The Flare Path: Elegant Elefanticide

By Tim Stone on May 25th, 2013 at 1:00 pm.

How rude. I sidle off to the seaside for a week of sun, sand, and saucy postcard scrutiny and instead of downing tools and waiting patiently for my return, the World’s wargame workshops and sim smithies press on regardless. Combat Mission’s assault on the Gustav Line appears to have commenced in my absence. DoorKickers’ doorkickers are now toting sledgehammers and breaching charges. Blimey, even the forest-furrowingly brilliant Spintires seems to be on the verge of slithering out of the Siberian slough where it’s been bogged for ages.

To be fair to Oovee, a new Spintires demo and an unusually enticing Kickstarter page prove they haven’t been entirely idle this past twelve months. Where the old trial let you sherpa crates round a tract of claggy Soviet wilderness in a Liaz or Kraz truck, the new one does away with the cargoes and the on-screen shifter, and introduces a machine so muscular, so smoky, so endearingly frog-eyed and flat-faced, you may end up slipping a screenshot of it into that window in your wallet.

At some point during the last half-hour, the 8WD forestry workhorse in the above pictures has gone from being an anonymous (anyone recognise the model?) demonstration of sim physics at their most enthralling, to being ‘Big Tanya’. A good sign. The fact that we may, one day, get to augment this charismatic conveyance with winches, tire deflation systems and the like, and use it to haul timber around a sizeable Siberian map, makes this old forwarder feeder incredibly happy.

Of course, I’d be even happier if ‘internal cockpit views’ was a default feature rather than a stretch goal, and there was evidence Zane Saxton and co. were considering procedurally generated levels. Multiplayer can wait; personally I’d much rather squirm along randomly routed tracks and through unsystematic thickets than have the chance of flashing my headlights at a passing workmate/rival every now and again.

 

Seeing the Elefant

Yesterday morning I was wandering the eerie precincts of a derelict WW2 radar station. Today I am seated in an imaginary Auster AOP, looking down on a 1km x 1km square of Italian countryside that will, hopefully, in an hour’s time be under Allied control. Rather than leap into Gustav Line, the first Combat Mission Fortress Italy expansion, via one of its trio of campaigns, I thought I’d start with one of the 17 standalone scraps. ‘Elephants and Tigers’ catches my eye. Not only does it feature my local regiment – the Hampshires – it also includes the new Fallschirmjäger units and an Elefant tank destroyer. Sounds challenging, and after a week without simulated warfare of any kind, I’m in the market for challenge.

Turn 1
According to the briefing, the village ahead has been abandoned by the retreating Germans, and the titular Elefant is currently crippled and awaiting recovery. With no grey icons visible yet, circumspection seems sensible. My company of Hants Tigers waits amongst mist-dampened buildings and knotty olive trees while three Humber III light recon cars edge forward.

Turn 3
San Pietro’s slumbers seem genuine enough. Time to move up foot-sloggers. That wall looks like a good spot for a Vickers HMG, that tower a perfect roost for an arty spotter.

Turn 4
The bark of a Bren sends me scurrying for the rewind button (CM can be played in real-time or WeGo fashion. Choose the latter and both sides’ orders are executed simultaneously, the resulting tumult presented as a rewindable 60-second videotape). The Humber rolling through San Pietro’s market square has spotted suspicious figures lurking under nearby trees and has chosen to engage them with its turret weapon. Away on the right, one of the other recon cars has also encountered the Green Devils for the first time. Told to unbutton by an intel-hungry CO (me) it immediately draws speculative small-arms fire and slams its hatches.

Turn 5
Reinforcements have arrived. Five infantry-crammed Universal Carriers and two Humber IV armoured cars appear on the southern edge of the battlefield. The ACs sport 37mm cannons – no match for an Elefant’s leathery hide, but potentially extremely useful in persuading Model’s model army to keep its head down.

Turn 7
Bogged pachyderm at 1’o’clock! As Tommies tiptoe onto the top floors of several of San Pietro’s loftier villas, somebody spots the Elefant in the distance. The turretless leviathan is sitting in a ford in the centre of the map with its zimmerit-coated backside facing us (that could be important). No sign of a picket, but men with Panzerfausts, Panzerschrecks and PaKs are sure to be close at hand.

Turn 8
The few Germans that were loitering near the village appear to be withdrawing towards the river. My Humber IIIs chivvy them along with streams of searing .303. To be honest, I’m surprised my recon cars, now with eyes on the far bank, have only encountered sporadic small-arms fire so far. If I was defending, I’d have anti-tank guns dug-in up there.

