A&B Computing

The Saxons
By Garland Computing
BBC Model B

Published in A&B Computing 2.09

"It is the year 450. You and your family are Thanes from the Saxon tribe travelling from Europe, where you have heard that the land is good. You have to conquer the Britons already there, but you are strong and you have many good things that you can contribute to British life.

Your task, simply, is to survive. The action starts as you land on the coast of England. Where will you settle?"

The program, which starts somewhere between the years 450 and 630 A.D., is intended primarily for use by chiildren from 8-12 years, working in small groups, who take the part of the head of an imaginary family - the Thane (an important landlord) or a Churl (a less important land owner) - and will from time to time be called upon to make decisions which will affect the life of the family and the village during the period of 5 to 20 years (users' choice). The disc menu offers three choices: 1) setting up home in England in the first year; 2) events that occur during the remainder of your stay; and 3) how well did you survive?

1. At the beginning of the program, a map is displayed with the settlements marked on in according to the tribe of origin (Saxon, Jute, Angle). This is random, and controls the settlements the users have to choose from - if they'd rather be a Jute than a Saxon, they can always press Escape until a suitable character is described! The users then have to plan the settlement on a screen plan, and may have to return to it several times during the simulation to build additional huts to accommodate the increase in population or rebuild some which may have been flooded because of poor positioning. The younger users might have found a grid on the plan useful - it's not difficult to build a hut over the river and there's no way to delete it! - and it would have been helpful if the program designer had kept to the conventional co-ordinate system, i.e. bottom left hand corner as the 'base position'.

At the end of Part 1, the group is given a number to identify data, which is saved to a file named by the group. This is locked automatically to prevent accidental overwriting - one of several very friendly touches to be found throughout.

It is only possible to start Part 2 if the group can give a filename and identifying number from Part 1. As the users have to stipulate the number of years, the simulation is to last in the first part, I couldn't understand why the same question had to be answered again. During this part of the program the group has to deal with realistic problems that occur yearly - location flooding, fire, attacks, following a craft, e.g. pottery, planting crops, problems of village people and organisation - and these stimulate some very interesting discussion. Naturally, the onger the simulation runs, the group has to contend with a greater variety of events.

The third part allows a summary of the final position to the displayed. If an Epson or another compatible printer is available, a printout can be obtained, which is another useful feature.

I have a pre-production version of the notes, which contained brief quotes and background information, details of running the program and a short booklist. They were accompanied by three well produced worksheets to go with the programs. Perfectly adequate, but perhaps one tends to look for just that little extra these days!

The scene is set clearly and well. It requires good preparation lessons, but will stimulate plenty of art/craft work, drama and creative writing, and offer many opportunities for research. The author has been kept to point out that only a "thin structure for the project" has been provided - "it is from their own enthusiasm and imagination that the children will be able to create an adventure in which they play a part."

Des Thomas

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