I first heard about Balance of Power a couple of years back, and it sounded absolutely fascinating. Originally released on the Apple Mac in 1985, the game aimed to simulate the politics of the Cold War, with players taking control of either the USSR or USA and feeling their way through international relations. The idea is to enhance the sphere of influence of your chosen superpower, but without provoking your rival into starting a thermonuclear war – with the latter leading to an instant Game Over screen.
You can do things like arm insurgents to destabilise a country whose government is sympathetic to your opponent, or reward countries with aid if they are loyal to your regime. It’s tense, and incredibly clever.
I tracked down the game’s creator, Chris Crawford, and had a fascinating chat with him about how Balance of Power was made. (Chris is something of an industry legend, and he founded GDC in 1987.) Balance of Power was very much his passion project after he was laid off from Atari following the 1983 video game crash, and he ended up ploughing most of his redundancy money into making it. But it was a huge success, and that success kickstarted the game’s newly founded publisher, Mindscape.
You can read all about the making of Balance of Power in issue 220 of Retro Gamer – and it really is a great story. You can buy single issues or subscribe at Magazines Direct.