The Flare Path: Hinge Of Fate

By Tim Stone on December 23rd, 2011 at 1:00 pm.

A heavy snowfall has half-buried the Imperious War Museum's outdoor exhibits. Can you still identify them?

Because some swine has swiped the three kings from The Flare Path nativity diorama, the gold, frankincense, and myrrh are now being conveyed to the baby Jesus’ manger-side by three 1/32 Airfix Paras. Joseph and the shepherds don’t seem that bothered, but Mary’s looking a little peeved. “Stens and brens… here?” her crudely-painted-yet-intensely-holy visage seems to say. “This place is beginning to look like an Oosterbeek basement circa September, 1944!”. She’s got a point. War and Christmas go together like Tiger tanks and multi-storey car-parks. If I had any decency, I’d devote this week’s column to sleigh sims, rather than use it to discuss a work-in-progress WWI TBS and a tantalising Eastern Front wargame in search of a name.

Hellfire Cornered

There’s a branch on the Commander: The Great War tech tree on which birds never alight and lichen never grows. Black and withered, the branch gives every impression of being dead, but is, in fact, perfectly healthy. Tend and feed this branch and it will eventually bend under the weight of bitter fruit: ‘Phosgene’, ‘Chlorine’ and ‘Mustard Gas’.

The latest Lordz project tackles a difficult subject, and – going by my brief brush with the beta – tackles it with sense and skill. I’ve tried a few WWI grand-strategy efforts over the years, and all have left me weary and disillusioned. CTGW feels different. For starters you can tooltiptoe your way into the game in minutes. Within half an hour of waving goodbye to Piccadilly and bidding farewell to Leicester Square, I was contendedly and confidently overseeing an Entente offensive in Palestine, and doing my utmost to prevent Central Powers breakthroughs in Serbia and Belgium.

Like another amiable hex exponent I’ve been spending rather a lot of time with recently, CTGW has a rule-set small enough to slip into a cigarette case, and elegant enough to give to your sweetheart as a keepsake. Bally practical when it comes to unit counts, turn lengths, and hex sizes, dishing out a turn’s worth of orders is the work of a few minutes, not a few hours.

The campaign starts small and historically with some Balkan unpleasantness between the Austro-Hungarians and Serbs. Over the next dozen two-week turns, scripted events see other nations plunging in to the deepening bloodbath. On Turn #2 I found myself entrusted with a handful of French and Belgian units. On Turn #5 the madness spread to Russia.

In another grand-strategy title – something Paradoxical for instance – overseeing a multi-nation alliance could be back-breaking, mind-boggling toil. In this one the gradual growth of duties is eminently manageable. Watching-over various theatres actually alleviates that perennial WWI game problem – the stodgy immobility of the Western Front.

In my current game, after a scary German push through Belgium and some breathless see-sawing around Verdun in the first year of the war, things have become pretty quiet on the Western Front. The good news is there’s still lots of room for boldness, brilliance and blunders in places like the Middle-East and Poland. Thanks to interesting unit production choices and that flavoursome tech tree mentioned earlier, there’s also plenty to do away from the front.

Lordz seem to understand that I have books to read, sunsets to contemplate, and other games to play. They don’t expect me to appoint half-a-dozen Cabinet ministers, approve the construction of countless mines and factories, and ensure I’ve traded sufficient copper to build Advanced U-boat Batteries IV. All they ask is that I occasionally choose a new research project for each of my nations, and pick some new cannon-fodder from a catalogue of tempting mail-order units.

Thanks to the prodigious ‘production point’ output and manpower reserves of major nations like the UK and Germany, within a few turns of the kick-off you’re in a position to buy cutting-edge battlefield gizmos like airships, armoured trains and armoured cars. Predictably some of the most tempting toys – battleships and the like – cost a PP packet and take dozens of turns to complete. Early on, the toughest decisions are whether to plug holes with cheap and quickly raised garrison units or sweat while pricier and more capable infantry are trained.

