Praetorians is just what I needed back then.
Let's start with the story. Praetorians is based on the conquest of the Romans, meaning you'll take the role of a general, who is dispatched with troops to a certain place (map) and needs either to conquer the enemies villages, or try to ally with them, if possible.
The game is split into around 21 scenarios and you can chose between 3 difficulty levels: easy, normal and hard. The difference between them, is the amount of troops you are dispatched with, which, trust me, makes a lot of difference. Why? Keep reading.
As soon as the scenario starts, you can't have your peasants (you don't even have or will have those) build a village, or gather resources. You are to fight the scattered enemy troops and conquer the enemy villages. Each village has a certain max amount of population and it's on it that you recruit more soldiers. Your general (mainly called hero), enters the village and you are given the option to recruit a handful of troops, from infantry, to archers, to spear-men, cavalry, healers and other special troops (like legions, gladiators and Praetorians). Another aspect that makes Praetorians unique is the fact that troops are recruited in groups rather than a single unit (except for the scouts and the healers). These troops all have special abilities and you can divide them to your liking.
The game is carefully designed so each troops has its strengths and weakness. Archers are good against spear-men, because they can hit and run, and are good against buildings (by using fire arrows). On the other hand, they are totally wiped out by any type of Cavalry. In almost every scenario you have a hero that you need to protect. If he dies, then it's game over. Your hero starts in level one and levels up until level 5. Each level requires a certain amount of experience, which is gained by killing other enemy troops, as is the special HP (not Hit Points, Honor Points). Honor Points are required to recruit special troops like the gladiators and Praetorians.
About the campaign itself.. One could say it's hard even on easy mode, specially for newcomers. Some levels require a lot of patience, mainly because you need to keep recruiting troops on the villages, which if I may add, takes time. Each troop takes a certain amount of time to be recruited - for instance archers take 60 seconds - Praetorians take 90 seconds. Also, you will run out of villagers at a certain point and will need to wait for the population to increase. It's a lot of time if you put it together. But what makes the game hard is the unpredictability of each scenario. Enemy troops can hide in, for instance forests or in tall grass. So, while you searching the map with your troops, you can get totally wiped out and need to restart.
Praetorians does come with a nice multiplayer. You can play with up to 7 players using an internet connection. There's a wide variety of maps to chose from, as well as nations. You can be a Roman, a barbarian and an Egyptian. (you can also be many more nations in the fan made patches released in the past years, which also add more maps).
Praetorians can be a little unfair and its scenarios based on restarts until you actually learn how to gasp the unnecessary battles that wipe out your precious, few troops but it undoubtedly stands out by its unique gameplay and troop building.
With the average to good graphics, the adequate price and replay value and the unique gameplay, I consider Praetorians to be good.
Price: 7/10 (back in 2003)
Graphics: 7/10 (back in 2003)
Replay Value: 6/10