An avalanche from Avalon Hill. (evaluation) Brian J. Murphy.
Unjustly accused of mutiny and the murder of his captain, Joe Justin, th e second officer of the G.F.S. Rheingold, has been cast adrift. Clad in a recycled spacesuit and carrying a hand thruster, he must make the vastness of space yield up a shipt to carry him to distant worlds where, he hopes, he will find the means to restore his good name and avenge the wrong which has been done to him.
This is the situation at the start of an exciting all-text adventure game, G.F.S. Sorceress, written by Gary Bedrosian, Lee Elmendorf, and Richard Christie for Avalon Hill. Sorceress is one of a group of new games which demonstrate that AH is now a force to be reckoned with in the field of recreational software.
AH was an early entrnt in the computer gaming field, but their initial productions, such as B-1 Bomber and Midway Campaign, were disappointing given Avalon Hill's enviable reputation in the realm of conventional board wargames. The early AH games lacked color and were less engrossing than the company's experience in game design warranted.
With Avalon Hill's newest games, we discover that the company has learned much about software design, especially in terms of what the market expects for its dollar. The result is a group of very playable games at good prices. G.F.S. Sorceress
G.F.S. Sorceress, as mentioned above, is a Zork-style adventure game. Like Zork, it really doesn't need grapics because the play-value is the thing. As you start out, you are adrift in space, equipped with only a hand thruster. Your only clue as to what your next action should be is a thin ion trail which leads who knows where?
To tell you much more would be to give away the game. You command the action using two and three word commands like "follow path," "eat read apple," or "examine room." Note that you can use a modifier to specify which of the objects you are interested in, as long as you follow the form verb/modifier/noun in creating your commands.
the object of the game is to clear the name of your character, Joe Justin. In a short story provided with the game, "Restless Universe," the events which led to Justin being marooned in space are laid out in detail. The captain of the G.F.S. Rheingold has been murdered, probably by the ship's ambitious first officer, Commander Bernard Taub. Taub manages to frame Justin, manufacturing convincing evidence that it was Justin who killed Captain Wu.
Throughout the very readable "Restless Universe" are many clues which, if you are clever, will help you to overcome the obstacles and puzzles you find on worlds across the galaxy as you try to clear your name. Be prepared to repair spaceships, explore alien environments, to use your imagination. As with the best adventure games, Sorceress requires that the game player be on the lookout for the twist of logic which will yield the right command to solve the problem at hand and enable him to progress.
The level of challenge is not as mind-boggling as Zork or Zork II, but G.F.S. Sorceress is a legitimate test of an adventure gamer's skills and imagination. I have always thought that adventure games l ike Zork, Cranston Manor, and now Sorceress are among the best values on the software game market because of the many hours of entertainment you get for your dollar. Sorceress, like the others, lets you save you rgame on a scratch disk, allowing you to quit the game and pick it up again when you please without having to retrace all previous steps. Thus, you can stretch out the pleasure for as long as you like; and with Sorceress, there is a great deal of pleasure to be had. VC
The more of the enemy you kill, the more there are. You hve the firepower, hte helicopters, the artillery, and Victor Charlie has the jungle and the night. In the dark he moves among the people, and with political and military force he coerces them to join his side. In the morning more hostile eyes are watching you from the jungle, waiting . . .
VC is Avalon Hill's sole wargame in this new quartet, and it may be the best introduction to computer wargaming I have seen, skillfully blending the animaton and sound effects of an arcade style game with the challenge of a conventional strategy game.
As the game begins, you have 12 fighting units at your disposal, a U.S. Air Cavalry unit, an artillery unit, and ten ARVN (Army of the Republic of South Vietnam) units. Surrounding you is the civilian population--what Mao Zedong called the sea in which the guerrilla swims. and in that sea, disguised as neutral civilians, is the enemy. There can be as many as five units of the regular North Vietnamese Army and many more units of the Viet Cong. Your job is to eliminate these enemy unit while "winning the hearts and minds" of the civilian population before they are killed or recruited by the communists.
On the screen you see a set of blue shapes clustered together. The numbered shapes aer the ARVN units, the helicopter is the US Air Cav unit, and the remaining shape is the artillery. All around you are the people, in green. A few of them are the enemy, but don't go firing your artillery into them at random. When you do, you lose their hearts and minds and make it easy for Victor Charlie to recruit them.