There’s little point in offering AI assessments at this stage, but I haven’t seen anything that suggests incompetence. At the local level, foes bully weak units mercilessly and bustle through breaches. Higher up, the silicon donkeys seem to have read their history, racing for the sea in the opening phases. Given Commander: Europe At War’s fondness for following in the footsteps of WW2 leaders, I’m actually hoping for a little less historicism, a little more improvisation, this time. Hopefully there’ll be a campaign option in which you can’t set your watch by America’s entry into the war, or rely on the fact that Germany won’t have a nibble at Holland or Denmark.

Hopefully, there’s also time for an airpower brainstorm. There’s no unit stacking in GW which is great for clarity but a bit bizarre when you realise a squadron of fighters can’t elbow their way into the airspace above a friendly infantry unit. Panzer General and its offshoots handle aviation more naturalistically.

If your interest in wargames has been kindled, or rekindled, by recent pop gems like Panzer Corps and Unity of Command, or you simply fancy playing a WWI game that doesn’t suck at your boots like Flanders mud, then note the name Commander: The Great War. Archduke Ferdinand will be taking a bullet to the jugular on March 15.

 

Blood Snow Offensive

Every year the world’s wargame developers spend approximately 3,824,000, man-hours working on nation-specific unit models and stats, and roughly 2 shakes of a lamb’s tail working on nation-specific combat doctrines. Fritz Schmitt, Tommy Smith, and Ivan Somethingclichedov might be wearing stitch-perfect uniforms and carrying SMGs with rigorously reproduced rates-of-fire, but they all act like they’ve attended exactly the same boot camp and read exactly the same training manuals.

Only deadline-dodging craftsmen like Panther Games attempt nation-specific AI. Hot on the heels of a hefty Battles From The Bulge patch, the makers of delectable delegate-’em-ups like Conquest of the Aegean and Highway to the Reich, have revealed they’re off to the ice-bound Chir river (last seen in Achtung Panzer Operation Star) next. For a series that has never been further east than Crete, it’s an exciting move, especially as studio head Dave “Arjuna” O’Connor included these words is in his announcement:

“There will be some new features. At this stage all I can say is that we will be focussing on doctrinal features. For instance we do plan to model the Soviet Ledge formation and use it in the Soviet attacks to simulate their practice of stacking one sector of the assault line.”

Panther might be confident that they can produce an AI that knows its Guderian from its Tukhachevsky, but they’re obviously struggling to come up with a decent name for their East Front debut. Solicited suggestions on the BftB forum currently include the goodish…

Command Ops: Red Storm From Stalingrad

Command Ops: Red Vortex

Command Ops: Blood on the Chir

the not-so-good…

Command Ops: Hinge of Fate

Command Ops: Iced Blood

and the very-not-so-good…

Command Ops: Blood Snow Offensive

Command Ops: Panzers in the Redshift

Command Ops: Brrrrrrr on the Chirrrrrr*

*T. Stone Esq

As the above abominations prove, naming a wargame is a lot harder than it looks. Conventional wisdom says you attempt to capture the essence of your approach/engine in a pithy, punchy series name, then get a little more specific and flouncy with the subtitle…

Close Combat: A Bridge Too Far

Airborne Assault: Highway to the Reich

Squad Battles: The Proud & The Few

I reckon the most effective series names inform and imply drama. The worst – Unity of Command, Combat Mission, and Theatre of War (which, admittedly, does imply drama) – tell the curious punter little, or reek of filing cabinets and tedium. Combine a weak series name with a weak subtitle and you’re really making life hard for yourself…

Combat Mission: Battle For Normandy

Command Ops: Battles From The Bulge

World War II: General Commander

The natural habitat of ‘from’ is the interior of a greetings card not the exterior of a thrill-packed command simulation. Other words probably best avoided? ‘Steel’, ‘Combat’, ‘Command’, and ‘Panzer’ have all been picked clean by generations of desperate devs. Will the wargames of 2012 offer memorable, evocative action. If studios like Battlefront, Graviteam, 2×2, and Panther are involved then it’s highly likely. Will they boast memorable, evocative monikers? I’m not holding my Command Ops: Breath of the Snow Tiger, Blood of the Ice Bear – Battles What Happened near Stalingrad in 1943 & 1942: Fury.

