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The Flare Path: Bear With A Soar Head

Simulation & Wargame News

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You can keep your Easters and your St George’s Days; the only festival I observe is Swallowtide. This year it fell on May 8. We were shenning in Wide Acre when Aldwyn suddenly threw down his hook, and, pointing southward, bellowed the traditional “HOME SAFE! HOME ALL?”. Dancing above our heads like leaves in a mill plunge, the swallows seemed as happy to see us as we were to see them. As usual, not everyone had made it back. Later we learnt that 4600136 had been snatched by a hobby over Gibraltar, and 4651011 had fallen to a sandstorm near Timbuktu. Perhaps the saddest story was that of 4690870. Crossing the Cornwall coast, a mere 50 miles left to travel, she was downed by a stoat-launched SAM missile.

4690870 was in my thoughts this morning as I looped and swooped above tumbled ramparts of Cornish serpentine. The agile Czech aerobatic plane I was hurling about the seaside sky is one of three craft recently added to the rather ace GEFS Online.

Xavier Tassin’s free browser-based sim won’t teach you how to program an Airbus FMC or trim an overloaded DC-3; it’s strength is in its immediacy, friendliness, and the mesmerising beauty of its Google Earth-derived terrain. Currently sitting roughly midway between MSFS and GE’s own integral ‘flight sim’ in terms of complexity and FM sophistication, GEFS is steadily gaining ground on its fancier peers. Since the end of March it has boasted such subtleties as propwash effects, flexing suspension, and runway lighting.

The 3D cockpits in the 13 flyables might be rough-hewn caves compared to typical FSX and X-Plane accommodation, but the views through the glazed gazeholes are often far superior. By typing a global destination into the search box, or selecting one of the 30,000 runway dots on the map, you can relocate in seconds. One minute there’s an English field patchwork pivoting beneath your wingtip, the next a sprawling favela or rust-coloured desert. The urge to ramble and explore can be incredibly hard to resist.

If, within your first hour aloft, you don’t find yourself either buzzing your workplace, your school or your home, then you are either Clinically Odd or you’ve a) stumbled upon the wreck of Amelia Earhart’s Electra b) found a previously undiscovered temple complex deep in the Burmese jungle, or c) spotted a deeply suspicious row of tarpaulined shapes in a military base just west of Tehran. (If it’s the latter, call 703-545-67008 without delay and ask for ‘Red Fox’)

Though weather simulation is crude at present (you can set wind direction and strength, and play with some very basic cloud options) air density effects are modelled so – in theory – it should be pretty difficult to, say, coax a Camel over Everest. The complete absence of navaids, ATC, or GPS systems means all navigation must be done via the toggleable map or that school atlas you never quite got round to returning to the geography department.

It will be interesting to see how far Xavier can take his handiwork before Google Earth performance and plug-in limitations spoil the party. Might the sim one day offer Real Weather-based gliding, rudimentary dogfighting, or FSEconomy-style contracting opportunities? We shall see. Who knows, perhaps it’s not MS Flight, X-Plane or Mr Mangan’s pipedream, that will, ultimately, fill the Grand Canyon-sized void left by MSFS.

 

Ursa Majoring

May 10th, 2012 1942. On a winding forest road somewhere near Lesny Lesnagrad, a German general frantically pats the pockets of his leather greatcoat and rummages in the glove compartment of his mud-caked Kübelwagen. He’s agitated because he’s halfway through a crucial skirmish, and has just realised he’s run out of CAPs (Command Action Points). The dummkopf spent 6 of the things trying to ensure one of his Panzer IIIs knocked-out a troublesome T-34. The investment failed to pay off and now he doesn’t have enough to extricate that same Panzer from an unexpected encounter with a Soviet 45mm AT Gun.

I’m not sure it’s wise to think too hard about the way this platoon-level Eastern Front board game-turned-PC-game represents command. Attempt to rationalise the fact that last turn you used your CAPs to boost mortar to-hit rolls, and this turn you used them to make a tank travel further and an LMG team more accurate, and you risk pulling the realism rug out from under what is – on the evidence of my early forays – a doggedly entertaining hex wargame.

Dragged from its cosy hibernation hole on Tuesday, Conflict of Heroes: Awakening the Bear! wears its board game origins proudly. Dice and cards are highly influential, knowledge of rules and unit stats sometimes more important than faith in historical tactics. There are definitely more realistic WW2 wargames out there, but if you’re after taut tactical challenges, high replayability, and the illusion that you’re sat across the table from a man who owns a counter clipping jig and a dice tower shaped like the Stalingrad grain elevator, then CoH:AtB might well be for you.

Of the dozen or so scenarios I’ve attempted thus far, the infantry-dominated affairs have been the most enjoyable and credible. Rushing rifle squads across open ground, storming village hexes with CAP-buffed SMGers, sneaking LMG teams into hilltop copses so that they can act as spotters for ridge-screened mortar teams… every turn has its share of fraught ‘Am I doing the right thing?’ moments.

Until you grasp the importance of judicious card plays and careful CAP distribution, you probably won’t be doing the right thing. It’s taken me three or four attempts to win a couple of the early scenarios at ‘normal’ difficulty. Encouragingly, multiple attempts reveal that the AI won’t always deploy in the same spots or respond to threats and setbacks in the same manner.

Extra unpredictability comes courtesy of the unit purchasing phase that precedes around a quarter of the scenarios. There’s no campaign as such, but with 26 standalone scraps playable from either side, LAN and Internet MP options, and an editor, you’re unlikely to wind-up feeling short-changed. I’ve yet to face a live foe, or experiment with what has to be CoHAtB’s most eccentric feature: dice camera support.

If the idea of letting the computer roll chance cubes for you seems like a shameful dereliction of duty, then, assuming you’ve got a webcam and a couple of D6s, you can do the honours yourself. The dice camera documentation wasn’t included with my pre-release build, so I can’t say for sure whether the CPU stifles a snigger when you roll snake eyes, or turns morose and monosyllabic when you throw double-sixes three times in a row.

 

The Flare Path Foxer

FP doesn’t like to talk about it, but he was once a big small wheel in the War Office. Well he remembers the day in August 1944 when Monty bustled into his basement room, slapped a couple of maps onto his desk, and barked “Big airborne show imminent. We’ve narrowed down possible glider LZs to these two locations. Need to know which will accommodate the most Horsas.”

Monty had his answer within 30 minutes, but what was it?

Rules

Gliders land one by one, arriving from the N, E, S, or W. They always land in straight non-diagonal lines, the number of squares from touchdown to final resting place determined by wind direction and indicated by the blue numbers at the respective LZ edges (see image below). Landing areas must be free of hedges and trees (the darker green squares) and other gliders. EDIT:  Multiple gliders can end up sharing the same column or row.

Which of the two LZs is the most capacious? (To discourage cheeky guesses, answers will be disregarded unless they include correct aircraft totals for each LZ.)

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Tim Stone

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