The Micro User1st May 1988
Published in The Micro User 6.03
Strategic war simulation
I have never been a great lover of wargames which involve working out tactics, moving forces around a map and trying to out-think your opposition. I usually prefer games full of excitement and action. But Bismarck: Death Of A Battleship has opened my eyes to a different style of game.
The aim is simple, though achieving it is anything but. You are Commander-in-Chief of the Allied Forces and you must seek out and destroy the German battleship Bismarck while ensuring that five large convoys making their way slowly across the Atlantic are adequately protected.
You have at your disposal six battleships, two aircraft carriers, 14 cruisers, four destroyer flotillas, two submarine packs, five bomber squadrons and three reconnaissance planes. All this against one battleship, a heavy cruiser, three submarines and three tankers. You'd think it would be easy, but it isn't.
For a start, you have a very large area of the North Atlantic to cover, and the convoys you're protecting are spread all over the place and can be attacked at any time.
Also the Bismarck and its companion - the heavy cruiser Prinz Eugen - are fast, have excellent radar and are very good at avoiding the many ships and planes you may have out searching for them.
Add to that the fact that the combined fire-power of the two German ships is very strong and you begin to realise that it's not just acase of finding them - you must have sufficient strength in the area to engage them in battle. Mistakes are punished by the loss of your ships.
On booting up the disc you are given the option of loading a saved game or starting a new one. You can then opt for the one or two-player game.
In the two-player version, one controls the German ships, but the game is basically the same. The German ships are out to sink as many convoys as possible and then reach the safety of port-in this case Brest.
You can now decide what skill level to play at - level one is easiest, level five hardest. You can also specify how many moves you wish the game to last - between 20 and 99.
The victory conditions can also be selected at this point. Sinking enemy ships and safely escorting convoys earn you points. You can either opt for victory to be decided on points or whether the Bismarck is sunk.
One of the nice things I found was the fact that if you get bored with the original scenario there is an alternative which is harder to play and involves more German shipping.
The game mechanics are complicated at first but you soon get used to how to play. I found it best to concentrate on using the A key which allows you to review the status of all your resources and to give them all instructions.
For instance you can order the battleship Hood to go North at 25 knots and be on battle alert. Then you could instruct the cruiser Dorsetshire to patrol an area, and you can send ships into the same area as a convoy to get them refuelled.
The amount of fuel a ship or plane has is important, and once or twice I've managed to lose them through not ordering them back to base to refuel. The sound used in the game is very sparse with just the occasional warning indicating a fuel shortage in one of your vessels.
Once you have given all your orders for the move, you can enter the Projected Mode, which shows you the position of all your ships and planes together with where they will be after carrying out the orders you have given them. This is handy, as it allows you to change the orders if the ships aren't going quite where you intended.
The ideal situation is to get lots of your ships into the same area as the Bismarck - not an easy task. If you manage it you have a choice to make. You can engage the Bismarck, which is unwise unless you have several ships in the area, or you can decide to shadow her, which gives you a better chance of bringing in other ships later because you know where she is. Or you could withdraw or ignore her.
Once you have decided to engage, the battle starts and all you can do is sit back and wait for news. At this point it's out of your hands and the conflict could go on for quite a while. Occasionally, however, radio contact with your forces may be established for a few seconds and during this period you can change your orders.
Eventually the final report will come in: The outcome could be the destruction of the Bismarck or possibly the sinking of all the Allied forces in that area.
The game comes with a well printed 48-page instruction booklet which includes full instructions for the game, hints on how to win, and lots of background history on the German Navy and the events leading up to the sinking of the Bismarck. Also contained are two maps of the North Atlantic which have 20 x 25 grids overlaid on them.
On the disc you will also find acouple of useful programs: One is CON4080 which converts the disc from 40 to 80 track format, and the other is SHOWMAP which simply displays a map of the North Atlantic on the screen. This, too, is overlaid by the 20 x 25 grid and you can print it if you have a screen dump routine.
After playing Bismarck for a while it began to dawn on me that I was really enjoying myself. It's addictive.
The first time I succeeded in sinking the Bismarck I wasted no time in trying out the alternative scenario.
It just goes to prove that games don't have to involve complicated mazes or stunning graphics to be enjoyable.
Bismarck is a definite must for those of you who like wargames, but I also think that quite a few others will be pleasantly surprised at this fascinating game.