Take on the NES Library

An 8-bit Extravaganza!



#134 – Genghis Khan

Become a world-conquering emperor from the comfort of your own home.

The title screen music is kind of good?

To Beat: Reach the ending
To Complete: Get all endings on the highest difficulty
What I Did: Reached one ending on difficulty level 2
Played: 8/15/19 – 9/21/19
Difficulty: 5/10
My Difficulty: 6/10
My Video: Genghis Khan Ending

Here we are at another Koei simulation game. I have written in several places on this website that I have dreaded playing these games and have tried to delay them in various ways over the years. This is now my second Koei completion. The first Koei game I beat was Gemfire, which proved to be the ideal introduction to this style of game. There aren’t too many systems involved and combat was fun and engaging. From what I can tell it has a different feel than some of the other, deeper games. Genghis Khan is one of the earlier NES entries, but is more complex than Gemfire and probably falls in line with the bulk of the historical Koei titles. I can’t say if this game was a good next logical step for attacking these strategy titles, but it did fit the bill.

The game Genghis Khan was originally called Aoki Ookami to Shiroki Mejika: Genghis Khan for its Japanese release. It first came out on the PC-9801 in December 1987. Other versions include the Japanese MSX and X68000 ports in 1988, the North American DOS port in 1989, and the European Amiga port in 1990. The Famicom port released in April 1989. The NES version released in North America only in January 1990. This game is actually the second game of a series but is the only one to appear on the NES.

Genghis Khan is a turn-based tactical strategy game. The ultimate goal of the game is to unify all countries on the map by taking them over and ruling over them all. To that end, there are a couple of ways to get started. The Mongol Conquest mode begins in the year 1175. You play as Temujin, the young ruler who eventually becomes Genghis Khan. This is a single player mode only where you unify Mongolia by controlling 14 tribes. Completing that mode puts you into World Conquest mode, or you can start from World Conquest directly. That mode begins in the year 1206. This mode is multiplayer and you can play up to four players taking alternating turns. Starting off on this mode, you can choose from one of four rulers: Genghis Khan of the Mongols, Richard I of England, Alexicus III of the Byzantine Empire, or Yoritomo of Japan. You win the game if you unify the world with any of these leaders.

Sorry all my screenshots are from the end of the game.

Normally, I would defer a lot of the explanation of a game to something I already wrote about if it makes sense. Direct sequels are the best case of this, but Koei games seem like a good fit. Comparing my two experiences of Gemfire and Genghis Khan, I think the two games are different enough to warrant separate explanations. That means this is going to get very detailed and lengthy. I need to say a lot to do this game proper justice. If you like long posts and reviews, you will probably like this one. I just want to be upfront so you know what you are getting into!

First things first, you need to get a leader. Your leader has six abilities statistics: Leadership, Judgment, Planning, Charm, Body, and Battle. You can have points distributed randomly by the game or choose them yourself. You also need to set the stats of your four princes. I just took what the game gave me, but some people opt to keep rerolling random stats until they get strong ones. Once all people are set, then you can pick the skill level from 1 to 5, 1 being Easy and 5 being Hard. While I’m all about beating games on the hardest difficulty, I’m not interested in that on these titles. I went with Level 2 since I have a little Koei experience by beating Gemfire.

This game follows a standard Koei flow. You see a map of the world along with each country numbered. Each territory gets one turn per season, the order of which is randomly generated. Computer players take their turns automatically and you can see some events of theirs such as declaring war. Your leader starts off at his home base and when his turn comes up you get three moves per turn. For other territories under your rule, you can assign a prince to rule them automatically, or you can rule them directly from afar but then you get only get one move from a limited subset of moves.

There are events that regularly or randomly occur each season, taking place before countries take their individual turns. Many things happen every Spring. Taxes are collected, the troops are paid, food is distributed, and everyone ages a year. Sometimes children are born. At the start of Fall, both food and specialty items are collected as taxes. Various natural disasters can occur year-round, damaging affected countries. Sometime a prince may rebel, either attacking his home country, or making his country independent. If that happens to one of your princes, you either deal with the attack or lose that territory.

Natural disasters affect certain regions at random.

