HERE we have one of those games where even the Amiga's sound chip would not be good enough. You need a recording of Ride of the Valkyries (Wagner's Ring Cycle, Deutsch Gramaphon) and the urge to destroy your fellow man. Ah, the fun of world domination at the click of an icon.
A well written manual takes you, from clumsy amateur to world psychopath in gentle stages. One or two can play, with the option to be the American Eagle or the Soviet Bear. The computer is a good opponent.
There is no blood, gore or offensive language; no smutty pictures of blood curdling screams. This program looks at the academic side of war and peace and reacts well to player input. The initial simple settings guide you through a predetermined set of moves to show what effect different decisions will have. After this you get to try out the various menu options. A wrong decision could accelerate you to Defcon 1 and the chance to wipe out the entire planet.
If perchance you do cause thermo-nuclear global conflict, a simple text screen informs you that there will be no animated mushroom clouds. There are no rewards for failure.
I cannot stop playing Balance of Power. What started as a few decisions about whether to drop troops or dollars somewhere has escalated to form a habit. The further I get, the more I want to do.
There is always something new around the corner and the inclusion of 80 countries, all reacting independently, means that there is no chance you will exhaust with the possibilities. If you get stuck a crisis advisory service appears at decision time and gives you a clue as to which way to turn.
You start in 1989 with a reasonably stable planet. If you can maintain stability the game can last eight years, after which the winner will be the side with the most prestige. I have played solid for 14 hours and could not last longer than three years. Then again, I always was quick on the button.
To help you to decide whether to give a country cash or troops, a screen lists the political persuasions, stability and stuff like that. If you are playing as the good ol' US of A and you give too much help to neutral Sweden, uncle Gorby gets a tidgy bit miffed and puts you in a precarious position. Ouch.
I started at the beginners' level and worked through intermediate and expert. As I went up each level and the amount of factors that the program used got more complex, the results I got began to mirror history. There is nothing like a bit of realism, so I got out the history books and looked up a couple of the more diplomatic situations from the 'sixties' when the Bear and the Eagle were at each other's ambassadors.
I could not hope to simulate them accurately, but the basics were there. Using the world as a three-dimensional chess board, I made the USA moves to see how the USSR would react. I then reversed the roles and played the USSR. As both superpowers had blamed each other for the initiative in the 'sixties, it was interesting to note that the only way to get a similar result was to cast the USA in the role of aggressor. Tut-tut, President Johnson. And you said it was them.
In the levels up to expert the game takes the rather simplistic us-and-them stance. It only calculates the reactions of the two main powers and anything else brought into direct action. In the final multipolar level Balance of Power gets closest to reality with the computer calculating the reactions and decisions of all 80 countries. In fact it is quite uncanny. The results at this level were accurate enough to write a newspaper article which would not have looked out of place at the time.
If this sort of simulation can get so close to actual events, perhaps we should send Bush and Gorby an Amiga each and let them get on with thermonuclear war in the comfort of their own palaces.