CURRENT NOTES / 1984-07 / PAGE 10
This is the first in a series of articles covering one of the more interesting and esoteric sub-genres of computer gaming — computer wargames (or computer conflict simulations, as some prefer to call it).
Wargaming has a long history — the German General Staff popularized it during the nineteenth century, and it has been used extensively by most armies. However, the point to remember about wargames is that they reflect the designer’s prejudices. The classic example is the Japanese use of wargames during World War II. Having successfully wargamed an attack against Pearl Harbor (including a miniature replica thereof), the imperial Japanese Navy continued its use in a Midway simulation. The game was quite interesting; the Japanese Admiral playing the Americans caught the Japanese carriers with planes on their decks and crippled the Fleet. The opponent cried “Foul”, and appealed to the umpire. He changed the rules in midstream, denying the potential for American victory. Of course, during the Midway campaign, the Japanese carriers were caught with planes on their deck, severely mauled, and the rest is history. Thus, one must remember that such a game, while capable of simulating history, must also be taken with a grain of salt; the designer’s prejudices may not appear during the initial playings.
Many people are apprehensive about wargames. The major reason for this is the subject matter and the degree of complexity. Wargames recreate history; to discover the military reasons behind historical decisions is not immoral per se. But many wargames seem to require a Ph.D. in order to successfully play. The predecessor to the computer wargame, the board wargame, has taken this love of complexity to the ultimate degree. While there are simple wargames, such “monsters” as War in Europe or Vietnam require over 250 hours to play. The computer has alleviated many of the mundane tasks, allowing the player to concentrate on more strategic/tactical decisions.
Wargames may be divided into three types: tactical (small units, generally company or less), operational (mid-sized, generally battalion through division, covering a major battle or operation in its entirety), and strategic (corps through theater army, covering entire wars with potential for economic production and enough other factors to virtually make it a way of life).
This series of articles will take the more popular wargames, and attempt to analyze them — both in terms of appeal and playability. Suggestions are welcomed by the author.
In playing wargames, there are basic principles applicable to all such games. First and foremost, remember the victory conditions. It is all too common to see a novice ignoring the conditions of victory merely for short-term gains, i.e. it is a lot of fun to wipe out units, but if possession of terrain and not unit destruction is the key to victory, then the player has been beaten by his own greed.
One of the earlier but more enduring wargames is Atari’s own Eastern Front by Chris Crawford. An operational/strategic game of the Russo-German conflict during World War II, it is well-known, mechanically easy to play, but difficult to master. A scrolling map shows the area of operations, while the joystick is utilized in order for the player (German) to issue orders to his corps against the computer (Russian). Orders are issued, but not executed until the player is ready, at which time all orders (both player and computer) are executed simultaneously.
It is essential to avoid the infamous “Beltway” on the Eastern Front syndrone. If one merely orders units to “go east, young man”, then corps will be delayed by massive traffic jams. Therefore, one must learn to stagger the corps orders; for example, if a unit is directly behind another, one might order it backwards for one move and then forward, this having allowed the traffic jam ahead of it to clear. Such considerations must be taken across the entire sphere of battle.
In playing the game itself, one must remember not to get bogged down in the Pripet marshes. An infantry corps or two are sufficient to harass any Russian units lingering. While this is occurring, the German Army should split into the northern offensive (Leningrad) and the southern offensive (the Crimea). Maintain a semi-coherent line. If limited Russian units break through German lines, a reserve of two to four corps can handle them. But move east.
Weather ... eventually the weather gets to the German Army. However, it is constant. One always knows that the first week in October is mud; German combat strengths are halved, and movement slows to a crawl. Therefore, the key to victory is to preplan. Beginning with the last turn in August, decide what is essential for the current operation. Begin to develop a coherent line; by the third week of September, have the line virtually complete, and insure that it is complete by the end of the month. The line should actually retreat the last week in September. This will compel the Russians to move forward to attack, thereby limiting their offensive; each turn for the next few months, retreat one or two moves (the entire line). Do not go for cheap kills; the cheap kill could be reversed so that a gaping hole appears in the German line while hoardes of Russian troops pour through. Once the winter sets in (November), the mud turns to snow, allowing the frozen roads to once again bear traffic. German supplies and combat strengths increase; at this point, resume the offensive and drive east.
In terms of objectives and dates, Leningrad should be taken before the mud, Moscow can be taken, and the Crimea should be isolated (but not taken). While Moscow can be taken, it may be difficult to hold onto it; the earlier Moscow falls, the better since the Moscow militia cannot increase into the monster unit it later becomes. The Crimea can be attacked on a two-unit frontage until such time as entry can be made allowing a third unit access. At this time, use the third unit, and clean out the pocket. Maintain the drive east, but in a semi-coherent line; victory points are awarded for the number of Russian units destroyed and the eastern penetration of the German army.
It can be done. This writer has achieved a score of 255 (final) with only two Russian units remaining on the screen (both of which were surrounded). While a score of 255 can be achieved during the game, it is difficult to maintain such a score to the end unless these considerations are always kept in mind. Eastern Front is a game that stays playable; current versions have a SAVE option (a needed addendum), and expansions beyond 1942 are now advertised.
But where can I get these types of games? Your computer store should carry some of them, and the Compleat Strategist (in Falls Church, VA; 532-2477) has an extensive stock. The manager, Bob Bodine, is quite helpful and can steer the beginner on the path of glory; for an interesting response, ask Bob if he has any copies of Trivial Pursuit (back up while you await the answer).
SSI publishes the greatest variety of wargames, and the next article will delve into one of its offerings. Tentative review on Broadsides, the ship-to-ship simulation.
CURRENT NOTES / 1984-09 / PAGE 12
Broadsides is a naval wargame by SSI (Strategic Simulations, Inc.). This company has rapidly become the best known and respected translator of wargames into electronic format. The game itself covers single ship-to-ship duels during the Napoleonic era. If you have ever read about Horatio Hornblower or Richard Bolitho, then Broadsides should be highly recommended.
Even more important, if you have never read anything about this period in history, the game is still engrossing and fun. An entire scenario can be played in approximately ten (10) minutes.
The simulation appears to have a familial relationship with Wooden Ships & Iron Men (by Avalon Hill). This is a board-type wargame which covers the same period, except it permits multi-ship engagements as well. Broadsides is limited to single ship duels (alas, no Trafalgar), but given the parameters of consideration, the player will be kept busy.
Although the game comes with selected engagements pre-established, the gamer may define his own battles in any fashion he chooses. Find the going too tough? Then adjust to a 120-gun ship-of-the-line with an elite crew against the computer’s 10-gun sloop run by recently pressed landlubbers. The point is that you set the standards. The problem is that the instructions are not clear for the beginner, and some time will have to be spent in an experimentation mode in order to best determine the most efficient way of designing your own scenarios.
An initial view of the playing field may be intimidating. The left three-fourths constitutes the ships in their naval environment. Any maneuvers will appear in this sphere. The remaining right portion is in effect a split-screen, with the player’s ship on top and the computer’s (or second player’s) ship on bottom. All relevant details are given here concerning the condition of one’s vessel — hull or rigging (destruction of the former causes the ship to sink, while destruction of the latter causes lack of mobility), speed, direction, crew, etc.
Orders to the ship’s crew are inputted by joystick. Elegantly simple, the player must remember that when the crew responds “Aye, aye sir” that the response is not instantaneous. It takes time to slew a sailing vessel about or to reload the guns.
Speaking of guns, ammunition comes in different types: solid shot (all purpose), grape (close-range, effective against crew only), and chain (in effect, two balls linked by a chain; while doing little damage to a hull, it devastates sailing masts). This writer must admit to a certain preference for chain; after sufficient hits, entire masts fall down, and on the main screen, the opponent’s ship will cease movement. At that point, there is a certain joy to leisurely sailing up to an opponent, “crossing the T”, and blowing him out of the water, but each ammunition type must be utilized in its proper way. Stick to solid shot until you gain a basic familiarity with the game system. Solid shot is all purpose and cannot be ineffective (as can the others at improper ranges).
Sailing itself is a major portion of the simulation. Sails may be set at battle sail and full sail (the latter crowds on sail, and can be much faster in speed). However, the disadvantage to full sail is that any damage to the sails/rigging will incur twice the damage as would occur to battle sail. My recommendation would be to use full sail advisedly, if at all. Given the time delay to drop from full to battle sail, by the time the novice realizes his plight, his masts may be dropping on his deck. There is a weakness in sailing, but for most players, it is negligibile in impact. In making a rapid turn, nautically, one can come about (moving the bow through the wind) or wear (moving the stern through the wind). The latter maneuver is much more dangerous, but can be faster and more desirable in a combat situation. Alas, Broadsides does not differentiate, and the turning time in either direction is the same. Unless you are a true sailor, the omission is not one that will keep you awake at night.
Fine, so we have a ship, sailing past the enemy. What do we do? First, remember that these are ships of a prior century. No forward firing. Broadsides means what it says; therefore, the ideal movement is the “crossing of the T”. This simply means crossing the opponent’s bow or stern with your ship so that he has no opportunity for fire. Such an opportunity of fire is termed a “rake”. The damage it does can be phenomenal; if the opponent finds himself in irons (i.e. without wind movement) and you have crossed his T, the game is about over.
But when you boot up, you will notice that the computer easily blows you out of the water. How? The easy answer is that the computer cheats; the true answer is that yes, the computer does cheat. Let’s face it; without that advantage, anyone could beat the challenge in five minutes. But can the computer be defeated? Yes, but remember the computer’s advantage.
First of all, to hit an enemy ship, the joystick must input range; since three (3) ranges are given, the wrong answer will show the shortfall or overage of the shot. But the computer never fires at the incorrect range. Second, in the scenario of the Constitution vs. the Victory (a true mismatch historically; the American Constitution was an ungunned frigate with 44 guns — it did not belong in the same battle line with the British Victory, a 90-gun ship-of-the-line), the computer will get off three rounds to every two you fire. Now, this writer realizes that the manual states that the Americans had the best crews (and the fewest). But the differential between a British crew and an American crew was not so marked. Chalk it up to computer advantage.
To win, pick your target (hull or rigging). For historical accuracy, remember that the French went for the rigging while the British went for the hull (and never utilized chain shot). British strategic victory cannot be attributed to this decision, but rather to the fact that the British received much more training in time at sea than the French; yet the design of French ships far surpasses British designs. Do not change primary targets in mid-stream. Also, beware of turns — every time the ship changes direction, a new range estimate must be made.
Of course, the screen shows the ships at a range of 2,400 yards. If you close, the range shifts to 600 yards. BUT IF YOU REALLY CLOSE, ...
Then you go to the Boarding Party (all invited/come as you are; hack and slash your way to glory). Although the graphics are somewhat primitive, no one ever defined a boarding party as the apex of civilized behavior. By inputting through the keyboard, you can hack, thrust, or counter-thrust. Each move has a counter (similar to the children’s game of Rock/Paper/Scissors). Not only that, but while your crew is slashing away, you also have snipers in the rigging who can deal out additional casualties. Although the boarding party is fun, there is a severe problem. With two players, each must input the keyboard (not joystick); with the rapidity of movement, one tends to keep pounding the keyboard, thereby often locking the opponent’s responses out. Be aware, and if you are playing an opponent and can never get your sailors to follow orders, you have become the victim of “Opponent Ham-Handedness”.
The best aspect of Broadsides is that anyone can learn to play. An arcade version exists, which limits the number of orders, does not allow the intricacies of boarding parties, and does double damage on hits. My six-year-old son has learned this version, and in fact, has defeated me on one occasion; but, he prefers the complexity of the boarding party because he likes to hear the ring of steel and watch the action on the deck.
Thus, Broadsides is the best computer simulation available covering Napoleonic naval tactics. Its errors are forgiveable because its appeal is so great. The instructions, to the novice, appear intimidating at first; but slow and careful play will reveal the beauty of the game. Don’t give up the ship!!!
NEXT MONTH: WAR AT SEA, PART II - Carrier Force (Midway Scenario).
CURRENT NOTES / 1984-10 / PAGE 6
Carrier Force is SSI’s opus covering four separate and distinct naval (i.e. carrier) battles of World War II — Midway, Coral Sea, Santa Cruz and the Solomons. This review will in no way attempt to review any scenario other than that of Midway; this reviewer has spent over one hundred hours analyzing the simulation herein, and very truthfully, time constraints prohibit analysis into the other campaigns.
FIRST, this game is not for the beginner or intermediate player. It is designed for the advanced player; the multiple actions and strategic considerations virtually mandate a deep knowledge or desire to learn about World War II carrier battles. The game is on an operational scale, with ships and aircraft being represented individually.
Having stated that this game is not for the beginner or intermediate player, I will further state that the Midway teaches the wrong lessons wrongly applied. Discussions with the design staff at SSI have revealed that Midway is not a balanced scenario; the Japanese (when played by the computer) have a tremendous advantage. The SSI staff feels that Santa Cruz is a much better balanced scenario; numerous friends who have played the game swear by Coral Sea, However, most gamers will buy this product because Midway is the naval battle of WWII. My hesitation in recommending this game is the purely incorrect tactical decisions that the computer requires for one to achieve success. While my conclusions apply only to Midway, if the decision making process is in error there, can the rest of the program be different?
My conclusions are based on historical readings (cf. Prange, Miracle at Midway; Fuller, Military History of the Western World, Vol. 3; Toland, But Not in Shame) and discussions with naval experts (including one naval captain [ret.] who was physically present at Midway).
To begin the scenario, and more important, to win, one is dependent on the weather. Carriers must launch their planes into the wind to maximize launch strength. Therefore, when the scenario opens at 0500, the wind is NE. If the wind does not switch to SW by 0600, my strong recommendation is to reboot the game; any future chance of victory has been literally blown to the winds. This wind shift in the proper direction (which did occur historically) occurs c. 40% of the time. Thus, CRITICISM #1: the scenario is dependent upon deux ex machina.
After preparing CAP (combat air patrols) and various search missions (by the way, documentation is skimpy, and even a veteran wargamer will have to experiment with landing planes and learning by hard experience when they will ditch into the ocean), one seeks to close with the Japanese main carrier force (but not too close; if a naval gun battle occurs, the Americans do as they would have historically, i.e. they lose). It is important to remember what actually happened; the Japanese launched their first strike at Midway; needing a second strike to reduce the island, the second wave was rearmed and on deck when the American force struck, seemingly out of nowhere. A basic reason for the Japanese lack of information about the American fleet was that a search plane was late in taking off from its ship; by fortuitous chance, this plane had the sector in which the American task force was located. Lucky? Obviously, but the Miracle at Midway was dependent upon luck. Carrier Force does not have that luck. In discussions with the SSI staff, they stated that the Japanese search planes will find the American task force 90% of the time (this writer thinks that this may be an underestimate); historically, the Japanese search planes were literally blasted into launch status by black powder charge. When black powder is wet (which can happen quite often at sea), its efficiency is reduced. While Japanese search was normally good, the propulsion method often did fail. The simulation does not recognize this, thereby allowing the Japanese to strike both Midway and the carriers. Furthermore, the Japanese search is incredibly effective; as each dawn occurs, Japanese search planes will always find the American task forces.
Usually, Midway is hit at 0800; insure that your fighter aircraft are waiting, and that the runways are clear. The following hour, a task force is hit, with the usual result being the loss of at least one carrier. Again, discussions with the SSI staff revealed that the Japanese strike is one massive strike. They can only attack one task force, usually the largest. Therefore, the simulation solution is to split each carrier into a separate task force, thereby minimizing the risk (I recommend one carrier, two cruisers and three destroyers per task force; send the surplus south to attempt interception of the transports). This solution works in game terms; however, it has the historical accuracy of George Custer at the Little Big Horn. One does not split carrier forces into penny packets. Historically, the Yorktown was a separate task force only because it was undergoing repairs and could not sail timely. Even more important, with at least two carriers per task force, one carrier can drop out temporarily to lanch planes and then catch up to the force; with only one carrier, every time a launch dictated a change in direction, the entire force would have to shift, with an even greater loss of time, Thus, the simulation rewards tactical incompetency.
How can one win? With difficulty, and enough luck to insure your winning of the Irish Sweepstakes. Launch early at the Japanese. At 0600, launch torpedo planes at the Japanese carrier force; the strike is a one-way trip, but the TBFs are so inferior that they literally take up more room than their destruction costs. Since one of the American carriers is going to be reduced to scrap metal anyway, the Americans do not have sufficient landing capacity to store these planes. Besides, they might even get a hit (hardly; but this is accurate — the TBFs were magnificent in courage and deficient in damage done to the enemy). The simulation does not recognize the impact of the TBFs. Their sacrifice herein is in vain. Historically, they served a major purpose. Although one reads that the TBFs drew the CAP down so that the dive bombers (SBDs) could strike, the truth is that while the TBFs were attacking, the Japanese carriers were forced into evasive maneuvers which prevented their launching additional planes. No such result here; the Japanese strikes always launch.
To maximize game success, launch dive bombers at 0700 (multiple strikes, composed of three fighter escorts and 11 dive bombers each). At the same time Midway Island is being hit, hopefully the Japanese carrier force will be undergoing the same treatment. Again, a flaw exists in strike resolution. After saving and replaying the strike c. 15 times, this reviewer feels that the multiple strike option causes more damage. However, in reality, one large strike would have caused more damage because of the coordination effect the various squadrons would have had on one another. This strike maximization does not appear to exist in this simulation.
If the Japanese have been damaged, the remainder of the game is easy. Keep hitting the carriers, and insure that the American task force remains clear of a naval gun battle. The only naval gun battle that is beneficial for the American force is to attack the Japanese transports; it is sometimes difficult to both attack them and avoid the bigger surface vessels. If such be the case, avoid naval gun battles entirely. The risk is too great.
