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Decision in the Desert (1985)            

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Details (Commodore 64) Supported platforms Artwork and Media
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Microprose Software Ltd
Simulation
Sid Meier, Ed Bever
64K
1
Yes
Eng
N/A
5.25" Floppy Disk
Europe (£14.95 disk)
Crusade in Europe


Commodore 64  8






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Dec 1985
Added: 19 Jan 2017
STRATEGICALLY SPEAKING

SEAN have map can cursor MASTERSON brings all his intelligence to bear on the problem of wargaming...

Computer users will always argue that their machine is the best. After all, who wants to admit that they may have made the wrong purchase? Generally speaking, different machines have their own advantages and disadvantages. As for the Commodore, one of its advantages (as far as wargamers are concerned) is that being American, the choice of high quality software is unsurpassed and only (possibly) equalled by the Atari. Microprose have been turning out wargames of consistently improving quality for some time now, and their standard is to be highly commended. SSI, the wargamers' equivalent of Infocom, produce real mega games, though the high cost of these must be borne in mind.

Whatever you say about Americans, they produce impeccable wargames. Of course, many of these are on disk and Commodore owners are in the rather unfortunate position of having a relatively highly priced disk drive. All I can suggest is that if you don't have one, scrimp and save every penny that could possibly come your way and buy one. In the States, where the standard of living is higher, so many people have drives that it is becoming increasingly difficult to find a wargame-producing software house unwilling to forsake the advantages of leaving complex algorithms and hefty data files (so typical of wargames) on the disk, leaving valuable memory free for other applications. The result is an increasingly expensive hobby. But it's so rewarding!

There is nothing to surpass the mental challenge of recreating a brittle in your own living room. A well-written wargame will be providing excellent entertainment long after the superficialities of an arcade game have worn off. Anyway, what if you're like me, incapable of getting past the start screen without the greatest difficulty? Seriously, wargaming can be educational and entertaining at the same time. Obviously, they fail to command the immediate attention of a good arcade game, simply because there can't be all that much in the way of advanced graphics or sound effects. In fact, such assets would tend to suggest that the game before you was of an inferior quality. More such material is beginning to appear on the American imports but, as most of these are on disk, there aren't the same memory constraints as imposed on cassette games.

The rewards of playing a wargame are far more subtle than many people realise. It all comes down to logistics. Use of logistics decides the outcome of any complex battle. Attack and defence strategies are important as well of course, but if you fail to take reinforcements and re-supply seriously and incorporate them into your plans, you will soon come unstuck.

Consider the horrendous losses al the Battle of Arnhem. British supplies being stolen by Americans or falling into enemy hands during the course of the operation. Consider the necessity of massive troop shipments across the Atlantic in the event of any future conventional conflict in Western Europe. Or the difficulties of keeping the North Sea free from Soviet submarines. Even though Hitler chose to strike against Russia in 1941 after losing the Battle of Britain, he could still have crushed British resistence elsewhere had it not been for the lend lease system offered by the USA.

Planning is everything in a wargame. You have so many compromises to make, and there will be always those times when compromises cannot be made. In the highly complex and frightening area of modern warfare, it is estimated that the average operational life of a British paratrooper, deployed in the field, is under one hour. It would appear from face value that their use would be somewhat akin to mindless slaughter. And yet, with their training, the amount of damage they could cause to enemy units in that time would save many more allied lives. It sounds sick to consider trading a human life no matter what the rewards are. Indeed it is, but it is also important to remember that any substantial conflict in our age would not be caused by men of war. It would be caused by the ineptitude of a variety of international politicians. The soldiers have to solve the resulting war with the efficient human life and so, once they are put in the position of deploying forces and fighting, they cannot stand apart and question the validity of their actions. They only have the time and authority to question the logic of an immediate course of action and its consequences for those under their command.

There are those who suggest that the Vietnam war was not lost by soldiers but by politicians. Certainly, if the armed forces had been given a free hand to conduct the Falklands war, losses of men and ships would have been lower. Such is hindsight. When you play a wargame, hindsight is the only advantage you really have and it's up to you to see what could have happened. Those who criticise the hobby, saying that such activity is fruitless, really miss the point of wargaming altogether. It can be interesting to see such alternative outcomes to military engagements, but whatever they may be, by the time they become evident, the reason for playing has already passed. It's not the outcome, so much as how you get there that counts. Here's to wargaming.


