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The Flare Path: Elegant Elefanticide

How rude. I sidle off to the seaside for a week of sun, sand, and saucy postcard scrutiny and instead of downing tools and waiting patiently for my return, the World’s wargame workshops and sim smithies press on regardless. Combat Mission’s assault on the Gustav Line appears to have commenced in my absence. DoorKickers’ doorkickers are now toting sledgehammers and breaching charges. Blimey, even the forest-furrowingly brilliant Spintires seems to be on the verge of slithering out of the Siberian slough where it’s been bogged for ages.

To be fair to Oovee, a new Spintires demo and an unusually enticing Kickstarter page prove they haven’t been entirely idle this past twelve months. Where the old trial let you sherpa crates round a tract of claggy Soviet wilderness in a Liaz or Kraz truck, the new one does away with the cargoes and the on-screen shifter, and introduces a machine so muscular, so smoky, so endearingly frog-eyed and flat-faced, you may end up slipping a screenshot of it into that window in your wallet.

At some point during the last half-hour, the 8WD forestry workhorse in the above pictures has gone from being an anonymous (anyone recognise the model?) demonstration of sim physics at their most enthralling, to being ‘Big Tanya’. A good sign. The fact that we may, one day, get to augment this charismatic conveyance with winches, tire deflation systems and the like, and use it to haul timber around a sizeable Siberian map, makes this old forwarder feeder incredibly happy.

Of course, I’d be even happier if ‘internal cockpit views’ was a default feature rather than a stretch goal, and there was evidence Zane Saxton and co. were considering procedurally generated levels. Multiplayer can wait; personally I’d much rather squirm along randomly routed tracks and through unsystematic thickets than have the chance of flashing my headlights at a passing workmate/rival every now and again.

 

Seeing the Elefant

Yesterday morning I was wandering the eerie precincts of a derelict WW2 radar station. Today I am seated in an imaginary Auster AOP, looking down on a 1km x 1km square of Italian countryside that will, hopefully, in an hour’s time be under Allied control. Rather than leap into Gustav Line, the first Combat Mission Fortress Italy expansion, via one of its trio of campaigns, I thought I’d start with one of the 17 standalone scraps. ‘Elephants and Tigers’ catches my eye. Not only does it feature my local regiment – the Hampshires – it also includes the new Fallschirmjäger units and an Elefant tank destroyer. Sounds challenging, and after a week without simulated warfare of any kind, I’m in the market for challenge.

Turn 1
According to the briefing, the village ahead has been abandoned by the retreating Germans, and the titular Elefant is currently crippled and awaiting recovery. With no grey icons visible yet, circumspection seems sensible. My company of Hants Tigers waits amongst mist-dampened buildings and knotty olive trees while three Humber III light recon cars edge forward.

Turn 3
San Pietro’s slumbers seem genuine enough. Time to move up foot-sloggers. That wall looks like a good spot for a Vickers HMG, that tower a perfect roost for an arty spotter.

Turn 4
The bark of a Bren sends me scurrying for the rewind button (CM can be played in real-time or WeGo fashion. Choose the latter and both sides’ orders are executed simultaneously, the resulting tumult presented as a rewindable 60-second videotape). The Humber rolling through San Pietro’s market square has spotted suspicious figures lurking under nearby trees and has chosen to engage them with its turret weapon. Away on the right, one of the other recon cars has also encountered the Green Devils for the first time. Told to unbutton by an intel-hungry CO (me) it immediately draws speculative small-arms fire and slams its hatches.

Turn 5
Reinforcements have arrived. Five infantry-crammed Universal Carriers and two Humber IV armoured cars appear on the southern edge of the battlefield. The ACs sport 37mm cannons – no match for an Elefant’s leathery hide, but potentially extremely useful in persuading Model’s model army to keep its head down.

Turn 7
Bogged pachyderm at 1’o’clock! As Tommies tiptoe onto the top floors of several of San Pietro’s loftier villas, somebody spots the Elefant in the distance. The turretless leviathan is sitting in a ford in the centre of the map with its zimmerit-coated backside facing us (that could be important). No sign of a picket, but men with Panzerfausts, Panzerschrecks and PaKs are sure to be close at hand.

Turn 8
The few Germans that were loitering near the village appear to be withdrawing towards the river. My Humber IIIs chivvy them along with streams of searing .303. To be honest, I’m surprised my recon cars, now with eyes on the far bank, have only encountered sporadic small-arms fire so far. If I was defending, I’d have anti-tank guns dug-in up there.

Turn 9
Ah. Anti-tank guns like that. Something has just taken two potshots at my lefthand Humber III. The first round fell short, the second skimmed the turret before slamming into a stout stone wall. I breathe a sigh of relief as the sixty-second results phase snail-crawls to a close, and orders can be issued again. With luck the recon car will make it into the safety of a nearby alley before the enemy gunners find form. Some of CM’s tensest moments involve thin-skinned AFVs lunging for the safety of dead ground.

