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Maelstrom is a space strategy/diplomacy game made by Plain And Simple Systems in 1992 and takes place in a distant part of the galaxy on the planet Harmony. A long time ago a massive interplanetary war broke out in the galaxy, and as a result, many planets were damaged and the technology of all planets became almost primitive. The war came to an end when a mysterious force nearly annihilated the entire galaxy; over time a small and otherwise insignificant planet known as Zokbar J slowly gained power by seizing planets that were left vulnerable by the war, and was rumored to be a beneficiary of this unknown power. Eventually, the people of Zokbar J formed The Syndicate, a group determined to take control of the galaxy. They conquered a number of planets and increased their power; however, they required Fitzhonium to power their fleet. Fitzholnium, more commonly referred to as Fitz, is a crystalline mineral that is violently explosive, yet has a large number of practical and military-related uses. Fitz is not found on every planet, so there is a high demand for it.
You were an officer in The Syndicate whose conscience turned you against its cruel colonization policies. When you were sent to infiltrate the planet Harmony--a planet whose surface is covered in Fitz, making it almost impossible to invade, yet of high interest to The Syndicate in its quest to control the Fitz trade--to find a way for The Syndicate to invade safely, you decided to turn against The Syndicate. You offered your services to the people of Harmony, who agreed to allow you to rule over the planet temporarily until the threat of The Syndicate was removed. Given Harmony's lack of military expertise and knowledge of The Syndicate, the Harmonians felt they had nothing to lose and so agreed to trust you.
As Overlord of Harmony, you are granted full dictatorial power. Your goal is to help Harmony prosper and defend itself against The Syndicate. Also, as the head of the government, you are personally involved in diplomacy with other planets in the galaxy; some are friendly, and others are hostile. Most of the game involves you overseeing typical day-to-day tasks on Harmony, but from time to time events may occur in other parts of the galaxy that warrant your attention. These may range from friendly planets requesting military reinforcements to investigating incidents on other planets. Depending on how you decide to handle these situations effects not only your relationship with other planets, but the outcome of the game as well. You are responsible for five different departments: government, military, SIN (Secret Intelligence Agency), research, and the Fitz mining industry. In order to keep them running efficiently, you must staff each department, assign tasks and set goals, and determine the budget each department will get.
Each department you oversee requires capable men and women who run individual projects for you. Throughout the galaxy, there are intelligent people with education and/or experience in their field looking for work, and will apply to you for a position on your planet; interviews are taken care of for you, but the decision on who is hired and who is not is left up to your judgement based on the information on each person given as a result of his or her interview. If you hire someone, you may assign him or her to a job and provide workers to staff that job. Each department works differently; for example, SIN agents can be assigned to intelligence missions, while military officers must be placed in individual positions on your ships. Every few days, new applicants will be added to the roster of potential candidates, so you can check back from time to time to expand your staff or replace any employees killed or dismissed.
One aspect of Maelstrom that sets it apart from other games is how research is developed. Like the other departments, you must hire researchers to lead research projects, set a departmental budget, and assign workers to work with them. However, just because a research team is working on a new project doesn't always mean you will reap the rewards in a matter of time; depending on the researcher, his skill as a researcher and his affinity (or lack thereof) in the field he is researching, the number of workers assigned to him, and the department's budget affect the success of their project. If you watch the progress of research, you may see the percent completed drop significantly or even reset to zero to signify problems the team may have had with that project. Likewise, the percent may also rise significantly or even go to completion to signify a breakthrough. Your researchers will not work forever on a project, and if they see that they are never going to finish their current topic they will stop researching it and notify you.
In order to fund projects and pay salaries, you must find ways to make money. The most practical way to make money is by commissioning Fitz mines. In order to extract Fitz, you must first survey the landscape on Harmony. If the surveyors find a suitable deposit of Fitz, you can then send miners led by a foreman to extract Fitz, which is automatically sold for you.
Maelstrom is run in real time, so if you need to go away from the computer, you should pause the game; a lot can happen during a quick trip to the latrine. You should also think quickly when hiring workers or building ships because time will not wait for you, and you cannot do anything while the game is paused. You are, fortunately, permitted to pause battles.
Although the graphics of a game are generally not important, Maelstrom's graphics are really good given the age of the game. From time to time, you are given the opportunity to watch sequences that relate events to you instead of simply reading about them. These sequences are well crafted and enhance the game, but are far superior to other graphics in the game, such as photos of individuals you meet. Many of the sequences seem to borrow from other science-fiction sources (see if you can spot the Star Wars shuttle from "Return of the Jedi"). The music in the opening sequence is a catchy tune, but unfortunately, there is very little music when you play the game. The sounds are limited to chimes that signify notification messages.
One word of warning: do not trust anyone. If an offer looks too good to be true, it probably isn't. Intelligence missions proposed by other planets and notices about new technology available on the intergalactic market are generally legit, but you never know when someone is going to stab you in the back.
Maelstrom will require a copy-protection code from time to time, and will crash Dosbox if one is not furnished. The codes may be found in the Maelstrom manual, which is in itself a good source of gameplay information. The video sequences may crash Dosbox, and these occurrences are not uncommon. You can avoid crashing Maelstrom this way by choosing to skip the videos.