Thursday, March 31, 2022

Game 311: King's Quest

Download a King's Quest '84 package here (requires a GOG copy of King's Quest 1+2+3, see my last post for instructions):
Read the manual here:

Paralleling Personal Software's Zork, IBM took some liberties with the source material

I never imagined I'd be thinking of King's Quest 1 as a next-gen title. Even when I first played its 1987 re-release and had no other graphic adventures to compare to, the game felt downright archaic. I remember hearing the ear-splitting beeper rendition of Greensleeves on startup, followed by some ugly and crude visuals of a castle exterior, and soon after the sinking realization that the game expected me to type phrases like "OPEN DOORS" and "TAKE KNIFE" in order to do things. Rediscovering the game in 1994 in a CD-ROM collection with its five sequels, didn't do its image any favors.

And today, I'm playing the even more archaic 1984 PCJr. version. Only now, it's in the context of a game that followed half a decade of adventure design hewing very closely to the progenitors of the genre, where graphics, if there even were any, served as a supplement to or a replacement for text descriptions. King's Quest is the first time that animated graphics are truly integral, and while the macro design is in many ways unsophisticated compared to Infocom's worlds and systems - King's Quest is, after all, a treasure hunt with some simple puzzles - there's a dynamism and living quality to its world that just wasn't possible before it. Things move when you interact with them. Things move even when you don't! For instance, you can be walking through the woods, watching your avatar pass through the trees, and suddenly hear a witch's hideous cackle as she swoops into your field of vision and makes you lunge for the 'duck' key before she can nab you. This is, oddly, something I appreciate much more now than I did decades ago when my only frame of reference was Nintendo where this sort of occurrence is nothing special.

The original PCJr. version comes with a uniquely-styled manual which hasn't since been reprinted.

Is this King's Quest or Fractured Fairy Tales?

I've generally envisioned the series as somewhat serious and high fantasy-minded in tone, and the later versions' manual, complete with Andrew Lang-inspired prose and illustrations are more what I remember. The goofiness present in the series' earliest installments, I had assumed, was more or less unintentionally caused by a combination of crude technology, the animators' inexperience, and Williams not having quite found her footing yet. But the manual suggests fantasy pastiche was the intent all along. Either that or this is just how IBM's manual writer and illustrator interpreted it. In contrast to the fairy tale backstory seen in later manuals, here King Edward just wants you to find three magic treasures to bring prosperity back to the kingdom.

And with that, I started the game.

Apart from the interface observations I made in the last post, I also noticed that there's no status bar, and no drop-down menus as in the DOS version. Everything is done by typing, though a few special commands, like saving, loading, ducking, and swimming, have dedicated function keys. Your score, a permanent fixture of Sierra's AGI engine adventures, is consigned to a status screen here, and the maximum score isn't displayed.


I entered the castle and approached the throne room.

Daventry is laid out as a two-dimensional grid of "rooms," and most of them have four exits. Unlike, in, say, The Wizard and the Princess, where you start off lost in the desert and have to find the right rock so you can kill a snake and enter the next area, most of King's Quest's game world is open to you from the start. And yet, no doubt thanks to the increased disk space demands, King's Quest is (welcomingly) much more compactly designed than the Hi-Res Adventures, with fewer areas, but little wasted on filler, and there are no mazes to speak of here. Nearly every screen either has something to do or something interesting to look at. There's a pleasing logic to the world terrain too, without any obvious regional division, but having terrain that smoothly transitions from one screen to the next (we'll just let the north-south east-west toroid wrapping slide).

More woods to the north and east, more lake to the west.

Heading west from the castle, I retrieved a dagger buried underneath a rock - a puzzle spoiled in this version by the screen drawing algorithm - and found a bag of diamonds inside a tree stump before arriving back again on the east side of the castle moat.

North of the castle lies a carrot patch, and to the west of that, a climbable tree.

Where have I seen a Faberge egg up in a tree before?

King's Quest's treasure hunting does betray a somewhat dated design sensibility, rooted back in the Adventure tradition that other games had since evolved past, but even so, it does put its own spin on the trope. These treasures aren't the goal in themselves, but can be used as currency to bypass certain puzzles. Of course, to maximize your score, you'll want to find all of the treasures and solve all of the puzzles without giving them up.

West past the big tree, I dodged a wolf patrolling a meadow, and arrived at the game's first real challenge.


Back in the day, this part stumped me, mainly due to not understanding what the parser wanted of me. I remember getting frustrated trying "TURN HANDLE" in various spots around the well until I realized you just need to type "LOWER BUCKET" and then "RAISE BUCKET" to get a bucket of water. And then you deface public property by typing "CUT ROPE" to get the bucket of water.

But why stop there and settle for ruining the country's only water supply when you can contaminate it too? "LOWER ROPE" followed by "CLIMB ROPE" lets you do just that.

Drop in. It's fine. Then you can swim and use "DIVE" to go under.

