Conflict: Middle East Political Simulator
|Conflict: Middle East Political Simulator|
|Developer(s)||David J. Eastman|
|Genre(s)||Government simulation game|
Conflict: Middle East Political Simulator, often known as ConfMEPS or simply Conflict, is a turn-based government simulation game. It was designed by David J. Eastman and published by Virgin Interactive in 1990 for DOS, Atari ST and Amiga (with extended graphics). The game is available for free download at abandonware sites.
The game is set in 1997. The Prime Minister of Israel has just been assassinated, leaving the player to run the country as the new Prime Minister. The player's objective is to cause the defeat of the neighboring four states, either by invasion (not necessarily by Israel, as the other states can and do invade each other) or political destabilization.
- 1 Gameplay
- 2 War
- 3 States
- 4 Strategy
- 5 Tactics
- 6 Bugs
- 7 References
- 8 External links
Each game turn represents one month in real time. On each turn, the player decides what diplomatic, espionage and military actions to take with regard to the other countries in the game, and then ends the turn. The game engine then runs and the results of the turn occur (each turn begins in fact with some information about what has occurred in the previous turn being presented as a screen of newspaper headlines).
The actions available to the player are broken up into two phases: Diplomatic/Espionage and Military.
Each country in the game has a diplomatic relationship with every other country, with that relationship varying from Military Pact (best) to War (worst), through a number of stages:
- Excellent (Military Pact)
- No relations
- At War
In addition, there is a special relation mode, called "Attack means disaster" which seems to accrue when all nations with the ability of holding nuclear weapons, possess such. Under such mode, all other relation forms become obsolete.
With each turn, the player directly sets Israeli diplomatic policy with regard to the other countries in the game. Diplomatic policy is very simple: Israel is either trying to improve the diplomatic relationship, keep it as it is, or make it worse. The action change in the relationship for a turn depends upon Israeli policy set against that of the other country; if both are trying to improve, the relationship will improve by one step. If either tries to make the relationship worse, it will deteriorate by one level. Otherwise, it remains steady. Roughly 100 million is taken out of the monthly defense budget when diplomatic relations are being improved beyond Favourable.
If the country's diplomats are acting aggressively toward Israel, relations will usually not budge, even if the player attempts to improve relations. Bordering states, however, will gradually deteriorate relations with Israel upon showing signs of aggression until war is declared. Relations will not improve if Israel has troops stationed at the border. Some countries will stop acting aggressively toward Israel if the player stations a brigade at the border, but this rarely occurs during gameplay. If Israel successfully bombs Egypt or Syria's nuclear facilities, relations will drop one level on the next turn.
Some countries will not improve relations with Israel if they are unhappy that the player has at least a Favourable relation with an enemy state or one they do not agree with. For example, if Egypt and Libya are at war, either country will not allow the player to improve relations if both are Favourable with Israel. Another example would be if Iran and Iraq are at war, and Egypt is unhappy that Israel is friendly with Iraq. In both cases, the only solution is for Israel to reduce relations with either country.
When a relationship is Indifferent and Israel decides to reduce the relationship in the diplomatic phase, or if the relationship is at Lamentable, Deplorable or non-existent, Israel can declare war and invade. The only exceptions are Iran, Iraq and Libya - whose diplomatic relations do not go below Indifferent as they do not border Israel.
Some countries at war with another will be quick to form an alliance with Israel if their relations are within Favourable. As a result, the relation will jump to Profitable (skipping Beneficial) on the next turn.
When a relationship is at Profitable, the player can choose to request a military pact. If this is given, then if Israel goes to war with a country which also has a border with the allied country, that country will, in turn, reduce its relationship to Lamentable and then declare war. (Note, however there is no such obligation placed upon the player, who can simply ignore wars their ally enters into).
When an allied country conquers an enemy state, it will often sever its pact with Israel and progressively reduce relations with an aggressive stance (with the neighboring countries doing this until war is declared on Israel). If the country's relationship with Israel is Favourable at an aggressive stance, but its stability rate is below Fair, it will attempt to keep that relationship level due to its unstable leadership, even if the player attempts to reduce relations. Ordering a successful airstrike on Egypt or Syria's nuclear installations will reduce relations at a much faster rate at this point and lead to war (unless their governments collapse first).
