Commodore User1st September 1987
Published in Commodore User #48
SDI or, if you prefer, Star Wars, is, as you all must know, a fairly controversial defence policy. In High Frontier you are the project leader who must plan staff and resources to construct an effective defence system as the world teeters on the brink of nuclear war.
The game is icon-controlled and is played through a series of screens that represent the research and development, espionage, SDI command, threat and world displays. As the President gives you funds and manpower you can assign them to develop any of the eight possible weapon systems. For each stage of a system's research, development and hopeful deployment you need to meet the man and dollar costs represented by bars on the screen. Some weapons and some stages take more resources than others so it's inevitable that you won't be able to develop all the systems at once.
The Espionage screen allows you to allocate points to three different information-gathering services that will give you the latest totals of enemy missiles, warheads and the state of Soviet counter-measures to your systems. It's pointless pouring money and manpower into a system that the Russians can stop!
Finally, the Threat screen warns of any increase in Soviet troop movements and the threat of war, and the World screen is used to show the passage of time until one of the icons flash to show an injection of funds, research breakthrough or Soviet exercises.
To build an effective system, you will need as much money and men as you can get from the President. He will contact you from time to time to get a progress report in the form of a percentage of Russian warheads you think you can destroy. To get the most funds you will have to lie. The lies you tell will depend on the President in power. A "Hawk" President will give you funds as long as he things the system is working, but it's dangerous to let him think t's too effective as war will result. A "Dove" President will only respond to Soviet pressure and will be mean. A realistic one will occupy a middle ground. Whichever President you choose, you will have to take account of the hawk, dove or realistic approach by the Soviet leader and generally overrate the system initial progress and then, tone down its effectiveness when it's actually active to give you extra time to get as many systems in orbit as you can before war breaks out.
Your best chance of success and survival is to create a balanced defence system to attack the Soviet missiles (each of which contains multiple warheads) as soon as they are launched, then to take out the warheads as they are released along with they decoys in space and then finally to fire anti-missiles as the warheads begin to fall on American targets. I found the best balance was to take out as many missiles as possible, as destroying one missile will destroy all its warheads before they are released, and then to launch a major attack with (hopefully) two defence systems against the warheads in space. Ignoring the third stage usually words and is safer than the third and final stage which, if successful, creates nuclear explosions above the cities rather than on them.
However you can usually avoid that sort of posthumous victory by careful planning, a cool strategy and by using all the game screens. For example, the SDI command screen appears as only a way of checking and arming the system as and when prompted but you should continually check this without prompting as you can launch 10 or 20 rockets carrying a system before the system would prompt you to do this.
High Frontier is a good game based on a situation we hope will never happen, but it's slightly worrying that the way to win is to lie to the President!