Geopolitique 1990
for C64

Mr Creosote:
Company: SSI
Year: 1984
Genre: Strategy
Theme: Board / Politics / War
Language: English
Licence: Commercial
Views: 548
Review by Mr Creosote (2023-05-27)

Too few people remember that SSI stood for Strategic Simulations Inc.. Founded by a big tabletop wargaming nerd, for much of their existence, the company pushed out large amounts of titles in exactly that genre. Usually making no concessions towards accessibility. Taking on a second nerd topic, roleplaying games, finally brought them out of the niche in the mid-80s, and the acquisition of the D&D licence changed their public image drastically. Though in 1983, Geopolitique 1990 was still very much the old SSI. At its best in some regards. But also at its most obscure.

In spite of sporting no hexes, the game's world map nevertheless screams SSI. Highly abstracted, it represents our world, though if you thought Risk's map is frustratingly coarse and inaccurate… oh well. The bigger surprise lies in the fact that although it is a game involving armies, navies and air combat, this all takes the backseat. At least at first.

That is because essentially, it is a Cold War simulator. In the shoes of a de facto dictator of the USA, the objective in seven different scenarios is to achieve world domination through diplomatic, economic or (as a last resort) military means. The only active opponent being the USSR. In the sole move to make the game less abstract, the Sowjet government is composed of three randomly selected, named characters, each of which with their own political motto and associated policy/strategy. Both superpowers seeing the rest of the world only as their chessboard.


Per turn (year), players can invest budget (broadly speaking) into these three pillars. Strengthening the economy will result in more pocket money to spend in subsequent turns. Military is used to scare off the opponent or put pressure on minor countries. Diplomatic investment will gain them points to distribute on such minor countries to try to achieve treaties, agreements etc. Increasing score, but also increasing the likelihood of them taking sides if or when things finally turn hot.

The game is played primarily through text input and output. Bare tables, barely explained in the highly abstract manual, show the state of the nation. Budgets are distributed and commands given via an obscure and unforgiving parser. The most pleasant view being the already mentioned world map which is used to visualize some status information about countries. Highly abstracted, of course, using crosses and circles in two colours, the meaning of which can be looked up in the manual.

Yet, the initial core of it all is indeed a highly fascinating one. Whereas most SSI games deal with infantry, tanks and artillery, their defined combat values and supporting dice rolls to determine battle outcome, Geopolitique 1990 tries no less than simulating diplomatic interactions. Which are based on much softer factors than strength of explosive ammunition or thickness of the armour.

Negotiations with minor countries play out in ping pong fashion. There is a proposal or a request. Then a first reaction, usually not immediately an accepting one. Pressure can be increased, or the player can back down. Minors can call for the moral support of the opposing superpower. The longer this goes on, the higher the stakes become in terms of prestige. That being sort of the perceived global sympathy and power level of a country in the rest of the world.


This leads to a lot of very interesting situations. What maybe started as a not so significant negotiation about a trade agreement with East Africa may suddenly decide the fate of the world when things escalate and none of the involved powers can possibly back out anymore without major damage to their standing. It is the same dynamic which two years later, Chris Crawford used as a basis for his major hit Balance of Power.

In comparison, Geopolitique 1990 is, however, the more varied, but also more conventional game, as it indeed does go on after declaration of war. When one side believes to be in a clearly superior position, it may strike. Suddenly, all those armies are not just a raised, threatening fist in negotiations anymore. By this point, it can be considered as a blueprint predecessor of SSI's own Colonial Conquest.

It is, of course, a bit difficult to appreciate such a game in our days and age. It should have become clear that both presentation and interface are completely archaic. Learning how to play, not even mastering it, but really just learning the bare mechanics of how to interact with the game, is a grating experience. Yet inside are highly innovative and seminal ideas.

Serious playing reveal some severe issues in execution, however. Most importantly, the random number generator takes too strong an influence. Negotiations with countries already aligned with the player's side all too frequently backfire for no discernible reason. To be fair, the opposite case of a communist country seemingly blindly agreeing to US proposals happens equally often, though in a normally played game (i.e. not for review purposes), who would even try that? This, unfortunately, takes much of the enjoyment out of what should be the most interesting part of the game.


Warfare plays quite a bit more solid, but it is, of course, much more conventional compared to peacetime operations. Making the overall game a bit of a strange amalgam of a highly original and ambitious, but strongly flawed half and a solidly implemented, but in the big picture unspectacular other half.

In this C64 version, released a year after the original, those two halves are delineated even more strictly. During peace, only the navy can be actively built up. Even those cannot be deployed for actual war in advance. Even though implicitly, the peace module is also about war preparations (strengthening the economy and the strategic standing in the world), it contains no explicit military operations anymore, which were present on the Apple II.

When war finally breaks out, the C64 provides a faster conclusion than the Apple II. There, the initial phase of the war was rather slow-paced as only few armies could be available per turn. The C64 version, on the other hand, allows for large-scale mobilisation (provided resources are available). This puts an even stronger importance to the economic preparation hopefully performed before. Speaking of economy, during wartime, the economic differences of the minor countries are downscaled on the C64, ensuring that the whole world is of actual importance.

All this works in the direction of really exhibiting the political phase as the important core of the game. Winning the war, if it happens at all, is really the result of successful politics, not shrewd military strategy. Which makes total sense given the game's ambitions. It is a game of Cold War, even more so on the C64. Still a highly flawed one, one most definitely not very enjoyable to play nowadays, but nevertheless strongly fascinating in its ideas, its scope and its historical importance.

Comments (1) [Post comment]