MC Lothlorien Ltd
1986
Strategy: War
£9.95
English
ZX Spectrum 48K
Power-Load

53,54
Sean Masterson
Chris Bourne

This is the first offering from Lothlorien for some time and is a follow up to one of their oldest and most successful 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 forunners of the modern 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. Their excuse this time was increased sophistication and better gameplay. So, how have they done?

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 then succeeded by a menu that allows limited modification of the game's parameters. Just about everything is user definable from the control keys (or Kempston joystick option) 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 after 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 will change to show the current status of those units.

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 infantry, 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 and 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 course 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, I can't say I'm overly impressed, especially considering Rebelstar was only £1.99 and that was a better game. The best advice is to buy Rebelstar first. If you have that and are looking for a flexible, well presented and interesting game... get this.

CRITICISM

84%
Cramped and badly laid out booklet but wonderful onscreen presentation.
85%
Some omissions but otherwise well suited to the game.
85%
The unobtrusive icons are useful and fast, especially with a joystick.
80%
Simple but effective and colourful.
82%
The various unit strengths and proportions capture the essence of mid-war skirmishes.
79%
Flexible but not too demanding.
81%
The most you could ask for this game.
82%
Very reasonable in most respects, admirable in some. What a shame though, that in the wake of a couple of good budget games, people seem to be putting up their prices rather than bringing them down.