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30 Comments »

  1. timmyvos says:

    I never knew you could run out of names for a game. Anyway, I think one of the tanks in the picture is the Sturmpanzer 4 Brummbär, and I think the car is possible a Horch 108. It might be another Horch though, I never got their names right..

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      Mechanicus_ says:

      I can see:

      Brummbar, as spotted above
      Upper middle left: He219 Uhu night fighter
      Lower middle right: I think that’s a Heinkel tank buster, but the name escapes me
      Middle center: A4 Skyhawk
      Top left: Type XXI Uboot
      Bottom right: SdKfz 6
      The missile is probably one of the innumerable Wasserfall a-like German guided AA missiles from WW2
      Bottom left tank is one of those Soviet multi-turret monsters, T – thirty-something

    • timmyvos says:

      I think the Russian tank might be the T-35. And it could be the Heinkel He 111.

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      Man Raised by Puffins says:

      The pointy thing in the top left looks like one of the experimental German missiles they have (or had, its been a while) at Cosford (and wikipedia confirms it as the Rheintochter R1).

    • egg651 says:

      I’m pretty sure the middle-lower-right is a Henschel Hs 129.

    • Hellfire257 says:

      Bloch MB.170 is the French aircraft on the right, I think at least… Not too familiar with French aircraft.

    • Tim Stone says:

      The FP points this week are made from gold, frankincense and myrrhette (genuine myrrh was too expensive).

      Tanky timmyvos’gets a gold and a frankincense for the Brummbär and the T-35.
      Mechanically-minded Mechanicus gets a gold and a frankincense for the Type XXI and Sdkfz 6.
      Man Raised by Puffins finds a myrrhette point in the nose-cone of his R1.
      Panzerknackered after correctly identifying a Hs 129, egg651 is revived by the aroma of fresh frankincense.
      Gabe is more successful than his Supermarine Attacker and takes home a myrrhette FP point.

    • Gaytard Fondue says:

      The aircraft below the XXI sub is in fact a Ju 188.

    • Tim Stone says:

      Gaytard sees straight through the generously glazed cranium of the Ju 188 and claims a gold FP point.

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      phuzz says:

      I’m surprised no-one has picked the Bristol Beaufort yet (2nd row right), although I always get the Blenhiem, the Beaufort and the Beufighter mixed up for some reason.

      (edit, I’ve just noticed that Bristol Cars produced a car called the Beaufighter, cool!)

  2. Jams O'Donnell says:

    Tank Bastard. That is a name that should be used.

  3. DogKiller says:

    I always stumble with wargames that are a little too abstract. I want to know how many tanks that division has, how many supplies and what their casualty levels are down to the last man. On the other hand, I don’t want to have to spend three years of my life trying to complete a War in the Pacific campaign like some people. An inbetween level does me nicely.

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    stahlwerk says:

    It’s funny that a genre which most of the time requires deep thought and concentration from the target audience doesn’t dare to break the mold of

    [TWO WORDS]:[SUBTITLE WITH PREPOSITION]

    which kind of seems like figuring your audience as having shortish attention spans.

    What about a famous quote, like e.g. “Their finest hour”, “for a bit of colored ribbon”

  5. Premium User Badge

    Mechanicus_ says:

    How does the mission structure in Commander: The Great War compare to Panzer Corps? Each scenario in that game often feels inflexible, more like a puzzle you need to solve than a more traditional strategy game, is this CTGW similar? The inclusion of things like a research tree suggests not, which sounds more interesting.