The main display has a ton of information to show and moves to choose from. At the top of the screen, you see the year, season, country number, name, and ruler’s name. The left-hand side contains all of main orders you can issue. Many orders here link to sub menus where you can choose your specific action. The lower-left corner shows how many orders you have left this turn as well as the current market rate for trading, and also which player is in control in a multiplayer game. The center column contains a picture of the ruler, if it is the home base or a territory under direct control, and a picture of that country’s specialty item. The right side contains a bunch of other statistics for the country. You see the amount of gold and food available, as well as the number of troops. The next section is for this country’s skilled workers. These are townspeople, masons, food producers, and artisans who produce the country’s specialty item. Other country-specific stats at the bottom of the list are morale, economy, defense, arms, and skill. Finally, a descriptive text box rounds out this screen.

Many different events and outcomes are influenced by the country’s statistics. Low morale may cause an uprising in the country or theft of the food supply. The economy stat helps determine how much money is collected during tax time every spring. The defense stat shows the strength of the country’s castle, which is helpful during battle scenes. The higher the arms stat is, the more damage weapons such as arrows from archers do in battle. The skill level of your troops determines how much damage they will deal in a battle. These stats fluctuate all the time in this game due to planned or unplanned events.

Utilizing your commands properly depends on the leader’s individual ability statistics. To issue many commands, you have to spend some of those points in one or many categories, while the success of some actions depend on how many total points in a stat you have at the time. For instance, going to War decreases multiple stats including your leader’s Battle stat, but a higher Battle stat means you will perform better during the war. While some of the ties between commands and leader abilities are obvious, many are not, and you need the manual at your side or some kind of lookup chart to see the cost and effect of every move.

Now let’s look at each command individually, starting with the Tax command. This command lets you set the tax rate as a percentage. You can also collect a special extra tax optionally once per year that is best taken sparingly.

Set up your army in any configuration you like.

The Assign command allows you to update your mix of people in either the labor force or your army. As mentioned above, there are five types of skilled laborers: townspeople, masons, food producers, artisans, and troops. You can set how many of each laborer you want. This is a useful command for increasing your troops before war time or building up various aspects of your country. You may also decide the distribution of your army. You can have up to 10 units on the battlefield. You select one of the unit slots, choose the unit type from either cavalry, infantry, or archers, and set the percentage of troops assigned to that unit. You can configure the entire army in a single move.

The Give command is a simple command that lets you give some of your country’s assets back to the people. You decide from either gold, food, or the specialty item and how many units you want to give. This command is strictly for increasing morale.

The Train command allows you to train your troops, one of your princes, yourself, or your people. Training the troops increases your country’s skill stat. You can increase one of the abilities of one of your princes in your command. You can also increase one of your own stats, either Leadership, Judgment, Planning, Charm, Body, or Battle. This was one of my most used commands because it doesn’t cost any stat points to raise a stat. Training the people lets you prepare people to be drafted later into the army.

The Trade command lets you buy items, sell items, or hire troops. The way this works is there are three merchants, China, Islam, and Uighur, that run different trade routes throughout the year. First select a merchant to see if they are available for trading. When choosing to buy or sell, you see a list of all the possible specialty items plus food. Weapons appear only on the buy list. A price appears next to the item if it is available. You can choose an item, then select quantity to spend your gold. You can browse the buying and selling options for free without using a turn, but any single transaction counts as a move. You can also select to hire troops to add to your army. All of the prices fluctuate depending on the seller and the overall market rate. Buy low, sell high!

Many turns were spent updating my leader’s stats.

The People command has a ton of options. You can change the leadership of a territory abroad, either by moving princes around, assigning a new prince, or taking direct control. You may choose an outstanding man from your army and promote him to a prince or demote a prince back to a common soldier. You can promote one of your sons to a prince once he reaches a certain age, or you can marry one of your daughters to a prince to gain his loyalty. Princes may betray you at any time unless they are related to you. You can also use this command to draft people into the army.

The View command has many options to view statistics. You can view your own countries without costing a move, but viewing other countries costs a move and requires that you have already sent a spy there. You may look at country data or ruler data. You can pull up a list of every country you have a treaty with and how long the treaty lasts. You can also see your list of available princes, children, and stock of specialty items.

