The best in war game software. (Compute's Getting Started With: Entertainment Software)
by Wallace Poulter
Historical conflict games or war games, as they usually are known, have been around for many years. Originally available as board games from such giants as Avalon Hill, SPI, and GDW, the war game was the standard start up fare of a number of companies, most notably Strategic Simulations (SSI). Although much maligned as an adjunct of "war toys" by the politically correct, historical conflict games are, in fact, the preference of those who combine a love of history and/or find chess too abstract as a strategic challenge. For the purposes of this article, games that include warfare as an intrinsic part of the game also have been included. Many of the newcomers to computer war games have come from the board game market. A half way point in that journey is HPS's Aide De Camp ($79.95). Aide De Camp is a gamer aid, which allows the conversion of board games into computer representations that can be used for e-mail gaming.
Three companies dominate the war game field today. SSI has been joined by Three Sixty and the Australian firm SSG. While it's impossible to issue a blanket recommendation for each company, it's fair to say that most of their products are impressive.
In 1992, Three Sixty Pacific (800-653-1360) changed the face of computer war gaming with the introduction of V for Victory: Utah Beach ($69.95). Here was a game designed for the computer but set up in board game style. Immediately, a large segment of the potential audience was completely at ease. Moreover, the June 44 Normandy Invasion was a perfect back-drop for an entertaining challenge. Subsequent releases in the V for Victory series have included, Velikiye Luki ($69.95), one of the more obscure Eastern Front Battles; Market Garden ($69.95); and the recent release of Gold : Juno : Sword: ($59.95). Three Sixty will be packaging the first three V for Victory games into a special Victory Pack ($69.95), which may qualify as one of the better Christmas bargains. The developers of the V for Victory series, Atomic Games, have now moved over to Avalon Hill and will be working on a conversion of the venerable Squad Leader board game. Strange how cyclic this business can be. Three Sixty's other World War II European Theater depiction, High Command ($69.95), is in many ways more of a game than a simulation. Until Avalon Hill redoes Third Reich properly, High Command remains locked in battle with Clash of Steel (SSI, 408-737-6800, $69.95) for the attention of strategic gamers.
Clash of Steel is the latest in a long line of great war games from SSI. Simpler than High Command, Clash of Steel still allows the opportunity to explore different historical what its and various areas of research. For most war gamers, both strategic simulations will be of interest. SSI's war games are too many to list, but one that should be noted is Battles of Napoleon ($49.95), one of the more accurate games on the market. It includes four battles and a scenario construction set. Of the many Civil War titles produced by SSI, Gettysburg: The Turning Point ($59.95) remains the best of the lot even after seven years. Pacific War ($79.95), Western Front ($59.95), the somewhat strangely named East Front Game, Second Front ($59.95), the out-of-print USAAF, and Carrier Strike ($59.95) - all have one thing in common: Gary Grigsby. A prolific designer of good and occasionally great games during the 1980s, Grigsby has been putting out hit after hit recently. If you come across a game produced in the 1990s and designed by Grigsby, get it. Grigsby also supports his own games on the GEnie online service.
The only design team to challenge Grigsby in quality and quantity is the Australian team of Roger Keating and Ian Trout. Their company, SSG (904-494-9373) has been putting out consistent product since the release of Battlefront ($39.95) in 1987. While a good corp-level World War II game in its own right, Battlefront has become the framework for a string of quality historical recreations. Most notable is the civil war trilogy, Decisive Battles of the Civil War I, II, and III ($40 each). Each game contains 5-6 significant (though not necessarily decisive) battles of the Civil War. SSG's Carriers at War ($50), the company's first release nearly 10 years ago, continues to age well. The update, Carriers at War 2 ($70) is even better, and the recent Carriers at War Construction kit ($60) contains nine new scenarios and the ability to design your own.
