The Flare Path: Last Spotted In Spotsylvania

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.


  1. Saarlaender39 says:

    Swastikas, I see swastikas!!!
    I’m german…how dare you to show me this…


  2. RaveTurned says:


  3. Shadowcat says:

    “I mentioned it once, but I think I got away with it alright.”

  4. Premium User Badge

    Matchstick says:

    I feel strangely proud that my suggestion for how to give away the Steam key has been adopted :)

  5. stupid_mcgee says:

    Living in Virginia, I can attest that Spotsylvania really is a magical kingdom only a day’s badger ride away from Brambly Hedge. And if you think that’s impressive, then you should see neighboring Fredricksburg.

    • devlocke says:

      Hah! For shame… the only thing of note in Fredericksburg is the place with the really good tacos I can’t remember the name of. Is it “Soup and Taco” or is that another tiny Mexican place downtown? It’s the only thing I miss about commuting to Fred every day for a year.

  6. Galcius says:

    I won! Yey me!

    And I can never tell you what I won. But I can tell you I gave it away as I already had it.

    For those that are wondering, the answer was the Spanish Civil War. I worked it out from the tank, popeye and the medal.

    • Skabooga says:

      Popeye fought in the Spanish Civil War? Well I’ll be damned.

      • Galcius says:

        Nope, I spotted him on the tail of an aircraft, here: link to

        The tank is a BT-7 which the USSR sent to Spain to help the Republicans and the medal is a Spanish Cross issued by the Germans for service in the Spanish Civil War.

    • Baines says:

      Drat, I thought the theme was “Flare Path Foxer Puzzle”, because they are all images that are related to this week’s Flare Path Foxer puzzle.

    • Tim Stone says:

      Galcius’ Galician gall earns him a lovely Unnamed Wargame. Bravo!

      Most of the elements are aircraft emblems from the Spanish Civil War. The winged chap in the bottom-left corner is The Condor, a Marvel character (reference to the Condor Legion). The central portrait is of Evangelista Torricelli, a 17th Century mathematician & physicist (reference to the Torricelli, an Italian sub used by the Spanish Nationalist Navy during the Civil War).

  7. El Armonista! says:

    I’d really like an official Total War: American Civil War. Do you think there’s any chance of that, ever?

    • nervouspete says:

      I’d say there’s a very good chance there will be, but whether as a full release or a DLC for a new Empire I’m not sure. I went to a US Civil War reenactment and there were Creative sound engineers recording sound effects there.

      If you haven’t played the Scourge of War games El Armonista, I very strongly recommend them. The interface is a bit more fiddly, but the AI is way superior to Total War and the battles a harder fight, even against equal numbers.

      • El Armonista! says:

        I’ve never played SoW, but I shall now, thank you!

        I wouldn’t mind if it was an American Civil War DLC for Empire (or presumably at this point, Empire 2) or a stand alone really, the only reason I said ‘official’ was because I meant ‘not a mod’. The last ACW game I played was Sid Meier’s Gettysburg! so pretty much anything is an upgrade.

        All of those things I have now noted Gap Gen. Thank you too.

    • Gap Gen says:

      I’d add that the SoW demo map was awful last time I checked. Note also that Take Command: Second Manasas is basically as single-player-only SoW. Also note that multiplayer SoW is the ultimate best.

    • LennyLeonardo says:

      I was convinced they were going to make Civil War: Total War (Total Civil War?) after the Fall of the Samurai Expansion for Shogun 2. For me that expansion rivals Rome for the top spot in the series. I really hope they do make one. But what the hell would they call it?

      Edit: of course I meant to say expandalone. I just didn’t want to.

    • MacTheGeek says:

      If CA decides to move into mid-late 19th Century warfare, I think they’ll have to create a new game. There are too many technological innovations that move beyond the scope of Empire/Napoleon. (Plus, I hope for a game with working mod tools!)

      Starting from scratch would also allow a “Total War: Civil War” to create campaigns in central Europe (Prussian Wars), the Balkans (where the Ottoman Empire still held sway), and elsewhere around the globe. Maybe this time the Boxer Rebellion is successful, or maybe the Ottomans rise up and swallow the German nation-states.

  8. Gap Gen says:

    We should totally revive SoW on RPS!

    My boys! Where are my boys?

    • nervouspete says:

      Oh, man! I’ve only ever played singleplayer but I’d be really up for this, especially if I could start with a small selection playing headquarters-in-the-saddle, with someone to help advise me. :)

      I desire we resurrect the old multiplayer thread with extraordinary vigguh!

      • Gap Gen says:

        I can’t remember my forum password and the login attempts limit has locked me out, but I’ve added you on Steam. Nice photos, too. Those are at the American Museum, right? Used to go there a lot with the family.


      We move on the words of a astrophysicist?


      I have scheduled an event for Saturday 8pm GMT. Newcomers welcome, but we’d probably be playing Gettysburg, unless it turns out we all have Chancellorsville.

      Join Rock Paper Secession, here: link to

  9. Canadave says:

    Personally, I think that the “All the Best Place Names” prize belongs to Newfoundland. Dildo, Conception Bay, Gander, Port au Port Peninsula, Jerry’s Nose, Woody Point, Whortleberry Island… I could go on, but I probably shouldn’t spend the entire afternoon scrolling around Google Maps.

    • LennyLeonardo says:

      Just… wow. Thank you for this insight, it has brightened my evening. Sidenote: who the hell settled that place?

      • Canadave says:

        Some group of crazies from an island north of continental Europe.

        • LennyLeonardo says:

          Oh man, those guys are nuts. ‘Nether Wallop’, ‘Shittington’, ‘Minge Lane’, etc. Why would we stop when we reached the new world?