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A little-known, but brilliantly designed, and cultishly popular among Those Who Know, videogame for the Sega Genesis/Mega Drive. Herzog Zwei, produced by Technosoft (better known for their Thunderforce shooters) is a real-time strategy game. In addition to beating Dune II to the punch by a couple of years (don’t feel bad if you didn’t know this, see Quantum Origins), the game has several truly innovative play features that other RTS games lack.

The object of each stage of Herzog Zwei is to destroy the opponent’s base, a large, rectangular piece of technodetail in one corner of the vast, scrolly map, while protecting your own large, rectangular piece of technodetail in your own corner. If your base is destroyed, you lose. If the other player’s base is destroyed, you win.

For a cursor, each player gets one fighter jet which can be transformed into a robot soldier. In jet mode, it can be used to pick up and drop off units wherever the player wants (a fuel limitation prevents a unit from being carried far, however, and they can only be carried one at a time). In ground mode, it can be used to destroy particular units (either foes or friendly units who are in the way). The players’ jets each appear on the other’s side of the screen, and they can try to destroy each other. Destruction means having to sit out the fight for a few seconds while a new jet is formed and fueled.

While each player’s jet/robot is capable of firing “manually,” these shots do no damage to the other side’s base; the game can only be won by building and deploying units. Each side can have up to fifty and are each chosen from the Start-button menu. Once built, a unit can be picked up from any friendly base. Building units costs money, the only resource in Herzog Zwei. Players cannot build structures in this game, instead they have to capture neutral bases by sending four fragileinfantry” units inside. Players earn money at 40G per second times the number of bases owned, including the home base. Once captured, a base is by no means safe, as the opposing side can always take it by merely sending in four infantry of his own. Unit types include Infantry, Motorcycle, Armored Car, Tank, Boat (only available in maps which have water), Missile Launchers which can travel about and fire homing missiles at the other player’s jet, and the ever-popular Turret, which is expensive and cannot move on its own but not only fires homing missiles but also powerful double-shots at the approaching army.

Units are told what to do by giving them orders. When a unit is built the player must select their starting orders, represented by icon. Example orders: “Go to the nearest unowned base and occupy it,” “Go to the nearest base and wait there, shooting at enemies,” “Stand still and attack nearby foes,” and “Roam around the area in which I drop you off and attack enemies.” To change a unit’s orders, it must be picked up, then new orders must be chosen from the Start menu (which does not pause the game in versus mode). Changing orders costs money, and must be done one unit at a time, which itself adds its own strategy to the game.

Games of Herzog Zwei tend to go to the player who captures the most bases in the early going. Unless a player is into heavy building or foolishly changing orders unnecessarily, four bases at a time tends to be more than enough to build without worrying for cash and still slowly build up a surplus in case of problems later. Often, the player who builds the most infantry early in the game when the bases are undefended ends up the winner. Once it has been claimed, the only way to deprive an enemy of a minor base (which are indestructible) is to capture it out from under his nose, which usually means defeating whatever defenses he may have posted, and his jet too, if he happens to notice what you are doing. While most games are won by a slow struggle to capture bases and build an army, it is also possible to win by sending many quick, cheap units, such as the Motorcycles, in to take many shots at the enemy home base while he’s on the other side of the map or regenerating. However, home bases have so much health that it takes a large number of these forays to win a game.

Herzog Zwei, by the way, is not the first Real Time Strategy game. This title may belong to Herzog, produced by Technosoft for the MSX, to which Herzog Zwei is a sequel.

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