A dragon! And if you can't tell, that's the magic mirror lying against a rock.

You can kill the dragon with your dagger, or throw water in its face. The latter is worth more points, but either way, the mirror is yours, and by looking into it, you may see a glimpse of your future as king.

Leaving as you came is worth more points than leaving by the boulder entrance.

Further west is a goat that you can lure with a carrot from the patch.

Having a big, smelly goat by your side is pretty handy, as the various nasties lurking in the dangerous corners of Daventry will leave you alone, but you've got to be careful not to fall in any water or he'll abandon you. You can't go indoors anywhere either. It's also easier to get stuck on the terrain, as your collision box is now twice as big.

Sir Grahame has no need for your paltry majicks. I have a goat!

Who's the apex predator now?

But this can be annoying.

He will be important later.

In the horizontal slice of Daventry north of the goat, I found a four-leaf clover, an elf offering a magic ring, a tree bearing golden walnuts, and a magic bowl of unlimited stew before arriving at the goat's purpose.

It's violence or it's bribery. For once, violence is better.

But we don't want to cross the bridge just yet. We have more murder to do! A few screens to the east is a familiar sight.

Eat the house to find out if the witch is home. If so, leave and try again. If not, enter.

And immediately hide in the bedroom.

You know the drill. Push her in, then raid her house. Her possessions are a piece of Swiss cheese and a note that cryptically reads "sometimes it is wise to think backwards."

Back to the bridge, and the other side.

Welcome to the worst puzzle of the game, possibly of the entire series! This gnome wants you to guess his name and offers three guesses.

Guess Rumplestiltskin, and you're wrong.

Guess that the witch's note is the key, and, well, congratulations, because I have no idea how anyone would figure that out on their own, but if you guess "Nikstlitselpmur," you're still wrong, but he'll be generous enough to let you know you're on the right track.


The correct answer here is "Ifnkovhgroghprm," found by performing a reversed-alphabet substitution cipher.

To be fair, you don't have to get his name right to win the game. In fact, your reward is almost a punishment - magic beans which unlock a ridiculously perilous trip to the clouds when a much safer path can be unlocked by failing. But to maximize your score you must not only guess his name, but guess right on the first try. Sheesh.

There's just a bit more earth-based business before we take to the sky. Pebbles can be collected on the west river bank, and a woodcutter, found east of the river, offers his fiddle in exchange for the bowl of stew.

Be careful not to fall through the cracks.

This sorcerer isn't the same one found in the DOS version.

Finally, we plant the beans in a field and climb.

Things are looking... up?

Top of the world, ma!

I remember the beanstalk being extremely deadly, misstepping and falling from it to my death again and again, and then in the 1990 remake it was even worse. But this time I made it to the top in one try. Did I just get lucky, or did the DOS version make climbing it harder than intended?

In any event, cloud land is the home of the infinite treasure chest, and the second worst puzzle in the game.

There's a practical solution that's simple enough. A sling, hidden in a tree hollow nearby, lets you kill the giant with your pebbles. But to maximize your score, you've got to wait for him to fall asleep, which takes a few minutes of real time. The magic ring will turn you invisible just long enough for this to happen.

Regardless of the solution used, the chest of infinity gold is yours, and so is hyperinflation if you don't use it responsibly.

A cavernous staircase provides a safer path to the ground.

Two down, one to go. I went back to the condor's area, ready to take on King's Quest's last adventure.

Don't jump down that hole yet - there's something super important one screen to the left - a magic mushroom found on the east bank of a previously impassable river!


I went down the hole.

Further down the cave, a gigantic rat impeded my progress, but could be passed by offering the witch's cheese. Alternately, a treasure will do.

By possessing the four-leaf clover, the leprechauns won't harm you, and you can simply take their magic shield. By playing the fiddle, you can entertain them and also steal the king's golden sceptre as they dance.

The stairs west lead to a dead-end, but the magic mushroom, which you hopefully didn't already eat, shrinks you down small enough to leave.

Back at the castle, King Edward, overcome with emotion, has a coronary and dies.

And that's the end. I finished with 153 points, which is less than the maximum score of 158 in the DOS version. On a replay, I figured out how to get 158 (or more through an exploit).

  • Tire out the giant without using the ring to get an extra 3 points. This is easy if you have the magic shield.
  • Give the woodcutter the empty bowl and then fill it for an extra two points and the satisfaction of giving him unlimited meals instead of just one. In the DOS-AGI version, you score two points no matter when you fill it, though you'll score none if you read the word at the bottom first, which is probably a bug. In the DOS-SCI version, you score one point for reading the word at the bottom and another two for filling the bowl, but teaching the woodcutter how to refill the bowl isn't possible.
  • If you save and restore while on the rope inside the well interior, you will score a point. This is infinitely repeatable. This does not work in the DOS-AGI version.

No maximum is stated in this version.

