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Month: August 2021

Game #23 : Tawala’s Last Redoubt (1981)

Note that this is the 4th part of the Galactic Saga. If you don’t know what the Galactic Saga is, start here

Only one mystery remains at the end of this interview, President Du Buque. When Tawala fled to Farside, why did you not finish him off from space with the thousands of troops at your command ?

I am sorry I am not going to take any more questions. I am tired. Have a good day folks !

We have plummeted a long way since we conquered an Empire. Twice.

Benthi’s Diary , Decathr 12, Base Camp

Our leader is dead. I, Benthi, am now in charge of the rebellion.

After being overthrown by Du Buque, Emperor Tawala found refuge in his secret redoubt on Farside. President Du Buque doesn’t seem able – or willing – to pursue him here. So we, the rebels, must finish the job without any assistance from the rest of the galaxy.

As the new head of the rebellion, the first thing to do is to assess the situation.

My first action is to look at the map of the relevant part of Farside :

My camp is situated in a mountain range between Lem and Hollywood. The ambush that killed our leader has crippled us. We have only 100 fighters left with 15 weapons between us. Our 100 credits could buy maybe 20 more weapons, if anyone was able and willing to sell.

In addition to these limited resources, I have 4 messengers : Haka, Juma, Keetse and Lanai.

Calling a messenger

Finally, my master spy Chief Paoli has two spies that I can send anywhere – if needed I can send Chief Paoli himself.

I spend most of the day studying the map, querying from Paoli’s files information about the settlements of Farside. After some time, I come up with these notes :

The Camp is connected to Lem and Hollywood, after that you have to follow the roads

Local leaders’ place of residency is indicated by a rectangle around their name. In addition, each of my messengers has a birthtown, which I indicated. I suppose they will have better results if sent on a mission there.

Finally, I check Chief Paoli’s files for the four leaders :

Ah yes, the famous Progressive/Vigorous vs Proud/Popular personality matrix

Based on this, I gave the first orders to my messengers. Above all, I need weapons, and therefore :

  • Keetse was sent to Chief Covoi in Hollywood to require weapons for free. Certainly the “exceptionally honorable” leader will oblige, especially since Keetse is a local.
  • Haka was sent to Chief Beonj in Anaxi to buy weapons. Certainly the “very poor” leader will accept to sell 15 weapons for 60 credits !
Sending an offer to Chief Beonj in the middle of the night !

After sending the last messenger, I send a spy to Janus to make sure any movement from Tawala in or out of his redoubt is reported, and I relocate my force to Lem.

Benthi’s Diary , Decathr 14, Lem

I arrived in Lem yesterday, but did not receive any news from my messengers until today.

  • Keetse returned empty-handed – Chief Covoi refuses to support us,
  • On the other hand, Haka reported that Chief Beonj will “consider my request favorably“.

One of my spies intercepted a coded message from Tawala :

This looks like a simple letter substitution code, but the only obvious letter is H => A

I did not have time to crack the code, as our spy in Janus reported that an imperial force is on its way to Lem. They will be here in a few hours.

I immediately ordered to evacuate Lem and head back to our initial camp.

Benthi’s Diary , Decathr 15 , Base Camp

Good surprise : we received the 15 weapons sent by Chief Beonj. I considered attacking and destroying the 16 imperial soldiers in Lem, but I prefer to wait for a more overwhelming advantage. So I sent a spy to Anaxis and ordered to relocate to Hollywood – as far as possible from the Tawalese in Lem.

Benthi’s Diary, Decath 16, Hollywood

I arrived in Hollywood yesterday night, where I was immediately informed that we had intercepted another coded message from Tawala :

This is a trivial message to decipher, and by noon today I knew most of Tawala’s primitive cypher, so I could decode both this message and the previous one. They said [white font as spoiler for if you ever play this game, I am missing two letters] :

Bellamy’s password is ERAPUBE. It must be entered slowly from the Master Menu. Direct our forces accordingly.

Find the man named Ric? S?art. We have a use for him.

Of course, I am still missing the location of the secret cache, but it is promising.

