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The Flare Path: Last Spotted In Spotsylvania

Simulation & wargame news

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Widowmaker, couragewaster, pocketliner WAR! Dreamwrecker, treesplitter, firefeeder WAR! Manforger WAR! Forgemanner WAR! Orphanfarmer, streamreddener, thrushchoker WAR! Intothemawwith WAR! Whoskeepingscore WAR! Overbychristmas WAR! Truthrenter, rentpayer, funbringer WAR! My WAR! Your WAR! Great WAR! Scourge of WAR! Read more about WAR! After the WAR! jump.

Remember how last week I told you that PC wargaming was in the doldrums? How the next few months promised little?

You don’t? Splendid.

To the doom-mongers who claim that PC wargaming is in the doldrums, I say this “If the release of a new Panzer Campaigns game, Scourge of War instalment, and Strategic Command: WWI Breakthrough demo, all within the space of SEVEN DAYS, is evidence that the genre is becalmed, then I can’t wait to see what a Force 10 gale looks like!”

Gosh, what a busy week it’s been in the land of flanks and tanks. Concerned you might have overlooked Breakthrough, the recently deployed expansion pack for WWI grand-strategy Gotha Strategic Command: World War One, Battlefront and Fury Software have hurled a three-scenario standalone taster out into no-man’s-land.

Anyone brave enough (unit counts are on the high side, maps vast) to slither out there and retrieve it will discover a game so plastered in 1914-18 history, edification is all-but guaranteed.

Turns teem with the usual activities – unit prodding, blow trading, research commissioning and so on. Far less conventional are the 400+ often obscure, always fascinating yes-or-no policy dialogues that nestle between them. I’ve attempted to hang out my pants on the Siegfried Line before, but I’m not sure I’ve ever been asked to ponder whether turning cross-Channel ferries into seaplane carriers is a sensible use of funds, or found myself wondering if oil security is more important than maintaining friendly-ish relations with the Ottoman Empire.

Breakthrough is pleasingly even-handed when it comes to Frontal focus. As the following trailer testifies, it’s as interested in what Russia, Germany, and Austria-Hungary were up to on the Eastern Front as what Hindenburg, Haig & co. were up to in the West.

 

Fighting Over Catherine Furnace

Having once lived very close to the villages of Over Wallop and Nether Wallop, it’s tempting to believe that England Has All The Best Place Names. After a day in the pleasant-if-essentially-familiar company of Scourge of War: Chancellorsville, I’m now not so sure.

NorbSoftDev’s latest Civil War spectacular is set in Spotsylvania, a magical kingdom a day’s badger-ride from Brambly Hedge a heavily wooded corner of Virginia dotted with topographical tongue-treats like Catherine Furnace, Orange Plank Road, Hunting Run, and The Wilderness. These squirrel-haunted nowheres were thrust into the forefront of the North American imagination in Spring 1863, when Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia, humbled Joseph Hooker’s far larger Army of the Potomac in a series of cunningly conceived clashes.

Springing from Scourge of War’s sturdy rootstock means SoW: Chancellorsville offers challenges, sights and command options, you won’t find in other digital treatments of the battle. As I think I’ve said on approximately seven hundred previous occasions, SoW is Mycroft to Total War’s Sherlock. Armies are full-figured, multi-tiered, and staffed with historically-based commanders who interpret orders according to their own personalities and situations. The courier-dependent command-cascade leads to lots of authentic chaos. Orders sometimes get waylaid. Timid generals fail to act. Reckless ones push on regardless.

Depending on which of the twenty scenarios you choose, or which role you assign yourself in the sandbox or multiplayer modes, you can find yourself leading anything from a brigade to an entire army. Go lowly and an AI boss will attempt to keep your cowardly/cocksure impulses in check. Go high, and you’ll be the one attempting to herd all the cats.

The multi-layered AI is one of SoW’s strongest features but it doesn’t work flawlessly. Returning to the series after a year or two away, I find myself as impressed as ever by the way opposing generals are always looking to turn my flanks, or exploit gaps in my lines, but slightly disappointed that suspect behaviours present since ‘Take Command’ days are still evident.

Why is that line of infantry showing its arse to the enemy instead of hinging in the middle to deal with a bi-directional threat? Why are those friendlies marching down an aisle of muskety death, when any sensible regiment would have turned then lingered at the fence-line? The rigidity of formations and the intervals between threat assessments can lead to occasional moments of disconnect. As gripping and atmospheric as Chancellorsville frequently is I recommend trying the SoW: Gettysburg demo (there isn’t one yet for this episode) before handing over a rather-steep £24 to Slitherine /Matrix.

 

The Flare Path Foxer **PRIZE CLAIMED**

It has come to FP’s attention that some people don’t get what they deserve in this life. In an effort to rectify the situation, FP has decided to give away a Steam code for an Unnamed Wargame to this week’s swiftest de-Foxer.

If you’re a victim of natural injustice and would like to win a Steam code for an Unnamed Wargame email me using the link at the top of the column, with the theme of this week’s puzzle.*

*By entering the competition you are A) Agreeing to keep the name of the Unnamed Wargame secret for all eternity. B) Agreeing to never speak disparagingly or paragingly of the Unnamed Wargame in public. C) Helping me to look like a paragon of journalistic integrity when in reality I’m just as entangled in the sticky PR cobweb as anybody else.

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Tim Stone

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