During a war, the player may attempt to offer a ceasefire with the enemy state, or vice versa. Once a ceasefire is signed between the warring states, diplomatic relations will be restored to Satisfactory, but with the opposing country's diplomats acting aggressively towards Israel. This will once again plunge both countries into war within the next couple of turns.
Each country's government has a stability rating. If that rating falls to the lowest value, the government collapses and the country is out of the game. Within each turn, for each country in the game, Israel can choose to work to reduce the stability of the Government, keep it as it is, or increase the stability of the government.
Stability ratings are:
- Very solid
- Moderately solid
- Very weak
- Dangerously weak
- Close to revolution
Also, each country has a level of insurgency, which represents how well-organized the insurgent forces are. Insurgency ratings are:
- Ready for action!
- Guerilla Force
- Disorganised Rabble
When a country conquers an enemy state, its stability rating is upgraded to Very Solid, making it more difficult to destabilize. When a ceasefire between two countries is signed at the next UN Summit, the country that had the advantage on the last turn has its stability upgraded to Very Solid, while the other is downgraded to Good or below.
If a country's stability rating is Weak or below or if the insurgency in the country is at Guerilla Force or better, Israel can opt to consider extreme measures, which are to attempt assassination of the country's leader or start a coup. If this attempt succeeds, the country collapses and is out of the game.
There are two ways an assassination attempt can fail. If the failure results in the assassins being arrested, Israel is detected and relations with that country and the West sour. The failure can also result from the country's leader actually surviving the assassination attempt; the next step would be to stage a coup attempt while that leader is recovering at a hospital. If an attempted coup fails, the insurgent forces are usually destroyed. A coup is very unlikely to succeed unless the insurgents are very strong and the government is very weak, so a premature coup which destroys the insurgency can be a useful strategy for helping a government (often much more effective than disrupting a fast-growing insurgency).
Once diplomatic and espionage policy is set, the player moves on to the military actions. It is not possible to come back to diplomacy and espionage once the player has completed diplomacy and espionage and moved to military actions.
Israel has two ways of becoming unstable: the Palestinian problem - which can be increased by hostile nations, and insecurity of the Israeli public - which occurs if the player does not win a war within two or more years.
The player has two tasks to perform: the first is to spend the defense budget; the second is to set military actions with regard to the other countries in the game.
On each turn, the player receives a budget to spend on weaponry. The size of the budget seems to depend on the level of hostility in the surrounding countries; if Israel is at war, or if another country is in the process of reducing diplomatic relations to declare war, the budget is large (300 million plus, per turn). If the level of hostility is low, and life is peaceful, the budget is small (100 million).
As such, the defense budget awarded by the game is an indicator of the policy intent of neighbouring countries. If they are peaceful, the budget will be small; if one or more countries is bent on war, the budget will be large.
Weapons are bought from the USA, UK, France or a private arms dealer. (Each country sells weapons that it itself produces, except the private dealer, who is a South African providing access to Soviet weaponry.) Each source offers a different range of weapons with different prices and most countries will only offer better weapons once a reasonable number of purchases have already been made (which establishes that a relationship has been built). Not all countries offer all the same weapons; for example, anti-SAM helicopters are only available from the USA and the private dealer.
The weapon systems available for normal combat are:
- Main battle tanks (USA/UK/Private Dealer)
- Medium tanks (France)
- Light tanks (UK/France)
- Anti-tank helicopters (USA)
- SAM launchers (USA/Private Dealer)
- Fighter aircraft (USA/France/Private Dealer)
- Bomber aircraft (USA/UK/Private Dealer)
Specialized-function weapon systems available are:
- AWACS aircraft (USA/UK)
- Strike aircraft (USA)
- Anti-SAM helicopters (USA/Private Dealer)
Weapon types are identical as far as war is concerned, regardless of their price: so the 2M USD T-62 Main Battle Tank from the private dealer is exactly the same as the 2M USD M1A1 Main Battle Tank from the USA. Price differences can be significant over a few turns; for example, fighters are 39M USD each from the USA but only 35M USD each from France. Also, the French "medium tank" functions exactly the same as the other dealers' "heavy tanks".
