What you got there sour grapes?

Grandstand, Handheld, Retro

Astro Wars!

Astro Wars

Astro Wars

Hello to the 1980’s…

And hello to Astro Wars – the handheld arcade game by Grandstand!

If you’ve read enough of my blogs by now, you will know the following:

  • I like a bargain
  • I like fixing stuff
  • I love all things retrogaming

Well Astro Wars just ticked all 3 boxes for me!

What is it?

Astro Wars is a handheld game from Grandstand, initially released in 1981. It’s basically a shoot ’em up, with various phases and bonus rounds. It’s a cool game, a cool bit of tech and I loved this when I was growing up. To own it again has been a dream of mine for some time now.

Astro Wars
Thar she blows!

Astro Wars uses a very cool bit of tech called a VFD, which stands for vacuum fluorescent display, for the score and all the various ships and missiles – each one is able to be lit individually. It’s a very bright, low power display, ideal for the purposes of this game. The plastic screen in front of the VFD that you look through also magnifies the view. It all works really well.

You can power the device from 4 C-type batteries, or from a mains adaptor – 6 volts DC. Luckily I didn’t kill it when I switched it on with the wrong polarity and at 9 volts… Should have checked first!

So is it broken?

Well it was! I got this for an absolute steal off ebay. Someone had just posted it on there. The upshot was that the joystick didn’t work. So I made a cheeky offer and got it!

So when it arrived, I gave it a quick test and confirmed that the joystick didn’t work. Everything else was fine, all good condition and in its original box.

So I took it apart to see what was up. Now I was expecting maybe a tear in this cable, which attaches the joystick to the main board:

Astro Wars joystick cable
Joystick cable

But that was fine. Weirdly, when I unscrewed the joystick board from the case, it started working and I could move my ship left and right. Puzzled, I gave the board a quick clean up and put it all back together – and then it didn’t work again!

Cut to the chase, did you fix it?!

I’m getting there, you can indulge me a little can’t you?

So I took the whole thing apart again, and took a closer look at the joystick board. And look what I found:

Found it!

This is the other side of where the cable attaches. That’s drier than a dry solder joint – like no solder at all! The wire was just loose and wiggling around. It must have made some sort of contact when I detached the board, which is why it worked briefly.

Anyway, I resoldered all 3 pins and the whole thing now works perfectly! I would say this is my best bargain buy yet, and it’s brought back some fantastic memories. If you can bag yourself one, you won’t be disappointed.

A word of warning

By the way, this game is loud. And I mean LOUD! You can’t sneakily play this when people are in bed – unless their bed is about a mile away. The internal speaker is a little piezo-electric doohicky and I’m going to have to devise a way to shut it up without ruining the whole thing. I’m thinking maybe hook up a little potentiometer to control the volume, which could sit inside the battery compartment? Not sure yet. I don’t really want to change anything if I can avoid it.

Let me know in the comments if you’ve made any modifications to your Astro Wars console.

Oh, and they’re a pig to photograph!

Astro Wars game play

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