Strategic Simulations

 

 

 

 

 

Strategic Simulation's first game -- Computer Bismark, published in 1980. 

History

Strategic Simulations, Inc. (SSI) has the envious distinction of garnering both the most GOTCHA nominations and GOTCHA wins.  To be fair to other publishers, this is because SSI's main focus was wargames, which were a niche market that many publishers chose to avoid.  However, SSI was the undisputed king of computer wargames and was extremely successful as a videogame publisher.  As the company grew, so did its areas of expertise, adding RPGs and simulations to its massive portfolio of titles.

In July of 1979 Joel Billings started writing a game called Computer Bismarck.  He decided there was a market for the game and founded a development company he called Strategic Simulations.  Billings hoped to publish Bismarck through the board-wargaming giant Avalon Hill, but an exploratory call to AH showed that Tom Shaw had no interest in Bismarck.  His next call was to Automated Simulations (Epyx), but that too led nowhere.  If was obvious to Billings that if Bismarck was going to be published, SSI would have to do it alone.  That August he convinced John Lyon and Ed Williger to help him with game development.  Although they started working in August, they weren't officially employees of SSI until November.  

Computer Bismarck was released for the Apple II in January of 1980 and for the TRS-80 later that year.  SSI forsook the typical zip-loc packaging of a first-time publisher and shipped with the highest quality box and materials available. In fact, the box was oversized (about  8.5" x 11") and patterned after the famous Avalon Hill bookshelf board games.   Although the boxes were atypical computer game packaging at the time, they had no problem getting into stores.  In fact, the SSI business plan called for 90% mail order sales, but once they mailed to the Apple warranty list in February of 1980 (20,000 people were on the list), SSI had stores asking to buy the game.  By March of 1980 they were running 90% store sales and only 10% mail order. The professional look of the packaging and materials definitely helped get Bismarck and SSI's other games into stores, and SSI retained the larger box style until 1984.  Some games, like 1983's Questron, were originally packed in the larger box, but in later runs repackaged in a new, more conventional 6" x 9" box.

Other people involved with SSI in 1979 were Susan Billings (Joel's sister) who was hired in December 1979 to help with the administrative/logistical side of the business, and David Cook (head of Amdahl home computer club).  He never became an employee, but SSI borrowed his computer for a while. 

In 1982, SSI started a new line of games it called "RapidFire."  The name implies action games, but this isn't usually the case.  RapidFire games are not SSI's traditional wargames, but they still run the gamut from strategy to action.  RapidFire games were generally  written by outside developers; therefore they were more diverse in both genre and quality.  The initial four games were Cytron Masters (written by Dan and Bill Bunten, later of Ozark Softscape and M.U.L.E. fame), Galactic Gladiators, The Cosmic Balance, and S.E.U.I.S.  The January 1983 issue of SpaceGamer magazine says the RapidFire line "...deserves any award it can be nominated for.  It is the best line of computer games I've ever seen, and the programs rate high on an individual basis also."  Of course, in 1982 there wasn't any award to be nominated for, which is why we now have GOTCHA.  RapidFire only lasted a couple of years, adding titles such as Fortress, Combat Leader and The Cosmic Balance II in 1983.

An SSI RapidFire ad from the  January 1983 issue of SpaceGamer magazine.  

SSI simply dominated the computer wargame market in the 1980's and 1990's.  Its chief competition in the early 80's was Avalon Hill, the company that SSI originally hoped would publish its games.  However, AH games were far less popular than their SSI counterparts.  Click here for a complete discography of SSI games published between 1980 and 1987.

Besides wargames, SSI also published several successful RPGs: The Phantasie series, Questron series, Wizard's Crown series, and Gemstone Warrior series to name a few.  However, it wasn't until 1988 that SSI became a powerful player in the RPG market.  In 1987, SSI signed an agreement with TSR (the publishers of Dungeons and Dragons paper-based role playing games) to be the sole producer of D&D computer role-playing games.  In 1988, SSI released Pool of Radiance.  Its combination of D&D rules and lore combined with tactical combat proved to be a smash hit.  The same (or similar) RPG engine was used to produce  approximately 10 other SSI D&D games.  The D&D name was also used successfully in other non-RPG computer games  like Dragonstrike (a dragon riding simulation) and War of the Lance (a fantasy wargame).  In 1990, SSI also created the first in the highly successful first-person D&D RPGs -- Eye of the Beholder.  In retrospect, the D&D license was one of the best business decisions SSI (or any Golden Age game publisher) ever made.

