[MC Lothlorien, Acorn Electron]
– Lieutenant Narwhal, your next mission will happen in a lawless land where giant tanks plunder popular boardgame licences !
– Giant tanks ? I could totally use that ! I have been good at plundering licences, too : Star Trek ! Aliens ! …
– I am afraid you will be one of the little guys fighting the giant tanks.
I already mentioned Ogre in my article about Reach from the Stars. Set in a dystopian future, the game features asymmetrical warfare between two players, with one commanding a nearly indestructible, autonomous, cybernetic tank called the “Ogre” and the other controlling a defending force of conventional infantry, tanks, and artillery units. With its unique, asymmetrical and yet simple ruleset, its quick sessions, its portable format and its incredibly affordable price ($2.95 !), Ogre was an instant success upon its release in 1977 with over 20 000 copies sold in just the first year and by 1983 had already been through 3 different editions and more than 80 000 impressions, this before taking into account its offshoot G.E.V., comparably successful in its own right.
Alas, if you did not have friends to play with and were not satisfied by the solitaire options (covered in two sentences in the manual), you had to wait for the official port by Origin Systems in 1986…
… or, if you had a BBC Micro, you could play the bootleg port by Lothlorien : Battlezone 2000!
Battlezone 2000 has a lot fewer options than the boardgame. To start with, the computer always controls the Ogre, leaving you with the conventional force :
In Ogre, the objective of the Ogre is to destroy the Command Post and then exit the map by the other side. In Battlezone 2000, its objective is simply to cross the map, leaving the Command Post as a vestigial unit – it can’t move or attack but you don’t need to defend it either.
I won Battlezone 2000 at my first attempt at difficulty 6, so I started a “real” game at difficult 10… and the Ogre just waltzed through my lines so easily it would have made a terrible AAR. So here is my final attempt at difficult 9.
At difficulty 9, the Ogre starts with :
- 3 long-range missiles (5 hexagons). Those are pretty much instant game-over for anyone on the receiving end
- 2 main batteries – they shoot at 3 hexagons and are only slightly less murderous than missiles,
- 5 secondary batteries shooting at range 2, of average efficiency,
- 8 anti-personal weapons shooting at range 1. They are the least of my worries.
The Ogre also starts with 50 “tread points”. For each block of 15 points, an Ogre has 1 in movement, so my local Ogre will have 4 in movement until I can reduce it to 44 tread points.
The Ogre is not making a good use of its speed. It keeps using indirect route to its target or even backtracks fully for no reason at all. Here is its action the first turn :
My first objective is to slow down the Ogre a bit. Luckily, I happen to have some heavy artillery in range. When attacking, the game asks you which system you want to shoot. I go for “tracks”, and succeeds :
That’s a success :
As the Ogre pushes on, my artillery and one of my missiles tanks focus on destroying one of its main batteries – another success :
Some of my units are now in range of the Ogre’s missiles, who uses them with devastating effects : my artillery is blown up, as is a Ground Effect Vehicule (GEV) on the right of the map. My missile tank is destroyed by conventional artillery :
My other GEVs can start their work. They are the fastest vehicles (4 hexagons a turn) and while their range is limited to 2 tiles only, they can retreat by two more hexagons after shooting. Alas, their attack rating is low. Still, focusing their attack, they manage to take out the last main battery of the mighty ogre, now limited to a range of two !
The following turn, the ogre uses its last missile to destroy one of my tanks.
… and my GEV comes back, chipping away one secondary battery before breaking off. This is looking good, soon the Ogre will be weakened enough for my main force – tanks, missile tanks and lots of infantry – to jump into action !
The following turn, the Ogre veers right, crushing some of my infantry at a negligible cost in tread points :
It is time ! All my units pounce forward, focusing on the secondary batteries ! If I can remove them, or most of them, then I will be able to chip it away at distance for the rest of the battle :
Unfortunately, Lady Luck is not smiling upon me this turn. I only manage to remove ONE unarmored anti-personal weapon, all my other attacks fail.
It is therefore a still very toothful Ogre that overruns 2 of my units in a row (not destroying them this time but “stunning” them) before gunning them down !
A last desperate attack is ineffective, particularly because I stupidly waste some of my attacks on the antipersonal weapons.
The two following turns, the Ogre crushes what’s left of my non-GEV units :
Now, it is my two GEVs against the Ogre. Every turn, they move toward it, shoot at the treads and retreat out of range. Unfortunately, the GEVs have the weakest weapon in the game and they only rarely damage the treads. As for the Ogre, it could easily catch back the GEVs with its superior speed of 3, but instead it heads South in the least efficient way possible.
I manage to reduce it to 24 tread points (movement speed : 2)…
… but that’s not enough, and it exists the map with 16 tread points left. I lost !
Looking back, I think I could have won if instead of focusing on secondary batteries, I had focused on the tread from the moment I had destroyed the main batteries. 10 or so fewer tread points early on would have made a huge difference, slowing down the beast enough to give me the time to finish it. I also poorly positioned some of my units here and there, for instance losing a missile tank early for no good reason.
I am convinced I could have won at level 8, but I did not like the game enough to try a 4th session, so let’s move to the Rating & Review direction.
Rating and Review
Ogre Battlezone 2000 by MC Lothlorien, UK
First release : July 1983 on BBC Micro
Tested on : Acorn Electron emulator (Pantheon)
Total time tested : A bit less than two hours
Average duration of a battle : 30 minutes
Complexity: Easy (1/5)
Would recommend to a modern player : No
Would recommend to a designer : No
Final Rating: Flawed and obsolete
Ranking at the time of review : 55/91
Battlezone 2000 is a blatant copy of Ogre, that manages to keep most of what makes Ogre fun for one battle, but none of what makes Ogre a classic still played today.
Immersion – Very poor.
UI, Clarify of rules and outcomes – Terrible. Reading coordinates to move units is just painful- Roger Keating had a better solution in 1979 already. The manual is lacklustre and I had to read the rules for combat resolution in the manual of the boardgame.
Systems – Quite good. It is Ogre ! But Ogre simplified : to take the most glaring examples there is only one type of terrain (Ogre had 6) and infantry is streamlined and behaves like any other units.
Scenario design & balancing – Terrible. There are 10 levels of difficulty, with the Ogre getting more powerful in every one of them :
Apart from that, the only variation you can introduce is on how you allocate your 9 non-artillery non-infantry units between tanks / GEV / missile tanks. Even the starting position of the units is always the same.
Did I make interesting decisions ? Yes, almost every turn, at the minimum : “Weapons or tracks” ?
Final rating : Flawed and obsolete. Nothing shows how much Battlezone 2000 is a half-assed port than the useless Command Post unit Lothlorien left in the game – and no one seems to have given it the honour of a review. I guess play the official port either on Steam and Nintendo Switch, I haven’t tested it but it has to be better.