" unit, as if it's an action game.

You can first order your foot troops and cannon fodder into battle, then press "Q", and zoom down to ground level. Now you can personally run around the skirmish lines with a great big axe, or bow and arrow, and take out your enemy's troops with a wallop. You mad-hammer the mouse button, cutting through defensive lines like a Tasmanian devil.

And it works. Right now, 10, maybe 15, spectators are cheering as Cleopatra - in reality a programmer - is being broadly beaten about the face by Ramses (us) and his oversized hammer. It's a hilarious, gratifying sight: for a good hour our armies have scrapped around an oasis, searching for an opening.

Now she's struggling - her little character charges to the left, but is trapped. Then she surges right. No escape. You can almost see the panic in the tiny avatar. We clutch our sides, almost crying with delight as we cut down the queen.

What this skirmish has demonstrated is just how a single hero unit can transform a strategy game. We made first contact with Cleopatra early - she had scouted all the way up to the defensive towers we'd placed at one entrance to our base. It was instantly clear that this interloper was no foot soldier.