5th Fleet

David Yun David Yun: (contact-deleteme[at]-deleteme-direman [dot] com) 2009-11-06 11:51:23

5th Fleet - Rank B

Developer: Stanley Associates
Publisher: Avalon Hill
Date: 1995

5th Fleet is an adaptation of a nerdcore board game. It's revered by the sort of tabletop wargamers that lurk in the secret invite-only back areas of hobby shops. It's also crazy good, and the computer version allows you to enjoy it in the safety of your own home.

5th Fleet presents eleven scenarios of varying complexity based upon the premise of Cold War naval warfare in and around the Indian Ocean. It's chock full of aircraft, ships, and submarines of the American, Soviet, Indian, Pakistani, and Indonesian navies of the era. I geeked out perusing the accompanying Jane's Fighting Ships database.

The game is both simple and complex. 5th Fleet's interface is clean and elegant, and navigating the various screens and issuing orders are a snap. Its tactical depth, however, is nothing short of bewildering to a newcomer. Even if you're a veteran of the genre, the turn based hex grid may be comfortingly familiar, but the interplay of the various units and their (powerful but limited) armaments are staggeringly deep. Without proper use of combined arms, your seemingly invincible navy can be crippled by a single enemy sub. Mix in varying objectives and the number of ways to botch a naval operation is staggering. Conversely, guiding these disparate weapons of war to victory is intensely satisfying.

I want to give 5th Fleet a higher grade, but feel that this punishing learning curve renders the game fairly inaccessible. However, if you're willing to invest the effort, 5th Fleet becomes increasingly more rewarding with each visitation. I anticipate that I'll be occasionally returning to this game for a very long time to come.

You can find a copy of 5th Fleet here. You'll also need DOSBox to run it. Documentation for this x86 emulator can be found here.

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