Review by By S.D.
May 9, 2005
warfare at a bargain price!
It has been a long
time since last I purchased a PC game valued at around $20. It has
been even longer since I have purchased a game that was so small I
could download it with my 56K modem! The reason is simple: such
small and cheap game titles are usually, well, small and cheap. They
are frequently created by amateur programmers and lack the depth and
glitz that hardcore gamers have come to expect from larger, more
expensive titles. However, every now and then, a title comes along
that breaks the stereotype. Battleship Chess is a perfect example.
Published by ApeZone Software (www.apezone.com),
this naval wargame can best be described as a cross between the
classic Milton Bradley Battleship board game and chess. The
resulting combination is a software title, destined in its own
right, to become a true classic.
Battleship Chess 2.0
arrives on your hard drive as a small 9.2mb download. After
installation, an introductory screen greets the user, displaying a
number of self-descriptive options, such as sound and visual display
selections (sound volume, music on/off, etcetera), creating a player
profile, joining a network game, or resuming/starting a solo-play
game. Once you start a game, additional choices appear that will
govern how the program actually functions.
the game allows you to choose between a one, five, or ten battle
war. More that just setting the number of rounds, your choice here
will affect the strategic complexity of the game, as the more
battles you fight, the greater the necessity of keeping your fleet
of warships free from damage in each battle---after all, it won’t do
you any good to enter the final battle with a single, shell-blasted
Second, the player
can choose between one of five possible "chapters" that roughly
approximate eras of 20th Century naval warfare. You have: The Early
Years, Dreadnoughts: the Ultimate Battleships, Battlecruisers: More
than a Cruiser?, Enter the Destroyer, and, Submarines: Danger from
Below. As their titles indicate, each chapter adds a new class of
warship that greatly affects the tactical complexity of the
resulting battles. I have found each era to be enjoyable, with
"Submarines" being the most complex of all.
The player is also
free to select the nationality of the forces involved. The usual
suspects are included: America, Britain, Germany, and Japan. One is
free to pit these nations in a one-on-one war as he sees fit. Did
you ever wonder who would have won a United States versus Britain
sea battle? Now you can find out!
there are three difficulty settings: easy, intermediate, and hard. I
will say that the AI has proven to be quite a canny opponent, so I
recommend all players start with the "easy" setting and move up from
Assuming that you go
with a five or ten battle war, the next screen is a list of
available warships that you may deploy in the forthcoming battle.
You are asked to apply upgrades to these warships from a selection
of possible upgrade "cards" displayed across the bottom the screen.
Examples of upgrades are: better armor, weapon upgrades, improved
speed, even a greater skill level for a warship’s captain.
After making your
selection(s), you then are asked to choose which warships to deploy
for the coming battle. Initially, this is easy and little more than
choosing the biggest ships with the biggest guns. But as the war
progresses, the choice becomes much more difficult. Ships will
accumulate damage. Do you send out one of your big guns with heavy
damage, hoping it does not sink in the coming battle, or do you
leave it in dry dock for repairs and take a selection of lesser
cruisers, hoping they can carry the day? If you cannot decide, the
AI will do it for you---for better or worse.
At last, the battle
is here. Considering how small the program is, it is surprising how
much graphical glitz the game actually contains. The battle map, of
which there are a few, is randomly selected. Many have small islands
scattered throughout the map. There are also four special zone types
which effect ships that pass over them, such as critical repair
zones (repair one critically damaged ship component, such as
engines, gun, fire, or flooding) and spotting zones for increased
visual range. In addition to this, you have upgrade zones for
various ship components, such as engines and armor. Early on it
becomes clear that these special zones will quickly become key real
estate and many battles will be fought for their control.
the bottom of the map you will find your ships randomly deployed.
Before making your first move, it is always wise to do two things.
First, check your "battle cards". These cards, dealt randomly, give
the player some tricks that can come in quite handy. For example, a
card can give you the ability to drop a mine, or re-supply a ship
with ammo. One card deserving special note allows you to summon a
merchantman, which, if he is successfully escorted to a random spot
on the enemy’s side of the board, garners the player quite a few
The second thing you
should do is check to see if any bonus point rules are in effect.
For example, some times you will be told that attacks upon cruisers
earn double-damage points, while other times sinking a particular
class of ship will earn extra points. It is wise to pay attention to
these bonus rules as I can assure you the AI does, often to great
effect! In Battleship Chess, it is not just about sinking ships, but
also about getting the most points.