Mechanically, Carrier Force is in Basic. Yes, it does require a cartridge, When the computer is deciding upon the Japanese move, it takes enough time so that you think it is literally radioing Tokyo for instructions. Read a book, have dinner, go out for the evening. When you get back, the computer will have just finished (Note: SSI has stated that a new edition of Carrier Force will be released next year with total machine language; hopefully, this will alleviate the delay loop). Also, graphics of the actual attacks are primitive at best. Additional hint for the unethical: if you want to analyze what is happening, simply save each game turn. The computer will begin the next turn, at which time you tell it to end the game; it will then display the Japanese taskforce locations and current postures. One may regard this as the ultimate in ULTRA, or Purple Code Squared.
Thus, in summary, the Midway scenario of Carrier Force is complex, lengthy and seemingly accurate. In reality, the third criterion (accuracy) is strongly missing. I cannot recommend the game for that reason; the investment of time and the historical fallacies prohibit a recommendation. Again, to be fair, I have only considered Midway. But if the general design theory is consistent, the other scenarios may also be flawed. A good “beer and pretzels” wargame may be historically inaccurate but fun; a simulation advertising itself as definitive with the inherent complexities ceases to be fun with the same flaws.
Next Month: War in the Air — 50 Mission Crush (the Allied Bomber Offensive)
CURRENT NOTES / 1984-11 / PAGE 15
Before beginning with the review of 50 Mission Crush this month, I would like to add a point of order concerning these reviews. Numerous friends have told me that they feel that last month’s review of Carrier Force was unduly harsh. In reviewing that game and most others, I am looking at the solitary aspects of the game as well as its historicity and teaching lessons. Since most difficult war games require hours of intensive play, finding an opponent can be a difficult endeavor (most wives refer to themselves as “wargaming widows” and are not overly enthralled with discovering the penetrating ability of an anti-tank missile or the maneuverings of an infantry battalion). Therefore, I choose to review a game based on its playability against the computer itself — an opponent who is always available.
But this month’s game does not even present the option of a face-to-face opponent. 50 Mission Crush recreates the United States bomber offensive against Germany in the Second World War. A board game also exists on the subject (B-17: Queen of the Skies, by Avalon Hill); the board game suffers from the same defects as the computer simulation.
At first blush, this SSI game is an interesting opportunity — how would you fare in bringing the war home to the Third Reich. Imagine yourself high above the skies of Nazi Germany dealing “Death from Above” (apologies to the Airborne). But what this game recreates is a single plane in an entire mission. You are, in effect, the pilot of a B-17: your superiors give you the mission and altitude at which it should be carried out. Therefore, in effect, you are at the mercy of these superiors. Having received a mission, you fly to the target (choosing an easier target will probably give you a longer life, but your promotions and medals will be puny, at best. In fact, hitting a target other than that assigned reduces your potential score by a factor of five.
At any rate, the missions usually start out with “milk runs”. These easy missions gradually develop into longer bombing runs in which the German Luftwaffe and the target’s anti-aircraft defenses become truly formidable. But the problem inherent with a game on this subject is that there is literally no game; your impact is negligible, and in fact, the computer could do the runs on automatic mode.
This occurs because you get randomly attacked by enemy aircraft; your fighter escort may drive some of the bandits away. But we are discussing random numbers. The enemy planes attack one at a time and you can choose to fire up to a maximum of 7 times at the enemy plane. Fire too much too early and you become a free target; ignore the enemy and you may go down in flames. As a single aircraft on a much larger mission, you are a “bus driver”; your discretion is exactly zero.
The program is relatively easy to learn. Input is via keyboard, and a frustrating detail is that the program uses BASIC, thereby running slowly at times. Even more frustrating is enemy flak; while enemy flak may fire up to 40 times, if a fire is ever started on board the plane, you must wait in the same area while you try to extinguish the flames. Naturally the following turn, the flak fires again. Nothing is more frustrating than getting hit on shot #40, and having to try to put out the flames, knowing that another 40 shots will have to be endured. While the realism may not be all that horrible, the interminable delay in resolving the flak shot-by-shot does become tedious.
In terms of maximizing your bomber, there is nothing to do aside from utilizing common sense. Determine fuel requirements (not overly difficult), and try to fly in a direct path to the target at the proper attitude (minor course deviations should be made to avoid enemy flak). Generally fly at the assigned attitude; there is safety in numbers. But if you are killed, it’s back to square 1. But if you really want to win, ... Well, it’s unethical and it’s cheating, but the computer won’t know about it and you aren’t going to tell your friends, right? The solution — after a successful mission, the program allows you to save your game on a blank disk. Fine, but after you save to the blank disk, copy the disk so that you now have 2 saved disks. Therefore, if you fly a mission with terrible results, ignore it and reboot the prior mission. Warning: do not confuse disks; this writer accidentally copied his unsuccessful mission onto his disk with the Oak Leave Cluster to the Distinguished Service Cross, instead of vice versa.
Overall, the simulation is interesting for a few playings. But I doubt the sustained endurance playability of this simulation. When the board game version first appeared (at ORIGINS, the national wargaming convention in 1978), consumer sales were sparse; yet other game designers were effusive in their compliments. The same criticism applies here; a nice effort which does recreate the feel of the period, but a recreation which truthfully becomes as much fun as Russian Roulette in the long run.
NEXT MONTH: After Pearl
CURRENT NOTES / 1985-02 / PAGE 16
I would like to preface this review by apologizing for the lack of a column last month. My Atari unfortunately caught the infamous “Defender” syndrone, whereby the spacebar becomes inoperative. Believe me, one never notices how essential a space bar is until it comes time to writing an article. But my computer is back to normal, so let the review begin ...
After Pearl (by SuperWare) is a true “beer and pretzels” wargame. Its historicity is subject to severe question, but its playability is of the utmost simplicity. At a price of $20, I would heartily recommend this game for a beginner; however, make sure that the purchaser is aware of the fact that this replay of World War II in the Pacific bears little resemblance to the actual event. The game is very similar to Avalon Hill’s Victory in the Pacific (a board game-type simulation), although the latter does offer more latitude.
Points are received by virtue of occupation of major islands and territories. Each such land mass is noted by the point-worthiness and the number of turns it takes an enemy force to seize control of such a prize by siege. Movement is inputted by joystick control, and each ship task force (depending on the number of ships in the same area) may be moved separately.
The basic concept of this “simulation” is dependent upon the aircraft carrier. Only carriers may project their influence throughout the geographic areas. Surface ships (battleships, cruisers, and destroyers) are useful only for siege operations and potential surface battles, as well as protection of the fragile carriers. Each land target has its own land-based airpower; until such airpower is reduced to zero by carrier airpower, surface ships are extremely vulnerable.
The simulation begins after the attack at Pearl Harbor. Based upon a randomizer, damage at Pearl Harbor can vary between minimal and total. However, since only surface vessels were stationed at Pearl, no critical damage is done. Remember, the name of the game is air power. By joystick inputs, you may move your task forces as you deem fit. Nevertheless, your options are limited, in that combat is a function of proximity to enemy bases/task forces and determined solely by the computer. Also, reinforcements are fixed and not variable.
It is now January 1942 (or thereabouts ... it is difficult to tell the date since the simulation goes on for forty turns, each of which would seen to be approximately one month). The main Japanese task forces are approaching Midway; can you stop then? The answer is no, nor should you attempt to do so. By fighting for Midway, the net result will be minor damage to the Japanese task forces with a crippling blow to the American carrier forces. The best response is to abandon Midway to its own devices, and form a major task force near Pearl. The southern carrier forces (each consisting of a single carrier) should be sent to Guadalcanal, where the will most often sink the Japanese carrier (the Kaga) and hopefully survive with minimal damage. While this is occurring, Kwajelein will be left bare of enemy planes, and is an available target. But beware: the computer is an unforgiving opponent. While easy to defeat, it requires patience. An early American blitzkrieg tends to bring the main Japanese task forces down into the south-central Pacific. And they are unbeatable given American resources at this time.
So bide your time. After Midway falls, the main Japanese effort will be directed against Alaska. The Japanese will split the main task forces into efforts against Attu and Dutch Harbor. Given any sort of luck, the land-based air in those bases will account for at least one major Japanese carrier (on one occasion, the land-based aircraft at Dutch Harbor destroyed the main Imperial Japanese Battle Fleet). In the south, major attacks will be made against Port Moresby. Again, let it fend for itself; while the base will probably fall, it will take some Japanese vessels with it; thereafter, the southern fleet will attack Australia. Given the larger number of land-based aircraft, these will destroy the southern Japanese fleet.
Meanwhile, the major American fleet is building up around Pearl Harbor. Take Midway, Wake, Kwajelein, and wait for the main Japanese fleet to return to the Central Pacific. When it does, engage it with battleships in the task force van, but with carriers sufficiently close by to project their airpower against the Japanese Battle Fleet. This major battle should be the twilight of Japanese expansion.
From this point, your race is against time. Taking the Home Islands is a challenge; Japan has enough land-based air power to guarantee the loss of at least 2-4 American carriers. These carriers should be engaging before turn 22. Since it takes ten turns of occupancy to seize Japan, preplanning becomes of vital importance. Reinforcements enter in Japan; however, you can avoid such Japanese reinforcements by stacking eight American vessels in the Home Islands. Since this is the maximum task force occupancy, it will close out all Japanese reinforcements.
While this is occurring, assaults (carrier-based, of course) must be made in the Central pacific. Be aware that Saipan, Guam and Okinawa have a nasty habit of destroying American carriers that were engaged in reducing other bases. These losses cannot be avoided, but they must be minimized.
The final assault is against Saigon, Indonesia and Singapore. Preferably 3 carriers in 2 separate task forces will be required. Remember, for these bases to fall, they have to be occupied for five turns; therefore, all of this has to occur before turn 35.
It is possible to seize every base on the display. To win an overwhelming victory, you have to outscore the computer by 100 points. This writer has routinely outscored the computer by 1,000 points, so victory is definitely achievable.
Overall, I enjoyed this game. Serious wargamers and historians detest it with passion (historically, of course, both Midway and Port Moresby never fell; the computer’s habit of attacking the Alaskan bases while ignoring the more lucrative Central and Southern Pacific is inexplicable). But remember, this is a beginner’s game. Little input is needed, and there are sufficient levels of play (from sailor to captain) and scenarios (this is based on the WWII scenario; other scenarios cover Midway and Leyte) to keep most people interested.
I will confess that I often pull this out. Unlike certain games that take over 24 hours to play, a complete WWII scenario lasts about 45 minutes. It is nice to be able to just play a complete scenario in one sitting. Man does not live by champagne alone; After Pearl is a playable “beer and pretzels” game. With the option of two players (which is available), I feel it sight be more fun since the Japanese player would not be so restricted by the Idiocy Doctrine.
In conclusion, a playable game for the beginner, or a relaxing interlude for the aficionado. Please do not expect to discover insight into WWII naval doctrine here; just relax and enjoy the ride. Next month: Battle for Normandy. Also, if anyone has any tactical/strategic hints for any computer wargames, please send them in for publication herein.
CURRENT NOTES / 1985-03 / PAGE 14
Battle for Normandy (hereinafter referred to as Normandy or BFN) by SSI is a simulation of the D-Day invasion. In both complexity and historicity, it rates a solid intermediate level. When the individual is ready for a step into the complexities of simulation gaming, Normandy is a good stepping stone.
The graphics are adequate (translated from Apple into Atari, as are most SSI games). In fact, compared with more recent SSI efforts, the graphics are better than normal (cf. War in Russia, Objective: Kursk, Reforger ’88).
But the game itself does an adequate job of simulating the campaign, while teaching some historical facts in an interesting fashion. As a solitaire game, the computer offers a tough opponent; do not expect to win big. In conversations with the SSI staff, this writer discovered that the historical outcome was a marginal victory — and a German one at that! Simply put, the German has numerous advantages — although severely outnumbered and under supplied, his victory conditions are simply to deny the Allied player as much as possible. However, for the Allied player to win big, he must minimize losses and seize three (3) major objectives — Cherbourg, St. Lo, and Caen. Historically, none of these were taken within the time frame of the game; in fact, the latter two did not fall until the beginning of Operation Cobra and Goodwood, respectively.
Be that as it may, the Allied player may still secure reasonable success and enjoy himself to boot. However, the instruction manual is barely adequate. After reading the manual, no one will be able to properly land the troops on the beaches.
Therefore, the key to success: when the Allied units cycle through for landing, the supply battalions show up first. Under no circumstances land a supply battalion. Allied units are supplied within three (3) hexes of a beach hex, and the Allies will not be moving outside of this range. Therefore, when the supply battalions show up for landing, pass them by. The Allies need combat units on the beach immediately; the logistical tail will catch up later.
In terms of historicity, the OB (order of battle) lists all units involved in the campaign, but it does not show which units landed on what beach and when. By utilizing the “West Point Atlas of American Wars” and the “Atlas of the Second World War”, this writer was able to determine the proper time/beaches. All units down to the US 102nd Cav Reg landed in the initial landing; more detail is available from this writer. However, knowing the historical landing areas is not the key to success; better tactics may be achieved by modifying the landing order.
It is essential to land American units on American beaches, and British units on British beaches. A violation of this precept will waste supply and units. In determining the initial landing, make an effort to land two (2) armored divisions — an American division (Utah beach) and a British division (Juno beach). Only armored divisions may move through zones of control; in order to destroy German units, it is mandatory to slide the armored divisions to the rear of the enemy in order to cut off their retreat. While this will lead to losses in Allied armor (being cut off behind enemy lines is not conducive to one’s health), the German losses will more than make up for this.
The Utah beach units must move to Cherbourg as quickly as possible. The delay of one turn could prove fatal; victory conditions require seizure of key terrain, defined as not having an adjacent enemy unit, not merely the possession of the terrain. The British armor will be used in the center-right in order to move on Caen. The true historical problem facing the Allies will not exist; the Allies were concerned over how long it would take to link up the beaches; in the game, this link-up is automatic or nearly so (the Utah beach sector will usually not link up as readily, but it is not important to link up; Cherbourg is the key).
Besides tactical maneuver, the Allied player will face a bewildering choice of logistical problems. Allocation of supply among four areas is the key to survival; amphibious supply determines how many units may land the following turn; combat supply determines how many units may attack; general supply determines mere survivability (troops without food and clothing do not do overly well); fuel determines movement. Although the manual offers a suggested plan for the first few days, this writer does not recommend it once you have achieved a basic familiarity with the game. Only experience will allow you to make a proper allocation. Even then, the vagaries of the weather may destroy your best plans; if a storm hits early, the Allies may as well pack it in. A storm negates supply for the turn, usually leaving the units already landed on their own. It is better to have less than average weather spread throughout the campaign than to have it concentrated in a few storms. However, weather is random; historically, the storms did do severe damage to the Allied logistical efforts, but it was not fatal (e.g. PLUTO [pipeline-under-the-ocean] and other means were pressed into service). Stock up on general supply; when the weather turns bad, the general supply will allow the units to survive unharmed; it is depressing to see an entire army undergo massive casualties because of the deficit in general supply. But be warned; there is never enough supply to accomplish all your objectives; it is also depressing to have a surrounded enemy unit escape because your fuel has run out, or your combat supply has in effect negated your tactical plans. Experience will give you a better feel for the interrelationships of supply and tactical maneuver.
While the computer is an adequate opponent (and during your first play an unbeatable one), it does make certain predictable moves. A nice move is to land the Rangers and move them immediately towards St. Lo; if this is done early enough, the Rangers will secure this site. They cannot clear it of enemy zones of control, and they will be mauled by German reinforcements, but their sacrifice will allow American units a needed respite to move out from Omaha Beach and possibly break through to St. Lo.
In maneuvering, never allow a German unit access to a beachhead. Once a beachhead is lost, it may never be replaced; additional units must be constricted elsewhere. The loss of a beachhead is usually fatal; the loss of two beachheads would call for a general court martial of the Allied Commander. Use British armored brigades to secure their beachheads; they are not much good for anything else (they lack the division’s ability to move through zones of control and they are too weak to offer sustained offensive maneuvers).
In landing, the Allies will have to fight the intrinsic strength of each beachhead until they have landed one hundred (100) points. Most units are halved in landing (it is difficult to fight in waist-deep water, and tanks are not the same as battleships or destroyers); special forces (commandos and rangers) retain their strength, since they were specifically trained for such missions. But when the Allies attack the beachhead, overkill will cause too many losses and too much fatigue among the Allied units; use a “4” to attack the beachheads. During the initial landing, make sure not to offer the German a cheap shot at any beachheads, and be ready to move out.
The game is one of maneuver and supply. Pay equal attention to both facets. Insure that units with heavy fatigue levels are moved out of the line for refitting (this means completely outside enemy zones of control). This move pays dividends; the Allies have enough units to afford this luxury. The Germans will have to keep all units engaged.
Overall, I would recommend this game. It is definitely a step-up from After Pearl; its intimidating appearance may be offset by use of the strategic/tactical hints provided herein. Make sure to read and understand the victory conditions. As an aside, one of the units in the initial assault is the 29th Division; formerly a National Guard Division from Maryland-Virginia (the Blue and Gray), this division has been reactivated as a light infantry division and will be established within the next two years in the northern Virginia area.
While not the definitive combat simulation, I would rate this as a “must have”. Its deficiencies in strategic history are made up by the tense combat and logistical interplay. The save option permits easy accessibility to the campaign game (which will last c. 8-10 hours).
CURRENT NOTES / 1985-04 / PAGE 12
I would like to preface this review with an explanation. Last month, I stated that NATO Commander would be the subject for this month’s review. However, during the interim, SSI was kind enough to send a preview copy of their latest release. Because of the recent release, I have therefore shifted gears and will review Computer Ambush herein.
The first thing to note about Computer Ambush is that it is a wargame from SSI (Strategic Simulations, Inc.). SSI is the class act of the computer wargaming field; they are to computer wargames in the 1980s what Avalon Hill was to board wargamers in the 1960s (while Avalon Hill’s computer games of the 1980s are more comparable to Rand Games of the 1970s; the cognoscenti will know whereof I speak). This is not to say that SSI is perfect; virtually all of their designs are lifted from the board game genre without giving credit to the initiators. However, because of their consistent output, SSI may be forgiven.
