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- The Clash of Armour
Software Services (PSS)
by Steven R. Williams
text of the present article comes from the review published
in the thirty fourth issue of the British C64 magazine
ZZAP!64 (street date: January 14th, 1988).
IT ALL ABOUT?
may have a title which suggests the battlefield, and
it's time that most of the games I get for review are
wargames, but I'm supposed to cover strategy games as
well. That is, strategy games other than wargames: and
these haven't been very inspiring in the past. One thinks
of banana republics, of starving or revolting peasants,
of general elections and taxes. One thinks of Football
Manager, and, though hopefully not too hard, of
The Great Space Race. These are the sort of games
which can be played in terms of simple numerical input,
yes/no responses and multiple choices, and they're on
the whole momentously unsatisfying. A lot of imagination
has to go into the concept to make the numbers meaningful
and the objectives the strategy achieves interesting
to the player -- getting these factors right made Football
Manager a playable and addictive game. The Great
Space Race, in contrast, is a complete failure because
of the confused mass of irrelevant statistics it generates
in response to a minimum of player input, and the tangled,
open-ended rewards offered. The limited-input statistic
game can benefit greatly from good design, but it can
never be a living, moving work of computer entertainment.
The format has limited potential.
what is a strategy game anyway? It's not merely a game
which requires the use of the mind rather than the reflexes
to play successfully. Arcade adventures are solvable
and not necessarily zappable, but arcade games like
the cheerfully genocidal Uridium need some careful
thinking and planning to play well. Shooting the waves
of wotsits is easy -- it's working out an individual
approach to each level, and deciding which to go for
and which to leave alone that gets the highest scores
and makes the gameplay satisfying and involving. Decision-making
is the fundamental component of a strategy game.
however, strategy needn't mean banana republics or wargames
only. There's potential within the standard wargame
format to create a different scenario. In an area of
gaming almost entirely unexplored and underdeveloped.
Adventure games are quite often fantasy or science fiction
-- whodunnits and related thrillers might these days
be added as a third standard background -- but there
are certainly a fair number of notable exceptions which
achieve 'alternative' plot lines. The novelty and quite
often the humour of these -- Hampstead, for instance
-- can be extremely appealing, and, what is more important
to the software producers, commercially successful.
The comparison between wargames and standard adventures
isn't exactly a parallel one, because adventures are
related to written literature and wargames are specifically
designed to simulate battle situations. Any other concept
which rides on the back of the 'cardboard counters'
set-up will probably seem artificial -- wargames also
define their own conclusion and reward by their closed,
combative gameplay, and this might be rather hard to
transfer to an alternative context. But it ought to
then there are other types of board games, the ones
that have nothing to do with war in the first place.
With its disk capability, the Commodore can accommodate
adaptations of board games quite easily and this, I
think, is the way to go for 'alternative' strategy.
The complexity and ingenuity and sheer long-term playability
of many modern board games would surprise someone who
has only ever played Monopoly, and although some
of these rely on diplomatic interaction between players,
there are plenty of good and involving ones which don't.
I welcome the appearance of games like Lords of Conquest,
and even Autoduel -- there's a lot more potential
anybody has a version with a loading screen please
let us know
Clash of Armour is the sub-title of this latest
game from the prolific PSS, and we're in the desert
once more -- a locality increasingly familiar to wargamers.
But there's no need to worry about getting sand in your
boots, because, as the packaging suggests, tanks are
the main fighting units in this campaign.
is a medium-range simulation of Rommel's attempt to
break through a vast minefield laid by the Allies in
North Africa between Gazala and Bir Hachieim to defend
Tobruk, a key Mediterranean supply point. By medium
range I mean that it doesn't recreate a single battle,
nor does it present the player with a long-term extended
campaign. The action covers a little over a month, starting
on May 26th 1942, and combat is resolved in a single
turn. The player takes command of the Axis side against
the computer, and attempts to capture as many of the
Allied oases as possible. Tobruk, up in the top right-hand
corner, is the ultimate goal.
