G is for Guns or Butter


The aim of my Blogging From A to Z Challenge is to find the origins of online games, some relatively modern and some with ancient roots. Gaming might well be a modern take on an art that is almost timeless – storytelling. A perfect excuse for a writer to delve a little deeper. [Visit here for links to other A to Z participants.]

Game: The Global Dilemma: Guns or Butter  is a 1990 simulation game written by Chris Crawford. The game failed to achieve the play balance that Crawford desired, and he considered it among the worst games he released.

Release Date: 1990

Developer: Mindscape

Genre/gameplay mechanics: Single player DOS strategy simulation; wargame. Randomly generated B&W 2D-map of countries and provinces generated. Player uses the basic info to decide ‘military’ versus ‘food’ strategy to expand improving the economy of their country in an effort to outproduce the computer players.

Setting: Fictional computer-generated countries. Very basic structure and limited commodities to simulate macroeconomics.

Storytelling: simple plot of choosing best strategy to survive and beat computer AI.

Releases + Expansions:

Single release with no expansion as poor response.

Sequels: Balance of the Planet  is a 1990 environmental-based educational simulator developed by Chris Crawford and published on DOS, Macintosh, and PC-98 – arguably the first ‘eco-sim’.

Formats: Macintosh, IBM PC

Origins (Chronological):

  1. Mid 1980s – Crawford, Sid Meier and Dan Bunten all began work on new empire building games. They later met to discuss their designs. Meier stated his goal was to make the game fun and he was willing to abandon realism or depth to achieve that end. He went on to release Civilization in late 1991.
  2. 1985 – Crawford had an enormous hit with Balance of Power in 1985, selling hundreds of thousands of copies and making about $10 million for its publisher, Mindscape.
  3. 16th century – Macroeconomics descends from two areas of research: business cycle theory and monetary theory. Monetary theory dates back to the 16th century and the work of Martín de Azpilcueta, while business cycle analysis dates from the mid- 19th.

Recommendation: The game was a market flop, earning Crawford no royalties past the advance. Crawford was not alone in considering Dilemma to be among his poorest games, and the poor sales translated into almost no reviews. However, in 1991, PC Format named The Global Dilemma one of the 50 best computer games ever. The editors wrote, “If it’s global political simulations you’re after, nobody does it better than Chris Crawford. This and his earlier offering, Balance of Power, are unparalleled works of sheer genius.”


2 Stars: Guns or Butter was the first computer game that I got addicted to – through strategy-devising and determination to beat the AI. I tried the ‘Butter’ route, using trade to prevail – but that was tough, so I often ended up facing the firing squad, which was the final graphic if the AI won. I was better at balancing my military and trade to beat the game. From there, I moved on to Sid Meier’s Civilization games and Age of Empires.

  1. Setting: 1*
  2. Storyline: 1*
  3. Gameplay: 2*
  4. Entertainment: 3*
  5. Genesis: 3*

Alternative ‘G’ thoughts:

G is also for Gladiator, Ridley Scott’s 2000 film with Russell Crowe – and a brilliant soundtrack for writing. Plus, a wealth of Roman links and the hack and slash video game, Gladiator: Sword of Vengeance. But I never played the game and it’s only related to the movie by profession.

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