Chief Covoi had disappointed me two days ago. Now that I am in his main city with my small but motivated army I sent Keetse to him again – except this time I told Keetse to make it clear that I will not accept “no” for an answer :

And lo and behold, Chief Covoi immediately found 10 rifles for me !

I now have 40 rifles. I sent Lanai to Chief Beonj to buy 10 more with my 40 remaining credits ! No news from Tawala’s forces.

Benthi’s Diary , Decathr 16, Hollywood

Horror !

Too bad” seems like an understatement. Either that or Benthi did not like Lanai very much.

I cannot let that slide. I am moving immediately toward Chief Beonj’s territory for retaliation. Unfortunately, I cannot strike its residency : his militia may be too strong for me and I was just informed by my spy in Janus of an imperial army moving toward Anaxis. But the small town Koku will do as a target.

Benthi’s Diary , Decathr 17, Koku

Koku is burning in front of my eyes, and I looted 386 credits from Chief Beonj’s city without losing a single soldier. That will send a message.

You have to imagine the fires & destruction, though.

As I travelled to Koku and through Ffahr, my messengers have been busy. I requested troops from Chief Anson, but she said she could not part with more than 10. Keetse also managed to obtain more rifles from Chief Covoi.

My force transiting in Ffhar

I have been busy on the intelligence front as well. In particular I intercepted a message which, once deciphered, stated :

Urgently request your assistance in our planned operation against Ffhar. Do not mistake our request for weakness.

Expecting based on this message that enemy forces would move to Ffahr, I sent a messager to Anaxis to ask my spy to move to Ffahr.

In Ffhar, my spy did not find any Tawalese. Instead, they found another rebel force fighting Tawala ; the rebel force happily joined me – doubling my strength !

I instructed the rebels to meet me in Koku, from where we will march to Anaxis.

Benthi’s Diary, Decathr 20, Anaxis

I am in Anaxis. The Imperials had evacuated the city, so I could enter without combat. Chief Beonj was presumably not too happy about this.

I had one of my messengers tell Chief Beonj I wanted rifles, now, or else… Beonj had no choice :

With more rifles than I had combatants now, I also demanded men and women. I received almost 60 of them.

Well, it meant that now I had more soldiers than rifles, so guess what I asked Chief Beonj… yes, weapons. I received 31 more.

This puts me in a very different situation compared to only three days ago :

With 190 armed fighters, I could easily loot any of the cities not controlled by Tawala. There were four neutral leaders ; three had contributed already – only Chief Dumas had remained on the side. Tomorrow I will send my messengers to him with requests for volunteers and weapons.

Benthi’s Diary, Decathr 22, Lem

Things did not go as well as expected in the last two days. Chief Dumas sent me back the body of Haka rather than troops and rifles. I need to send Chief Dumas the same message I sent Chief Beonj. With Tawala still in Janus, I did a long travel through Hollywood and my camp, and arrived at Lem. Lew is now burning.

I will move back to Anaxis for a last collection of resources, then we will finally move against Janus. With Janus under my control, Chief Dumas will have to pay like Chief Beonj did.

Benthi’s Diary, Decathr 24, Anaxis

Back in Anaxis. I have barely more fighters than 4 days prior, but Tawala did not do any better. The battle is tomorrow. I also sent a spy to Tawala’s Redoubt to check what kind of garrison the Imperials have.

Benthi’s Diary, Decathr 25, Janus

I lost many friends today :

Tawala is defeated, but my army is in shambles. Adding Tawala’s weapons to mine, I have more than 350… but I don’t have the men and women to wield them. I am down to 52 fighters, and I need to rebuild my numbers !

Benthi’s Diary, Decathr 28, Bahl

I have been trying to rebuild my forces in the past few days. I recruited, more like extorted, 100 volunteers from Chief Durand, but this was not quite enough against Tawala’s garrison.

I left Janus, first for Anaxis, then to Bahl due to the following message I intercepted

Tell the Nabul warriors that our arms cache is located in Bahl. ERAPUBE is the code word.

In Bahl I found the cache, which yielded 77 more weapons I did not need.