With the combination of the D&D license and their continuing excellence in wargames, SSI survived and excelled beyond the Golden Age (1979 - 1992) of computer gaming.  However, in the mid-1990's, SSI was bought by the Learning Company (much like Broderbund), which was later bought by toy giant Mattel.  In 2000, Mattel sold its games and educational software divisions to a buyout firm called Gores Technology Group, which renamed the games division to "GAME Studios" in January of 2001.  GAME Studios was then sold to Ubi Soft in March of 2001.  SSI is still a strong brand name today, but it now exists in name alone as part of a much larger corporation.

   -- This summary was based on e-mail interviews with Joel Billings and Chuck Kroegel  (of SSI and Tactical Design Group).  GOTCHA would like to sincerely thank  both gentlemen for their willingness to help preserve this slice of video gaming history.  

GOTCHA Nominees

The Warp Factor -- SSI, 1981

Cartels and Cutthroats -- SSI, 1981

Guadalcanal Campaign -- SSI, 1981

Southern Command -- SSI, 1981

Bomb Alley -- SSI, 1981

Tigers in the Snow -- SSI, 1981

Battle For Normandy -- SSI, 1981

The Cosmic Balance -- SSI, 1982?

North Atlantic 86 -- SSI, 1982

Germany 1985 -- SSI, 1982

Questron -- SSI, 1983

Carrier Force -- SSI, 1983

Breakthrough in the Ardennes -- SSI, 1984

Field of Fire -- SSI, 1984

Wizard's Crown -- SSI, 1985

Phantasie -- SSI, 1985

Colonial Conquest -- SSI, 1985

Kampfgruppe -- SSI, 1985

Mech Brigade -- SSI, 1985

Operation Market Garden -- SSI, 1985

Battle of Antietam -- SSI, 1985

Roadwar 2000 -- SSI, 1986

Battle Group -- SSI, 1986

Warship -- SSI, 1986

War in the South Pacific -- SSI, 1986

Battles of Napoleon -- SSI, 1988

Typhoon of Steel -- SSI, 1988

Curse of the Azure Bonds -- SSI, 1989

Death Knights of Krynn -- SSI, 1991

Eye of the Beholder II -- SSI, 1991

Gateway to the Savage Frontier -- SSI, 1991

 