Are you tired of being called a REMF? Do Charles Atlas types kick sand in your face? Do you still read SGT Rock? Then Computer Ambush may be your escape into a world of violence and mayhem. Computer Ambush is a complex and detailed game covering man-to-man combat operations in urban terrain during World War II. This game is for the advanced gamer! I have certain reservations concerning the accuracy inherent in a game on this level; while statistics will tend to average out in a divisional level game, I do not think that this is true on the man-to-man level (one can reasonably predict what 10,000 men will do as an entity; a prediction of what one man will do is much harder). The board game has offered two classic treatments of this level of fighting: Avalon Hill’s Squad Leader, the more popular treatment, works in squad and half squads; SPI’s Sniper works on the man-to-man level. There is no question of Computer Ambush’s parentage — the resemblance to Sniper even carries over to the map.
Computer Ambush offers several advantages over the board version, while it suffers from numerous disadvantages as well. I will cover both aspects, and let the reader decide for himself.
The instructions are detailed — virtually stultifying at first glance. However, do not despair; many of the movement and action orders will be used rarely. For example, using a garotte, a knife, or initiating hand-to-hand combat should be reserved for the truly desperate (remember the scene in Raiders of the Lost Ark where Indiana Jones simply shot the swordsman who was impressing the crowd? Here, remember that an M1 will normally beat a strip of wire and act accordingly). Thus, the most important orders are those of movement and firing. Remember principles of combat in urban terrain. The weapon of choice in urban terrain is the hand grenade; you are limited in your supply, but they must be used judiciously and often. Area fire, while not as accurate as aimed fire, is more expedient.
There are two classic texts on this type of fighting: “Combat in Cities Report”, Vol. I-III (US Army Infantry School, 1972) and FH 90-10-1 (“An Infantryman’s Guide to Urban Combat”, 1982). Both texts offer more tactical hints than I ever could; the former is based upon World War II experiences (which is also the subject of Computer Ambush); the latter is a virtual how-to book.
In Computer Ambush, you may design your own scenarios. But for the gamer in a hurry, 5 solitaire and 6 2-player scenarios are provided. These are as follows: NCO training (a good beginning), Ambush, Infiltration (the opposite of Ambush), Raid and Barn Defense for solitaire; Ambush, Patrol, Strongpoint, Church Defense, Seek & Destroy and Alley Fight in the 2-player versions. I have only experimented with the solitaire versions. The computer may play at 3 levels: rookie, Wehrmacht, and Waffen SS (the last being impossible to beat unless you have the tactical ability of Audie Murphy coupled with the luck of John Wayne).
In order to win, remember the victory conditions. If destruction of a building is the key, do not get sidetracked into the annihilation of the enemy without accomplishment of the primary mission. Also, be careful of your people. If you must utilize plastic explosives, only your explosives expert (and to a lesser degree, your squad leader) may emplace them. Lose the experts and the game is lost! So remember to examine the victory conditions.
In an ambush situation, do not open fire before the bulk of the enemy is in the kill zone. Thus, in using opportunity fire, keep the %ages high enough to prevent premature disclosure of the ambush. Also, in an ambush, use both fire and grenades; in fact, use grenades whenever and wherever the enemy is known to be; they are very effective. You would normally utilize grenades in an attempt to ferret out enemy locations. In Computer Ambush, you do not have the luxury of resupply; be careful with your grenades.
In infiltration or a raid, utilize a bounding overwatch type of movement, i.e. have Soldier A move while Soldier B covers him; then have Soldier B move up to and beyond the furthest penetration while Soldier A provides cover. Remember, do not bunch up; having a single grenade take out many personnel is inexcusable. At the same time, do not get so overextended that your people cannot provide mutual support. Common sense has to comply with the tactical mission and the terrain.
Detailed hints cannot be given for a tactical game because of its inherent nature. The action is so intense and individualistic that most games bear little resemblance from play to play.
The program comes with an acetate reproduction of the map and green crayons for plotting your moves beforehand. The experienced wargamer should not need this, and it may prove too confusing to the neophyte. You may plot your moves on the computer while looking at the screen map (simply input the bottom hexrow of vision). After your first few plays, this will become second nature.
Is this game essential for your library? It depends on your interest — if low-level tactical wargaming is your specialty, then Computer Ambush will fill a niche nicely. On the other hand, if your interests are more in the operational and strategic spheres, then Computer Ambush may simply be too down and dirty for you. As we have come to expect from SSI, games may be saved in mid-stream (being able to format and initilize a disk in mid-play is a great convenience). After playing for awhile, you tend to ignore the graphics; the letters no longer seen so trivial. The sweating begins ...
CURRENT NOTES / 1985-06 / PAGE 12
Kampfgruppe is SSI’s new opus of tactical warfare on the Eastern Front during World War II. Before beginning the review of this effort, this author would like to state a personal bias — in favor of operational games covering historical battles and generally against smaller tactical scenarios at battalion level or below. Thus, the authors admitted prejudices would seem to have disposed of this game handily.
But such is not the case. Kampfgruppe (literally “battle group”, i.e. reconstituted remnants of combat units stitched together to form a coherent formation) is for the advanced gamer but constitutes a must have in every wargamer’s library ... complex in scope, relatively simple in execution and elegant throughout.
Kampfgruppe bears more than a striking resemblance to Panzerblitz (Avalon Hill). The latter was a best-seller in the early 1970’s and truly represented the cutting edge of board wargame development. Even today, Panzerblitz remains a best seller and virtually all wargamers have at least played this game. SSI’s computer version covers the same period, and even the instruction booklets appear suspiciously similar (each portrays pictures of a gun/weapon/vehicle and explains usage and periods thereof).
Kampfgruppe has adapted Panzerblitz into the age of the computer. Covering battalion level engagements and below (i.e. segments of major battles and smaller peripheral conflicts), the computer allows two innovations: map creation and line of sight. With the disk, you may create (and save) almost any tactical battle on the Eastern Front during World War II; thus, you may create and replay all the board wargames currently collecting dust on the shelf (computer Panzergruppe Guderian or Kharkov anyone?). The line of sight rules are so elegant and simple that the wonder is why they have not appeared earlier. In most tactical board wargames, there is great vexation and dispute as to whether or not a unit may see and fire on an opponent. Firm friendships have failed due to poor eyesight and the call for the dreaded “straight line” measurement. But Kampfgruppe has solved the problem; simply declare the unit and hit the letter “V” (view). All areas visible to the declared unit will turn orange — simple, fast and accurate.
This is not to say that Kampfgruppe is without fault. However, its faults are minor in nature and when contrasted with the overall tenor of the game, Kampfgruppe has become an instant classic. The only faults this reviewer has discovered are design limitations — computer input is via keyboard. While this is normal for Apple systems, the use of joystick input would have been much faster and easier for the user. This shortfall makes it more tedious to enter and change orders to your various units. The only other shortfall concerns the commands visible on the screen; certain commands are not visible, although they are described in the documentation, e.g. (P)assenger allows one to determine what units are riding on what vehicles. Until the user is completely familiar with the rules, such commands are forgotten and only those visible on the screen are utilized. As soon as the consumer re-reads the documentation, this minor failing is alleviated.
So much for failures. As for successes, the list goes on and on. Documentation is virtually complete; unlike the normal computer wargame, there is sufficient hard data herein to satisfy everyone. In terms of opponent play, the program covers the gamut — the computer may play either German, Russian, neither or both. This reviewer strongly suggests that your initial game be played with the computer taking both sides. Be prepared; contact will not be made for several turns, and you may wonder if anything is happening. But when the FLOT (forward line of troops) initiates contact, the action is fast and furious. In most situations, the computer forces move cautiously before contact. Therefore, a quick advance on the gamer’s part should allow one to secure the objective and set up a defensive perimeter in meeting engagements; this is a large advantage.
Also, be advised! The documentation means what it says. The rules suggest that the user begin with a small-level generated battle, as opposed to the historical set-piece battles already on the disk. Please heed this advice unless you are into defeat and masochism. The larger battles are complex, time-consuming and definitely not for the beginner (even if you have been wargaming for years). Computer generated scenarios may be prepared in minutes, and it is only after several smaller scenarios that the historical scenarios may be tackled. As is normal with SSI products, games in progress may be saved at the end of turns, and disks may be initialized and formatted even after a game is begun. The save commands are standard and easily applicable.
In playing against the computer Soviet, this reviewer would like to offer the following suggestions. Meeting engagements offer roughly comparable forces. Proper use of combined arms concepts will generally defeat the computer. Similarly, a computer pursuit may also be readily defeated. However, an assault or a pursuit of the computer will test your leadership abilities to the limit.
Strategic hints are not applicable in a game at this level. Tactical hints are given in the documentation, and generally reflect common sense. For additional tactical hints, this reviewer recommends MG F.W. Von Mellinthin’s Panzer Battles (the classic German account of armored warfare in World War II; available in paperback). Combined arms tactics coupled with proper use of artillery will defeat the Soviet or Fascist beast. In too many board wargames, artillery is misplaced and then allowed to be redirected since everyone makes similar mistakes. The computer will not allow this form of cheating. If your artillery is misdirected, then it will take another fire mission to rectify your error in fire control. Hard, yes — but realistic!
Depending on your hard-core nature, the computer will allow you to choose your own task force and then deploy it. Of course, for those not wishing to delve so deeply, the computer will also select your task force and automatically deploy it. Note that the deployment is not optimum; rather, it is a hasty deployment — good, but you may well do better.
Pay attention to terrain, weapon ranges and probable objectives. Units may be moved singly or by formations (the latter is only available as long as the parent headquarters unit exists; therefore, don’t risk command elements for short-term gains unless they will prove decisive). Command control is also simulated in that units moving out of the span of command are slower to react.
As the rules state, weapon ranges may be changed from minimum to maximum. What this means is that if you wish to reach an objective, then you may have to order your units to withhold fire (units generally deploy for combat and do not move as quickly). But this holds its own risks in that the unit may move into an ambush and be destroyed by enemy weapon systems. Thus, there is a constant dilemma in choosing optimum engagement range coupled with minimization of risk.
Careful attention must be paid to the advantages and disadvantages of each unit. Reconnaissance units must be used as “point”, and the heavy casualties taken will quickly point out the hazards of “First in Battle”. Of course, the most critical element is proper use of artillery fire; indirect fire elements must be placed as to be able to engage enemy units without exposing themselves to direct fire. Counter-battery fire may well prove unavoidable, but risk minimization is the key.
Suppression of enemy units followed by combined arms close assaults will win the day. But as the user reflects on the casualties taken, all but the most callous will be shaken by the loss of life.
Kampfgruppe retails for $59.95, but may be purchased by mail for c. $35.00. This reviewer heartily recommends its addition to the Wargamer’s Essential Library. It is not a game that one can play directly upon booting it from the box, but the investment of careful study of the documentation coupled with the play mechanics will pay dividends. Complex, playable and realistic — SSI has come up with a true winner. Highest recommendation.
CURRENT NOTES / 1985-07 / PAGE 12
Turning to a Third World Producer (in truth, everyone in the computer wargaming aside from SSI constitutes this class), KRENteck’s Napolean at Waterloo is the subject of this month’s review.
Napolean at Waterloo is a simulation of the most studied and famous battle of Western civilization, Napoleon Bonaparte’s final fling at glory on the 18th of June 1815. The most surprising aspect of computer simulations is that KRENteck’s effort is the first for the Atari covering this Napoleonic battle [SSI covered it in an early game (Apple version only)]. Board wargames have covered this battle in great detail, cf. Battles of the 100 Days (OSG), Napoleon’s Last Battles (SPI), Napoleon at Waterloo (SPI), Thin Red Line (Yaquinto), Wellington’s Victory (SPI). Coverage ranges from breaking down the entire battle to battalion/company formations (Wellington’s Victory) to corps level (Napoleon at Waterloo).
SPI’s Napolean at Waterloo bears the greatest resemblance to KRENteck’s Napolean at Waterloo. The scale is strategic/operational, with both simulations covering the entire battle in a quick-playing form (the former utilizes movement in 400 yard increments, while the latter uses hex areas of 275 yards).
This writer has some familiarity with the Battle of Waterloo, having done a treatise on Grand Tactical and Strategic Misapplications by Napoleon I during the Waterloo Campaign (13-18 June 1815) for Command & General Staff College plus extensive readings on the battle coupled with a physical inspection of the battleground itself (highly recommended for the grognards [literally “grumblers”, the affectionate term for Napoleon’s Old Guard and today, for the hard-core gamer]). For the gamer desiring more exposure to the subject, the following texts are recommended: Chandler’s Campaigns of Napoleon (the classic text), Esposito’s Military History and Atlas of the Napoleonic Wars (expensive, but worth it), Lachouque’s Waterloo, (superb reproductions and text), Chalfont’s Waterloo (a recent text covering the battle by three authors, each regarding it from his national perspective, i.e. English, French, Prussian), Howarth’s Waterloo (more novelistic in approach).
As for the computer simulation, the design is similar to Rome and the Barbarians (published by the same designer), both of which owe more than a passing debt to Crawford’s Eastern Front. The map is recognizable but plain; certain landmarks have been deleted (i.e. the “Sandpit” and the sunken road). Terrain mainly shows ridge lines, forest and the two critical man-made defensive points of Hugomont (British right) and La Haye Saint (British center-left). French units list corps commanders and strengths, while the Allied (British and Prussian) units list only strengths and nationality.
Input is via joystick, quickly executed and easily adaptable to changing circumstances. The game is playable in solitaire only; can you save the First Empire? Time flows inexorably in the simulation, and as the instructions point out, the gamer will not be able to coordinate attacks in widely separated portions of the battlefield, since only 4-8 units may be coordinated at a time. The game may not be saved (not a tremendous handicap, since a complete playing may be done in 45 minutes); while the game may be paused (for that snack-break or the telephone), no orders may be input during the break.
Beginning at 11:00 (Napoleon began late in order to give the ground time to dry so that his artillery units could have mobility), the simulation ends at 9:00 pm. The Prussian army enters from the east at 4:00; if the British have not been demoralized by this time, the player will face a losing two-front battle.
Historically, Napoleon’s strategy was the direct approach. Hit hard in the center, after softening up by artillery; use the Imperial Guard to mop up the remnants — direct, lacking subtlety and unworthy of the Master. But as the Emperor noted, one only has a limited time for war.
Thus, a main thrust in the center-right, with a feint towards Hugomont (French left). This feint became all too real, and utilized valuable troops better used elsewhere. After charge and counter-charge in the center-right, the Guard was called in to finish the job; the Prussians were already appearing on the battlefield (French extreme right), and when the Guard was repulsed, the French army disintegrated. A better strategy would have been attacking the British right, since such an attack would have been the most direct threat to the British supply lines (and also, the British line was unbalanced, with 60% of the combat strength to the left).
Strategically, Napoleon’s major objective was the defeat of the Allies (British and Prussian) in detail. Having blooded the Allies separately (Quatre Bras and Ligny), Napoleon had detached one-third of his army to screen the Prussians. The commander, Marshal Grouchy, failed, and thereby permitted the union of the Allies on the field of Waterloo (actually, La Belle Alliance; Waterloo was a town further off, but the victors named the battle so that it would be easily spoken by the British).
It is important to remember that the British army depended on a supply line to the west (and the coastal ports); the Prussians depended on lines to the east. If Napoleon had managed a substantial defeat of one side, the other Ally would have had to fall back on his supply line, and away from any relief attempt. Thus, the road network is essential (but totally omitted in this simulation). If the French had defeated the British, they would have continued to march on Brussels (north); in all simulations heretofore, French victory depended on defeat of the British and exiting the map to the north. In Napoleon at Waterloo, no French exit is possible to the north. After defeating the British, the French just turn and defeat the Prussians. Historically, this is inaccurate; Napoleon would have been better off pursuing the British, waiting for Marshal Grouchy to rejoin his forces, and then turning on the Prussians with his reconstituted army. Of course, such a victory would have been temporary at best. Having been declared an enemy by all of Europe, Napoleon was well aware that an Austrian army of 100,000 was only a few days behind and a Russian army of 200,000 only a week behind.
But for victory in the simulation: Hugomont may be taken (historically, it did not fall). Use the artillery, two infantry corps and the cavalry to hit it from three sides. Don’t worry about the time; this front is secondary at best. Your main thrust is center-right. Use the cavalry to outflank the British left flank. Follow up with the infantry, and roll up the British in a right-to-left cavalry/infantry assault. La Haye Saint will not fall, but will be evacuated as the British line becomes untenable.
Key to Victory: Do not commit the Imperial Guard against the British. Their lowered morale and consequent impact on the entire French army will insure defeat. Instead, have the entire Guard take up a file position at the French right. Beginning around 2:30-3:00, have the four batteries of artillery move to a supporting role two hexes to the rear of the Guard (this allows retreating space for any demoralized Guard units). When the Prussians arrive, their cavalry will probe the French line. Your artillery should compel their retreat. The entire line will then be attacked in several positions, but your artillery and Guard should be able to withstand the thrust. When the Prussians begin a withdrawal, you should advance the Guard and attempt maximum destruction.
Additional Hint: use cavalry to pursue demoralized and retreating British units. There is nothing like the cavalry to cause casualties amongst retreating infantry units; pursuit should be maintained until the British units are forced off the field. Similarly, if the Prussian artillery is open, an attack against artillery by formed troops can cause massive casualties. Beware: while the assault is being mounted, the unit may be demoralized itself.
If these tactics are applied, the French should achieve a victory of 120,000-130,000 points. Overall casualties should be c. 24,000 (French), 23,000 (British), 22,000 (Prussian).
When an army is demoralized, the national anthem of the opponent plays (God Save the King or The Marseillaise). Similarly, victory at 5:00 is announced by the winning national anthem.
Overall pursuit of the British may begin once demoralization occurs. If the French are demoralized first, then victory is out of reach.
My overall recommendation is muted. The game is interesting and quick for the novice; at a price under $25, it is certainly worth it. However, its historical accuracy is limited at best, and the true grognards may be severely disappointed. A cotton candy wargame that is recommended for the newcomer, but not for the experienced gamer or historian.
