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in the Desert
by Sid Meier & Ed Bever
text of the present article comes from the review published
in the eighth issue of the British C64 magazine ZZAP!64
have map can cursor MASTERSON brings all his intelligence
to bear on the problem of wargaming...
users will always argue that their machine is the best.
After all, who wants to admit that they may have made
the wrong purchase? Generally speaking, different machines
have their own advantages and disadvantages. As for
the Commodore, one of its advantages (as far as wargamers
are concerned) is that being American, the choice of
high quality software is unsurpassed and only (possibly)
equalled by the Atari. Microprose have been turning
out wargames of consistently improving quality for some
time now, and their standard is to be highly commended.
SSI, the wargamers' equivalent of Infocom,
produce real mega games, though the high cost of these
must be borne in mind.
you say about Americans, they produce impeccable wargames.
Of course, many of these are on disk and Commodore owners
are in the rather unfortunate position of having a relatively
highly priced disk drive. All I can suggest is that
if you don't have one, scrimp and save every penny that
could possibly come your way and buy one. In the States,
where the standard of living is higher, so many people
have drives that it is becoming increasingly difficult
to find a wargame-producing software house unwilling
to forsake the advantages of leaving complex algorithms
and hefty data files (so typical of wargames) on the
disk, leaving valuable memory free for other applications.
The result is an increasingly expensive hobby. But it's
is nothing to surpass the mental challenge of recreating
a brittle in your own living room. A well-written wargame
will be providing excellent entertainment long after
the superficialities of an arcade game have worn off.
Anyway, what if you're like me, incapable of getting
past the start screen without the greatest difficulty?
Seriously, wargaming can be educational and entertaining
at the same time. Obviously, they fail to command the
immediate attention of a good arcade game, simply because
there can't be all that much in the way of advanced
graphics or sound effects. In fact, such assets would
tend to suggest that the game before you was of an inferior
quality. More such material is beginning to appear on
the American imports but, as most of these are on disk,
there aren't the same memory constraints as imposed
on cassette games.
rewards of playing a wargame are far more subtle than
many people realise. It all comes down to logistics.
Use of logistics decides the outcome of any complex
battle. Attack and defence strategies are important
as well of course, but if you fail to take reinforcements
and re-supply seriously and incorporate them into your
plans, you will soon come unstuck.
the horrendous losses al the Battle of Arnhem. British
supplies being stolen by Americans or falling into enemy
hands during the course of the operation. Consider the
necessity of massive troop shipments across the Atlantic
in the event of any future conventional conflict in
Western Europe. Or the difficulties of keeping the North
Sea free from Soviet submarines. Even though Hitler
chose to strike against Russia in 1941 after losing
the Battle of Britain, he could still have crushed British
resistence elsewhere had it not been for the lend lease
system offered by the USA.
is everything in a wargame. You have so many compromises
to make, and there will be always those times when compromises
cannot be made. In the highly complex and frightening
area of modern warfare, it is estimated that the average
operational life of a British paratrooper, deployed
in the field, is under one hour. It would appear from
face value that their use would be somewhat akin to
mindless slaughter. And yet, with their training, the
amount of damage they could cause to enemy units in
that time would save many more allied lives. It sounds
sick to consider trading a human life no matter what
the rewards are. Indeed it is, but it is also important
to remember that any substantial conflict in our age
would not be caused by men of war. It would be caused
by the ineptitude of a variety of international politicians.
The soldiers have to solve the resulting war with the
efficient human life and so, once they are put in the
position of deploying forces and fighting, they cannot
stand apart and question the validity of their actions.
They only have the time and authority to question the
logic of an immediate course of action and its consequences
for those under their command.
are those who suggest that the Vietnam war was not lost
by soldiers but by politicians. Certainly, if the armed
forces had been given a free hand to conduct the Falklands
war, losses of men and ships would have been lower.
Such is hindsight. When you play a wargame, hindsight
is the only advantage you really have and it's up to
you to see what could have happened. Those who criticise
the hobby, saying that such activity is fruitless, really
miss the point of wargaming altogether. It can be interesting
to see such alternative outcomes to military engagements,
but whatever they may be, by the time they become evident,
the reason for playing has already passed. It's not
the outcome, so much as how you get there that counts.
Here's to wargaming.
IN THE DESERT
£14.95 disk, joystick & keys
second of the Command Series by Microprose arrived on
my desk this month. After playing Crusade in Europe
for several long hours, last month, this provided a
way of spending even more time playing at the keyboard.
