Balance of Power is a computer strategy game of geopolitics during the Cold War, created by Chris Crawford and originally published in 1985. The game is notable for engaging the player in nail-biting brinkmanship without using any graphics more complicated than an outline map of the world.
The goal of the game is simple: the player may choose to be either the President of the United States or the General Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, and must lead the chosen superpower for eight years, seeking to maximize "prestige" and avoiding a nuclear war. Each turn is one year long; at the beginning of each year, the player is presented with a set of incidents and crises in various countries around the globe, and must choose a response to each one. Responses may range from no action, to diplomatic notes to the other superpower, to military maneuvers. Each response is then met with a counter-response, which may vary from backing down to escalation. The player then gets a chance to initiate actions, and deal with the opponent's responses.
This core mechanic is similar to that of Bruce Ketchledge's 1983 game Geopolitique 1990, published by SSI. One difference from the earlier game is how negotiations are resolved. In both games, backing down in a negotiation results in a loss of prestige, which will reverberate politically. Likewise, in both games brinkmanship may result in a global war. In Geopolitique, such wars were actually fought in-game, after which the game continued. In Balance of Power, such a war ends the game instantly, with the following message: "You have ignited a nuclear war. And no, there is no animated display of a mushroom cloud with parts of bodies flying through the air. We do not reward failure."
Balance of Power was originally released by Mindscape for the Apple Macintosh and Apple II, then ported to Windows (1986), Atari ST (1987) and Amiga. It was a sensation when it came out, but as a brutally realistic (some would say cynical) depiction of superpower maneuvering.
In 1986, Crawford published a book also called Balance of Power, which goes into great depth on the game, including the background of the politics, the formulas used to calculate prestige and related parameters, and an account of its (lengthy) gestation.
In 1989, a second edition, dubbed Balance of Power: The 1990 Edition (sometimes referred to as Balance of Power II) was released for the Apple IIGS, Windows, Macintosh, Amiga and Atari ST. The video game industry considers it a sequel, but Crawford himself does not. It adds more countries, advisors to help out the player, a new "multi-polar" level that allows countries to generate events of their own (such as declaring war on other countries), and a few miscellaneous features including a 2 player Hotseat mode. However, with the ending of the Cold War, interest declined.