The Flare Path: Rome, Commentary & The Lash

By Tim Stone on March 14th, 2014 at 1:00 pm.

“In a couple of thousand years’ time bent-backed archaeologists are going to find the phrase ‘The Greased Pigs Rule!’ scratched into hypercaust tiles, carved on marble horse troughs, and written in tessera on villa floors. Being clever sorts they may guess who we were, but they’ll never fully understand how famous we were and how much that fame cost us in blood, sweat, and tears.”

Like Adam I’ve gone anti-clockwise lots this past week and loved every minute of it. During the course of my latest Qvadriga campaign, my team, the Greased Pigs, have travelled the length and breadth of Europe and North Africa. Older, wiser, and sporting more scar tissue than Maximus, the Colosseum’s angriest bull hippo, we’re now on the verge of our 100th race, a race I thought I’d share with you today in The Flare Path.

I can’t promise success or spectacle. My stats reveal that my aurigas (charioteers) win almost a third of the events they enter. Less encouragingly, the figures also show that 44% of our races finish without a Pig on the podium. Part of the joy of this wonderfully fast-paced, surprisingly subtle tactical TBS is the unpredictability. Sound tactics, strong charioteers, and solid equipment are vital, but some days no amount of skill and hardware can overcome the perfect hoof-storm of cunning rivals and cruel luck.

I’ve come to Rome for the big 1-0-0 bash. I was planning to compete at the famous Circus Maximus but, despite the fact that the Pigs are now ‘legendary’ on the global stage and ‘worshipped’ locally, the snobs that run the place won’t let us in. Bah. It will have to be the Rome Maxentius nextdoor. A large ‘Category V’ hippodrome, the difference in scale and splendour isn’t actually all that great.

Choosing an auriga for the big day is going to be considerably harder than choosing a venue. My latest signing, Babpo the Spaniard, is, on paper, my finest charioteer. That extra heart by his name means he’s tougher than his teammates. The thing is, he hasn’t won for me yet and I don’t trust him the way I trust the likes of Anir, Hapu, and Preherwen. Those guys have been with the Pigs since the early days. The days when we were nobodies plying our perilous trade on tiny dung-dotted desert circuits on the edge of the Sahara.

I think it’s going to be Preherwen. Though he hasn’t enjoyed quite the success of Anir, he has talent by the galley-load and has pulled off a couple of truly miraculous wins in his time. I team him with a quartet of my best horses and, tingling even more than usual, press ‘RACE’.

Every Qvadriga derby begins with the turn of an event card. Incredibly varied, these can add everything from arena bumps, sandstorms, and extra laps, to sabotaged gates, snipped reins and pissed, projectile-vomitting hurling spectators. On this occasion, the card really couldn’t have been more propitious. Plainly, the Gods are smiling on me today so it seems sensible to smile back. I place a 1000-and-something denarii wager (for some reason the bet slider refuses to settle on 1000) on the 5:1 Preherwen.

This is it. The Maxentius buzzes like a giant marble beehive as the twelve aurigas ready themselves behind its shaded carceres. There are only three orders available in the first few turns of a race – ‘accelerate’, ‘decelerate’, and ‘use whip’. If my 99 previous races have taught me anything it’s that two of those should be avoided like the plague. To maximise our chances of success I must hit the first straight near the front of the pack. With Preherwen’s whip poised above a quartet of twitching horse rumps, the race begins.

Not bad. Not bad at all. The combination of busy lash, event card luck, a decent lane draw, high auriga skill, and quality chariot and nags, means we reach the spina (the raised platform in the centre of the track) in 3rd position and in roughly the middle of the eight lanes. Better still, none of the vehicles near to the crimson-clad Preherwen have fetlock-shredding blades attached to their wheel-hubs. Losing a horse to a vicious neighbour on the first straight doesn’t happen often, but when it does it’s usually race over for the unlucky/unwary victim.

Okay, my first tricky choice. I’ve got a blue-clad Veneta faction cove called Mageshgetil sneaking up on the outside. With his small light chariot and powerful pullers, an overtake seems inevitable. I could try a spoiling lane switch but he might squeak past before the manoeuvre is complete, or cut inside negating the block.

Brilliant. The switch worked perfectly. Mageshgetil attempted to whip his way past and wound up running into the back of my veering machine. Better still, one of his horses was wounded in the collision. I’ve lost a place to one of the grey quadrigas currently dominating the inside lanes, but, in the circumstances, it feels like a worthwhile sacrifice.

In the next turn a bloody wheel-versus-whip fracas between rivals on my left, and a frenzy of lane changes amongst the leaders (the inside lane folk understandably, don’t want to execute the approaching turn too close to the spina wall) give me the opportunity to gain ground. Gunshot-loud whip cracks speed Preherwen past squabblers and steerers.

