Reviewers system: 486 DX2/50, Sound Blaster
"The Grandest Fleet" (TGF) is a successor to QQP's excellent "The Lost Admiral" (TLA). Very roughly equivalent to "Empire at Sea", you start with a set of ports and a set of naval units and set them off to battle. You can choose which units you start with, and your ports can produce more units over time.
By the way, QQPs reps on GEnie say that TGF is _not_ a 'sequel' to TLA, and that they are 'totally different games'. I think they are saying this because they are relasing another game later this year which they will call the 'real' sequel. But trust me, TGF is a TLA sequel, regardless of what QQP says! It's got the same designer and _overwhelming_ similarities in functionality.
The game may be either one- or two-player. Two-player mode can either be at the same computer in 'hotseat' mode, or by modem. I haven't tried the modem capability, so I can't tell you how well (or if or how) it works.
Rather like "Empire at Sea", this follow-on to TLA boasts greatly improved graphics, but its AI suffers in comparison.
Good VGA. TLA, evidently, was not a success in the marketplace, a failure that has been blamed on its simplistic graphics. TGF addresses this with a vengeance - battleships rotate their turrets, there are little explosions on ships, full-screen detailed pictures of cities can be viewed, and so forth - graphic chrome up the wazoo. In fact, I'd estimate that at least 75% of the work in upgrading TLA into TGF went into the graphics.
There are sound effects during combat, and music that plays in the background. Both are decent enough until you get tired of them, and then they can be disabled.
This is a two-player war game. I'll focus on playing it against the computer, since that's the only way I've played it.
The game keeps track of a set of 'officers'. When you play, you pick an officer to represent you, and your officer will get demoted/promoted based on your performance in the battle. In true QQP fashion, the game keeps abundant records of performance. This is not just chrome - you get a 'flagship' when you fight your battles, and the higher your officers rank, the more powerful your flagship.
You can fight one of three scenarios: either a 'historical' scenario, a randomly generated battle, or a 'campaign', which is essentially a series of linked battles.
Once you've picked a scenario, you are taken to the setup menu. You setup your side in two ways. First, you decide which cities on the map (of an initial set) you wish to be yours at the start. More on cities later. Second, you 'buy' your initial forces. There are 12 different forces: 10 naval (PT boat, transport, AT boat, destroyer, cruiser, battleship, sub, light aircraft carrier, heavy aircraft carrier, and mine layer), one ground (a fort), and one air (bombers). Each piece has a different cost - a battleship, for example, costs 30 while a destroyer costs 11.
Conceptaully, the game is rather like 'Empire at Sea'. You start with one (or more) cities, and explore and expand your way across the map. You get victory points each turn depending on how many cities you have. The game ends either after some number of turns (12, 20, or 32, or until annilhation). In each turn, you move your ships, and then enter a combat phase.
The turn length has a signficant impact on game play. In a 12 turn game the emphasis is on quickly grabbing ground, while in a 32 turn game there's more emphasis on developing and holding your currenti cities - a slower, more methodocal pace.
The game revolves around acquiring, holding, and developing the cities scattered around the map. In TLA, cities were very simple entities, which could be conquered merely by moving a single unit into them. No longer! In TGF, cities are much more important players. First of all, a la Civilization or Railroad Tycoon, cities can now have 'improvements'. Some of these may help directly in combat (a repair yard, for example), some of these grant you victory points (an opera house, for example), and some 'seed' the city so that it will grow more quickly (a 'downtown' or 'convoy', for example). Every turn you get a number of 'culture points' which you use to buy these improvements. The more cities you have, and the larger they are, the more culture they generate.
To conquer a city, you need to move in a unit whose 'invasion strength' (12 for a transport, 3 for a battleship, e.g.) is greater than the city size. Cities can (and often are) bombarded down until they are small enough to invade. This can take a while, as cities can have sizes of up to 127! Indeed, in general, the taking of a city is a _much_ more significant task here than it was in TLA.