Turn 9
Ah. Anti-tank guns like that. Something has just taken two potshots at my lefthand Humber III. The first round fell short, the second skimmed the turret before slamming into a stout stone wall. I breathe a sigh of relief as the sixty-second results phase snail-crawls to a close, and orders can be issued again. With luck the recon car will make it into the safety of a nearby alley before the enemy gunners find form. Some of CM’s tensest moments involve thin-skinned AFVs lunging for the safety of dead ground.

Turn 12
This is rare. Twelve turns into a CMx2 scenario and all of my are men are still as fit as flophouse fleas. The strange lack of casualties (Combat Mission is one of the least forgiving wargames around) precipitates a potentially costly decision. Next turn one of my two Humber IVs is going to hare down to the ford in an attempt to harass the Elefant and block retreating Fallschirmjäger.

Turn 13
Even with rewindable action phases, it’s possible to miss things. I’ve just spotted two black-bereted blighters sprawled in a ditch. They’re escapees from a vanquished Humber III. The scout car was scoping for targets from the ‘safety’ of scrub on the right-hand side of the map. Plainly, there are Axis AT guns hidden in the vineyards, copses, and olive groves beyond the river. We just can’t see them at present.

Turn 17
Amazing. Several ricochet-rich turns after the Humber IV arrived unscathed at the river bank, the Elefant crewmen, demoralised by spall showers and the constant woodpecker-tattoo of close-range 37mm AP, have decided to quit their steel cave. The paras that were meant to be watching over them seem more interested in retreating than mounting an active defence. Cowardice or a consequence of CM’s occasionally clay-footed AI? I suspect the latter.

Turn 18
Most of the Germans retreating towards the river are using a particular hedgerow as a screen. 81mm mortar shells directed by one of my HQs in San Pietro have just begun dropping along the line of that hedgerow. Those that escape the fierce bombardment must run the gauntlet of the cockahoop Humber IV at the ford. It’s a bad day to be wearing a FJ jump smock, that’s for sure.

Turn 21
There’s still some devilry left in the disappointingly yellow Green Devils. One of the withdrawing paratroopers pauses to pitch a stick grenade at the Elefant killer. The potato masher changes nothing and its thrower, like most of his escape-fixated comrades, is ruthlessly cut down while wading the stream.

Turn 22
My first infantry casualties of the battle. A sniper team advancing towards the river are felled by fire from an HMG poking from a distant farmhouse window. Once my off-map mortars have finished deluging recently detected foxholes on the ridge north of the river, I’ll use their wrath on this new threat.

Turn 25
In the same central olive grove where the bodies of the sniper team lay, advancing British infantry are also taking fire from foxholes cunningly sited on the reverse of a low rise. Resistance is definitely stiffening. About time too.

Turn 28
Because the big game hunting Humber IV obviously has a charmed life, I order it across the ford. Water is still cascading from its armoured nooks when a rifle-grenade hits. No serious damage but the optics are compromised, the driver is bleeding, and the vehicle – now thoroughly rattled – decides to reverse off the road rather than follow orders. Fair enough.

Turn 34
The liberators creep forward. More and more foxholes fall silent, their occupants killed or cowed by mortars, cannons, and Vickers HMGs. On its way to support its wounded comrade the second Humber IV sights a flak halftrack on the ridge above the river. I’ve barely had time to take in this Gustav Line débutante before it’s set ablaze by incoming shells.

Turn 40
It’s easy to take your eye off the ball in the closing stages of a CM scrap. Sensing victory I give my Hampshires and Humbers increasingly ambitious orders. After one of the IIIs catches the Reich’s deafest LG40 recoilless gun crew napping, I re-task it too hastily. A lone para returns to his stubby AT weapon and punishes the mistake.

Turn 42
Another Humber is burning. Frustrated by the slow progress of my infantry push, I rushed the AC onto an unremarkable patch of river bank. A hidden LG40 gunner who has spent the past 41 minutes waiting, watching, and wiping the sweat from his eyes, realises that his moment has come and pulls the trigger. Revenge for the flak halftrack. Revenge for the Elefant. Revenge for a scenario design that probably doesn’t do justice to CMx2, Gustav Line or the formidable fighting force that was the Fallschirmjäger.

 

The Flare Path Foxer

A kinder foxer setter would have built a golf-themed puzzle around a Panzerkampfwagen VI and an R-80 BushCaddy rather than grenade pins/spoons, a Royal Green Jackets badge, a T-34 loaded with tank riders, a bunker-buster bomb, a DH.91 Albatross, a Panzer II Ausf L, Monty’s medal ribbons and a photo of Iceal Hambleton. A crueller one would have compounded ‘Lynx = links’ and ‘rider = Ryder’ word-crimes with an Agusta chopper or two. Phonetic flim-flam couldn’t stop Matchstick, skink74, corinoco, Midwinter, FurryLippedSquid, and FhnuZoag from sinking crucial putts. Good work, defoxers (especially Matchstick who spotted the theme). Enjoy your Gammon Bomb grub.

