The Ancient Art of War in the Skies logo

Fasten your seatbelts and settle down, Microprose are back again with more tally-ho, chocks away strategy/arcade action.

Do you remember the days when men were men? The days when things were done properly? The days when Pinky might lean over to old Johnny, take a sip on his G & T, glance out of the NAAF! Window and casually remark:
"I say Johnny old sport, isn't that bally Hun I can see flitting towards our airspace? Damned important blighters! Better take the old kite up and show that Baron chappie a few manners!"

Well I'd be highly surprised if any of you do. But I'm sure there are quite a few of you who shouldn't mind trying your hand aerial frolics in a new strategy game.

The game's tactical roots are lifted from the work of a Chinese geezer called Sun Tzu, who some 2,500 years ago wrote a book which even now is regarded as one of the best texts on military tactics. Not that there's any need to get yourself a copy, as War in the Skies comes equipped with a manual that's in-depth, to say the least.

Anyway, on with the game. You're in charge of an airforce full of First World War bombers and fighters. The net result is strategic air conflict, with your successes and failures having an effect on the ensuing land battles. The ultimate objective is to push back the enemy troops by bombarding their back-up supply lines.

There are a wide variety of options to select from, whether it be a simple training exercise or some extremely complex conflict from World War I. In fact, the programmers have thrown in a "time tunnel" option enabling you to pit your wits against the French at Agincourt and a whole host of other foes from the vortex of time.

You can also select who you are going to pit your wits against, as the name contains an option which enables you to fight a general - whose tactical philosphies vary - of your choice.

Having chosen the campaign that tickles your fancy, you are presented with the main game screen. This is represented using an overhead view of the battlefield.

You control an icon which when dragged to the edge of the screen scrolls the game through six screens, enables you to view an feature relevant to the game, as well as plotting the flights of your flimsy bombers.

So the first thing you're going to want to do is to fetch your Handley-Page from the hangar and get yourself airborne. This is a simple enough task - just click on one of your own airfields and a menu prompts you to select pilots and aircraft.

The next priority is to set your flight orders. These include such choices as altitude, speed, flight formation and of course the target. It all sounds easy enough and in terms operation it is; the complications that arise are purely tactical.
For example, it is oh-so-easy to set your altitude incorrectly, then come time for the wild blue yonder and your brave boys plough into the side of the Alps.

So having selected which part of the front you have designs on decimating, it's over to your Amiga, which automatically handles all of the action unless you wish to interevene and decide your pilot's fate.

This is really where the game transcends from one genre to another. Having so far being totally strategy-based with little action, the dog fighting and bombing sequences are definitely in the arcade vein.

Dog fighting over the skies of France is viewed from the side. This sounds a very simplistic system to employ for a strategy-based game, but it's extremely effective and great fun trying to blast the bratwürst off the Baron.

The graphics are nothing outstanding for the Amiga, but are presented well enough. The animation technique is pretty clever though, with the plane able to replicate most of the classic aerobatic manoeuvres, from immelmans to a half Cuban eight - sounds odd stuff that!

The other nice touch is that the expertise of the enemy pilots varies, from the finely-tuned killer instinct of Baron Richthofen through to the relative incompetence of Helmut von Spike.

Dependent upon the outcome of the fracas with your fighters, the next arcade sequence puts you in control of the rear gunner on your bomber, fending off those pesky Fokkers. This works using the same side view as dog fighting and to all intents and purposes has the same feel to it, the only difference being that your bomber is rather more clumsy and vulnerable.

Assuming you've done well enough to fight off the relentless enemy triplanes then it's bombs away in this sub-game you are presented with the bombardier's view looking down at terra firma through your bomb-sight.

This aspect of the action is very tough. Not only are circumstances made difficult by cloud and wind, but also ground-based anti-aircraft weapons are perpetually peppering your balsa wood bombers.