GOTCHA Winners

Computer Quarterback - SSI, 1980

Computer Ambush -- SSI, 1980

Computer Bismarck -- SSI, 1980

Computer Baseball - SSI, 1981

President Elect -- SSI, 1981

Galactic Gladiators -- SSI, 1982

War in Russia -- SSI, 1983

Gettysburg: The Turning Point -- SSI, 1986

Battle Cruiser -- SSI, 1987

Pool of Radiance -- SSI, 1988

Dragonstrike -- SSI, 1990

Eye of the Beholder -- SSI, 1990

Pools of Darkness -- SSI, 1991

Cyber Empries -- SSI, 1992

Pacific War -- SSI, 1992

Games in the GOTCHA Museum 

Game Name: Publisher: OS: Media: Category: Condition: Year:
50 Mission Crush Strategic Simulations Atari 5.25" Disk Strategy MS 1985
Archon Ultra Strategic Simulations DOS 3.5" Disk Action/Strategy F 1993
B-24 Strategic Simulations C64 5.25" Disk Strategy MS 1987
Battle Cruiser Strategic Simulations Atari 5.25" Disk Strategy IM 1987
Battle Cruiser Strategic Simulations C64 5.25" Disk Strategy F 1987
Battle for Normandy Strategic Simulations Apple II/Atari 5.25" Disk Strategy F 1981-82
Battle for Normandy Strategic Simulations C64 Cass Strategy NM 1981-83
Battle of Antietam Strategic Simulations Apple II 5.25" Disk Strategy F 1985
Battle of Antietam Strategic Simulations C64 5.25" Disk Strategy MS 1985
Battle of Antietam Strategic Simulations DOS 3.5" Disk Strategy IM/IM 1985-86
Battle of the Bulge: Tigers in the Snow Strategic Simulations Tandy Cass Strategy G 1981
Battle of the Bulge: Tigers in the Snow Strategic Simulations C64 5.25" Disk Strategy F (MMC) 1981
BattleGroup Strategic Simulations C64 5.25" Disk Strategy MS 1986
Battles of Napoleon Strategic Simulations Apple II 5.25" Disk Strategy MS 1988
Break Through in the Ardennes Strategic Simulations Apple II 5.25" Disk Strategy F 1984
Buck Rogers: Countdown to Doomsday Strategic Simulations C64 5.25" Disk RPG F 1990
Carrier Force Strategic Simulations Apple II 5.25" Disk Strategy F 1983
Cartels & Cutthroats Strategic Simulations Apple II 5.25" Disk Strategy VG 1981
Champions of Krynn Strategic Simulations Apple II 5.25" Disk RPG VG 1990
Champions of Krynn Strategic Simulations C64 5.25" Disk RPG F 1990
Chronicles of Osgorth: The Shattered Alliance Strategic Simulations Apple II 5.25" Disk Strategy F 1981
Colonial Conquest Strategic Simulations Atari ST 3.5" Disk Strategy VG 1985
Colonial Conquest Strategic Simulations Apple II 5.25" Disk Strategy F/F 1985
Combat Leader Strategic Simulations Atari 5.25" Disk Strategy G 1983
Computer Air Combat Strategic Simulations Apple II 5.25" Disk Strategy VG (MMC) 1980
Computer Ambush Strategic Simulations Apple II 5.25" Disk Strategy F (MMC) 1980-82
Computer Ambush Strategic Simulations Atari 5.25" Disk Strategy F (MMC) 1980-82
Computer Baseball Strategic Simulations C64 5.25" Disk Sports F 1981
Computer Baseball Strategic Simulations Apple II 5.25" Disk Sports VG/F 1981
Computer Baseball Strategic Simulations C64 5.25" Disk Sports MS 1981
Computer Bismarck Strategic Simulations Apple II 5.25" Disk Strategy MS 1980
Computer Conflict Strategic Simulations Apple II 5.25" Disk Strategy F 1980
Computer Quarterback Strategic Simulations Apple II 5.25" Disk Sports F 1980-81
Computer Quarterback (Second Edition) Strategic Simulations Apple II 5.25" Disk Sports F 1981
Curse of the Azure Bonds Strategic Simulations Apple II 5.25" Disk RPG VG 1989
Curse of the Azure Bonds Strategic Simulations C64 5.25" Disk RPG NM/NM 1989
Cyber Empries Strategic Simulations DOS 3.5" Disk Action/Strategy F 1992
Cytron Masters Strategic Simulations Apple II/Atari 5.25" Disk Strategy IM 1982
Dark Legions Strategic Simulations DOS CD-ROM Action/Strategy VG 1994
Death Knights of Krynn Strategic Simulations C64 5.25" Disk RPG VG 1991
Demon's Winter Strategic Simulations Atari ST 3.5" Disk RPG F 1988
Demon's Winter Strategic Simulations C64 5.25" Disk RPG VG 1988
Dragons of Flame Strategic Simulations Atari ST 3.5" Disk Action
IM 1989
DragonStrike Strategic Simulations DOS 3.5" Disk Action F 1990