Postscript: With the proliferation of wargames, it is becoming impossible to review them in depth. Therefore, I would appreciate any reader with a detailed knowledge of a heretofore unreviewed game writing to me (4008 Patricia Street, Annandale, VA 22003) concerning your findings. War in Russia strategic guidance is needed at this time. Questions and strategic hints will also be supplied to the needy.
Also, the next column (September) will have a review of ORIGINS, the National Wargaming Convention at Baltimore during the last week-end in June. Most computer wargame companies will be present, and it should be an interesting experience.
CURRENT NOTES / 1985-09 / PAGE 13
ORIGINS ’85 was held on June 27-30 at the Towson University Campus (near Baltimore, MD). The annual National Wargaming Convention is the wargamer’s equivalent of the CES. What is most interesting is that computer wargames are rapidly expanding their hold on the hobby. In 1980-81, computer wargames were an isolated sideshow; today, they are an integral part of the hobby.
This writer spent much of his time with the computer wargamers at the Convention. Most of the famous designers were there (with the exception of Chris Crawford). The SSI staff and their designers were present in force — Gary Grigsby, Chuck Kroegel, etc. What was most interesting to this writer was the approachability of the staff; both Joel Billings (SSI President) and his designers are personable individuals, who make a sincere effort to please the hobbyists. By the time this appears, SSI will have released Colonial Conquest, a simulation covering the colonialist expansion of the Nineteenth Century. Gamers expecting a computer simulation of Pax Britannica (Victory Games) will be disappointed; the game is an amalgam of Risk and Diplomacy. Although more introductory than this writer would have liked, it still sounds interesting. A fuller review will be made after it is released.
Microprose Software was also present in force. In fact, their advertising might be deemed too forceful — “#1 in Simulation Design”, “cutting edge of computer wargaming”, etc. Microprose is going into the software market in a large way — having released Crusade in Europe, Decision in the Desert is soon to follow. Future releases will be Kennedy Approach (aircraft controllers) with excellent sound [but no possibility of a PATCO stike?]. Silent Service (submarine warfare), Gunship (modern helicopter warfare), etc. This writer’s impression of the Microprose staff is more guarded. Dr. Ed Bever, the historical analyst for Crusade in Europe, was just very personable. His credentials (Ph.D. in history and formerly on the faculty at Princeton University) give credence to his efforts. However, the marketing staff seems a bit hyper and somewhat condescending to hobbyists. As a relatively new company, Microprose is still suffering growing pains. Most of its previous designs were the product of its founder/designer. Its new expansion may turn the company’s attitude into a more approachable one.
GDW was showing off Chickamauga (already released), as well as a test copy of its new Rommel computer game. However, although the games are complex, the graphics are primitive, and very truthfully, at this time, they do not appear to be state of the art. Scrolling in these games causes a flicker, and the spector of pixels detaching themselves as an amoeba-like extension representing armies on the march is not awe-inspiring. Gamers have come to expect certain things from games; having additional complexities in historical accuracy are needed, but at the cost of nice graphics, the trade-off may be too high. Time will tell...
Australian Design Group (of Carriers at War) showed off their new air war game Europe Ablaze. Sadly, none of their efforts are made for the Atari as yet (the Atari machine has not penetrated into Australia; the Commodore is king Down Under). Also, their Carriers at War received the Charles Award for best Computer Game of the Year. Atari owners, you will have to be patient. This writer spent some time with the staff, and they are considering the possibility of conversions.
Other companies were present. Car Wars and Ogre are being planned releases through Steve Jackson Games (again, not for the Atari). Also, most interestingly, some independents showed up at the Convention. D.K.G. showed a World War II game (graphics similar to Eastern Front, but supposedly more complex). At $40 per copy, their sales appeared minimal; the lack of a track record and advertising appears to be a death knell in the market. The industry has passed the days of the instant designer coming out of nowhere and marketing a success by himself. In fact, D.K.G. was looking at potential marketing by some of the more established concerns (e.g. SSI, Avalon Hill, etc.).
One final note: Joel Billings made an interesting observation. When queried as to why no Mech Brigade for the Atari, he stated that Atari owners were quite vociferous and vocal, but their money did not match their mouths. The marketplace is driven by the dollar, and not by the spoken or written word. Thus, conversions are slowed down or deleted altogether. [Note: SSI still plans to support the Atari].
CURRENT NOTES / 1985-10 / PAGE 19
Colonial Conquest is SSI’s newest offering for the computer simulation hobbyist. As mentioned in last month’s article, if one expects a computer version of Pax Brittanica (Victory Games), one will be disappointed. Instead, Colonial Conquest is an amalgam of Risk and Diplomacy.
For an introductory game, the rules are rather complex at first glance. However, they soon become second nature after the first hour of play. Very simply, the goal of the program is to achieve world domination through the judicious use of military force and economic principles.
The world is divided into over 120 economic areas. The game provides for up to six (6) players: Germany, France, Great Britain, Russia, Japan and the United States. These player-nations may be handled by the computer, by real people, or they may be neutral.
Victory is achieved by point count (determined through military strength, economic value and prowess in battle). Victory conditions may be set to 500 points, 1000 points or unlimited. N.B.: A game of 500 points lasts about 3 hours; 1000 points goes on and on, and the unlimited game (total world domination) may well last for months. As is typical of SSI products, the game may be saved at several points during a turn.
The map of the world is somewhat primitive graphically. In fact, it is a little hard to differentiate certain areas, and the colors tend to run together. The art of computer graphics has in reality surpassed the map herein, but it is functional.
One has the choice to begin in 1880 (standard — without colonies), 1880 (historical — with colonies), or 1914 (outbreak of World War I). If the parameters are unchanged, the sole human player represents Germany. All nations are ranked at zero difficulty level (with a ranking of 0 (novice) - 9 (expert)); the only problem is that nowhere in the documentation is the historical ranking addressed. Obviously, Great Britain should be higher ranked than Russia (Disraeli compared with Count Stolypin?), but there is no way to tell what would best represent actual history. Then again, Risk does not represent the real world either.
A Game-Turn consists of the following Phases:
While the army is the basic unit of conquest, it is the navy that propels the army to domination. Since supply is ignored in the game, a naval force may convoy its equivalent army strength anywhere in the world, e.g. Japan may establish the Japanese Congo or Japanese Chile. Never mind that such Mahanesque naval ambitions would have been totally beyond capability, the game permits this far-flung empire. Therefore, by definition, it is impossible to establish a sphere of influence and a forward defensive line. The navy may interpose itself anywhere and project the army into the homeland.
This reviewer’s overall impression is muted. The computer opponents follow logic well; but such logic is in game terms, and ignores Realpolitik. This is one of the first computer games this reviewer has ever noted wherein multiple human player interaction is almost mandatory in order to achieve the necessary historic flavor. With human opponents, one can perform diplomacy and backstab to one’s heart’s content; also, spheres of influence may be carved out and made a causus belli. But the computer opponents are not diplomats; pure power is their goal, and nothing will swerve their aim (absent pulling the plug on the cord).
Tactical hints for the player nations follow:
In effect, there are more regions than nations competing. Therefore, if there is an unattended region, you should tend to it. Grab what you can as quickly as you can, without triggering war. Often, as your score mounts, the computer opponents will declare war. Also, it can be triggered by an accidental but simultaneous landgrab for the same parcel of real estate. Warfare is not an economic maximization factor; try to end the war as quickly as possible. The best way is by total subjugation of the opposing nation; the usual way is to grab some real estate, pose your defenses and hope for the best! One may also pay off the warring Powers; payments up to $8 million may or may not end the war, with the higher the payment the more likely an end to warfare. Personally, this reviewer believes that the $8 million could be better spent on other items (like an army to insure peace and quiet). The problem with paying off an enemy is that once peace is declared, the money is gone forever; money spent on armies and navies leaves the military forces in existence even after peace is concluded. The closer one is to winning, the greater the chance of being at war with the world.
Overall recommendation: if you have multiple players or like a game of semi-Risk, then Colonial Conquest may be the ticket. If on the other hand, you are looking for a game of power diplomacy set in the years of Bismark, this game may be too introductory.
Scuttlebutt: Microprose, having recently released Crusade in Europe (Western Front WWII) and Decision in the Desert (Rommel in North Africa), is currently working on Conflict in Vietnam. For a detailed review by this author of the former two games, see the Nov-Dec issue of Computer Gaming World. Also, SSI is working on a Civil War game (Antietam), and has now released Battalion Commander (from the same designer who brought us Combat Leader). By the end of the month (?), SSI plans to release Panzer Grenadier, a Field of Fire on the Eastern Front. For the grognards, bad news — SSI has placed War in the Pacific on indefinite hold.
CURRENT NOTES / 1985-11 / PAGE 14
With Christmas rushing upon us, and lights already being strung in preparation for the Season, it is time to look at war games available for the Atari so you can make an educated decision for purchases for yourself or for gifts.
In deciding upon the aspects of a computer wargame, there are certain choices that one has to make. Usually, levels of difficulty range from introductory to intermediate to advanced, with gradations shading between these three parameters. In addition, the primary medium must be considered: land, sea, and/or air; and finally, the level of simulation — tactical (man-to-man up to company-level), operational (battalion level to division level) and strategic (corps level to theater army or higher). This review will delineate the games available by levels of difficulty. Within each level, the subject game will be characterized by its medium (the primary medium will be noted in capital letters), simulation level and overall recommendation (or avoidance). If the game has been reviewed heretofore, the issue of Current Notes is noted. Overall recommendations are noted by asterisks following the game title:
These games are to be avoided at all costs. While generally unavailable today, their presence at sales or as gifts offer the potential purchaser one major advantage: the use of a disk to be formatted for new data. Need anything more be said: Armor Assault, Flying Tigers, Jagdstaffel, World War III.
CURRENT NOTES / 1985-12 / PAGE 25
Battalion Commander ($39.95) is a new SSI offering to the computer gamer. Designed by David Hille, it is very reminiscent of his earlier effort, Combat Leader. Combat Leader was received with little notice, although the game possessed certain indications of greatness, e.g. real time play, facile joystick input, and the ability to switch from overall command down to squad level command. Battalion Commander updates the system, and for an introductory game, it is well done.
The premise is that the player (solitaire option only) is a battalion commander in either the American, Soviet or Chinese army. He may oppose one of the other forces of equivalent strength in one of four scenarios (Pursuit and Exploitation, Meeting Engagement, Attack, and Defense). The map is functional; graphics are somewhat limited, although the presence of contour lines showing various terrain elevations must be considered as a plus.
Input is via joystick; it is easy to learn and quick to implement. SSI rarely uses joystick input, and it is always nice to have a new product using the abilities of the joystick.
The documentation is fairly complete. It delineates the types of troops that one commands, and the abilities of the different types of units. Determining the best use of these units is left to the player’s abilities or lack thereof.
Setting up the game is also easy. Although one cannot create different terrain a la Kampfgruppe, the game comes with forty (40) different terrain maps — sufficient for the most dedicated gamer.
Play is similar to Combat Leader. The graphics have been improved, in that AFV (armored fighting vehicles) now do resemble their real-life counterparts. However, armored casualties appear on the map as resembling dead spiders; on the other hand, this is a vast improvement from Combat Leader, where destroyed AFV’s resembled dead cockroaches. Casualties are taken by individual vehicle and/or men. Proper tactical utilization will result in victory. But what is proper utilization?
For the beginner, the best advice is to use common sense. With time not generally a restraint, take advantage of cover. Use scout/reconnaissance elements to find the enemy; but use armor to fix and destroy the enemy. This does not mean impressive tank charges across open terrain. Instead, using cover and concealment within woods and rough terrain, one can defeat the enemy with little risk. Overly ambitious types growing tired of such defensive victories may assume the offensive; victory may be achieved, but the cost in vehicles and manpower should teach a lesson to such a leader.
Armor is the main driver on the battlefield. Unlike Combat Leader, the omnipotent mortar unit is now more realistically portrayed. However, the anti-tank units seem far too weak. In the modern battlefield, what may be seen may be killed. RPGs and TOWs are more efficient tank killers than other armor units; also, they are far cheaper to produce. But in Battalion Commander, the tank is the weapon of choice. This weakness does not affect play, merely reality. One major lesson learnable: employ smoke where possible. Screening advancing units by smoke will reduce casualties greatly; in fact, one may tend to overuse this asset. In game terms, little will be lost. But the gamer must realize that in real terms, the use of smoke as a screening device also has the tendency to reveal to the enemy that there is something in the sector being screened that is important.
For a newcomer to computer wargaming, input and action are easily learned and enjoyed. However, for the more advanced gamer, this reviewer has serious reservations concerning the value of the simulation. As the documentation notes, “Force structure pretty accurately reflect the actual forces of the three nations. Please note that the strength of a US battalion will be reduced by about 20% when opposing a Soviet battalion and 50% when opposing a Chinese battalion.... The purpose of these reductions is to provide play balance between forces of differing intrinsic strengths.” Also, reductions are made in Sino-Soviet confrontations. Similarly, the designer has modified the TOE (Table of Organization and Equipment) for a mechanized infantry company. He notes “Hopefully, my adjustments do not result in a significant distortion of reality.” But the adjustments do in fact distort reality considerably. US military doctrine does not call for battalions to engage battalions; US battalions plan to engage regiments. By reducing strengths to make the situation playable, the designer has defaulted any attempt to render military doctrine applicable.
Thus, although the playability of the game remains high, any semblance to reality is tenuous at best. For the advanced gamer, lessons learned herein will be incorrect at best. But, one must remember that the game is rated as introductory, and for the novice wargamer, this simulation is interesting and highly playable. The terrain options and different situations offer a multitude of play. Overall, a recommended product for the novice, but a simulation to be avoided by the serious gamer.
Scuttlebutt: SSI has released Panzer Grenadier, a Roger Damon design descended from Operation Whirlwind and Field of Fire. Proposed future releases include USAAF (daylight bomber offensive over Germany, 1943-45) in December and Antietam (the Civil War battle) in January. Microprose is rushing to complete its Conflict in Vietnam, 1954-1972. This reviewer has been actively involved in the playtesting of this product for historical accuracy. In fact, on 23 November, the designer (Ed Bever) and this reviewer met with several experts in this area (including two army general officers) for an in-depth playtesting session. See Computer Gaming World (March-April 1986) for complete details.
CURRENT NOTES / 1986-02 / PAGE 12
Panzer Grenadier, designed by Roger Damon (of Operation Whirlwind and Field of Fire fame) is a one-player battalion simulation based upon the World War II Eastern Front. You are a mechanized infantry regimental commander in “Grossdeutschland” Panzer Division. This division, commanded at one time by later Field Marshal Hasso van Manteufel, was one of the Wehrmacht’s elite units. Battling the Soviet computer, you face five scenarios occurring between late 1942 and 1945.
In each scenario, the situation is bleak. Your troops are on the defensive or at best, on a limited offensive. It might have been interesting to see an earlier scenario, where the Germans were on a true offensive.
The scenarios may be played at three levels: beginner, intermediate and advanced. Selection may be made for regular or fast resolution of combat; this reviewer recommends regular, so that the player may see the results of his actions and be able to absorb the tactical import thereof. Input is via joystick, always a nice touch with the Atari.
Although each turn is composed of nine phases, the documentation and play leave little question as to implementation. During Observation, you may scroll the battlefield, and also have selected units “dig in”. Fire Phase allows each selected unit to fire at a designated target (each unit is composed of sub-units which determine the “rate/duration” of fire). Any unit that fires will naturally have a reduced movement capability. The computer will determine whether or not line-of-sight and range factors affect firing ability; indirect fire weapons (self-propelled artillery and mortars) are exempt from line-of-sight considerations.
During Movement, all units not heretofore “dug in” may move. By joystick input, non-wheeled/tracked units may mount. This radically increases movement ability, but negates their ability to fire and increases their vulnerability to enemy fires. Following Movement, the Soviets fire at you. Units damaged may lose sub-units, and become disrupted (or destroyed). This prevents them from firing in the following phases until they recover sufficient cohesion to function.
Each sub-unit a unit possesses fires one “shot”. The player may determine the strength of the enemy by counting the number of shots. If necessary, one may close assault the enemy — always a risky endeavor, it’s all or nothing. Use only when the assault is critical! At the end of the turn, one may save the game to disk (sorry, only one game per disk).
The novice/intermediate player will find Panzer Grenadier to be an enjoyable simulation. Mortars are handled better than in Combat Leader, in that they are ineffective against armor (usually, the maximum damage they could do to “buttoned-up” tanks would be to throw a track, and that, rarely). The simulation also includes mines and bridges (which may be destroyed and rebuilt by pioneer [engineer] units). Play balance is accurate in that novice games are relatively easy to win, while advanced games are quite difficult.
The documentation offers tactical assistance, which one would be well-advised to heed. However, notice that this review declared Panzer Grenadier to be enjoyable for the novice/intermediate. What of the advanced player? In all veracity, the simulation does have a visible fault. Panzer Grenadier encourages reconnaissance by fire — to an unrealistic degree. If one’s troops will pass near covering terrain or a village, it is best to suppress the enemy without determining if the enemy is even there. While this technique may be quite effective at times, it does have the weakness in that it definitely reveals your position to the enemy. What ever happened to reconnaissance patrols? The only other criticism concerns opportunity fire. Unlike Mr. Damon’s prior designs wherein enemy units utilized opportunity fire at every chance, there is little opportunity fire herein. One may drive an army past a position and not have it open fire. What determines opportunity fire by the Soviets? Only designer and the computer know — and they are not telling.
Overall, a solid novice/intermediate game. There is nothing spectacular as to envision a break-through in wargame design; on the other hand, it is entertaining.
Silent Service is Microprose’s paean to submarine warfare during World War II. You are the skipper of an American fleet submarine in the Pacific; can you destroy the Japanese merchant fleet? Bring Toyota to its knees? Make Lee Iacocca happy?
