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After a long and tortuous history, the board game that isn't (quite) finally reaches the Amiga (unfortunately) with an irritating licence tacked on.

What is the point of producing a computerized version of an existing board game? Well, a computer-controlled opponent seems as good a reason as any - if it's any cop, that is. Otherwise, you might as well buy the real thing for around half the price.

However, here's a computerized version of a board game which doesn't exist, and couldn't in any other form without great difficulty. Spot is reminiscent of something, but I can't put my finger on what. Othello is what springs to most people's minds, and I'm no exception, even though the two have little in common other than a board and coloured counters.

Spot's board is seven squares square and supports up to four players. In Othello the colour of an opponent's pieces is changes by 'trapping' them between two points marked by the other player's pieces. In Spot the colour of the opponents' pieces is altered to that of the player's by placing a piece adjacent to them. A piece can either duplicate itself in an adjacent square of physically move two squares away by jumping (see AN OPENING STRATEGY for a slightly clearer idea of how this works).When the board's full the player with the most pieces on it is the winner. The only other vague similarity to Othello is that the state of the board can change quite significantly with a single move. And that's Spot pretty much in a nutshell really.

So why Spot? Well, the game actually started life as Infection way back in 1988. Infection (so-called because the pieces were cells, which perhaps makes the whole idea of spreading to adjacent squares and changing the colours of counters a little easier to understand) was intended to be the flagship for the launch of Mastertronic's16-Blitz budget label of £4.99 product.

But it was not to be. The journalists fortunate enough to play Infection weren't the only ones to be impressed - a big cheese at Virgin Games Software's American arm, Virgin Mastertronic Inc, saw it and realized its potential. The release was postponed while a new title was sought (in these days of AIDS it could have been deemed offensive, though it's interesting to note that one alternative put forward was 'Virus'- ouch).

The problem was solved when Virgin Mastertronic Inc acquired the licence to bring to this medium Spot, the poxy little character used by 7-Up to promote its 'un-cola' in the States (who needs the UK equivalent, Fido Dido, eh?). Spot first appeared on the Nintendo console. Despite the cosmetic changes, the basic concept shone through and it continued to impress (its fans include, apparently, mr Tetris - Alexei Pazhitnov -himself). Needless to say, Infection will never see the light of day on the home computer front - a shame - even though it was licensed to arcade machine producer Leland Trade West (from whom Storm licensed other titles for conversion) and released as Attaxx, retaining Infection's look, feel and the David Whittaker sound and music.

As is the case with any board game worth its salt, Spot caters for the development of all manner of strategies, which vary depending on the quantity of players. The most obvious approach is to tempt an opponent to attack and leave itself vulnerable, although when playing against more than one human there's a tendency for two players to simply gang up on someone in an attempt to remove them from play.

This isn't possible when playing with more than one (exclusively) computer-controlled opponent - in fact they can bugger up your strategy by playing a little more... 'objectively' shall we say.

That said, the nine skill levels of the computer do provide worthy opposition, and the time spent thinking isn't too lengthy. Spot represents a real treat for anyone remotely interested in the Othello ilk and comes thoroughly recommended. But before I call it a day, there are few annoying aspects to Spot which need to be highlighted.

  • Apart from the time it takes Spot to load, the worst is that there's no congratulary sequence of any description. GAME OVER is displayed instead and this tends to have a negative effect, more so when you win. You have to look at the four scores to see who's won.
  • The most irritating of the minor flaws is that if the machine is left alone for more than a few seconds before starting play, the game flips into the title sequence and before you know it the default options have been assumed. Aargh!

And as for Mr Ken so-called musician Hedgecock, his bloody sound and music drove me up the wall, across the ceiling and through the floor. It grates worse than teeth down a blackboard. Now the Infection music on the other hand - that was smart. All that breathing and slurping... Find an Attaxx arcade machine to see - hear rather - what I mean. (A note for trivia fans: apparently that piece was inspired by S'Express' 'Coma', even though they don't sound very similar).

