5th Fleet

Copyright: © 1994 Avalon Interactive

5th Fleet
One of the best board-style wargames ever made, 5th Fleet is a great
naval simulation based on Avalon Hill board game of the same name. PC
Gamer review has the lowdown on this excellent old game: "Avalon Hillís
new PC edition of 5th Fleet strikes me as one of the finest board-game
conversions Iíve ever seen. The whole game sparkles with crisp, colorful
graphics, and boasts one of the cleanest interfaces on the market. Joe
Balkoski, designer of the original board game classic, worked closely
with project leader Mike Inella, whose Stanley Associates team included
veterans with a lot of experience developing software for the military.
Everyone concerned wanted to get it right, and it shows. The action takes
place in the vast and volatile region bounded on the west by the Gulf of
Suez and the Horn of Africa, and on the east by Malaysia. Along with the
Indian Ocean, this theater of war also includes all the vital Mid Eastern
waterways and strategic choke-points. Eleven scenarios are included, all
predicated on the supposition that large segments of the former Soviet
Navy become engaged with various client-states in this unstable region.
Thus, in addition to the familiar old USSR vessels, the player may find
himself confronting Indonesian, Pakistani, or Indian units. Scenarios are
graded as to complexity: a low-rated game usually lasts an hour, a
medium-rated one lasts two or three hours, and thereís a monster campaign
game of 30 turns which includes the possibility of replenishing depleted
missile inventories at friendly bases. Starting locations are randomized
for each game, so replay value is much higher than "eleven scenarios"
might lead you to think. Each game is controlled from a "CIC" screen,
where you can select scenarios, configure the game for two-person or
E-mail play, and consult the Tactical Reference Monitor, a handy
Janes-Fighting-Ships guide that shows a crisp picture of every ship or
plane in the game, along with their real-life vital statistics and their
ratings in terms of the simulation. Overall battle management is
conducted from a strategic map based on satellite reconnaissance data.
You can display all known sightings, by type, and vector recon flights to
the various tactical zones displayed. When an enemy unit is detected by
your sensors, itís displayed along with whatever information is available
about the individual ships in that formation. Tactical action is fought
out on richly detailed operational displays, whose hex-grids can be
toggled on and off. Each hex represents 50 miles, and the air, sub, and
surface unit icons look exactly like their board-game counterparts.
Movement is simple. You just click on the unit you want to maneuver and
drag the mouse to the destination hex. Combat is also easy to initiate:
click on the unit you want to strike with, whether naval or air, toggle
the "attack" button, then click on the enemy unit youíve targeted. A
combat display screen will then pop on, and each weapon system thatís
capable of hitting a selected enemy target will be highlighted, along
with the number of missiles or torpedoes available for firing. Using this
well-designed screen, itís a simple matter to cycle through your ships
and assign to them the targets theyíre most likely to hit. Animated
missiles, aircraft, and explosions add a bit of graphic zip to the combat
routines, after which a score screen appears telling you how many of your
SSNs hit or missed. Victory points are awarded for sinkings (though not,
rather curiously, for damage inflicted) and for convoys brought safely to
their objectives. I was seduced by 5th Fleetís clarity, elegance, and
energy. But the more I played, the more I came to respect the way it
subsumes an enormous amount of data into such a playable engine, and then
slowly reveals the subtleties implicit in that database through the
growing experience of the individual player. After the first time one of
your task forces is gutted by a submarine you didnít know about, youíll
learn the value of mixing into your CAP deterrent a few planes with high
"sub detect" ratings. After grooving on the rush of launching a veritable
rain of SSNs on the first tempting target in range, and then finding
yourself, two turns later, out of Harpoons and cornered by a fresh enemy
task force, youíll learn that, for all their lethality,
surface-to-surface missiles can only be carried in limited numbers -- and
the admiral who fires them off as though they were five-inch shells is
not likely to survive. Youíll learn to horde the arrows in your quiver;
the importance of using range limitations to your advantage; the
weaknesses and strengths of ground-based air support; the crucial
importance of locating the enemy before he locates you; and the shocking
suddenness with which a seeming victory can turn into a crushing defeat.
Certainly the best way to play 5th Fleet is against a human opponent,
either in the flesh or by E-mail, but the computer AI fights a very
competent battle. If you set the AI on "aggressive," youíll probably
experience a significantly wilder battle than on the "nominal" setting --
indeed, the "aggressive" computer admiral tends to attack furiously,
hoping to score a knockout early on. If you can survive his onslaught
with sufficient units intact, you can probably slaughter him with
counterattacks, because he will have burned up most of his magazines.
This handsome, engrossing PC version will certainly satisfy the many fans
5th Fleet has gained as a board game. Naval enthusiasts who just arenít
in the mood for Harpoonís complexities, or who are looking for a
naval-war game that can be started and finished in a single evening, will
find it a delight. Well done."

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