Dungeon Masters Assistant Volume 1: Encounters Strategic Simulations C64 5.25" Disk Misc. F 1988
Eagles Strategic Simulations C64 5.25" Disk Strategy NM 1983
Eagles Strategic Simulations Apple II 5.25" Disk Strategy F 1983
Eye of the Beholder Strategic Simulations DOS 3.5" Disk RPG MS 1990
Eye of the Beholder Strategic Simulations DOS 5.25" Disk RPG F 1990
Eye of the Beholder II Strategic Simulations DOS 5.25" Disk RPG F 1991
Eye of the Beholder II Strategic Simulations Amiga 3.5" Disk RPG VG/F 1991
Field of Fire Strategic Simulations C64 5.25" Disk Strategy IM 1984
Field of Fire Strategic Simulations Atari 5.25" Disk Strategy F (MMC) 1984
Fighter Command Strategic Simulations DOS 5.25" Disk Strategy F/VG 1983
Flashback: The Quest For Identity Strategic Simulations DOS 3.5" Disk Action/Adventure F 1993
Fortress Strategic Simulations Apple II/Atari 5.25" Disk Strategy G 1983
Fortress Strategic Simulations C64/Atari 5.25" Disk Strategy NM (S) (C) 1983
Galactic Adventures Strategic Simulations Apple II 5.25" Disk RPG IM 1982
Galactic Adventures Strategic Simulations Atari 5.25" Disk RPG VG/F 1982
Gateway to the Savage Frontier Strategic Simulations C64 5.25" Disk RPG VG 1991
Gemstone Healer Strategic Simulations C64 5.25" Disk RPG MS 1986
Gemstone Warrior Strategic Simulations C64 5.25" Disk RPG F 1984
Gemstone Warrior Strategic Simulations Apple II 5.25" Disk RPG VG 1984
Geopolitique 1990 Strategic Simulations Apple II 5.25" Disk Strategy VG 1983
Germany 1985 Strategic Simulations Apple II 5.25" Disk Strategy F 1981-82
Gettysburg: The Turning Point Strategic Simulations Atari 5.25" Disk Strategy MS 1986
Guadalcanal Campaign Strategic Simulations Apple II 5.25" Disk Strategy VG 1981-82
Heroes of the Lance Strategic Simulations Atari ST 3.5" Disk Action/Adventure G 1988
Heroes of the Lance Strategic Simulations C64 5.25" Disk Action VG 1988-89
Hillsfar Strategic Simulations Atari ST 3.5" Disk Action/Adventure IM 1989
Hillsfar Strategic Simulations C64 5.25" Disk Action/Adventure IM 1989
Imperium Galactum Strategic Simulations C64 5.25" Disk Strategy F (MMC) 1984
Imperium Galactum Strategic Simulations Apple II 5.25" Disk Strategy F 1984
Kampfgruppe Strategic Simulations Atari 5.25" Disk Strategy MS 1985
Knights of the Desert Strategic Simulations C64 5.25" Disk Strategy F (MMC) 1983
Knights of the Desert Strategic Simulations C64 Cass Strategy MS 1983
Knights of the Desert Strategic Simulations Apple II 5.25" Disk Strategy VG 1983
Mech Brigade Strategic Simulations Atari 5.25" Disk Strategy F 1985-86
NAM Strategic Simulations Atari 5.25" Disk Strategy F 1985
Napoleon's Campaigns 1813 & 1815 Strategic Simulations Apple II 5.25" Disk Strategy F 1981
North Atlantic '86 Strategic Simulations Apple II 5.25" Disk Strategy VG 1983
Objective Kursk Strategic Simulations Apple II 5.25" Disk Strategy F 1984
Objective Kursk Strategic Simulations Atari 5.25" Disk Strategy F 1984
Operation Apocalypse Strategic Simulations Apple II 5.25" Disk Strategy F 1981
Operation Market Garden Strategic Simulations C64 5.25" Disk Strategy MS 1985
Overrun! Strategic Simulations Apple II 5.25" Disk Strategy VG 1989
Pacific War Strategic Simulations DOS 5.25" Disk Strategy VG 1992
Panzer Grenadier Strategic Simulations Apple II 5.25" Disk Strategy F 1985
Panzer Grenadier Strategic Simulations C64 5.25" Disk Strategy MS 1985
Panzer Grenadier Strategic Simulations Atari 5.25" Disk Strategy NM (S) (C) 1985
Panzer Strike! Strategic Simulations Apple II 5.25" Disk Strategy F 1987
Phantasie Strategic Simulations Atari ST 3.5" Disk RPG VG 1985
Phantasie III Strategic Simulations Atari ST 3.5" Disk RPG
1987
Pool of Radiance Strategic Simulations Apple II 5.25" Disk RPG F 1988
Pool of Radiance Strategic Simulations C64 5.25" Disk RPG VG 1988
Pools of Darkness Strategic Simulations Amiga 3.5" Disk RPG MS 1991
President Elect Strategic Simulations Apple II 5.25" Disk Strategy MS 1981
