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19

The Flare Path: Sea Of Sand

Simulation & wargame news

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“They’ve found her!”. 5 seconds ago I was fast asleep. “Ekrem, is that you? Do you know what time it is here?”. “Listen. HMS Clytemnestra has been found.”.  The words are ice-water hurled into my pillow-creased face. Warm feet slap cold floor tiles. “Where?”. “Are you sitting down?” .“WHERE?”. “You won’t believe this. She’s in the middle of the Gobi Desert.”.

“Are you still there?”. “I think so”. “Oil prospectors working out of Baotou discovered her a couple of days ago. I’ve seen photographs. It’s definitely Clyte. She’s upright, half-buried in the sand. No sign of damage, but the spotting plane is missing. I’m emailing you the pictures now. How soon can you get to Beijing?”.

How soon could I get to Beijing? I pictured Magda putting on her ‘brave soldier’ face after hearing Daddy would be missing her 10th birthday party. I pictured Henry at Whizzbang Tours desperately searching for a replacement guide for the August Ypres trip… the RPS Hivemind pulsating tetchily at the news that the next Flare Path (stories on Panzer Corps: Afrika Korps and Rise of Flight) would be horribly late. I pictured all these things, then began packing.

 

Corps Florps

Panzer Corps: Afrika Korps – your lack of boldness and your titular noun inconsistency offends me, but your approachability, (relative) affordability, and enthusiasm for WW2 what-ifs makes an FP recommendation just about possible.

Slitherine/Matrix’s latest standalone TBS is a sandy, mid-priced version of their 2011 Panzer General homage tribute celebration flagrant facsimile, Panzer Corps. Like PzC, much of its appeal stems from the simplicity of the interface (most of the time, unit interaction boils down to setting movement destinations and assigning targets), the charm of the art, the carefully constructed puzzle-like balance of the scenarios, and the strong reality-derived delineations between unit types. To have any chance of success it’s usually vital to employ units in historically appropriate ways. Attempt to wrap rocks with scissors, or blunt scissors with paper and you’re sure to wind up looking like a prize arse.

If there’s a problem with the tried-and-tested Panzer General/Panzer Corps approach it’s that a) it’s been around for donkey’s years, and b) it can, despite the best efforts of talented devs and scenario designers, produce slightly generic skirmishes. Alex Shargin and chums at Flashback Games Studio and Lordz have plainly worked hard to bring the Desert War to Panzer Corps but the limitations of the engine (many of which were unnecessarily imported from PG) mean some theatre-specific subtleties end up blurred or abstracted into absurdity.

Take the representations of minefields and the Long Range Desert Group for example. In-game, the Allies’ roving bands of recon-gathering/mayhem-spreading truckaneers are represented in much the same way as normal armoured car or light armour units. The AI (apparently improved for this instalment) doesn’t seem to have the wit to use them in their historical role, preferring instead to squander them on frontlines.

Minefields, when they appear, seem to be treated like ammo-less bunkers. A few blasts from a tank gun and Bob’s your uncle, no more Minen.

A gutsier dev would have used Afrika Korps as the test-bed for a new campaign mechanism. Instead we get the ‘classic’ scenario sequence format with core unit carry-over. The sequence is generous (24 battles) and, towards its end, crammed with entertaining hypothetical scenarios (Axis invasions of Palestine, Syria, India and East Africa anyone?) What it’s not is the perfect device for telling the story of the North African tug-of-war, or a reason for a jaded veteran wargamer to cease his campaign for classier campaigns.

 

Pistol Whip-Round

FP considers slaying fellow pilots with MGs or cannon dashed unsporting. He prefers to best opponents by hurling cricket balls into their propellers, or by lowering himself onto their wings, then painstakingly unbolting ailerons. At a pinch, assuming an enemy has proved himself either a bounder or a cad, yes, it has also been known for FP to use a handgun like the four beauties lately added to Rise of Flight.

As part of the most recent update (1.027) 777 have introduced the Personal Package 2, an $8 satchel of personal firearms and plane prettifying/personalising chequered streamers. Mauser, Luger, Webley and Lebel weapons mean every RoF airforce now has an appropriate side-arm.

At the same time as the hand-cannons were unholstered, the team also unveiled an impressive video of their new sea modelling tech, and broadcast encouraging news of successful seaplane tests. The day when RoF-ers can recreate the extraordinary antics of Kilner and co. may be just around the corner. Who knows, perhaps one day those of us that still fire-up flawed WWI sub sim Shells of Fury now and again, may get a surrogate sequel from an unexpected source.

 

The Flare Path Foxer

FP Academy of Aircraft Identification students live in fear of random Block Tests. There you are, day-dreaming at your desk when all of a sudden Miss Budvanova or Mr Stubbs appears, and presents you with ten ‘blocks’ (square cards, each a different colour and adorned with a different combination of numbers and letters). The idea is you use nine of these cards to quickly build a 3×3 square in which every inter-block, word-number combination refers to an aircraft type. Cards can be rotated, diagonal combos ignored, and the letter doesn’t have to be on the left of the number (‘190, Fw’, for instance, would be acceptable). The important thing is your 3×3 square ends up containing 24 genuine aircraft.

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Tim Stone

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