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.
The advantages of an excellent screen display are offset by rather poor packaging.
Clear and attractive game board.
Insubstantial and largely unhelpful.
Consistent in response and well paced.
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.
When Lothlorien want to, they can still hold their own in the strategy games market.