The Flare Path: Fruit Of The Thorn

By Tim Stone on August 29th, 2014 at 1:00 pm.

It’s blackberry time here in Upper Bumhope. Brimming punnets of fragrant fruit clutter kitchens and courtyards. Almost everyone you meet has indigo fingertips and scarred forearms. Finding villagers willing to gather simulation and wargame news at this time of the year isn’t easy but thanks to Gleaner, Gusto, and Ghast (FP’s trio of duraluminum-and-balsa reconithopters) I do, just about, have a column for you today. On the other side of yonder html hedge, slim paragraphs on To End All Wars, First World War Campaigns: East Prussia ’14, DCS World, Unity of Command, and Combat Helo.

The Adaptive Game Engine is the Mr Benn of wargame power plants. Since birth it’s participated in Roman, Russian, Spanish and American civil strife, Napoleonic conquest, 19th Century independence struggles and Victorian imperialism. The fact that To End All Wars arrived earlier this week, indicates that proud parents AGEOD think it can do a passable Great War impersonation too.

Is that faith well-founded? You’ll probably need to play solidly for at least a week to find out for sure. A disappointingly dinky scenario selection (Two giant war-spanning Grand Campaigns, and an eight-turn East Prussian campaign) means there’s no shortcut to tanks, U-boat strangleholds and trenchy stalemate. Past form suggests AGE will cope reasonably well with the dynamism of the early ground war, but whether its province-focussed retreat-happy AI will produce plausible stodginess/slaughter later on remains to be seen.

On paper the mechanical changes implemented for this outing sound sage. Research and diplomacy appear bare-bones yet pithy. Waging winged war basically boils down to positioning and repositioning airbase units, while mounting zeppelin raids and gas attacks is simply a matter of clicking the appropriate decision button now and again. U-boat operations and ASW are equally straightforward. Place subs or – if you’re playing the Entente – destroyers and cruisers in the Atlantic or Mediterranean shipping boxes and await logical results. TEAW, like its forerunners, is a game focused on army manoeuvre and organisation. Put the right stacks in the right places at the right time and everything should come up smelling of roses rather than poppies.

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If WWI appeals but the thought of To End All Wars’ two-week turns (one week in Tannenberg scenario) and region-sized European tesserae bring on agoraphobia then John Tiller Software’s latest has to be worth a look.

With battalion and company sized units, hex centres 1km apart, and turns that condense two hours’ worth of combat or movement into a few seconds of clicking, East Prussia ’14′s  battles are relatively intimate affairs. True, the large maps and eye-watering unit counts visible in the screenshots probably offset that intimacy to a degree, but anyone looking for an unusually generous, staggeringly well-researched exploration of one of the most important battles of WWI will probably be far too engrossed to care.

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Don’t watch the following vids if you’re short of self-control or funds.

Bunyap’s and Froogle’s illuminating DCS: MiG-21 first-look films both suggest Leatherneck’s delta-winged debut is going to stir souls, electrify mess-rooms, and shine Ctrl and E keys when it arrives in just over a month’s time.

Stubby wings + ludicrous power + Fifties radar and targeting tech = an unusually exhilarating/demanding dogfighter. Unstable at low speed, reluctant to pull out of dives, and not especially keen to turn, the DCS Fishbed almost certainly won’t suffer the hamfisted or hamfooted gladly. Treat it with tenderness and respect, however – put in the practise – and you are plainly in for a treat.

The fully clickable cockpit looks utterly magnificent, novelties like the alcohol-cooled radar, brakeless taxiing, temperamental pitot tube and primitive autopilot, deliciously disorientating. Thank goodness DCS aren’t dangling any other annoyingly tempting hi-fi warbirds in front of our withered wallets at present.

Oh, come on! That really isn’t cricket.

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How would Unity of Command look in a pith helmet or a paratrooper smock? We may find out later this year. Talking to 2×2 Games’ Tomislav Uzelac about the ‘secret project’ mentioned in this Artist Wanted ad he confirmed that new fronts and forms of warfare are on the way.

“We’re adding significantly to the game’s mechanics. This will enable us to represent things like amphibious landings, para drops, a certain amount of naval action etc. The new system should be more versatile, so we could represent much more of WWII in it, and not just the manoeuvre-rich campaigns on the eastern front.

As to our first release with this new system, the plan is to go with whichever campaign happens to play best. So we’ll make the call whether it’s North Africa or something else only after we’ve done some internal playtesting. I can confirm it will definitely be WWII though, not WWI.”