Actually, Silent Service is one of the most impressive simulations to be released during the past year. The graphics are superb, the documentation relatively complete (although a bibliography and recommended readings would have been nice), and the balance between entertainment and historicity are extremely well done. There are various degrees of difficulty, and a seven year old can play the novice level, while his father can have a difficult time at the captain level. This differentiation of reality levels with the high degree of historical accuracy make this game a real player. Highest recommendation!
This reviewer would like to thank John Marable for his insights into historicity. His experience as a dolphin wearer was a great assistance in composing this review.
There are three basic scenarios: (a) torpedo/gunnery practice; (b) convoy action (a single engagement); (c) war patrols (a forty-day mission). Skill levels range from midshipman to captain (commander is historical), and seven reality levels determine the true expert (limited visibility/zig-zagging convoy/dud torpedoes/no repairs at sea/expert destroyers/difficult to find convoys/angle-on-bow input). Most of these are self-explanatory; however, angle-on-bow (AOB) does require some explanation.
In effect, AOB is the angle between the torpedo head and the target ship. Determining the AOB with an angry destroyer rushing in one’s direction is enough to deter all but the bravest. It is difficult to compute, but as Mr. Marable points out, reality was even worse given the impact of the target’s bearing. Usually, one would have had to take two observations and almost triangulate the shot. The documentation points out that there is no necessity to “lead” an enemy target. This reviewer is not so sure; after firing several spreads of torpedoes at an enemy ship, sometimes the only way to hit it is to lead it. But this only occurs at the more difficult levels.
Graphics are superb. One can switch between instrumentation, bridge, maps and below decks with the push of a (joy) button. This will require an intermediate stop in the conning tower; therefore, the alternate method of quick transfer is via Shift-Key and numbers. While a separate reference card would have been nice, one quickly learns the necessary commands and is able to access all necessary data quickly.
Is the action too slow? Are you waiting forever before engaging in combat? Then, simply go to the map (which goes from strategic to operational to tactical) and speed up the action as much as four times. Once contact is made, the speed will automatically decrease. Note: during war patrols, the documentation is somewhat vague. Do not use the tactical maps; use the special strategic map.
Torpedo firing is relatively easy, although zig-zagging targets are naturally hard to hit. Angles of perception do require some experience for accustomization, since the torpedo may cross one’s entire line of vision before hitting the target. Even more difficult (but just as accurate) are the later scenarios wherein electric torpedoes are utilized. Shorter range, but no “bubble” trail, as with the steam torpedoes. The documention specifically warns against watching the torpedo wake, and this reviewer cannot recommend it as a healthful pastime, but it is difficult to restrain oneself from observing the torpedo wending its way to a heavy tanker.
Generally, destroyers are sunk by a single torpedo hit. Other target ships (cargo, troop and tanker) may require multiple hits. Again, historically accurate. If at all possible, concentrate on the higher tonnage shipping (troop and tankers). An unrealistic (but welcome) touch is the immediate identification of an enemy ship by type.
On top of torpedo firing by both bow and stern tubes, one can surface and sink a target by deck gunnery. If the gun hits, the entire background will portray an explosion. Deflection shooting can be quite difficult, and the best hint that this reviewer can offer is to match speed and bearing with the target as to minimize deflection shots.
There are two other submarine simulations on the market. The oldest version, Submarine Commander (Thorn/EMI) was fun when it came out 5-6 years ago. Clearly outdated, it stands as an arcade game — fun to play occasionally, but really hamburger to Microprose’s filet mignon. Gato is the IBM answer to frustrated submariners; we have all heard about Gato. Is it that much better? Actually, Gato is not in the same class as Silent Service. Torpedo tubes are forward only, the map is overly artificial, the deck gun does not exist, and steering can be done only in 90 degree increments (unlike Silent Service’s 360-degree steering access). In examining Gato, the only additional realism factor it possesses is that one must switch between diesel and electric drives. A simple flick of the switch. For this, one would need six times the power of the Atari 800 and 30 times the price.
Does the simulation have any faults? The only one noticed thus far concerns the lack of save feature (it would have been nice to be able to save a war patrol for later completion). Also, tonnage on war patrols may exceed 100,000 tons for the veteran; such results are better than many total war records of fleet submarines. However, this is not really a fault; historical play would have required hours/days of play without sighting an enemy.
Conclusion: Silent Service joins the select few of “must-have” wargames. Is it an arcade game or a wargame? Playing like the former, it has more historical accuracy than most wargames. Who said historicity had to be boring? Five stars!!! (*****)
CURRENT NOTES / 1986-03 / PAGE 12
Conflict in Vietnam (CIV) is MicroProse’s operational simulation of five (5) operations in Vietnam (1954-1972). As the reader is perusing this article, the game should just be arriving in the local game stores. Being involved as a playtester for the product, this reviewer has a rather extensive familiarity with the product.
As a continuation of the Command Series, CIV will be moderately familiar to those gamers possessing either Crusade in Europe or Decision in the Desert. However, certain modifications have been made to recreate the intricacies and peculiarities of the Vietnam Conflict.
As one would expect, helicopters and air assault play a major role in the simulation. Given the real-time flow and the speed of helicopters in reality, Dr. Bever has hit upon an ingenious solution — the jump move. Simply use a joystick to tell the air assault elements the proper LZ (landing zone), and they will appear there (after a time delay which simulates travel time and order delay). While this writer at first considered the solution overly artificial, reflection showed it to be a stroke of genius. While air assault elements usually travelled at heights susceptible to ground fire, once ground fire was received, the air elements would rise above it and call in tac air to reduce any opposition. In the simulation, with a scale of one mile to the “hex” and the usual unit being a battalion, such ground fire would be negligible at best. Thus, the jump move accurately reflects the reality of Vietnam.
The documentation is what we have come to expect from MicroProse — only more so. The documentation is over 100 pages long, and acts as a virtual tutorial on the conflict in Vietnam. Having proof-read the documentation for historical accuracy, this writer can find no flaws therein (earlier political conclusions were edited out, when it was apparent that the Vietnamese Conflict can still raise passions to an unreasonable degree). The bibliography is complete, and offers the serious gamer/historian ample opportunity to delve into further research. The only problem with the bibliography is not the designer’s fault; this writer does not believe that the definitive text on the war has yet been written, and any reader should examine the author’s political prejudices.
As for the simulation itself, CIV covers five operations: Dien Bien Phu (French vs. Viet Minh, 1954), Ia Drang (US vs. NVA, 1965), Khe Sanh (US vs. NVA, Tet 1968), Fishhook (US vs. NVA, Cambodia 1970), and Easter Offensive (ARVN vs. NVA, 1972). Each scenario is complete in itself, although of course, some are more interesting than others.
Dien Bien Phu is a tutorial. As the French, the player has no possibility of winning, and as the Viet Minh, one cannot lose unless one purposely tries to (and even then this writer is not sure that defeat is possible). However, the scenario will teach the novice the basic mechanics. The variants (particularly the one involving American intervention) does offer the French a ray of hope, but this writer suggests looking at the scenario once or twice, and then going on to the meat of the simulation.
Ia Drang reflects the 1st Air Cav’s initial employment in Vietnam, in the Ia Drang (River Drang) Valley Campaign. As the NVA (North Vietnamese Army) attempts to seize a Special Forces Camp at Plei Mei, you employ your air cav to sweep the valley and search-and-destroy. A tense simulation, this writer regards it as the best scenario in the package.
Khe Sanh recreates the Tet Offensive in the area bounded by the DMZ (DeMilitarized Zone), Khe Sanh and Quang Tri City. As of this writing, the playtesting is continuing, but the overall effect is as follows: most US forces are static (i.e. garrison units). Although NVA units may be spotted, reaction forces are simply inadequate to deal with the situation. Therefore, the player waits for the hammer to fall — but where? If the American chooses the wrong critical location, then the NVA will achieve a decisive victory, Walter Cronkite will wonder what is going on, and the end of American participation will ensue.
FishHook portrays the Cambodian incursion in 1970 (the direct cause of the Kent State Massacre). While historically the NVA had “bugged out”, that was not a concrete decision. Therefore, the scenario variations offer different enemy OBs (orders of battle). Will you find an empty fishhook or a hornet’s nest? Too aggressive or too timid a posture will lose the operation. One must probe aggressively, decide upon likely enemy opposition and then commit himself to a course of action.
Easter Offensive portrays the NVA offensive against the South Vietnamese Army (ARVN) after deVietnamization (only American air support is available to the South). A truly conventional battle with armor playing a key role.
Overall, CIV is a tutorial on the war in Vietnam. If one follows the documentation carefully, and plays the variants as suggested, one will achieve a greater understanding of the War in Vietnam than reading any book currently available. However, the game can be unforgiving in that tactical errors may quickly lead to strategic losses. Even more important, the game is highly balanced. Usual victory conditions will range between a draw and a slight victory for either side — it can be frustrating, but it is highly accurate.
In playing the game, this writer strongly advocates the use of limited intelligence (for the game, not the user). Seeing only a portion of the NVA and responding thusly may allow a strong element to bypass one’s position, and snatch victory from the American forces. The shock of seeing all forces deployed at the game’s conclusion is worth the price of admission (“wait a minute! I destroyed all the enemy, didn’t I?....”).
The American forces are strong and mobile; the problem is that there are not enough of them to accomplish the necessary objectives. In playtesting, the following lesson was learned through repeated playings: do not use American ground forces for assaults if at all possible. The best use of American forces is to fix the enemy in place and adopt a defensive posture. American air and artillery support is the tool of destruction. While this is not in keeping with the tenets of the Infantry School, it is what occurred in Vietnam.
Also, even more important, is to allow latitude to one’s subordinate commanders. While one can adjust fire for all units independently, it is more efficient to permit most air/artillery units to determine targets under local command. Use minimum force necessary; your other elements will be required elsewhere.
One may play as either side. While most players will sympathize with the American forces, one must remember that the Americans generally are on the defensive. Initiative usually rests with the NVA. Thus, if one can play the NVA without prejudice, then one will be able to seize the initiative. American fire support is deadly, but the NVA’s ability to avoid contact unless on grounds of his choosing present interesting tactical problems. NVA assaults are best predicated on an initial sharp attack, followed by rapid disengagement in order to prevent destruction by American air and artillery.
Practically speaking, CIV is an exercise in frustration. The player will condemn the politicians for refusing additional troop and fire support and for placing him in an untenable position. But this is historically accurate. CIV is a simulation that is intensely realistic and accurate; its defect is that the war in Vietnam was not a clean effort resulting in American victory (if it was, gaming the situation would have been much easier).
If your interest in Vietnam is limited to rooting for Rambo (but if it were, you would obviously not have read this far), then CIV is not for you. On the other hand, if you wish to discern the historical problems faced by commanders in Vietnam, then CIV is strongly recommended.
For a more detailed ananlysis, cf. the latest copy of Computer Gaming World.
From the Trenches: Conflict in Vietnam will be released no later than 15 March. SSI has released Antietam (a game on the Civil War battle which looks interesting); USAAF (United States Army Air Force), the bomber offensive over Germany, is scheduled for a late-March release. Fighter Command and Mech Brigade are scheduled for conversion (no release date yet), although Battle Group (Kampfgruppe on the Western Front) is not listed for conversion.
MicroProse is looking for a new simulation subject. Does anyone have any suggestions on topics they would like to see (and that have commercial potential). Please call or write me with your responses and I will be happy to pass them on.
CURRENT NOTES / 1986-04 / PAGE 8
Last month, “Battle Bytes” gave an in in-depth review to Conflict in Vietnam; this month, Nam. Can someone spot a trend in the making? Now that American involvement in southeast Asia is socially acceptable in historical terms, one can expect more treatments of the subject. This reviewer is still awaiting the campaign treatment with four different sets of victory conditions — American, North Vietnamese, National Liberation Front/Viet Cong (NLF/VC), and South Vietnamese. Of course, that will require the sixteen-bit computers.
But in the meantime, SSI has released Nam by Roger Damon and Jeff Johnson. This solitaire simulation (one can only play as the US/ARVN [Army Republic of Vietnam]) is described as “a tactical wargame of U.S. and Allied forces in Vietnam” for introductory and intermediate players. To anyone familiar with Mr. Damon’s prior designs (Operation Whirlwind, Field of Fire, Panzer Grenadier), Nam will be familiar — In fact, overly so for reasons which will be covered infra.
Six scenarios cover search and destroy missions in jungle and tunnel environs as well as an armor confrontation and street clearing during the Tet Offensive (1968) in Hue. Despite the publicity announcements for Nam which stated that the player commands squads of U.S. Marines, most scenarios offer the player command of army units (yes, there is a difference!). Different scenarios offer American, ARVN and ROK (Republic of Korea [South]) infantry, artillery, airborne, marine, ranger and air cav; the computer controls the NVA/VC. Except for the scenario descriptions, one is unsure exactly which enemy will be encountered.
Three levels of play difficulty and historical/non-historical enemy deployment are offered. Given the ahistorical situation generally facing the player, it is suggested that both be tried. The player may enjoy the simulation, although he will not learn anything pertaining to actual ground combat in southeast Asia.
Game length varies from ten to forty turns, with the clearing operations lasting the longest. Each hex is c. fifty (50) meters, and no time scale is delineated.
The reviewers were eager to play this simulation because of the potential for helicopter employment in small unit actions. As the documentation notes, “the advent of the helicopter revolutionized mobile warfare”. Finally, a chance to command something other than the usual armor/infantry unit; however, the command is less than inspiring. Helicopters are limited in their movement rates by an unrealistic scale. While airmobile assets are not restricted by terrain, they are limited to 32 movement points per turn (by comparison, dismounted infantry can move 8 hexes in clear terrain; trucks, 24; and armor, 10). Thus, helicopters move a maximum of 1600 m. — only eight times faster than “straight leg” infantry. Assuming a game turn of 2-5 minutes (which is usual with games of this distance scale), with more emphasis on the longer turn, this means that infantry is moving at c. 3 mph while the air assets are moving at c. 12 mph. Discussions with combat pilots have revealed that helicopters usually “loaf” at c. 40-60 mph, and once enemy fire is received, speeds quickly achieve 90-102 mph or greater. Thus, Nam has created a helicopter only marginally more effective than a truck — and given the importance placed upon air mobility and firepower, the helicopter is “not worth a flying truck”. If the helicopter “revolutionized” mobile warfare, then Nam conclusively proves why Saigon is now Ho Chi Minh City.
In two scenarios, any remaining enemy forces will result in a “Questionable Victory”. However, status messages at each turn’s end can be misleading. Often, the American player will have a decisive victory until the final turn and suddenly, the end result will be a “Questionable Victory”. It would have been nice to have the “missing” units visible in an after-action mode so that the player could evaluate his play.
The tunnel scenario (Tuy Hoa: Into the Underground) has a serious flaw. When enemy units are discovered, they become vulnerable to chopper and mortar fire, but not artillery fire. By any realistic standard, all such fires should be ineffective. While American fire support was usually accurate, it was not that accurate!
The strategy of concentrated firepower must be balanced by “chipping away” at enemy strength, depending upon the particular tactical situation. Often, “digging in” is more effective than maneuver (and safer too!).
The historical scenarios are usually detailed adequately, but some scenarios are clearly bogus. Ia Drang: Death from the Air covers the employment of the First Air Cav Division in 1965; the map is mostly jungle with a road passing through the center via the village of Ia Drang. Since “Ia” means river in Vietnamese, the name of the village is River Drang. But there was no such village. The Ia Drang Valley was a generally isolated valley with little population. The scenario bears no relation to history!
But all in all, Nam is an introductory game. Can one play it and receive an enjoyable gaming experience? The answer has to be a qualified yes; but if one wishes to achieve a better understanding of the Vietnam Conflict, Nam is totally unsatisfactory.
The simulation simply does not simulate warfare in Vietnam. Without the documentation and the obvious helicopter (which is tactically useless), one would be hard pressed to determine which war was being simulated. Thus, although SSI was the first computer company to produce a Vietnam simulation, they were also the first company to fail at such a simulation.
Scuttlebutt: SSI’s USAAF (bomber offensive over Germany, 1943-45) should be released by this time; Antietam has been released (review forthcoming).
CURRENT NOTES / 1986-05 / PAGE 12BATTLE BYTES by M. Evan Brooks
Battle of Antietam (BOA) is SSI’s latest release ($49.95). This detailed simulation has been designed for the Civil War buff; BOA covers the bloodiest day in American military history — 22,000 casualties were incurred. BOA allows the player to assume command of either side, to play a two-player version, or to sit back and watch the computer play itself.
Game difficulty ranges from easy to very difficult. One may choose the Basic Game (icons, no command control problems and full visibility), the Intermediate Game (icons or military symbols, command control and limited visibility), or for the experienced commander, the Advanced Game (similar to the Intermediate Game, but with individual commanders added).
The documentation delineates the rules moderately well. While no major omissions exist, the rules for enfilading fire and its effect are covered all too briefly — thereby compelling the player to learn by “seeing the elephant”. The maps are well done, and the historical data is quite well done (the Order of Battle is especially impressive); the bibliography notes the major works on the subject. Once again, the West Point Atlas of American Wars (Esposito & Elting) may prove invaluable to the player, and any serious gamer should obtain this two-volume set.
BOA is a nephew of Kampfgruppe; BOA is a phased game rather than a simultaneous resolution-type game. Chuck Kroegel, the designer, stated that wargame simulation can cover simultaneous (a la Microprose) or phased (a la BOA) turn resolution; he prefers the latter because it allows the player to react in a more logical fashion. Of course, Mr. Kroegel admits the advantage of both types of games, and feels that each serves its audience. Input in BOA is via keyboard only; again, an Apple translation, the implementation of joystick control would not have been that difficult for the Atari version.