This week, a lossword. The six puzzles in the image below share a theme and a pattern. Discern the motif and a stick of impossibly sweet Blackburn Roc with ‘Monte Cassino’, ‘Stalingrad’ or ‘Kohima’ (please specify) through the middle could be yours.

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34 Comments »

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  1. zabzonk says:

    For the very first time I can do a couple of the crossword thingy clues! One of the themes is pets – Guy Gibson’s dog was called Nigger. and Montgomery had a pet dog called Rommel (what a card he was!).

    Also, it seems Churchill had a dog called Rufus.

    And is the second field the breed? This seems to work for Gibson (labrador), but not for Rommel (the general, not Monty’s dog) as he was keen on dachshunds.

    • FurryLippedSquid says:

      That would fit as Rufus was a poodle and Rommel was a spaniel.

      So Monty’s spaniel called Rommel, Churchill’s poodle called Rufus, and Gibson’s labrador Nigger. A dog called Tank seems to raise a lot of interest on the net, but nothing I can find any meaningful link to.

    • deejayem says:

      Cor – well done. I’m just sponging off your good work here, but dachshund works as sausage dog.

      Ah – and apparently Hitler had a German shepherd called Blondi.

  2. bob. says:

    If you like Combat Mission, just a note that Panzer Command: Ostfront is on sale right now on Matrix Games.

    It doesn’t come close to the CM2 games in graphics, but I actually prefer the less micro-intensive gameplay. It’s higher level and bigger scale, so you usually move platoons of infantry and tanks and give only limited orders to squads and individual tanks (like specific targets or moving up a few meters).
    Also, the sheer variety of equipment is really great, you have the whole Ostfront from 41 to 45 with basically any vehicle you could be looking for!
    It also has a nice system of turns split into an orders half and a reaction half where only during the orders half you have the full range of orders.

    • Jorum says:

      just saw this after my post below – will check this out as well especially as it has a demo hooray!

      • Phillip Culliton says:

        I’m one of Combat Mission’s developers – as with almost all of our releases, we’ll be putting out a demo of our new title, Gustav Line, shortly.

    • Vicho says:

      CM is sodding good but yes sometimes the micromanaging makes me play something else instead.
      This Italy thang is gagging for a bundle. sigh…

    • Ranger33 says:

      It caught my eye for that exact reason. The intense micro-management in CMx2, more so in the WW2 games than the modern ones, kills all the fun for me. I also like that with PC:O you can generate campaigns and such, very cool.

    • Phillip Culliton says:

      Hmm, maybe it’s just the way I play, but I don’t micro-manage much. We’re always open to feedback, though. Feel free to come by and chat with us on our forums, and you’re sure to at least get a lively discussion out of it. :-)

  3. Jorum says:

    Combat Mission is a series I should/would like to finally get round to playing.
    I haven’t been keeping track since the first original release – what would be a good entry point? Just get latest and shiniest version? (bearing in mind modern setting version wouldn’t interest me)

    • Ranger33 says:

      Honestly, the best bang for your buck would be Shock Force plus all the modules. It’s missing some of the features of the newer games, but the experience is still excellent. In the WW2 games the various nations don’t have that much of a difference between them, just more or less firepower per squad really, whereas in CMSF each nation has radically different gear and tactics required. On the Syrian side you have everything from militia to special forces. Playing Red vs Red is totally different experience as well, and there are a couple amazing user made campaigns out there for that.

      For me, the WW2 games just aren’t as much fun. Lots of little things add up to a lesser experience. Won’t rant about it here.

    • Phillip Culliton says:

      Hi Jorum!

      I’d suggest dropping by our forums and asking the question. Some folks like our modern games, some folks like our WW2 games, and for a very wide variety of reasons… you’re more likely to get a useful-for-you answer from asking a bunch of our users than just a couple.

    • Solanaceae says:

      There’s more content out for CMBN, but there are several significant features in CMFI that are missing from CMBN unless you pay extra money for the patch for it.

      Also personally I find hedgegrow combat tiresome. I would get CMFI if I were you if you are interested in the CMx2 games. CMSF is even more “behind the curve” feature wise than CMBN (since it’s a fair bit older), and far less interesting IMO than the WW2 games.

