Mad Max Grognard – Roadwar 2000

2008 December 5

Strategic Simulations Inc. (SSI) was one of the companies known in the 80′s for, among other things, bringing complex turn-based wargaming to the Apple II.  The kind of wargames known for large hex-based maps, complicated rules, combat units defined by many various stats, and simulations of historical conflicts – the kind of gaming grognards (also see here) might like (though how well these complicated table-top wargames translated to Apple II games varied).  As well as historical conflicts, some games explored hypothetical scenarios (NATO vs USSR with then-modern armies, for instance).  Some hypothetical scenarios even reached into a nuclear-war-radiated future complete with cannibals and motorcycle gangs, as evidenced by Roadwar 2000, which was released by SSI in 1986 (requiring a mere 48k of memory).

Roadwar 2000 is a turn-based strategy game that puts you in charge of a gang of, well, road warriors in a post-apocalyptic North America.  With the government mostly broken down, you and your gang are the only hope to track down 8 scientists who have a cure for a nasty mutated virus threatening to wipe out what’s left of humanity.  While carrying out this search, you have to take on the rival gangs and factions controlling what’s left of the continent’s cities (hopefully gaining control of the cities yourself) — and to do that you’ll need to amass better and bigger vehicles, more and more-highly-skilled gang members, lots of fuel, weapons and ammo and fight a bunch of Mad-Max-esque road battles.  Well, okay, it’s kinda awkward to place a do-gooder, world-saving quest on the shoulders of high-octane-highway-carnage-makers, but you didn’t come here for the plot, did you?

The game starts you off on a random location on a North American map that’s several monitor screens wide and high in total size.  Here’s an example screenshot:

On this screen you decide to investigate your current location, move to an adjacent location, and various other actions.  A neat thing about the map is that different kinds of locations have truly different qualities – bigger cities will have higher quality vehicles to scavenge and more supplies, but likely tougher enemies lurking in them than towns; oil fields have lots of fuel available but are usually already watched over by a strong rival gang, etc.   Moving costs fuel and food, so there’s strategy involved in every move you make.  A complaint about the map screen:  you press a number key to choose direction of movement, but on a keypad the numbers do not match the compass point positions they represent – they’re counter-intuitive.  This seems to be a holdover from other SSI games of the same era.

You can Search a location for loot (vehicles and weapons) or people (new gangmembers), all of which you desperately need at the beginning of the game.  When looking for new recruits, you’ll encounter various groups who may join you, or fight you.  If there’s a fight with a ‘footgang’, you get to enjoy the most unfun part of the game.  These battles are tiresome scrolling text ’2 Gangmembers killed’ , ’1 Gangmember killed’ affairs with no input available for tactics, etc.   These battles are often very rough, too, especially when you’re starting the game. You can send out a scouting party to get the lay of the land first (for instance, to discover that the town is held by deadly religious fanatics, which tells you you’d probably want to skip scavenging for now), but those scouting excursions can cost you personnel as well.

Fortunately, the actual road battles make up for the annoying footgang battles.  Here your vehicles, with their various ratings of maximum speed, maneuverability, carrying capacity, breaking and acceleration capability, etc. come into play.  Here’s an example stats screen of a vehicle:

You’re shown a top-down view of the battleground, which is nicely detailed and, like the N. American map, several screens wide and tall.  As well as roads, vegetation, fences, and various obstacles you’ll also see the flaming wrecked vehicles of other gangs’ battles littering the road (and you’ll add your vehicles to their number if you’re not careful!). Here’s an example:

And another portion of the same battle area:

You can manually choose (within certain limits) the starting locations of your vehicles and choose which gang members will occupy which vehicles, or have the computer automatically handle that set-up.  Appropriately Road Warrior-ish, you can (and should) deploy men both in and *on top of* your vehicles.  Then it’s time to rumble!

Road combat is pretty engrossing because there are a lot of factors at play.  A vehicle’s maneuverability effects how many 45 degree direction changes it can make during a single turn, and is further effected by speed and damage.  Moving fast is helpful to avoid getting rammed or boarded (yes, both you and the enemy can board and capture each other’s vehicles), but can end up taking you where you don’t want to go thanks to momentum and reduced maneuverability (tactical braking is just as important as accelerating).  Ramming is a useful tactic but can do damage to both vehicles (unless it’s a flatbed truck vs. motorcycle situation).   Your vehicle’s facing is ever important since it determines both where your current speed will force you to go as well the directions its crew can shoot in.

The AI seemed fairly competent in the road battles I’ve fought so far.  It moved its vehicles into decent line-of-sight positions to shoot at me, and certainly took full advantage of ramming me when I sloppily passed too close with flank exposed.  I did see one of its vehicles get unnecessarily stuck between some of the flaming wreckage on the road, so it might be a mixed bag.

Overall, Roadwar 2000 offers a unique setting for turn-based strategy and an original flavor of tactical combat, despite some various quirks.  I need to play more to render a final judgement, but it seems to have enough detail to be interesting, but not so much detail as to be overwhelming, and I’m definitely motivated to play more to witness some epic many-vehicle battles – bring on the trailer trucks!

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