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It's no fun buying games on the web, finds James Delingpole - no one lets you play

Reader, the time has come for me to make a terrible confession: dearly though I love my wife, my stepson, my baby boy and our black cat Beetle, the truth is that I would gladly sacrifice them all for the terrifyingly addictive computer game to which I am currently enslaved. Its name is Warcraft II.

Warcraft II - or "Orcs" as it is unfondly known in my household - is a game of fiendish complexity that combines the Tolkienesque anorak qualities of Dungeons and Dragons with the strategic virtues of Command & Conquer. And if none of that means anything to you, don't worry. Trust me, the less you know about Warcraft II the better, for this is a game so impossibly absorbing I can guarantee it will ruin your life.

But, just suppose you are interested, it goes something like this. First, you choose whether you're going to be an Orc or a human; second, you build up your army of dragons, ballistas, submarines, elvish archers and so on, by mining gold, chopping down forests and building useful things such as mage towers and gryphon aviaries; finally, you invade the opposition's territory and wipe them all out. Months later, you will have progressed through all the levels and earned yourself the proud title Warlord.

Since becoming a Warlord myself a few weeks ago, my life has been bereft and meaningless. Fortunately, salvation is at hand. The software company Blizzard (www.blizzard.com) has come up with an even better version of Orcs, set in space. It's called Starcraft and, though it has been available for some time for PC users, the version for Mac owners like me has only just been developed. It'll be coming out any day now and, naturally, I want to be the first Mac user in the country to own one.

How to get it, that's the problem. My first port of call was the Blizzard site. But when I tried ordering a copy via its secure server, I got an e-mail telling me my credit card had been rejected. It was their fault, not mine. They hadn't provided a proper field for my postcode, which meant that when I typed in London E8 3LS, their computer told them that no such town as LondonE83LS existed.

On Blizzard's advice, I tried America's largest games software on-line retailer, instead. Electronics Boutique (www.ebworld.com) is, no doubt, a very useful place to go for Nintendo, Sega and PC software but - like most of the computer world, it seems to me - it's not very Mac-friendly. Its Mac software prices are about pounds 6 more expensive than you'll find elsewhere. And the site itself is pretty grim. For two copies of Mac version Starcraft, it quoted $49.99 (30.50) apiece, plus $25 (15.25) delivery.

With a delivery charge as high as that, not to mention the possibility of further UK customs charges, it might be better looking for a British games software site. Probably, the best of these is Dixons (www.dixons.co.uk). Again, this is a fairly functional and unlovely place to visit (why is it that all sites aimed at computer nerds have to skimp on design?), but it does stock most of the happening computer games.

Here, a copy of Starcraft will cost you a mere 24.99, while Starship Titanic - the other highly desirable game of the moment, created by Douglas Adams - has been reduced from 34.99 to a bargain 19.99. But here's the rub. These prices are for PC versions only.

Dixons doesn't even bother to stock Mac games. As regards Starship Titanic, this is ironic, since Adams is one of the world's more messianic advocates of the Mac. (You could also try shopping for games at www.microworld.co.uk - but it doesn't stock Mac games either).

Just when I had begun to despair, I chanced upon a wondrous site dedicated to the needs of games-playing Mac-users. It's at www.interactivemac.com and it stocks a Mac version of Starship Titanic for $36.95 (22.50) and Starcraft $38.95 (24). I had hoped, that all my prayers had been answered. But having laboriously typed in my name, address, e-mail address and so on into its secure server, I received a message saying I had failed to type in my name, address etc. In other words, the wretched thing was broken.

I am now waiting for a reply to an e-mail I sent, which began: "Your secure server sucks." My game of Starcraft remains a distant dream. My wife, my stepson, my baby boy and Beetle will, no doubt, be delighted.



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