Entering the first corner my chariot is inches away from the second-place vehicle, a Veneta quadriga piloted by one Rufus. A bottle-green path predictor suggests stability isn’t going to be a problem in the remaining sector of the bend, so maybe I can risk a little combat. I wonder how Rufus and his nags will react to a flurry of whip blows?

Hopes can be dashed in seconds in Qvadriga. Rufus obviously had exactly the same idea as me. In the two-way, high-speed, melee the muscular Preherwen prevailed; Rufus was stunned, his horses injured and slowed, but – and it’s a Colossus of Rhodes-sized ‘but’ – my charioteer dropped his whip. I may have just blown my chances.

As we slingshot out of the corner, behind us the dazed Rufus is causing a heart-warming traffic jam. Poor sod. It’s definitely not his day. Before he has a chance to recover, he’s whipped to death by a bad-tempered bastard bypassing the snarl-up on the inside. The purple predator goes by the name of Damianus.

I don’t think I’ve ever lost a whip before. Frankly, I’m not sure what to do for the best now. The leading chariot is now so far ahead he’s off the screen, and my usual tactics – whip hard, whip often (unless your horses are on their last legs, natch) – are impossible. I can still accelerate using the reins, but I’ve lost the ability to initiate quick bursts of speed.

The blood spattered Damianus chases me all the way down the top straight. As we cross the line to complete the first of our three laps, he’s two or three lengths behind. The gap narrows slightly in the turn, but my ruthless rival doesn’t seem to have the legs for an overtake. Barrelling along the lower straight, our simultaneous lane changes (him searching for a way through, me looking to close the door) leave plaited wheel tracks in the hot Maxentius dust.

Splendid, Damianus definitely seems to be running out of steam. As I sweep towards the scene of my de-whipping, drifting alarmingly en-route (I really should have cornered a tad wider), he’s a dot in my imaginary bronze wing mirror. In fact he’s in imminent danger of losing a couple of places to a pair of spina-hugging whip crackers.

Three turns have passed since my last paragraph. During those turns one of those spina-huggers misjudged a turn and flipped his chariot (still attached to the now-unencumbered horses, he’s presently ploughing the circuit with his nose). Almost too late, I noticed two equine cadavers in my lane and took appropriate evasive action. The big news, however, relates to the current race leader. Sophus, my fact-hungry mouse cursor tells me, may not be in quite the commanding position he appears to be in. Though he’s still around five lengths ahead, he’s evidently got potential propulsion problems. One of his meaty motors shows an orange health bar, another a yellow.

Final lap, lower straight. Sophus has just swung left to avoid a wreck. The detour seems to have cost him a surprising amount of speed. As we enter the last turn of the race, we’re neck and neck, but my chariot, three lanes from the spina, has the superior line. You know what? I think I might just snatch this.

By Jupiter! Sophus just did something uncharacteristically – wonderfully – reckless. Seeing a lead he’d hung onto for almost the entire race, slipping away, he attempted to whip his way through the last corner. The combination of pace and lane (2) produced a fairly predictable cloud of dust and debris out of which emerged four grey horses dragging a human travois. Hard luck, old bean. Been there, bought the toga. Nothing can stop me now!

Nothing except… the chariotless race leader has exited the bend fractionally ahead of Preherwen.

If the dizzy dust chewer can hang on to the reins until the finish line, it’s possible, just possible, he could still grab a victory. I consider switching lanes and attempting to trample him, then remember my humanity realise Preherwen is pulling clear and let physics take its course.

38,500 denarii! The wine will flow like auriga blood in the Greased Pigs stables tonight.

 

 

The Flare Path Foxer

Roman, my Chief Foxer Setter, is getting soft in his old age. Last week he wanted to include an AN/PVS-2 scope and a sun-silhouetted Huey in the ‘musicals’ foxer. “Go ahead” I said “…if you’re happy to insult collage kings like FurryLippedSquid, Stugle, Matchstick, skink74, All is Well, mrpier, sith1144, Gusdownnup, and Thurgret”.

A) Various Cats
B) A McDonnell FH Phantom (Phantom of the Opera)
C) The cargo ship Cosette (Les Miserables)
D) Southern Railway Merchant Navy Class locomotive (Either South Pacific or Spamalot)
E) The Lion’s Mound, Waterloo, and a King Tiger (The Lion King)
F) A Tu-28 ‘Fiddler’ on a Rufe (Fiddler on the Roof)
G) Douglas World CruiserChicago

To be fair, Roman has been working his socks off of late. I’ve given him the week off this week and he’s using the break to do a whistle-stop tour of some of his favourite battle sites. The eight pictured below are all on his itinerary. Can you identify them?

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59 Comments »

  1. Premium User Badge

    Matchstick says:

    Seems too obvious but is B the the Bridge at Arnhem ?