Upon booting the game, the first thing the veteran gamer will encounter is a sense of confusion. The map is well done, but it simply looks incorrect. Why? — the obvious answer is that the map is upside down (north is the bottom). Upon checking the rules, this is correct — the map is upside down! Mr. Kroegel felt that the orientation is not too confusing, and that initially the product was to be a solitaire game played by the Union. To maximize user-friendliness, the map was oriented to the Union viewpoint. After implementing both player options, the designer felt that reorienting the map would not improve anything; his playtesters’ consensus was that the map was fine. This reviewer does not agree; while the total disorientation does compel a novel approach, the confusion engendered is simply not worth it. The designer has admitted that in his next design (Gettysburg), north will assume its traditional position (i.e. top).
This reviewer utilized the Advanced Game, with command control and limited visibility. As the Union, the player is faced with a disjointed assault into the face of the Southern lines. Due to command control problems, the Union will only be able to activate four (4) divisions. This forces an immediate decision — should one activate Hooker’s I Corps (three  divisions) and advance through the cornfield (Historical Version) or should one choose a flooding-type of advance and hope to get some divisions across Antietam Creek before the South can respond? The player’s initial choice can well determine the course of the game.
A general advance can achieve limited river crossings. But often, these gains are of minimal value, since the losses incurred will prevent any exploitation, and with the lack of command control, the player cannot reinforce his successes timely. The historical mode will not be a cakewalk; I Corps will incur horrendous casualties. But, as the North, the player can tolerate such casualties as long as the South is stretched. The Confederate role may be likened to a rubber band; while command control is not a problem, being outnumbered 2-1 is. While initial Union assaults may resemble World War I attacks, they do extend the Confederate. Can the Southron reinforce? If he does so, it is at a cost to the line elsewhere; when the Union activates other troops and tests the line elsewhere, the Confederate may not be able to respond timely.
A word of caution; read the documentation carefully, and note the symbology utilized. This reviewer advanced I Corps several times and could not understand where the casualties were coming from. Further study revealed that what appeared to be marsh-type terrain was in fact an unlimbered artillery battery. Advancing in column blithely past an enemy artillery battery is not the mark of a good commander, and it can be hazardous to one’s health!
At any rate, the Union commander must bite the bullet and advance into the fray. The South simply waits and hopes its responses anticipate major Northern advances. If the South can impede the North until late afternoon, D.H. Hill’s Division will reinforce the hard-pressed Confederates. It may not be enough, but these reinforcements will definitely make the Union hesitate. The Confederate cannot hold onto the terrain indefinitely; he must judiciously retreat without allowing a major breakthrough.
Commanders are essential to victory. While divisional and corps commanders give a bonus on assaults to their troops, this advantage is more than negated by the victory point loss engendered by their loss. Union Corps commanders are worth 500 VP; with a major victory worth 5,000 points, it would not take too many leadership losses to destroy one’s campaign. In addition, if a leader is killed/wounded, he must be replaced, and the entire chain moves up (i.e. if Hooker is a casualty, then Meade would take over the Corps while the senior surviving brigade commander would take over as Divisional Commander). Also, units may not move their maximum if not within command control; brigades trace to divisions which trace to corps. Placement of leaders is crucial and should be reviewed often to assure they are accomplishing what the player wishes.
Although cavalry is more mobile than infantry, this reviewer does not feel that they should be utilized early. The cavalry is worth three times the VPs of the infantry. Therefore, an assault by cavalry (with its lower firepower) will actually cause a much larger loss than is apparent to the player. The prime role of cavalry is exploitation near the game’s conclusion; the Union player must break the Southern line and move through Sharpsburg to the top of the map. Cavalry can be used for such exploitation, as long as its losses can be kept at a minimum.
Each turn takes c. one hour. The computer is not quick, although the designer claims that the Atari version is the fastest one. One can save the game easily, and it is definitely not one to be played in one sitting.
With limited visibility, one is never sure as to where the enemy is concentrating. As the Union, push forward until losses bring one to a stumbling halt. Then do it again with another division. If one has any empathy for his fellow man, Antietam will be a difficult game; the value of human life is cheapened to an extreme. But this is historically accurate. McClellan, the Boy Genius (?), organized an army and loved it; the Army of the Potomac fully reciprocated his feelings. Thus, it is ironic that his employment of his troops created so many casualties. Having discovered the Confederate plans before the battle began, his reluctance to commit his army delayed its advance until his intelligence coup was rendered almost worthless.
In a sample game, this reviewer achieved a minor Union victory (4,557 VP; 5,000 are needed for a major victory). Losses were extremely heavy: Killed — 3,311 (Union), 2,777/351 (Confederate infantry/cavalry); Wounded — 15,731/17 (Union), 13,196/1,670 Confederate; Missing — 1,655/34 (Union), 1,388/175 (Confederate). In addition, the South lost 19 artillery guns. Leadership losses were roughly even: North, 19 brigade leaders and 4 divisional commanders; South, 16 brigade leaders and 2 divisional commanders. At the onset of the battle, the arrays’ strengths were 60,000-30,000 (Union: Confederate); at the conclusion, 45,000-15,000. While both sides took roughly equivalent losses (this was true of most Civil War battles), the South simply lacked the manpower pool to make up such losses.
The game was extremely accurate. Losses are taken in minute detail. It is extremely exhilarating to note that J.E.B. Stuart was cut down in the midst of the final defense. But there are reservations to BOA; the product resembles a CPX (command post exercise) or a TEWT (Tactical Exercise without Troops). Everything has been planned for; the data is all present. What is lacking is the fun and charisma of it all. BOA is accurate and historical, but its ponderous play and slowness of response simply remove the joy from the game. This reviewer discussed the product with several wargamers; the response was universal, in that some spark of life was absent. A word used often in the description of BOA was tedious. While such a description may be overly harsh, it does bear a germ of truth.
The novice/intermediate versions do not share this fault, of course. But then again, they lack much of the historical flavor. If the Union player can command all his troops simultaneously, then the South is lost ab initio. Also, one cannot learn from the computer’s play. Why? — because it cheats! If one plays the South against the Union computer, he will note that the Union activates more divisions than a human player is ever allowed. This activation allows the computer to play a more challenging game; it also prevents the human player from learning from the computer’s success.
Overall, BOA has elements of greatness. But its lack of speed and its ponderousness detract from its appeal. Recommendation: ***
From the trenches: Conflict in Vietnam had been delayed beyond the most pessimistic guesses of the designer, but it is finally available. Also, USAAF should be available by this time. The remainder of the wargaming maket is quiet; with Origins coming in August, this may be the lull before the storm.
Guest Appearance: Dr. Ed Bever, Microprose’s ace designer, is scheduled to appear at Novatari’s May meeting. The topic: wargaming, of course!
CURRENT NOTES / 1986-06 / PAGE 10
Once upon a time in a galaxy far, far away... (Oops, sorry! Wrong universe). But seriously, back in the truly ancient days of computerdom (i.e. the early 70’s), college students could often be found ensconced in the University Computer Room playing Star Trek, a main-frame simulation. For those of us weaned on Star Trek, and for those of us just desiring some fun, it was a grand simulation. Of course, times have changed...
Cygnus’ Star Fleet I resurrects the old classic with parameters on a home computer that we never dreamed of on the mainframes. Upon opening the package, it is apparent that this is a labor of love. The documentation runs over 100 pages (including the Atari supplement).
While historical accuracy cannot be verified in a game of this type, the “feel” is all-important, and SFI has it in abundance. While the documentation may appear overwhelming, much of it is “chrome” — nice to have, but not mandatory to enjoy the game.
As for the game itself, one begins as a cadet on a training mission. After sufficient completions of search-and-destroy missions, the player is promoted eventually to the rank of Admiral Emeritus. On top of seeking to ascend the military ladder, successful missions may well result in the Alliance’s grateful bestowment of medals and decorations upon you, the valorous player.
Of course, the enemy is persistent. Krellan ships (i.e. read Klingon) are continually nibbling away at your Star Bases, and it is a poor commander who permits the destruction of a Base. Furthermore, in the more advanced scenarios, one may encounter the dreaded Zaldrons, a reptilian-like race with the benefit of the cloaking device (which renders their ships invisible; Captain Kirk, where are you now that we need you?). Although the 64 quadrants in your sector consist of 100 sectors each, one will never face more than 5 Krellans and/or one Zaldron per quadrant. Introductory scenarios do not allow the enemy to move, while more advanced scenarios permit movement intra- and inter-sector.
Options and decisions abound. While you are not initially aware of the location of your Star Bases, they will quickly make themselves known when under attack. Therefore, your early efforts should be made with a view to determining the location of a Base for resupply purposes. Your ship is armed with torpedoes (which may also be used as mines) and phasers (which utilize a LOT of energy). Besides simple targeting, one must properly navigate through space (the target calculator does this just fine; manual navigation may be an exercise in frustration). On top of this, one may utilize long-range probes, long-range sensors, tractor beams, transporters, internal security (one never knows when an infiltrator will beam aboard on a mission of sabotage), damage control and repair, and for the truly desperate, emergency hyperspace maneuver and/or self-destruct (you can take it with you!).
The graphics of SFI are adequate; they accomplish the mission in an informative way, but the real attraction of this game is the panoply of options and their interrelationships. This is not to say that the game is a strategic mind-bender. On the contrary, it is relatively easy to learn and to play (long missions may take 3 hours, but one may elect shorter durations or save the mission at virtually any time for later play). In this reviewer’s library, SFI has become the game of choice when a short-time resolution is desired and a game of major decision-making a la War in Russia is simply too much to chew.
This reviewer must admit that this review may be somewhat premature. Upon purchasing the game, one must send away for the “Training Manual” which yields tactical hints and other assistance. To date, this has not been received, and many purchasers have noted a similar delay in receipt. However, since this reviewer has now been promoted to the rank of Commander and decorated with 2 Star Fleet Citations for Gallantry, the Knight’s Cross of the Iron Cross, the Hero of the Alliance Gold Star and 2 Alliance Defense Crosses with Gold Star, it would seem that the manual may not be required reading. But then again, it is free for purchasers of the original package (it is assumed that this market maneuver will prevent piracy and give the company a ready mailing list).
The following tactical lessons should be learned early:
Of course, there are some minuses:
Discussions with the designer revealed that the flaws have been corrected in later versions. Dr. Sorensen has obviously put a lot of work into this product, and it shows! But, as the title notes, it is Star Fleet I — The Battle Begins! We may expect a sequel c. September-November.
This reviewer would like to note two addenda to last month’s review:
From the Trenches: SSI’s USAAF and Microprose’s Gunship may be released shortly, but the remainder of the market is quiet. Also, Dr. Bever from Microprose, originally scheduled for the May meeting, has been rescheduled for June. Come and hear him discuss computer wargaming and the market today!
CURRENT NOTES / 1986-09 / PAGE 16
USAAF (United States Army Air Force) is an extremely detailed simulation of the American daytime bomber offensive against Germany between 1 August 1943 and 1 August 1945. With mission planning and execution on a “daily” basis, meticulous thought is required to secure victory.
Numerous play options exist: scenarios may begin on 1 August 1943 (marked German advantage), 1 February 1944 (a close-matched battle) or on 1 November 1944 (marked American advantage). These scenarios may be played in one (1) month scenarios, or in a long campaign until the collapse of the German economy or 1 August 1945 (whichever comes first). The computer may play either, both or neither side (if the computer is playing itself, one may take over as the German during the raid execution phase).
Play mechanics are straight-forward. As the American, one must assign bomber formations (with target type and alternate) as well as escorts (close and deep), feints and airfield sweeps. The German player must react to the American raids, seeking to intercept the most dangerous ones and inflict maximum damage to the bomber streams over the Fatherland.
The American side is easier to play; once bomber missions are assigned, they are automatically executed to the best of their ability. The American player can only wait and watch nervously (a la 12 O’Clock High). The German player must react promptly, determining the most efficient intercepts and transferring air assets from front to front.
The computer displays the pertinent portions of the European mainland. During housekeeping functions, one may determine missions (American) or plane production (German) and overall status of the economy (both). As the missions begin, one may watch the progress of the bombers/escorts and the actual intercepts by German Gruppen.
USAAF is very detailed. In order for the American to win, the German industrial machine must be negated. Certain key industries (e.g. oil, electric, steel) reverberate on other industries; thus, the American must decide on proper target prioritization, keeping in mind that the farther targets expose the bombers to more intercepts and that escort fighters do not have the capacity to render full coverage (especially in the initial stages of the campaign).
A short scenario can be played in 3-5 hours; this covers one month. The full campaign scenario requires “at least” 250-300 hours. This reviewer played the full campaign as the German (with historical parameters). While it would have been nice to play the campaign as the American in order to gain a full appreciation of both sides, time constraints obviously do not permit this.
USAAF is not perfect. The flaws, while not material, are occasionally burdensome, e.g.:
In order for the German to win, it is essential to maximize jet aircraft production, particularly the ME 262. While this aircraft can appear as late as November 1944, production maximization may cause its appearance between May-June 1944. As quickly as possible, retire obsolete aircraft and reequip with jets. While it is impossible to acquire sufficient ME 262s to revamp the entire Luftwaffe, following months will provide the rocket fighter, ME 263B, as an interim. Finally, the HE 162A, while not as good as the ME 262, is cheaper to build and by May 1945, the Luftwaffe may be totally jet-powered.
The reason jets are so critical is that they are almost invulnerable to normal Allied fighters, plus they do not use aviation fuel. By September 1944, American raids will have rendered aviation fuel scarce, and many piston-type aircraft will be grounded. But this does not affect jets (which utilized a much less refined distillate). Simply ignore the fighter escorts, go for the bombers and maximize the kill ratio.
In terms of tactics, these tend to change during the war (depending on aircraft availability). It is impossible to ever destroy a raid; but enough damage may well render it ineffective. Early on, use ME 410s, ME 110s and JU 88s as rocket-equipped to hit the bomber streams. Use other fighters to force a path through the fighter escorts that will minimize loss of the rocket-equipped planes. ME 109Gs and FW 190As are good as fighter intercepts. As more advanced planes, appear, they should be pressed into service as quickly as possible. FW 190Fs are excellent gun/rocket platforms against the bombers, while FW 190Ds, ME 109Ks, D0335As and TA 152Hs are excellent interceptor aircraft. The TA 152Hs are the most effective, but unless the German has been very successful, they will appear too late to affect the outcome.
Interception is an art in itself. React too early or too late, and the fighters will miss. In fact, there is a chance interception will fail anyway, especially with jets and their limited range (generally, reaction should be made when the target bombers are c. 66 miles [i.e. 2 hexes] distant).
Conversion to newer aircraft will not bring immediate results. One must have patience, since usually any conversion will severely affect the experience of the pilots. One must wait until the experience and morale levels have built up in order to determine the true effects of the new plane type.
In terms of overall strategy, this reviewer grounded the Luftwaffe between March and June 1944. While this would have been politically unacceptable, in game terms, the American had assumed the offensive and was devastating German aircraft. By remaining on the ground (unless an easy target presented itself), this reviewer was able to preserve the pilots until newer and better planes were available. Historically, this period was the death of the Luftwaffe, cf. The Encyclopedia of Military History, wherein this period is called the ‘attrition of the Luftwaffe’.
Discussions with Keith Brors of SSI (and the designer responsible for the Atari version) revealed that the playtesters had never considered the “grounding” option. Furthermore, he felt that the Luftwaffe could well hold its own, given proper tactical utilization; he suggested quick conversions of JU 88s and ME 110s to ME 410s. By stationing these Gruppen in the center of Germany, they could react to raids from any direction.
Mr. Brors also mentioned two aspects of the game not covered in the documentation: (1) American groups lose one plane per day automatically (e.g. downtime, weather loss, etc.); (2) the German computer is permitted to move its Gruppen every night freely (i.e. without the normal 5% morale loss).
In terms of strategic play, this reviewer recommends immediate abandonment of France. Examining target opportunities, it should be quickly apparent that basing fighters in France is a diminishing proposition. French targets are scattered and not easily supported; this reviewer recommends buttressing the Reich and allowing Vichy to stand alone. Not overly historical, but it does work!
Also, the computer American does have an annoying tendency to batter airfields. Virtually each day the weather permits, a fighter sweep will attempt to bomb/strafe an airfield. If the sweep can catch the fighters on the ground, morale will immediately drop to 20. The best counter-tactic is to have an equivalent fighter force strictly devoted to this mission. While this reviewer converted totally to jets (mainly for the principle), it would be more efficient to retain c. 240-300 piston aircraft destined for the anti-fighter sweeps. However, the American sweeps are congregated west of Essen. If these fields are abandoned, then little damage should be incurred.
The SSI playstaff had achieved loss ratios of 3:1 (bombers: German fighters), and in fact, had several raids where American bombers incurred over 200 losses. In this reviewer’s experience, the maximum damage loss was 149 American bombers (actual; the reported losses were c. 300). Loss reports may be exaggerated from 20%-50%, for both sides; this is historically accurate and adds an exciting dimension to the game. When this reviewer finished the campaign, losses were 10,912 bombers, 3993 fighters (American) and 6425 fighters (German). Damage levels had reached as high as 61, but ended at 50.
Overall, this reviewer enjoyed USAAF tremendously. It does not receive a ‘Five Star Rating’ for two reasons: (1) the flaws, while not fatal, can be annoying; (2) the sheer length of the campaign will deter all but the most indefatigable gamer (and this reviewer feels that the campaign is a much more enlightening experience than the shorter scenarios). As an additional endorsement, this reviewer plans to replay the campaign version from the American side, time permitting.
For those of you not having the time or inclination to struggle through the campaign, this reviewer has the conclusion of each month saved, thereby allowing one to pick up in mid-stream as it were. While not suggesting that these plays were optimal, they may well help a player lacking 300 hours of playtime. Availability will depend on consent of “SSI” (details in later months).
From the Trenches — while the summer provided a dearth of wargames (July’s omission was due to the lack of review materials), the pipeline has begun to flow again. Future reviews will include Mech Brigade (Kampfgruppe in the 1980’s, Great War — 1914, and Rommel — Battles for Tobruk. Microprose is in the midst of announcing its next subject, and as this reviewer will be engaged in playtesting thereof, early details should be forthcoming.
