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Game #21 : Ants!!! (1979)

Lieutenant Narwhal, it says in your file that you’ve grown weary of missions in Space and you’ve requested a transfer to smaller scale missions back on Earth. Your request has been granted !

Thank you Sir !

We have a very small scale mission for you. And it is very Earthly !

I am the black ants now ! I never discuss orders !
I never discuss orders, but I was still pretty surprised !

So you are asking me what I remember about the Great War Against the Red Ants. Well, I was there. I was there since the beginning.

Me ! Of course I looked younger then ! “No Stinger” would have been an issue if the red ants had an air force. Source : OrkinCanada

I was accompanying our Black Queen, who was attending some queenly duty. And then, we saw her ! The Red Queen ! She had come to face us !

This could only end one way.

We immediately called for reinforcements. You have to know that an ant Queen can rely on four type of reinforcements :

Once summoned, the ants are, I am sorry to report, not very disciplined. They advance haphazardly toward the enemy, engaging them should they arrive in range. I had no control over them, I could only advise the queen on which type of ants to bring !

Initially, you will only receive 3 or 4 ants, whatever type you choose, so you might as well summon Guards. They are strong, they hit hard and they stay around the middle of the map, slowly beelining (antlining ? ) toward the enemy queen.

So Guards it was :

The Red Queen also brought Guards. Red Guards. I should have known.

Well, I brought more Black Guards. And they brought more Red Guards.

Well, by turn 4, you start to get a lot more ants by turn, so it becomes more efficient to choose ants that come in greater numbers.

In this case, I tried to advise the Queen to use combined arms : slow but study guard in front to breach the line, and then faster soldiers to exploit.

The Queen did not quite understand my explanations, I think she lost me at “schwerpunkt” but she did as I asked :

The two forces were now at biting range, and first blood, I mean [checks notes] first haemolymph was spilt !

Of course the soldiers move forward but in random directions, so you can’t actually rely on them to support the center of the map. Before the Queen noticed it, I talked about “tactical envelopment”. I believe the Queen lost me at “Second Cannae“.

Royal Guard and Soldiers, from Osprey Publication’s “Uniforms of the Great Ants war”

I had an advantage at this point, and I wanted to finish off the Reds . For that, I called for workers. As they move fast, they would reach the frontline at the decisive moment. We were 26 against 14 – those odds should be enough to win !

Can’t figure out what’s happening? Me neither.

But then the mating season began. They had warned me, but I told them that soldiers should focus on the task at h…

Ants everywhere !

It is basically Verdun in a picnic basket. Now I realize why there are three exclamation marks in the title of the game.

The drones threw themselves at one another, and quickly they were all dead :

Both queens had been bitten once (they can be bitten 5 times before they die), and there had been very little infiltration of the enemy anthill : 8 of my ants infiltrated, against 3 of theirs. We needed 50 for a decisive victory.

But… what’s that strange feeling in the air?! Mating season again !

At this point the Queen was asking me to analyze the situation but I had no idea what to do except to throw more ants at the enemy ! Clearly I had lost all my command & control on the situation.

And then I won ! Why ? Apparently we overran the enemy nest. How ? I don’t know.

To the victor, the spoils !

Review & Rating

!!! According to some ads, there are actually 6 exclamation points in the title !!!

Ants!!! by Brian Rotolante, published by Synergistic Solar
First release :
1979 on TRS-80
Tested on :
TRS-80 emulator
Total Hours Tested :
1 hour
A
verage duration of a battle :
10 minutes
Complexity : Trivial (0/5)
Would recommend to a modern player : No
Would recommend to a designer : No
Final Rating: Not rated

Ants!!! was designed by Brian Rotolante and published by Synergistic Solar, a now-forgotten company which published a string of also-forgotten turn-based space games , including :

  • Parsector V (1980), a turn-based strategy game with fog of war that received very good reviews from 80 Microcomputer, Space Gamer and Softside,…
  • Parsector 8 (1980), a two-players-only iteration of the previous game,
  • Space Ace 21 (1981), a space combat game (think “The Warp Factor“, but in 3D) where you build up your own ship,
  • The New Starship Voyages (1981), a Star Trek clone that did not impress anyone,
  • Hypergate Patrol (1982), a real-time strategy game where the player must patrol their space sector and solve issues,
  • Hypergate Centurion (1982), Same as Patrol except the player leads 5 ships,

Sadly, most of these games seem lost. I could only find Space Ace 21 and Hypergate Centurion – and even then I could not find the manual of Hypergate Centurion.