There was another message, but I do not know what to make of it :

We shall move our troops into Janus shortly and command you to send your militia to join us.

Benthi’s Diary, Decathr 31, Ffhar

The situation is worrying – I can threaten, bargain or cajole as much as I want, there are no more soldiers to serve me. Meanwhile, Tawala built his army back :

Benthi’s Diary, Decathr 38, Anaxis

In 7 days, I could only recruit 40 or so more men and women. Tawala recruited 140.

I have one hope though. Probably worried about the loss of 160 of his soldiers a few weeks ago, Tawala now always moves his troops en masse, mostly between Janus and his redoubt. If I could tempt him to move his forces to Anaxis or Ffahr, then I could sneak to Janus and attack his undefended fortress.

Benthi’s Diary, Decathr 41, Koku

Today may be the big day. Tawala is moving with all his forces toward Anaxis, leaving only a skeleton garrison in his Redoubt !

Benthi’s Diary, Decathr 44, Janus

I did it, I sneaked behind Tawala’s army. Tomorrow, we march on his redoubt !

Benthi’s Diary, Decathr 45, Du Buque’s beautiful spaceship

I have so much to say !

Our troops deployed in front of Tawala’s Redoubt, in a place called Mallard’s Pass. But there was no battle. The few defenders dispersed in front of us.

It was a victory :

After this glorious victory, we deactivated the barrier of isolation. President Du Buque himself landed on the roof of the redoubt. I was immediately smitten by his charisma, uniqueness, nerve and talent, and left Farside with him, leaving behind the rebels. I know the rest of my life will be spent in romantic bliss !

I am sorry to report that my abrupt conclusion is canon in the manual.

Rating & Review

Tawala’s Last Redoubt by Douglas Carlston and Brøderbund Software, USA
First release : 1981 on Apple II
Tested on : Apple II
Total Hours Tested : 5
Average duration of a campaign: 2 hours
Difficulty: Easy (1/5)
Would recommend to a modern player : No.
Would recommend to a designer : No.
Final Rating: Flawed and obsolete.

Tawala’s Last Redoubt is the fourth and last episode of Douglas Carlston’s Galactic Saga. As the previous opuses in the saga, it is once again a different game, and much like Trader and Revolution, it is at the same time innovative and broken. The manual seems to hint at more episodes, but in 1981 Brøderbund finally became successful with Apple Galaxian (a Space Invader modernization), the company changed scale and Carlston focused on steering the company rather than creating products for it.

A. Immersion (Settings & Aesthetics)

The game does a good job of conveying the message that it is about a small scale, low tech conflict thanks to its UI design :

  • Instructions and reports come from messengers, they are not given or read on a map,
  • To check your files about locations or characters, you have to ask your Master Spy. If you sent him on a mission, well, you don’t have access to the “intelligence” menu any more,

The immersion is also locked in by the rhythm of the game : you will wait a lot in this game (for your messengers to accomplish their missions or return, for your spies to intercept messages, …) ; I actually liked that part of the game.

Overall, the game punches a lot above its weight (in technology and graphics) for a 1981 game with lots of text and only 4 screens : the map, the camp, the city and the final battle. Note that the final battle is a lot more interesting when there are more than a handful of defenders :

I had to accelerate and slow down the emulator so it would fit a .gif

On the more frustrating side, I feel that having no art for the normal battles is a big miss – those are rare enough that using the same kind of display as the one for the final battle would have worked. In addition, the backstory of the manual (conveyed through a long introduction already telling you that canonically you won the game and then through a diary) is definitely Too Much Information.

Yes, Benthi changes her name once in the diary, and then once again in the introduction

Last note : this is the earliest game I know to have a specific animation after you lose : one of your soldiers salutes the stars in remembrance to you.

Rating : Acceptable.

B. UI , Clarity of rules and outcomes

There are two parts in this. One part of the UI is, on purpose, degraded. All actions take time, and you have to work with reports that may already be obsolete by the time you receive them.

