Let's not beat about the Bush

Balance Of Power: The 1990 Edition logo Amiga Computing Value Award

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.

Balance Of Power: The 1990 Edition logo CU Amiga Super Star


When it first appeared BOP proved to be the most comprehensive, absorbing strategy game ever to appear. And now comes the most comprehensive version yet.

For a start you can call up some really weird figures, like the amount of TVs per head in Bogatowa, or the amount of political assassinations in Australia. All this extra information has been included along with more political features, and a four man and woman advisory team.

If you have ever wanted to make the Super Power decisions, like invading Pakistan to help Afghanistan, organising a trade embargo with Britain (if you are American), and answer all those little 'if' questions that have always bugged you, then this is for you.

BOP 1990 is everything you want from a strategy game, except for the fact you cannot nuke the hell out of anyone. But then who wants to do that? (Me! Ed).

Balance Of Power: The 1990 Edition logo Zzap! Sizzler

Mindscape, Amiga £24.99

The original Balance Of Power is widely recognised as one of the most ambitious games ever released, representing over 60 real countries in a tense, present-day power struggle between Russia and the United States. The 1990 Edition increases the number of countries to 80, updates the world situation and introduces a 'Multipolar' level, where smaller countries act less like superpower puppets and are free to start wars amongst themselves.

The simulation starts in the year 1989 and continues until 1997, unless a nuclear war is triggered. You can play either the US or USSR leader, and there 's also a two-player option. If the world survives until '97 the winner is the one with the most prestige points, i.e. the most world influence. Each country has a certain amount of prestige points, calculated by their military power, and depending by how far they lean to you, a certain amount of their points go to you.

Initially the 'superpowers' have zero prestige points each, and the major events map is displayed with certain countries coloured red to show something important is happening to them - usually a civil war or revolution. The cynical heart of the game is backing right-wing rebels/governments against left-wing governments/rebels (if you're playing the US). How you act in the game is via the 'Make Policies' menu. Options include Military Aid, Aid to insurgents, Intervene (send in the troops) for Government, intervene for Rebels, Economic Aid, Destabilise (send in the CIA or KGB), sign a Treaty of support and use Diplomatic Pressure. Most of these options can be graduated (from zero aid to two billion dollars worth, for example).

To help you decide what to do there's a wealth of background information to be accessed from which superpower a country is allied with to the number of TVs in a country. Setting US policy for every country would obviously takes ages, so it's best to concentrate on where there's a crisis of some kind. A basic rule to remember there is the amount of support you can give to a country depends on whether you have an allied country nearby.

Once all your policies are set it's onto the next turn, or year, and there's a couple of minutes wait while the computer calculates the enemy response. In addition your game is automatically saved, so you can take back a turn if necessary.

When the new turn starts the USSR will normally have quite a few bones to pick with you over some of the decisions you've made - i.e. sending 2000 marines to Afghanistan. This is when crisis begin. The first stage is a diplomatic note asking you change policy. Withdraw the troops and you'll lose no prestige points. If you refuse to back down though, the Soviets could escalate to threats, including increasing their nuclear readiness all the way up to a full nuclear war. In a change from the original version there are now four advisors to offer suggestions, these can of course be wrong, or simply state 'it's too close to call' - which is all too common.

Once you start on the spiral of escalating threats and counter-threats the prestige points at stake rise dramatically, with all the world watching to see which superpower is strong, and which weak. And of course with so much prestige at stake the temptation to escalate the crisis further, hoping to bluff your opponent. This increases the prestige points again, and increases the risk of accidental nuclear war - then deliberate nuclear war, when the temptation arises of 'hitting them first'.

Judging when to stand firm, and when to back down is the most critical part of the game. Survive the Soviet challenges to your policies and then it's time for you to review their policies, challenging them as necessary and threatening to escalate if need be.

As you'd expect from a game designed for the monochromatic Apple Macintosh the graphics don't make the best use of the Amiga. The world map and portraits of your policy advisors are the only graphics, while sound is non-existent. However it's the gameplay that matters, and that is extra-ordinarily complex. The sheer number of countries, and large information to be studied, is extremely impressive (there's a lot of in-game disk accessing, but usually very quick). For this reason it's no good loading the game without at least an hour or so to spend on one or two turns.

In short, if you've the patience and inclination to persist with it, this is an exceptionally involved and challenging game. But owners of the original be warned, the only addition for an extra £25 is the multipolar option.