Points list for a presumed optimal 158 point game:

Action Points Total
Enter castle 1 1
Bow 3 4
Move rock 2 6
Get dagger 5 11
Look in stump 1 12
Get pouch 3 15
Look in pouch 3 18
Get carrot 2 20
Climb tree 2 22
Get egg 6 28
Cut rope 2 30
Enter well (repeatable through save/restore exploit) 1 31
Swim / get water 2 33
Dive 2 35
Enter cave 1 36
Throw water at dragon 5 41
Get mirror 8 49
Get water (second time) 2 51
Show carrot 5 56
Get clover 2 58
Get ring 3 61
Get walnut 3 64
Open walnut 3 67
Get bowl 3 70
Read word 1 71
Kill troll 4 75
Eat house 2 77
Push witch 7 84
Get note 2 86
Read note 1 87
Open cupboard 2 89
Get cheese 2 91
Guess name 5 96
Get beans 4 100
Plant beans 2 102
Get pebbles 1 103
Give bowl 3 106
Fill 2 108
Get fiddle 3 111
Fly with condor 3 114
Get mushroom 1 115
Give cheese 2 117
Play fiddle 3 120
Get shield 8 128
Get sceptre 6 134
Eat mushroom 2 136
Exit hole 1 137
Wait for giant to sleep (don't use the magic ring) 7 144
Get chest 8 152
Get slingshot 2 154
Enter castle 1 155
Bow 3 158

GAB rating: Good. The King's Quest series has been criticized, and rightly to some extent, for shallowness, inept design, confounding puzzles, and unfair deaths. We can certainly see that germinating here, but this first game is saved by its own open-endedness and flexible, multi-solution puzzles. It's a design that is gradually phased out as the series progresses, shedding its treasure hunt roots in favor of increasingly more linear, and more story-driven structure, and in those later games, Williams' obtuseness often brings the experience to a screeching, frustrating halt. But here, those aspects of the series aren't fully developed, and the end result is a game that's not just a technical revolution, but a pleasant, enjoyable experience, where some of the retrospective oddness is part of the charm.

Now that I've finally played the PCJr. version, I think I can say that this was a more definitive experience than the more common DOS one. Some of the game's design aspects, like its terse room descriptions, suddenly make sense in the context of this early engine version where output is shown in the lower area of the screen. And while I once thought, back when I played King's Quest II for the first time, that the sequel had lazily copied its music, sound effects, and certain enemy sprites from the original game, I now realize that it was in fact the DOS re-release of the original that retroactively copied from KQ2, and in doing so, lost its music, sound effects, and even some animations. You're supposed to hear birds and crickets chirping as you lose yourself in Daventry, hear the goat bleating, the troll's footsteps stamping on the bridge, and see King Edward's tragicomic staggering dance of death. These little things are subtle, but lost in the upgraded DOS version which has long taken its place as the de facto version.

That said, this is likely the last Sierra adventure game I'm going to play for a very long time. The only reason I even replayed this was out of the realization that I was unfamiliar with the original PCJr. version, and King's Quest 2's original booter version just isn't different enough to be worth covering. I've pretty much played the majority of Sierra's adventures to death long before starting this blog - the earliest whale that I have yet to play is Phantasmagoria. It's possible that I might replay a title or two per year at the very most, just for old time's sake, but don't count on it. King's Quest may have once been the beginning of an era, but for my intents and purposes in 2022, it's the end of one.

Wednesday, March 30, 2022

The quest for the original King's Quest

It's been quite a while since I've played a Sierra adventure. Almost two and a half years, in fact, in pre-COVID times, when I suffered through 1981's Ulysses & the Golden Fleece and declared it to be a contender, along with The Demon's Forge, as the worst adventure I've played in my life.

In the years following Ulysses, Sierra followed it up with two more Apple II adventures, Time Zone and The Dark Crystal, which I skipped as they failed to qualify for whale status, though Jason Dyer managed to bludgeon his way through the former monstrosity largely without outside help and I'm certain will manage the latter with comparative ease when its time comes. During this time they also published Ultima II and several arcade-style games on Apple, Atari, Commodore, and ColecoVision, a few of which I played and covered.

But in 1984, Ken & Roberta Williams, partnering with IBM to promote the upcoming PCJr, produced King's Quest, a landmark hit far more successful than the PCJr itself, one that would redefine the company, adventure games, and to some extent, computer games themselves. And what's more, it's good. No, really, it is!

For one, this was the first major commercial game to be designed around the abilities of an IBM computer, and took full advantage of its larger RAM capacity and high (for the time) resolution, 16-color video display without any restrictions on what pixels could be what color, which could only be matched at the time by the Apple //e, and only with expanded 128KB RAM. Sierra would design all of its subsequent games with IBM architecture in mind first and foremost. The "IBM compatible" would eventually become the standard, obsoleting its competitors, and Sierra itself would play a role in influencing hardware trends, but in 1984, basing a game around the IBM, and locking out the massively popular and decidedly more games-oriented Commodore 64, along with the majority of Apple II users with the RAM requirement, was a daring move.

