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Portfolio Reviews

December, 1983 (reprinted with permission)

Portfolio Game On the very first page of instruction for this money-strategy game, it says: You've read enough. Go to it!

The author knows what he's talking about. Once the disk boots, you're swept away by a game that rates tops in both excitement and playability.

Portfolio is based on a simulation of the investment world where, as Amarillo Slim fondly said, money is just a way of keeping score. The game, which accommodates a range from the solitaire player to fifteen people, begins by casting players in the role of highly respected investment managers. Players, after stating two fields of expertise, such as law and modern technology, are interviewed for positions and offered contracts that put each in charge of managing a company's $10 million investment portfolio.

Part of the game strategy involves negotiating your compensation. Do you want a low retainer and monthly salary against a high percentage of the performance gross? Or less percentage and a higher sign-on bonus?

Once hired, you receive a portfolio of your corporation's assets showing cash on hand, stock holdings, venture capital, and funds borrowed. From there, as in the beginning, the game plays just like Wall Street.

The companies listed on the stock exchange have financial ratings generated by the computer. They're affected by external economic factors, such as an increase in government spending or a tightening of the international money supply, but individual companies are affected in unique ways. Northeast Edison Electric, for example, isn't affected at all by an increase in taxes, but its stockholders sell out when interest rates rise. Conversely, Canadian Mining and Refining hardly notices interest rates, but its stock plummets in the face of labor unrest.

Internal factors, such as unexpected lawsuits or highly successful promotional campaigns, also affect the companies individually. The ratings, and their buffeting by internal and external factors, are the most important data on which managers make their buy and sell orders. But there are other factors to consider, too– such as rumors and confidential reports submitted by privately hired researchers.

It is a game so real that hot managers, like hot poker players, dread the mandatory vacations that take them away from the job for a certain number of turns.

As it is in real life, so it is in Portfolio. Your ultimate loyalty is to yourself, not your employer. And your primary objective in the game is to increase your personal net worth, by means that include purchasing luxury yachts, furs, mansions, and the like. Making that kind of money, however, is usually (but not always) accomplished by managing corporate funds successfully so that when performance bonus time comes around, you are handsomely rewarded.

At the end of each game, retiring investment managers receive letters from corporate headquarters summarizing their performances, The results are recorded in a player history file to be used as part of negotiations when the next game starts. In Portfolio, as on Wall Street, having a good reputation is worth money.

This is a game for Christmas and beyond. It plays fast and is as good or better than any strategy game on the market. The documentation is literate, effectively articulate, and handsomely presented. From beginning to end, it gleams with quality.

February, 1984 (reprinted with permission)

Somewhere along the way to everyday use, software has become harder to label. When home computers first became popular, the distinction between a game, a business application and an educational package was obvious. Now, however, this seems to be changing. It's no longer always easy to pin labels on software and very often trying to do so does a disservice to the product.

This is the case with PORTFOLIO, created by Harris Dvores of Flexible Software. The cover of the manual calls it a "simulation". That's true enough. You are in the role of an investment manager, controlling assets worth ten million dollars. As you begin to play PORTFOLIO, though, you'll find that simulation doesn't begin to do this one justice. Calling it a game is an insult. Educational? Too dry. Part of a new era of software spanning all of the above? Even that doesn't go far enough.

I was a little impatient when PORTFOLIO first arrived on my desk, in one of those moods where the instruction manual was just an annoyance. Besides, I rationalized to myself, if software is any good, you ought to be able to use it by itself without any coaching. So I inserted the diskette, and turned the computer on.

An hour later, I had just been fired by the investment firm that had seen fit to hire me. I had bought and sold countless shares, dabbled in the commodities market, watched rumors, economic factors, and news in general play havoc with my investment "plan". I had gone down with the ship, but I was smiling all the way. Anything appearing on the screen that I didn't understand, I just skipped over. This didn't make one bit of difference to PORTFOLIO, though I suspect the team of people in grey flannel suits who hired me were consoling their ulcers with massive doses of Maalox.

After being handed my pink slip, I took a quick look through the manual. Oh, is that what that meant! I get it, I should have sold there instead of buying, sure. I read the booklet for a half hour or so, and then plunged in again.

Two hours later, I noticed that it had gotten quite dark outside. My stomach was a bit empty, and I should have visited the facilities about 45 minutes ago. Just one more deal, and then I'll save the game. I was hooked.

Investment simulations are pretty common in the software market. I've played a few, looked briefly at a few others. It was the sheer diversity of PORTFOLIO, however, that earned this one a permanent spot in my Hall of Fame.

The literally hundreds of factors, options, and circumstances that determine how your personal holdings, and that of your company's, fare would seem to be too complex to take in all at once. There are 18 different economic factors, rumors to follow up, reassessment of companies, and as if that weren't enough, every so often a news flash appears, and you have to try and second guess the impact of that. It is precisely such complexity, however, that gives PORTFOLIO its uniqueness. No two games will ever be the same. You can pursue the same general economic philosophy if you'd like, but there's an even chance it won't work one time, although it brought you fabulous wealth before. I have new respect for the "science" of economics after a few rounds of PORTFOLIO.

Up to four people at one time can play, each starting with the same ten million, but with different stock holdings. Each "turn" represents one month, which is actually 20 business days. Each separate transaction, such as buying and selling shares, requires a set number of days, so the clock is ticking as you try to make the big bucks. At the end of each turn, each player is advised of any interest they made on company assets, how much the broker charged, whether money was lost or gained in the commodity market, or in a separate business venture. When six months have been and gone, company prices are adjusted for inflation, the I.R.S. takes its cut, and dividends accumulate.

It would be impossible for me to list all the various options available to you as an investment manager in PORTFOLIO. The programming efforts of Harris Dvores must have been monumental in order to have the lowly Apple recalculate all the variables involved every time a change occurs. Amazingly, the game moves along swiftly, with waiting time almost nonexistent.

You can save a game at any time, though the process for doing so is a bit complex. There is no provision made for the possibility of using two disk drives, so some disk swapping is involved. The manual does state that games can be saved on the PORTFOLIO program disk itself. I wouldn't advise it, as I did so, and then found that the simulation would hang up at odd moments, or print out everything on paper, or not allow me to end a game. The manual also says that typing a ‘/' will save you having to see the opening screen if you've already done so. When I typed it, nothing happened. These are two points that are about as minor as one could wish for.

Like the best arcade games, if you do really well in PORTFOLIO, your fame is recorded on the disk for posterity. As this is a proper simulation of the very "proper" world of finance, though, it is your reputation that is recorded. At the beginning of each game, you can examine the reputations of all the investment managers who have played your copy of PORTFOLIO, and any awards they have received. Should you be modest, or perhaps have something to hide, you can erase your records from the list. That list of honors does more than just bolster your ego. If you decide to play the game again using the same name, you are given less time to accomplish more. Such is the price of fame.

The set of instructions supplied with PORTFOLIO are a real complement to the program itself. All the features, options and conditions are explained in a wry, informative manner. As with the program itself, you can read as much or as little as you'd care to. Greater research obviously breeds greater results, but not doing so is no handicap. It is a little odd having the actual physical instructions for booting PORTFOLIO, saving games, etc. as the last chapter, but once again, the ease of use of the software negates any ill effects of this decision.

Simulation? Yes. Game? Yes. Educational? Beyond a shadow of a doubt. Flexible Software told us that PORTFOLIO is used in schools from ninth grade through the M.B.A. program at the University of Virginia, as a training device. Perhaps the best label to hang on PORTFOLIO is that of the "new" software, a program that uses the home computer to its fullest advantage.


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