|Conflict: Middle East Political Simulator|
|Designer(s)||David J. Eastman|
|Platform(s)||MS-DOS, Atari ST, Amiga|
|Genre(s)||Government simulation game|
Conflict: Middle East Political Simulator, often known as ConfMEPS or simply Conflict, is a turn-based government simulation game designed by David J. Eastman and published by Virgin Mastertronic 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 neighbouring four states, either by invasion (not necessarily by Israel, as the other states can and do invade each other) or political destabilisation.
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 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.
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 US$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 country. 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 neighbouring 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 Good, 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 often with the opposing country's diplomats acting aggressively toward 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.
Also, each country has a level of insurgency, which represents how well-organized the insurgent forces are.
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 return to diplomacy and espionage once the player has 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. If this instability is not resolved, the player faces the risk of being impeached or assassinated.
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 depends 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 (US$300 million plus, per turn). If the level of hostility is low, and life is peaceful, the budget is small (US$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 purchased 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 US and the private dealer.
The weapon systems available for normal combat are:
- Medium tanks (count as main battle tanks)
- AMX-30 (France)
- 500MD (USA)
- SAM launchers
- Bomber aircraft
Specialised-function weapon systems available are:
- AWACS aircraft
Weapon types are identical as far as war is concerned, regardless of their price: so the US$2M T-62 Main Battle Tank from the private dealer is exactly the same as the US$2M M1A1 Main Battle Tank from the USA. Price differences can be significant over a few turns; for example, fighters from the USA are US$39M each but French fighters are only US$35M each. Also, the French Medium Tank functions exactly the same as the other dealers' Heavy Tanks.
Weapons purchased 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 US$20M 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 USA).
US budget aid
Every year, the United States provides economic and military 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 US 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. This can happen if the player's order for a nuclear installation airstrike fails in two consecutive turns.
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.
Libya, Iraq, and Iran are also present in the game, and can invade the countries which neighbour 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).
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).
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 a war with Egypt.
Egypt shares borders with Libya and Israel and is very stable diplomatically. It takes many turns of destabilisation 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 destabilise 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 unless Iraq orders a nuclear attack. Due to Iraq's position neighbouring 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 destabilisation 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 neighbour 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 subsumed 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, bordered by Israel, Jordan, Lebanon and Iraq. Following Egypt, it is the country with the second-largest army. Trying to destabilise 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.
At the end of the game, the player is given an analysis score based on their performance. The analysis page indicates the player's duration as Prime Minister, the number of states under Israeli control, the amount of violence committed by the player, the level of relations with the US, the player's prestige level and leadership style.
Alan Emrich reviewed the game for Computer Gaming World, and stated that "Conflict is not striving to be a realistic simulation. It is meant to be an amusing exercise in cold war politics set in a futuristic Middle East environment. It is fast playing, easy to learn, entertaining and not to be taken too seriously."
In a 1994 survey of war games, Computer Gaming World gave Conflict three stars out of five, stating that it was "Quick and fun to play" but not compatible with faster computers. (It can be run today using DOSBox.)
- Conflict: Middle East Political Simulator @ David J. Eastman's Website
- "Conflict: Middle East Political Simulator". My Abandonware. Retrieved 2017-08-16.
- Emrich, Alan (July–August 1990). "The Valley of the Shadow of Conflict". Computer Gaming World. Vol. 1, no. 73. pp. 38, 52.
- Brooks, M. Evan (January 1994). "War In Our Time / A Survey Of Wargames From 1950-2000". Computer Gaming World. pp. 194–212.