Demo Disc

A minute’s silence in memory of the demo disc, if you please. Coup de grâced by broadband, the wafer of wonders* that once clung limpet-like to the front cover of almost every games mag is no more. Denied these monthly mix tapes, the gamer of today is, I reckon, less inclined to reconnoitre and genre-flit than their predecessor. Because in 2024 you rarely find yourself installing kite flying sims, apian Settlers clones, and puzzle games inspired by Underground Railroad quilts, out of boredom-tinged curiosity, there’s less chance of unlikely love affairs blossoming.

* And crud. Every disc came with a few stinkers.

Tally-Ho Corner’s demo discs – of which this is the eighth – are my attempt to recreate the experience offered by ye olde periodical platters. Carefully curated mixtures of the old and new, the obscure and rescure, they will, I hope…

  • Help you forget an empty purse or wallet
  • Remind you that They Don’t Make Them Like That Anymore
  • And gently nudge you in new directions

Scramble: Battle of Britain

Long periods of silence from the dev team, a major rethink, and a spokesman apparently unaware Luftwaffe schnellbombers didn’t have tail guns, had sapped much of my early optimism for this WEGO wargame. The impressive fourteen-scenario “alpha” unveiled on Monday doesn’t just restore that initial enthusiasm, it intensifies it.

Unusually innovative for a Slitherine project, Scramble owes almost nothing to board and tabletop treatments of air warfare. Released from rigid altitude bands and sky cells, aircraft are free to cavort and tussle in gridless 3D spaces. The action unfolds in hands-off five-second spurts. Between these spurts, the player reviews the last Combat Mission-style action movie, and modifies flight paths and speed with flight control surface and throttle changes, hoping to bring guns to bear, or to elude pursuers, in the next action phase.

Barring the odd GUI grumble (judging the relative positions of ballistic predictors and flight paths at distance can be tricky) I love almost everything I’ve seen thus far. The bandits seem to be competitive, the damage modelling granular, and the physics plausible. Push your pilots too hard and they can blackout. Throw your crates around with too much abandon and they may stall or plough into the drink.

My last sortie pitted two player-controlled Spits against three Stukas and two Bf 109s, and captivated from start to finish. The fact that I could view it in its entirety once it was over made it even better. A WEGO wargame with full after-action replays? My goodness, how long have we had to wait for that heavenly combination.

Global Farmer

My gaming appetites can be influenced by the oddest things. The other day, while on a cross-country drive, I spent fifteen minutes staring at the fire extinguisher-festooned arse of a surprisingly nippy CLAAS Jaguar. By the time I got home I was itching to fire-up Farming Simulator 22 or Professional Farmer: Cattle and Crops.

Although you can buy a forage harvester in the Global Farmer demo, sadly there’s no option to drive it about with WASD keys. GF is concerned with management not maneuvering. Once you’ve purchased OpenStreetMap-based fields in your chosen locale (in the demo you’re restricted to three spots in the USA, Japan, and Germany), and decided what to plant and when, AI hirelings roll up their sleeves up and do all the actual toil. Because those hirelings clip trees and buildings with tractors and equipment, and instantly about-face when they reach a field edge, spectating isn’t as gratifying as it might have been.

I was also a bit disappointed to find that there’s no visual correlation between the ‘field’ view and the farm design facet. The barns, roads, and parking areas the player purchases and arranges in the latter mode, aren’t visible when you switch back to the overview camera.

On the plus side, the fifteen-year demo does reveal robust agronomical foundations and a sensible UI. Matching crops to soil conditions, revitalising impoverished loam, dealing with droughts and weeds… there’s plenty for an armchair agriculturalist to get their harrow teeth into.

The Rise of the Golden Idol

If the hour or two it takes to complete this snippet of splendidly strange Seventies sleuth-em-up leaves you wanting more, you’re in luck. While The Rise of the Golden Idol doesn’t have a release date yet, it does have a highly regarded predecessor.

The rudiments of The Rise of the Golden Idol are the rudiments of The Case of the Golden Idol. The player investigate deaths by studying hand-drawn loci delicti and analysing evidence and statements. Clicking stuff not only reveals vital clues, it fills the word panel you plunder when attempting to complete the ‘solution scroll’ that, correctly populated, advances the plot.

