The Warp Factor Review
Developed by Strategic Simulations
Review By Forrest Johnson
The Space Gamer 39 (May 1981)

THE WARP FACTOR (Strategic Simulations)
$39.95. A 48K Applesoft disk
by Paul Murray and Bruce D. Clayton
Box includes 12-page rulebook, 4 reference sheets, floppy disk. One or two players
playing time 1-3 hours
Published 1980.

This is the first SF offering from Strategic Simulations, the company which produced the justly-famous Computer Bismarck. TWF might be classified as a Star Trek program, but it is like no Star Trek program you have seen before. In fact, it bears a more-than-suspicious resemblance to Star Fleet Battles.

Up to 10 ships can participate in a given combat. There are 12 ship types. Besides Alliance, Klargons, and Remans (read Federation, Klingons and Romulans), you can command an outpost, starbase, Tie-fighter, X-wing (or is it a Viper?), Cylon Raider or the Millenium Falcon. The beautiful illustrations on the reference sheets could have come straight from the various shows and films. There is, however, no mention of any licensing agreement. Presumably, the publisher either has a very good legal staff, or none at all.

At any rate, the game mechanics have a familiar look. Movement is in two dimensions. There are no stars, planets or other sources of gravity to clutter up the screen. Momentum effects are minimal. Each ship has a limited turning rate and ability to accelerate. However, the heaviest dreadnought "can stop on a dime if desired." (The idea of "stopping" in space is worth a chuckle.)

Each ship has six defensive screens, arranged clockwise. To knock down other ships' screens, there are phasers, photon torpedoes, disruptors, drones and plasma torpedoes. When the enemy's shields collapse, you can send over a boarding party via transporter. Only Romulans (oops, I mean "Remans") have cloaking devices, but anyone can use ECM to foul up the enemy's sensors.

Each player secretly allocates energy between these functions, then plots movement. The movement routine allows up to 16 separate changes of course. Weapons can fire at any point during movement, or they can be set to fire at a range, or at "last instant." There is a "set display" routine which allows 11 magnifications of the battle zone, to help you plan strategy .

A considerable range of tactics are possible. The rules mention "the J-curve," "the Fly-by," "Carouselling" and "Threading the Needle." All are attempts to bring the maximum number of guns to bear at the most opportune moment. Each is a legitimate tactic, and some of them are used by computer-controlled ships in the solo game.

A good bit of memory is apparently devoted to ship strategy. But, alas, a machine makes an unimaginative opponent. A given ship uses a given tactic regardless what it is fighting. A "Klargon" cruiser continues to J-curve at 10 megaklicks a turn, even though its target is 100+ MK away and retreating.

Human opponents are better. But the computer does have one advantage - it doesn't make mistakes. If a human presses the wrong key, that's that; there is not enough error trapping. To make things worse, the computer sometimes requires a carriage return after an order, and sometimes does not. A player can easily become confused and debounce himself past an important subroutine. (Sorry! You don't get to shoot this tum!)

The situation is not improved by the number of errors on the reference sheets. The computer, as Darth Vader, knows there are no type 2 drones on the Tie-fighter. A human player is left to discover this fact for himself, probably at an embarrassing moment.

At the end of each game, the computer assesses victory. Each ship has a point value ranging from 1 for a fighter to 21 for a starbase. The larger force has a big disadvantage. If you're much more powerful than your enemy, you literally can't "win," even if you blow him away without taking a hit yourself. Luke Skywalker can take on nine dreadnoughts if he chooses; he is certain to be destroyed, but even more certain to win a splendid victory.

Overall, play balance is no better than in Star Fleet Battles. Whoever decided, for example, that three Cylon Raiders are equal to a Federation cruiser should try to play it once or twice. Players will have to construct their scenarios without relying on the given point values.

Unfortunately, the creator of Computer Bismarck is not on the credits. This game is SLOW. In using Applesoft Basic, and every possible programming shortcut, the designer put his own convenience ahead of the user's. For example, his use of an off-the-shelf character generator means that ships can be displayed in only four positions. (Your course is 45 degrees, but it looks like 90.) The graphics are unexciting. There is no sound and no color. The tactical richness of this game is almost its sole attractive feature.

THE WARP FACTOR should have been named Computer Star Fleet Battles. Judging from the time the machine takes to calculate damage, I suspect the SFB damage tables were simply copied wholesale into memory. One can only wish the programmer had taken a few more liberties with his text.

Still, THE WARP FACTOR is a challenging game. Our machine was kept pretty busy by staffers who wanted to know, for example, how Captain Kirk would do against a swarm of Tie-fighters. It is slow, but it can keep your attention. And it is a good buy for the Star Fleet Battles addict who can't find an opponent.


The Warp Factor Tips
Developed by Strategic Simulations
Tips by Steve Jackson
The Space Gamer 39 (May 1981)

Winning at THE WARP FACTOR requires more than a little familiarity with the program and the ships involved. Basically, you must maneuver your ship so that your own weapons will bear on your foes' weakest shields - while insuring that your own ship passes through few fields of fire. If you must accept fire, you want it to fallon your strong shields. If you suspect a weak shield will be fired on, you must reinforce it. All well and good ... the problem is that shields have different values, your best weapons will usually have only a limited field of fire, and you never have enough power available. The reader is left to develop his own favorite tricks, but these few hints will speed your learning:

(1) Shield support is better than it looks. The rulebook undervalues shield support. Unless you're positive you know which specific shield the enemy will hit, general support is better than reinforcements

(2) If you have drones, use one a turn, every turn, starting as soon as the foe is within range. There is no point-bonus for saving your drones, and the sooner you kill the enemy, the sooner he quits firing on you. Note that drones do NOT retain the velocity of the parent ship - this game has almost no momentum effects.

(3) Faced with multiple enemies, hit one at a time. Don't spread your fire unless you know that you have more than enough power to demolish a single foe. A ship which can absorb 6-point hits indefinitely may be crippled or smashed by a single 9-point blow.

(4) Practice makes perfect. Once you've run the program once or twice and looked at the pretty lights, I recommend some serious practice before you play a live foe - or even the computer - for"blood." It's very frustrating to be two hours into a tense game, fighting for your life, and then realize you don't know exactly how your ship will respond to the command you want to give. My recommendation is:

Scenario Zero: Naval Maneuvers. Before a commander takes a new ship out, he must put her through her paces in"naval maneuvers" against a friendly starbase. His weapons have been replaced by training simulators. The starbase will sit there as he maneuvers and fires at it; his bridge computer will let him know what he would have done to the starbase in a real attack. However, the starbase does not return fire; thus, the captain will be able to test his maneuvers, firing orders, and accuracy at his leisure.

To set up this scenario, punch up a two-human game. Take a single ship of your choice, opposing a starbase. Enter your ship commands normally; when the starbase's turn comes, enter "MS / 0 / 16" to abort its turn without action. Thus, you'll have ample opportunity to test your weapons for accuracy and damage at various distances, and to find out exactly what the effective field of fire is for each of your weapons. (Warning: the reference sheets are not 100% accurate.) You can also experiment with the precise effects of some commands. Try a "fire at range 100" command at range 20, for instance. You can also punch up various levels of ECM for the Starbase, to see how your hit chances are affected by ECM with other factors remaining stable.

When you've put your ship through a couple of hours of maneuvers, you'll be ready for serious play against the computer or a live opponent. Not only will you be less likely to hit a key at the wrong time (aborting a move and blowing the turn) - you'll know just what your ship can do, and you'll give your orders quickly and efficiently, freeing yourself for tactical intricacy. Good hunting.


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