Strategy: War
ZX Spectrum 48K

Philippa Irving
Chris Bourne

It seems to me that ass produce two types of game; one blandly well-presented, fast and playable with a pretty awful but nicely-written arcade sequence, and the other uneven, unexpected in content and vaguely unprofessional. Annals of Rome, which I liked a lot, was of the latter type, and so is this game, most inappropriately entitled Battlefield Germany. Here we have no real-time gameplay, no arcade sequence, and precious little machine code. What we do have is a literal, cumbersome simulation of a board wargame, envisaging a mostly conventional war between NATO and the Warsaw Pact.

The explanation of the scenario is brutally exact, given as it is in the form of a countdown dated to begin next summer. Iran wins the war with Iraq, which seems reasonable. What seems unlikely (to me, anyway) is that Egypt also comes under Islamic law and an Islamic pact is formed - this then invades Israel. The superpowers intervene and the situation escalates to full-scale conventional war in Europe. The point of dating this account of the escalation so close to home is presumably to shock the player into a sense of immediacy. This has worked to some extent as, at least superficially, it has an air of uneasy credibility about it. The atmosphere created by reading this while the game loads is dispersed somewhat by the first appearance of the game on the screen, and soon evaporated entirely in the fifteen-minute wait before play.

The map is hex-based rather than square, which in theory is a good idea as it allows for equivalent movement in six directions. In practice, the hex composition of this particular map seems to waste a lot of space. The main playing area scarcely fills half of the screen at once, and is 'jagged around the edges to avoid hall hexes. A small representation of the entire playing area of Central Europe shows where units are deployed; this would be more useful if it were possible to tell from the tiny dots which units belonged to which side, as it is difficult to get a sense of location from the main, scrolling map and I found it wasn't easy to keep track of how my forces were moving overall. Nothing on the map is identified by name, although each hex is some sort of terrain type including the cities which are vital for victory points, and this is the major reason why the map looks and feels anonymous and unexciting.

The game makes no visual appeal to the intellect or the imagination. Cities have no chance of becoming real cities with populations and histories; they ' re no more than 'city hexes ', which take one movement point to enter and are worth 20 victory points.

The player's units and the computer's are represented by the traditional square counters depicting a sometimes unrecognisable piece of military hardware. There are seven types of unit in Battlefield Germany and it takes a bit of working out at first to decide which is which, as the works of art are not reproduced in the rulebook. Each unit has a set of statistics which is displayed to the right of the screen, and define in interesting detail attributes like combat strength, fatigue, efficiency, supply and movement points. The information is presented cryptically but clearly, this is a good thing, as frequent reference to the rules is initially necessary. Units can be stacked four to a hex, and the statistics of all units in a hex are displayed when the cursor is moved into it. This is all interesting and satisfying, and reminiscent of precariously balanced cardboard counters, but the effort which has been put into detailing the statistical definition of the counters seems to have been at the expense of any other sort of detail giving life to the board. The units are just that - counters.

I'm sure it's a psychologically determined fact that most players when loading up a wargame for the first time choose to play 'their' side if engaging against the computer. Battlefield Germany has its one-player and two-player game on different sides of the tape, and it interrupts the loading on side one to allow the player to input options: one or two player, game length, NATO or Warsaw Pact. Most players will choose NATO, for their first attempt anyway. These players will find themselves watching the screen for 15 to 20 minutes while the Warsaw Pact, which goes first, plods through its 'action phase.'

If you've played Annals of Rome and thought the computer took too long about its moves, then Battlefield Germany will drive you mad. At least Annals of Rome's movements are moderately interesting to watch. Battlefield Germany offers nothing but a vast number of counters moving one by one through a blank landscape, and certainly on a first loading the whole process will be meaningless to the player. If you decide, after five minutes, to give up on it and go and make a cup of coffee, phone Australia or take a walk down the street while Warsaw is getting on with things, you are likely to come back to find that a minute after you left, the opposition decided to engage in combat and the computer will be smugly waiting for a key-press from you.

If anyone survives the boredom and frustration of the computer's turn, there is a further shock; a saved game position can't be loaded until that turn is over, as the player is given the option of 'advance/ load/save' before carrying on. Useless to think that you can choose to play Warsaw instead next time and avoid this wait, because you must load a saved game into the same set of options. Patience is the cardinal virtue of wargamers, and it may be true that you have to wait half an hour for a human opponent to complete a turn, but there really is no excuse for the excessive slowness of Battlefield Germany, particularly as occasional intervention is required by the human player, and no warning of this is sounded by the computer to wake the player up.

When the player does eventually get a chance to participate. a rapid, computer-handled 'supply phase' is followed by the action phase. This allows a free mixture of movement and combat, which I'm not sure is a good idea; some players may like the free-form, but I found it was confusing. It does at least allow victories in battle to be followed up by advances of units which were not involved in the fighting. Movement is easy and efficient, effected by means of a cursor which can select and deselect units freely and move them while their movement counter decreases to zero. As usual, certain types of terrain incur movement penalties, and these are explained in the rules, Combat can be initiated at any time during the action phase between adjacent units, and the method of doing so is clumsy and initially most confusing; any mistake results in the message 'attack aborted. '

Both sides can choose how much air support to give the attack, from a fixed pool allocated each turn, and this has a significant effect on outcome. The computer seems to be sparing of its air support supplies, and a few heavy attacks each turn will be sure to obliterate its units. Units can be destroyed or forced to retreat, and if they have no way of retreating - or if you accidently make them retreat in the wrong direction - they are vaporised, graphically.

The nuclear option is not offered in the one player game, which seems unfair; I should like to know how many people commonly play two-player wargames on their computers. It is, says the rulebook, included for authenticity more than anything else, and the way is handled is one of the few colourful features in a colourless game. The player can choose to escalate or de-escalate the level of nuclear conflict, but whether or not the decision will be implemented depends on the state of affairs on the battlefield; the ruling powers can overrule the military's wishes. If escalation is permitted, the player is allocated a certain number of warheads and may choose where to drop them (not a difficult decision, as it is easy to examine the opponents's units as thoroughly as your own). Unsurprisingly, the warhead annihilates everything in the hex, and turns it into a blackened radiation zone which takes up more movement points to enter thereafter. But, for some reason, the designers saw fit not to incorporate this interesting feature into the one player game.

The rulebook is perfectly adequate, describing the sequence of play in order and giving charts of terrain effects. It also makes clear what is a maximum level of supply and strength and the like, something too many games are inclined to leave to the player ' s imagination. It is well-produced in PSS's usual commendable style. I have already received letters from people who have bought this game and enjoyed it, but to be honest I can't recommend it to anyone who doesn't have a lot of patience and tolerance enough to ignore the shoddy, ragged programming. This game is dull, unwieldy and dry, and it certainly doesn't work for me.


The reasonable packaging is over-shadowed by the excruciating slowness of the computer's action phase.
Effective scene-setting and above-average rule description.
The player's movement phase is efficient, the computer's is diabolical and likely to provoke a pulled plug.
Clear enough... but very, very dull.
The scenario is credible and the large scale mechanised anonimity of modern warfare is simulated by default.
Aggressive but unintelligent.
If this game does appeal to you then there seems to be hours of play (and waiting) in it, but £12.95 is a lot to pay for something you may dislike.
Limited appeal in every sense.