Matters are made worse by the fact that your bombs have a sickening tendency to drift - in my case normally away from the target - making it tough if not impossible to successfully destroy enemy installations.

In most cases during a campaign, if success is what you'd like to taste, it's probably better to let the computer take charge of your destiny.
However, it's a sweet feeling when you fill the opposition with bullets from Blighty and see them nose-dive down into no man's land.

Overall, War in the Skies is rather successful, well thought-out strategy game. The enemy don't lie down easily, they react with guile and aggression, making for difficult, yet addictively compulsive war gaming. This is nicely transposed by the arcade sections which are, quite frankly, spiffing good fun!

The downside of all this - like most good things there has to be one - is that the sound is rather limited and a little puny. But for more annoying is the number of disk swaps one is subjected to during loading.

That aside, War in the Skies is a fine foray into aerial strategy and combat. For all would-be tacticians out there it's sure to be a wanner, but there's plenty enough within the game to keep us lesser mortals, who like blasting things into small pieces, quite satiated.

The Ancient Art of War in the Skies logo

Wo what's artistic about war in the skies? Reach out and get creative with the latest release from MicroProse.

Over 2,500 years ago, a Chinese soldier by the name of Sun Tzu wrote a book called The Art of War, which is still regarded as one of the best text books on strategy and tactics ever written.

American software house Evryware (sic) decided to write a wargame based on the ideas in this book. Not only that, but they decided to try and make it fun as well. The result is a strategic air conflict, with you in control of an air force full of First World War bombers and fighters. As a result of your actions, the trenches on the ground move forwards or backwards, and the battle is lost or won.

Get back!
The game includes a wide variety of missions, ranging from relatively simple training campaigns to extremely complex First World War battles. The designers have also thrown in a few spurious campaigns from other periods of history (such as the battle of Agincourt). It's hard to picture World War One bombers circling around Henry IV, but it adds charm.

The overall aim of the game is to use your air force to make the enemy ground troops retreat by attacking and destroying their lines of supply and back-up resources. If you're successful, the ground troops will retreat until you can overrun their capital, at which point you've won. However, either side can surrender before this happens.

Any game like this is improved by having a good manual which explains the background and control system. Ancient Art's manual not only explains how to use the game, but gives the historical background to the First World War and the development of air warfare.

You are also given an idea of the sort of tactics the ground and air commanders are likely to use, and these are well worth paying attention to. For instance, Lord Kitchener will defend his supply depots with most of his resources, while Captain Albert Ball will attack at every opportunity.

You don't have to play according to the history books, so you could have Lord Kitschener and The Red Baron as your opponents if you so desired.

The main playing area is an overhead view of the map with symbols representing your airfields, villages, capital and other buildings. This map covers over six screens, and you scroll around by moving the mouse to the edge of the screen. Putting the mouse pointer over any object gives you information on it. Position it over one of your plane groups gives your information on the number of planes and their course and mission, while moving it over a city tells you how heavily damaged it is.

In order to get anywhere in the game, you need to decide where to attack, so the first thing to do is have a good look around the map to work out the positions of the trenches and targets. Once you've decided where to send your planes, click on one of your airfields. This gives you a list of the planes waiting on the runway. Select however many you wish to send, and click on 'done'.

Various flight settings such as the height and speed of the group can also be set. You then click on the destination for the group, whether it's a town or an airfield to be bombed, or a group of enemy planes to be intercepted and attacked with your fighters. The computer warns you if there are any problems such as running out of fuel, and will handle all of the conflicts, unless you decide to step in.

Icon handle it
When two groups of planes meet or a bomber reaches its target, the icon changes and clicking on this gives you the option of stepping in to take manual control. It's not vital to do this, because the computer will determine the outcome of each of the conflicts if you don't want to fight them yourselves.

You get a side view of your plane, and control it with either the cursor keys, numeric keypad or joystick. Two views are available, either giving you a close-up of the planes, or an overall view showing the relative positions of all of the planes. Any planes not controlled by you will be piloted by the computer.

