The Flare Path: Under Pressure

Knickers. I’ve just drawn Reader #3232 in the RPS Secret Santa draw. This year I’m buying for a chap who scribbles scores on his two-year-old son’s art, described Papers, Please as “adequate”, and last smiled in 1998*. Perhaps something in his reader file will trigger a gift idea.

Hmm. It appears he “tolerates wasps” and has a “grudging respect for the work of 19th Century sewer engineer Joseph Bazalgette”. That’s something, I suppose. Hang on – what’s this? “During a visit to the Somerset Shoe Museum in 2010, #3232 was overheard discussing Boyle’s Law and representations of Romanians in contemporary videogames”. Now that is interesting.


*He heard that Pol Pot had died.

Don’t tell Reader #3232, but this year he’s getting either a copy of unmissable Eastern Front wargame Unity of Command (together with the imminent Black Turn DLC, natch) or a copy of Train Simulator 2014 embellished with Just Train’s fab 4MT steam loco add-on.

UoC: Black Turn is out next Tuesday. A review embargo and the fact that I’m only about halfway through the 13-scenario Operation Barbarossa campaign means I probably shouldn’t use words like ‘gripping’ or ‘beautifully engineered’ to describe it. What I will say is that anyone hungry for high-calibre history-steeped hex entertainment shouldn’t spend all their money in the Matrix Games sale this weekend.

Steering the snapping jaws of a mighty military Cerberus in the directions of Leningrad, Moscow, and Stalingrad (the campaign follows the progress of Axis Army Groups North, South, and Centre) has reminded me how much I adore Ante Turudić’s shrapnel-sharp AI routines. Startled and sub-standard, the early war Soviets could be deadly-dull opponents in less capable hands. In this treatment they’re mesmerising, abandoning untenable positions, setting up new stop lines on river banks and city edges, and attempting sly supply-line-severing counter-attacks when opportunities arise.

Rapid eastward progress is inevitable at first. What keeps the campaign devilishly tense are tight timetables and all-or-nothing victory conditions. Fail to take full advantage of your motorized divisions, consider the vulnerability of all-important supply arteries, or rotate battered units out of the front line, and you can very easily find yourself a couple of hexes short of a vital objective when a scenario sunsets. Pace is everything. The successful commander is the one constantly scanning the battlefield for breakthrough and encirclement opportunities, not methodically eliminating every Ivan in his path.

People that might not enjoy Black Turn:

  • Russians (Apart from a couple of standalone scens, it’s an all-Axis affair)
  • Romanians (The forces of the minor powers are as hopeless as ever)
  • Reader #09 (“Russia again? When are 2×2 going to do the Desert War?”)
  • Reader #9886 (“No NATO counters, no sale.”)
  • Silly arses


Sandbox of Delights

When you’ve experienced the flight simulator add-on scene at its magnificent best, it’s hard to get excited about the majority of Train Simulator adjuncts. Often shallow, sometimes unconvincing… truly brilliant loco recreations are rarer than iron horse poo.

The closest thing footplate aficionados have to a PMDG, A2A or DCS-standard ride is probably Just Trains’ new Standard 4MT for TS2014. Single-handedly making up for the scandalous lack of coal munchers in the base game (Seriously RSC, Robert Stephenson must be spinning in his Westminster Abbey grave) the post-war British Railways 2-6-0 boasts the kind of deep modelling that – with a few notable exceptions – rail enthusiasts have long been denied.

Even children of the Diesel-Electric Age are likely to find themselves enchanted by the prototypical procedures and physics. Take ‘warm starts’ for example. Because cold-starting a steam loco takes hours, the devs sensibly draw a veil over fire setting and steam raising. When you clamber aboard, there’s already a merry blaze roaring in the firebox and hot gas coursing through the boiler tubes. ‘All’ you’ve got to do before getting under way, is nip outside using the free-cam, top up the animated sandboxes, prime the valve gear lubricator, open the smokebox and shovel out any ash deposits, then return to the cab and conduct ‘blowdown’. In the same way that waggling flight surfaces, and inspecting plugs and oil in the A2A Cessna gives that machine rare presence, completing grimy chores before and after runs in the 4MT, emphasises physicality already etched by the excellent physics and sound.

