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Month: February 2024

Game #129: Wargame (1983)

[TI-99/4, TX Software]

I don’t have any art for the package so here is the first screen of the game instead

As I was working on my War in Russia article, an issue befell my computer, so I was stuck for a couple of days with my old PC, which of course did not have any of my War in Russia material. I have a Tier C list of quickly played and quickly reviewed ZX Spectrum games made exactly for this kind of situation, but this time there is a twist: while Wargame was released on the ZX Spectrum, it was originally a TI-99/4 game, and the Spectrum version is lost.

Wargame pits 6 “guns” and 6 “tanks” on each side. The objective is to destroy the opponent’s 3 “command centres” (in red).

The start of the game. I have only 5 tanks because one of them was blinking the moment I took the screenshot

A player plays all their units, then the other player plays. Units either move or shoot; tanks are faster than guns (5 tiles vs 2 tiles/turn), but their range is shorter. My initial tactic is quite simply to occupy the hills in the middle as they increase the range of my units:

I reached the hills first because difficult terrain stops movement for the turn, and the AI does not know how to avoid them.

I shoot first. In Wargame, the shooting procedure is weird: you need to input a “strength” and a direction, then some magic happens. For my first shot, providence smiles and I hit a gun, destroying it:

The first casualty of the battle, accelerated x2.

I was lucky in that first shot because it is extremely difficult to hit anything in Wargame, even at point-blank range.

Missing, missing & missing, accelerated x2.

One of the enemy tanks dodges all my shells and focuses on one of my HQs, destroying it after two turns:

I missed that tank at short range 6 or 7 more times…

After finally destroying the enemy tank in the middle, I pivot my strategy, and focus on the enemy HQs instead of the enemy tanks and guns: two are in range, and the last one in the North is fairly unprotected. I soon destroy a first one:

And after receiving some reinforcements…

I destroy the second one:

The only thing left to do is to advance my 3 guns and 1 tank in the North to destroy the last target:

I shoot at it again and again, but keep missing. Meanwhile, I am losing ground in other parts of the map. Still, I double-down on my tactics – I just need to hit it once:

But I just can’t seem to hit the thing, I lose almost all my units:

Eventually, a white tank reaches my own last HQ and destroys it. I lost!

Was I unlucky or was my strategy inane? I don’t know. I know that I would have won with only a bit more luck!

Ratings & Reviews

Game Computing, April 1984

Wargame by Mr Mathews, published by TX Software, UK
Genre: Small Scale Tactics
First release: April 1983 on TI99/4
Average duration of a session: Around 30 minutes
Total time played: 1 hour
Complexity:
Trivial (0/5)
Final Rating: Totally obsolete
Ranking at the time of review: 94/124

Wargame seems to be the first video game of TX Software, a tiny company located in Harlow, UK. Its name came from the fact that its initial releases were exclusively for Texas Instruments’ TI-99/4. After Wargame, TX Software released a couple of card games, a memory game and Battlefront, a compilation of three arcade games – to my knowledge, none of these other games are preserved today.

Alas, a line appended at the end of the notepad samizdat of the manual states “Mr Mathews died in 1983 and his programs were not widely distributed”, this line is also my only source for the name of the author. Ads were released until the May 1984 issues of several video game magazines, so either Mathews had an associate who ran the company alone for a few more months, or Mathews died in 1984 rather than 1983. Starting in April 1984, those ads stated that the TX Software games were now available on Spectrum, but by the time they were published Mathews was presumably no more, and it is possible that the Spectrum ports never left TX Software’s office.

A. Presentation: Very poor.

B. UI, Clarity of rules and outcomes: Terrible. The whole “firing” system is terrible. I am not sure whether the game uses a traditional factor like “direction + force + huge random factor“, or whether the game selects a target in the general area you shoot at and determines whether you hit or not based on various factors, but both are terrible anyway. The manual also explains that shots at point-blank range are more likely to “bounce” and the enemies in forests are “protected”, but this is not conveyed visually in the game at all: all failed attacks look like misses.

C. Systems: Very poor. It is quite simply dull, with only 2 units and turns after turns of guns lobbing shells at one another.

D. Scenario design & balancing: Poor

The game has a few customization options, but in my limited experience (2 games), changing the tank speed and/or range significantly alters the game in terms of pacing:

The customization options in Wargame

The game also has a good map generator, with a high variation in the volume of forest, hills or water found on the lake. Unfortunately, the AI is not smart enough to leverage the terrain and can easily be stuck behind water, so this strength is squandered in single player.

The map of my first game, with slow movement and short range. By the time I managed to move my units out of the lake area, the enemy was taking potshots at my HQs.

E. Did I make interesting decisions? Sometimes, usually “move or shoot”, sometimes. Randomness makes those decisions moot.

F. Final rating: Totally obsolete. Wargame was bland to play. Worse: while it is never adequate at anything, it is also never comically bad, unlike some of the other “totally obsolete” games I covered, so it is bland to review as well. The Spectrum port may be lost, but I don’t think anyone is missing anything there.

Reception

I could only find two reviews for Wargame, both in March 1983. The one in Computer & Video Games is purely descriptive, whereas Home Computer Weekly rates the game 3 stars out of 5 and concludes with “at the price [6¬£], a worthwhile acquisition for anyone who enjoys these boardgame-type of programs.”

I will be travelling for most of next week, so if I manage to publish an article before leaving it will be either for another “minor” game or the conclusion on Rebelstar Raiders.

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