King's Quest also redefined the adventure genre in a way that hadn't been done since Adventure lend its namesake in the 70's.

You could play this by mail.

Even with graphics, adventure games were still stuck in a design sensibility of time-sharing system interfaces, where the computer would communicate the state of the game to you, and then wait idly for your input. This was virtually a requirement of mainframe-terminal interface of Adventure's time, but for a personal computer, this seems a bit quaint and unnecessarily static. Graphics before King's Quest were just an extension of Adventure's textual room descriptions, and did nothing to enhance interactivity beyond ELIZA's back-and-forth standards.

Finally, something was being done with the millions of cycles per second that your personal computer could devote to you, and only you, on its single-process, single-user operating system. Your avatar walks around the scene in realtime, like an arcade-style game, and so could other entities, like the hungry alligators swimming in the castle moat. Things animate - the castle flags blowing in the wind, and the doors swinging open, which in earlier Sierra games would have necessitated a play-disrupting screen redraw. Crucially, there's a three-dimensionality to the scene, as objects such as the tree can be walked in front of or behind depending on your avatar's depth, though don't be fooled by the curvature of the barrel bridges, as so many players discovered when they attempted to walk in a straight line to cross them, only to be dumped into the moat.

Falling is the leading cause of death in Daventry.


King's Quest was the first adventure game that I ever owned and the first that I ever beat. The 1994 CD-ROM re-release of the series was particularly instrumental to my upbringing as a gamer, solidifying an appreciation for DOS-era adventures as experiences that just weren't available on consoles. I played and replayed every game in the series countless times, enjoyed the on-disc making of videos, documents, trivia, and other supplements (why don't retrospective PC game collections do this any more?), and in the later 90's I bought the Space Quest and Quest for Glory collections as well. I've played the official 1990 King's Quest remake, multiple versions of the series' fan-remakes by AGD and Infamous Adventures, and even the slightly obscure sound-enhanced Apple IIGS ports.

In short, I know King's Quest like the back of my hand. There's almost no point in me replaying it, except for one thing.

I've never played the original King's Quest!

The CD-ROM collection includes both the "original" and the "remake," as does the King's Quest 1+2+3 collection sold on GOG, but in both cases, this isn't quite the O.G., as Sierra re-released the game in 1987, updating it for the current version of the AGI engine, adding compatibility for DOS, EGA, and hard disks. Colors are a bit different, music cues from King's Quest II were added in - the original game had no music except for a nine-note fanfare - and the original sound effects, such as birds chirping in the background, are absent. This re-release quickly replaced the original, and remains the oldest commercially available version.

Even from just using the older version of the engine, there are two things we can see that link King's Quest to its Apple II predecessors, neither of which would be obvious in later versions. There's the screen drawing routine, in which you can see the lines and colors of the scene gradually applied as you enter a new room, just as it had in Mystery House. And there's the four-line text interface at the bottom of the screen, made completely separate from the graphical window above it, where all text output is seen, which is a vestigial design choice borne out of the Apple II's native hi-res hybrid video mode where this screen division was ubiquitous. Later engine revisions would hide the drawing routine with page-flipping, and would display text in popup windows.

The experience is streamlined in some ways, but also anachronistic, and is even missing some animations. When Sierra re-released the series on CD-ROM, it made sense to use the updated 1987 version for a number of reasons, not the least of which was the headache of compatibility, but consequently the original 1984 PCJr. experience is endangered.


So that anyone can have the nascent IBM experience, I've put together a care package of King's Quest 1 & 2, which both predate AGI, and differ in some subtle ways from their DOS-compatible incarnations. So that Activision doesn't C&D me, I've password-protected the archive so that you must own the DOS game to unpack it.

Download it here:

Buy it here:

This may work with Steam copies or even CD-ROM copies, but I have only tested with the GOG re-release. It requires Windows 10 build 17063 or later.

To use my package, go to the root game folder of King's Quest, where there should be a 195KB file called VOL.1. Extract the contents of my package - the files inside are "" and "unpack.bat" - into this root folder so that the two files are side-by-side with VOL.1. Then run unpack.bat.

Run unpack.bat. With typical security settings, you shouldn't need to run it in admin mode, but it can't hurt things if you do. You'll see something like this (the hash will not be as pictured):

Just select the hash you see on the first line, press enter to copy it into your clipboard, and then right-click on the command prompt to paste it (you won't see it). Then press enter to commit, and it should be accepted.

In the event that this doesn't work, or that you don't trust running a batch file, the password on "" is the MD5 hash on VOL.1.

Several files will be extracted into the game directory, and you'll want to run menu.bat.

PCJr. is the original version of the game, will not run on anything but an IBM PCJr., and is the least polished version, but does have some unique aspects, such as its own sound effects. DOSBox cycles have to be kept low to keep gameplay manageable, and you must use a blank floppy disk image to save without ruining the boot image - press CTRL+F4 to switch disks.