The Move command lets you move different things around between adjacent countries you control. You can move your home base to another country. (A little tip here: If you do this with moves remaining, you will lose them, so always do this on the third move of your turn.) You also have the options to move gold, food, items, troops, or skilled laborers between territories.

The Policy command is a highly detailed command that lets you set many different settings for one of your princes ruling a country abroad, all in one move. You can set internal policies like setting the tax rate, assigning the labor and army, and how to treat your army and citizens. You also get to choose external policies, such as allowing declaration of war, negotiations with foreign countries, and whether or not to send supplies to neighbors. If you don’t set policy, princes will make their own decisions.

The Treaty command lets you make a deal with an adjacent enemy territory. This is where you can ask for and set alliances for five years with neighboring countries. You can also try and strong arm one of your enemy neighbors into paying you in gold, food, and items. Foreign countries are usually resistant unless you are much stronger than them. Also, if an enemy asks this of you and refuse, they may decide to go to war with you immediately.

Sending spies to do damage usually doesn’t work.

The Spy command lets you pay some gold to send a spy to a foreign country. You can send a spy to report on a foreign country so that you can view that country’s and ruler’s data. A spy can be sent to damage an enemy’s castle and town or even the ruler himself. This command also lets you search your own country for a spy and eliminate him if found.

The remaining commands are War, Pass, and Other. War lets you declare war against another country. You decide how many troops to send, though you need enough gold to pay them and food to sustain them during the fight. You can fight as your main leader and act the battle yourself, or you can send a prince to battle automatically and you just view results. The Pass command lets you end your turn early, forfeiting any moves remaining. The Other command lets you tweak various game settings, such as setting the text speed, toggling music, sounds, and animations, stuff like that. You can save your progress here to the battery backup, as well as end your game if you are done this session.

The battle screen is a major part of this game. Starting off a battle shows a quick summary of both sides in the combat before moving to the battlefield. Each battlefield consists of a map of squares staggered to resemble a hex map, and each country has its own battle map. There is one town square and one castle square on each map. All other squares are assigned a terrain which influences how you move through that space. There are entry and exit points along the edge tiles of the battlefield labeled by a number. The number indicates which numbered country uses those squares to enter or leave the battlefield. The attacking army first places each unit in one of his numbered entry squares, then the defending side places each unit on any other square in the field. Unit squares display the type of unit, either cavalry, infantry, or archer, the unit number, the number of soldiers represented in groups of 10, and a color, either red for the attacking side or blue for the defending side. The unit number of your leader is either 0 if it is your main ruler or an asterisk if it is a prince. Now the battle can begin, attacking side first.

Since you can only attack enemies in adjacent squares, you will use the Move command to get in position. Each unit has a mobility counter that reduces some for every square you move during your turn. The more difficult the terrain, the more mobility required to move there and the more men you will lose in crossing that space. The Move command can also be used to divide a unit into multiple units or combine units. You may decide how many soldiers to split off and then move that portion to an adjacent square as its own unit. Simply moving one unit onto another unit of the same type combines those units into one.

Place your units on the entry points when you start a war.

Use the Attack command to fight another unit. This is where the unit types come into play. Normal attacks by any unit engage an enemy on an adjacent square and cause losses on both sides. Archers can attack with arrows on a unit one square away in any direction. Infantry units can set up an ambush. The unit will go into hiding in a nearby square and become invisible. When an enemy moves onto a square next to the hidden infantry unit, it immediately reveals itself and attacks at higher than normal damage rates. You can also set up a duel against rival leader units, if the other side accepts. The winning ruler of a duel may take the loser captive, ending the battle immediately, or take a portion of the losing troops over to the winning side.

Miscellaneous battle actions are done from the Other command. You can demand the enemy commander to surrender. You can move your leader to one of the exit squares and request reinforcements from a neighboring country you control. The attacking side’s main unit can raid the defending town for food, or any unit can hunt for food in one of the forest tiles.