It’s always a dangerous claim for a simmer to make, but after a week or two with 4MT 76084 and its encyclopaedic 50-page manual, I suspect I could operate the real loco (currently operated by the North Norfolk Railway) without a) killing anyone or b) doing extensive damage to a pricey piece of heritage rolling stock. Passenger beverages would doubtless be slopped on passenger groins occasionally, numerous platforms missed and signals passed at danger, but thanks to detailed damage modelling and fastidious simulation of features like injectors, cylinder cocks, and water gauges (effected by inclines and harsh braking/acceleration) I reckon I could probably avoid driver faux pas like ‘priming’ (caused by an overfilled boiler) and – the steam engine equivalent of exposing the fuel rods in a nuclear reactor – melted fusible plugs.

Look out for a future Flare Path column in which I test this bold claim via one of the North Norfolk Railway’s £425 ‘driver experience days’ .*

*Column dependent on office whip-round or lottery win.


The Flare Path Foxer

Edward Fox foxhunting in a FV721 Fox armoured car near Foxham. That’s how foxy last week’s foxer was. Despite some inspired airframe analysis by skink74 (Airspeed Oxford) Wrekin762 (Short Belfast) FhnuZoag (Brewster Buccaneer/Bermuda) and SpiceTheCat (Gossamer Albatross), nifty naval gazing from Julhelm and phlebas (Jean Bart) and expert EMU elucidation from foop (Brighton Belle) the hidden ‘trousers’ theme stayed hidden. Would a selection of rifle breeches or a glimpse of Ford Capri have helped?

A. Jean Bart
B. Short Belfast
C. Airspeed Oxford
D. Flies
E. Gossamer Albatross (technically, a pedal pusher)
F. Brewster Bermuda
G. AOTD chart showing the Great Belt
H. Southern Belle timetable

Talking of help, FP would appreciate some assistance with the following puzzle puzzle. While clearing out shelf 8 (British Aircraft) in his colossal Louis Quinze jigsaw cabinet the other day, he came across the 26 jigsaw fragments pictured below. If you can put names to the ten featured aircraft types, that would make returning the pieces to the appropriate boxes much easier.


  1. skink74 says:

    So far I think:
    b) Blackburn Buccaneer
    f) Hawker Siddeley Trident
    n) SEPECAT Jaguar

  2. CookPassBabtridge says:

    F***ing TROUSERS.

    • phlebas says:

      I just spent two minutes staring at ‘Jean Bart’ trying to work out the connection with trousers before realising it didn’t have to be pronounced the French way.

  3. JustAPigeon says:

    I think F is a Hawker Siddeley Trident, and H is a De Havilland Comet

    Q is an Avro Lancaster vertical stabiliser?

    edit: I’m not sure it is a Lancaster, actually.

    • skink74 says:

      (edit) not sure about Q. –
      v) is too straight to be a Lancaster’s stabiliser.
      Perhaps a Handley Page Halifax Mk II or III though?

  4. killias2 says:

    Any must haves in the Matrix sale? I already have Panzer Corps and Distant Worlds. I’ve heard good things about Advanced Tactics Gold..?

    • Temple says:

      I, too, would like recommendations from the Matrix ‘we-price-our-games-too-expensive-for-people-to-take-a-punt-on’ Sale (I got really excited when I mistook the ‘money you save’ bit as the the price)
      I have a preference for empire builders and space, and things that run on older machines so I should go for Distant Worlds? Any of the add-ons essential?

    • CookPassBabtridge says:

      Not being a player of matrix games, looking through their catalogue at the military stuff, to the uninitiated, suggested heavily that everything they have ever done is a reskin of the same game. Lots and lots of tactical map views. Is it only the more recent operation star type games that have the actual 3D “live action” part? Or am I missing the point that this is how the genre is represented?

    • Thurgret says:

      Guess I’ll go through the games I own myself. I quite like all of them, bar Close Combat, but Command Ops stands out.

      Achtung Panzer: Operation Star. I must say, I much prefer Combat Mission (Fortress Italy, presently) for my WW2 wargaming. Tim has a piece or two up here which cover Achtung Panzer, though. It’s not a bad game, by any means. Immensely detailed, down to tracking how much ammunition each individual soldier has. Actions portrayed tend to be reinforced company size. My biggest gripe with it would be that the battle maps are absolutely vast, meaning that, even on the defense, you may very well be stumbling around for half an hour looking for your foe, which isn’t very much fun at all. Enjoyable, otherwise.