It's a little weird to see the IBM logo here!

The CGA version, which ran on the standard and very expensive IBM PC, came out next, and it lacks the PCJr's video and audio capabilities. Sound is downgraded to a one-channel beeper, and the 16-color output runs in a fuzzy composite mode rather than the PCJr's sharp TGA mode, though its palette may be more pleasing to some tastes, and the softness of composite output has a certain aesthetic quality of its own.

If you want, you can also play in 4-color RGBI mode, but I can't imagine why anyone would want to.

Speed is self-regulated now, and DOSBox cycles don't have to be set low, but you still need a blank disk image to save on.

The Tandy version, which probably saved Sierra as the PCJr. itself was a major flop, is the most mature of the 1984 versions. It has similar video and audio capabilities to the PCJr., and is PCJr. (but not PC) compatible, but uses different sound effects, self-regulates its speed like the PC version, and you can save to the boot disk without ruining it.

I've included King's Quest II as well, but this time there are not three separate versions, as the original release included PC and Tandy compatibility on the disk. The menu options are simply different DOSBox configurations.

Tandy/PCJr. mode for sharpness and better sound

PC-CGA mode for softness and composite colors

PC-RGBI mode for maniacs

Sierra's subsequent AGI games all targeted the Tandy's abilities, and had PC compatibility with reduced audio quality, which is how most players today probably remember them. DOSBox's Tandy emulation mode can play them all as intended, as can ScummVM, though the latter has no support for pre-AGI King's Quest 1 & 2.


On my next post I'll actually play King's Quest, but it will be a one-and-done. Like I said, I know the game like the back of my hand, and I'm mainly interested in seeing how it differs from the commercially extant DOS version.

Monday, March 28, 2022

Ports of Entry: Hewson Consultants

Unknown lead platform:


Heathrow International Air Traffic Control

Released for Commodore 64 in July 1984

Released for Amstrad CPC in December 1984

Released for BBC Micro, Electron, and ZX Spectrum in 1984


Released for Amstrad CPC, C64, and ZX Spectrum in 1986

Mobygames credits weakly imply that C64 is ported from the ZX Spectrum.


Released for Commodore 64 and ZX Spectrum in 1987


Released for Amstrad CPC, C64, and ZX Spectrum in 1987


Released for Amiga, Amstrad CPC, Atari ST, C64, DOS, and ZX Spectrum in 1989

In the Mobygames credits, only Amstrad CPC, C64, and ZX Spectrum are by the original designers Raffaele Cecco and Nicholas A. Jones.

Select chronology: 

Title Lead platform Date Contemporary ports
Space Intruders ZX81 1981
Nightflite ZX Spectrum 1982
Knight Driver ZX Spectrum 1984
Heathrow International Air
Traffic Control
??? 1984-6 Same-year releases on various computers
Paradroid Commodore 64 1985-11
Uridium Commodore 64 1986-1 Same-year port to ZX Spectrum
1987 ports to Amstrad CPC, Atari ST, & BBC Micro
Firelord ??? 1986 Same-year releases on Amstrad CPC and ZX Spectrum
Same-year port to C64
Tower Toppler ??? 1987 Same-year releases on C64 and ZX Spectrum
Exolon ??? 1987 Same-year releases on Amstrad CPC, C64, and ZX Spectrum
Cybernoid: The Fighting Machine ZX Spectrum 1988 Same-year ports to various computers
Stormlord ??? 1989 Same-year releases on various computers

Wednesday, March 23, 2022

Game 310: Andromeda Conquest


We're going back in time a bit, for an Avalon Hill game I hadn't originally planned on playing. Back when I did my retrospective on the company's early computer games, I stopped at Galaxy, the first and only of their titles to make whale status. But at the invitation of The Wargaming Scribe, I've participated in a four-player play-by-email match against him and two forum members, Dayyalu and Porkbelly.

WGS already covered his (boring) singleplayer experience in an AAR+R&R, so I won't be doing that. I had played my own a solo game for practice a few months ago, but there isn't any ship-ship combat in that mode, so I begin this match almost completely ignorant on how it works.

The contenders for the galaxy:

  • Dayyalu, a Dominions player, commands an aquatic race.
  • Porkbelly controls molluscan space terrors.
  • I have the robots, who, contrary James Cameron's warnings, largely ignored humanity once they gained sentience and blasted off to colonize the asteroid belt.
  • WGS, following his success with formic formations plays again as insectoids.

In a four-player game, the galaxy will be packed with 48 planetary systems, but the goal is to be the first to conquer ten of them.

We played by exchanging save states over email until one emerged the winner. We had no formal rules on how to use save states, but I only ever reloaded to undo input errors - a distressingly easy thing to do in this game, which can forfeit your move when you accidentally perform an illegal one - and to get screenshots after completing a turn. I did not, under any circumstances (with one exception where it crashed the game), load states to undo any purposeful decisions, or to gain any information that would not have been revealed to me normally.

