I never dreamed while I was working on Balance of Power that I would someday be writing a book about it. The problems of writing a book about this game remind me of the problems of the military historian attempting to describe a battle. Battlefields are notoriously confusing places, for the people present are much too busy saving their skins and being terrified to clearly take note of events. The historian must distill a kaleidoscope of bullets, screaming, and blood into neat diagrams with arrows and boxes. I feel the same way about this book: it will undoubtedly make the game seem much more rationally prepared than was the case. Nevertheless, I accept the necessity of imposing order on a potpourri of random events that went to make up the finished game.
I wrote this book with three audiences in mind. The first audience is those persons who have purchased Balance of Power, played it, and thereby developed a curiosity about geopolitics. To this group I offer more information on geopolitics than I could put into the games manual. I hope that the additional information in this book will increase their enjoyment of the game, and maybe even their scores. The second audience is comprised of people moving in the opposite intellectual direction, from geopolitics to games. They know a great deal about the real world but are curious about the expression of real-world concepts in the alien medium of the computer. I tried to present the logic of this process in a fashion that would be understandable to a non-programmer. The third audience is those people who are curious about the game design process itself and want to follow the effort in detail. For those people I inserted occasional digressive paragraphs on the finer points of game design. I believe that the triply schizophrenic nature of this book does not interfere with its clarity; the transitions between personalities went so smoothly as to convince me that I am a truly polished madman.
Those readers who have not played Balance of Power can refer to the short description of the game provided in Chapter 1. I also provide an Appendix in which I play a sample game, complete with numerous screen dumps, comments on my thinking as I went through the game, and an endgame analysis of my mistakes.
I organized the main chapters around the central themes of the game: insurgencies, coups detat, Finlandization, and crises. Each of these chapters is broken into three parts. The first part provides the historical background on the topic. The second part describes the algorithms used in the game. The third part is a random collection of colorful tidbits and historical anecdotes generally related to the topic.
I chose to present the algorithms in an unconventional manner. The simplest and most direct solution would have been to reprint sections of the program listing. This would have had the added benefit of creating an aura of great authenticity to the descriptions. However, it suffers from two drawbacks. First, readers unfamiliar with the Pascal programming language would have been unable to decipher the listings. Second, all readers would have been forced to struggle through the many trivial complexities of a real computer program. I wanted to discuss the ideas behind the game, not the dirty details of programming.
I therefore decided to present my equations in a sanitized format that should be intelligible to anybody with an understanding of high school algebra. I do not use short variable names like x or y; instead, I write out full names for every variable. For example, if we wanted to calculate a persons average income over the last two years, the traditional computer listing might read like this:
AveIncm := (Incm[t-1] + Incm[t]) div 2;
This book’s presentation of such an equation would read like this:
[2014: There will be many other oddities appearing in the code due to the limitations of personal computers of yore. Back then, most calculations were carried out with 16-bit integers. It was certainly possible to do the calculations with floating point numbers (what you think of as normal numbers, like “23.86”). But it was slower and working with 16-bit integers saved memory and ran faster. So all the calculations in Balance of Power were carried out with numbers that ranged between -32,767 and +32,767. If you ended up using numbers that fell outside this range, you’d get screwy results. For example, 32,767 + 2 gave -1 as a result. One particularly odd consequence of this is that I often had to sprinkle odd numbers into the equations, numbers like 256 and 2048. Ignore them; they are not of central importance to the book; they serve only to deal with the oddities of 16-bit integer arithmetic. There were other tricky problems arising from the short length of these integers; I won’t bore you with all the ghastly details.]
While this approach will fail to satisfy those few dedicated person who want to delve into the innards of the program, I think it will satisfy the needs of the greater number of people who wish to understand the concepts behind the game.
Finally, I apologize to all those readers more knowledgeable about geopolitical matters than myself, who may wince at the necessary simplifications. I am first and foremost a game designer, not a political scientist. Simplification to achieve clarity is the essence of my work; clarity can be extracted from a muddy reality only by denying some of reality’s richness.