By Johnny Bravo 17/11/99
1) Graphics – Fair, it would be nice to have a choice of units. As it is you have metallic looking “stars” and “anchors”, mounted on bases. It seems a variation of the plastic pieces from the latest AH release. An option for the original wooden blocks would have been great. Even better would have been an open format so players could use whatever pieces that suit them. You have one zoom level that shows about a quarter of the board, one intermediate level would have been nice.
2) Variations – The following are supported Standard, 1898, Shift Left, Shift Right, Fleet Rome, and Variants for 3-6 players. 6-player, Italy just holds, 5-player, Germany and Italy just hold. 4 players, it’s combined powers (England vs Austria/France vs Italy/Russia vs Turkey/Germany), for 3-players its (England/Germany/Austria vs Russia/Italy vs France/Turkey), each combined power plays as a single country. Gunboat is an option for all variants but supposedly cripples the AI (it would be hard to tell the effect of this, since the AI is lobotomized already). In short, only variants you can play on the standard map are supported.
3) Time Control – Each Phase has it’s own timer. Defaults are 2 Negotiation Phases with 30 mins for the first one and 15 mins for all others, with 5 mins to issue orders and another 5 to view them. The summary phase is 5 mins long. A pretty long default for an online game. The problem is that if you get someone who is losing, might start using every second of the available time rather than quitting, and each year ends up taking an hour to play.
4) Interface – I don’t know if it is just my system, but I meet the requirements (P200 and 32MB RAM), but every time I click on a button it takes about three seconds to get a response. This makes the game more work than fun. It got worse as the game went on, around 1910 it was taking more than a minute to order a couple of units as it took over 10 seconds to process each click and many times the order just wouldn’t take so I’d have to repeat it. Luckily for me the game was over in 1911.
1) Gunboat is useless, you cannot enter an order you can’t perform, so much for convoying your opponent to switzerland to indicate peace offerings and such. In this it fails badly, as the game specifically allows you to make invalid (but legal) orders.
2) AI is worse than expected, it is non-existant, leaving centers open, stranding units (Italy convoyed an army to Tunis and spent the entire game moving it back and forth to North Africa). I played one game as England (with all AI set to high), in 1901 I took Brest, in 1902 I started a fight with Russia in the north, in 1904 I attacked Germany as well. The AI powers did not gain more than 2-3 centers each the entire game, they just kept making the same bouncing moves over and over. I soloed in 1911, it could have been quicker but I built too many fleets. I never lost a center to enemy moves, even when I deserved it. I had one unsupported fleet in Brest, France kept ordering Gascony-Brest and Burgundy-Munich, rather than Burgundy-Paris and kicking me out of Brest the next season, France made these orders for more than 4 game years without changing them. Random legal moves would have been more of a challenge.
3) Negotiation with the AI – I never got to make any demands, the AI would rush into the room, make a list of demands and if I didn’t start accepting them it would just leave within seconds, if I dealt with the AI demands it would leave seconds later. By the time I looked at the map and decided exactly what I wanted from the AI, I was standing in an empty room. And for the AI completely unnecessary as you can kill the best AI even if they are all against you.
3a) Negotiation with the Players – There are 4 chat rooms and you can only be in one of them at a time. This makes it a bit cumbersome to negotiate with 6 other people. I think a better solution would be everyone in the same room, you have a map, 6 buttons for the other powers, you just click the power(s) you want to send to and type away. This would speed things up as you can negotiate with everyone at once. I think time is of serious consideration for online games, any speedups would be very welcome, even if they aren’t quite the same as face to face play.
4) Display of turn results, it takes about 2 seconds to display each move that was made during the turn and you have to sit there and watch them play out one by one. I wish I could set an option to display all the moves on the map at once rather than wait for 60 seconds for the same info. This game is long enough as it is without needlessly adding to the delays. After 1902 I just stopped looking, just hit next and went on to make my moves on the updated map, it was just too much trouble trying to determine what moves the AI made.
Bottom Line – I’d rather play face to face or use the Judge, this program fails in all the wrong places. It looks pretty, that’s the only thing going for it, there is no AI to speak of and multiplayer just isn’t up to Judge standards (no Judge support in the game). To run real time diplomacy, you would be 100% better off using ICQ, Realpolitik and a GM who would just upload a current picture of the position to a web page for the players. Save your money, this isn’t worth $40 just so you can play online at the zone in games that are even more likely than the Judge to see massive dropouts, and the quality of play will be much worse if those dropouts are replaced by computer players.
By Dave Hemke 1/12/99
I picked up the game last night, and, despite the poor press, was disappointed.