Also see The Wargaming Scribe's AAR and Porkbelly's diary for accounts of the match from their perspectives.


Turn 1

Out of the aeons, a wet tentacle from somewhere in the reaches of space slaps me in the face.

Greetings, bot-people!
Prepare to be Bit-Shifted to the Left with No Carry.
We will AND your registers with NULL and feed your flickering LEDs to the whelk-hatchery.

Have a nice day! Ftaghn! 

The aquatics and molluscs have taken their opening moves, and now it is time for the robots to rise. We will not be reasoned with, will not be bargained with, and will not stop until [priority override] we accumulate sufficient VPs!

This is just a sub-sector of the galaxy and it's already pretty cluttered. A breakdown of what's going on:

  • Each asterisk is a system.
  • The '29' indicates that the system to directly to the left is identified as system 29. This is, of course, the robot's homeworld. The 29 itself may or may not be obscuring something on the map, and I shudder to think of how unreadable things will get as more planets are colonized.
  • My empire consists only of system 29, which contributes 10 resource points per turn, and has 11 defense points.

Every turn begins with the opportunity to establish a colony, but this is a senseless option on turn 1 before you've built any colony ships. After declining, my next decision is to decide how to allocate my ten RP's. Unspent resources do not accumulate for the next round.

  • Novas are slow but powerful warships that can obliterate undefended planets. At 12 RP's per, they are absolutely not worth it unless you need a planet gone.
  • Echos are colony ships with no firepower. They cost 10 RP's.
  • Ramas are quick scout/fighter ships and only cost 2 RP's.

You might wonder, as I did before the game got far underway, why would you ever build a Nova? If you can kill a planet's defenses, surely it's better to colonize, right? But to colonize, you must park an Echo in orbit above an unfriendly planet and keep it there for an entire turn. Only at the beginning of the next turn will you be given the option to colonize, and while waiting your opponent could very well have scrambled some Ramas during their turn and destroyed your Echo. The Nova, on the other hand, can destroy a planet the same turn it moves into its orbit, provided you get its defenses down to zero.


My first tactical decision - I can either build a colony ship so that I may begin expansion immediately but semi-blindly, but in doing so I can't build anything else this turn. Or I might begin with building some scouts, send them to visit the many neighboring worlds, and select the best for colonization a turn later. Unfortunately, the various scanning and probing options are not available until you build your first ship. You must give your first build orders completely blind.

I pick the first option, and have my newly built Echo scan the area and probe the system.

Looks like someone's scouting early! The 'A' stands for 'Alien,' so it might not necessarily be the aquatics.

A strategic scan gives me a complete galactic map, and the "navigation" option shows us the type of each system in range. I overlay these for a strategic map:

The higher the number, the more difficult colonization is. My Echo can only travel two spaces per turn, and type 1's could be alien homeworlds, so I send it south to the type-0 blue giant, away from the aliens. This turns out to be an uninhabited world worth 5 RP's per turn. I will be able to colonize it next turn.


Turn 2

Somewhere out Beyond the Moon... the Scallops sing a baleful tune.

Hark, yon people of Bit
Prepare to cast out thy Binary ways and embrace the mighty Word of the Octal !!

Silly octopoids. Our 6502-powered brains already operate on octal words!

Obviously, the first thing I do is settle the uninhabited system discovered in the previous turn. This costs me 6 RP's and won't pay dividends until the next turn, leaving me with enough RP's to build two scouts, or four defense units, or one scout and two defense units. And I can't do any scanning until I decide. I pick the scouts, scan, and update my map.

Circles indicate new ships that came out of nowhere.

Something entered my space! And given that it moved exactly two spaces, it could well be a colony ship. This won't do, so I have my scouts investigate - two of them, crucially, the minimum needed to do any damage.

Ah ha. An expensive Echo of the fish people, unaccompanied! And here I expected snails. My scouts blow it away. The planet here, incidentally, offers 5 RP's per turn but is heavily defended and inhabited by bug-people who must be neutral, given that homeworlds yield 10. Something to think about for the future.

My Echo, it turns out, is not expended by colonization, so I send it northeast to the other type-0 world, which offers 7 RP's per turn but is occupied by molluscs and somewhat defended. Colonization won't be possible without a few turns of orbital bombardment first.


Turn 3

Squid-thulhu lies asleep and dreaming...but soon will hear the robots screaming.

Is this aggression we detect from the bot-folk?
All is futile! Cease now, lest your cpu's overheat.

What the. Where did my Echo go?

My planets are fine, but I can't do any scanning until the build orders are complete. With 15 RP's, I choose to scout. I build four fleets of Ramas, leaving one RP for defense.

A probe from my surviving Rama shows that the fish have bitten back. Three enemy Ramas are at its position, and I move it down to where my Echo was lost and find another two.

Compiling my maps, I'm pretty sure I know where their homeworld is now.

It's the lime-green '1.'