Why did X strangle Y? How did the body of that unfortunate down-and-out finish-up wedged inside the sewer pipe? In the unlikely event the quirky art, period flavour, and well-judged difficulty, don’t persuade you to press on to the end of the demo, unanswered questions and a growing sense that something sinister is afoot, should do the trick.

Old School Rally

For a spell in the early Noughties, my pal, Roman, shared a drafty Avondale Wren caravan with a drafty Dorsetshire shepherdess called Louise. The way he tells it, their life together was half Far from the Madding Crowd, half Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test. Because they spent many an evening playing Colin McCrae Rally on the PlayStation, he now can’t fire-up a retro rally sim without getting a strong olfactory flashback of mingled lanolin, marijuana, and sheep dung.

Roman’s nostrils were flaring like billy-o when he was playing this three-stage, three-car sample. Crafted by a Greek chap who came to coding via GameMaker, Old School Rally won’t – on the evidence of the demo – offer replays, amazingly sophisticated physics, or great sounds.

What it will provide, though, is exhilaration, nostalgia, fairly forgiving prangs, and sixteen different gravel sprayers. I certainly enjoyed the time I spent barreling along winding Australian, Finnish, and Swedish back roads in the Subaru Impreza, Mitsubishi Lancer, and Peugeot 206 substitutes supplied.

Playing Kafka

Hmm. After clicking my way through Part One (‘The Trial’) of this free three-part literary thought-provoker, I can’t say I’m raring to launch into Part Two.

Experienced Czech history disseminators Charles Games have managed to create a potent Kafkaesque vibe with their faceless, puppet-like characters and bleak, man-versus-inscrutable-officialdom narrative, but personally I’d have appreciated a few meaty puzzles with my knedlík of depressing dystopiana.


My reunion with MechWarrior 2 has enflamed an itch Granvir seems well equipped to scratch.

There are no cockpit views in Airborne’s upcoming bipedal tank game, but a freelance-friendly campaign, extensive steed customisation options, and crunching melee combat promise to make that deprivation easy to bear.

The demo lets you build your own battle stomper, and try your hand at scavenging and surviving on a go-where-you-please cellular campaign map. All of the areas I’ve ventured into thus far were compact and lively. Rambling between insertion and extraction points, it was rare for a minute to pass without an exchange of fire or a spot of hangar rifling.


My old employer might have lost two of its best wordsmiths in recent months, but it still knows a good FPS when it sees one.

The environments, the weaponry, the AI, the audio… every aspect of Selaco has been crafted with love and skill. The futuristic medical facility you find yourself in at the start of the sizeable delisted demo is uncommonly atmospheric. The gunfights that commence not along after you quit your room, are as thrilling as they are dynamic.

Whether you are crawling through a ventilation duct clutching a sputtering flare, back-pedaling like crazy to avoid a skittering grenade, or reducing a peripatetic hostile to a froth of grape juice with an assault rifle burst, Selaco delivers.

Songs of Steel: Hispania

Madrid-based outfit Combat Time have big plans for the Songs of Steel series. After mining the Numantine Wars for hexagonal gold, they intend to move on to other fractious frontiers of the Roman Empire such as Carthage, Masada, and Constantinople.

Will Songs of Steel: Hispania generate sufficient sales to warrant sequels? I hope so. The demo doesn’t put a foot wrong. Battles are absorbing, legible, pacy, and packed with the kind of mechanical nuances wargamers love. Between scraps you get to recruit new units and patch-up, promote, and equip veterans. There’s even some moral, political, and strategic decisions to be made at various points in the campaign.

Surprisingly plump, the trial trains newcomers well, and seems entirely free of the kind of gimmicky mission premises that sometimes blight games of this type.

Rise and Fall: Civilizations at War

The formidable Celtiberian bigwigs the Romans face in the Songs of Steel demo are feeble kittens compared to the bikini-clad killing machine they run into in this tumultuous tempter.

I believe I awarded Stainless Steel Studios’ over-the-top swords-and-sandals RTS a higher score than just about any other critic on the planet when I assayed it for PC Gamer UK in 2006 (my review seems to have been scrubbed from the internet so I can’t be sure).

Some of that controversial percentage was doubtless down to growing exasperation with an increasingly hidebound genre, but a fair bit was simply me acknowledging that I found R&F’s party piece – the ability to switch into ‘hero mode’ and personally scythe through enemy armies – highly entertaining. The fact that you can issue orders, swim, bow snipe, nick galleys and enter some structures while playing in third-person mode, makes lone-wolfing all the more appealing.

