[MC Lothlorien, ZX Spectrum)
– Lieutenant Narwhal, you will jump deep into enemy territory and DESTROY ! THAT ! BRIDGE !
– Classical mission then ! Been there, done that since Operation Apocalypse !
– First, I don’t remember you performing that well in that operation. Second, you will not have tanks this time, but we have got state-of-the-art rifles for you !
– Can I at least have bazookas ? Machine-guns ?
– You can, but why would anyone want that when they can have rifles !
In Summer 1983, MC Lothlorien departs the pre-modern theme of its first proto-wargames to propose a batch of 4 full-fledged tactical wargames spanning from the Civil War to the distant future:
- Johnny Reb, set during the Civil War
- Redweed, a War of the Worlds scenario,
- Battlezone 2000, ripped straight from the boardgame classic Ogre,
- Paras, today’s game,
There is only one two-part scenario in Paras : a team of 15 commandos must first kill all enemy soldiers in the first area, before taking out a bridge in the second scenario. Someone must have swapped the “primary objective” and “secondary objective” envelopes shortly before briefing. But first, I must equip my soldiers :
All weapons (except grenades, which all soldiers have) can shoot at the same range (7 squares, no diagonals allowed). The difference between machine guns, submachine guns and rifles is their accuracy depending on the range :
As for bazookas (and short-range grenades), they have 60% base chance-to-hit… but after a scatter roll, so if enemies are not grouped (and they never are) the real chance-to-hit is the worst of all.
This AAR is actually my first attempt at beating the game, so I don’t know what I need. I decide to create three balanced groups of 5 people, each of them with one MG, one SMG, one bazooka and 2 rifles. I then use as little imagination as possible when deploying them :
Each turn, I have 5 options for my soldiers :
- Move (4 squares),
- Shoot (accurately)
- Move (3 squares) and shoot inaccurately.
- Change posture (prone / standing up)
- Equip and then throw a grenade,
According to the manual, enemies can hide in trees, bushes or houses, so I advance while shooting at trees, not hitting anyone.
From time to time, some artillery round lands on the battlefield. It creates a STE (Slow Timed Event) where I have maybe 10 seconds to press P to make everyone duck before a lone shell misses its intended targets by half a screen.
My soldiers stand up again and advance past the first line of trees, when suddenly :
One enemy, hidden in a tree, shoots and kills one of my riflemen.
This guy is alone, and I have 9 soldiers in the general area, most of them able to move and shoot. I figure out that shooting 9 times with rifles, machine-guns, sub-machines guns and bazookas is likely to allow me to gib the sniper. I am wrong. I miss, miss, miss again, turn after turn. Shooting more than 40 times in total, I hit him once, only wounding him. Meanwhile, the enemy sniper shoots and kills 2 more of my guys.
Meanwhile, my Northern group is ambushed as well, and immediately loses one of its own soldiers.
Literally seconds later, another sniper appears , and one of my other guys in the North is wounded !
That’s not looking good, but my huge force in the middle finally eliminates the super-soldier in the middle of the map, while a lucky shoot from one of my riflemen kills the hostile at the top of the map.
The last enemy dodges every single bullet I send toward him for a long time, though he himself keeps missing. After 4 or so more turns, I finally kill him.
I resume my progression… and I am ambushed by two more enemies – again the sharpshooter kind. They take down two more of my men. I even try to be subtile, with a soldier crawling to them with a grenade in his hands, but he misses and is shot down the following turn.
That’s when I realize two things :
- With the exception of my grenadier, all the soldiers that I lost were standing,
- Everytime I hit a target, I was standing still and shooting, not moving and shooting.
Clearly, in Paras, standing up is a death sentence, and shooting while moving is useless.
I apply this new found wisdom and suddenly I don’t lose anyone anymore. After a long exchange of bullets (and rockets) I manage to kill the two sharpshooters.
I crawl to the last area where enemies might be. I made a mistake in a movement, and one of my machine-gunners ends 7 squares from the South-Eastern house. He is immediately punished for this mistake and shot down by another hostile. I deploy the rest of my soldiers 8 squares from the last enemy, and move everyone (still crawling) at the same time. It works, and I very quickly kill the last guy.
Of course, that’s only the first part of the mission !
Now, with the 7 men I have (including one wounded), I need to cross a new map to blow the bridge !
I again deploy to the left of the map, with two enemies immediately within range.
My soldiers deploy in the status they had at the end of the previous mission, so prone. My two opponents start standing up for once ; they are wiped out in one turn. How the table has turned !