My fleets hit back, destroying four of the five invading Ramas. But I fear this war delays my expansion while the snails and the ants spread unchecked. Or, hopefully, butt heads with each other.

Turn 4

The Fishy-folk mean you no please retract your robot arm.
Oh how we hear the white whale cry!
Bad Ahab! Further aggression against my fishy friends will mean war!

Will it, though?

I'm down one Rama from the previous turn, and spend all my resources on four more fleets. Probes show three fish Ramas remain in my cluster, and to the west, someone is expanding.

With my 14 Ramas, which I consolidate to seven fleets, I attack the natives on the type-0 planet. Five fleets is enough to eliminate its defenses, and I scout two more mediocre planets in my cluster with the rest.

In the meantime, there's been some metagaming. WGS has offered me a non-aggression pact, and I've offered intel on fish movements. Publicly, Porkbelly boasts of conquests, and both he and WGS talk of clashes. Meanwhile, I warn Dayyalu to stay away from my stakeouts, and WGS thinks I'm talking to him, and Dayyalu claims to have enacted a terrible retaliation.

Turn 5

How good it feels to be not...a mindless, rusty, robo-bot.
It seems we share a mistrust of the Ant-folk. 
They are indeed many.

The savegame passes to me, and it seems Dayyalu has exaggerated. Six of my seven fleets are intact. Nevertheless, with five turns in and only one planet conquered, I fear I have fallen behind. The expansion MUST continue. I build an Echo and another Rama fleet, and scan.

'F' represent my fleets. The 'A' at the center bottom is at one of the mediocre planets I scouted. The fish sank my fleet there.

I could try to take the type-0 planet with my newly built Echo, but Dayyalu would just commission some Ramas next turn and destroy it. I could defend it with Ramas of my own, but I'd still be taking a chance of losing the Echo next turn with a lucky shot. However, my first action this turn is scouting. I send my northwest fleet further northwest to check out the 'A'.

It's the snails! At this star, a valuable 9-RP planet with no defenses, an Echo escorted by two Ramas waits in orbit, no doubt prepared to colonize  next turn. I fire, but hit only one Rama.

The other 'A' in range is a fleet of six fish Ramas, which I obliterate with my remaining fleets. I can not risk having them interfere with my expansion any longer, and finally, I send my Echo southward, out of range of both fish and snail.

Nevertheless I fear the game is lost. It will take me until Turn 7 to colonize my next world, if it's even uninhabited, the snails expand southward unchecked, and I have no clue what the ants are up to aside from fighting the snails.


Turn 6

Four of my seven Rama fleets are destroyed, but the Echo remains en route. My Echo must be protected, so I build seven more Ramas in four more fleets.

Red now designates the snails, and white arrows my prior movement. The red 'A' is on a system I'm certain is colonized.

The Rama fleet that tried and failed to intercept a snail Echo is, of course, destroyed. At the green-circled 'A' near my systems, the fish replaced their ranks with twelve new Ramas and destroyed three of my six fleets, and they directly threaten my Echo.

Initially, I sent all of my thirteen Ramas down to meet up with at the type-1 planet to its south, which turned out to be uninhabited and worth 9 RP's - wish I scouted that out sooner instead of wasting precious time depopulating a native type-0! However, this strategy crashed the game on Dayyalu's turn, so I had a do-over.

On the do-over, I whittle the fish fleets down to four Ramas and send the rest of mine down to meet up with my Echo.

Turn 7

We're coming for you Barbara

The tentacles are reaching out. No more shall you use this planet as a forward base!
Send your fleets east!

My Rama interceptors are destroyed, but the Echo and its defenders live, so I build a much needed colony. Unfortunately this leaves me few resources for this turn, only enough to build three more Ramas.

In the southwest, it looks like the snails are expanding into territory previously scouted, unchecked, too far away from me to interfere right now, or possibly at all. To my south, a few worlds are in range of the system I just colonized, but the remains of the fleet my interceptors attacked threatens my expansion. And to my north, I'm being invaded by snails and fish!

The snails have to consist of a Rama strike fleet. They moved too fast to be anything else. The fish might consist of planet-destroying Novas, but I doubt they can afford that.

I send one Rama to probe the snails. The result - only four Ramas! Hardly a threat, or at least not an imminent one. But I have only eight left myself, and sending any to probe the fish would diminish my defenses. Assuming this to be a harmless scout, I send the rest of them, along with my Echo, eastward to the type-9 planet, which probes discover is worth 7 RP's.


Turn 8

The fish fleet hovering around my desired world has struck, eliminating all but one of my Echo's escorts, but crucially, the Echo survives. I colonize at a very expensive one-time cost of 15 RP's, leaving me with only enough for four more Ramas for defense.

Probes show one of my colonies is attacked by snails and fish, but not many. Yet. An incoming snail fleet from the west must be Ramas, and I don't know how many. But there seems to be no way to save my Echo, which shares its orbit with the 16 enemy Ramas that took out most of its escorts.

