Unplayable Classics: Balance of Power

This is a brief review that will appear in next month’s PTD Magazine. Thanks to PTD for graciously allowing me to pre-publish it here.

We’ve all seen that guy. The one out on the dance floor, doing that shuffly dance guys do. The guy is convinced of his own savoir-faire. He’s convinced he’s talented. He’s convinced he’s irresistible. To everyone else in the room, however, he looks like a clumsy, embarassing dork.

In the world of computer games, that guy’s name is “Chris Crawford.”

Crawford was the author of a number of fair to middling games in the 1980s. The most notable aspect of his games it that he is willing to tell you, in soul-crushing detail, exactly how brilliant he thinks they were, in various media outlets, books, and articles. Somehow the fact that most of his games aren’t actually any fun to play has managed to elude the man for over 20 years now.

Balance of Power, for various platforms, is yet another Crawford game that takes someone else’s great idea and makes it boring. The idea of a superpower game of brinksmanship, risking prestige and war, had already been done right by SSI and Bruce Ketchledge in their gripping game Geopolitique 1990. Crawford took this basic idea and added a few things: an arguably better user interface, more minor nations and random events, and an insufferably preachy tone (“We do not reward failure,” the game lectures you when you lose, which is clearly true, since I was never rewarded for the epic failure of purchasing it). Every moment spent with the game is a moment you miss doing something more entertaining, such as clipping your toenails.

If you hate yourself and your life, you can subject yourself to Crawford’s java-based beta of “Balance of Power: 21st Century” at his web site, storytron.com. The graphics and user interface aren’t as good as the original game, but to make up for that, it’s even less fun.

Balance of Power: The 1990 Edition by Mindscape. No score given for this game: We do not reward failure.