You can move one infantry or Air Cav unit per turn. As the ARVN infantry moves, it recruits friendly civilians. They don't fight for you, but as they are recruited, they turn blue and are flagged with an F, which makes it easier to tell friends from neutrals and enemies. As your ARVN units move ou t into the countryside, more and more of the peasantry will rally to the Allied cause.
In the meantime, invisibly, the computer is moving the VC and NVA u nits in precisely the same manner, recruiting and coercing the peasantry to the communist cause.
The difference is, although your friends are easily visible, the computer conceals from you which of the people have gone over to the other side. What you do see is a flicker where the enemy is moving. Youo will also spy perfectly innocent shift in the civilian populations, so hold your artillery fire.
This is where the Air Cavalry comes in. The Air Cav unit can move to any open square on the board. It will search the adjacent eight squares around the landing zone and identify any enemy units. The Air Cav has a good chance of destroying them on the spot, because its strength is five times that of a regular ARVN unit. If the Air Cav or ARVN unit engages the enemy but fails to destroy the enemy unit during the turn, the unit is marked by a white symbol. The symbol remains on board, allowing you to shell it with your artillery to your heart's (or mind's) desire.
The challenge of the game is in getting ARVN units out into the countryside fast enough to head off VC recruitment. You can't always see where the enemy is. It is possible that he could be sneaking behind you, poised to kill the peasant units with which you have made friends. He might also be hidden in a dense cluster of civilians, by his very presence rallying them secretly to his side. At the end of the turn, after you have killed six enemy units, it is dismaying to find that his total strength is now three higher than it was the turn before, according to your turn-by-turn intelligence report.
What is even more dismaying is to watch the number of civilians in your province drop from the initial count in the low hundreds to the sixties or fifties. When more than half the original number of civilians has been killed or recruited by Victor Charlie, you lose. You can win only if you kill off all the communist units without having to kill more than half the population. If VC is recruiting faster than you are killing (or winning over), you lose.
In a way, this game is like the real Vietnam war. Victory seems only a tantalizing step away. You have the men and the firepower, but the more you kill, the more of the enemy there seems to be. It is up to you to break this vicious cycle, and you might find it just as difficult a chore as it was for our military brain trust in the 60's and early 70's.
One thing seems certain, that tantalizing glimpse of a light at the end of the tunnel will bring you back again and again to VC. So will the graphics. Everything the early Avalon Hill games didn't have, this game has, including amusing sound effects and smooth animation.
VC is an easy game to learn. Unlike some war games, the instructions take only a few minutes to read and absorb. On-screen prompts and a simplified grid system help speed play along.
In its TRS-80 incarnation, which are did not playtst, the graphic shapes are replaced by letter codes for the various counters in the game. This is the only real difference. Andromeda Conquest
Andromeda Conquest, its flashy title page nothwithstanding, is a visually unexciting game of interstellar colonization and warfare. The game is played on the strategic level. Each of as many as four players begins the game with one planet which produces ten resource units.
You can use the units to buy Echo ships, needed for colonization; Rama ships, nimble long range fighters; Nova ships, battle-wagons with planet-busting powers; and defense unts for the planets in your empire.
Depending on how many players there are, there will be from 12 to 48 stars in the "galaxy" from which you must seize 10 and control them for an entire turn sequence.
During each turn, the computer displays the number and type of ships available to you and lists the planets in your empire, including their resource points and defense factors.
If you have maneuvered a fleet to a distant star and have subdued all opposition, you are then given the chance to spend some of your resource points to colonize it. Once part of the empire, the resource points produced by the planet are added to your total at the beginning of the turn, increasing your spending power.
In the solitaire version, this is more or less the whole game. The natives might put up perfunctory rsistance, but the program does not generate any alien fleets to oppose your juggernaut. It is in play with two or more opponents that the action heats up.
After you have finished the resource allocation phase of your turn, you are given control of your fleets. When you buy a fleet, you may launch it from any planet of your empire, even one that is under attack, thus making it very hard to seize a colonized planet.
When in the fleet command phase, you can summon tactical maps of the sector of the galaxy your fleet is in. These text-generated maps--there are absolutely no graphics after the title page--display on A wherever enemy fleets are located and a number for each of your own armadas.
When fleets clash, there are no tactical level decisionsl to be made. You can choose to either attack or do nothing. If you choose to attack, which is usually the right choice if you get to shoot first and have used only a little of your fleet energy to move into position, the computer does all the messy calculating of odds and automatically displays the results.
