The Flare Path: Attends Battle Academy 2

By Tim Stone on July 25th, 2014 at 1:00 pm.

At Battle Academy 2 students study Student, Rag Week is known as StuG Week, and mortarboards are made from actual mortars. I’ve spent a few days sampling the syllabus in Slitherine’s upcoming tactical TBS and, thus far, have found very few reasons to reach for my red biro. If you happen to be searching for a pacy WW2 wargame that won’t weary your mouse hand, offend your eye, or insult your intelligence, then this hex-spurning sequel, due in September, definitely warrants a bookmark.

The original Battle Academy felt like a Bailey Bridge connecting wargaming’s hex-strewn heartland with the sunny uplands of mainstream strategy gaming. Once you’d grasped a few simple historically-based home-truths – urban environments and unsupported tanks go together like slugs and salt pans… infantry in open terrain are soap bubbles in cactus patches… – you were pretty much set. Morale, armour facing, and other groggy subtleties were so lightly sketched you could ignore them most of the time and still snatch victories.

The sequel is just as elegant, affable, and light on its tracks as its predecessor but a clutch of welcome tweaks and extra features ensures battles are more varied and resonant. Though the preview code includes a third of BA2′s thirty campaign missions, I’ve spent the majority of my time orchestrating scraps spawned by the new skirmish generator. A rather impressive piece of mechanism, the generator doesn’t only allow unpredictability relishers to specify things like engagement types (‘attack’, ‘defence’, ‘meeting engagement’, and ‘symmetrical’), map/force sizes, and unit eras, it also permits pleasingly pedantic environmental manipulation.

Once you’ve decided whether you wish to wage war in a ‘wilderness’, ‘urban’, or ‘farmland’ battlespace, and whether that battlespace should be summery or swaddled in snow, you can further customise by nudging ‘fortification’, ‘openness’ and ‘damage’ sliders. I’d like to have seen ‘rivers’ ‘hills’ and ‘muddiness’ adjusters too, but hats off to Slitherine, random terrain engines of this calibre (of any calibre) are ludicrously rare in contemporary PC wargaming.

Just because a map is hot from the map oven doesn’t mean the AI will struggle with it. My first three skirmishes all ended in crushing defeats. Caught out by the long-range killing capability of the big enemy panzers and surprised by my opponent’s willingness to defend in depth and assault en-masse, I was comprehensively humbled/Hummeled. While unscripted silicon generals don’t appear to go in for elaborate pincer movements or circuitous flanking hooks, they are rather adept at recon-by-fire, AT gun deployment, and arty and aircraft usage.

Games that turn complex war machines and multi-weapon infantry units into simple handfuls of stats often render apparently large and diverse unit selections fairly pointless. In BA2 the devs have, with a modicum of success, attempted to emphasise unit differences with a range of secondary attribute icons linked to specific but undisclosed movement, combat, and spotting modifiers. A hulking KV2 isn’t just a trundling fusion of HE, AP, and armour thickness stats, it’s a ‘Large Target’ that’s ‘Prone To Breaking Down’ and ‘Prone To Bogging’. With no leader or individual soldier representations, BA2 needs charismatic hardware, and these icons together with a 130-strong unit roster crammed with exotica, help fill the personality void.

It’s hard not to warm to a game that lets you hurl fragile Thirties snowmobiles at Fascist frontlines, throw flame at frost-rimed pillboxes with Flammpanzers, or clear corridors in minefields with huge tank-mounted turf tenderisers. Slitherine have left few stones unturned in their search for interesting Ost Front AFVs. Katyushas along with aircraft are represented as off-map assets. Tankodesantniki and horses aren’t included but usually there’s enough halftracks and trucks about for this not to be a problem.

Whoever wrote the bit of the official website blurb that describes the combat model as ‘second-to-none’ needs a cool flannel on the forehead or a swift slap round the chops. Enriched with new infantry order types including ‘dash’ and ‘throw smoke grenades’, and new vehicle damage subtleties that simulate wounded crewmen and wrecked systems, combat is certainly more interesting and more nuanced than before, but obviously if you want real detail and realism in your T-34 vs Tiger tussles (and don’t mind the consequent increase in workload/confusion potential) you’re far better off with a Graviteam or a Battlefront product.

Smeared with gun oil and rasputitsa mud for this outing, the comicbook briefings remain a delight. Together with the annotated maps that follow them, they’re the kind of high-quality mood-setters and pithy info providers that this genre, sadly, doesn’t seem to do particularly well.