These rough edges should simply not be present in full-price software (come to think of it, they weren't actually in the original Infection), especially from a company based in America, a country which prides itself on its slick software. Anyway, that's my beef over and done with. The last thing I want to do is put you off owning the game - it really is rather impressive.


Or don't. The extent of his involvement goes beyond being a host. He's also a pain in the ass, not because of what he does: interfere with the flow of play. When a piece is selected it turns into Spot. When a move is made he performs an athletic action to land on the chosen square. He might moonwalk or even cartwheel - it all depends on the direction of the move. Great. And he does after about one femtosecond. Every single bloody move takes at least 10 times longer than it should, and is accompanied by the most knuckle-biting jingle ever heard. Thank heavens there's an option to stop the little bleeder doing this. But even when he's turned off, he still manages to make himself known. He appears by the human-controlled players' scores and taps his foot while a move is contemplated.

Spot: Editing the board

There's fun to be had here, by placing holes in the board to affect play. The idea-starved are advised to watch the attract sequence where the computer plays itself (this can be interrupted) on different board designs. Three handy options available are UNDO, SHAKE and SYM. The SHAKE feature places holes at random positions on the board, symmetrically, while SYM... Gues what? One tiny grumble here - it's regarding some more sloppy presentation. The SYM option isn't highlighted in any way so you can only tell if the symmetry is turned on by placing holes or squares on the board.

Spot: Options menu explained
  1. Select mode of human interface. But hold on? What happens when all four players are human-controlled? After all, the Amiga only has two Ports for joystick or mouse. Simple. All players with mouse control activated use the same device.
  2. Spot's irritating, time-consuming, animated antics can be active or not, depending on your desire to suffer. When Spot is active his thumb is up. When he's disabled his thumb points down. Aaah. Tiresome little runt.
  3. What this option is doing here I don't know. There aren't any EXTRAS to turn on or off.
  4. Turn on the clock to turn up the pressure all round. Actually, this border on being the most pointless option of all. All players start with the same quantity of time in the bank, as it were - one, two, three, five or nine minutes. This time it takes a player to make a move is drawn from this bank. When it runs out, that's it. No more play. That's fair enough for keeping play short 'n' snappy. What's dumb is the fact that if the time bank runs out when a piece is selected then its colour changes to that of the next player. Oh sure, this is beneficial to the next player who gets the piece for free - though to be honest, it is fairly unlikely to happen as nobody's likely to select a piece until they know what they're going to do with it anyway.
  1. Determine computer-controlled player's intelligence. To add a dash of humanity to the proceedings, try playing against three computer-controlled opponents of differing intelligence.
  2. Any opponent whose head is so big it's in the clouds can be brought down to earth by activating the individual timers. This gives the player in question five, 10, 20 or 40 seconds to make a move - or lose it.
  3. Activate player, either human or computer controlled. You could play four computer-controlled opponents against each other and watch them to pick up some tips. But I don't advise it - the quit play option only works for human players, so you have to watch the contest through to its (potentially lengthy) conclusion (why the pointer remains on screen is beyond me - you can't do anything with it).

Here's an opening strategy which can be used to good effect by Red to wipe out the Green computer-controlled opponent. It works with every level of computer intelligence but the highest (that's nine).

Spot: Step 1
1. Our first move is to the square immediately to the right. Obviously there's little the three computer-controlled opponents can do at this stage.

Spot: Step 2
2. Move Number Two is a second step to the right, forming a line across the top of the board. Green decides to jump a piece to take our further most Red Counter. No problem.

Spot: Step 3
3. We retaliate and in the process tempt Green further by moving to the square down and to the right, converting Green's two pieces to Red. Black and Blue take no interest in this two-player battle, as neither side has made any threatening moves down the board.

Spot: Step 4
4. Green responds to our previous move (and the increasingly desperate situation it finds itself in) by leaping its remaining counter a second time to take two of our pieces.

Spot: Step 5
5. Ha hah! Eat it Green. A simple, single-square movement down and to the right removes Green from the board (and the game).

Spot: Step 6
6. Now to tackle Black and Blue...