Two Games Of Strategy
Dale F. Brown
Avalon Hill has produced several high-quality strategy computer games that should challenge and interest nearly everybody. These games are written in BASIC—proof that fast-action, nerve-tingling computer games can still be written without machine language.
Computer Football Strategy
When my TV isn't doing word processing with the computer, it's usually tuned to a football game, so naturally the first Avalon Hill game I picked was Computer Football Strategy for the Commodore 64. The game display shows the football field as a small, thin strip divided with ten-yard lines. While you are playing, four graphics characters (two for the offense and two for the defense) run back and forth on the field with the ball. It has no resemblance whatsoever to a real field, and it's not designed to simulate a real game. A field with X's and 0's would have been more useful.
Above the field are the game statistics and Scoreboard information. Below it are the displays showing the offensive and defensive play options. (You can play the computer, play another person, or have the computer play itself.) Each side picks either an offensive or a defensive play, and the ball advances depending on the plays called.
Each player has a playbook with all of the possible offensive plays paired with all the possible defensive plays, showing their outcomes. The offensive play has a certain amount of time built into it (it is not a realtime game), so you can either take the play or call a time-out and call another play.
The most impressive feature of this game is the numerous offensive and defensive options available. As quarterback, you can call 20 different plays from scrimmage, and depending on the defensive alignment, there can be ten different outcomes to each play. If you truly get into realistic role-playing in this type of game, you can rec-reate an actual football game with surprisingly accurate results.
However, I was expecting to watch my quarterback drop back to pass, watch my receivers run their button-hooks or down-and-ins, or watch my linebackers do their inside blitz, but the display doesn't show any of that. Also, some of the plays take some time. A sideline pass for a short 5- or 10-yard gain sometimes takes 10 to 15 seconds, and there are no hurry-up offenses. The game might be more realistic if more clock control were allowed.
This game is best when you play another person, rather than the computer. Maybe it's just sour grapes, but I seemed to get more penalties and fewer touchdowns while playing the computer. I always do better against a human opponent.
Take To The Skies
If I rated Computer Football Strategy as good, Avalon Hill's B-1 Nuclear Bomber rates a solid better. In B-1 Bomber, you are the captain of a supersonic bomber on airborne alert. As the game begins, you receive a message containing a fail-safe arming code, your primary target, a list of alternate targets, and a longer list of enemy defense complexes that can be targets for one of your six multipurpose Phoenix missiles. Your job is to fly your plane to the target of your choice, evading or countering the defenses along the way, and launch your single Short-Range Attack Missile (SRAM) at the target.
At the beginning, the game is agonizingly slow. Even flying at 4500 kilometers per hour, it will take you several minutes of simple droning to even get within range of a defense complex that may take any action against you.
Here's where the strategy comes in. You can attack any target on the list with your SRAM, and you can launch your Phoenix missiles at any defense complex in range. This means you can attack a base, then turn around and head for home before too many attackers find you. You can choose to fly around the enemy defense bases, or attack them head-on. You can launch your missiles at attacking fighters, or save them for the bases. Will you run out of missiles before you get to the enemy bases, or will you try to save the missiles and rely on electronic counter-measures (ECM, or jamming) and violent evasive maneuvers to defeat the enemy fighters and surface-to-air missiles?
The action in the target area more than makes up for the long minutes of boredom flying towards the target. Once you reach the target area, you enter the fail-safe code to arm the attack missile. Here's where the action really begins. Arming the SRAM acts like a beacon to the enemy, saying "Hey! Here I am!" Soon, your screen fills with attackers. Each radar search tells you what kind of threat is attacking and how long it will be before it attacks. If you've used too much ECM before now, it becomes less and less effective. Evasive maneuvers start to use up more and more fuel and place you closer and closer to the ground.
The back of the game manual has a map of the targets and defense complexes. The computer will give you a heading toward any base you select, but you must put in your own headings if you've run out of missiles and don't want to overfly a defense complex. A heading of 90 is east (right), 180 is south (down), etc.
The cockpit display is rather disappointing. There is a graphic depiction of a bomber cockpit, with a control column and throttles, but they don't really do anything and are a little distracting; some cockpit gauges or a simple route map might have been more interesting. The very bottom of the display shows present course, fuel, missiles remaining, speed, and primary target, but they're hard to read and hard to understand. The commands for navigation, defensive measures, and launching missiles are easy to understand, though.
Again, the game is not in realtime. Each command takes a certain amount of preprogrammed time, so an evasive maneuver command may not have enough time to be fully executed before an attacking missile explodes in front of your plane. It takes a little practice to get the timing down, so eventually you'll know what to do when the computer says, "a Mig will intercept in 32 seconds!"
In B-l Nuclear Bomber, you can take advantage of the fact that these games are written in BASIC. Do you think six Phoenix missiles are too few for a beginner? Is 4500 kilometers an hour too slow? Is 24,000 pounds of fuel to start too little? A little poking around the program can change those parameters until you get more familiar with the game.
These two games are available for most popular microcomputers at prices ranging from $16 for tape to $21 for disk.
Computer Football Strategy
The Avalon Hill Game Company
Baltimore, MD 21214