What should a educational game about history seek to accomplish? The obvious answer is to be fun for its intended audience and teach them about history in an engaging way. 1066 makes a valiant effort in both areas, but falls short of being a success.
The first thing to do when playing 1066 is to look at the tutorial; this game is not exactly intuitive. After carefully reading through the instructions you still might find yourself a little lost, but its better then nothing. Since the game is so difficult and complicated, I suggest you select the easiest game difficulty. The game is divided into three separate battles, one as the Vikings, one as the English, and one as the Normans. In each battle you take the role of that factions leader: Harold II, William the Bastard, and Harald Hardrada. The battles start with historical context: what events led up the battle and who was involved. This information is brief, but it is both text and audio, making it easily digestible for the player. The voice of the narrator really helps to set the tone of the game. After the narration is over you can choose your army composition, but I have found that the composition they provide you seems to be the best (at least for a beginner like me!).The actual game play takes place in an interesting graphical format. At the bottom of the screen is a map representing the two armies, divided into units of several hundred men. The top of the screen is a side view of the battlefield, with your units represented by troops of soldiers. In battle you maneuver your soldiers around the battle field, engaging in enemies, taunting them, or firing arrows. Each of these actions starts a mini-game. Some of these mini-games can be amusing, such as typing out a specific insult as fast as you can like “Rump-fed Chicken!” Other mini-games can quickly become tedious, such as hitting arrow keys at specific times, or pressing the space bar repeatedly to power up a charge. Perhaps the most difficult, yet rewarding mini-game is trying to fire arrows. With little instruction on how to do this properly, it took me awhile to figure out how to accurately launch arrows, an essential part of the game. Luckily in the first two battles everything is rather simple, you lack cavalry (which is very situational), or many archers. The final battle has a complex army composition and interesting terrain features that change the flow of battle. As you play through the game you may find yourself questioning the accuracy of the game mechanics. I ended up shouting the enemy army into surrendering several times!
The intended audience for this games appears to be both students and interested members of the public. Since the game is hosted on the website of a “publicly-owned, commercially-funded public service broadcaster,” their interested viewers most likely make up many of the players of 1066. This game does some things very well to appeal to this audience: it has cool graphics, is not over involved with historical text, and does a good job at creating an interesting atmosphere. At the same time it has a number of weaknesses, such as complicated and frustrating game-play. Some of these issues are common problems for educational games, such as that to truly be engaging a game has to focus more on the game play and less on the history. With a game as time consuming as 1066, the ratio of history taught to time spent is skewed. In the end you learn relatively little about 1066, instead you mainly learn about military concepts for medieval battles. This reveals one of the larger issues with historical games. For a game to truly teach us about history it needs to follow a relatively linear format; the more choice a player is given, the less accurate the game is. A game without much choice is not very interesting. Many games try to make up for this by allowing choice telling you what really happened at the end, but this does not completely solve the problem. The gamer is no longer encouraged to innovate when their goal is to match a certain set of events. So instead I think that for a historical game to truly succeed it needs to focus on general concepts that fit the time period it is teaching about (in this case, military tactics of 1066), not actual events. Still though, this game is a step in the right direction to teach interested people about history. It is surprisingly fun for a flash game, and while it may teach little about history, many students would be playing video games without history instead, so it is better then nothing.