Product: BBC Micro Wargaming
Publisher: Collins
Compatibility: Acorn Electron
Reviewed by: Dave E
Originally published in EUG #71

The book BBC Micro Wargaming was one of the last books written by Audrey and Owen Bishop for the BBC Micro and Electron. It is a collection of strategy games and utilities. The authors go to some lengths to point out that it is not just aimed at a very niche audience and that you will enjoy the programs whether you are a wargamer or not. But I'm not sure if I exactly buy that - the book is aimed squarely at wargamers, those persons who like to construct scaled battlefields, place miniature figures on them and spend weekends inventing rules and then plotting a winning strategy.

The book was lost thought lost but a copy resurfaced in 2010 and the programs are now available on this companion disc, along with a spiffy menu screen to call them up. There are ten programs in total - five wargames and five utilities - although most games require three files and there are different BBC and Electron versions of six of them.

Each of the wargames has some fairly complex rules and it is not possible to bang the disc in and play any of the programs without first studying the book to discover how to use them. The book describes the progression of games, and the utilities to create them, with the rules of battle (and the amount the computer does) becoming ever more complicated.

Four of the games, Bridge2, Invasion 1066, Paris 1814 and Bena 2352 are graphical and moves are made by moving your cursor around the playing area, 'clicking' on your armies and entering the direction and number of spaces to move. This is a bit fiddly on the Electron where the block cursor is replaced with a line one - sometimes you have to position your cursor oddly to be able to execute the required move. However, all of these games display identically on both machines and the dithered colours of each separate playing field are rather fetching.

The package, at least in book form, is rather like a very, very complicated version of an editor such as that found in Repton 3 or Uggie's Garden. You are given a number of utilities to key in - Armymaker, Datasorter, Editdata, Mapmaker and Tablemaker - and, in the book, also given the DATA to put into each of them to construct the games. This method gives you the advantage of being able to manipulate the 'raw' data in the requisite editor, and then load it back into the game program as you wish. It is also intended for wargamers to manipulate to their heart's content in relation to the new rules and new battlefields they will create.

Now, whilst this is applaudable in the extreme, it does assume a fair amount of programming skill, disc-load balancing skill and spare time. The true wargamer who attempts it will quickly find his disc filling up with different datafiles - and linking them all together using BASIC programs is certainly not simple. And certainly nowhere near as simple as copying a listing directly from a book which can be RUN, without the need for DATA manipulation in other utilities!

Recognising this, the authors have included DATA statements which can either be put into the utilities, or instead can be appended to the end of the games. The programs on the companion disc are the self-executing ones. Fine for those who just want to have a bash, but if you want to manipulate the 'raw' data, there's no file of it to load into one of the utilities; you'll have to grab the book and type it all in again.

The real problem both disc and book of BBC Micro Wargaming have is that there is very little way of simplifying wargaming. It is, by its nature, extremely complex. Start introducing numbers, data, the requirement to type everything correctly first time, lots of different 'manipulated' files, and different versions for different machines ... and it becomes very messy very quickly indeed. Even the fact that many of the programs use the same top level of code (and new procedures are 'stuck on' as and when required) adds another layer of complexity.

Nor can you really circumvent all of this by just taking the approach of "I'll just load the disc, ignore the utilities and play the five games." The five games require a complex study of the book itself to be playable and, because one game builds upon another, you cannot really be sure that you are equipped with all the information you need. If, say, you read the chapter on Bena 2352, that's not enough - information on tactics isn't described in Bena 2352, because it builds upon the earlier games, so that information is hiding all the way back in the chapter on Bridge2. So you're really faced with reading the whole book to stand any chance of playing this game well.

If wargaming is your thing, and you own a BBC Micro/Electron, and want to create complex battles then this book is probably manner from heaven for you. However, if you looking for simplicity, then you should go elsewhere. There are a number of other wargames out there which are machine code, and polished, such as CDS's Tank Attack and the Lothlorien suite of games. But it is nice to see this particularly rare collection taking its place in Acorn Electron World.