      Or you can go with CMBB or CMAK which are both stellar and have an absurd amount of content out for both (plenty of people still play them as well if you’re interested in multiplayer).

      As far as CMx1 (CMBB, CMAK) vs CMx2 (CMSF, CMBN, CMFI) goes, in my opinion CMx1 is more elegant, easier to play, and less micromanagement is involved, and it has a couple features like random map generation and turn based tcp-ip play (in CMx2 games you can only play turn based mode over PBEM, if you want to play over tcp-ip you have to play realtime) that are missing from CMx2. Both CMBB and CMAK also have an enormous variety of units, and in my opinion, nothing comes close to the setting of CMBB.

      On the flipside, CMx2 has better infantry combat, better implemented on and off map artillery, lets you be more precise with your orders, and has a few options that are not in CMx1 like being able to issue fire orders off from waypoints and real time mode (not a fan personally but some people like it). The strat AI (as opposed to the individual unit AI, which is pretty great in both games) for both series of games leaves a lot to be desired, though it works decently as long as the human is the attacker. Still you’ll want to play humans for a real challenge (check out theBlitz, webob, FGM, etc. there’s plenty of places that play these games)

      If you’ve got enough money, I would buy both CMBB and CMFI to start.

      • Jorum says:

        thanks for feedback. will download demos of the ones mentioned and see which I like the feel of (although as you say may well end up with both eventually).

  4. lijenstina says:

    At some point during the last half-hour, the 8WD forestry workhorse in the above pictures has gone from being an anonymous (anyone recognise the model?

    Seems like the MAZ (маз) 537.
    V12 diesel from the T55 tank . Heavy truck used also to transport tanks and carry missiles among other things.

    • DXN says:

      What an awesome (and Russian) vehicle. :D

    • Hydrogene says:

      Wow, you seem very knowledgeable about these russian wheeled oddities! Do you know why the 6 wheel truck in the video has those strange red light beaming on the sides?

  5. guygodbois00 says:

    Thank you, Mr Stone. I very much needed something of this caliber.
    Edit: And to add, after fully reading the article, this stuff is precisely why I come here. This and the comments, of course. Bang up job!

    • Premium User Badge

      Gap Gen says:

      Yes, a nice AAR. Possibly a good way to put across how the AI fares, too, which is always crucial in wargames.

  6. The_Great_Skratsby says:

    Gosh I’d like to get into the Combat Mission series, I’ve tried numerous times over too many years but never actually sat down and committed myself to it. Great pieces like this make me want to step right back into it.

  7. marsilainen says:

    The spintires tech demo is fun as hell! Who knew that rolling in shit with multi ton russian vehicle could be this entertaining. The physics work great and it looks very pretty. Games like arma could take a lesson in vehicle and terrain physics.

    • LionsPhil says:

      It was tons of fun the last time it appeared on Flare Path, but £20 for the lowest Kickstarter tier that includes a copy of the game? Seriously?

      …tech demo’s a lot more limited than the old one, too, and diff+AWD seem to be a bit too much of a win button (that are impossible to do without) vs. lots of rocking about in muddy puddles trying to get the Kamaz up to speed to skim over the top in high gear previously.

  8. Sam says:

    Wow, I definitely recommend downloading the tech demo for SpinTires, despite their shocking misuse of the letter i. A slightly more direct link:
    http://www.oovee.co.uk/spintire-download-mirrors/

    The physics modelling is just astonishing. Leaf springs flex and creak, while tyres squish, get caked in mud or glistening water. The land surface itself is dynamic, so you carve your own holes to get jammed in. There’s even a river to ford, with dynamic waves created by your trundle through it.

  9. KarenYoung57 says:

    Allison. true that Edna`s story is impressive… yesterday I picked up a great Smart ForTwo from bringing in $4657 this month and a little over ten k this past month. it’s definitly the most rewarding Ive had. I actually started four months/ago and straight away startad bringin in over $80.. per/hr. I use this website Exit35.com

  10. Shadrach says:

    Spintires looks like a lot of fun. I am usually not one to go for the big-vehicle/work-sim type of games but finding your way across forested wilderness in a big growly beast of a machine actually sound like fun.

    Tried the demo – it even supports x360 controller so you can lie back on the couch eating chips and drive your manly mans machine.

  11. cptgone says:

    poor elephant. eversince he got infested with humans, his life has been hell. they made him drink diesel and eat bullets, then finally got him stuck in a ford.

    poor ford. there it was, minding it’s own business, only to get trampled by a stampede of one.

    i wonder, why was the Ford Elephant discontinued after the war? it’s still the best sports utility vehicle, and cannot be stopped by any mere traffic queue.