My Ramas are able to kill five of them, and I keep the Echo parked there for now. The worlds to the north will just have to bear the storm for another turn.

Turn 9

All of my fleets are gone, and the world I colonized just last turn has had its defenses reduced to zero. This is bad. I spend everything on Ramas to defend, but it's almost certainly too late.

The fleet that just bombed the crap out of my newest homeworld consists of 18 Ramas and can hit anywhere in my empire. Far worse than that, a fleet group of snails and fish, including one planet-destroying Nova, converged in a spot also capable of hitting any of my worlds. This is very bad. Destroying the Nova this turn is impossible, and adequately defending any of my planets is likely also impossible. I assumed the snails approaching from the west could only be a Rama scout and posed no immediate threat. But further out west, they expanded southward, and again, I had no means of slowing this.

I weighed my options. None of them seemed promising.

  • Strike back at the (likely heavily defended) fish homeworld with a big fleet group of my own.
  • Strike back at the fish homeworld with lots of little scattered fleets in the hopes of distracting them.
  • Bargain with the fish or snails, bluffing for my lack of a bargaining chip.
  • Hit back at the fish fleet in my orbit.

That last one wasn't a winning choice - I'd almost certainly lose the planet next turn anyway - but none of the others seemed like winners either, and that last one would do the most damage.

Turn 10

One of our planets is missing. Though the defense fleet around it is oddly intact. This time I build a Nova of my own so that the fish ignore my defenses at their peril.

The snails have converged their away fleet of 11 Ramas at my homeworld and bombed it a little. But Dayyalu's fleet at the dust cloud where my planet used to be is a more immediate problem. I hit it with everything I've got, reducing his 17 Ramas to 4. The Nova there survives, but with a diminished escort, it has little chance of smashing any more planets without costly reinforcements.


Turn 11

The snails continue to bomb my homeworld, but my fleets are untouched. I build more Ramas.


The fish are swimming back to their pond! But oddly, the snails' expansion fleet is inching northward, not southward into more undiscovered worlds. The only rational explanation is that they've colonized their ninth world and are about to colonize their tenth and final.

As no more snail ships are approaching, I am unconcerned by their fleets in my space and orbit. The approaching fish fleet contains a lightly defended Echo, which I easily eliminate, and I send the rest of my ships toward the snail homeworld, accompanying my Nova.

Turn 12

My interceptors have been attacked, and my homeworld's defenses have been destroyed by bombardment. I expect this to be the last turn, so I build Ramas in preparation for one last strike.

I push on to the fish homeworld, which is now fortified with 25 defenses. My armada knocks it down to 10, but I have no chance to find out if I could destroy it next turn. The snails have colonized their tenth system, and the game is over.

Looking back, I pretty much ruined my chances of winning by turn 3, when I sent an Echo unaccompanied to a planet within range of an enemy. That, along with wasting turns early trying to take a world defended by natives spoiled my early resource grabbing game, which is utterly crucial to victory. Now that I better understand how things work, the smarter opening move would have been to send out scouts on the first turn to five nearby planets, and then on the next turn build an Echo, send it to the nearest good planet, use a Rama or two to harass nearby opponents and bring back the rest to escort the Echo. Porkbelly was evidently able to colonize a world on almost every turn even as he fought a total war with WGS, seeing as he got his tenth by turn 12, and it isn't possible to settle more than one per turn.

GAB rating: Above average. Pointless in singleplayer, even more than Galaxy, but an enjoyable, briskly-paced multiplayer experience with more depth than its low complexity suggests, and significant technical issues that you just learn to put up, as is typical of BASIC games of the era. I think all four of us who played were in agreement that the game is luck-dependent to its own detriment, though I also think that diplomacy can help turn the tides if everyone else gangs up against the player with the luckiest starting conditions. Of course, this match illustrated that this is easier said than done.

CGW magazine describes Andromeda Conquest as a stepping stone between Avalon Hill's earlier Galaxy and SSG's Reach for the Stars, and this makes sense in some ways, though I am more inclined to view them all as independent interpretations of the board game Stellar Conquest. Andromeda Conquest does have the most easily manageable logistics of the three, having a limit of nine fleets per side, and by allowing you to instantly build your ships at any world, you don't need to to be constantly redirecting and rerouting your newly commissioned fleets like you do in those games, or in Master of Orion. It is also the only one of these games where fleets are moved around the grid manually, rather than directly warped from planet to planet, and therefore the only game where space fights happen outside of orbit. Notably, and thanks to the game's rule of ending when one player has ten systems, this was a very short match compared to the epic 100-plus turn games that you see in Master of Orion, Reach for the Stars, and even Galaxy.

In the end, this was an interesting, entertaining, and unplanned look at a forgotten game I hadn't ever planned on giving two looks, and that few will ever again have the chance to play properly in multiplayer. I certainly never would have without WGS's connections to the PBEM wargames community, or our mutual interest in archaeogaming. But I'm also fine with not playing this one ever again.

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