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Encore
1988
Strategy: War
£7.95
£1.99
English
ZX Spectrum 48K
Elite Uni-Loader

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22,23
Marcus Berkmann
Chris Bourne

After months of silence, Elite emerges again with none other than a Speccy version of the old pencil-and-paper sea battle game. And shiver our timbers, bain't it be Marcus Berkman going overboard ass usual!

Splosh! Yes, I fancied a dip. Though with all these missiles and fighter bombers flying around, there are safer places to be than swimming around in the sea. Like, well, anywhere else at all.

Perhaps it's more comfortable to play Battleships in the warmth of your own front room, lying on the chaise longue beside a roaring Speccy. Not that you'd ever imagine that such a simple (if frustratingly addictive) game could ever make much of a splash on the UK's fave computer. Sounds seriously dull, dunnit? But Elite - or rather boss Steve Wilcox, whose ingenious idea it was - has transferred the old HB and A4 game of distant memory into a surprisingly nifty and intelligent slice of games' programming. Wilcox and his programmers have taken the heart of the idea, tickled it up, added some excellent action sequences, and produced a genuine computer game, with enough excitement and challenge to keep the YS team away from Batty for an entire afternoon (and more)!

The rules have been modified, but the basic idea remains the same. Within a 20-by-20 grid of squares, you have to place six ships, each of different sizes and shapes. You get one aircraft carrier, which takes up six squares, one battleship (five), one submarine (four), two destroyers (three) and a missile launch (two). Your opponent (whether human or computer- shaped) positions his ships, too. Neither of you sees what the other is up to (unless, of course, you cheat. But you wouldn't do that, would you?). You then take turns to try and blast each other's fleet out of the water. You each have 24 shots a go when you start, but your ration's reduced by four each time you lose a ship. Whoever sinks all the other's fleet first, wins. Couldn't really be simpler, could it?

But like all the best games, there's more beneath the surface than meets the eye. The original Battleships is a game of strategy and slithery thinking, and the computer version can be just as slimy. Outwitting the opponent is the idea, and you can start this by arranging your ships in all manner of formations. Then, when it's your turn to attack, you've got to scatter your missiles around in such a way as to maximise your chances of hitting something (makes sense, I suppose). Then there's the problem of finishing off a vessel once you've got that first elusive hit.

Not that you should get the impression that Battleships is a dry strategy puzzle where excitement and action are unknown. 'Cos when you've chosen your 24 (or fewer) targets, you cut to a screen showing your opponent's ships - or what's left of them - and watch as your missiles smash violently into their hulls or drop pitifully into the surrounding ocean. Every time a ship is hit its sprite on the action screen becomes progressively less seaworthy, until the final hit when, with a gloop and a splutter, it keels over and heads for Davy Jones' locker. The sprite changes, too, on the grid screen, and when it goes under you see a reassuring lifebelt marked 'SOS' in its place. Six lifebelts and you're home and dry!

There are three modes of play: one player, two players and 'multi-play'. Playing by yourself is okay for practice, but a bit dull after a while, as the computer (let's face it) isn't that hot. It's better to play with two, and best of all to play with a whole bunch of you. Multi-play is, in fact, just a series of two player games, in which the winner stays on and scores points to put him/her on the high score table. After each victory a new challenger is invited to sign in, so you can play with any number, from two up. This is when the game really comes into its own.

Battleships is unlikely to please everybody, but anyone with sea legs and a keen eye for aquatic violence should love it to pieces. As well as being compulsive, it's also that rarity on the Speccy - a game that's more fun for two (I can think of a few of those Ed).

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FRIGATE!

Ahoy, me hearties! You've only got 16 shots per turn left, which means only four ships to shoot them from, so you're up against it here. You've taken out his aircraft carrier, and inflicted hits on his battleship (five squares) and one of his destroyers (three). But which one's which? You'll have to treat both targets as possible battleships (expensive in terms of missiles) in order to be sire of sinking both. But your first priority is reducing your opponent's firepower, and to do that you've got to make sure those ships plummet straight to the ocean floor.

HARD ASTERN, CAP'N!

The battle screen, as one of the enemy's planes makes a pass (oo, cheeky!) over your defences. On this attack, I'm afraid, you've only managed to hit the battleship - note it listing on the top right. Weird, isn't it, the way the two navies only ever attack at night? But take a look at all those neatly designed instruments around the sides - fortunately they don't mean anything at all!

SHIPSHAPES

You and your enemy start with the same forces - perhaps it's just that it doesn't seem like that when he's sunk three of your boats within the first three goes. Watch out for these shapes, and remember that except for the battleship and submarine, all can be hidden diagonally as well!

Aircrafr Carrier

Missile Launch

Battleship

Destroyer

Submarine

Use the cursor to plot your shots. Although a wide range of fire is never a bad idea, remember the diagonals. It's all to easy to leave huge diagonal spaces, even when it looks as though you've covered the grid pretty thoroughly.

Slimy players occasionally put their ships as near to each other as they can, which can confuse the other player if he gets a couple of nearby hits on different ships, or may cause him to miss one of the ships completely. But the game doesn't allow you to put ships right on each other's bows - you have to leave one square's gap at all times.

Battleships are five squares in a line, and that could be in any direction. Often frustratingly hard to track down and sink even after you've struck the first blow.

You can't get a hit all the time, but it's still important not to waste your shots on parts of the grid where you couldn't conceivably fit a battleship, sub or whatever it is that you're missing. Go for those wide open spaces.

Odd subs, these, 'cos they never seem to go under water (unless they sink, of course). They're a run shape, too, and with four squares on the grid they're undoubtedly the least manoeuvrable of the smaller vessels.

Six squares on the grid, the aircraft carrier's probably the easiest of the lot to knock off - I mean, you can hardly miss it! So don't slash your wrists when the computer nabs yours on Turn 1.

Each side has two destroyers and there always seems to be one of yours left untouched as the game draws to a close. Highly hideable and not to be underestimated.

This may not look up to much, but the Missile Launches, at two squares, are the jewel in any Battleship's player's crown, if he can track them down, mainly 'cos they're virtually impossible to find! Hitting it in the early stages can often give you the upper hand.