      Close Combat: Panthers in the Fog. Augh. I felt sorely disappointed when I purchased this. In my childhood, I had owned and loved Close Combat 2 – A Bridge Too Far and CC5 – which was something to do with Normandy. This doesn’t appear to have advanced at all, beyond having some basic unit management in the campaign. Maybe I’m viewing the earlier games through rose-tinted glasses, but Panthers in the Fog seemed awful compared to them, somehow.

      Command Ops: Battles from the Bulge. Superb. Immensely expensive, even discounted. The AI is really quite fantastic. Watch their own videos of a guy playing through it, first – it’s a four part thing on YouTube – to see if it’s your sort of game. And keep in mind that the videos portray a task force which is the size of a battalion and a bit, while you can, in the game, be commanding entire divisions, in some instances (personally, I tend to give orders to battalion commanders and let them do as they will – the only times I ever pick out an individual company to command is in the case of reconnaissance units, detached armoured units and engineers.)

      Scourge of War: Gettysburg. Good game. I know essentially nothing about the American Civil War, but this is, apparently, an accurate rendition of a big battle in it. Twenty single player scenarios. Apparently there’s multiplayer, but I’ve never tried it. Occasional frustration with some odd bits with unit facing and overlap between companies and such, but nothing game-breaking. I got a good twenty hours or so out of it before deciding I’d had my fill.

      • killias2 says:

        I actually have APOPSTAR (as RPS so memorably labeled Achtung Panzer), but I have yet to play it. OOOPS.

        I have Scourge of War. I was hoping for some sort of mixture of Sid Meier’s Gettysburg game (which is a classic) and something Total War-ish. Instead, I found I had no idea what I was doing. I probably gave up too quickly on it, as I love Gettysburg as a battle. I’m a PA boy (the state which contains Gettysburg for all you Britons), and I’ve been to Gettysburg about 4 times or so during my life. I can pretty much give the tour myself these days, haha.

        • Thurgret says:

          Make sure you don’t have such things as needing to send a courier out with orders switched on in Scourge of War, if you’re looking for a Total War style experience – that’ll allow you to give orders to units directly. Beyond that, maybe look for a video or two to watch, I guess? I can’t remember now if it had a tutorial of any sort included with it.

          • killias2 says:

            Yeah, I probably just needed to spend more time with it. With my backlog, I let games slip in and out all the time.

            I’ll take your Commands Ops recommendation into consideration though. Thanks!

    • wodin says:

      Sod the sale and buy the best Wargame released in a long time..Flashpoint Campaigns red Storm..better than any number of sale games.

      Though if I was to recommend a sale game it would be one of the Decisive Campaigns games..

      • Thurgret says:

        I bought that after all the recommendations, and bounced off a brick wall when I actually tried playing it. I completed the first NATO scenario just fine, and hadn’t the energy to even try the second. Mostly because most of the time playing the game appeared to be spent watching the game play itself, as opposed to actually doing anything. I could give some orders now and then, though they’d take so long to execute that it was only my best guess as to what they should even be – trying to order a retreat from a position at risk of being overrun was a futile endeavour, at best. Starting positions proved to be far more important. Is there any way to alleviate that? Have I some setting on which I shouldn’t have?

  5. Gap Gen says:

    Are there any new features to Black Turn over the ones introduced in Red Turn?

  6. Eightball says:

    Are there any good “learning Let’s Plays” or guides for Unity of Command? I played the tutorial, which made sense, but I was utterly hopeless in the next scenario.

  7. Usul says:

    C/J/K) Gloster Gladiator
    E) Airspeed Oxford
    F) Hawker Siddeley Trident
    G/U) Fairey Battle
    H) De Havilland Comet (who knew the “Nimrod” intakes was the giveaway)
    I) Hawker Siddeley Harrier
    W) Vickers Wellington

    I recognize O, but I just can’t remember what it’s called.
    – Thanks for pointing out the typo FhnuZoag

    EDIT: keep forgetting to add this…

    • Premium User Badge

      FhnuZoag says:

      C is the Gloster Gladiator, you mean.

    • Dozer says:

      A, X, and probably O and T are the HP.42

      L, N, and Y are a HP Victor

      H and probably I are the Comet 4. I could be the underside of the fuel pod on the outer wings.

      B and P are the Blackburn Buccaneer

      And D is an aircraft of 19 Squadron RAF, judging by the blue and white check pattern, but I don’t know much about pre-war aircraft…

    • Premium User Badge

      phuzz says:

      I thought R might be the wheel of a Sopwith Snipe, and it does look almost correct apart from that horizontal brown thing (exhaust? weapon?). It definitely looks like a Sopwith wheel hub though.
      I think it might be a Travel Air 4000, based on the third picture from here, but I’m not sure.