But the UI is also frustrating for the wrong reasons. You have no way of understanding why a Chief behaves one way or another, in particular you have no way to know if a Chief still has soldiers or weapons available, and so you don’t know whether he refuses something to you because he does not like your face or because he does not have what you request. I found the psychological profiles from the dossier mostly worthless in game terms ; there is also no information either on what each Chief thinks of you, and why. The game is missing a bit more information in the dossiers and a bit more finesse in the answers to your requests.

This kind of information (from Six Ages: Ride Like the Wind) would have gone a long way to make the game better.

As you don’t know what the Chiefs think of you, you cannot really afford to send messengers away to them (to avoid clinical cases of beheading), which closes quite a few options. So you only talk to the Chiefs if you are there personally. And when you are there personally, the Chiefs’ answers arrive immediately, you only need one messenger, and you can squeeze a chief out of his or her resources by requesting the same thing again and again (with diminishing return) – very frustrating.

Given the game is all about negotiating with the four Chiefs, that’s a huge miss.

Rating : Terrible

C. Systems

Just like Galactic Revolution, Tawala’s Last Redoubt is incredibly innovative, but the innovative features are not solidly designed. I have explained the issues created by being unable to read the Chiefs, but there are more issues embedded in the game.

The game is supposed to be about guerilla warfare, but controlling settlements gives you no advantage whatsoever ; the only thing that matters is whether you can physically be present in a chief’s residency settlement when you negotiate with them. Therefore, you never need to split your forces, and Tawala only splits his force at the beginning by leaving some men in his redoubt.

In addition, the game has 8 cities for 4 Chiefs, and all those cities have an economy and a population, but in my experience those cities that don’t have a Chief are irrelevant to the game, except as places to pass through or to loot. The Chiefs never seem to draw resources from them. Looting is also very binary : either the garrison kills all your soldiers, or the city is looted without any losses for you.

Chief Beonj may be out of soldiers, but his city Delphi is thriving by end game, with +40% or so population compared to one month earlier.

It is innovative, but it also feels very incomplete – so incomplete in fact I would have preferred something more traditional.

Side note though : I have to say I appreciated having to decipher the messages. Having the cypher feels like having an unfair advantage over Tawala, even though of course it was designed for that.

Rating : Terrible

D. Scenario design & Balancing

The world has some randomization at each launch :

The world in my first run which ended with my death. The personalities of the Chiefs were different as well.

It does not change much of course, since as I have explained population and economy do not have a significant role in the game.

The AI is not really smart, as I have shown in my After Action Report, and I beat the game on my second attempt. I believe I can consistently beat the game now and have no reason to try again.

Rating : Terrible

E. Did I make interesting decisions ?

Sadly, Tawala’s Last Redoubt is one of those games where you think you are making decisions, but actually you don’t know if any of it matters.

Except for my visits to the Chiefs, my movements on the map had no impact on the game – I just avoided Tawala. The strategy around which resources to collect was obvious too : if I have more men than weapons : collect weapons. Else : collect men.

So in conclusion… no, not really.

F. Final rating

Flawed and obsolete. I am sad about this, as it was the 1981 game I had the highest expectations for based on the premise alone.

Contemporary reviews

The initial reviews for Tawala’s Last Redoubt are excellent. Byte in June 1981 calls it “the best of the entire series”, and the reviewer “highly recommend[s] the game for those with a daring and resourceful will”. Softalk goes even further in September 1981 : “the game goes beyond being a game, it is a first step, albeit a faltering one, toward creating in microcomputing a form of literary and visual art”. Much later, in October 1984, in France Jeux & Stratégie put it in its list of the “33 best video games” !

The hype vanished quickly, except in France certainly, and in 1982 the Book of Apple Computer was more mellow. It admits Tawala’s Last Redoubt has “some merit as a strategic game” with “some clever designs”. “However, it is not very exciting ; considering it has been anticipated with so much relish , it is somewhat disappointing.” Exactly my thoughts.

The Shattered Alliance is coming soon. It is proposing scenarios in its own universe, and then what I would call more recognizable scenarios. Tell me if any of those “Designer Series Scenarios” interest you.