Happy Fourth of July! And what better way to celebrate it than to look at another conflict imagined by SSI pitting two superpowers against each other. Instead of colonialists declaring independence, SSI takes a grown up US and imagines what would happen when the USSR decides to turn up the heat in the Cold War. This was a battle that would be fought on the Apple II as well as the Commodore 64, though the graphics didn’t see as big an improvement from one system to the next as with other games. Strategy games like this tended to keep things pretty simple in those days regardless of platform.
The series would span four games: Germany 1985, RDF 1985, Baltic 1985, and Norway 1985. And like Matthew Broderick’s character in WarGames, players could pick which side they wanted to represent. The turn-based strategy game used hex-based movement allowing players to move tanks, artillery, and other units around the battlefield, each with their own short list of stats and whose mix would change across titles for variety. Terrain also played a factor, but the goals were simple – whoever controlled the most “towns, villages and airfields” at the end of the game was the winner determined by the computer that would let the scenario run for up to 23 turns.
The first game, Germany 1985 which came out in the same year this ad did in ’82, imagines an invasion by the USSR into West Germany and split the scenario into two phases: “Advance-to-Contact” and “Invasion”. The second, RDF 1985 released in ’83, sends the US Rapid Deployment Force to the Middle East to recapture valuable oil fields. Baltic 1985: Corridor to Berlin, brought out in ’84, imagines NATO attempting to force a breakthrough to West Berlin while Soviet forces are tied down in Poland thanks to an uprising against them. The last game, Norway 1985 which actually did come out in ’85, turns Norway’s winter into cold irony for the Soviet forces occupying the nation. As the oil in their armor freezes crippling their steel shod advance, players must strike a blow that will free Norway from their grasp using only ski-based infantry units.
The series didn’t spend too much on the “hows” and “whys” of the conflict, only in providing a simple, tactical problem nested inside an arguably exciting backdrop born at the height of the Cold War. This was especially true during the eighties as the public imagination continued to dance around things like Reagan’s Star Wars, Hollywood’s continuing battles against the Soviets in films like Iron Eagle, and the thousands of nukes each nation had buried in their backyards. Others simply took the Alfred E. Newman approach of “What, me worry?”
But in gaming, and in any other entertainment medium, what-ifs like this can be a virtual goldmine of ideas in the right hands. SSI’s Superpowers series also wouldn’t be the last time that the Cold War would be revisited to test would-be generals on whether a conventional war could be won before things became radioactive. Unless there happens to be a nice game of chess going on.