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Review by
Sean Masterson

 

 
Welcome to Game of the Week! Each week there will be a new featured game on this page. The game may be good, average or diabolically bad, it really doesn't matter! Just look at the pics, read the text and enjoy the nostalgia! :-) Game of the Week! is open to contributions so if you would like to contribute a game article for this page you're more than welcome to! Every article we receive will be considered!
Johnny Reb II
1986 Lothlorien
Programmed by ?
 
Most 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).
 


A REAL BLADE OF GRASS

It's 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.

There 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.

The 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.

If 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 thin indeed.

However, 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.

To 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!

'We 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 ...

It 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.

Before 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 ...
.

 

[Do you have the original tape, displaying
the loading screen? Pls contact us if you do!]

JOHNNY REB II
Lothlorien, 9.95 cass, 12.95 disk, joystick and keys


This 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.

For 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.

This 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 fared?

Well, 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 screen colours.

I 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.

Once 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.

Limited 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 the procedures.

Johnny 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.

   


Presentation 76%

The advantages of an excellent screen display are offset by rather poor packaging.

Graphics 80%
Clear and attractive game board.

Instructions 57%
Insubstantial and largely unhelpful.

Authenticity 79%
Consistent in response and well paced.

Playability 79%
Would be higher had the instructions been any good. Once you get into it, the game commands are straightforward and not unnecessarily complex.

Value For Money 81%
The going rate for Reb bashing.

Overall 82%
When Lothlorien want to, they can still hold their own in the strategy games market.
.

 
 

 

The prequel, Johnny Reb (c) 1984 Lothlorien,
may be worthy of a look.

Htmlized by Dimitris Kiminas (28 Nov 2004)

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