The game proceeds in
a simple move and fire fashion. A player can only move one ship per
turn. Once you pick a ship, you can move it in a number of various
directions and distances, highlighted by green destination circles,
depending on the type of ship and its location upon the map. As the
ship moves, any enemy vessels in visual range will be spotted.
the ship has completed its movement phase, it then has the
opportunity to fire upon enemy ships or even the suspected location
of enemy vessels (much like the board game rendition of Battleship).
Like the movement phase, all possible areas that can be hit by the
ship’s guns are highlighted by green crosshairs. Just point and
click, and the guns will fire with any results scrolling at the
left-side of the screen. Guns are rated by size and armor
penetration values. Before you fire, you can select which guns to
use and what type of ammunition (armor piercing, semi-armor
piercing, and high explosive). For example, if your target has thin
armor, you might be better off using high explosive warheads, which
have less penetration power, but inflict greater damage upon impact.
When destroyers or submarines are part of your fleet, the added
lethality of torpedoes can be unleashed as well.
The most likely
result of gunfire is the simple accumulation of damage points. Each
ship is rated for a maximum amount of damage and when that amount is
reached (for example: 1000 DP for a cruiser), the ship will sink.
However, occasionally you will score "critical hits" which add extra
damage. For example, a critical hit can knock out a ship’s gun, or
even start a fire or flooding (which adds damage points every turn
it is not brought under control). While critical hits can be
repaired during a battle using either your battle cards or a repair
zone on the map, regular damage points can only be reduced in dry
dock after the end of a battle. Take my word for it: once battle is
joined, you will become consumed with damage control!
The animation of the
battles is spiffy. The game automatically zooms in on vessels that
fire their guns. An appropriately-sized boom for naval gunfire,
based on the caliber size, is heard. Then the shells impact to
reveal splashes in the water (a miss), or punch into the ship
inflicting damage (you don’t see anything for a hit, unfortunately).
You can tell you have done real damage when a fire breaks out on the
deck of a vessel. Also, ships will noticeably list in the water as
damage accumulates, indicating the degree of distress! These simple,
but effective, graphics do help bring the battles to life, often
putting me on the edge of my seat during the firing phase.
are the fundamentals of Battleship Chess. I warn you, like chess,
even though the rules are fairly straight-forward, the game has a
great deal of depth. How the player deploys his fleet, as in
real-life, is often crucial to the outcome of the battle. For
example, the would-be admiral should always seek to keep his ships
together throughout the battle. Why? When friendly warships are
adjacent to each other, all neighboring vessels may fire their guns
along with the ship that had just moved. So plotting which ship to
move where often requires more than a little forethought.
Another aspect of the
game involves control of the sea zones, especially ammunition
re-supply zones. These warships, often with as many 16 guns firing,
consume a great deal of ammo. The worse situation to ever encounter
is to find yourself slugging it out with another battlecruiser and
suddenly run out of shells! As a result, which zones to guard and
how to guard them often requires finesse (the game wisely prohibits
players from just sitting on special sea zones).
I have only three
minor criticisms for the game. First, the AI needs to be improved.
While it can be a cagey opponent, the AI often fails to utilize its
ships in a coherent manner. For example, I will often use two or
more ships to pound away at a lone AI-controlled vessel, while not
too far off, another one of its ships sits idle, unwilling to join
to fight. However, I will say that the AI does use his destroyers
and submarines to good effect, often slipping in to deliver a
devastating salvo of torpedoes.
Second, I regret
the game does not include aircraft carriers. While I do imagine
there might be fears that naval airpower could steal the spotlight
from the big guns in the game, I do think, with proper balancing,
carriers can be an entertaining addition that adds greater
complexity to the strategic and tactical picture.
My only other
criticism is that while there are hotseat and network game options,
there is no provision for PBEM play. This is a strange oversight
since the game is turn-based and ideally suited for email play. I do
hope the next version remedies this oversight, especially since the
AI can leave something to be desired.
Thus we have
Battleship Chess 2.0, a wonderfully addictive and entertaining foray
into naval warfare. Hopefully, someday soon, Battleship Chess 3.0 is
offered as there is a great deal that can yet be added to this game.
However, until that next version arrives, I will happily be seeking
battle on the high seas with 2.0. Damn the torpedoes, full steam
Tested on: Pentium4 2.4 GHz, 512 MB RAM, NVIDIA
Geforce4 Ti4200 128MB RAM, Sony DVD+RW DL DRU-710A