Cities can also have airfields. Airfields can hold up to 4 bomber planes, which can range up to 11 hexes away bombing your ships. Ships _do_ have anti-aircraft fire, which can knock out your bombers. Nevertheless, a fully staffed airfield, especially one in the middle of the map, is a very powerful force.
Cities can also have shipyards. Just as you can 'buy' civic improvements each turn, you can also 'buy' reinforcement units, which come in at a shipyard. The more cities you have, and the larger they are, the more buy points you get.
The cities, important as they are, are auxilliary to the ships, the main units in the game. The units are almost identical to those in TLA, with only the addition of a 'minesweeper' and a 'light carrier', but some of them function in signficantly different ways.
First of all, unlike TLA, units can now exert 'ranged' fire. While most units can fire only at adjacent enemy units, a cruiser can fire at units 2 away, a battleship at units 3 away, and an aircraft carrier at units up to 5 away. This was probably a result of another design change, namely that you can now only have one unit in a hex (in TLA, you could have two).
Aircraft carriers, which were simple 'passive' creatures in TLA, are much more realistically modeled in TGF. They are now very powerful offensive weapons, as their planes pack quite a wallop. They are also very vulnerable, though - a measly 2 hits from most ships will sink them. Just as with bombers, their planes can get shot down, too - make sure you keep your carriers near a friendly airfield so their strength can get replenished. In a significant bug/feature, carrier planes can sink submerged subs, a major change from TLA.
Battleships have been dramatically enhanced. They are far less vulnerable to subs (they need _8_ sub hits to be sunk, as opposed to 3 in TLA), and their ranged fire and bombardment abilities make them probably the single most valuable unit in the game.
There's also an entire second set of ships, called 'super ships'. These are delux-o enhanced versions of the regular ships - a 'super battleship' is a real monster, a 'super transport' can invade almost anything, etc., etc. You can't buy these in initial setup, but can buy these during game play once you've developed your cities enough to enable them. I had mixed feelings about this whole 'super ship' business. On the one hand, once cities get big enough you really need super ships to take them. On the other hand, one of TLAs great strengths was its fine-tuned balance between unit types, which is now thrown out of whack by dumping in 5 more ship types, without, I think, enough thought given to their powers. The 'super transport', for example, is almost totally worthless as by the time it comes on the scene cities are typically armed with 'cruise missiles' which can sink it before it ever gets a chance to invade.
Each turn plays out in a very straightforward way. You move your units one by one. You see enemy units when they show up within the detection range of your units. This range can vary from 1 to 5, depending on the unit. After you've ended your movement, mutual simultaneous combat ensues - you are taken to each eligible unit, and select the enemy to fire on.
TLA's greatest strength was its marvelous AI, the best AI I've ever encountered in a computer wargame. Sadly, TGF's AI is nowhere near as good. The AIs main mistake is to throw units at you one by at at full speed as soon as they are produced - the AI seems to take little if any pains to 'cluster' units into task forces. Its other main failing is to produce very asymmetrical forces. It's rule of thumb seems to be to produce equal _ numbers_ of each unit, rather than equal _points_ worth of each unit. It takes a lot more than one PT boat to protect one aircraft carrier, but that's how the AI pumps them out. The computer player compensates for this not only by huge production bonuses, but also by huge discrepancies in initial force size - at level 18 of 21 AI, the computer seems to get roughly triple the production and initial forces that I do. This is a real shame.
This is a pleasant game - fans of 'Empire' type simulations will probably enjoy this. However, fans of QQPs "The Lost Admiral" will probably feel disappointed by this game. As in other recent sequels ("Railroad Tycoon" and "Pirates!" spring to mind) most of the work seems to have gone into the whiz-bang graphics, while game play and AI suffer.This review is Copyright (C) 1994 by Ken Fishkin for Game Bytes Magazine. All rights reserved.