As I mentioned earlier, I haven’t seen a lot of what the campaign missions have to offer, but the couple I have completed – a night-time partisan attack on an Axis supply column, and a large Soviet assault on a heavily fortified city – were both absorbing constructions with lots of potential for tactical experimentation and costly blunders. BA2′s fairly conventional campaign approach – sequenced scenarios seasoned with a splash of pre-battle unit purchasing – may draw some criticism from reviewers come September – but it does guarantee variety and – going by my limited experience – some beautifully balanced engagements.

 

The Flare Path Foxer

The analytical AT rifles of Palindrome, Beowulf, and FhnuZoag potted five of Erwin’s doodles. Only a Fiat L6/40, a Vickers Light Tank, and a Horch Type 830 staff slipped past unscathed.

A. Fiat L6/40
B. Sherman BARV
C. Type 4 Ho-Ro
D. Jagdpanzer IV
E. Horch Type 830 staff car
F. Vickers Light Tank
G. LVT 4
H. Staghound

********************

This week Chief Foxer Setter Roman…

  • Waved at a UAV.
  • Threw a radish at a Peacock.
  • Punched a hay bale until his knuckles bled.
  • Couldn’t bring himself to play SAM Simulator.
  • Came up with a Foxer theme while shopping for toothpaste*

*and red herrings

(All foxer guesses in one comment thread, please)

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33 Comments »

  1. Premium User Badge

    Matchstick says:

    Is the aircraft middle right a Lockheed Super Constellation ?

    And is the Helicopter top right a Eurocopter Tiger ?

    • Stugle says:

      The ship on the left looks like SMS Emden, German WWI cruiser.

      • Premium User Badge

        Matchstick says:

        Bottom right, it’s a Flail Tank and I think it might be a Sherman Crab, which makes me wonder if the connection is Astronomical Constellations or Zodiac signs ?

      • Stugle says:

        I’m not yet convinced by the zodiac/sign thesis (though I have nothing better to offer). The Emden doesn’t fit nealy – but it did have a sole sister ship, the Dresden, so it could be Gemini?

    • Stugle says:

      The coin in the top right is a Russian metro/subway token.

    • Premium User Badge

      JB says:

      I’m not sure yet how this might relate, and I’m not 100% sure I’m right, but I think the script down the middle is Judo Kanji and directly translated means “the gentle way,” or “the flexible way”. I’ll get back to researching it, but I have to pop out (into what sounds like the apocalypse) shortly.

      • Premium User Badge

        All is Well says:

        Well, Judo (as in the martial art) literally means “the gentle way” – that could be something right?

        Edit: Silly me, you already said that, I missed the word “Judo” :)

        • SpiceTheCat says:

          Wild stab du jour: the theme is “ways”: the Gentle Way, a subway, a permanent way, the Milky Way (ok, that’s a bit of a stretch from “Constellation”, but still), Way of the Tiger. How this fits the Sherman/Emden/unidentified building in the middle, I have no idea.

          • Stugle says:

            Here’s my dangerously blind stab at the theme – ‘Things wot turn’? The rotor of a helicopter turns, as do the props on a Constellation, as does the flail on a Crab, as do the turnstiles you operate with a subway token, as do the wheels on a train, Judo is all about turning your opponent’s energy to your own benefit… Hm, feels too forced – usually, the solutions are pretty elegant.

    • Mark Judd says:

      I think the cab bottom left is from a DB BR232 “Ludmilla” Soviet built diesel locomotive.
      http://store.steampowered.com/app/222587/?l=english

      (It’s not a name i’m familiar with, but apparently the girls name ‘Ludmilla’ means ‘graceful people’ – not sure if that helps ….)
      http://www.thinkbabynames.com/meaning/0/Ludmilla

      EDIT : Just spent 20 minutes trying to shoe-horn my theme idea of dance (or ballet) into the available clues with no success. Was thinking St Petersburg, flexible, graceful people, etc. Bah! Curse you Mr Stone.

    • Scorchio says:

      The building in the middle is the Lubyanka in Moscow, a prison and former headquarters of the KGB.
      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lubyanka_Building

      Better image here:
      http://www.jm-trending.org/wp-content/uploads/2011/07/lubyanaka.jpg

      • Scorchio says:

        Okay, now my guess: The image is about Vladimir Putin. He’s from St. Petersburg (subway token). He joined the KGB (Lubyanka) in 1975 (number on the tank). He was stationed in Dresden (ship) and he practices judo (kanji). He married Lyudmila Shkrebneva (name of the locomotive, see comment above). The only thing that doesn’t quite fit is the Tiger helicopter and the Super Constellation plane. You could take them together as “tiger constellation” which in Chinese astrology is also called “White Tiger” (Putin supports a tiger protection programme) and it can stand for the West or autumn. Any ideas?

