Instead of giving French perfume this holiday season, here's a twist: Give a French computer game that replays the Civil War.
In North & South, either side can win. It's a great combat game. Each army has cavalry, cannon and foot-soldier divisions. Players move units in an effort to capture territories.When two forces contest for land, there's usually a pitched battle. Clever strategists can surround the enemy and win without wasting a shot. If you win land, you can collect taxes and buy supplies. To move supplies, you must capture railroad land and rail-link forts. The game's good for hundreds of hours of play. Even the sound-track music is entertaining.
The game is for one or two players and has three levels of difficulty. You can control the Rebs or Union Blues. In arcade mode, you needn't worry about strategy. Or you can just plan strategy and let the computer decide who wins. It's colorful in color video, but it's playable in monochrome.
We recommend North & South for beginning and intermediate combat game players from eight on up. It's $40 for IBM compatibles and Atari ST, $45 for Amiga and will be out soon for Commodore 64. Sorry, no Mac or Apple version. Data East: (408) 286-7074.
Are your children (of any age) tired of chess, checkers, Go and similar computerized board games? Give them a new challenge in Accolade's Ishido: The Way of Stones. It's simple enough for a 7-year-old. Even helps kids learn colors and shapes. But winning takes patience and planning.
The game booklet tells us Ishido is ancient. This version is for one or two players working competitively or cooperatively.
It starts with a 96-square game board and a pouch of 72 "stones" of different shapes and colors. The trick is to place stones, one by one, so that touching stones all have the same color or pattern. Each correct match earns points.
Players creating a four-way stone pattern can get answers (in riddles and symbols) from a built-in Oracle, similar to a Ouija board. If you get tired of playing with stones that come with the game, you can create your own shapes and colors.
Ishido works on floppy or hard drive IBM compatibles, Macintosh and Amiga. It can be played on a monochrome monitor and the IBM version needs no mouse. It lists at $55. (Accolade: (800) 245-7744.) Abracadata's Design Your Own Train is fun for any model train buff. It comes in a $60 IBM compatible version and a $50 edition that works on the entire Apple II line.
A slightly different $50 Macintosh version is called MacInooga Choo-Choo. For beginners, there's a sample layout ready to run trains on. Or build your own layouts with corners, switches and multiangled intersections. Add stations, trees, lakes, homes and office buildings. Load and unload freight. Toot the whistle. Save and reuse layouts.
Since a train shows up onscreen as little more than a dot on a map, you can call it a bus, trolley car or auto. A sample bus layout recreates an actual route in Eugene, Ore. A painting tool draws and colors layouts you make yourself. Lazy players can buy a $30 12-layout add-on called Train Library.
Warn youngsters to read the manual. Until we read it, we didn't find the game's pull-down menus. It also takes some hunting to find out how to drop a train onto a layout. Expect to assist kids under 9 until they catch on.
After that, moms may have to pull dads away from the fun.
Abracadata ((800) 451-4871) also sells Run Your Own Train. It doesn't build trains or add scenery. Layouts take up just one-fourth of a screen. On the other hand, you also get a bird's-eye view of the track. It's $35 for Apple, $40 for IBM.
For anyone on your holiday gift list who collects computerized racing games, Accolade offers yet another wrinkle: Heat Wave. It races the powerboat of your choice against the field through Florida canals, Mississippi waterways and other challenging courses. Players can't take part in a bona fide race until they qualify, but a practice mode teaches you how.
There are several types of boats to race, each acting a bit differently in the water. Keyboard or joystick, the commands are easy to remember and use. The control panel has real-life instrumentation. Modifying any course creates new challenges.
Heat Wave is $45 for Amiga and Atari, $40 for IBM compatibles and $30 for Commodore 64.