Due to my non-appearance of late, I have some catching up to do on the letters front. Included here are one or two old ones which have not been featured before. Apologies to those involved for the late response! However, I’m still here, so keep them coming!

Dear Philippa,
I have been meaning to write to FRONTLINE FORUM to voice my opinions of strategy games for sometime. I have had my Spectrum for almost four years now and in that time I have decided that strategy games are my favourite element in computer gaming and I have quite a few.

It all started with Lords of Midnight (often mistakenly classified as an adventure because of its fantasy setting). Since then I have acquired many more: Johnny Reb, Doomdark’s Revenge, Their Finest Hour, Vulcan and Theatre Europe to name but a few. As you will notice only Their Finest Hour and Vulcan are based on actual conflicts. Why? Well, I feel that re-fighting battles won (and lost) is no real challenge, unless there are options to change the scenario, as in the 128K version of Vulcan, because you can always find out how the battle was won, or, if you are playing the loser, what he should have done, in retrospect. Some may feel different and I suppose I might have started something here. Personally I would like more ‘What if?’ scenarios like the 128 Vulcan.

One of my major points is on the front of fantasy/SF wargames. This is a vast area which has gone largely unexploited. In such games the limitations of the units need not be so restricted. Rebelstar is a game which interests me enormously in its conception. Being an SF hybrid of its predecessor CHAOS (also by J Gollop — incidentally, it’s now out on budget, why not give it a proper review Philippa?) it concentrates on different characters, variously equipped with differing capabilities. As a two player game it is most enthralling. ‘Which character can make the best use of Leader Krenon’s photon gun now he’s dead? Is it worth the risk of getting shot and possibly injured to retrieve it? What if the enemy gets it and uses it against us?’ There are so many different possibilities to take into consideration in the two player game it makes your head spin!

The use of different weapons (and other articles) is well thought out. The way you can take a dead character’s weapon be he friend or foe, is most realistic. Also when a character is killed in a doorway, it is blocked open until he is moved, leaving anyone behind him open to enemy fire — another realistic feature, as is opportunity fire (you can fire back and cover your butt!). A sequel to Rebelstar would be most welcome (are you reading Mr Gollop?) It would be interesting to develop this type of game so that you could only see areas where your characters/units can see, a la ‘Vulcan et Shadow Fire’.

It would seem to me that strategy game programmers are lacking much in imagination. When a new idea does come out it is usually poorly implemented. Why not have a game based on an imaginary wild west gunfight. Mr Gollop’s style would work well here, or a battle between the police of the future and hostile rebels set in a futuristic city. A small, vastly outnumbered, but organised force against a huge leaderless army is always interesting. I am very surprised that battles from fantasy/SF books have not been licensed. How about the battles of Helms deep and The Pelanor Fields from Lord of the Rings? The latter is discussed on some depth in one of Tolkien’s unfinished books. We could also have The Illearth War from the Covenant book (a VERY interesting scenario there) and the battles of the Alends and Arigaraks from the Belgariod book. The Fedaykin versus The Sardakaur from Dune. Need I go on? I only wish I could programme, then we would see!

What would also be interesting in these games is the introduction of magic.

Onto the moral dilemma you discussed in issue 51. I would not harm a fly, but if anyone other than a qualified brain surgeon tried to put a hole in my head or those I care about, I would try my hardest to stop him/her and if that means killing, then so be it. Playing wargames does not lessen my appreciation for life — if anything it enhances it. Think how lucky I am that I was not involved in any wars. Theatre Europe makes the point well, the idea being not to invade East Germany, but to defend it long enough for the Communist bloc to admit defeat. Although I do not agree with how the Warsaw pact is made out to be the bad guys; I doubt they would nuke the western world just because they could not invade West Germany. However, obviously, some war scenarios should definitely be avoided. I doubt anyone wants to see a game based on Northern Ireland or Lebanon.

Perhaps, someday, when a wargame has graphics like Lords of Midnight, has the individual realism of Rebelstar, the technical finesse of Vulcan and is based on one of my favourite fantasy wars, then I will be satisfied. Until then I hope I’ve sown some fertile seeds on fertile land.

PS. Has anyone out there got the excellent Formula 1 by CRL? I’ll swap ANY game for it!
Trev Smith

A review of CHAOS seems like a very good idea. I’m getting so desperate that I’ll review anything!

Dear Philippa,
I am writing to you in connection with the Battle of Britain by PSS. I am very interested in this conflict and I think that this is the best simulation of the battle, although there Is one stupid thing about the game: in the actual battle pilots were up at 4am and they stood down at 9.30pm (except defiants). In the game as soon as you start the day the Luftwaffe came across in two waves and that’s the end of the day. It usually lasts from 8am to 10 or 11am which is stupid, since lots of raids didn’t usually come in until late afternoon. It would be great if the days lasted the same as the battle, and an hour or so our time. The game is so predictable, plus the Germans sent over their 109s to flush out the RAF. The game doesn’t simulate that, which is a big disappointment.

I think that atmosphere has as much part in the game as the game itself. Even if I was sitting there nearly all day, (game time) and just one recce came over, then the next day they came over in the massed formation, the atmosphere in the game would be great.

