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Review by
Philippa Irving

 

 
Welcome to Game of the Week! Each week there will be a new featured game on this page. The game may be good, average or diabolically bad, it really doesn't matter! Just look at the pics, read the text and enjoy the nostalgia! :-) Game of the Week! is open to contributions so if you would like to contribute a game article for this page you're more than welcome to! Every article we receive will be considered!
Tobruk - The Clash of Armour
1987 Personal Software Services (PSS)
Programmed by Steven R. Williams
 
Most 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).
 


WHAT'S IT ALL ABOUT?

'Manoeuvres' 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.

But 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.

Theoretically, 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 be possible.

And 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 to unearth.
.

 

[If anybody has a version with a loading screen please let us know about it!]

TOBRUK
PSS, 9.95 cass, 14.95 disk


The 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.

Tobruk 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.

The 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.

Enemy 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.

There 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.

The 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.


[This screenshot was not in the original review]

This 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.

Without 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.

The 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!

With 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.

   


Presentation 85%

Slick and brisk.

Graphics 71%
Rather uninspiring, but clear.

Rules 60%
Adequate, but badly laid out.

Playability 81%
Robustly designed to be quick and easy to play, with no interruptions unless you count the arcade sequence...

Overall 70%
Not a bad game.
.

 
 

 

Htmlized by Dimitris Kiminas (6 Mar 2006)

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