It's often interesting to look back on great ideas that failed and try to see why they didn't catch on. This game is radically different from anything of Lothlorien's I've seen before, and it is fairly radical by anybody's standards. It's a two player, simultaneous action wargame. There are very few simultaneous two player games available, but it 's something that's always struck me as being a good idea; so much so, in fact, that last year I was heavily involved in producing one myself. At that time, however, after extensive playtesting and research, we arrived at the regrettable conclusion that the computer game player is essentially a solitary beast, and so we were forced to include a one player option in the game (which was not nearly so much fun to play). Lothlorien have stuck to their guns, though, and kept Overlords as purely as two player game, which will probably destroy its chances of success.
The game is mechanically very simple, and the speed of play is very fast; because both players are moving their pieces at once, the game attains a fluidity and pace hitherto unknown in computer wargames, and which more than compensates for lack of terrain features in fact I found the few trees and buildings that are on the map incredibly irritating, because they kept slowing up my forces as I tried to reinforce my front lines rather like real life, I suppose.
The map area comprises twelve screens, each of which contains a castle. Each army has three types of unit; troops, generals and a king. The object is to kill the opponents king, or occupy a certain number of castles (which range from 7 to 12 depending on what difficulty level you choose).
The players start with their armies at different ends of the map, and gradually close in on each other. Movement is cursor controlled (hooray!): the cursor keys are user definable, and one or two joysticks can be used (depending on your interface). Movement is smooth and fast, you just place the cursor over the unit you wish to move, and hold down the 'carry ' key to move the unit with the cursor. The way the game scans is by continually rotating through different screens, one by one.
Both players have around thirty seconds in each sector to move their pieces, so although movement per piece is unlimited within each sector you tend only to be able to move one or two pieces a long way, or loads of Pieces a short distance. The borders of each sector overlap, so pieces moved to the edge of one sector can be picked up in the next. Combat occurs when pieces are adjacent to each other, and is decided by numerical superiority I haven't quite sussed this bit out yet, but I presume that the pieces attack both laterally and diagonally.
One soon learns the benefits of forming into 'squares', and utilising terrain features to strengthen defences. The game pauses between each map sector, and has to be manually restarted; this is a very handy feature, because it enables both players to sit back for a contemplative breather before plunging into another intensive thirty second round.
So far, so good. This simultaneity really does add a new dimension to wargames, the problems of course start in the practicalities of actually playing the game. As my company discovered when we tried to do this last year, two people sitting at one Spectrum means that you have to be very good friends. Apart from the obvious difficulties of operating in someone else's armpit, it can be difficult to stop falling off the chair. Naturally, Lothlorien have thought of this, and have made the game playable with joysticks, so long as you have the twin-port hardware. They have also made it playable over network, with two Spectrums linked by Interface 1s. Golly Gosh! I mean this is really revolutionary stuff but... I can't go along with games that require whole kaboodles of extra hardware in order to make them properly playable.
Having said that, if you have an Interface 1, and know someone else who has (very unlikely this, since only 100,000 Interface 1s have been sold) then this game will be a boon! Oh, don't forget the second television set .1 get the feeling that this network facility may be toyed with by fallow software houses up and down the country, but probably not by anyone else. It's a shame really to end up criticising such an innovatory game precisely for its innovations, so PII end up by being nice: If you have an Interface 1, you should buy this. If you have a friend (go on, I bet you have) then I would recommend you try it, it's very hard, very intensive, and knocks spots off all other two player wargames. I don't yet know if Lothlorien are seeing the results of their deal with Argus (in terms of cash), but if this is a pointer to the future from them, it's most welcome.
A bit bizarre, maybe Lothlorien's best yet.