President Elect: 1988 Edition Strategic Simulations Atari ST 3.5" Disk Strategy VG/F 1987
Professional Tour Golf Strategic Simulations Apple II 5.25" Disk Sports F (S) (C) (T)
Prophecy of the Shadow Strategic Simulations DOS 5.25" Disk RPG F 1992
Pursuit of the Graf Spee Strategic Simulations Apple II 5.25" Disk Strategy VG 1981-82
Questron Strategic Simulations Apple II 5.25" Disk RPG F 1983-84
Questron Strategic Simulations Atari 5.25" Disk RPG F 1983-84
Questron II Strategic Simulations Atari ST 3.5" Disk RPG F 1988
Rails West Strategic Simulations Atari 5.25" Disk Strategy VG/F 1984
RDF 1985 Strategic Simulations C64 5.25" Disk Strategy F 1983
RDF 1985 Strategic Simulations Apple II 5.25" Disk Strategy IM/IM 1983
Realms of Darkness Strategic Simulations C64 5.25" Disk RPG VG 1987
Rebel Charge at Chickamauga Strategic Simulations Atari 5.25" Disk Strategy NM (S) (C) 1987
Rebel Charge at Chickamauga Strategic Simulations DOS 3.5" Disk Strategy IM/IM 1987
Red Lightning Strategic Simulations Atari ST 3.5" Disk Strategy F 1989
Reforger '88 Strategic Simulations Atari 5.25" Disk Strategy NM (S) (C) 1984
Renegade Legion: Interceptor Strategic Simulations Amiga 3.5" Disk Strategy IM 1990-91
Revel Charge at Chickamauga Strategic Simulations Atari 5.25" Disk Strategy MS 1987
Rings of Zilfin Strategic Simulations Atari ST 3.5" Disk RPG VG 1986
Ringside Seat Strategic Simulations Apple II/C64 5.25" Disk Sports NM 1983
Roadwar 2000 Strategic Simulations Atari ST 3.5" Disk RPG MS 1986
Roadwar Europa Strategic Simulations Atari ST 3.5" Disk RPG MS 1987
Second Front: Germany Turns East Strategic Simulations DOS 5.25" Disk Strategy VG 1989
Secret of the Silver Blades Strategic Simulations C64 5.25" Disk RPG VG 1990
Shadow Sorcerer Strategic Simulations Atari ST 3.5" Disk RPG NM (S) (T) 1991
Shard of Spring Strategic Simulations Apple II 5.25" Disk RPG IM 1986
Shiloh: Grant's Trial in the West Strategic Simulations Atari 5.25" Disk Strategy MS 1987
Six-Gun Shootout Strategic Simulations Atari 5.25" Disk Strategy F 1985
Sons of Liberty Strategic Simulations Atari 5.25" Disk Strategy MS 1987
Southern Command Strategic Simulations Apple II 5.25" Disk Strategy F 1981
Star Command Strategic Simulations Atari ST 3.5" Disk RPG G 1988
Stellar Crusade Strategic Simulations Atari ST 3.5" Disk Strategy MS 1988
The Battle of Shiloh Strategic Simulations Apple II/Atari 5.25" Disk Strategy F 1981
The Battle of the Bulge: Tigers in the Snow Strategic Simulations Tandy Cass Strategy G 1981
The Eternal Dagger Strategic Simulations C64 5.25" Disk RPG VG/IM 1987
The Road to Gettysburg Strategic Simulations Apple II 5.25" Disk Strategy VG (MMC) 1981-82
The Summoning Strategic Simulations DOS 5.25" Disk RPG MS 1992
The Warp Factor Strategic Simulations Apple II 5.25" Disk Strategy F 1981
Torpedo Fire Strategic Simulations Apple II 5.25" Disk Simulation VG/F 1981
Typhoon of Steel Strategic Simulations Apple II 5.25" Disk Strategy F 1988
U.S.A.A.F. Strategic Simulations Apple II 5.25" Disk Strategy F 1985
War in Russia Strategic Simulations Atari 5.25" Disk Strategy F/F 1984
War in the South Pacific Strategic Simulations C64 5.25" Disk Strategy F (MMC) 1986
War in the South Pacific Strategic Simulations Apple II 5.25" Disk Strategy VG 1986
War of the Lance Strategic Simulations C64 5.25" Disk Strategy F/F 1988-89
Wargame Construction Set Strategic Simulations Atari ST 3.5" Disk Strategy F/F 1986
Warship Strategic Simulations Atari 5.25" Disk Strategy IM 1986
Warship Strategic Simulations C64 5.25" Disk Strategy F 1986
Warship Strategic Simulations Apple II 5.25" Disk Strategy F 1986
Waterloo Strategic Simulations Amiga 3.5" Disk Strategy VG/F (MMC) 1989
Wings of War Strategic Simulations C64 5.25" Disk Strategy F 1985
Wizard's Crown Strategic Simulations Atari ST 3.5" Disk RPG MS 1985
 

 

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