Weapons purchased by the user will usually be available by the next turn, except from the private dealer, which usually takes 1-2 turns to ship. The private dealer's advantage is the ability to sell arms to the player if an arms embargo is imposed on Israel.
Nuclear Weapon Research
Another factor in the game is the development of nuclear weapons. Each country (except Jordan and Lebanon) can begin and maintain a nuclear weapon development program. One of the main ways to lose the game is for WMDs to be used, which often sets off a global nuclear holocaust. This can present a problem to players, since it can be other countries that use WMDs in their own conflicts against countries other than Israel. It is possible to reduce this possibility by destroying nuclear installations as they arise.
On each turn, the player decides whether to fund nuclear development for that month (it only costs 20M USD and so is usually done). Once the player has nuclear weapons ready, they are able to fire them during war at their discretion. Depending on the situation of the war, the player's use of WMDs will either result in an instant victory or a nuclear holocaust, which ends the game in a loss. Consequently, if the player wins a war using a nuclear strike, the UN will impose an arms embargo on Israel, forcing the player to buy arms from the private dealer until the next UN summit.
Annual Defense Budget Review
Each year, Israel can choose to increase or decrease the GDP percentage of the defense budget (it starts at 35%) by 2%, and to increase the size of the Army by two units (which apparently harms the relationship with the US).
US Budget Aid
Every year, the US provides economic aid to Israel. This varies between nothing and four billion dollars, depending on how good Israel's relationship is with the US. (To put that into context, a large monthly defense budget, such as would be granted during an active war, is about 350 million dollars).
The game also models the problems caused by the Palestinian situation. The "Palestinian problem" is Israel's internal insurgency, just as the other countries have their insurgency and concomitant government stability problem. Other countries presumably can choose to act to stoke Palestinian discontent, and as the player becomes unsuccessful and increasingly unpopular, the Palestinian situation worsens - eventually, this will cause the player to be deposed and thus lose the game.
The player can choose to deploy a brigade to police the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, which is supposed to help reduce discontent. Once a brigade has been deployed, the player can choose "soft" or "hard" tactics. Hard tactics presumably are more effective, but cause international outcry, presumably reducing relations with the USA and so affecting their annual military grant.
During the annual UN summit, an offer can be made to form a Palestinian homeland, which permanently removes this problem and improves relations with the USA. The only disadvantage seems to be that if the player goes to war with the bordering country that offered the homeland territory, Israel finds itself at a territorial loss, usually two bars on the war progress meter.
Prior to war, Israel can launch precision air strikes against bordering countries. These strikes can be performed on military, civilian, industrial, or nuclear targets. Military, industrial, and civilian targets can only be attacked if the diplomatic relationship with a country is very bad. Military strikes may destroy a very few army units (five main battle tanks, for example). Civilian and industrial strikes are done particularly to reduce diplomatic relationships.
Nuclear targets can be attacked at any time, and doing so retards or even eliminates the development of that country's nuclear program (which then continues as before, but from its reduced development level). However, if the country has a mushroom cloud icon in place of a nuclear installation icon, this means that the country has successfully tested their warheads and the player can no longer cripple their nuclear development.
If the diplomatic relationship with a country is bad enough, and there are Israeli troops deployed on the border, Israel can invade, or be invaded. This triggers war.
A country can only invade countries with a shared border. The four states neighboring Israel in Conflict are Egypt, Jordan, Syria and Lebanon.
Libya, Iraq and Iran are also present in the game, and can invade the countries which neighbor them, but they have no common border with Israel and so cannot be invaded by the player (and do not have to be defeated to win the game).
The Israeli army, at the beginning of the game, consists of:
- 7 infantry brigades
- 450,000 reservists
- 2,000 main battle tanks
- 50 light tanks
- 20 SAM units
- 200 fighter aircraft
- 5 anti-tank helicopters
- 5 bombers
When a war occurs, certain unit types attack certain other unit types in the opposing army. So, for example, anti-tank helicopters destroy enemy tanks, while losing a certain number of their own numbers in the process (which may relate to the number of SAM units).