Intriguingly – worryingly? – he also mentioned “big changes on the graphics side”. Flare Path hopes that doesn’t mean UoC’s distinctive busts will be making way for the sort of 3D troop representations that litter almost every other counter-shunning hex wargame. “Distinctive busts should be cherished!” as Roman frequently says.

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Last night FP bumped into Prince Harry in the snug of the Dog and DUKW and the fourth in line to the throne mentioned that the upcoming sim he was most eager to try was Tricubic’s Combat Helo. FP suggested that His Royal Highness contact Richard Hawley and offer his services as a beta tester. “Closed testing has just begun, and with your experience you’re sure to get a place!” FP brown-nosed before effortlessly steering the conversation in the direction of the latest RPS Royal Warrant bid.

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The Flare Path Foxer

Dances to Podcasts buried last week’s foxer solution under several feet of Frisian Islands sand. But for the callused brains, wiry arms, and knife-sharp spades of Ace Rimmer, All is Well, BryanTrysers, Syt, Gothnak, and deejayem, it probably would have remained dune-entombed forever.

A) Kenkenbuum (a kind of christmas tree common to Föhr and other North Frisian islands)
B) Edward Spragge (an admiral who died at Texel)
C) A2 rocket (launched from Borkum)
D) The Adventures of Hark Olufs (born on Amrum)
E) Badge of the Georgian Legion (organised an uprising on Texel)
F) Godfried Bomans (Dutch writer associated with Rottumerplaat)
G) Pharisäer (a drink apparently invented on Nordstrand)
H) Lale Andersen (singer of Lili Marleen, buried on Langeoog)
I) Mudflat hiking map

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It’s rare for Roman to be at his desk before eleven and after five these days. Since the likes of All is Well started sending in home-made foxers (see below), FP’s Chief Foxer Setter has discovered indolence, liquid lunches, and loom band weaving. A trip to the office kitchen or WC now often involves stepping over a dozing Russian dressed head-to-foot in multicoloured rubber chainmail.

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40 Comments »

  1. Matchstick says:

    Ok now I’m back from hols I’d better start with the easy ones…

    Middle right AK47 & AKM (?) stripped to lower receivers, triggers and gas blocks and barrels

  2. AbyssUK says:

    The badge centre top is for the Naval air Station Fallon. US Navy training centre in Northern Nevada’s high desert!

    “Home to the Fighting Saints of VFC-13, the Desert Outlaws of Strike Fighter Wing Pacific. and the Naval Strike Air Warfare Center, NAS Fallon serves as the Navy’s premier tactical air warfare training center.”
    edit i.e. TOPGUN.. not another tom cruise theme…

  3. Soulstrider says:

    Been playing To End All Wars since it came out, having a blast although I am in early 1915 and have been finding the AI easy and the trench warfare not having to properly materialized since I have been able to dislodge nearly all the entrenched German forces (thought to be honest their western forces are really small besides a single huge stack I haven’t met in combat yet).

    Germany didn’t invade Belgium and decide to use an alternative plan where the brunt of their forces went to Russia, so playing as the Western Entente I have being doing a slow but steady advance into Germany, having nearly occupied all the Alsace Lorene.

  4. Matchstick says:

    Bottom left is a picture of Most Rev Vincent Nichols, the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Westminster wearing the red three-cornered biretta hat he received when he was elected a cardinal earlier this year.

  5. Syt says:

    I enjoy the John Tiller games, but the single player scenarios are often hellishly stacked in favor of the (relatively weak) AI, and finding reliable PBEM partners can be a bit of a chore.

  6. Matchstick says:

    My collegue has just identified the plane top right as a Hawker Sea Hawk

    So we now have Red Cardinal and Sea Hawk (aka Osprey) but a bird theme looks a bit too obvious

  7. Matchstick says:

    Picture top right is of the O J Simpson car “chase”
    http://thearmchairpundits.com/2012/11/24/fallen-sporting-heroes-2-o-j-simpson/
    (Car was a white Ford Bronco and road was interstate 405)

  8. Synesthesia says:

    I really, REALLY want to play unity of command. I tried starting a campaign quite a few times, but i can’t get past the 4th mission, and lets not even talk about getting the objectives on time. Is it me sucking at it? I get the feeling the AI is just utterly godlike. Every decision it makes is flawless. It gets frustrating quick, when the foundations of the game are so solid. Anywhere i can get some help/tuts? Short of step by step walkthroughs, i can’t find proper strategy guides

    • Remnant says:

      It helps to look at or read about encirclements in the war to get a rough idea of what you want to be doing. Basically, the key is supply: without it, a unit is less effective until it basically becomes the walking dead. That means defending your supply and cutting off the enemy supply.

