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5th Fleet (PC)

Get it | Install it | Run it | Saved Games | PBEM | Solitaire | Patch | Module | Rules | Scenarios | Map

This page is about the PC version of 5th Fleet published by Avalon Hill in 1994 and based on the board game depicting hypothetical conflicts in the Indian Ocean and Persian Gulf in the late 1990’s. Despite being over 20 years old, 5th Fleet PC is still very much a playable game with decent graphics that are better than most DOS games of that time.

Comparisons to the board game

5th Fleet (PC) should be seen as the next evolutionary step in the Fleet Series of five board games published by Victory Games. It essentially IS the board game played on computer, with advanced rules such as hidden movement, and fuel/ordnance supply fully integrated without the need for record keeping on the part of the player. According to Joseph Balkoski, the designer of the Fleet series:

There is a computer version of 5th Fleet (1994) that uses an updated game system, the most important change of which is a near-total lack of intelligence about enemy movements unless detection occurs.

5th Fleet (PC) uses the same sequence of play as 3rd Fleet (board game) — i.e. the six phases of the turn (Air, Surface, and Sub for each player) are randomly determined. Other similarities between the computer game and the board game are less obvious, and there are some key difference. The Avalon Hill GENERAL, Vol 29, No 4, contained a preview article about 5th Fleet (PC) by Mike Innella, VP of Stanley Associates, the company that programmed the game for Avalon Hill. Mike said:

Anyone expecting a direct port of the board game to the computer is going to be pleasantly surprised. Our goal was to keep the feel of the board game, while taking advantage of what the computer has to offer. We were fortunate in that Joe Balkoski, the designer of the original series, was brought on to assist in the conversion to the computer. His assistance was invaluable in determining which rules should be changed to reflect the electronic format. A good example of this is the rule dealing with detection. In the board game, all units are continually in plain view on the map. However, players are not allowed to attack units that have not been formally “detected.” Needless to say, it was not unusual for recon airplanes to fly missions where there just happen to be undetected units. Knowing this, Joe structured the [board game] detection tables to make detection more difficult. In the computer game, undetected units are not displayed on the map at all. If the detection rules had been taken directly from the board game, it would have made detection of enemy units almost impossible without accidentally bumping into them.

Other changes involve logistics such as fuel and ammunition expenditure. In the board game, logistics are an optional rule. Since computers are good at keeping track of complex information, we were able to include logistics as a standard feature without making the game more cumbersome to play.

To keep game play interesting, the computer opponent has three levels of difficulty and two levels of aggression. You can play each scenario as the US or Russians. In addition, units are randomly placed as determined by each scenario. This means that you can’t rely on enemy units showing up in the same place each time.

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Where to get 5th Fleet PC

If you just want to try the program to see if you like it, try The Underdogs or abandonia.com

Free Game Empire has an option to run DOSBOX in your browser. You may want to turn off the music in the game options - it is choppy over the web.

If you decide you want a boxed verison of 5th Fleet, with a 48-page color rulebook, 96-page reference manual, scenario cards, and mapsheet, check eBay or Game Trading Zone.

5th Fleet was distributed on either five 3.5-inch floppies or one CD. The files are the same in each, so there is no advantage to the CD edition over the floppy edition other than not having to swap disks during installation.

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Installing 5th Fleet

The best approach these days is to use DOSBOX.


On your modern OS, create a folder to serve as your DOS C DRIVE. Then copy all files from the 5th Fleet installation media to this folder.

Open DOSBOX and mount your C: drive, then run install.exe from your 5th Fleet files repository (the folder on your hard drive where you put all the game files).

The install.exe program merely copies the game files from the repository to a new folder named C:\FLEET.

When the install program asks if it should modify your CONFIG.SYS and AUTOEXEC.BAT files, answer YES.

After installation, switch to the game folder - C:\> CD FLEET
Then start the game - C:\FLEET> FLEET

Once you've got it running, be sure to exit the game and install the patch.

Here is an example of an install in Ubuntu Linux.

Install the scenario module after the patched program is working OK.

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Getting it to run

When 5th Fleet first came out it used every bit of memory available to PC's of that time. Due to the Expanded Memory (EMS) requirement of 5th Fleet, along with the need for at least 590 KB of conventional memory, it typically required major tweaking of DOS config.sys and autoexec.bat files! Due to these headaches, the game had an uphill struggle for user acceptance.

Thankfully DOSBOX handles all that now.

Note that 5th Fleet runs in a 640 x 480 DOSBOX window — the standard screen resolution in the mid-1990's. This can be changed in the dosbox config file.

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Saving Games

There can be one saved game file for each scenario, so each time you click the Save button any existing save file for that scenario gets over-written. A game can be saved at the conclusion of (not during) any phase.

The saved game filename has a .sav extension and is written to the FLEET directory. Combat results are written to a .rpt file and displayed when the saved game is loaded.

If you start a scenario for which a saved game file exists, you will be asked whether you want the saved game or a new game. You can also delete the existing saved game file for the scenario when you receive this prompt. The saved game will not be deleted until you click Delete Saved Game in the prompt (or delete it manually from the FLEET directory).

When you start a saved game the program ignores any player assignment, AI, and WEAX settings that existed on the scenario selection screen and loads them from the .sav file.

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Playing by Email

The PBEM rules in the printed 5th Fleet manual employ an outdated method of direct modem-to-modem connection. Don’t bother with the program’s outdated COMNET system using modem-to-modem telecom. See how to play 5th Fleet via email in the online rules manual.

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Playing Solitaire

The built in AI is extremely easy to defeat, even at its most aggressive settings. In fact this was a common criticism of the program in the initial reviews. Here's my take on it:

  • Play solitaire against the AI only to familiarize yourself with each scenario.
  • Play against a human opponent when you want a competitive game.

Having said this, an interesting solitaire method is to play a game using the 2-player "hot seat" setting. This is like playing solitaire with a board game, but with hidden movement, there is a level of uncertainty about opposing units as you switch between sides.

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Version 1.2 Patch

Download the patch archive (5f_12.zip) and unzip it to your FLEET directory. To install the patch, start DOSBOX, navigate to your FLEET directory, and type patch.

Here is a list of the bug fixes in the patch.

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Scenario Add-on Module

NOTE: Apply the version 1.2 patch BEFORE installing the scenario module.

Download the scenario archive (5f_mod1.zip) and unzip it to a temporary directory at the same level as your FLEET directory. Do not unzip directly into your FLEET directory, because the scenario install.exe file will overwrite the same file in the FLEET directory.

To install the scenarios: in DOSBOX, navigate to the directory containing the unzipped scenario files and type install. Fourteen new scenarios will appear on the list in the Scenario screen the next time you start 5th Fleet.

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Adapted from the printed rule book: HTML | Just the Hot Keys.

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Updated 28 October 2016

This page is maintained by Robert Morss, rdmorss at morssweb dot com

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