This view looks rather simplistic, but it's still possible to carry out all of the Immelman turns, hammerhead stalls and split 'S's that you'd expect to be able to do in a First World War plane. A special section in the manual gives instructions on how to carry out these manoeuvres.

The ability of the enemy pilots varies from the incompetent to the highly skillful, so taking over yourself doesn't guarantee victory. This section is more of an arcade game than a flight simulator, but it's great fun. If you're defending a bomber against enemy fighters the system is similar, although you can't control the flight of the bomber, just the angle and firing of the guns. You can also skip between the front and back gunners.

Bombs away
Bombing first involves checking a map of the target, then deciding which approach will avoid the anti-aircraft fire but pass over most of the targets. Once you select your approach, you are presented with a scrolling view of the ground below your plane, with the various targets (supply depots, pill boxes, mortar pits and various others) often obscured by clouds.

Pressing the spacebar drops a bomb, and the cursor keys steer the plane. Depending on the difficulty level, the bombs also have a nasty habit of veering off due to the wind, so you may need to adjust your flight path to allow for this.

Bombing is a tricky affair, because it's all too easy to stray off the path and be blown out of the sky by anti-aircraft fire. If you want to bomb successfully, it's really best to leave it to the computer.

Running this game from floppy disks is a complete pain, since there's far too much disk swapping. It's not that there are too many disks - there are only four. The irritating thing is the way that you have to insert each disk several times, with only a small amount of access each time. As well as being irritating, it's unnecessary. It's a question of bad design although the game does take advantage of any external floppy drives. Running it from a hard disk gets around all these problems, and speeds the game up immensely.

The game is extremely well designed, and easy to get into. The writers have managed the difficult task of producing a game which relies on strategy but doesn't get bogged down in the technical details of commanding a conflict. The opposition provides a good range of skill levels, and the varied missions ensure lasting interest.

Unfortunately, it's very slow to play on a floppy based machine, but with the addition of a hard disk, it can be intriguing - and above all, great fun.

What to do when your flying machine goes updididly-updididly--up-up.
The Ancient Art of War in the Skies
  1. Messages on progress of war.
  2. Allied bomber.
  3. Enemy bomber.
  4. Bombing in progress - click to go to bombing screen.
  5. Battle front (red sections are enemy advances).
  6. Relative strengths of air forces.
  7. Allied airfield.

The Ancient Art of War in the Skies logo

Vor gut 2.500 Jahren legte der chinesische Kriegsherr Sun Tzu sein gebündeltes militärisches Wissen in dem Buch "The Art of War" nieder - heute dürfen wir seine Erkenntnisse auf die Flugpraxis anwenden!

Die Apple- und PC-Piloten tun das schon etwas länger und zwar mit Erfolg, auch auf dem Amiga macht dieses Militär-Strategical mit Actioneinlagen gar keine schlechte Figur.

Zunächst einmal wird in einem umfangreichen Optionsmenü allerlei festgelegt: ob man für Deutschland oder England in die Luft gehen will, ob die angreifenden Gegner schon von weitern sichtbar sein sollen, die Art und Verfügbarkeit der Ausrüstung sowie etliches mehr.

Anschließend kan man mit den sorgfältig zusammengestellten Geschwädern in je 20 fiktiven und historischen Weltkrieg-1-Missionen (die sich durch selbstgestrickte Aufträge weiter ausbaue lassen) diverse Patrouillen-, Begeleitsschutz- und Bombardierungsoperation unternehmen.

Doch selbstmuschelnd beherzigen wird die Lehren Sun Tzus und legen zuvor erst mal wichtige Details wie Angriffsziel, Flughöhe und - route jeder winzelnen Staffel per Maus aus der scrollbaren Karte fest.