    Nope, it’s not :(

  2. Gusdownnup says:

    I think E is Hastings. Well, it’s in Battle, but it’s the Battle of Hastings. If that makes sense.

  3. Stugle says:

    A) Is Dieppe.

    EDIT: Actually, it’s not. Dang.

    EDITEDIT: Actually, it is indeed. Gawd, I should really double-check before I start spouting ‘answers’.

  4. FurryLippedSquid says:

    Is C a 122 mm howitzer M1938 (M-30)?

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      Matchstick says:

      LOL, old habits die hard :)

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      Thurgret says:

      Quite possibly.

      It’s also, perhaps, a picture of the Ardennes? One forest might look much like another, I suppose, but the trees match up to what a lot of the Ardennes looks like (from what I’ve seen), and the gun suggests Second World War, where some major stuff went on in the Ardennes.

      • Shiloh says:

        Or the Hurtgen Forest.

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        mrpier says:

        My first thought with C was actually Finland or Russia, so maybe winter war or a battle in northern Russia.

        Wild guess is Battle of Suomussalmi.

        Yepp, should be the (sub)battle of Raate Road, and the picture is from a war museum/exhibition I believe.

        • Stugle says:

          I think you are correct – I can’t find an exact picture match, but there are several Google images for the battle that show the same/similar howitzer, with same angle of the barrel, same camouflage pattern. Also, what little I could see on Google Streetview of the town (couldn’t see any actual battle site or monument) seems to fit the time of year. Oh, and lots of pine trees.

          • UnholyDeath says:

            Yup, you guys are right, the Battle of Raate Road. The site itself is a bit west of Suomussalmi, about half way to the Russian border. Using the Street View names for the roads the site is where Raatteentie meets Kuhmontie, on the north side of Raatteentie. You can’t see it in the picture above but there is a large field of stones that serve as the memorial for the battle to the north of the gun behind the trees.

  5. Great Cthulhu says:

    H) has a blue cyclist strip on the road. Maybe that’ll help pin it down. I know those are red in The Netherlands. According to Google they’re blue in Copenhagen, but I can’t find a matching church there. Maybe somewhere else in Denmark…

    • Shiloh says:

      Could be the Battle of Copenhagen though.

      • Great Cthulhu says:

        Yeah. But I can’t find a matching location in Copenhagen.

    • Stugle says:

      The cars are on the wrong side of the road, though – unless it’s a one-way street.

      • Shiloh says:

        That’s what I was thinking – and the more I look at it, the more UK-ish it looks (street furniture, architecture, etc).

        Anyone ever been to Bosworth?

        • Great Cthulhu says:

          Apparently London has a “cycle superhighway”. I think that might be it.

    • FurryLippedSquid says:

      London has blue cycle lanes…

      • Stugle says:

        Hah! Thank you for that! A quick Google search for “battles London” reveals the following: 1936, Battle of Cable Street! Look on Google Streetview near St. Mary’s Cable Street. :)

  6. Shiloh says:

    B is Pegasus Bridge.

    Edit: actually, it isn’t. Apologies!

    • FurryLippedSquid says:

      Nah, Pegasus is a road bridge, I’ve driven over it numerous times.

      Edit: Ninja’d!

      • President Weasel says:

        Is it the Son Bridge from Market Garden?

        -actually, the photos I can find of it nowadays don’t match. Sadness.

        • Shiloh says:

          No, not the Son bridge… to be honest it looks like Dunkirk or Calais to me, I’ve driven along the coast from Calais up to the Netherlands and a lot of the drive was maritime industrial like that. That building to the right of the bridge looks like something you’d see in Calais near the ferry port.

          • UnholyDeath says:

            FOUND IT! :)

            B is a bridge in Zeebrugge, in northern Belgium north of Bruges, on the N34 just east of the E403 right in the port. Wikipedia shows Zeebrugge was the spot of a British raid during WW1 in 1918. The town also saw action in WW2 during the Battle of the Scheldt in 1944 at the end of Operation Switchback when the Canadian 1st Army liberated the town and closed off the Breskens Pocket.

            Edit: Seeing the Street View of it I think you were correct below, definitely looks like a swing bridge.

          • Stugle says:

            In response to UnholyDeath: thank you for finally taking that weight of my shoulders! It’s been eating away at my sleep and worktime for the last five days… :)

  7. LionsPhil says:

    What a great little playthrough. Reminds me of the old GalCiv ones that (I think) were stuck in minibooklets with some issue of PC GAMER.

    Also the days of RPS and chums doing Solenium Infernum, or however you spell that, and that space one that forever gave Quinns a ferrous-deprived reputation.

    • Premium User Badge

      Sunjumper says:

      Agreed. It was not only a gripping story but also showed quite a bit of how the game works both mechanically and also on the emotional player level. I was quite interested in this game and the WIT and this bit have just sold it to me.

