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The Flare Path: Fruit Of The Thorn

Simulation & wargame blather

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It’s blackberry time here in Upper Bumhope. Brimming punnets of fragrant fruit clutter kitchens and courtyards. Almost everyone you meet has indigo fingertips and scarred forearms. Finding villagers willing to gather simulation and wargame news at this time of the year isn’t easy but thanks to Gleaner, Gusto, and Ghast (FP’s trio of duraluminum-and-balsa reconithopters) I do, just about, have a column for you today. On the other side of yonder html hedge, slim paragraphs on To End All Wars, First World War Campaigns: East Prussia ’14, DCS World, Unity of Command, and Combat Helo.

The Adaptive Game Engine is the Mr Benn of wargame power plants. Since birth it’s participated in Roman, Russian, Spanish and American civil strife, Napoleonic conquest, 19th Century independence struggles and Victorian imperialism. The fact that To End All Wars arrived earlier this week, indicates that proud parents AGEOD think it can do a passable Great War impersonation too.

Is that faith well-founded? You’ll probably need to play solidly for at least a week to find out for sure. A disappointingly dinky scenario selection (Two giant war-spanning Grand Campaigns, and an eight-turn East Prussian campaign) means there’s no shortcut to tanks, U-boat strangleholds and trenchy stalemate. Past form suggests AGE will cope reasonably well with the dynamism of the early ground war, but whether its province-focussed retreat-happy AI will produce plausible stodginess/slaughter later on remains to be seen.

On paper the mechanical changes implemented for this outing sound sage. Research and diplomacy appear bare-bones yet pithy. Waging winged war basically boils down to positioning and repositioning airbase units, while mounting zeppelin raids and gas attacks is simply a matter of clicking the appropriate decision button now and again. U-boat operations and ASW are equally straightforward. Place subs or – if you’re playing the Entente – destroyers and cruisers in the Atlantic or Mediterranean shipping boxes and await logical results. TEAW, like its forerunners, is a game focused on army manoeuvre and organisation. Put the right stacks in the right places at the right time and everything should come up smelling of roses rather than poppies.

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If WWI appeals but the thought of To End All Wars’ two-week turns (one week in Tannenberg scenario) and region-sized European tesserae bring on agoraphobia then John Tiller Software’s latest has to be worth a look.

With battalion and company sized units, hex centres 1km apart, and turns that condense two hours’ worth of combat or movement into a few seconds of clicking, East Prussia ’14’s  battles are relatively intimate affairs. True, the large maps and eye-watering unit counts visible in the screenshots probably offset that intimacy to a degree, but anyone looking for an unusually generous, staggeringly well-researched exploration of one of the most important battles of WWI will probably be far too engrossed to care.

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Don’t watch the following vids if you’re short of self-control or funds.

Bunyap’s and Froogle’s illuminating DCS: MiG-21 first-look films both suggest Leatherneck’s delta-winged debut is going to stir souls, electrify mess-rooms, and shine Ctrl and E keys when it arrives in just over a month’s time.

Stubby wings + ludicrous power + Fifties radar and targeting tech = an unusually exhilarating/demanding dogfighter. Unstable at low speed, reluctant to pull out of dives, and not especially keen to turn, the DCS Fishbed almost certainly won’t suffer the hamfisted or hamfooted gladly. Treat it with tenderness and respect, however – put in the practise – and you are plainly in for a treat.

The fully clickable cockpit looks utterly magnificent, novelties like the alcohol-cooled radar, brakeless taxiing, temperamental pitot tube and primitive autopilot, deliciously disorientating. Thank goodness DCS aren’t dangling any other annoyingly tempting hi-fi warbirds in front of our withered wallets at present.

Oh, come on! That really isn’t cricket.

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How would Unity of Command look in a pith helmet or a paratrooper smock? We may find out later this year. Talking to 2×2 Games’ Tomislav Uzelac about the ‘secret project’ mentioned in this Artist Wanted ad he confirmed that new fronts and forms of warfare are on the way.

“We’re adding significantly to the game’s mechanics. This will enable us to represent things like amphibious landings, para drops, a certain amount of naval action etc. The new system should be more versatile, so we could represent much more of WWII in it, and not just the manoeuvre-rich campaigns on the eastern front.

As to our first release with this new system, the plan is to go with whichever campaign happens to play best. So we’ll make the call whether it’s North Africa or something else only after we’ve done some internal playtesting. I can confirm it will definitely be WWII though, not WWI.”

Intriguingly – worryingly? – he also mentioned “big changes on the graphics side”. Flare Path hopes that doesn’t mean UoC’s distinctive busts will be making way for the sort of 3D troop representations that litter almost every other counter-shunning hex wargame. “Distinctive busts should be cherished!” as Roman frequently says.

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Last night FP bumped into Prince Harry in the snug of the Dog and DUKW and the fourth in line to the throne mentioned that the upcoming sim he was most eager to try was Tricubic’s Combat Helo. FP suggested that His Royal Highness contact Richard Hawley and offer his services as a beta tester. “Closed testing has just begun, and with your experience you’re sure to get a place!” FP brown-nosed before effortlessly steering the conversation in the direction of the latest RPS Royal Warrant bid.

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The Flare Path Foxer

Dances to Podcasts buried last week’s foxer solution under several feet of Frisian Islands sand. But for the callused brains, wiry arms, and knife-sharp spades of Ace Rimmer, All is Well, BryanTrysers, Syt, Gothnak, and deejayem, it probably would have remained dune-entombed forever.

A) Kenkenbuum (a kind of christmas tree common to Föhr and other North Frisian islands)
B) Edward Spragge (an admiral who died at Texel)
C) A2 rocket (launched from Borkum)
D) The Adventures of Hark Olufs (born on Amrum)
E) Badge of the Georgian Legion (organised an uprising on Texel)
F) Godfried Bomans (Dutch writer associated with Rottumerplaat)
G) Pharisäer (a drink apparently invented on Nordstrand)
H) Lale Andersen (singer of Lili Marleen, buried on Langeoog)
I) Mudflat hiking map

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It’s rare for Roman to be at his desk before eleven and after five these days. Since the likes of All is Well started sending in home-made foxers (see below), FP’s Chief Foxer Setter has discovered indolence, liquid lunches, and loom band weaving. A trip to the office kitchen or WC now often involves stepping over a dozing Russian dressed head-to-foot in multicoloured rubber chainmail.

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Tim Stone

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