    Also, while I have the attention of some simmers:

    DCS: Black Shark 2 and A-10 are currently on sale for £17 and £13 respectively, direct from the developer. I know they are super accurate simulations etc… but how do they stack up as games? Do they have dynamic or static campaigns? How well do they handle tweaking the complexity? Basically if I am not a super hardcore simmer will I be able to have fun with them?

    • DogKiller says:

      In regards to your second paragraph, if I remember correctly you can switch between simple and advanced flight model \ avionics, but I think it’s more all or nothing, rather than something you can slowly scale up to suit you. They’re definitely more for the hardcore simmer. They don’t have dynamic campaigns like Falcon 4.0, but there is something variability in them, and both games should now have a quick missin generator with customisable settings.

    • Tim Stone says:

      There’s no missions in CTGW. You start in 1914 as either the Triple Entente or the Central Powers and play until you win, lose or run out of naive/patriotic young men.

    • soldant says:

      As stated the DCS games do have a “game mode” but I’d strongly recommend you don’t use Game Avionics because it basically becomes an arcade experience, and a bad one at that. Despite what people will tell you, you don’t need to learn everything in the cockpit. The quickstart guide for DCS A10 is remarkably good and will teach you how to do common tasks within 30 minutes. I don’t have BS2, but if they improved it along the same lines, it’s probably similar.

  6. gabe says:

    The one on the second row from the bottom, first plane from the left, with the Pakistan flags is a Supermarine Attacker

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Supermarine_Attacker

    Talk about an ugly plane :D

  7. Phillip Culliton says:

    Except it’s “Combat Mission: Battle *for* Normandy”, Tim. “Battles from Normandy” sounds like a televised series of French chess matches done by a producer with an overactive imagination.

    • Tim Stone says:

      Fixed!

      Still a dodgy title though. Drab, ever so slightly misleading, and, evidently, not especially memorable. I demand you abandon your current programming tasks and pour weeks of effort into an expensive rebranding initiative.

    • Weylund The Second says:

      Oops. :-)

    • Phillip Culliton says:

      Why, thank you Tim!

      A rebranding initiative, eh? But that would mean abandoning my plans to code through Christmas!

      Still, I think you’re on to something. I demand a $7 million budget for hotel rooms for my compatriots, illicit drugs that we might consume in a manner befitting their nature, and those folding easel thingies! But no pens. We’ll use duck blood… of course.

      I quite like “Magical Assaults on Hitler’s Last Fiery Bunker Crackdown”, to start. Or “Nasty Dan Offs Some Baddies With An Axe In One Hand And An SMLE In The Other”.

      I’m off to petition my superiors… :)

  8. Premium User Badge

    Mechanicus_ says:

    I also feel it is my duty to alert the FP readers that, with apparently zero publicity or fanfare, the new Graviteam tank sim Steel Armour: Blaze of War has just been released!?

    Not only that, it has immediately been discounted to £10 on Gamersgate! Utter madness.

    I’m guessing as he didn’t mention it even Tim didn’t know it was out.

    • Tim Stone says:

      £10 for Steel Armor? That’s [redacted until my PC Gamer review appears]!

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      Mechanicus_ says:

      Arg; that doesn’t sound good, and I already bought it. My greed for tanks leads me astray again?

  9. wodin says:

    I think Blood on the Chir was mine.

    Though I worte a damn long list of them.

    Very hard to come up with a title that tells you quickly where the game is set and try not to mention one side over the other.

    Remember Red Pill (A rather strange yet evocative title for a wargame) well they ran a competition which resulted in Command:Modern Air\Naval Operations….that won!

    • Tim Stone says:

      Just reading the words ‘Command: Modern Air/Naval Operations’ makes my shoulders slump. What were they thinking?

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  11. The Greatness says:

    Any chance of a Aerofly FS review any time soon? That game looked stunning.

  12. Electricfox says:

    Looks like a Project 675 ‘Echo II’ SSGN on the top right. :D