Ants!!! is barely a wargame, but due to being the first game of this publisher, but I decided to cover it nonetheless as a short and sweet detour.

A. Immersion

Say whatever your want, when I think “Ants” I think “multitude” and the game delivers. There are often more than one hundred units on the screen – not bad for a TRS-80 game. With minimal graphics, the game really feels antsy.

B. Systems

Well, it is pretty simple. You win by either wounding the enemy Queen 5 times, or by exiting 50 ants on the opposite side. For this purpose, the player calls one of the four types of ants, and then hopes for the best :

  • Guards are very strong, but slow and in small numbers. They stay in the middle of the screen, so they are good to defend the queen,
  • Soldiers are good in attack, fairly numerous and move straight ahead, with limited left/right deviation,
  • Workers are very numerous, weak, and move in the most random directions,
  • Drones are slow, they kill whatever they attack but are killed by anything that attacks them (so they counter the less numerous guards and are countered by the numerous workers). They come in incredible numbers during mating season (every 25 turns). Of course, both sides are going to call them or be overwhelmed, so the mating season usually reshuffles the map as drones kill one another,

There is a bit of a counter system in the game, but of course it is very unreliable due to the random movement of units and quickly enough the battlefield is a mess with units of all types mixed anyway.

C. UI , Clarity of rules and outcomes

Except at the very beginning, it is very difficult to understand what is happening. With no color code but only letters and shapes to distinguish units, it is almost impossible to read the map or to make plans, so the game is mostly random.

D. Scenario design & Balancing

There are three scenarios : Open field (as in the AAR), Nest Barrier and Digging Ants. As for the AI, I still don’t understand if it just randomly produces troops or if it tries to adapt (except during the mating season, where the AI always produces drones).

Nest barrier
Digging Ants. The middle barrier must be eaten before the ants can fight one another

E. Fun and replayability

It feels like a lottery with extra steps, but one where you can, a bit, shift the odds in your favor. It is impressive to see the first time, too, but I would certainly not call the game replayable.

Contemporary Reviews

I could only find two reviews for this game. There is a short “capsule” review in Space Gamer 37 (March 1981), where J. Mishcon calls it “a game for kids“. W.D. Ives writes a way longer review in the April 1982 issue of 80 Microcomputer. The reviewer calls the game “silly” but nonetheless addictive “why did I spend 8 hours playing this silly game ?” According to Ives, the addictiveness comes from the graphics and from how simple it is to play : “sit back and enjoy the graphics”. Just like me, even after hours of experience, Ives found the game impossible to follow once there are too many ants on screen.

Those are the only reviews I could find of Ants!!!, which went (probably deservingly) under the radar, the later Sinergistic Solar titles seem to have had more impact, so it is particularly sad that most of them seem lost.

2 Comments

  1. Gubisson Gubisson

    Sounds a bit like a distant ancestor to Clash Royale!
    I feel for Lt Narwhal. I hope he can go back to fighting Nazis soon.

  2. Harland Harland

    The Queen did not quite understand my explanations, I think she lost me at “schwerpunkt”

    Chuckle.

    This game actually looks fascinating. Influence the queen but not controlling the ants. There is a lot going on behind the scenes. I bet it was really interesting to write, and the author was greatly influenced by some book or article he read.

    Hypergate Patrol (1982), a real-time strategy game

    Wow, that’s really early for one of those.

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