Erst wenn die Formation über dem Zielgebiet schwebt, darf man auch selbst zum Knüppel greifen und die Sprengkörper auf die aus der Bombenschachtperspektive gezeigten Fabriken, Landebahnen etc. schleudern.

Weil der Computergegner ganz ähnliche Eroberungspläne wälzt, sollte man es dabei nicht versäumen, für dessen Bomber ein Empfangskomitee aus Abfangjägern bereitzustellen. Sobald die verfeindeten Parteien aufeinandertreffen, wird auf die Seitenansicht umgeschaltet, und beim nun entbrennenden Dogfight kann man erneut seine Künste als Joystickakrobat unter Beweis stellen.

Sowohl der Luftkampf als auch die Bomberei dürfen im Training geübt werden, auch wenn diese Actionsequenzen mit einer "richtigen" Flugsimulation nur wenig zu tun haben. Den aktuellen Stand der Kriegssituation verraten einem etliche Statistiken, in der Regel ergibt er sich aber bereits aus dem veränderten Frotverlauf: Abhängig von der bisher erzielten Trefferquote rücken die eigenen Bodentruppen auf der detailliert gezeichneten Karte weiter vor - oder sie beschließen eine taktischen Rückzug...

Soweit das Gameplay, und wie sieht's nun mit der Presentation aus? Na, einen Schönheitswettbewerb wird die ganz auf Zweckmäßigkeit und Übersicht ausgerichtete Grafik kaum je gewinnen, bloß ab und zu erfreuen nette Zwischenbilder das Auge.

Auch die Musik- und Geräuschuntermalung beschränkt sich aufs Nötigste: im puncto Handhabung befindet sich die altehrwürdige Kriegskunst dagegen auf durchaus neuzeitlichen Stand.

Klaro, besteht die anvisierte Zielgruppe hier doch vor allem aus militärstrategischen Neulingen, denen der Einstieg ins Genre durch die hübsch gemachten Actionssequenzen erleichtert werden soll.

Trotzdem dürfen ruhig auch erfahrene Kriegsveteranen mal einen Blick auf diese völlig wabenfreie Kampfzone werfen... (rf)

The Ancient Art of War in the Skies logo

Beezer disk-swapping bandits at 3 o'clock! And 3.02pm. And 3.04pm. And so on.

Ambigious isn't a word that I'd usually start a review with, but I think the title of this one qualifies its use. 'Ambigious'. There, I've said it. We're looking at a game that uses the word 'ancient' to describe war in the skies - doesn't that sound just a tad out of place? Did the ancient Goths and Visigoths travel to their pillaging of Rome in Lear jets, swapping humorous impaling stories while pretty Lufthansa air hostesses topped up their glasses from cute little ring-pull cans?

Did Ghengis Khan conquer the Russian Steppes from a hot air balloon, sustained on his journey by a wickerwork hamper from Harrods full of ice-cold Chateau Brillon and salmon sandwiches with the crust cut off? Or Hannibal, what about him? Did he cross the Alps in a microlite, warmly dressed in a Helly Hanson fibre pile jacket beneath a one-piece Goretex and Duration spray suit? I think not, for if my (admittedly shallow) grasp of matters historical serves me correctly, manned flight is exclusively a 20th century pastime.

The 'ancient' period in history that the game refers to is World War 1 which, although a lot longer ago than, say, the last time I went to get my hair cut, isn't strictly ancient. The dictionary definition actually puts it thus - "Belonging or relating to times long past, especially before the downfall of the Western Roman Empire". I rest my case.

Still, WW1 was an interesting time for aerial warfare in that since planes had only just been invented, everyone was still working out just how to do it. In the game itself, there are twenty preset campaigns that are based on actual WW1 events, although under closer scrutiny, the programmers have hardly staked their reputation on historical accuracy.

The Battle of Cambrain in November 1917, for example, marked the first use of large units of tanks in a battle, but the manual says that "The British have many bombers to represent their tanks". Hmmm.