Andromeda is a game you will pick up quickly. The accent is not on subtle nuances of play, but on broad strategy and action. The level of challenge is low, but the playability is high, with the exception of the solitaire mode, which is frankly dull. For three or four players, Andromeda Conquest is a good evening's entertainment. Telengard
Last, and best of the AH quartet is an exciting fantasy-adventure game, Telengard, the creation of Dan Lawrence and Mike O'Brien. The graphics in Telengard are, to say the least, rudimentary. All you have is an X marking the spot in the maze at which your character is located, letter codes for certain features like fountains and altars, and # symbols to indicate the presence of monsters. It is a good thing that the action is fast and furious enough to make you forget about the graphics.
At the beginning of the game, you select a set of characteristics for the character you will take into the maze. The categories are fairly familiar to fantasy-gamers: charisma, agility, wisdom, intelligence, strength, and most important, constitution (the measure of how much punishment you can take before you die).
It would be nice if you could decide how strong yor character will be in each category, filling categories one-by-one, but right from the start Telengard puts you on notice that you are in for rough handling. A completed set of characteristics flashes on the screen as soon as you select the Start a New Character option. You have exactly three seconds to take the characteristics or leave them. If you decide you don't like the setup, you do nothing, and a new set of characteristics flashes on the screen. When you get to a set you like, you hit RETURN and th egame begins. At the beginning, each characteristic such as wisdom, strength, etc., can have a value as hgih as 18. The ideal would be to have each field showing a value of 18, but the chances of the computer randomly assigning that value to all six characteristics are not good.
Once you have settled on a character and have named it, the game begins with your hero standing at the foot of a staircase leading up to the Worthy Meade Inn. A quick glance at the upper righthand quarter of the screen shows the status of the character in all six characteristics and the number of accumulated experience points, gold, spell units, weaponry, armor, and possessions.
Those of you who have been through the fantasy game experience before don't have to be told that our fledgling hero beings at the first level of experience, with no experience points, no gold, and few spells. At first our hero has only one spell unit, good for the hurling of one Level One spell. He has a sword, shield, and armor, but all are of the very lowest quality.
The object of the game is simply to stay alive and accumulate experience and gold and to be prompted to higher levels. How far you can take your character is a measure of how much gaming savvy, luck, and skill you can bring to bear and in what proportions.
As you begin at the highest and "easiest" level of the 50-level maze, you may face at any time a monster capable of easily destroying you with one blow. It is, therefore, necessary to accumulate experience rapidly; to acquire healing portions to renew hit points; scrolls of rescue to get you out of unpleasant neighborhoods; and magic swords and shields to help you absorb and dish out extra punishment.
It is a daunting chore. The first level costs 2000 experience points. The fifth level requires 32,000 points, and even at that level, with improved spells and more of 'em, you still encounter monsters on the first maze level that can wipe you out in a split second.
As the song says, you gotta know when to fold . . . know when to run. At first, you do a lot of running from monsters (you have the option to fight, cast spells, or evade when in combat) but as you achieve higher levels of experience and, perhaps, stumble upon magic swords, you will choose to fight more often.
As you explore the maze, you find treasure chests full of gold which can be converted directly into experience points at any inn, magic swords and even clocks which enable you to pass by monsters unseen, friendly monsters which give you gifs or restore hit points, magic fountains whose waters bring interesting results when drunk, misty cubes, altars, pits, elevators . . .
The dimensions of the maze system are large, indeed. Each of the 50 levels is so extensive that y ou will hesitate to attempt to map them. The temptation to navigate by the seat of your pants will be hard to resist, but if you expect to avoid stumbling upon a nasty surprise for the second time or to find the stairs going up, it's worth the effort to make a map.
Telengard almost automatically invites comparison with teh more sophisticated Wizardy. It is by no means the equal of the more polished and challenging Wizardry, but Telengard has the great charm of being easy to play and offering fast-moving action. The complex setup procedures of Wizardy, the forming of adventuring groups, the equipment purhasing, and the freedom to tailor a character's characteristics to your desires are missing from Telengard as are the attractive color graphics.
What's left is the action, which is abundant, and the fun of exploration. AH has produced a game which makes a good introduction to the fantasy-adventure genre for new gamers. For veteran fantasy gamers, Telengard should provide a new kick and a respectable challenge of skill.
Products: G.F.S. Sorceress (video game)
Andromeda Conquest (video game)
Telengard (video game)