        • Premium User Badge

          JB says:

          Oh my, that sounds plausible. Good work.

        • Stugle says:

          Agreed. Very plausible, certainly more cohesive than the other suggestions. The tiger reference looks good to me, which just leaves the Constellation as a question mark.

          • Premium User Badge

            phlebas says:

            The Constellation is nicknamed Connie, which is the name of Putin’s dog according to Wikipedia.

          • Scorchio says:

            @ phlebas

            Oooh, nice one. Sounds good.

        • Mark Judd says:

          Nicely done indeed :)

      • AyeBraine says:

        To be fair, it’s foremost a headquarters of KGB, now Federal Security Service (FSB), that has basements for detainment and interrogation. To call the whole installation a prison would be a dramatic overstatement.

  2. wodin says:

    Really wish they’d used this engine for the upcoming WH40K game.. instead of yet another Panzer Corps game. This engine to me screams a WH40K game compared to Panzer Corps. Though I think all reason goes out the window when it comes to the Panzer Corps engine after it became a huge cash cow.

  3. Stugle says:

    Battle Academy sounds like a wonderful game – something light enough that I might actually play it, instead of getting stuck in the manual and tutorial because I simply don’t have the time anymore to master it. Can I ask what the average time is to play out a full-sized scenario/map?

    • Tim Stone says:

      With the campaign scenarios you probably need to set aside at least 45 minutes (I spent nearer 90 conquering the city in the last pic). Generated skirmishes can be incredibly brief. Select a four-turn limit, the smallest map size (16×16) and the lowest force points total and you’re looking at something closer to 5 minutes.

      • Stugle says:

        Thanks! Hm. Pretty compelling package, but the comments from other users about Slitherine’s handling of criticism doesn’t sound good. I’ll have to mull this over for a while,

        • Dr. Doctor Doctor says:

          Grognards are terrible, Battle Academy is fun. Ignore the community outside of mods and addon campaigns. Slitherine/Matrix is the price we pay for nice wargames.

  4. rpsKman says:

    After being called a troll and a thief by someone at Slitherine because I had one negative comment to make about a previous game and I never redeemed my code on Steam when they made that available, my interest is in the negative, but this looks way too much like the original anyway.

    • emperor_nero says:

      I could never support Slitherine by purchasing one of their titles. I was part of a discussion of their pricing model in the steam forums and their community manager Iain came in and began spurting the most elitist non-sense about their games I’ve ever heard before asking if we could name any better TBS games. I understand one man doesn’t represent a company, but if they’re going to act as the face of a company they need to learn to discuss issues presented in a rational matter instead of being confrontational. I’ve also found that anyone criticizing their games/pricing models has a good chance of getting banned from the forums, and it just becomes a huge fanboy circle jerk.

      • rpsKman says:

        He actually banned me and closed the topic of the OP I was commenting in. Then he undid everything, called me a troll and a thief. Iain has some serious problems up there. I think he’s a lot more than a community manager, and I can only feel bad for the employees there.

      • Napoleon15 says:

        Have to agree that Iain is very, shall we say, combative with customers at times, and it doesn’t do much to endear the company to me. Some of the original Matrix Games staff could be pretty reasonable in the past, but I don’t think I’ve seen much of them since Slitherine basically started running the show. Unfortunately, my love for Gary Grigsby’s wargames inches perilously close to my desire to stick to my principles.

        • rpsKman says:

          Indeed, I wanted to buy Afrika Corps after playing Sniper Elite 3 and maybe buy more expansions for Panzer Corps, but after being bullied like that out of nowhere, these are not products I want on my PC.

          Funnily enough, I got similar treatment from Rebellion about their lawsuits. Deleted SE3 and threw away my V2 disc.

          Britons be cray.

  5. Eightball says:

    Will Battle Academy 2 have western front (or even pacific front) units for the random scenario generator at any point?

    • Tim Stone says:

      I assume that’s the plan. There’s a ‘change campaign’ button on the skirmish generator screen which suggests compatibility with future DLC.

  6. jpm224 says:

    a

  7. Snow Mandalorian says:

    That art style is beautiful. Those graphics look better suited for an Android game though. :-/