Database1st April 1984
Published in Apple User Volume 4 Number 4
The War Of The Samurai
The blurb that comes with this game promises a "strategically complex version of Go" - the ancient oriental strategy board game. But, alas, it is no such thing. If it were, the authors would stand to rake in £10,000 without selling a single copy. For this is the prize the British Go Association hopes to offer for any program capable of beating the British champion.
Clearly a Go-playing program of any sophistication would be welcomed with loud acclaim in some quarters. Equally clearly, no one familiar with the game imagines it would be a walkover to write such a thing.
Sad to relate, The War Of The Samurai is not only a version of Go, but it does not even play against the user. It is strategically complex only in the sense that players may find that between two and four of them they can develop complex strategies.
All the program does is plot the players' moves, occasionally perform a simple calculation, and do some nifty footwork with its RAND function.
All this could be accomplished with a board, counters and a pair of dice.
The game is played on a 16 x 18 grid by placing pieces on the intersections and by moving some from one intersection to another.
This is where the computer is at its greatest disadvantage compared with a board and counters.
To make your moves, you have to key in pairs of co-ordinates, but to do this you have to squint along the lines to read the numbers and letters at the side of the screen.
Though the program is generous enough not to penalise you for getting coordinates wrong, it is tiresome having to re-enter them whenever you make an error. Definitely not a game for astigmatics.
It would be nice to report that the program comes into its own when it performs its calculations, but sadly this is not so. Calculations are required whenever opposing pieces are placed on adjacent intersections, for this is the setting for a "combat".
The outcome of such a situation, whether the attacker or defender loses a piece, is decided by the result of the calculation plus chance. Admittedly, it would be taxing to do the calculation's in one's head, and the computer saves a bit of effort here.
However, to play with real strategy, you need to perform the calculations yourself before you make your moves, or else you will blunder into situations you haven't evaluated.
The War Of The Samurai may be a good game in itself. It is likely to be most interesting when there are three or four players, for then there are opportunities for alliance building, negotiation, and double cross.
But it is the sort of game you have to play many times before deciding if it is strategically interesting or not.
If you are addicted to games of this sort my advice is to get hold of the rules and try it out on a Go-board. The calculations need only be done once and then copies onto a handy reference card. The operations of the random number generation could easily be approximated with dice. Why pay the equivalent of $39.95 to save yourself so little trouble and then ruin your eyesight?
Then, if you don't like it, you can return to the Japanese master game with no regrets. You will have saved all that money towards that beautiful Kaya wood Go-board you've always wanted.