Capture the Flag

I wonder how many of today’s teens and pre-teens realise that the Capture the Flag mode in their favourite shooter has its roots in a centuries-old children’s game.

First digitized in the mid-Eighties, analogue CTF inspired a shareware gem in 1992.

In Richard Carr’s wargamey interpretation, LoS and terrain are significant, and the two eight-person teams of flag hunters are composed of individuals with telling attributes and the ability to adopt four different stances.

Edward? He’s as fit as a flea, but his poor eyesight makes him rubbish at spotting interlopers. Brenda? She might be the blue team’s stealthiest asset, however her low ‘agility’ rating means she has little chance of tagging or eluding enemies.

Carr provided workmanlike AI, a peach of a UI, and a decent map editor, but I think I’m right in saying he never got around to releasing a version of CTF with a random map generator or prototypical victory conditions. In his tactics-rich sequel-ripe creation you win by touching the enemy flag. Bringing it back to base isn’t necessary.


  1. – the demo for scramble is indeed quite amazing, I haven’t played anything else this week.
    – Rise and fall reminds me a bit of Kingdom Under Fire: The Crusaders. One of my favourite games on the original xbox back in the day.
    – When I was a monitor in the local cub scouts alternative, we had a lot of variations on the capture the flag game.
    Including, but not limited to: 4-way variants, mixed with stratego, paintball variants (with syringes and paint or waterballoons), towels as tails (that function as your ‘life’)… Good times!

    • Good to hear that youngsters still play CTF. I don’t remember encountering CTF as a kid, but we played a vaguely similar running-about-the-countryside game called ‘pom-pom home’ in which tagged/captured individuals linked hands forming a mobile line emanating from the enemy ‘base’ (IIRC you could free everyone in the line by touching someone within it). Oddly, I can’t find any references to it online. The closest matches are variants of British Bulldog.

  2. Scramble went right to my wishlist.

    Just having a look at the screenshots of Global Farmer reminded me of one of my pet peeves. The inexplicable lack of coop multiplayer economic simulations, colony management games or city builders. Online I keep reading the same arguments about noone wanting someone else to spoil their digital dollhouse, but I could not disagree more. Everyone I ever spoke with about this understood that when playing with a buddy, your kid or other loved ones meant distributing the duties or getting another person´s input on what you plan was half the fun. You don´t even need any specific coop mechanics. Yet almost no games support it. I don´t claim to know how high the costs of keeping multiplayer servers online are, but still it baffles me.

    The only good option I can think of atm is the (flawlessly working) RimWorld multiplayer mod. Cities in Motion 2 used to have servers, but they have been taken down years ago. I even learned how to forward ports to play the likes of TTD or the (disappointing) Cities Skylines mod, but it never really worked. It is infuriating how few games, other than FPS (FPSes?) officially support coop gaming.

    (and let´s not mention the ambitious yet completely failed experiment of SimCity 4´s parallel multiplayer. Which might have burned devs on the idea for decades, I must assume.)

    • Have you tried Planet Crafter? The devs have just released a co-op version.
      The game involves planet exploration, base building, resource gathering/crafting and terraforming.
      Its suitable for younger players (no fighting or violence) and it can be a quite relaxing and visually pleasing experience as the barren planet’s ecosystem is gradually transformed by your efforts.

  3. Ooh, hadn’t seen the new Golden Idol. That’ll be going straight on the wishlist for a gaming session with Mrs Nutfield, won’t play the demo so we don’t spoil it though.

    If only there was an Obra Dinn 2…

  4. Great round-up – learning there’s a new Golden Idol game has put a spring in my step.

    I too put quite a bit of time into Colin McCrae Rally back in the day – the halcyon days where I had the space to have a steering wheel on my desk in my bedroom, before the harsh reality of a mortgage on a pokey house with only the space for one desk in the living room which, SWMBO tells me, cannot be clogged up with gaming gear as ‘it makes the room look untidy’. I’ll see if Old School Rally works any good on the Steam Deck (even though I don’t really like racing games with joysticks).

    My only exposure to the real-life CTF is the episode of the Simpsons where Homer passes out with exhaustion and succumbs to an enthusiastic egging from the town’s children.

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