  8. FurryLippedSquid says:

    D looks very French to me, judging by the cars and that barrier (I holiday there a lot). I’m willing to bet it says “Route Barrée” on the other side. Gawd knows where though.

    • Al__S says:

      I thought at first D could be St Malo, but the towers on the walls there are all round, not square. I agree with you about the ineffable sense of frenchness about the scene

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      mrpier says:

      Style of the fortress is more moorish though, square towers, “hats” on top of the battlements.

      • Shiloh says:

        Agreed, somewhere like Avila – I think that’s the sea in the background though.

    • protorp says:

      It reminds me strongly of the banks of the Rhone at Arles or Avignon, but I can’t find anywhere with fortifications like that…

      • Shiloh says:

        D is the alcazaba at Badajoz. Gad, that took a while.

        • Stugle says:

          You have my sincere thanks for solving that one. One down, three to go to keep me awake tonight… :)

  9. Al__S says:

    B is definitely not Pegasus Bridge, there’s no railway crosses the river north of Caen.

    H is in London- the blue cycle paths are part of the “Cycle Superhighways” sponsored by the same bank as the boris bikes. Not sure where in London though- it could be east, in which case is the battle “The battle of Wapping” during the 80s labour disputes with Rupert Murdoch? I do rather assume we’re after battle names as well as locations!

  10. Stugle says:

    F has an airconditioning unit stuck out of a window, and a brown (historical?) marker on the grass – two things common in the US. No clue what it could be, though.

    • Shiloh says:

      Yeah, and if you look closely, there’s what looks like a flag by the open back door on the single storey annex.

    • UnholyDeath says:

      F is the Buckman Tavern in Lexington, Massachusetts, located on the Battle Green where the first shot of the American Revolution was fired. The Lexington Minutemen gathered here while waiting for the British.

      Edit: Oops, was supposed to be its own post. At least the reply is on topic. :)

  11. Shiloh says:

    G: I’m wondering if that’s the Ardennes… I’ve been a couple of times and it is surprisingly hilly…

  12. AbyssUK says:

    E is the 1066 Battle Abbey, Battle of Hastings 1066

  13. Stugle says:

    B is bugging the hell out of me. The setting looks very European to me (the Netherlands/Belgium, possibly France or Germany), it’s a teeny bridge spanning a small canal (and it’s not very high above the water, so seemingly not a very active canal) and it has what appears to be tram or trollybus lines above it. Doesn’t seem to match any existing bridges related to Market Garden, nor is it the Pegasus bridge (or Horsa bridge), but it looks like a fairly modern bridge to me, so WWI or WWII… I just can’t think of other WWII battles that involved capturing small bridges. Anyone have any suggestions?

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      Matchstick says:

      B also really reminds me of a level I played many years ago in a WW2 FPS which is why I thought it might have been Arnhem, but I’m damned if I can remember what it was,

  14. jonahcutter says:

    Sorry to interrupt the Foxer fun, but thanks for the great Qvadriga AAR. I thoroughly enjoyed reading that. Qvadriga is excellent.

  15. wodin says:

    Great AAR mate! Me wants something like a Car wars version.

  16. RobearGWJ says:

    I have to agree, Qvadriga is fantastic. Been playing it for the last week and it is surprisingly challenging.

    • Lord Byte says:

      That’s because the AI is a cheating piece of shit whose actions are always more aggressive towards the player. They will block you to their detriment any time they can. You don’t take the lead at the start well screw your chances because every single one will drop everything, read your commands and block you.

      • turnopia says:

        Well I have to disagree about this, every AI team decide their next turn order the same way as the player do, using an expert system ruleset (sort of) with the same info entry that the player could observe. When all orders are decided (player order included), the new turn starts and calculations are made treating all teams equally. You could see AI teams performing this same blocking manoeuvres between them. The only way the AI could treat the player differently is because of a race event. I understand having an opponent block you after whipping could be a frustrating, screen-shout action.

        • Lord Byte says:

          Or how they’d consistently follow my laneswaps losing more and more speed just to block me? I’m putting it at very suspicious in how each of their moves is the perfect counter to mine. The reason why is after a while of observing the AI and playing the game I started doing sub-optimal moves just to evade the inevitable cut-off / block just to have them follow up on my move again and again. Quite often losing positions themselves. And yes I take great care to check the cards at the start of a race.

  17. Shiloh says:

    On reflection, I think B is a swing bridge and the building to the right is the control room for operating it.

  18. Stugle says:

    I’m just going to throw in a wild guess that G) is the Teutoburger Wald, where Varus refused to give Augustus his legions back. I don’t have any strong evidence for it, but heck, it’s worth a shot.

  19. postrook says:

    hell of an article. i might have to pick up this game

  20. spec10 says:

    Slitherine is having an Easter Sale. $10 off of everything – including Qvadriga. Just bought it :)