Retro Game Review: Berserker Raids

Johann Karlsen entered the bridge of Nogara’s flagship, NIRVANA. “We can’t defeat them. We need another year, at least, to have a functional squadron. We must retreat.”

“Do you think that lifeless killing machine is just going to allow us to retreat? Hit them with what we’ve got. It’ll have to be enough!” The first lesson one learns in Berserker Raids is that the documentation can be deceiving.” However, in more than one playing of the game the berserker arrived at Esteel (The home planet in Saberhagen’s stories, not specified in the game) in 4030, the earliest possible arrival.

Needless to say, the conservative strategy outlined in the documentation isn’t sufficient when this occurs. In most cases however, one would do well to follow the documentation carefully if one intends to do well in playing the game. Berserker Raids is based on the short stories by Fred Saberhagen in the ’60s about automated killing machines who functioned as mammoth space fortresses with psychopathic programming.

The game itself plays similarly to Avalon Hill’s Andromeda Conquest or SSI’s Emporium Galactic in that much of the game consists in allocating resources toward conquering, controlling, and/or defending a galaxy which is displayed on the screen as a grid map. Like the games of this genre, graphics are limited to a graphics page title sequence and the rest of the game is primarily a text/grid strategy game.

Like the games mentioned above, Berserker Raids plays primarily as a strategic level game in which resource allocations and ship design play a major part in whether he/she will defeat the berserker. The tactical battle depends on some ability with naval tactics, in general, but there are very few tactical options open to the squadron commander or planetary defender if the strategic portion of the game isn’t played flawlessly. One should not get the idea, however, that Berserker Raids is a clone of those games. Instead, BR offers 10 different scenarios, each with a different strategic problem to solve.

Trial Game is a typical space empire game, except that the artificial intelligence does attack the player’s force (which does not occur in most space empire games). In Talevian Outpost, the next step up from the Trial Game, the human player is faced with a logistics problem.

He/she must defend a planet with an out-of-date fleet by refurbishing the fleet, even though most of his/her fighting resources are more than 10 light years away. Asoka Pass is a scenario where the human player must expend his/her ingenuity in attempting to consolidate the forces of five allied worlds at the strongest base for defence and shipbuilding before the berserkers attack.

The name of the scenario seems ironic because the human player must watch the berserker conquer planet after planet before the climactic battle takes place on the chosen world. In Saberhagen’s story, Stone Place, the commander in chief of the human forces is heavily criticized for let- ting the planet ATSOG be conquered, while waiting for the battle d’ resistance to take place. My personal favourite is the scenario entitled, The Royalty Returns. In this scenario, each of the human players wants to hold the galactic throne, but the problem is that they both need each other’s fleets intact to survive the berserker menace. The human players must balance the threat and the throne on a precarious scale of strategy in order to win. Berserker Raids is a satisfying game on several different levels. The solitaire version is challenging, but the addition of another human player adds a dimension of intrigue, negotiation, and strategy that makes it even better. I have seen few game systems that played equally well in both modes and I really appreciate that.

BR is an excellent buy because it encompasses so many different types of space games in one. The documentation is exceedingly user friendly, as it contains step by-step procedures, strategies, statistics, maps and hints. It also includes the equations and probabilities upon which the system is based on.

It would be nice if more games followed this procedure. Berserker Works Ltd. doesn’t plan to stop at this system, however. The sequel game to BR is Wings Out Of Shadow, which uses a game map, as well as adventure and arcade format in order to simulate exploration of the Taynarus Nebula and a possible boarding party of berserker robots attacking your flagship, Judith.

It looks as though the publisher plans to develop a whole line of games which can effectively simulate all the strategic, tactical and individual heroics in the Berserker series. I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend Berserker Raids to any Saberhagen or space conquest fan.

Source by Alexx Brown

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