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text of the present article comes from the review published
in the nineteenth issue of the British C64 magazine ZZAP!64
(street date: October 9th, 1986).
BLADE OF GRASS
been all quiet on the strategy software front for some
months now. Hence an absence from these pages. Ah, but
I'm back. It seems strategy games are in season again.
Makes me feel like Barry Norman. Well, anyway with SSI,
PSS, Microprose, and Lothlorien getting their act together
(amongst others), there should be a good enough supply
to last everyone until Christmas. Perhaps in the new
year the games flow will not disappear.
are probably two reasons for the re-appearance of this
type of game. At this time of the year, shelf domination
by a software company is very important for profits.
However, there are only so many shoot em ups you can
market at once. The variety has to be found in other
types of games. The second reason reflects the constantly
increasing tendency to include strategic elements in
more commercial games.
latter reason is itself the result of two developments
in the market. First of all, the capabilities and limitations
of the machines are now better understood by programmers
and game designers. And there are few cases nowadays
where you can get away with just left, right and fire.
It's inevitable that as games become more realistic,
they incorporate more strategic elements.
you can have a puzzle and a feast for the eyes all in
one game, then why not put them both in? There will
always be pure strategy, but increasingly it will become
harder to differentiate between categories with new
games. Already there are well known cases, such as Lords
of Midnight, The Fourth Protocol and others
where the line between adventure and strategy is very
the evolution of the perfect hybrid game is not going
to occur on the Commodore in anything other than the
most artificial form. This is simply due to the limitations
of the hardware Eventually new hardware will make the
goal increasingly plausible. It's only a matter of time
before it becomes impossible to distinguish between
computer generated fantasy and reality.
give you an idea of how we're getting closer: a friend
of mine is a programmer for various business computers.
He's in the big business side, working in very powerful
16 and 32 bit micros. We had an idea. 'Write the plot
for an adventure/strategy game where you can play a
war game on one level, and then 'zoom in' to play an
RPG -- only every character has got to be interactive.
You've got to be able to examine everything, explain
anything, and give very detailed orders to your men.'
Then what? We would have had about ten megabytes worth
of game on our hands!
could put it on a hard disk and sell the whole thing,
hardware included, as the ultimate game for the really
rich!' Specialised market, uh? Would there be enough
people with the money and the desire to buy a game costing
into tour figures? Interesting challenge though ...
wouldn't work, but I'm a slow learner. I'd still like
to do it. One day, such games will be commonplace. I'll
be out of a job. Good thing memory is still so expensive.
I go, I'd like to point out that this issue sees the
first part of a regular section, Strategically Speaking.
With the aid of a few pages from GP and a little alliteration,
the new feature will allow you to have a go at me --
or software houses -- or to express your views on strategy
games and this column. Only by writing in can you ensure
its regular appearance. Of course, there will be £20
worth of software to the must inspired or useful letter
received. Over to you ...
you have the original tape, displaying
the loading screen? Pls contact
us if you do!]
£9.95 cass, £12.95
disk, joystick and keys
is the first offering from Lothlorien for some time
and is a follow up to one of their nicest and most successful
Spectrum titles. Based on the American Civil War, Johnny
Reb II is a one or two player strategy presenting
the player(s) with a 'typical' action rather than a
recreation of one of the many historic battles such
as Bull Run or Gettysburg.
those in need of a quick history lesson, the ACW was
the result of differences between the Northern and Southern
states of the USA, mainly (but not entirely) over legalised
slavery. Neither side actually wanted the confrontation
which lasted from 1861-65, but both were caught up in
unavoidable conflict in a war so bitter and complex,
it literally set brother against brother. It holds interest
from the strategists' point of view because it has been
called the first modern war.
terminology is used more in the context of new weaponry
than anything else. Repeating rifles were rare during
the war, but gained in numbers towards the end. Gattling
guns, the forerunners of the modem machine gun were
also used occasionally, and cavalry, whilst still maintaining
an effective role in combat, was armed more with slug
throwing weapons than swords. The war was further complicated
by the fact that whilst the North possessed the industrial
might and numerical superiority, the South was better
organised and trained, and had fewer commitments. All
this explained Lothlorien's first foray into this era
on the old Spectrum. Their excuse this time was increased
sophistication and better gameplay. So, how have they
the most obviously notable feature of the new game is
that it is apparently 100% machine code (something unheard
of in the pre-Cambrian days of the earlier version's
release) and it loads very quickly indeed. A passable
title screen is than succeeded by a menu that allows
limited modification of the game's parameters. Just
about everything is user definable, from the control
keys to the balance of forces, the terrain features
of the battlefield, where and when the various reinforcements
arrive, game strength (on the one player version), and
was most impressed with the choices available to the
player. When playing solitaire, the player may choose
either side thanks to a flexible computer opponent (though
I later discovered that the opponent is not actually
that hard to beat on the first two levels). Safety features
ensure that you cannot alter the force played by the
computer to make things easier on yourself. It's possible
to have hidden movement on the single player game but
all units are always visible in two-player mode.
the game begins, play is very straightforward. Again
this is due to attention to detail in presentation.
Under joystick control, a cursor is simply placed over
the unit to be ordered before pressing the fire button.
Information about the unit is then presented on the
screen in a colour code to show levels of ammunition,
morale, strength and efficiency. This display appears
below the 'action' screen. To the right of the screen,
a series of icons appear, each indicating a possible
action such as dig in, advance, charge or fire (not
all these options are available to all units, as you
will see). Joystick movement allows selection of the
required order with confirmation coming from a second
press of the fire button. Some orders may be elaborated
upon. For instance, when advancing, you are asked whether
the unit is to advance firing or not. As units carry
out their orders on the main screen at the end of a
turn, the unit symbols themselves change to show the
current status of that unit.
sound effects are employed during combat. This is normally
ranged combat, though melee is possible between adjacent
units. Units may retreat, become routed or be destroyed
depending on their performance in combat. The unit types
are infirmary, cavalry, artillery and supply (these
units cannot fight). The exact scale of the units is
never really explained throughout the game or manual,
but by the nature of movement I would suspect it lies
somewhere between platoon or company level.
There is a standard scenario. A Confederate
force is approaching a vastly outnumbered Union
outfit, which must defend its side of the map
while reinforcements arrive during the curse of
the game. It's a basic but flexible arrangement
which should present plenty of challenge in a
two-player game. The one player version only really
comes into its own on the hardest level. The on-screen
presentation is both logical and clear, but the
tiny instruction booklet is both cramped and badly
laid out. There is no key reference, so setting
up can be slow until you become accustomed to
Reb II is definitely a worthy successor to
the original, but at £9.95, they are asking the
top end price for a game of this type. Those who
find flexibility more important than demanding
scenarios should enjoy it.
advantages of an excellent screen display are
offset by rather poor packaging.
and attractive game board.
Insubstantial and largely unhelpful.
Consistent in response and well
Would be higher had the instructions
been any good. Once you get into it, the game
commands are straightforward and not unnecessarily
For Money 81%
The going rate for Reb bashing.
When Lothlorien want to, they can
still hold their own in the strategy games market.
prequel, Johnny Reb (c) 1984 Lothlorien,
may be worthy of a look.
Kiminas (28 Nov 2004)
"Games of the Week!"