  8. RussS says:

    J) is also Gloster Gladiator I think

    P) & I) making up the tail of a Buccaneer

  9. Synesthesia says:

    I loved UoC, but was utterly stomped by its difficulty curve. I managed to get past the first few missions, a few even with good grades, and then the AI would just routinely destroy me, and reaching the objectimes in time seemed impossible. I loved it, but i had to walk away. Are there any good in depth tutorials to the game mechanics? I feel the in-game ones dont nearly cut it.

  10. Dave Tosser says:

    Papers, Please is below adequate and I haven’t ever smiled. The closest I get is a slight netherward twitch when seeing the answers to the Flare Path Foxer and noting that, yes, I am yet again unfoxed. People don’t buy me Christmas presents, but a hex-based strategy game would be nice. If only all the good ones weren’t already abandonware. Fun, what is that?

  11. Dominic White says:

    The launch of it seems to have been a bit messy (us press people haven’t got invites yet), but Gaijin say that the ground combat layer (TAAAAAAAAAANKS) of War Thunder is going into semi-public beta testing right about now. They even rolled out a gameplay trailer. It looks all kinds of lovely.

    Those are some very tanky looking tanks. The way they roll, bounce and skid is pleasingly physics’y. Seems like a good subject for next weeks Flare Path, maybe?

  12. xfstef says:

    As a Romanian I can say that I was relieved when both my grandfathers told me the stories of how they didn’t even shoot once in the war. They had to get implicated in it (one was a supply truck driver and the other a steam engine mechanic) but they both refused to kill either nazis or russians for the sake of “ideologies”.

    • Giuseppe says:

      Perhaps they refused only because they were never put in a position where they had to shoot an enemy. It’s easy to refuse to kill someone when your life doesn’t depend on it.

      • xfstef says:

        well yes, they chose those other jobs instead of getting incorporated in the military. So they basically got to chose.

      • Baines says:

        To be fair, killing someone because your life depends on it is a bit different than volunteering to kill people for the sake of ideologies. (Well, other than the ideology of killing people because your life depends on it.)

  13. Lusketrollet says:

    I’m surprised and disappointed that Flare Path hasn’t pointed out that there’s been a new expansion for Graviteam Tactics.

    • Thurgret says:

      Does it solve the blundering around for half an hour until making contact with the enemy problem? Am I doing something terribly wrong, that I even had that problem to begin with? My experience is largely confined to the German breakout in Operation Star – I haven’t quite got around to playing the second, larger batch of scenarios on offer there. Not to say that I didn’t enjoy the game – I did – but that was my greatest frustration with it.

  14. JohnnyG33 says:

    I believe D, R, S and T are a Gloster Gamecock.

  15. guygodbois00 says:

    Thank you very much, Mr Stone. This article is just what the doctor ordered. Your contributions to this site should be more frequent to our mutual benefit.

  16. JohnnyG33 says:

    E and M looks like a Bristol Blenheim.
    O and X look like a Handley Page H.P.42.

  17. Danny252 says:

    Grabbing totally shamelessly onto the mention of Footplate Experience days, you can probably find them at most preserved railways around the UK – and there are dozens of them! I volunteer down on the Severn Valley, and we have several footplate experience courses from £100. For the courses running over Christmas at £250 (places still available!), you would get 8 miles on the footplate (and a further 16 on the train), with the ability to bring along family and friends, as well as a short course on how to drive/fire the engine, and a guided tour of the works. Hit up the SVR site for more.

    And if you really like the idea of working on the railway (whether it be driving, signalling, maintenance work of many descriptions, catering…), most railways are run by large volunteer workforces – we’d love if you came and joined!

    (End blatant advertising)

    • Dozer says:

      I used to volunteer on the North York Moors Railway, although I’ve not been there since, erm, 2004, and now I live in Australia. It’s a lovely railway, one of the longest preserved lines in the UK I think and that was before they started running on Network Rail tracks to Whitby. So consider going to volunteer there too!

      Upsides: it’s on the Yorkshire Moors, a beautiful part of Britain.
      Downsides: it’s on the Yorkshire Moors, bloody miles away from anywhere unless you’re lucky enough to live in Yorkshire.