I wish Mr R T Smith of Vulcan fame, would do a Battle of Britain for just the 128. He could do a fantastic version; he could make it so realistic, I would even pay a lot of money it it was that good. Can’t someone bring out a really good Battle of Britain game?

Is there any chance you can get the POKEs to extend the time on the Battle of Britain? You haven’t got time to do anything like moving one squadron to another airfield before the Germans come over. The game must be able to be POKEd as it is. As far as I’m concerned, I don’t have a chance to enjoy the game because it plays so quickly — and that’s on the slow speed! Instead of adding rubbish like a title screen and the Blitzkrieg, they should have used every ounce of memory on a really good game. Please could you help me out, I can’t express enough how much I want a good Battle of Britain game.
David Carl

If this was ZZAP!64, I would receive 20 letters next week saying ‘You should try the SSI game...’ Finding another Battle of Britain simulation on the Spectrum is more of a challenge. Can anybody help David?

Dear Philippa,
As a relative newcomer to the strategy scene, I’m keen to make a contribution to the general discussion. I have purchased both of Ken Wright’s most recent games, Yankee and Blitzkrieg and wish to make a comparison between the two along with a few compliments and criticisms.

Although they are obviously different in concept they are actually fairly similar. The graphics are almost identical, with Blitzkrieg getting the edge for its pretty flags but is it a 20% edge, as your review suggests? The control method is much better on Blitzkrieg, although you quickly get used to Yankee’s awkward control method, but having your Generals making decisions is realistically infuriating in both games.

The combat is similar in its crudity and silence; men only die in set proportions or not at all it seems. Hidden movement is used well in both games. Remember in the 17th century gunpowder was used, not smokeless cordite, so once the battle began a General could see very little of the battle due to the smoke anyway. The scale of Blitzkrieg makes hidden movement acceptable.

I think the big differences between the two lies in realism and playability. In Blitzkrieg why is one Belgian unit as strong as a unit in Hitler’s crack 4th or 6th divisions? I think the system needs an Attack Modifier (like R T Smith’s games) as it is foolish to assume that units are all equally trained and equipped. The same could be applied to Yankee but I don’t believe the differences were too significant.

As for airpower, where is it? In Blitzkrieg the rulebook and history dictates what an important factor it was in the fall of France. It seems in trying to make the game a real challenge, and in that it succeeds, the realism has gone. No longer can Germany sweep aside resistance in its drive for France. The small variation and infuriating nature of Blitzkrieg make it low in addictivity whilst you keep coming back for more in Yankee. On the plus side, both games have shrewd and vicious computer opponents. Sorry Philippa, but I think you’ve overrated Blitzkrieg.
James Tye

I rate both Yankee and Blitzkrieg very highly. Perhaps in retrospect — as you suggest — it was unfair to give Blitzkrieg such a decided edge over Yankee. But I think I would uprate Yankee rather than downgrade Blitzkrieg. PI

And finally, a letter from the man responsible for Annals of Rome, Pegasus Bridge, and the bugs in both...

Dear Philippa,
I am a regular and compulsive reader of your column, not least because you seem, though unknowingly, to be a fan of mine or rather of my work. Let me explain: I programmed Annals of Rome on the Spectrum, for which you gave 85% overall, and said was your favourite game of the year. I also re-designed and programmed Pegasus Bridge — Spectrum and Amstrad versions — for which you gave 78% overall. For both of these I thank you; it’s been a great boost for my ego.

I’d like to point out that I also programmed the arcade sequence in Tobruk. I hesitated before mentioning this as I know how you loathe arcade sequences. However, so keen on my work are you that twice you have managed to sneak a piccy of it in under the mis-heading of CCS’s Vulcan both in the review in April and the yearly round up, so I know you must really appreciate this skilled work of art!

I take special pride in a review from CRASH as it is, compared to the other computer press, of higher standards and quality. I have sung of its praises since it first came out, and it was a great help to me with the article the ‘Doc Martin’ Kidd wrote on me setting up in business.

Since the article I have stopped selling my own games and have moved on to freelance programming, mainly with PSS, since they publish strategy games. which I personally enjoy playing and programming the most.

Sorry about the history lesson, and other self indulgences. I will get to the point (at last she cried, holding back a yawn). I was most intrigued to read in your column that you run a PBM. What’s its name? What’s it about? And could I possibly join? For over a year now I have been bitten by the PBM bug and find it a great way to play the involved complex strategy games that I like. When I was interviewed I said I was interested in starting a PBM and have in fact just finished a PBM version of the best selling Dark Blades by Standard Games (see the last issue of CRASH for brief details). We might be planning a computer version to tie In with the game, which should be interesting if we can manage to cram all the megabytes of data from hard disk down to a Spectrum!

Please get in touch with details of your PBM, and keep up with the excellent reviews.
Stewart Green, T/A Data Design Systems

Everybody who’s interested In computer gaming should have a go at PBMs. This statement is of course entirely disinterested... As well as my own humourous RPG Revenge of the Many-Legged Man-Eating Mutant Tiger Hounds from Outer Space, our company runs Macedon — a complex and historically-accurate simulation of the carving-up of Europe after the fall of Alexander the Great. Information about either game on receipt of an SAE to Alchemist’s Guild. Thank you.