Australia also has provided the biggest diamond in the rough. Panther Games, ably led by Dave O'Conner, produced Fire Brigade. While hard to find, this game of late 1943 Eastern Front battles was a fore-runner of the V for Victory series. Strong artificial intelligence also was featured in this product.
Few games in our time have had the reputation of Empire. Mark Baldwin's game, published by Interstel, is no longer available, but New World Computing (800-325-8898) introduced Empire Deluxe ($59.95) in 1993. Deluxe adds most of the requests made by Empire fans. Castles II (Interplay, 714-553-6678, $59.95) was a pleasant surprise. A sequel that was better than its original, as Vince De Nardo and crew added more gameplay elements. Bruce Zaccagnino and QQP (908-788-2799) released Mark Baldwin's Perfect General ($59.95), a game designed more for playability than accuracy. Zaccagnino's own Lost Admiral ($59.95) owes more than a passing compliment to Baldwin's Empire and, therefore, was well received. Lawrence Schick at MicroProse (800-879-PLAY) was behind Task Force 1942 ($69.95), a game that might qualify for the simulation list.
Probably the biggest surprise this past year, and a pleasant one at that, was Dune II (Virgin Games, 800-874-4607, $59.95). Developed by Westwood, which is better known for its adventure games, Dune II provided some of the best tactical challenges in years. Impressions (203-676-9002) is a new kid on the block. Its When Two Worlds War ($59.95) is simplistic as a one-player game, but as a two-player modem game, it really shines. Caesar (Impressions, $59.95), the company's Sim City meets Rome game, remains a favorite. Impressions is, also the home for Rules of Engagement 2 ($69.95). A space conflict game stunning in its scope, Rules of Engagement 2 has one of the most detailed built-in scenario editors ever published.
Space conflict games as a whole are an interesting breed. Our Australian friends at SSG have put out a classic in Reach for the Stars, one of the few games worth buying an obsolete machine just to play. The release of Master of Orion ($49.95) from MicroProse ups the ante in the space warfare genre. Which leaves us with the best game on the market today, Civilization (MicroProse, $69.95). Because it's a game that doesn't fit neatly into any particular classic pigeon hole, we can only proclaim it the best in whatever category you might choose to place it.
The future holds much promise, as Jim Dunnigan's Victory at Sea (360), Sid Meier's Civil War Game (MicroProse) and Atomic's Squad Leader (Avalon Hill) are all potential inductees into next year's war game top ten.
TOP 10 WAR
Civilization. Quite simply the best game on the market. Not specifically a war game but more a combination of the best elements of Sid Meier's previous Railroad Tycoon, Maxis' Sim City, and a multitude of strategy and war games.
Master Of Orion. While not quite Civilization in Space, Master of Orion comes close. Featuring multiple races with different strengths, plus an artificial intelligence that doesn't cheat while playing the impossible level.
V for Victory series. For board game players making the transition to computer games, nothing could be better than the V for Victory series.
Empire Deluxe. While no longer a top seller, Empire remains one of the better games. Empire Deluxe adds the best wish list requests to make the ultimate game for many.
High Command. Returning once more to World War II, High Command follows the Three-Sixty Pacific tradition of producing computer war games that resemble board games.
Battlefront Series. Rather than pick one of this series, it's better to recognize the entire group of Battlefront games from SSG.
Caesar. An impressive move into the U.S. market from the British firm, Impressions. Sim City does Rome best describes this sleeper hit.
Clash of Steel. A strategic treatment of the War in Europe 1939-1945. In many ways, Clash of Steel is a poor man's High Command. The program's artificial intelligence is its best selling point-it performs well on both offense and defense.
Dune II. A game over-looked by many war game players. Set within the classic Dune world, Dune II is a game of economic, and military struggle. It contains classic board game strategies with Sim City-like construction.
Fire Brigade. Truly ahead of its time, this game of Kiev eastern-front battles by Dave O'Conner and Panther Games contained many of the elements that made V for Victory so successful. Hard to find - perhaps someone will acquire the rights and update this classic.