CURRENT NOTES / 1986-10 / PAGE 12
Mech Brigade, designed by the prolific (is there any other adjective to describe him?) Gary Grigsby, is an obvious descendant of Kampfgruppe. The simulation covers tactical combat in a European scenario during the 1990’s; rules, documentation and player interface are very similar to the norm established by Kampfgruppe.
Yet, Mech Brigade is not so obvious a success. Aside from the fact that this game is derivative rather than innovative in nature, there are flaws or design choices which this reviewer feel are detrimental to the historical accuracy of the simulation.
The Airland Battle doctrine, in development since the mid-1970’s, is still in a state of flux. Thus, Mech Brigade would appear to be a good testing ground; however, the major flaws bring its validity into question:
This is not to say that Mech Brigade is totally unsuccessful. It does allow for usage of smoke; this is a nice touch given the concealment it offers in a battlefield environment. Yet, one must remember that few US Army forces train with smoke. Most of the smoke-generating capacity of the Army rests with the Reserve, and its chances of being mobilized and moved to Europe in order to stop the Soviet assault in a timely fashion is subject to question.
Helicopter assets are nicely employed as well. One must remember that the helicopter may only be used where local air superiority is available, and Mech Brigade is sparing of airmobile assets. Their best missions seem to be as reconnaissance, since the non-lethality of most weapons systems give them a longer life expectancy than one would expect.
Canned scenarios are similar to Kampfgruppe, with assaults and meeting engagements being present. An explanation is necessary for the first scenario — “General Custer Rides Again” (Fulda, 8 May 1990). The Fulda Gap, one of the obvious invasion routes to central Germany (the others being the north German Plain and the Hof Gap), has been extensively surveyed, wargamed and analyzed by American Forces for forty years. The 11th Armored Cav (“Black Horse”) bears the brunt of the responsibility for the initial defense.
The scenario has the cav commander ordering “take no prisoners”. While somewhat humorous (or ludicrous, depending on one’s point of view), the 11th Armored Cav takes its role seriously. If questioned, the officers and men therein will state that they will “take names and kick ***” of any invasion force. This macho posture is probably necessary, given that the 11th’s mission is to buy time by their own destruction. And of course, in SSI’s after action report, the cav commander’s widow is notified. As an aside, if anyone visits Fulda on a military tour, the 11th Cav present a diploma (suitable for framing) which states that the individual “having successfully undergone the hazards of a journey to the border of West Germany and the Communist World and visiting the Blackhorse frontiers of freedom, is hereby appointed a life-time Honorary Member of the Border Legion”.
This reviewer has another reservation, which is not covered in the scope of the simulation. The T-72 tank is the Soviet frontline battle tank; yet its problems are invisible in the game. The laser system often requires the tank to stop movement in order to fire, and the auto-loader has a disturbing tendency to attempt to shove the loader into the breech rather than the shell. These detriments should have impacted on its efficiency; it does not appear that they do.
Finally, infantry in unimproved positions survive for too long. Such infantry would be easy targets of opportunity for armor; In Mech Brigade, such troops survive simply because the time needed to eliminate them is better spent elsewhere. Thus, the infantry survives in a lethal battlefield, virtually unscathed.
Given Mech Brigade’s faults, it is still enjoyable as was its predecessor. However, this reviewer does not feel that it is an accurate simulation of modern warfare; lessons learned herein would have little application on the Central Front.
From the Trenches: SSI will shortly release Battle of Britain (similar to USAAF, but in two-minute turns) and is working on a tactical naval simulation of World War II (with options of up to 20 ships per side!).
Coming in December: Battle Bytes presents its annual wrapup of every wargame on the market for the Atari!!
CURRENT NOTES / 1986-11 / PAGE 20
Gettysburg is the second of SSI’s detailed simulations of American Civil War battles. While bearing obvious resemblance to its predecessor Antietam (cf. Current Notes, May 1986), Gettysburg has been refined and improved to a great degree.
Gettysburg is quite detailed (although basic and intermediate versions are included) and allows one to play either, both or neither side. The last option is especially helpful in order to give the novice/intermediate player a grasp of what is happening, and more important, what should be happening. With hex areas of 200 yard depth and turns on an hourly basis, the full campaign game can require c. 40 hours of play time. However, shorter scenarios are available, and one may elect to begin on the second or third day of the battle if a shorter playing time is desired.
The changes from the Antietam system are fully covered in the documentation. They include: revision of command and rally, ammunition resupply, more detailed artillery rules, recovery from fatigue, weather visibility and capture of prisoners. The modifications make the game both smoother and more accurate; It is nice to see that criticisms of SSI’s earlier efforts have been answered in a pleasing manner.
The documentation itself is relatively complete, although two minor omissions exist. Victory is decided by casualty ratio and area possession; the Union notes square “10,1” as being listed twice. This was a typographical error, and one should be corrected to “18,1”. The rules allow for reconnaissance of enemy units (rough approximations of size); however, nowhere does it state that such reconnaissance is limited to 5-6 times per turn (the designer has stated that a random factor may allow as many as 10 recons per turn). The most elegant portion of the documentation package is the historical map section. Actual historical deployments are depicted at various times utilizing representations similar to the graphic display. This is extremely useful in allowing one to translate from “bare bones” history to computer environment. These interesting maps serve as a gauge in order for one to ascertain his progress; SSI is to be commended for this educational bonus.
The bibliography is relatively complete, although no game antecedents are noted (there does seem to be some resemblance to SPI’s Terrible Swift Sword). This reviewer would suggest the following additions to the bibliography for the interested reader:
As for the game itself, the mere subject matter is sufficient to what the appetite of most wargamers. This reviewer feels that Antietam suffered from the fact that the battle itself simply wasn’t that interesting — a Union army, twice as strong as its opponent, attempted to bludgeon its way to victory while hamstrung by a vacillating commander. Artificial constraints were required to force the player into similar behavior; the net result was a “slug-fest” lacking finesse. On the other hand, Gettysburg was a meeting engagement; the armies, relatively equal in size, blundered into each other and fought a three-day engagement. What is particularly intriguing about Gettysburg is that each side has the opportunity to be both offensive and defensive. The Army of Northern Virginia outnumbers the Army of the Potomac for the majority of the first day. If victory is to be gained, it must be quick; a stalemate or marginal victory will lead to massive casualties in the second and third days as the Union reinforcements are able to make their weight felt.
This reviewer played the campaign scenario as the North with historical parameters and advanced options; however, full visibility was utilized. Full visibility was utilized because otherwise, the screen blacks out totally during the computer movement phase (this may last up to 7 minutes). In Antietam, this did not occur; the SSI staff said this was done here because memory requirements to access each unit to determine its visibility would have been excessive. With full visibility, the player has the option to watch or black out the screen. Thus, hidden movement is poorly implemented.
As the North, one must hold onto Culp’s and Cemetery Hills. Historically, the South did not even attempt to seize this key terrain on the first day. But then again, the Southron attacks were uncoordinated and unsure of their objectives. The computer does not make this error; assaults are delayed until combined arms offensives are virtually assured of success.
The player may become discouraged since the North cannot emulate its historical performance. This is true; virtually all histories of Gettysburg acknowledge that the Confederates could have achieved a major success on the first day. The Confederate computer will be difficult to delay, and the North will be hard pressed to retain Cemetery Hill and Culp’s Hill. But this must be done; If this key terrain is lost, the North will be forced to assume the offensive in a disadvantageous position.
Historically, the South attacked piece-meal. Heth’s division attacked Buford’s cavalry without support. The computer will wait for Rodes’ division before initiating the assault. Any Union defense on MacPherson ridge will be quickly outflanked and shattered. This reviewer recommends an immediate withdrawal to Gettysburg with the cavalry and Wadsworth’s division. Gettysburg should be used as the Stalingrad of the Civil War. Entrench within the city, but only as an interim position; utilize most of the Union reinforcements to entrench on Culp’s and Cemetery Hill. The Iron Brigade (Meredith) and the cavalry pose a strong defense, and they can buy time with their lives. Even if they are totally destroyed within the town of Gettysburg, their sacrifice should delay the Confederate assault on the Hills until 3:00 PM. From that point on, hold the hills. If the hill position can be retained, the Confederate will be deterred from continuing. In this reviewer’s experience, once the hills were retained, the Confederate computer wished to withdraw after day one, thereby giving the Union a major victory. This reviewer compelled the computer to continue, and assumed the offensive on the second day.
This brings up a lesson learned: “Beware the wounded Southron; he be a beast”. Just because the Union has won on the first day does not cause a major disruption to Southern hopes. On the second day, the armies are evenly matched, and the prudent Union commander would be well advised to assume the defensive. But then again, the player may wish to be more aggressive. If so, offense must be tempered with caution. This reviewer’s Union first day victory turned into a draw by the time the third day ended; In fact, the Confederates could have achieved a minor victory according to the victory conditions.
This points out a problem with the victory conditions. Points are given to each side for territorial possession (defined as having the last unit physically present there during a reinforcement phase). In this reviewer’s experience, the North retained two such hexes, even though they had been under Confederate control from the middle of the first day. The South had simply failed to leave a unit there during the reinforcement phase. The designer has stated that certain Confederate units are programmed to seize such hexes, but if the situation is critical elsewhere, their programming objectives will change in order to buttress the line. Thus, by shattering these units, the North may well retain “control” of important hexes totally beyond his real area of influence. Thus, as the North, one must use a portion of Buford’s cavalry early to simply ride to the victory hexes and maximize their possession before returning to the defensive.
The victory conditions point up the biggest failing in Gettysburg. They do not reflect reality. This reviewer ended the game with a shattered force; Union casualties 37,000 (i.e. 50% of the army). However, Confederate casualties were even higher, and the South retained only 37% of its force. Given that the North’s manpower replacement pool was so much greater, these types of losses would be devastating to the North, but fatal to the South. Historically, Lee never again assumed the strategic offensive after Gettysburg; the losses simply could not be replaced. Remember, historical losses were 27,000 (South) and 23,000 (North). Even more important, the loss of able commanders could not be repaired by the South. In this reviewer’s game, both Ewell and Longstreet were casualties, while the North did not lose a single corps commander. This type of loss would have shattered the Army of Northern Virginia beyond repair; the victory conditions do not recognize this and thereby distort the conclusion.
As a player, one must minimize leader casualties. Although division and corps commanders give combat incentives, their loss is more devastating. This reviewer recommends constant reshuffling of leaders in order to safeguard their lives. Their loss and the accompanying victory point loss is simply too risky.
Visibility is critical. As the battle rages, the small arms and artillery fire can create a haze over the battlefield, thereby causing future fires to be cancelled because of the lack of sighting. On the first day, the Union prays for the haze; to encourage it, fire everything at anything. Granted, damage caused may be slight, but the faster the battlefield is obscured, the better for the Union. By day two and three, the situation reverses, and the South hopes for the haze. Historical ammunition levels will support this type of activity; there is sufficient ammunition in the pool so that it can last all three days.
Artillery is a key to the battlefield. Confederate artillery is more effective at counterbattery operations, but the more numerous Union artillery is fine for destroying massed formations. The Union’s biggest problem will be finding fields of fire for the artillery; In the first day, most of the artillery is masked, and the Southern artillery has a field day. The computer Union seems to play Napoleonic artillery, i.e. putting the artillery on the battle line itself. This can work, but it leaves the artillery open to close assault. One must continually monitor the artillery and adjust the fields of fire.
If the campaign game is played, the battle will cease to resemble its historical counterpart. If the North can retain the hills, the South will form its line east-west from Seminary Ridge to Culp’s Hill and beyond; the North will form opposite. Historically, the South formed north-south on Seminary Ridge and the North opposite on Cemetery Hill-Little Round Top. Thus, the campaign game may well shift the army dispositions by 90 degrees. Also, the Union player must avoid overemphasizing a flanking movement to Wolf’s Hill (extreme right flank). While this target may appear as an invitation to roll up the Southern left flank, the terrain is wooded, and despite this reviewer’s commitment of the entire Fifth Corps, little was accomplished beyond a gradual pullback by the South.
This reviewer did manage a breakthrough east of Gettysburg, but by the time it was accomplished, both armies were too weakened for it to be decisive. Gettysburg itself remained contested. In fact, beware of potential traps; this reviewer insinuated a demi-brigade into Gettysburg on the third day, with the intention of seizing the city. Confederate assaults and zones of control forced the unit to retreat from zone of control to zone of control; total casualties exceeded 600, with the unit retaining a strength of 351!
The documentation does not mention that a unit may be totally eliminated. This can be done; Union artillery towards the end of the third day did an excellent job of destroying several demi-brigades. These generally have a remaining strength of under 50, but since the Union is unsure of their real strength, they may be used to shore up a defensive line.
Overall, Gettysburg is an excellent simulation. Building on a viable system. It took a battle more playable and made it a success. The game is detailed and requires thought and care. This reviewer recommends the campaign game for the true grognard; for the remainder of us, beginning on the second day would be the game of choice. This is because the campaign game leads to ahistorical deployments; the second day begins with the deployments most people think of when they hear “Gettysburg”.
Joystick input would have been nice, as would direct access to units by number (a la Kampfgruppe). But when the game is carefully analyzed, it is a success. Highly recommended!
From the Trenches: SSI has announced Shiloh as its next development of the Civil War series, and is in the early development stage of a battalion-regimental Napoleonic simulation which will include 5-6 scenarios and a construction set for the gamer to construct his own Napoleonic battles. Given this reviewer’s interest in Napoleonics, it will be eagerly awaited!
Next month: Annual Review — All Atari computer wargames rated and reviewed.
CURRENT NOTES / 1986-12 / PAGE 26
This article will rate every wargame currently available for the Atari computer. In deciding upon the aspects of a computer wargame, there are certain selections that one must make. Usually, levels of difficulty range from Introductory to Intermediate to Advanced, with gradations shading between these parameters. In addition, the primary medium must be considered: Land, Sea, and/or Air; and finally, the level of the simulation — Tactical (man-to-man up to company-level), Operational (battalion-level to division-level) and Strategic (corps-level to theater army or higher). This review will delineate the games available by levels of difficulty. Within each level, the subject game will be characterized by its medium, simulation level and overall recommendation. If the game has been reviewed heretofore, the issue of Current Notes is stated.
Overall recommendations are noted by asterisks following the game title:
In addition, adjustments to ratings from last year’s review are noted by “+” (upgrade) or “-” (downgrade).
CURRENT NOTES / 1987-02 / PAGE 16
Rommel, GDW’s latest release in the computer wargaming market, retails for $40. The simulation covers the four major battles for Tobruk (Brevity, Battleaxe, Crusader and Gazala). The computer permits one to play either British or Axis or utilize a two-player option. Unfortunately, the computer does not normally play itself (this can be a valuable learning lesson); however, by timely saves of the game and resetting the options, the computer can be forced to play itself, although the mechanics thereof are somewhat clumsy.
The designer, Frank Chadwick, is a boardgame designer of repute. His previous design efforts are among the best in the boardgame field, e.g. A House Divided, Operation Crusader, Fall of Tobruk, 8th Army.
Rommel is extremely detailed, with options available of fatigue, supply, limited visibility and air strikes. One may choose how many of these options to utilize; each adds realism to the simulation, but at a cost of playability. The basic problem is that a game may be very detailed and still playable; however, Rommel is rarely playable, and with the multitude of wargame designs available, this reviewer does not think that Rommel will receive a favorable reception.
The graphics are primitive, not state-of-the-art. The game was first shown in an early design stage at ORIGINS ’85 (the National Wargaming Convention). Even then, this reviewer had reservations about the graphic representation. Four strategic maps are available (German positions, British positions, both positions and terrain). The tactical map shows only a portion of the playing area, and it is here that orders are inputted. The tactical map may be scrolled by joystick or keyboard; however, an unpleasant “flicker” effect is created and scrolling is limited to vertical and diagonal, not horizontal. GDW claims that this is because Rommel is one of the few computer simulations to use a true hexgrid, but the overall effect can be tedious. Turn resolution is accomplished on the strategic map; both movement and combat occur by amorphous pixels moving and having combat. This review may be saved, with a full game’s saves becoming a virtual docu-drama. While this is a nice touch, the basic primitiveness of such resolution is questionable.
Even more important is the computer artificial intelligence. Depending upon the degree of complexity and options chosen, the computer may take anywhere from 3-15 minutes in order to decide how to act. This does NOT include resolution, but merely the computer deciding upon its strategy. As the programmer points out, in a two-player version, this is not a handicap. But, the vast majority of wargame simulations are played solitaire. Given that, the computer response time is totally inadequate.
Most of the time is spent with the artificial intelligence determining the front line. The programmer, Mark Miller, stated that Rommel takes a fresh look at the situation each turn. The program does not use a decision-tree branching analysis. This reviewer is not really certain of the advantages in Rommel’s approach; suffice it to say that the time delay outweighs any increase in realism.
The programmer noted that Rommel was composed of 38,000 source lines and 13,000 data lines. This is an extremely long program, using virtually both sides of the Atari disk version (for comparison, Microprose’s Kennedy Approach is c. 17,000 lines in its entirety). Thus, there is a lot of information contained in Rommel; the flaw is that most gamers will not have the patience to dig it out.
The documentation is voluminous. However, there are two omissions: player hints are brief, at best and a bibliography is lacking. Mr. Chadwick has stated that the sources mainly used in developing the game were the official German and Australian histories as well as information he had gleaned from many prior design efforts in the boardgaming field. The map insert is extremely detailed and reminiscent of board wargames. Although GDW denies it, Rommel has the appearance of a board wargame adapted for the computer as an afterthought, and this appears to be Rommel’s primary failure.
Fatigue and visibility options add increased realism. The supply option is among the most detailed ever in a computer simulation, as are the air strikes. Supply can be traced from each corps HQ to its subordinate units; in the longer scenarios, this will drive one’s strategy. This is correct — the Desert War was a conflict of logistics; long periods of relative inactivity except for logistics acquisition were followed by short intensive combat which ended as the logistics chain became overextended. Rommel does an excellent job of recreating this aspect of the war.