These are the remaining battle commands. You can Pass a turn for any unit, which increases its mobility by one for the next turn. You can Flee to a neighboring country you control through the exit squares. You can use the View command to see how many units are in each army, the leader data for both leaders, and other detailed stats for each army. The Recon command lets you view the battlefield, either letting you scroll around the map or sending you to a different screen displaying the entire battlefield.

If you win the battle, you take control of the affected country and must make several choices after. First you decide who rules this country, either one of your princes, the defeated ruler, or yourself under direct control. Then you decide the fate of the enemy ruler. You can kill him, set him free, or make him one of your princes. You may also see one of the outstanding men from the enemy’s side and you can choose if you want to recruit him as a prince or not. The enemy gets to decide your fate if you lose a war. If you fight as the main leader and you are killed, you can choose one of your sons to rule in your place. If there are no sons of age to do this, then the game is over. (Fortunately, this doesn’t erase your save or anything.)

I always executed captured leaders, except for this last one.

As with all Koei titles, this was my first time both playing and beating Genghis Khan. The Koei games tend to be more uncommon and therefore more expensive, however Genghis Khan is one of the more affordable entries in the series. Loose carts go for around $10. I once picked up a lot on eBay of a few of the cheaper Koei titles complete in box which included Genghis Khan. I have both the thick instruction manual and the special map/poster combo that came with this game only.

These are tough games for me to get into and I struggled quite a lot early on. The proper method for starting something like this is to jump in and try different things without being afraid to fail. Get a feel for the game first. That way you can see what things work and what don’t so that you can develop a game plan. Then you start the game over and go at with your game plan. The problem with that is that you might get a few hours in that first time and then you have to burn all that progress down when starting over. Therefore, even though I know how I should attack this game, I keep pushing forward on my initial save file because I have a fear of wasting all that time. That fear has decided that continuing a game in a less favorable position is better than starting over from more of a neutral position. The next Koei game I play I am making sure to try going about it in the proper way I described, even if it goes against my own impulses.

My first major hurdle in the game was expanding my empire by just one country. I learned battle well enough to win a country, but then both of my territories were vulnerable to further attack. The enemies knew this and took advantage right away, leaving me in a much worse state than I was before. I know I failed in taking advantage of treaties, but I also didn’t build myself up enough to have enough manpower to manage two territories. I went about bulking up my forces through an economic game plan. I kept enough troops available to discourage war and funneled most of my leftover laborers toward making both food and specialty items. Selling specialty items is a given, but selling excess food was a surprise money maker. My wealth went into hiring more troops, which could then be converted into more food and item producers, completing a nice circle of economic growth. Now I could start my conquest, pulling in more countries under my rule. My Gemfire strategy of isolating territories from enemies and then funneling their resources toward countries on the front lines was in full effect.

From here I started cruising to victory. I had the eastern part of the map conquered and had a prince in charge of each territory. I learned the most efficient way to battle was to put all my troops into one cavalry unit and to weaken the enemy enough to win in a duel. (I figured out the single cavalry unit strategy on my own, and found a tip online suggesting that focusing on the leader’s body and battle stats have a positive effect on winning duels.) I really thought I had the game all figured out but then the game presented a new challenge.

Enemies annoyingly scatter once they are done for.

The latter part of the game turned into making total game plan adjustments that I never really figured out the best way to handle. What happened was I started losing far away territories to uprisings. I had several of them happen within a year or two in-game time. There weren’t enough loyal princes to have a family member in charge of everything. What I maybe could have done was go all in on save scumming and just reset any time this happened, which was a strategy I was already using partially. With so many countries to take over, how could I be sure I could get through any season without at least one revolt happening?

The strategy I ultimately went with was to go back and re-take the countries I lost and place them all under my direct control. That way I could be sure a leader wouldn’t revolt. While an effective strategy, having to make a choice on every territory each turn meant it took forever to make progress on the overall map. Each turn took several minutes of menuing. It was awful, but it got the job done. The plan I really thought would work better was to drain an isolated country of resources, leaving just enough to sustain the people, then put a prince in charge with policy not to grow troops. If they do revolt, they would be weak and easy to reclaim. I attempted that early on but I couldn’t figure out if it was actually helping. I never got the right laborer mix that avoided morale or economic problems in those distant territories.