After that, I very slowly crawl (2 squares by turn) to the other side of the map, hugging the Northern marsh to avoid being noticed by anyone.
For the only time of the mission, an artillery shell strikes true, killing one of my soldiers :
I finally approach the bridge, where I use the same tactics as I used before. In addition to having more guys, I have an advantage in weapons : according to the manual enemies only use submachine guns and at the range I’m fighting at, rifles are more accurate.
It is very effective, and I easily remove the first defender. According to the manual, I can destroy the bridge with the bazooka, but fail to do so despite repeated attempts. It does not matter, I kill the two remaining defenders and then send my wounded soldier to plant explosives. Here is the final sequence of the game :
The game then automatically exits. It took me a bit less than 2 hours in total.
Rating and Review
Paras by MC Lothlorien, UK
First release : July 1983
Tested on : ZX Spectrum emulator (Pantheon)
Total time tested : A bit less than two hours
Average duration of a campaign: Probably a bit less than two hours
Complexity: Easy (1/5)
Would recommend to a modern player : No
Would recommend to a designer : No
Final Rating: Totally obsolete
Ranking at the time of review : 69/90
Paras has nothing worth remembering beyond being the first British squad-tactics game. It is slow to play, has only one weapon worth using (the rifle), and lacks staples of the genre like line of sight or enemies actually moving. It can be safely ignored, including by the most dedicated squad-tactics fan.
After releasing 5 games in a row in the second half of 1982 the British MC Lothlorien entered a relative hiatus. Its only release is a game called Privateer (credited to Andy Pugh, with Lothlorien probably acting as a publisher) for ZX81 and ZX Spectrum around May 1983. Privateer is a mediocre game divided in 3 phases, none of them qualifying it for this blog, even as a BRIEF :
- A ballistic phase , where the player must destroy a shore battery by providing an angle and a fuse length for its attack :
- A pointless pursuit, where the player just needs to beeline toward an enemy ship :
- And finally another trivial ballistic phase where the player must “aim” for an enemy ship by pressing a number between 1 and 9, 5 representing the center of the screen.
But MC Lothlorien was not idle. In July 1983, the company announced 4 games at the same time : Johnny Reb and Redweed for ZX Spectrum, Paras and Battlezone 2000 for BBC Micro !
I did not play the first version of Paras on BBC Micro because the controls are horrible : you need to write coordinates according to a hard-to-read grid for every action :
The ZX Spectrum followed the BBC Micro version quickly, as it was released in September 1983. According to Spectrum Computing, Paras later received a new release as part of a “warmaster pack” with 3 later MC Lothlorien games, but information about it is sparse.
I said everything I had to say about the game, so to cover the rating quickly :
Immersion – Very poor.
UI, Clarify of rules and outcomes – Very poor. There is no way to cancel an action, the game lacks feedback and, worse of all, the selector recenters after every action so you need to drag it from the middle of the map to wherever you need it every time.
Systems – Terrible. The enemies shoot you whenever you are in range (7 squares). As the game does not consider line of sight (obstacles are ignored except if you’re sitting on them, in which case they give you a defensive bonus), there is one optimal weapon : the rifle. The rest is less accurate at range 7 where combats are going to happen. You have no reason to approach, as the SMGs used by the enemies will then become more accurate. Since you don’t need to approach, you will always be crawling, which also makes artillery attacks even more pointless. The ruleset just does not work.
Scenario design & balancing – Terrible. There are 10 levels of difficulty, with levels 1-5 only giving you the final phase to play.
There is no AI to speak of. Enemies don’t move and just shoot at the easiest target (eg whoever is standing up, then whoever is closest and not in cover).
Did I make interesting decisions ? No.
Final rating : Totally obsolete.
Spectrum Computing mentions several descriptions of the game, but only one (short) review in Crash (March 1984, reprinted May 1984). The reviewer reckons that : “Paras has […] complexities built in and will provide endless fun for the war game addict. Bright graphics, but many symbols to digest.” This last comment makes me think that the reviewer is not really familiar with war games after all. I have not found any other review myself, though Paras is sometimes superficially mentioned in various wargames retrospectives written in Swedish, Italian or Dutch so I assume the game sold abroad.
I did not like Paras, but it was short and bugless enough that it was not painful to play either – just pointless and slightly boring. Hopefully, some of the other 1983 Lothlorien wargames are deeper. Redweed and Johnny Reb are described as the most successful of the early Lothlorien titles, so they are probably significantly better, but I want to eat my black bread first as we say in France, so I will cover the forgotten Battlezone 2000 before that.