As well as these battles, there is a clutch of fictitious set-ups, some of which are small training levels, and some of which feature hugely complex front lines to tax more experienced players. If you're still not content with all these options, there's even a pretty nifty and comprehensive level design section, where you can change everything from the bomb position of towns to the amount of bomb damage. Once you've produced your very own battlefields, you can save them to disk and keep them for a rainy day.

Being based on The Great War, the front line is represented by two rows of trenches where the ground forces face each other across No-Man's land. The air war affects the land war, so if you bomb the hell out of forts, factories and depots behind enemy lines, you'll allow your forces to push forwards. The idea's to capture or destroy the enemy capital, so you either go for long-range bombing missions, or try and push the front up to the walls of the city.

At all times throughout the game, the front line ebbs and flows around the map, which can be a real worry when it looks like the entire bang-shoot's going to go right across your airfield's landing strip. You can see which bit of the front is likely to change as bangs and flashes mark battles, and the line changes colour depending on which side's getting the upper hand in the scrap.

Bombing runs are fearsomely entertaining

Your role as commander takes the form of organising missions to bomb targets, and intercepting enemy fighters which in turn are trying their hardest to intercept your bombers. The big decision is whether to send out bombers with fighter escorts, which is a safe option, or to keep the fighters on the ground and then scramble them to any threat, which is a more flexible but risky approach.

To aid the ground forces, you can bomb the enemy's trenches, or blast fortified positions, or as a more general war effort you can destroy the factories and cities that supply replacement men and planes.

Once you've set everything going, you simply sit back and watch the proceedings. Then once the fighters and bombers reach their targets, you can 'drop in' on the action. The bombing runs are fearsomely entertaining, whereas the fighter bits definitely aren't.

Let's go with the up-beat bit first. If you've decided to bomb a target instead of letting the computer work out the outcome, you're shown a reconnaissance photo which shows all the targets and positions of anti-aircraft guns. The idea's to overlfy the targets without passing over the guns and each bomb run is presented form a bomber's eye view.

As you pass over something that looks important, you simply drop a suitable number of bombs on them. Providing you can steer without leaving the area, you can overfly each target as many times as you want, with the damage to both you and the target displayed in really lush detail. On all the bits of the game, this is by far by favourite...

...while the aerial fight sequences are by far the worst bits. Although the graphics depict the turns, banks and climbs of the planes very well, these sections play like some sort of second-rate PD game, and simply aren't any fun at all. Thankfully, the way the game's designed, you can simply leave the dogfights to the computer, and get on with the worthier bits.

All this paints a fairly rosy picture of the game, but after an hour or two it isn't so much a case of how much fun it is to bomb things or whatever - what you really notice is the sheer amount of disk swapping that's involved. I mean, why couldn't all of the start-up sections be on one disk, or the dogfight sections on the same one as the game disk?

As it stands, any change in game mode or options results in a flurry of disk swapping, and although you can install it on a hard drive, how many people have one of those? And as a final insult, the game won't recognise a second disk drive, which is a real smack-in-the-gob insult to external drive owners everywhere, and an offence punishable by at least a 10% drop in the end mark.

Software houses take not, then quake before the might of the AMIGA POWER reviewing policy. You have been warned.

The Ancient Art of War in the Skies logo

'Monkeys at seven o'clock' cried Ginger. 'Well I never, it appears to be Microprose's latest foray into aerial combat!' replied Mark Patterson, busily scraping flies from his goggles.

The Ancient Art Of War In The Skies, apart from having a ridiculously long title, gives you the chance to match wits with a number of famous generals over the battle fields of first world war Europe.

In your role as commander of several squadrons of fighters and bombers, your orders are simple - drive the enemy back at any cost. All of the strategy takes place on a map screen, where your and your enemy's bases, cities and factories are displayed. From here you order air strikes and keep tabs on what your toe is up to.