I spent a lot of time finishing this game, both in real time and game time. I didn’t keep track of my hours, but I suspect I spent around 25-30 hours beating the game over the course of five weeks. I played a lot the first week or so and then chipped away a little bit at a time until I got it done. As far as in-game time is concerned, I needed 60 years to unite the world under Tegighiz in 1266. In my timeline, Genghis Khan died in 1241 and his son Tegighiz assumed the leader role up to the game’s completion. We are making our own history here, which really is the point of a Koei game when you think about it.

I experienced a couple personal milestones while playing Genghis Khan. My wife and I had a baby of our own during this playthrough. I was off work a lot, but with two kids including a newborn that needed to be fed and changed multiple times during the night, I was very busy all the time. I sacrificed a lot of sleep that I probably shouldn’t have just to have 30 minutes here or an hour there playing Genghis Khan. The other big piece of news is that with this completion I have now finished over 20% of the licensed NES library! It works out that every 67 games completed is just over a new tenth of the library finished. I have a long way to go, but 20% complete with a diverse mix of games finished is no small feat. Expect 30% completion a couple of years from now!

Genghis Khan is a complicated NES strategy game that has a lot of offer if you are into this type of game. The graphics work well for this kind of game. The character portraits are varied and there are some decent animations for some actions. I ended up turning them off only to save time. The music is pretty good overall, though it ended up being an annoyance. Regions of the map have their own theme music, but the music changes all the time if you have multiple provinces under direct control all over the map. The controls for entering in numerical inputs can be a little bit slippery and you pass digits you want, but everything else works well enough. This seems to be another game that only caters to a specific audience. I am no expert on whether or not this is a good Koei game, but from my perspective, I had some fun with it and I think it is a solid title.

#134 – Genghis Khan


#69 – Desert Commander

A nice introduction to turn-based strategy on the NES.

Not pictured is the tank that blew up.

To Beat: Win any scenario
To Complete: Win all scenarios
What I Did: Completed the game
Played: 12/30/17 – 1/4/18
Difficulty: 2/10
My Difficulty: 5/10
Video: Desert Commander Final Scenario

Hot off the heels of the Power Pad running game Super Team Games, I completely switched gears and played a relaxing, low-key NES strategy game. Desert Commander and other similar strategy titles were once relegated to the end of my game list. Here I thought it was fitting to go from a physical game straight into a more cerebral experience, and Desert Commander slots in perfectly. I wrote off Desert Commander as not for me almost instantly. I do like puzzle games and the occasional RPG, but strategy games are just different enough from those to dissuade me from playing. Once I gave it a chance, I actually had fun. Without anything else to compare it to, I believe Desert Commander was the right choice for my first NES strategy title.

Desert Commander was first released in Japan under the name Sensha Senryaku: Sabaku no Kitsune. There it was released in late April 1988, both published and developed by Kemco. The setting for the game is World War II and is based on the North African Campaign. In the Famicom version, you can choose either the Axis or Allied side, but that was removed in the US release in favor of a more generic setting. The NES release of Desert Commander was in June 1989, also by Kemco.

Desert Commander is a turn-based strategy game for one or two players. Each side gets a specific amount of units and an initial setup on one of several maps. On your turn, you may assign up to one command for each available unit. For instance, you may move units to a different space on the map or engage a nearby enemy unit in combat. When you command each unit or decide to end your turn, your opponent may do the same. Each player has a special unit called Headquarters, and if you can defeat the enemy headquarters you win the battle. There are five scenarios to choose from and winning any one of them is good enough to get the ending.

It’s a hot day at the battlefield.

The controls are straightforward. Use the D-pad to move a cursor around the screen when it is your turn in the battle. Move the cursor toward any edge of the screen to scroll in the desired direction. Press A when the cursor is above one of your units to bring up a unit status display and menu. Use the D-pad to choose an item from the menu, press A to make your selection, or press B to go back. You cannot view the enemy units, only yours. Press the B button to automatically move the cursor on top of the next available unit. This is especially handy if you have many units spread out on the map. The Select button brings up a screen showing how many units of each kind both you and the enemy still have available on the battlefield. The Start button brings up a map of the entire battlefield.