First, the game is bloatware. I encountered this same thing with Computer Axis and Allies. Computer Dip was nearly unplayable on my P166 Desktop, and was still very sluggish on my 233 Desktop. There is simply no reason the game should be such a poor performer. There are, like A&A, no fancy graphics or constant calculations (except in Dip phase) to be made. The programmers just did a shoddy job, following typical MS programming philosophy of using hardware to cover up piss poor software. Have a little pride in your work. At one point in time, it was a mark of excellence to achieve the smallest and/or fastest executable. I suppose that went out the door some time ago, as “programmers” have been weaned on development tools such as Visual Basic. Anyway, this is one mark against the game.
Two, the interface, as has already been remarked, is cumbersome and counter intuitive. The negotiation interface is a chore to use, but this only really affects games using the computer AI, which I will wager will be few and far between. There is no way (or none I found) to directly enter values during the setup phase, so to change the time for diplomacy from 30 minutes to 15 minutes, one must click ‘down’ 30 times (30 second intervals). Yeah, very user friendly. The method used to enter and display orders is awful. Everytime you click a unit, you must specify “move, support, hold, or convoy.” A default setting, or use of the secondary (tertiary) mouse button would have been nice. It is almost impossible to determine from the visuals whether two units are being ordered into the same province, or if one is supporting the other. Hasbro could have taken some tips from freeware programs such as RealPolitik on this one – far more elegant and functional. During the orders resolution phase, it is very difficult to figure out what is going on. Some units seemed to be skipped over and forgotten or referenced in an apparently random order. Again, piss poor visual aids (‘arrows’) make this far more confusing than it should be. The only positive thing I have to say about the interface is that I do like how all possible moves are highlighted when selecting a unit. Nice touch.
Third, the AI is just as bad, or worse, than everyone else has made it out to be. I also witnessed the Italian Tunisian Expeditionary Force patrolling the coast of North Africa for an entire game, Russia unwaveringly ordering SEV-RUM and UKR-RUM from F1901M onward, France seemingly forgetting about the army in Portugal and the fleet in Spain (sc) for the entire game, England building two additional armies to augment the one it began with. and never convoying any of them outside the sceptre’d isle, et al.
I would not recommend this game to anyone, nor can I see it possibly being a positive introduction to our fine hobby.
In sum: Yuck!
By Anon 6/12/99
As I bought the computer game a couple weeks ago, I can attest that the developers did give move routines for the first year for every country. The problem is that they do these moves with little or no flexibility. Indeed, I’ve played about 13 games, and I think I’ve seen these moves in every one.
In case you’re wondering, they are
Austria: A Vie-Tri, A Bud-Ser, F Tri-Alb
England: A Lpl-Edi, F Edi-Nwg, F Lon-Nth
France: A Mar S A Par-Bur, F Bre-Mat
Germany: F Kie-Den, A Ber-Kie, A Mun-Ruhr
Italy: A Ven H (or something equally pointless), A Rom-Apu, F Nap-Ion
Russia: A War H, A Mos-Ukr, F Sev-Bla, F StP-GoB
Turkey: A Con-Bul, A Smy-Con, F Ank-Bla
Austria: F Alb-Gre with support, A Tri-Ven (I think)
England: A Edi does something pointless, F Nwg-Nwy, F Nth-Nwy (yes, the computer bounces ITSELF in Norway)
France: A Bur-Bel, F MAt-Por, A Mar-Spa
Germany: F Den H, A Kie-Hol, A Ruhr-Bel
Italy: A Ven-Tri, A Apu-Ion-Tun, F Nap C A Apu-Tun
Russia: A War H, A Ukr-Rum, F Sev-Bla, F GoB-Swe
Turkey: F Ank-Bla, A Bul H, A Con H
I’m not sure about some of these, but I’m pretty sure they’re about right. Some of these are stupid, such as England’s F01 moves, which I can only think is a programming problem. But a few of them, such as France’s, make perfect sense, and are in fact exactly how I would play France in 1901, although maybe I wouldn’t do A Bur-Bel in the Fall.
However, the designers didn’t give the countries much flexibility when it came to these moves, and so it’s easy to take advantage of it. As Russia, for example, I once did A War-Gal-Vie in 1901 on my way to a solo victory in 1906. (Hard damn work, but somone’s got to do it.) Austria didn’t think to order A Tri to either Vie or Bud in the Fall.
Unfortunately, 1901 is the high point for the AI, as after that the countries devolve to some retarded sniping and little alliance play. Sometimes, there will be a supported action that might take one by surprise, but in all the games I’ve played solo, I have never had a piece dislodged. Scary.
Anyway, so can a better AI be done? I think so. Will it ever make me quake in my Nike basketball shoes? No.