Clicking on one of your bases brings up a list of the pilots and bombers stationed there. When you've chosen how many to send on a raid, or to intercept the enemy, you can sit back and watch them taking off, before waiting for an action sequence to occur.

When aircraft from opposing sides meet you're asked it you want to take control of an aircraft. Select yes and you're taken to a screen displaying all the participating craft, which then begin to whirl away taking pot-shots at each other. Alternatively, you can skip this and the computer calculates the outcome based on the individual skill of the pilots and a small slice of luck.

A pilot's skill is shown by the amount of medals he has, the more the better. You have to pay attention to this if you're not planning on controlling the aircraft during a dogfight, as a skilful pilot has far more chance of surviving than a rookie. Bombers are also in short supply, so if you think you could be facing plenty of enemy fighters it's worth keeping some in reserve so you're not left without the ability to strike back after attacks.

It's important to plan attacks care fully as destroying different targets affects the enemy's war effort in different ways. Destroying factories lengthens the time if fakes for new aircraft to be delivered, while bombing a city hurts the supply lines. Airbases can prove worthwhile targets, but you have to contend with the fighters stationed there, and they also rebuilt at the twice the speed of other targets.

Considering Microprose's more than healthy reputation for producing flight sims, I was shocked by the unprofessional look of this one. Where their usual flight sims incorporate excellent vector graphics and mounds of realism, this looks like some kind of reject from the public domain. Controlling your small sprite-based aircraft, you have to steer it around the screen shooting at other tiny aircraft.

The bombing section turned out to be a little more promising. Viewing your target area from 10,000 feet up, you simply have to avoid flak batteries and get to the target areas. When you're in the right position press the fire button and, if you're really getting the spirit of things, shout something like 'that's one in the eye for the Hun' or 'tally-ho and back to base chaps'. As you can see, while enjoyable for the first, say, five minutes, the appeal of this section wanes extremely quickly.

The one thing that could save the game also fails. Strategy is where the bulk of the game lies and slowly drowns in a mire of limited options and poor design. Depending on the tactics the computer is employing, you have to order your bombers out to bomb targets such as factories and other airbases. What this section lacks is depth - there's hardly anything to it.

Once your planes are airborne you tell them what altitude to fly at, what formation to fly in and what they should do to their target when they reach it. The lack of options is blatantly obvious. It would have been better if they'd simply given you a little airbase of your own and all the problems that come with it, such as training new pilots, getting hold of fuel, acquiring new planes and ammunition as well as the hassles that come with taking part in such a notoriously badly managed conflict.

The manual also reflects the lack of depth in the game. Very little space is devoted to telling you how to play it, while there's mountains of background information on the air war in Europe. Most pointless of all are the eight pages which just list the names of pilots who scored over 10 kills. This is designed to help you create realistic scenarios by using the names of those who participated, although it strikes me as being a stunning waste of space.

This is well below the standard that we've come to expect from Microprose over the years. We can only look forward to F-117 and Gunship 2000, both of which are due out later this year.


Since World War I ended only 75 years ago, you might be wondering why the word 'Ancient' is in the game's title. The inspiration for this game, and its two PC-only predecessors, lies in a 2500 year-old book. The Art Of War was written by Sun Tzu, a great Japanese warrior who meticulously studied his enemies' tactics, terrain and soldiers before engaging in a battle. As you can imagine he was far more successful than his opponents who simply charged in expecting a healthy ruck, and went on to stake a place in Japanese legend. The book has proved a source of inspiration for many more recent military leaders, including Napoleon and several of the brains behind the planning of Desert Storm.
His teachings were essentially simple, and were summed up in phrases such as 'by knowing what your enemy has done in the past you can predict what he will do in the future'. The manual goes into some detail applying his teachings to the subject matter of the game, although I don't think Sun Tzu intended many of his concepts to be applied to a bunch of men with big moustaches, plenty of jolly banter and rickety flying machines.