Before starting the game, each side may determine which units they want to deploy for the battle. The screen shows all possible units and how many of them are allocated to each player. Next to the number of units are plus and minus buttons. Move the cursor to a button and press A to add or subtract to the number of units. Each battle has a maximum number of units already preconfigured, so if you want to add units of one type, you must first remove units of another type. For example, if you want more fighter jets, you might decide to reduce the number of tanks. You can make as many of these swaps as you want. The counter at the bottom labeled Units Left shows how many units are unassigned. The second controller modifies the units for the second player, and you can also use this in single player to redistribute the opponent’s side if you want.

There are several different types of units, and they can most easily be grouped together as air units or ground units. The two types of air units are fighters and bombers. The remaining units are ground units: tanks, armored cars, troop transports, infantry, field cannons, anti-aircraft guns, supply trucks, and the headquarters. For the most part, ground units are more effective in combat against ground units, and the same goes for air units. The exceptions are bombers and anti-aircraft guns which are more effective against the opposite types. The different unit types vary by how many spaces they can move per turn and how much ammo they can hold. There is a handy chart in the manual for these figures and you can also pull up this information directly in a game.

You can customize both your army and your opponent’s army.

When you choose a unit, you get both a status display and a small command menu. The status display shows ammo, fuel, the unit number, and the type of terrain it is currently occupying. Ammo dictates how many times you may attack the enemy. Each combat reduces this amount by one and if you run out you can’t deal any damage. Each space you move on the map reduces your fuel by one and every unit begins with one hundred fuel points. The unit number represents both the health of the unit and its attack power. For example, if your unit number is ten, you get to attack ten times on your turn in combat. You lose units when you get attacked, and the unit is destroyed when the unit number goes down to zero. I’ll explain more about terrain shortly.

The command menu has four options: Movement, Attack, Power, and Change. Movement, naturally, lets you move the unit to a new space. For ground units, the terrain determines how far you can move in one turn. It makes sense that you can move better on easier terrain. You can move the furthest on roads, less so in the desert, and the least in the wilds such as mountains or the oasis. You can press B to cancel movement anytime until you move the maximum amount of spaces. If you move a unit adjacent to an enemy unit, your movement stops immediately and the game asks if you want to attack the enemy. Say yes to fight, or say no to end movement. Attack lets you engage in combat with an adjacent enemy. Most units may only attack ones directly next to them, but field cannons and anti-aircraft cannons have a wider radius to attack more distant targets. Choose Power to bring up a box that shows how many spaces you can move on each terrain, the maximum ammo and fuel, and its attack range. The Change option lets you end your turn manually. You will end your turn automatically if you move or attack with all your units.

Combat is really simple and plays out automatically. During the attack phase, a new screen appears showing your unit on the left and the enemy unit on the right. You will see individual attackers on each side corresponding with the unit number. The side initiating combat strikes first, and then the other side counterattacks with the number they have remaining. You need one ammo to either attack or counterattack. Certain units are more effective against other types of units, even within air and ground units. I think it’s difficult to tell exactly which units are best suited for a situation. Combat is like a hidden dice roll and the amount of damage you either deal or receive is luck-based after strengths and weaknesses are considered.

Lots of combat in this game.

There are some spaces on the map that have effects on the battle. Towns replenish ammo and fuel when ground units occupy the space. You see a special screen and animation when someone moves onto the space. In fact, all of these special spaces have their own screen like this. It gets annoying after the first time but you can get out of them quickly. Aircraft can refill fuel and ammo by landing on an air strip. A palm tree is an oasis and it gives occupying ground unit a boost in defense. There is also a wall that provides greater defensive help.

Two units provide additional capabilities. The supply truck replenishes both fuel and ammo for other units when it is placed next to them. You can arrange your units in a way where two or three of them can be filled up at the same time. Curiously, the supply truck cannot refill its own ammo or fuel. The troop transport can load up infantry to greatly increase their range. First, place an infantry unit next to the troop transport to bring up a dialog box asking if you want to load them into the troop transport. Then both units combine into one unit with a different color to indicate they are combined. Later when you move the troop transport, you get the option to unload your infantry and then they can have a turn.

