“Would you like to play a game” came the computerized voice from the theater screen. And with that, the movie WarGames introduced a generation of movie goers to computers doing battle on the digital front. While Matthew Broderick’s computer nemesis was much more complex than any computers at that time, today’s computers and software have come a long way. Waging war is a favorite pastime of many a gamer, with real-time strategy games such as the Command and Conquer series and the Age of Empires series becoming extremely popular.
There’s something to be said for the relative simplicity of thermo-nuclear war, though. No troops to train, no technology trees to ascend, trying to develop your technology to a level that will allow you to annihilate the enemy, no resources to manager, save the number of ICBMs you have to toss across the globe at your opponent. Here is where a game like DEFCON comes in particularly handy.
DEFCON (which stands for “DEFense CONdition”) was developed by Introversion Software, and is being ported to the Macintosh by our friends over at Ambrosia Software. As you may remember, this is the same team that brought us the computer hacking simulation Uplink and later the genre-defying Darwinia. It is clear that this team knows a thing or two about streamlining games to near-perfection, and DEFCON is no different.
The gameplay for DEFCON is an interesting mix of Risk, Axis and Allies, and Command and Conquer. Battle happens on a global scale, with little micro-management of individual units, and no resource gathering. Anything less than a nuclear warhead is meant as defense or diversionary tactics. Move your fleet of battleships closer to your enemy’s territory in order to use your radar to locate their ICBM launch sites and airfields. Send your fighter jets over your opponent’s positions to scout out their units. But, you won’t win the game with anything less than massive nuclear strikes, resulting in massive casualties, referred to in-game as megadeaths. This is where your points come from. The more death you cause, the more your points at the end of the game.
In order to keep things running smoothly throughout the game, and to keep the standoff from ending prematurely, DEFCON implements a countdown system. The game starts off at DEFCON 5 for the first 6 minutes of the game. During this stage, the players can place their units around their territories, and can begin moving their naval units into international waters. DEFCON 4 happens 6 minutes into the game. During this phase, radar becomes active, allowing players to see enemy units within the range of their radar stations. It’s best to try and get your radar stations as close to your borders as possible, because radar is your best bet at a preemptive strike against enemy locations when the time comes. 12 minutes into the game, DEFCON 3 is reached. Combat between naval and air units in now authorized, and no more units can be placed on the playing field. After 20 minutes, DEFCON 2 is reached. This is the final stage before total annihilation is possible. Time to do whatever you can to find the enemies silos and put them out of commission. 30 minutes into the game, DEFCON 1 is reached, and now the real fun begins. All players are authorized to use their ICBMs (inter-continental ballistic missiles), sub-based MRBMs (medium range ballistic missiles), and bomber-based SRBMs (short range ballistic missiles). Target your opponent’s silos, radar, airstrips, and finally their population centers to win the day. But be careful, because they are doing the same to you.