The format of the game is fairly similar to that of
the first in the series, but for those of you who missed
(or just didn't read) that review, I'll briefly summarise
the details again.
game comes packaged as a single disk, complete with
glossy, thick instruction booklet. The game attempts
to cover five of the most important battles from the
African campaign. These selectable scenarios are Sidi
Barrani, Operation Crusader, Gazala,
First Alamein and Alam Halfa.
manual must be read (as is the norm with wargames of
this depth) and Microprose have kept its presentation
up to the high standards they set in Crusade in Europe.
The first sections of the manual are fairly similar
in style to those you would find in a conventional wargame,
including details of components, game options, followed
by a description of the play sequence. Of course, loading
instructions are present too.
you come to load the game, it is immediately obvious
that good presentation doesn't end with the box and
manual. Apart from all the options available being clearly
displayed on the screen, there is a rather amusing 'general'
who briefs you on the game from behind a podium, lit
by spotlight You also find frequent references to 'day
codes', which are listed throughout the manual. They
provide a simple, yet effective method of program protection.
Of course the manual could be copied, but there's a
lot of it!
of the most interesting features of the Command Series
games is the absence of strict game turns. It is possible
to freeze the game at any time, but otherwise the computer
processes the condition and progress of each unit every
four game hours. This means that whilst in play, you
have to concentrate totally on the game. This results
in several distinct advantages, not least of which is
demanding play. Two player games also become very easy
to set up differently. Just how fast the game progresses
may be varied by the player. Obviously, beginners can
choose a relatively slow rate of play, making the game
more appealing to the uninitiated. There are also options
to bias play to varying degrees. A slight aside here.
In last month's review, I mentioned that this didn't
really work too well, the form of artificial intelligence
being apparently deficient. As this game uses many of
the same routines as its predecessor, I expected it
to be similarly disappointing this time. Could it be
that my Crusade disk was somehow faulty, or have
the routines been played with before their implementation
in Decision? Whatever the cause, there is definitely
a better feel to play in this one. It still isn't perfect,
but without more frequent (and annoying) disk access,
there would seem to be little room for improvement in
play has begun, you are presented with a scrolling map
showing detailed terrain features, with all the units
scattered about (starting disposition of forces depends
on variants chosen for each scenario). Note that there
is a variable-limited intelligence option available.
may be displayed as either icons or symbols. Symbols
are nearer to the standard markings used in wargaming,
whereas icons are more explanatory in nature. The manual
provides details of both, and the display type may be
changed at any point during play. Scale is usually on
the divisional level but, because of the nature of the
African campaign, many smaller ad hoc units are
also displayed. The units are colour-coded to differentiate
between German, British and Italian.
game has very friendly input, with unit selection via
a joystick, two types of commands (action and objective),
flashback features, unit and game status modes. Anyone
who has played Crusade should find Decision
in the Desert very easy to learn. There are few
features anyone will find confusing, and play will be
faster and more rewarding as a result.
victory conditions for the scenarios are balanced
well for both sides. The historical notes provide
interesting reading before play. It really is
impressive how good strategies can pay off, assuming
of course that your opponent hasn't read the notes
either. Because of the variety of options, it's
easy to set yourself a real challenge. One of
the variants on the Gazala scenario is
mind numbingly difficult if you chose the Axis
the Command Series is growing on me with increased
familiarity, and I do find desert warfare particularly
fascinating, but even so, this game is an improvement
over Crusade in Europe. It comes down to
the simple fact that Decision in the Desert
plays better. It's more of a free flowing game,
as desert warfare should be. There is still more
challenge to be had from SSI games (sorry, but
comparison is inevitable). However, the Microprose
titles are cheaper and just as well presented.
If their quality continues to rise, we are all
in for a treat.
good, but there could still be some improvement.
bad background but some of the icons and symbols
would benefit from improved presentation.
Better explained than in Crusade,
access to game features.
Very good portrayal of the campaign.
Fairly straightforward game system
but the lack of game turns, whilst being an interesting
idea, can lead to some problems initially.
For Money 60%
It really is very good value but
ideally, wargames need not be so expensive.
Perhaps the game system is more
suited to desert warfare because the whole thing
is a superior implementation to the first title
in the series. Can't wait for the third.
anyone rip the SID tune out of this one?
Kiminas (2 Nov 2003)
"Games of the Week!"