There are five scenarios in single player mode to choose from. Later scenarios increase in difficulty but maybe not in the way you would expect. The AI almost always performs the same way, but they get more units than you do in later scenarios. All things are even in the First Battle scenario, but by the last one the computer has more than double the number of units you get. Speaking of the map, it turns out it is one gigantic map and each scenario focuses on some subset of this global map. You will see some map overlap between scenarios. I know at least once I saw a town on the edge of the map that I couldn’t get to because the game prevents you from utilizing the fringes of the scenario map.

Nice looking scenes, but they show up all the time.

This was my first time playing Desert Commander. I have some vague memories of seeing someone play the game back when it was released. I do think it was somewhat popular back then. I had a couple of people tell me that they used to play a lot of Desert Commander. I did not buy the game myself until I started actively collecting. I got another copy in a lot not that long ago and it came with the manual, so that was nice to have for this playthrough.

I decided that I would complete all scenarios with the default unit deployment. I wasn’t sure if there was some kind of special ending for beating harder scenarios, plus I like playing all the levels a game has to offer anyway. It turns out you get the same ending no matter which scenario you win. You even get a similar ending if you lose. The first scenario was very easy and I won with little difficulty while I barely knew what I was doing. You will get a scoring screen at the end that shows how many turns you took, along with damage and results numbers. I don’t understand what they mean or how they are calculated. I was happy with beating the game no matter how I scored.

I would say for a first time player that the game has a smooth difficulty curve. I coped well with the increase in enemy forces by using better tactics I came up with through the mistakes and experimentation of past attempts. Both the third and fourth missions took two attempts to beat and I just barely lost the initial attempts on those scenarios. The final scenario is quite the challenge and you are severely outnumbered. I got lucky enough to pick off the enemy headquarters before things got really bad for me. I’m glad for that because the scenarios take a long time when each side issues commands to every unit on the battlefield on every turn.

The default armies leave you vastly outnumbered.

I’m no expert at these kinds of games and there may be a better strategy, but these are the techniques I came up with. The computer tends to send a chunk of their force directly at you, leaving some units behind with the headquarters. Some of the ones left behind will join the offensive as others get defeated. Eventually this leaves an opening to engage the headquarters. I put infantry in troop transports and broke that group off separately, moving them near the enemy headquarters so that they could strike as soon as they got a good opening. In the last scenario, I sent a couple extra units with the transports for protection since the enemy may spread out their advance and start attacking this group. I put my headquarters on a wall to give them the greatest defense and surrounded it with my remaining units. I put my cannons in the back because they can attack anything trying to breach my tightly packed wall of defense. I just tried to survive as long as I could to give my small attack group the opportunity to knock out the enemy headquarters.

Desert Commander has a few quirks that I find annoying. I would like there to be a way to cancel your movement once you hit your max, just in case you come up a little short. You can cancel your movement at any time up to that, so why does your max automatically lock you in? Another similar gripe is that you cannot move past another unit without being forced to stop and ask if you want to battle. This one at least makes logical sense since you would not be able to skip past your enemy like that, but it doesn’t make it any less annoying. Enemy turns are also ridiculously slow. You have to wait for their cursor to slowly scroll across the map to each and every unit, and the order the computer chooses units seems awfully inefficient. You also have to sit through each and every combat screen, and there are also the little cutscenes every time a unit gets placed on a special space. The last scenario takes a long time with the high number of computer units.

I’ve knocked Desert Commander a bit, but it’s a pretty good game. I like the music quite a bit. You can change the background music in one of the menus and all four tracks are pretty good. I liked the first one well enough to keep it playing over all scenarios. The graphics are well defined and I really like the Kemco font. A few of the units look similar enough that it does take some time to distinguish them, but that’s a minor issue. I bet this game is really fun against another human player where you can’t exploit the AI and need to form different strategies. Single player is fun enough, but the way they decided to increase the difficulty is cheap. There aren’t too many NES strategy games, but Desert Commander is a good example of how to do one on the console. I think that’s high praise for a genre I don’t care about much.

#69 – Desert Commander