The best in strategy game software. (Compute's Getting Started With: Entertainment Software) (Buyers Guide)
by Scott A. May
In many ways, the strategy category serves as a catchall for games that don't fit neatly within other, more specific, genres. When you think about it, every computer game requires the player to exert some degree of strategic skill. Arcade contests, for example, may seem like mindless action fare, but they actually demand a great deal of real-time plotting and scheming. Many of the titles you'll find here contain elements of arcade, simulation, adventure, or war games, yet offer enough strategic prowess to earn separate distinction.
The most clearly defined examples of the genre are titles based on traditional board, tabletop, and parlor games. Chess wizards looking for the ultimate opponent will find nirvana in The Chessmaster 300b (The Software Toolworks, 415-883-3000, $49.95), available for both DOS and Windows. Advanced features include a library of 150 classic matches, blindfold chess, tournament and championship play, and finely tuned computer play and response settings. For the beginner, there's an online mentor and built-in tutorial. All players will enjoy the intuitive mousedriven interface and wide selection of high-resolution chess pieces and board designs. For those in the mood for a strong game, with as lightly irreverent feel, check out the animated Battle Chess series from interplay (714-553-6678), available in versions for DOS ($29.95), Windows ($49.95), and Super-VGA (this one is called Battle Chess 4000 and costs $59.95). All are strong opponents with exceptional graphic flair and the added attraction of remote modem play. Finally, there's National Lampoon's Chess Maniac 5 Billion and 1 (Spectrum Holobyte, 800-695-GAME, $69.95), a game whose self-described "rude" sounds and animated graphics almost make up for its rather weak chess engine,
Solitaire addicts will be easily hooked on Solitaire's Journey (QQP, 908-788-2799, $59.95), a whirlwind tour of 105 different solitaire card games. Other titles in a similar vein include the Hoyle Book of Games series from Sierra (800-326-6654): Classic ($42.45), Vol. 2 ($29.70), and Vol. 3 ($42.95). For the more socially minded, there's Grand Slam Bridge II (Electronic Arts, 800-245-4525, $49.95), a 256-color VGA update of the bestselling original with new mouse and sound card support, customized bidding, and dealing options for up to four human players.
Perhaps the most famous - certainly the most copied - solitaire game designed especially for the computer is Shanghai il: Dragon's Eye (Activision, 800-477-3650, $29.95). A brilliant enhancement of Brodie Lockard's original work, the program is loosely based on the Chinese tile game, Mah-jongg. The latest version features 8 tile sets, 13'board designs, a two-player tournament mode, and a built-in board designer.
If gambling's your game, ante up to Amarillo Slim Dealer's Choice (Villa Crespo Software, 708-433-0500, $29.95), which features 28 poker varieties, online tutor, and user-defined house rules. What it lacks in presentation - marginal 16-color EGA - it makes up with fast, fun game play. Those on a budget will also enjoy Villa Crespo's Coffee Breakgambling series, including Casino Craps, Dr. Wong's Jacks & Video Poker, and Dr. Thorp's Mini-Blackjack ($12.95 each). High rollers can wrestle the one-armed bandit without going to the cleaners in Strategic Video Poker (LWS Software, 800-828-2259; $49.95) and Masque Video Poker (Masque Publishing, 800-765-4223, $49.95). With detailed statistical analysis, numerous payoff configurations, and optional online strategy, both products offer fast-paced simulations of the most popular Las Vegas and Atlantic City machines. For an all-in-one guided tour of casino games, check out Beat the House (Gametek, 800-927-GAME, $59.95), which features detailed tutorials for slots, blackjack; roulette, video poker, and craps.
Computer incarnations of famous multiplayer board games include an entire series by Virgin, Games (800-874-4607): Risk ($29.99), Monopoly Deluxe ($49.95), and Scrabble Deluxe ($49.95), available in high-res DOS and Windows versions. For classics that exist only oh the computer screen, you can't get much more famous than Tetris (Spectrum Holobyte, $19.95), a simplistic, yet undeniably addictive, strategy game of falling blocks. The game's huge success sparked a wildfire of inferior knockoffs, culminating with the final - and best - version, Super Tetris ($49.95), available for both DOS and Windows. Another computer original bound for classic status is The Incredible Machine (Sierra, $34.95), an arcade-style puzzle feast inspired by Rube Goldberg's wacky homemade contraptions. The original contains 85 increasingly difficult levels, to which 80 more are added in the enhanced sequel, The Even More Incredible Machine ($42.45).
Game designers often look to real life for inspiration. Currently the hottest trend in strategy gaming is resource management, applied to everything from big business to complex social and political systems. One of the first to open this strategic can of worms was Will Wright's phenomenally popular SimCity Maxis;, 800-336-2947; $49.95 for DOS; $59.95 for Windows), a model: 6f urban planning highly regarded for its realism. From this tiny seed, Maxis sprouted an entire line of fun, microcosm software, including SimEarth ($49.95), SimLife ($69.95), SimAnt ($49.95), and finally, SimFarm ($49.95). Bringing real-world resource management down to a more earthy level, this last title looks to be most tangible in the series.
Players with a nose for economic planning and elaborate corporate infrastructures can find rewarding careers in such games as Railroad Tycoon Deluxe (MicroProse, 800-879-PLAY, $69.95), Rags to Riches (Interplay, $59.95), A-train Construction Set (Maxis, $69.95), Buzz Aldrin's Race into Space (Interplay, $69.95), and Air Bucks (Impressions, 203-676-9002, $59.95).
Why manage a business when you can control the universe - or at least a small corner of it - in Populous (Electronic Arts, $24.95) and Civilization (MicroProse, $59.95). Populous is set in an abstract fantasy world, where two gods vie for supreme deity, via modem if so equipped. Civilization is Sid Meier's masterpiece of human survival, splendidly dawn from the pages of world history. Both games gave rise to a flood of excellent so-called god sims, including Populous II (Electronic Arts, $59.95), PowerMonger (Electronic Arts, $49.95), Utopia (Gametek, 800-9B7-GAME, $19.99), Global Effect (Millennium, 800-245-4525, $14.95), Caesar Impressions, $59.95), and Megalo Mania (UBI Soft, 415-332-8749, $49.95).
Looking for heavy strategy, but with a lively arcade bite? Take a walk on the dark side in Syndicate (Electronic Arts, $59.9,5), a grim look at the future of law and disorder. Command an elite squad of heavily armed cyborg hitmen in this one-player power struggle, noted for its stunning sound and graphic violence. Slightly less cynical, and more abstractly violent in nature, is RoboSport (Maxis, $39.95), a 1-2 player Windows game loosely based on the old Capture the Flag premise.
Strategy games and TV quiz shows have a lot in common - a connection best exploited by LexiCross (Interplay, S39.95), a flashy, futuristic word puzzle game played with quick wits and tongue firmly in cheek. With several levels of difficulty, modem option, and superb multiplayer tournament mode,this classic offers true long-lasting challenge. Another excellent offering is the TV game show format is CrossWire (SilverSun, 800-874-5837, $39 95). Test your knowledge in more than 16 categories, including pop culture, history, science, art, sports, music, and geography in this fast-paced Windows game.