DescriptionUnder Southern Skies simulates one of the opening naval engagements of World War II, the Battle of the River Plate in December 1939. Two time frames can be selected: sixty minutes of the battle itself, played out at a tactical level among the ships historically engaged, or up to thirty days of the entire cruise and hunt for the Admiral Graf Spee, the German battleship at the center of the battle.
Solitaire play puts you in command of the Graf Spee, attempting to outmaneuver and outgun the computer's array of British forces, but hot-seat play is available for two players, opening up the British command for re-interpretation. The computer handles the simulation calculations of weather, sighting opportunities, fuel consumption, and chances to hit, but typical of the simulation board games which were Avalon Hill's mainstay, charts are provided showing all the details. Also akin to the board games, the play manual is a necessary reference, providing complete command menus and higher resolution for charts than possible on a computer monitor of the time.
Choosing the battle starts you off in the tactical mode of the game. A single screen shows ships' positions around yours in polar coordinates, a read-out of heading and course, and a field-glass view of your current target. Commands are entered numerically at the bottom, whether your minute-by-minute tactic, course and speed, target, or damage control zone. Though the cursor blinks patiently waiting for your decision, with four ships acting independently on the ocean's surface, there never seems to be enough time to keep up with the changing situation. Damage arrives via guns and torpedoes, allocated to ten zones of your ship, minimally reparable. As in the historical battle, disengagement is an option, and victory can be relative, not black-and-white.
The strategic mode opens on December 1, 1939, the whole of the South Atlantic laid out before you in a coordinate map. Decisions now are made twice per day: whether to patrol the area for quarry -- merchant ships for the German commander, the Graf Spee for the British commodore -- cruise at full speed or half speed, or dock for repair and resupply. Up to ten Allied battle groups search for the German battleship, and what starts out as a vast hunting ground for the German commander becomes claustrophobic on the first flyover by an Allied airplane. Fog is a welcome friend, and neutral ports are safe havens either reassuringly close or despairingly distant. The German commander looks at an almost empty map, wondering if his path of escape has been anticipated, or if a change of course will lead directly into a British task force. Against a single British cruiser, the Graf Spee has the advantage; not all holed hulls need belong to merchantmen.
When contact is made on the strategic map, play switches to tactical mode, creating opportunities to anticipate different outcomes for the historical battle. Little chance, however, is given if the Graf Spee encounters one of the carrier task forces. Their torpedo planes alone can sink the battleship. Hit-and-run air attacks leave the German commander with only dodge-ball choices: watch the torpedo-laden planes close in, then at the last minute choose port or starboard in the hopes of minimizing damage. As in the tactical-only mode of play, strategic victory is relative, based on points awarded for damage, disengagement, and prize ships sunk.
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- "Under Southern Skies: Computer Simulation of WWII Naval Warfare in the South Atlantic" -- Tag-lined title
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