- Infantry seems to be the main determinant of whether or not the battle is being won or lost. It can not be bought.
- Main battle tanks probably attack other main battle tanks and support infantry.
- Light tanks do not obviously attack anything; they may support infantry.
- Anti-tank helicopters reduce opposing tank numbers, and rather effectively too; it is better to buy 50 anti-tank helicopters than to buy the replacement tanks for the same money.
- Anti-SAM helicopters reduce SAM numbers (but only at the ratio of about 1 to 1, so it costs 8M for a single helicopter to destroy a single 1M or 2M SAM unit - but SAM units attack 39M aircraft, so it may be worth it!)
- SAM units ought to attack all air units, but often do not seem to have an effect; for example, if Israeli has literally thousands of SAM units, enemy aircraft do not seem to be affected much at all
- Fighter aircraft seem to attack everything and have a fair effect on battle progress, although they take losses rapidly.
- Bombers can take out military, industrial, civilian targets and nuclear installations. This is the only unit that does not need a declaration of war to use.
- Reserves seem to have an effect on the possibility of using weapons, as the more weapons lost in war, the more reserves killed, the fewer weapons that can be used.
Each country is unique and has its own diplomatic agenda, Government stability and military capability. The biggest threats to the player are Syria and Egypt, as they have larger armies and are capable of developing nuclear weapons. Iran, Iraq and Libya can also carry nuclear arms and are capable of ending the game with them, with the exception of Libya - which often does not get a chance to use them during war with Egypt.
Egypt shares borders with Libya and Israel and is very stable diplomatically. It takes many, many turns of destabilization to topple the Government. Egypt also has the largest army in the game and in a one-on-one war, it will generally defeat Israel badly. Israel can defeat Egypt, but it requires either a perfectly executed surprise attack, a very strong Israeli army, Libya attacking Egypt simultaneously, or a nuclear attack. If Egypt has a nuclear installation present, it is advisable for the player to launch an airstrike on the installation to prevent the country from using nuclear weapons later on in a war.
When the game begins, Egypt is usually securely at peace with Israel, but very occasionally, Egypt is about to go to war with Israel (relations are already Lamentable). Egypt's starting diplomacy with Israel often has a substantial impact on how a given game is likely to play out. The country's diplomatic relations with Libya also play a key factor in its survival in the game, as they almost always declare war on each other.
Iran does not share a border with Israel. The country is hostile to Iraq and the two almost always end up at war with each other. The main issue is in ensuring that Iran does not trigger a global nuclear war. Generally, it is best to destabilize Iran into collapsing, since this permits Iraq to threaten some of the countries which share a border with Israel.
Iraq is a relatively stable country with a moderate military. While the country does not share a border with Israel, it is bordered by Jordan, Syria and Iran. In almost every game, Iraq will end up at war with Iran. In other situations, however, Syria and Jordan become targeted first. An Iraqi war with Jordan is usually over in less than a turn, with Iraq conquering Jordan (unless Iraq is preoccupied with another war with Iran or Syria). In a match-up with Syria, Iraq tends to even out, leading to multiple turns of both nations at war. Against Iran, the same situation happens leading to multiple turns of war, usually ending in an Iranian victory. Due to Iraq's position neighboring two of Israel's border nations, Iraq can be a useful ally in defeating Syria and Jordan if used correctly. However, the player must take measures to topple the Iraqi government if the country has a nuclear installation present, as Iraq may trigger a nuclear holocaust during war and end the game.
Jordan is bordered by Israel, Syria and Iraq. It is diplomatically stable and takes a considerable number of turns of destabilization to topple. Militarily, Jordan is a pushover, having a very small army, although exceptionally with a very large air force. Jordan very occasionally attacks Israel if the latter is already committed to a long war with another country (which is to say, Egypt or Syria, since no other neighbor can maintain a long war). It can also conquer Israel if the player has only one brigade deployed in a war with it. Apart from that, Jordan is passive and is usually gobbled up by Syria or Iraq.
