Balance of Power

Balance of Power is a computer strategy game of geopolitics during the Cold War, written by Chris Crawford and published in 1985. It was a revolutionary game, notable for engaging the player in nail-biting brinksmanship without using any graphics more complicated than an outline map of the world, and is regarded as a masterpiece of game design.

The goal of the game is simple; the player may choose to be either the President of the United States or the General Secretary of the Soviet Union, and must lead the chosen superpower for eight years, seeking to maximize "prestige" and avoiding a general war. Each turn is one year long; at the beginning of each year, the player is presented with a set of incidents and crises in various countries around the globe, and must choose a response to each one. Responses may range from no action, to diplomatic notes to the other superpower, to military maneuvers. Each response is then met with a counter-response, which may vary from backing down to escalation. The player then gets a chance to initiate actions, and deal with the opponent's responses. Backing down results in a loss of prestige, which will result in setbacks in unstable countries in the following year, but not backing down may result in escalation of the DefCon level, and at the higher levels, war can start by accident, which ends the game instantly.

The game was originally released by Mindscape for the Apple Macintosh, then ported to MS-DOS (1986) and Atari ST (1987). It was a sensation when it came out, but as a brutally realistic (some would say cynical) depiction of superpower maneuvering, it was perhaps admired more than played. A sequel Balance of Power: The 1990 Edition, updated to reflect world events, came out in 1989 for DOS and ST, but with the ending of the Cold War, interest in the subject declined, and there have no further followons or imitators.

In 1986, Crawford published a book also called Balance of Power, which goes into great depth on the game, including the background of the politics, the formulas used to calculate prestige and related parameters, and an account of its (lengthy) gestation.


copyright 2004