      The best way to guard supply is obviously digging in, and utilising terrain. Even the greenest Italian infantry can make a good show of themselves if you park them across the river from the enemy and dug in. They only need to hold the line against a few attacks in order to create a bottleneck that the enemy can’t pass. So, as much as possible look for rivers and forests and anchor your units to them to guard your lines.

      When attacking, punch hard at their weakest point. That means using armour to create a gap, armour to make the gap larger, then infantry and faster armour to push through the gap. You want to leave enough behind you such that the units you send forth aren’t themselves cut off from supply, but you need enough to be able to cut off even a small portion of the enemy. Remember, you don’t need to entirely cut them off for the duration. Even a single turn out of supply can hurt an enemy unit enough to give you an edge.

      Remember to advance along roads and rail as much as possible, both to keep your units in supply and to cut off enemy supply. The supply overlay will have numbers – the highest number is your supply source (so, say, a supply point at the end of a road has a range of 3). Then, from the road, you can move 3 spaces before you can no longer take supply from the road. That’s the FURTHEST point on the road. So, if you drive 3 spaces down the road, taking enemy supply, units that were previous 3 spaces from the road are now 6 or 9 spaces, and well outside supply.

      Use air strikes to create holes, too, and blow bridges if you want to close an enemy avenue of attack. It’s been a while, so I don’t recall what the 4th mission is (and that changes from German to Soviet), so I can’t give specific advice on that.

  9. Stellar Duck says:

    Combat Helo looks pretty ace! Just a shame I can’t fly a helicopter to save my life.

    And the MiG 25 module looks sooooo good. Been watching videos of it recently and I’d love to get my hands on it. But sadly I’m also terrible (if less so) at fixed wing aviation. I can just about manage the A-10c as it’s pretty slow and I aim it at the ground. Anything concerning air fights boggles my mind. I simply can’t think and react fast enough.

    It looks so good though!

    • Dozer says:

      You can’t fly helos or fixed-wing? Back to Il-2 Sturmovik with ye!

      Sooooo looking forward to DCS: MiG-21bis. Vicariously watching all the youtube videos in the meantime.

      Incidentally, Tim, I’m fairly sure the MiG-21bis has late-60s radar – it entered service in 1972. For 50s radar, look at DCS: F-86F, which has a very primitive radar which barely does more than provide range info for the gunsight.

      • CookPassBabtridge says:

        Why has no one produced an affordable helo collective / throttle? Thrustmaster have missed a trick. It would be awesome to have a black shark collective to snuggle alongside my other shiny toys.

  10. phuzz says:

    Darn it, I’ve just found out that the Oculus Rift works with DCS (see here).
    I think my wallet my be about to take a critical hit.

    (Wouldn’t William be more interested in a helo sim than his brother, being a chopper pilot himself?)

    • Stellar Duck says:

      Yea, that video was basically the first time I had any interest in getting a Rift. Before that I was decidedly meh about it, but flying the Hawg with one, well, that may just be what I need in my life. We’ll see.

      • CookPassBabtridge says:

        I’m really, really glad I took the plunge. I had this week off and have been using it every day, and it is such a powerful experience. DCS is something of a jewel in its crown, but there are a ton of demos out there, some of which leave you positively stunned. When you are standing – LITERALLY standing – on the surface of some alien world, and three huge ships thunder overhead like the trailer from No Mans Sky, causing you to crane your neck to take in the scale of the things, it has an effect which is intoxicating. I can well believe that people have been moved to nerd tears by Elite Dangerous (new rig needed for that).

    • Dozer says:

      Incidentally, EVERYONE should be presenting their Rift videos in this format. One eye’s view, and an external view, vertical split. Obviously this only works in games which have a replay function.

  11. CookPassBabtridge says:

    Edit: Meant to add this to the thread above :) Reply fail.

    Got my DK2 last Monday and managed to get DCS to play nicely with it. I sh*t thee not when I say mind=utterly, utterly blown. Sitting in the cockpit of that A-10C is something else, even if the graphics are on minimum to get the necessary 75 fps for smooth head tracking. Being able to really look around, track a point on the ground as you turn, lean in and look at those gorgeously modeled instruments in full 3D, and just the sense of altutude, makes it hard to consider playing on a flat screen ever again (I’ll have to, until NVidia hurry up with those 880′s….).

    Flying that Mig is going to be an utter, utter treat. I think I may have to give up my job, to make time for it. Going inverted is one of the most thrilling things I have done in a game, but the A-10C falls out of the sky if you do that for too long. Hopefully the Mig is less of a jessie :D

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