Lebanon, which borders Israel and Syria, is highly unstable and will collapse on its own accord if another country does not invade it first; in fact, Lebanon will collapse by itself even if the player is always trying to disrupt the insurgency and support the Government. Rarely declaring war on bordering countries, Lebanon is also militarily the weakest country; Israel can conquer it using a single brigade. Lebanon, however, is sometimes capable of conquering Israel or Syria if those countries are preoccupied in other wars or do not properly station brigades within their borders.
Libya is stable, but militarily weak. Bordered only by Egypt, Libya almost always declares war on Egypt in the game (and vice versa). Egypt always wins immediately, unless already at war with Israel, in which case Libya always wins (although Egypt very occasionally survives one turn). If Egypt is not actually at war with Israel, but Israel has fully mobilized on the Egyptian border and so Egypt has likewise done so, the Libyan/Egyptian conflict can be quite prolonged, but Egypt usually still wins (and has not taken too many losses, since it only has one brigade in combat). Libya is capable of setting up a nuclear installation, but almost never uses nuclear warheads when at war with Egypt.
Syria is a relatively politically stable country. Following Egypt, it is the country with the second-largest army. The country is bordered by Israel, Jordan, Lebanon and Iraq. Trying to destabilize Syria politically would take many turns and generally will not be effective unless it is at war. When the game starts, relations between Israel and Syria vary from Favourable to Indifferent; in some cases, diplomatic aggression is displayed on Syria's part. Israel can usually defeat Syria, but it is a rather well-balanced match-up that can go either way. Like Egypt, Syria is capable of developing nuclear arms and will often use them at war; thus, the player should launch an airstrike to destroy the nuclear installation - even if relations are friendly.
Israel, in a one-on-one war, usually loses against Egypt and just wins against Syria. Jordan and Lebanon are not military threats and are easily defeated. In fact, the player can defeat both Jordan and Lebanon simultaneously with perfectly planned invasions. Libya can be useful in a war against Egypt by invading while Egypt's army is fully engaged with Israel. This ends the war, which is necessary since Egypt usually wins otherwise, but it does mean Libya conquers Egypt rather than Israel doing so.
Iran and Iraq usually go to war against each other; Iran usually wins in the end, but this is always a protracted conflict with both sides trying to develop nuclear weapons — the war between Iran and Iraq is a source of game ends, where their exchange of nuclear weapons triggers a global holocaust. Egypt can sometimes decide to go to war against Israel, and Syria sooner or later always decides to go to war against Israel (although it will sometimes mop up Jordan and Lebanon first).
The main problem the player faces is ensuring that Egypt and Syria do not attack concurrently, since this always leads to defeat. The other problem is trying to conquer Egypt, for maximum points. Egypt can be conquered, but it requires a surprise attack and some luck.
The optimal game approach seems to be to take Egypt out immediately with a perfect surprise attack using a single brigade to push the war right to the Egyptian side, followed by invading Lebanon before it collapses and Jordan before anyone else invades it, while attempting to topple Iran by espionage (to prevent nuclear war with Iraq) and then, finally, invading and defeating Syria.
It is important to take out any nuclear installations in the other countries, so as to prevent rivals from gaining nuclear weapons. This can be done via airstrikes, but only before an invasion. The player risks getting nuked if the opposing side completes an installation during war.
It can be useful to mobilize fully against a country while keeping the diplomatic relationship good. This causes that country to mobilize their army on the Israeli border—which makes them extremely vulnerable to any other country that wishes to attack them.
There is a major bug in all ports of the game such that if the player is doing particularly well, the game often hangs in the final turn.
There are some suspected bugs in the war code for managing the losses of different unit types; it seems that SAM units sometimes have absolutely no effect whatsoever.
There appears to be a bug of some sort with regard to the defense budget; if the game lasts a long time, the defense budget eventually, one year, is set to 0% instead of the normal 35%. The budget can still be increased by 2% per year as normal, but as one might expect, the actual monetary value of the budget is then uselessly low. This may be related to the defence budget being set to 41%. In the year before the budget crashes, the player seems to get equipment like Hinds without buying them.
There are a few typos in the game which can be distracting to the player, such as the announcement that a given country has been overrun by another country's "hoards" (its bank accounts?), rather than using the correct term, "hordes".