Just as important are the Corps Tables. These portray enemy/friendly status. The most interesting facet of Rommel’s limited visibility is that the enemy Corps Table is, by necessity, incomplete; in effect, it becomes the player’s G2 (intelligence and enemy order of battle). Only those enemy units adjacent to or previously in contact with one’s forces will be revealed, and much of the information shown may be dangerously out of date. But such is the life of the commander!
Air strikes simulate tactical bombing raids. One must determine sorties and target prioritization, while keeping range data and changing battlefield conditions in mind. Bombing raids mistimed are worse than useless; they can cause friendly casualties or even support an enemy counterattack. However, their proper use may well retrieve an otherwise doomed position.
Victory conditions are similar for each scenario. Generally, control of key terrain (especially Tobruk) coupled with a favorable combat kill ratio determine the victor. The German player must realize that Tobruk may often be unattainable; in that case, his tactics will be limited to forcing large British casualties. Similarly, the British player must examine the victory conditions and avoid the historical mistake of reacting piece-meal. Coherent strategic plans coupled with tactical expertise are the keys to victory.
Rommel permits multi-stacking in hexes. This will allow a proper Schwerpunkt deployment as well as maximum defensive positions. However, the player must carefully examine the hex to insure that he is aware of all units therein. Also, unless one is careful, horrendous traffic jams may be created that delay tactical implementation.
Overall, Rommel is an extremely detailed simulation. But the detail clutters playability to an unconscionable degree so that Rommel becomes an exercise in frustration. The designer and programmer were very helpful and cooperative in answering any questions this reviewer had. Their assistance is deeply appreciated, and this reviewer wishes that this review would be able to repay them in kind. But Rommel’s flaws will doom it to the back of most gamer’s shelves.
GDW’s previous computer simulation, Chickamauga, was favorably reviewed by Computer Gaming World (Jun-Jul 85). That review noted Chickamauga’s success as being two-fold: physical implementation coupled with the design modelling the battle. Not all reviewers concur, and this reviewer feels that Rommel fails for the same reasons as Chickamauga only more so. Physical implementation and user friendliness are inadequate; these failures are of a sufficient magnitude to deter all but the most hardy from delving into the game.
This is a shame; it is apparent that much design time and effort went into Rommel. More was attempted than in most simulations. But the lack of response time by the artificial intelligence coupled with the graphics cannot save Rommel from itself. Final RATING: ** (Buy only if interested in this period.)
Undocumented Feature: Rommel has a feature not mentioned in the documentation, which may prove educational for the user. At any point one is in the OPTION SCREEN, pressing the “Shift-R” keys will allow the player to review the computer’s move and modify it as one wishes (the programmer calls it the “ultimate cheat” key). Once this option is selected, it may not be turned off.
From the Trenches. Gary Grigsby’s latest wargame, is now available for the Atari. Much of the remainder of the market is quiescent at best, and few new releases are imminent. But if and when Gunship (MicroProse) appears, buy it!
CURRENT NOTES / 1987-03 / PAGE 26
Warship is the latest release from SSI’s Gary Grigsby. A “tactical game of surface combat in the Pacific, 1941-1945”, Warship may well be described as “Kampfgruppe Goes to Sea”. Aside from the four included scenarios, the product includes a design-your own option. While not as flexible as one would hope, Warship still permits one to recreate any major Pacific surface naval action. The disappointment lies in the rigidity of the design options — twenty-four gun types are included in the game; while this is sufficient for Pacific World War II naval actions, a little more initiative (with regard to gun types, armor and magazine vulnerability) would have allowed one to design surface combat from any 20th Century period (e.g. Russo-Japanese War’s Tsushima, World War I’s Dogger Bank, Falklands, Jutland).
For anyone familiar with Kampfgruppe, Warship will be familiar territory; this is both its strength and weakness. Graphics are barely adequate, and oftentimes resemble “Strike of the Seaborne Spermatazoa” from Biology I rather than an actual naval action. However, one can learn to live with the graphics; it is the meat of the program that may prove more difficult to digest.
That is not to say that Warship is an unacceptable game. The problem with Warship is that the documentation is inadequate for the vast majority of gamers. While Mr. Grigsby offers four scenarios (Guadalcanal I and II, Augusta Bay and Leyte) and sufficient numbers of ships (including British and Dutch), anyone not intimately familiar with surface naval warfare will not know where to begin. Scenarios may be easily created and modified; the difficulty is in discerning the historical accuracy and tactics of that situation in order to gain a valid appreciation of the era.
Nowhere in the documentation are surface naval tactics explained; a brief mention is made of “Crossing the T”, but the effect thereof is buried within a mass of combat modifiers. Actual combat results are applied in so arcane a fashion as to leave it beyond the capabilities of the only mildly-interested. Combat results are noted by point of impact and penetration or flotation damage; near misses will often cause penetration damage. What exactly does this mean? A near miss should not be penetrating armor; on the other hand, a near miss could well cause rivets to pop loose and structural damage to occur. The documentation does not address the point.
Of course, Warship is rated as an advanced simulation. But Kampfgruppe was similarly rated, and the documentation offered operational and tactical guidance, all of which is sorely missing in Warship.
Warship does have some interesting features: (1) Movement may be done by individual ship, or by Division Mode. By permitting the player to “shift his flag” between an individual captain and an admiral, one can gain a certain appreciation of much that is happening. Even more important is the fact that a damaged ship in line can fatally slow down an entire division. Quick individual adjustments may be made to have that ship shift to another division and fall safely to the rear. (2) Turns do not occur in regular sequence; action is continuous unless the player wishes to add (O)rders by depressing the “O” key at certain times. This has the effect of allowing the battle to proceed efficiently and fluidly, with player intervention only as necessary. (3) Torpedoes present an interesting dilemma in Warship. Players utilizing Division Mode can best leave torpedo firings to the “computer” captains. On individual mode, one must determine “slow” or “fast” speed settings and then determine the angle of intercept. Unless the player is an Annapolis graduate, this reviewer recommends leaving torpedo firings to the experts (i.e. the computer).
Victory conditions are somewhat nebulous. A point differential tells a victor, but nowhere is any differentiation made between a marginal victory and a decisive conquest; gross numbers of points will tell something, but the documentation could well have supplied the historical results as a guide.
Whether or not Warship is an accurate simulation is unknown. Too much information is hidden within the program; an overall recommendation would be for the dedicated naval buff, but for the only mildly-interested, this product will not pique your interest or answer any questions.
There are few naval simulations available for the Atari; this is not true for other machines. Both Commodore and Apple are well represented by Simulation Canada and SSG’s naval offerings. Thus, Warship does indeed fill a niche; the question remains whether the broader base of wargamers will find sufficient interest to retain their interest. The rating for Warship has been tempered by the naval grognards that really enjoyed the product; those with a broader-based interest did not find it nearly as entertaining.
By May, SSI plans to release Battle Cruiser, the sequel. With scenarios from World War I (supra) and World War II (the Atlantic actions), this obviously hopes to build on Warship’s base. This reviewer’s hesitancy is occasioned by the fact that minor revisions of the design parameters herein would have rendered the sequel superfluous. From a marketing perspective, SSI’s attitude is understandable — maximization of sales through two products. However, from a gamer’s perspective, one quickly reaches a point of diminishing returns.
From the Trenches: Gunship by MicroProse has been released for the C-64/128. Despite what MicroProse marketing personnel are saying (i.e. it will be out for the 8-bit Atari in May), the design staff denies this “rumor”. MicroProse has not shelved the 8-bit Atari conversion permanently; however, it is on a low priority. People, Gunship makes F-15 Strike Eagle seem childish, and has a more visceral appeal than Silent Service. This reviewer has spent over 200 hours on the Commodore version; a “five-star” product, it would be a shame never to see the Atari 8-bit version.
Of course, this points out a trend. New products for the Atari, especially in wargaming are becoming fewer and further between. This reviewer had to secure a Commodore in order to stay abreast of the wargame market, and the acquisition of an IBM-clone is not far off. Remember, Atari is the machine that accomplished the breakthrough wargame (Eastern Front). As far as the 16-bit machines go, no true breakthrough game has yet appeared. But in terms of simulation gaming, we Atari owners seem to be the Army Group Center ... it is late 1944, and the Offensive is about to begin...
CURRENT NOTES / 1987-06 / PAGE 44
Battle Cruiser is the sequel to Warship (cf. CN, March 1987). Everything that was true of Warship may also be said of Battle Cruiser. However, this is not to say that this latest Grigsby effort is unworthy of acquisition. Since this product composes two full disks covering both World War I and World War II (Atlantic Theater), it may be noted that Battle Cruiser is in fact a better bargain.
The design parameters are similar for both World Wars, although differences do point out the tactical differentiations. Magazine explosions are vastly more common in World War I than in World War II, and these usually fatal events are much more common with British vessels (as was historically the case). It should be pointed out that German and British naval designs were quite different, and by World War II, the British had learned a lesson in naval warfare and damage control. However, an argument may be made that the British have forgotten the lessons learned. The destruction of the Sheffield during the Falklands War was caused by an Exocet missile. However, it is interesting to note that the missile did not explode; rather, it punched a hole through the ship and severed fuel lines. The loose fuel ignited and the design features of the modern vessel were such that damage parties could not reach or isolate the source of the fires. The more things change ...
If one liked Warship, then Battle Cruiser will be loved. Covering both World Wars, it is twice as much game for the money. However, with the design-your-own options, a single product would have sufficed to cover all the ground in both simulations. As the products currently exist, even ownership of Battle Cruiser will not permit one to design Warship scenarios. The inclusion of c. twenty-six gun types per disk yield just enough differentiation to prevent total duplication. Without Warship, no gun type is available to create the monster battleships of World War II (e.g. Yamato).
Of course, this is a deliberate action on SSI’s part. With the design work already completed, this multi-packaging allows multiple sales. Most companies follow similar procedures; it is simply good business practice. Fixed costs have already been incurred, and the additional sales revenues will be mainly profit. This reviewer’s objection is that both Warship and Battle Cruiser are too closely related. While MicroProse may redesign its Command Series (e.g. Conflict in Vietnam, Crusade in Europe, Decision in the Desert) and SSI may do Roger Damon designs ad infinitum (e.g. Panzer Grenadier, Nam, Field of Fire), these products covered different periods in new and novel ways. When they did not, they failed (as did Damon’s Nam, since it was an obvious World War II design with minimal resemblance to Vietnam). Battle Cruiser and Warship cover their subject matter in the same fashion. SSI is to be commended for not trying to squeeze out both the World War I and World War II titles; however, in fact, both Warship and Battle Cruiser could have been released in the same package.
With the publication of Battle Cruiser, SSI has also begun releasing scenarios in its newsletter, Inside SSI. The first type-in scenario covers the pursuit and sinking of the Graf Spee (1939). Additional scenarios are expected in later issues.
There are certain historical inaccuracies in Battle Cruiser — not in the game as much as the documentation covering the World War I era. The BC Leutzow is in reality the Derflinger; the AC Blucher is in reality the World War II version; the AC Scharnhorst is in reality the Mackensen class. This coupled with historical references not available raise questions in the player’s mind. Most of the World War I references are readily available, and it would seem that they are not here simply because of a “Rush to Publish”. If that is true of the documentation, is it also true of the underlying game parameters?
The simulation does appear to mirror the reality of naval engagements in both World Wars. The graphics and the documentation covering strategic and tactical conceptualization are inadequate, as the review on Warship noted. For the naval aficionado, such emissions will not be missed; for the average gamer, they will prove semi-fatal.
Because of the product’s treatment of both World Wars, the rating is acceptable. However, likewise, the rating of Warship should be reduced to two stars (**). Due to coverage, Battle Cruiser is the better bargain. Recommended for the naval aficionado, and not for the Sunday afternoon gamer.
From the Trenches: After a two-month hiatus, Battle Bytes returns. I would like to apologize to the readership for the absence (but then again, maybe it was cause for jubilation?); however, new wargame releases for the Atari 8-bit machines seem to be releasing at an ever-slowing pace. With the dearth of new material combined with a two week military commitment plus other writing demands (particularly as wargaming editor for Computer Gaming World), little time and materials were available.
However, there does seem to be a dim light on the horizon. SSI has recently released Rebel Charge at Chicamauga and MicroProse will soon be releasing a Bucaneer/Pirate simulation (a cross between Seven Cities of Gold and Broadsides).
Given CGW’s reservation of first publication rights, reviews may well be slower than heretofore. However, in lieu thereof, future columns may address milieu and winning tactics.
CURRENT NOTES / 1987-10 / PAGE 26
With ever decreasing Atari software being released, this will be the final column of Battle Bytes (aside from yearly wrap-ups). Discussions with software designers reveal that less will be released; for example, although many Atari publications claim imminent publication of Microprose’s Gunship, the sad fact is that no 8-bit conversion is in the works.
This reviewer has now acquired the C-64 and an IBM-clone in order to continue his avocation. Writing for Computer Gaming World, it has become obvious that the 8-bit Atari is a product whose time has passed (at least for computer simulation). This is a shame, because it is the best computer ever designed for user-friendliness. Although most designers state that piracy spelled the demise of the 8-bit Atari, this reviewer feels that Atari corporate policies more than contributed to the lack of viability.
But, in a final review, consider one of SSI’s top-selling products — Wargame Construction Set.
Wargame Construction Set (hereinafter WCS) is SSI’s offering which allows you, the consumer, to design your own wargames, on any scale and at any period in history. While the sheer breadth of such an undertaking is enough to leave one breathless, in point of fact, the execution of the WCS leaves much to be desired. The WCS is composed of a Game Disk (which allows actual play of scenarios) and a Editor Disk (which allows the end-user to design his own scenario).
The designer, Roger Damon, is no novice in the computer wargaming field. His prior efforts include Operation Whirlwind, Field of Fire, Panzer Grenadier, and Nam. All of these prior simulations bear a marked resemblance to one another in terms of the game system utilized, and it should be no surprise that WCS is also another (and probably the final) derivative.
This accounts for one of the problems with WCS. In effect, the game is merely a release of the source code utilized in Mr. Damon’s previous releases. There are no innovations in wargame design other than the ability to let the purchaser “design-his-own”. But this has been done before by other designers as part of the original package, e.g. Gary Grigsby’s Kampfgruppe-series, and more recently, SSG’s designs (Carriers at War, Europe Ablaze, and Battle Front). Therefore, is there enough here to justify this product?
If a wargamer does not have a Damon design, then WCS may be just the ticket. However, if one has purchased prior Damon designs, then WCS will not gain much play time. The enclosed scenarios are quite varied in time and scale, and overall, they are not historically detailed enough to attract the grognard. The problems with WCS are manifold. First of all, the ability to design-your-own wargame is not really for the novice. Detailed historical research and much playtesting is required in order to have a viable wargame; such an expenditure of time and research is simply beyond the means of the average gamer. Second, the ability to modify design parameters does not extend to Mr. Damon’s prior releases. For example, if a Nam scenario is loaded, WCS will not recognize it or allow the user to modify it. Third, the original disk is required in order to play any scenarios designed. Thus, the consumer cannot design his own magnum opus and give it to his friends, unless they have WCS so that they can load it.
As for the simulation itself, WCS simply attempts too much with too little. Mr. Damon’s system was designed for introductory World War II tactical/operational scale scenarios. WCS allows one to determine the scale (tactical/operational/strategic), but all this really does is affect the map appearance. Prior designs all possessed the same flaw; reconnaissance by fire is overemphasized. If there is any key or blocking terrain, the optimal solution in these games is to utilize massive fire suppression and maneuver. While recon by fire is an accepted technique of combat maneuver, it is not the only method. It has the disadvantages of revealing one’s position and strength. This is not to say that this type of design is fatally flawed; one should merely know the limitations of the simulation.
Aside from the design parameters itself, Mr. Damon offers eight ready-to-use scenarios. While these can be entertaining, they also point out the deficiencies in this product. The most glaring aspect is the character set; unmodifiable, they are taken straight from Mr. Damon’s World War II designs. What this means is that in the Castle Siege of the 12th Century, a catapult resembles a modern mortar, and when it fires, a whistling sound followed by an explosion results. A crossbow-firing archer resembles a machine gunner, and his firing even sounds like a machine gun!
In the walk-through design-a-fantasy, this aspect is carried to a more ludicrous extreme. The evil wizard is a mortar, an elf skilled with the bow is a machine gun, and a lizardman warrior is a tank. While wargaming requires a willingness to suspend belief and treat “sprites” as troops, the comical aspect herein belies any such attempt.
As has been stated previously, this type of design worked moderately well for World War II scenarios. However, it does not travel well; Nam suffered from a sufficient number of flaws as to make any resemblance to Southeast Asian combat a mere coincidence. Similarly, any attempt to simulate other periods of conflict are doomed to failure. Napoleonic warfare was characterized by flanking maneuvers (e.g. Battle of Ulm), cf. Petrie’s military histories. WCS allows units all-around facing, thereby obviating any simulacrum of Napoleonic warfare; Civil War scenarios often fail for the same reason. Ancient efforts are beyond the ken of this design given the character set and sound effects (are Hannibal’s elephants really making those noises, or did the Carthaginians feed them beans for lunch?). Thus, the all-around “facing” and the ability to only modify fire strength and combat aggressiveness does not compensate for the differences in military strategy and tactics through the ages.
In summary, one must admit that scenarios can be designed at will. This reviewer’s hesitation is that design work is detailed and tedious (even after the map is fully plotted out on paper, it will still take c. two hours to plot in); assuming one is willing to expend the time, is a resulting product for the novice/introductory level worth it? Also, certain quirks often frustrate the user-designer; for example, changing map scales can sometimes destroy character set inputs.
Given the low price of WCS, if a novice gamer does not yet have a Roger Damon design, then this product can be recommended. However, one must remember — it cannot realistically portray all eras of military strife. In effect, this release is the last gasp from a game system whose time is passing.
[SSI, Wargame Construction Set, $29.95, Roger Damon designer. Rating: **1/2.]