main display is a visually uninspiring representation
of Cyrenaica, with the Gazala Line -- the Allied minefield
-- cutting the desert in half. According to the rulebook,
the minefield was only half-completed when the offensive
began, and it is presumably because of this that there
is a way round the bottom of the line. The Axis troops
begin the game on their side of the line, and all the
oasis targets -- and the Allied forces -- are on the
other. Identification of every part of the map is easy,
because a Com Box can be moved over any feature, whether
unit or landscape, for an instant report. There are
few features on the map anyway -- it's sand, sand everywhere.
units are examined by using the Com Box just as easily
as friendly units, and the defensive strength of oases
is displayed too. The system is smooth to operate, easy
to understand, and unambiguous. Data given on units
includes their strength in terms of supply of infantry,
provisions and artillery, and the number of moves that
the unit can make that turn.
are two turns a day, predictably divided into Movement
and Combat phases. A Supply Phase and a Command Phase
occur every second turn, at the end of the day. Units
are moved at the player's leisure by means of the Com
Box, although they don't have the option of committing
suicide by passing over the minefield; it's treated
as an impassable obstacle. Entering an enemy zone of
control -- the squares immediately surrounding the enemy
unit -- arrests movement, though combat is not inevitable.
Com Box doesn't let you plot out a movement further
than the movement allowance of a unit, which I found
a useful restriction and reminder. Movement orders are
executed immediately, something else which helps in
organising forces. When all units have been moved, pressing
the space bar moves the game onto the combat phase.
Combat is optional between adjacent units. Here, unless
you've turned the thing off in the start-up menu, we
hit the famous PSS Token Arcade Sequence.
screenshot was not in the original review]
isn't so bad in a fast-moving type of game like Battle
of Britain, but in the middle of this traditional
cardboard-counters strategy wargame, which has no other
element of moving action, this sequence clashes stylistically.
As might be imagined, you're put in charge of a tank.
Trundling around in a very unconvincing landscape, you
let loose machine-gun fire or shells at the odd enemy
tank or oasis, achieving little. There's an option to
deselect it, and unless you're really taken with it
the game loses absolutely nothing at all by its exclusion.
the arcade sequence, combat is resolved speedily and
simultaneously, and retreats and surrenders are reported.
Units always seem to surrender -- you aren't given the
satisfaction of a 'unit completely obliterated' report.
The supply phase follows, and the player is asked to
decide which units will receive the limited resources
available. The importance of supply in a desert war
is emphasised by the fact that the Axis forces have
to trundle their mobile supply bases after their forces,
and protect them from the enemy. This factor adds a
lot of interest to the gameplay, because if both supply
dumps are destroyed -- and they ere extremely vulnerable
-- the Axis side automatically loses.
command phase moves onto another screen, where strategic
disposition of resource points is decided. Points are
put into things like AFV (armoured fighting vehicle)
recovery to minimise losses after battle, and, importantly,
into ground strikes and mine lifting. Putting a sufficient
number of points into mine lifting allows the Axis side
to make a neat break in the Gazala Line, to get some
of the slower-moving units through quickly. Ground Strike
allows the choice of one bombing target, which may or
may not have moved by the time the order is executed.
The instruction booklet is entirely adequate,
providing a short but informative summary of the
historical situation and guides the player briskly
through the mechanics of the game. There is, however,
a lack of obviousness in the layout which makes
it difficult to consult. It is also typeset without
paragraph indentation, which may be a petty point
but makes the layout look messy!
two skill levels, Tobruk is easy to pick up and
quick to play, but not easy to defeat. It has
a hook in its smoothness and simplicity of objective,
and although it hasn't much depth and may be devoid
of ultimate long-term interest, the short-term
challenge is entertaining.
uninspiring, but clear.
Adequate, but badly laid out.
Robustly designed to be quick and
easy to play, with no interruptions unless you
count the arcade sequence...
Not a bad game.
Kiminas (6 Mar 2006)
"Games of the Week!"