by Bob Cockcroft
One of the biggest complaints I hear about strategy games is regarding the lack of informative packaging. In most cases it is impossible for a potential buyer to adequately assess the entertainment value of a product from the container it comes in. It is true that some software stores keep copies so that a brief demonstration can be given; however, a complete understanding of a well designed strategy simulation requires several hours of play. As a result, a short presentation of an involved game is never sufficient. The unavoidable reality is that when a person buys a strategy game, he is forced to risk his money in the hope of getting a quality product.
Fortunately, there are some programs like Ken Uston's professional blackjack that take the gambling out of the purchase, and put it in the program. This product is not only a realistic blackjack simulation, but also, one that teaches card counting systems.
Unlike most other Casino games, a skillful blackjack player is able to improve his chances of winning. By keeping a running count of the cards which have been used, one will be better able to predict what cards remain in the deck and to act accordingly. This type of system is called card counting. It has been claimed that some card counting systems can put the odds in favour of the player instead of the House.
In the `Profession Blackjack' utility, Ken Uston teaches 3 card counting systems which vary in both difficulty and effectiveness. Every method has been statistically analyzed for its return probabilities. In addition, tables for each system are provided that indicate the best move for all possible card combinations. Being colour coded, these tables are a good quick reference source.
The first of the 3 card counting systems Ken Uston teaches is the `Basic Strategy.' Being the most simple, this method limits its scope to only the cards known by the player. This system gives the statistically correct playing decision if only the players cards and the dealer's 'up-card' are taken into consideration. Depending on the rules of the particular Casino you are in, the `Basic Strategy' yields anywhere between a fraction of a percent advantage in favour of the player, to a full one percent advantage in favour of the House. I have found the `Basic Strategy' the most practical method. Its greatest advantages are that it significantly improves the performance of an inexperienced player and is easily applied. My losses were reduced by using a few simple techniques. Unfortunately, this method does not enable a player to consistently make money. Despite teaching the fundamental strategies of Blackjack, it does not give the player an advantage over the House. While I was using this system my money supply never deviated far from the break-even point.
The second system described is the 'Plus/Minus Count.' While the cards are dealt in the game of Blackjack, the odds continually shift back and forth between the player and the House. The 'Plus/Minus Count' uses this fact to the players advantage. By assigning cards particular plus or minus values, a running-count of what remains in the deck can be kept. As a result, a player is able to increase his bets when there is a strong probability of getting a good hand. This system is really a more effective modification of the `Basic Strategy.' It is claimed that the `Simple Plus/Minus system' gives the player a small but definite statistical advantage over the House. However, my experience with using it has not been overly successful. After appling the Simple Plus/Minus for a number of times, I have not yet been able to consistently beat the House.
The last, and most effective method is the `Advance Plus/Minus.' It is claimed that this is a professional level system which is used by many card counters. The Advance Plus/Minus uses many of the same techniques as does the `Simple Plus/Minus' method. The only significant difference is that the 'running count' is converted into what is called a `true count.' This is done by comparing the running count with the number of cards remaining in the deck. Although this system does not give the player a decisive advantage over the House, it has been my experience that it does give him a marginal edge. Unfortunately, this method is difficult to master. It requires many hours of practice before a player can apply it effectively.
Ken Uston does a good job of simulating how Blackjack is played in the Casinos. Anywhere from 1 to 7 seven players are allowed at the table. Each player can be controlled by either a human, or by the computer, appling any of the 3 card counting methods. In addition, the players and their strategies can be stored on disk for later use. In order to make the simulation more realistic, the speed in which the computer deals is similar to that of a human dealer. But perhaps one of the most exciting aspects of this game is the ability of a player to choose which particular Casino he wants to play in. The Blackjack rules of every major Casino in the United States are listed on the disk and can be used in your games. Because `Professional Blackjacks' provides both a tutorial on card counting and a realistic simulation, it is a game that I would recommend to any card player.
Napoleon At Waterloo
`Napoleon at Waterloo' by KRENtek Software, is a recreation of Napoleon's last battle. After escaping from exile on the island of Elba, Napoleon returned to Paris to rebuild has army. He soon found himself being opposed by a coalition which included the British and Prussian Armies. In order to divert the enemy forces away from Paris, Napoleon moved north into Belgium where he engage the Prussians. After a day of fighting, the Prussians were forced to retreat. Napoleon sent part of his force in pursuit while preparing to fight the British with the remainder of his army. Unknown to Napoleon, the Prussians had escaped their pursuers and were able to circle back to re-enforce the British. As Napoleon, your goal is to defeat the computer controlled Anglo-Prussian forces.
The battle is fought on a moderately sized scrolling map of the city of Waterloo and the surrounding countryside. Buildings, groves of trees, and other features of the landscape are provided as points of reference. French units are given orders through the use of a joystick controlled command box. As a result, complex movement commands can be given quickly. These soldiers are not homogeneous, they vary both in weaponry and quality. In addition, morale is used to modify a unit's ability to fight and carry-out orders.
This game is a simple simulation of Napoleonic warfare. I say simple, not in the negative sense of it having an inadequate presentation, but in the positive sense of it avoiding unnecessary repetition and pointless detail. Because units can be controlled with a minimum of effort by the user, the game has an economic command sequence. Procedural `fat' like multi-screen displays and the over use of keyboard commands are either eliminated, or kept to an absolute minimum. This efficiency has a two-fold effect. One, with only a small number of commands, this game is quite simple to learn. Two, the absence of useless detail causes the game to progress with more speed and excitement.
`Napoleon at Waterloo' uses a `real time' combat system. In other words, this game does not use any turn sequence; action is continuous. As a result, the battle will progress with much more realism than would be expected from a board-game equivalent. With a `real time' system, organizing attacks is of greater significance. Commands must be given to units in order of importance for their attack to be effective. The author of this game has done a good job of coordinating the rate at which the battle progresses with the number of units a player must command. Time is not wasted waiting for units to perform their orders, nor does the battle progress at a pace which renders control over the French forces impossible.
`Napoleon at Waterloo' is a simple but entertaining simulation of Napoleonic warfare. After playing this game a number of times, I have not found any serious weaknesses. My only complaint is that it is sometimes difficult on a green monitor to see in which direction a unit has been ordered to move.