DECISION IN THE DESERT
Microprose, £14.95 disk, joystick & keys


The second of the Command Series by Microprose arrived on my desk this month. After playing Crusade in Europe for several long hours, last month, this provided a way of spending even more time playing at the keyboard. The format of the game is fairly similar to that of the first in the series, but for those of you who missed (or just didn't read) that review, I'll briefly summarise the details again.

The game comes packaged as a single disk, complete with glossy, thick instruction booklet. The game attempts to cover five of the most important battles from the African campaign. These selectable scenarios are Sidi Barrani, Operation Crusader, Gazala, First Alamein and Alam Halfa.

The manual must be read (as is the norm with wargames of this depth) and Microprose have kept its presentation up to the high standards they set in Crusade in Europe. The first sections of the manual are fairly similar in style to those you would find in a conventional wargame, including details of components, game options, followed by a description of the play sequence. Of course, loading instructions are present too.

When you come to load the game, it is immediately obvious that good presentation doesn't end with the box and manual. Apart from all the options available being clearly displayed on the screen, there is a rather amusing 'general' who briefs you on the game from behind a podium, lit by spotlight You also find frequent references to 'day codes', which are listed throughout the manual. They provide a simple, yet effective method of program protection. Of course the manual could be copied, but there's a lot of it!

One of the most interesting features of the Command Series games is the absence of strict game turns. It is possible to freeze the game at any time, but otherwise the computer processes the condition and progress of each unit every four game hours. This means that whilst in play, you have to concentrate totally on the game. This results in several distinct advantages, not least of which is demanding play. Two player games also become very easy to set up differently. Just how fast the game progresses may be varied by the player. Obviously, beginners can choose a relatively slow rate of play, making the game more appealing to the uninitiated. There are also options to bias play to varying degrees. A slight aside here. In last month's review, I mentioned that this didn't really work too well, the form of artificial intelligence being apparently deficient. As this game uses many of the same routines as its predecessor, I expected it to be similarly disappointing this time. Could it be that my Crusade disk was somehow faulty, or have the routines been played with before their implementation in Decision? Whatever the cause, there is definitely a better feel to play in this one. It still isn't perfect, but without more frequent (and annoying) disk access, there would seem to be little room for improvement in this area.

Once play has begun, you are presented with a scrolling map showing detailed terrain features, with all the units scattered about (starting disposition of forces depends on variants chosen for each scenario). Note that there is a variable-limited intelligence option available.

Units may be displayed as either icons or symbols. Symbols are nearer to the standard markings used in wargaming, whereas icons are more explanatory in nature. The manual provides details of both, and the display type may be changed at any point during play. Scale is usually on the divisional level but, because of the nature of the African campaign, many smaller ad hoc units are also displayed. The units are colour-coded to differentiate between German, British and Italian.

The game has very friendly input, with unit selection via a joystick, two types of commands (action and objective), flashback features, unit and game status modes. Anyone who has played Crusade should find Decision in the Desert very easy to learn. There are few features anyone will find confusing, and play will be faster and more rewarding as a result.


The victory conditions for the scenarios are balanced well for both sides. The historical notes provide interesting reading before play. It really is impressive how good strategies can pay off, assuming of course that your opponent hasn't read the notes either. Because of the variety of options, it's easy to set yourself a real challenge. One of the variants on the Gazala scenario is mind numbingly difficult if you chose the Axis forces.

Doubtless, the Command Series is growing on me with increased familiarity, and I do find desert warfare particularly fascinating, but even so, this game is an improvement over Crusade in Europe. It comes down to the simple fact that Decision in the Desert plays better. It's more of a free flowing game, as desert warfare should be. There is still more challenge to be had from SSI games (sorry, but comparison is inevitable). However, the Microprose titles are cheaper and just as well presented. If their quality continues to rise, we are all in for a treat.

Presentation 70%
Very good, but there could still be some improvement.

Graphics 55%
Not bad background but some of the icons and symbols would benefit from improved presentation.

Instructions 75%
Better explained than in Crusade, allowing easier access to game features.

Authenticity 75%
Very good portrayal of the campaign.

Playability 68%
Fairly straightforward game system but the lack of game turns, whilst being an interesting idea, can lead to some problems initially.

Value For Money 60%
It really is very good value but ideally, wargames need not be so expensive.

Overall 79%
Perhaps the game system is more suited to desert warfare because the whole thing is a superior implementation to the first title in the series. Can't wait for the third.
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This title was first added on 7th March 2008
This title was most recently updated on 19th January 2017


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