Rise & Fall: Civilizations at War

We're playing Rise & Fall's multiplayer, against one of the programming team. Aidan - a producer at publisher Midway - is acting as our tactical advisor, explaining the intricacies of this historically inspired 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 hammer the mouse button, cutting swathes through defensive lines.

And it works. Right now, 10, maybe 15, spectators are cheering as Cleopatra - in reality a coder - 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 map, 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. Aidan is clutching his side, almost crying with delight. It's game over.

What this skirmish has demonstrated is just how that 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.