Turn 12
This is rare. Twelve turns into a CMx2 scenario and all of my are men are still as fit as flophouse fleas. The strange lack of casualties (Combat Mission is one of the least forgiving wargames around) precipitates a potentially costly decision. Next turn one of my two Humber IVs is going to hare down to the ford in an attempt to harass the Elefant and block retreating Fallschirmjäger.

Turn 13
Even with rewindable action phases, it’s possible to miss things. I’ve just spotted two black-bereted blighters sprawled in a ditch. They’re escapees from a vanquished Humber III. The scout car was scoping for targets from the ‘safety’ of scrub on the right-hand side of the map. Plainly, there are Axis AT guns hidden in the vineyards, copses, and olive groves beyond the river. We just can’t see them at present.

Turn 17
Amazing. Several ricochet-rich turns after the Humber IV arrived unscathed at the river bank, the Elefant crewmen, demoralised by spall showers and the constant woodpecker-tattoo of close-range 37mm AP, have decided to quit their steel cave. The paras that were meant to be watching over them seem more interested in retreating than mounting an active defence. Cowardice or a consequence of CM’s occasionally clay-footed AI? I suspect the latter.

Turn 18
Most of the Germans retreating towards the river are using a particular hedgerow as a screen. 81mm mortar shells directed by one of my HQs in San Pietro have just begun dropping along the line of that hedgerow. Those that escape the fierce bombardment must run the gauntlet of the cockahoop Humber IV at the ford. It’s a bad day to be wearing a FJ jump smock, that’s for sure.

Turn 21
There’s still some devilry left in the disappointingly yellow Green Devils. One of the withdrawing paratroopers pauses to pitch a stick grenade at the Elefant killer. The potato masher changes nothing and its thrower, like most of his escape-fixated comrades, is ruthlessly cut down while wading the stream.

Turn 22
My first infantry casualties of the battle. A sniper team advancing towards the river are felled by fire from an HMG poking from a distant farmhouse window. Once my off-map mortars have finished deluging recently detected foxholes on the ridge north of the river, I’ll use their wrath on this new threat.

Turn 25
In the same central olive grove where the bodies of the sniper team lay, advancing British infantry are also taking fire from foxholes cunningly sited on the reverse of a low rise. Resistance is definitely stiffening. About time too.

Turn 28
Because the big game hunting Humber IV obviously has a charmed life, I order it across the ford. Water is still cascading from its armoured nooks when a rifle-grenade hits. No serious damage but the optics are compromised, the driver is bleeding, and the vehicle – now thoroughly rattled – decides to reverse off the road rather than follow orders. Fair enough.

Turn 34
The liberators creep forward. More and more foxholes fall silent, their occupants killed or cowed by mortars, cannons, and Vickers HMGs. On its way to support its wounded comrade the second Humber IV sights a flak halftrack on the ridge above the river. I’ve barely had time to take in this Gustav Line débutante before it’s set ablaze by incoming shells.

Turn 40
It’s easy to take your eye off the ball in the closing stages of a CM scrap. Sensing victory I give my Hampshires and Humbers increasingly ambitious orders. After one of the IIIs catches the Reich’s deafest LG40 recoilless gun crew napping, I re-task it too hastily. A lone para returns to his stubby AT weapon and punishes the mistake.

Turn 42
Another Humber is burning. Frustrated by the slow progress of my infantry push, I rushed the AC onto an unremarkable patch of river bank. A hidden LG40 gunner who has spent the past 41 minutes waiting, watching, and wiping the sweat from his eyes, realises that his moment has come and pulls the trigger. Revenge for the flak halftrack. Revenge for the Elefant. Revenge for a scenario design that probably doesn’t do justice to CMx2, Gustav Line or the formidable fighting force that was the Fallschirmjäger.

 

The Flare Path Foxer

A kinder foxer setter would have built a golf-themed puzzle around a Panzerkampfwagen VI and an R-80 BushCaddy rather than grenade pins/spoons, a Royal Green Jackets badge, a T-34 loaded with tank riders, a bunker-buster bomb, a DH.91 Albatross, a Panzer II Ausf L, Monty’s medal ribbons and a photo of Iceal Hambleton. A crueller one would have compounded ‘Lynx = links’ and ‘rider = Ryder’ word-crimes with an Agusta chopper or two. Phonetic flim-flam couldn’t stop Matchstick, skink74, corinoco, Midwinter, FurryLippedSquid, and FhnuZoag from sinking crucial putts. Good work, defoxers (especially Matchstick who spotted the theme). Enjoy your Gammon Bomb grub.

This week, a lossword. The six puzzles in the image below share a theme and a pattern. Discern the motif and a stick of impossibly sweet Blackburn Roc with ‘Monte Cassino’, ‘Stalingrad’ or ‘Kohima’ (please specify) through the middle could be yours.

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