1962 was a great year. I wasn t even born then, but it must have been a great year. Why? Because that was the year Milton Bradley came out with Broadside, a naval war strategy board game set in the glory years of sailing warships. The object of the game was relatively simple move your ships into position to deliver broadside volleys and sink the enemy before he sinks you. Many, many years ago I bought the game and I remember spending hours not only playing the game with friends, but playing by myself with the neat playing pieces. Apparently I wasn t the only kid who enjoyed Broadside as the Astraware Game Gurus decided to bring it to the PDA. Let s just say for now that the result – Seven Seas! is even better than the original board game.
Astraware offers SevenSeas! for the Palm OS (3.0 or higher), color PPC, and even on color Smartphone 2002 devices. If I had my way, I d have every one of these devices and thus would be able to offer a very nice review of this game on all platforms. Reality hurts and hence, this review is based solely on the Palm OS version as installed onto my Tungsten T (TT).
SevenSeas! comes in three versions for the Palm OS: a grayscale needing about 150k of space, and separate 320 x 320 Hi-Res color versions (one for OS5 and one for Sony Clie non-OS5 PDAs) that need about 290k. Installation of the OS5 version onto my TT s SD card went without a hitch. However, game start-up takes about 5 seconds, which is a bit longer than my other games of similar size.
After tapping on the game icon I am brought to the opening screen shown in Figure 1. Here you can set the game difficulty to Hard or Easy , or view the game s instructions. Note that the game instructions can also be accessed from the menu within the game. Like all great games out there, the rules are simple, but the game itself becomes increasingly difficult as you advance. Trying both difficulty settings, I found Easy started off slow (i.e. not many pirates, no pirate bosses or sea monsters) but eventually catches up to what I saw starting off with the difficulty set to Hard . Note that while Hard is definitely harder than Easy , I ve always scored much higher with the game s difficulty set to Hard . So for your first game or two, I d recommend playing Easy , then switch over to Hard to rack up the points and rankings.
The object of the game is to sink all the pirate ships at each level without running out of ships yourself. There are a number of ways for you to sink enemy ships. First, a tap on your ship icon will result in a broadside being fired from both sides of your ship. The cannon balls then travel up to three grid squares in a line perpendicular to you ship s side. If an enemy ship is within the line traveled by the cannon ball, it explodes (with nice audio and a pleasing explosion icon) and is considered sunk. Note that the most ships you can sink from a single broadside is two one on each side of your ship and cannon balls will not travel through or over islands, sunken ship icons, or destroy multiple ships in line. Sea monsters are also impervious to cannon fire. The icon of a ship after being hit with a broadside is then replaced with a Skull & Crossbones icon and considered sunk. Other methods available to sink enemy ships are by making them collide with each other, hazards (such as islands or sea monsters), or with your own ship. Note that the enemy can not fire broadsides and the only way for you to be sunk is by colliding with their ship, an island, or a sea monster. However, given the fact that you start each level with only a single ship that is greatly outnumbered by pirate ships, it is all too easy for the enemy to corner you and force a collision with either a pirate ship or a sea hazard (i.e. island or sea monster).
Figure 2 shows a typical screenshot of a game in progress. To give you a better idea of what is going on, I ll first briefly describe the icons here, followed by a more detailed description of what s going on:
Whirlpool. Can only be used by a friendly ship. Located only at the four screen corners, although disappears and reappears at random at higher levels of play. Friendly ships landing on this icon are transported (with a swishing sound on Clie and OS5 PDA s) to a random grid and thus serves as an escape worm hole .
The game depicted in Figure 2 shows what one can expect at the beginning of a typical level of the game. Note that your ship is placed in the same location (four from the bottom, four from the right) at the beginning of each level. The number and starting placement of pirate ships and hazards (sea monsters and islands) differ with each level. The friendly ship always has the first move. In this case I could tap on my ship to fire a broadside. As a result, my ship would remain where it is (your ship remains stationary when firing a broadside) and the pirate ship two grids to my right would be sunk. Or, I can tap on any adjacent free grid (i.e. does not contain another ship or hazard) and move to that grid. Following my move, all pirate ships will move one grid directly towards my ship, and the Pirate Boss ships and the Sea Monster will move one grid per their respective logic procedures. After the computer moves, it s my turn and play continues until either all pirate ships are sunk, or I have lost all of my ships (in this case I have two to lose). Note that if my ship is sunk and I have more remaining, my replacement ship is placed at a random location on the board (i.e. generally not at the starting location).
If you successfully kill all enemy ships, then you are rewarded with a summary screen (Figure 3) and advance to the next level. You are also promoted in rank once you accumulate the points required for each rank. Starting out as a LandLubber , I m told you can eventually achieve the rank of Grand Admiral although I ve only managed to reach First Mate before losing my last ship. After losing your last ship, the game is over and you are presented with the end of game screen shot (Figure 4). On Sony Clie and OS5 devices, you are also told to Walk The Plank! after losing the game nice, though painful touch!
Figure 4. Game Over
True to Astraware s form, they don t seem to be satisfied with just offering a great game. Looking at the Game Menu (see Figure 5), you ll note that you can post your high scores to their web site. Nothing beats a little chest thumping! Also featured is an option to beam a demo version of the game from within the game itself.
Next up on the menu list is the Options Menu (Figure 6), where you ll find what look like your typical preference settings, instructions, and game version/maker info. Look further, as there are a few nice surprises under the menu hood .
Under Game Settings (Figure 7), you can choose to make the whirlpools swirl, activate game sounds and adjust the game sound volume (Sony Clie and OS5 only), and adjust the game speed. What I found to be a very nice extra feature in this game is the option of showing battery life and time I don t know why every game doesn t include this. Nice touch.
We next move down to the Game Control Menu (Figure 8) where the game controls can be configured to any PDA hard button, even the TT s D-navigator button. Nice, but note the Undo command option, which is only mentioned here in the Game Menu. This important command allows you to take back your last move, though it will not work if your last move resulted in ending the game. Once I discovered this, my scores improved tremendously as one might expect!
I have yet used a piece of software on any platform that was 100% problem free. SevenSeas! is no exception, though the problems are very minor. First of all, the hard buttons do not work in their normal state, even when setting all controls to none in the Game Control Menu. For TT users, that s a minor irritant as it means you need to slide open the TT and use the silkscreen buttons (or have some third party software like McPhling) to exit SevenSeas!.
My second beef with SevenSeas! is that I often find myself starting a level in a no-win situation. Sailing my ship into danger is one thing, but having to start a level knowing that I have to lose a life is another. I find this irritating to waste a ship life through no fault of my own and this is the only thing I d like to see fixed in this game.
Rating: 4.5 (out of 5)
Ability to publish high scores
Option to show battery and time on game screen
Easy to play, yet tough to master
Includes nice sound (OS5 and Sony Clie) and graphics
Difficult to exit game as hard buttons disabled during game play
No win situations presented at the beginning of levels
Bottom Line: Naval chess at its best in a robust and fun package. Other than the minor problems listed above in terms of game design in general and the Tungsten T in particular, I found it to be well designed for hours of enjoyment.
SevenSeas! may be downloaded for a free trial fron Handango. The full version costs $14.95 and is available for Palm, Pocket PC and Smartphone operating systems. [product link]