Carrier Force Review and Hints
Developed by Strategic Simulations, Inc
Review By Dennis Owens
Computer Gaming World Volume 4 Number 1 (February 1984)

Overview & Play Tips

Name: Carrier Force
Type: Wargame
System: Apple, Atari
#Players: 1 or 2
Author: Gary Grigsby
Price: $59.95 $39.95
Publisher: Strategic Simulations, Mountain View, Ca

Carrier Force (CF) is an excellent operational level game of World War II Pacific fleet action. It recreates the four most crucial carrier battles in history: Coral Sea, Midway, Eastern Solomons and Santa Cruz. Fleet operations are simulated in more detail than Gary Grigsby's earlier game, GUADALCANAL CAMPAIGN (GC). In GC, each game turn represents 12 hours, and the full game lasts 180 days. But in CF each turn represents one hour, and each scenario lasts only two to three days. Also, you can control more aspects of air operations and combat in CF than in GC.

At the start of a scenario, each ship and plane appears in its actual historical location. However, if you want to add more of the "fog of war", you have the option to randomize the initial set-up in most scenarios.

The object is to obtain points by destroying or damaging enemy ships, aircraft and land bases. The Imperial Japanese Navy (IJN) can also get extra points by bombarding USN bases and by landing assault forces.

There are two high resolution scrolling map displays, each about 30 hexes square. Each map occupies about six screens, and a hex is about 50 miles wide. The Midway map centers on Midway, and the map for the other three scenarios centers on Guadalcanal.

The status of your ships and planes, and reports from your pilots, are printed on your screen. Sighting, combat and damage reports may be exaggerated, so you do have to evaluate them with a grain of salt.

All of the historical ships are included, down to the smallest seaplane tender, minesweeper and patrol boat. Each ship is rated for its individual characteristics, such as speed, gunnery, flak, armor protection, and so forth. There are also 20 types of aircraft, with each rated for its speed, endurance, dogfighting ability and bombing accuracy.

This game does a superb job of portraying the tension and uncertainty of the WWII carrier battles. You know that there are powerful enemy forces lurking out there somewhere, and you know they are hunting for you. You have to find them before they find you. A single successful air strike against your big carriers could decide the whole battle. If a fire breaks out, a ship may suffer additional damage and secondary explosions if the fire spreads. Crippled carriers and airbases will be unable to conduct air operations.

Bad weather can add to your uncertainty. Weather conditions may change, and low cloud cover can seriously limit search capability and air operations - especially in the Coral Sea scenario. My only complaint with this is that weather conditions apply generally to the entire map, and there are no local squalls or fronts.

There is a great deal of randomness built into the combat and search algorithms of this program, so that luck can be a factor in this game. But, your command decisions will have the major effect in deciding the battle. You must plan your operations several hours into the future: How many air search missions should you commit now, and where? Should your battleships stay back to protect your carriers, or should you send them forward to pound land bases and seek surface combat? Should you arm your bombers now with high explosive ordnance for land targets, or with torpedoes and armor piercing bombs for ship targets? Should you strike now against the enemy transports you found, or wait to hopefully sight the enemy carriers? Should you send large fighter escorts to protect your strike missions, or hold most fighters back to defend your carriers? Should you concentrate most of your planes into a single large air strike, or spread them over many smaller missions in consecutive "wave" attacks? Should you advance to finish off the enemy cripples, or run away for safety?

The four scenarios are unevenly balanced, and this is historically accurate. The IJN has the following advantages in all four scenarios: longer range aircraft, superior torpedoes and surface gunnery. In the first two scenarios, the IJN has a great numerical advantage in ships and planes. In all scenarios, the USN has nearby bases for additional air power and emergency landings, and the USN task forces start close together so they can provide mutual support. After the decisive IJN defeat at Midway, the USN has much better odds in terms of carriers, quality and experience of pilots, and flak. In all scenarios, the USN player receives fairly accurate radar reports, which means it will be difficult to surprise him with readied aircraft on the decks.

The USN torpedo bombers are generally vulnerable and ineffective, and should be reserved for finishing off cripples. The US Army level bombers are worthless for antiship missions. The SBD dive bombers, however, are the best US strike aircraft, and you should send them out first.

A rough handicap in a two player game would give the less experienced player the IJN in the first two scenarios, or the USN in the last two scenarios. In general, the relative USN strength improves as the war progresses, and it is probably easier to beat the computer in the later scenarios. In the solitaire games, the only difference between the four difficulty levels is that the computer's search capability becomes more effective at the higher levels.

The program's solitaire play capability is excellent. The computer tends to follow the historical IJN strategies, yet it is unpredictable on the details. In the Coral Sea scenario, the computer will try to land assault troops for the invasion of Port Moresby. In Midway, It will continue to savagely pound Midway until it spots the US carriers. In Eastern Solomons, the computer tries to unload transports at Henderson. And, in Santa Cruz, it comes out aggressively seeking a decisive fleet engagement.

After making contact, the computer's carriers try to maintain a range of about 250 miles from the US carriers. It usually orbits 12 fighters over each carrier, and keeps at least 12 aircraft readied on the deck at all times. The computer tends to combine most of its planes into a few large strikes, with about one third of the strike planes being fighter escorts. Its high priority targets are your carriers, and the Kate torpedo bombers can be very deadly. The computer's battleships generally move forward seeking surface combat, especially at night.

Planning your search patterns is a key factor in this game. It is important that you find the enemy carriers before they find you. It may help to surround your task forces with several small fighter patrols to hopefully shoot down the enemy search planes before they find your ships.

This is the first game Gary Grigsby has designed on the Atari. Gary says he finds it easy to translate a program designed on the Atari to the Apple, but very difficult to do the reverse. This is good news for both Atari and Apple owners, because both will benefit from having more high quality games which will run on both machines.

[Ed. note - Floyd Mathews was a playtester for CARRIER FORCE.]


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