The Flare Path: Edges Towards Edgehill

Growing up in the Seventies my favourite comic was probably Meteor, my favourite story within Meteor, Paddy the Pikeman. Paddy the Pikeman was set just after the English Civil War and told the story of an unemployed soldier who travelled round England righting wrongs and solving problems with the aid of an 18 foot-long polearm. One issue he might use his unwieldy weapon to push a burning barque clear of a gunpowder-stacked jetty, or vault over a swollen stream and save a stranded Leveller. In another he might use it to support a sagging washing line in a brothel, or skewer a mewing moggy stuck up a tree. It was inspirational stuff. I found myself thinking of Paddy yesterday while playing the beta of Slitherine’s new 16th/17th Century TBS Pike & Shot.

The beta has been in my possession for less than 24 hours, but I reckon I’ve already seen enough to state the following…

Pike & Shot isn’t out to intimidate. A combination of a skeletal order selection (move, charge, fire, turn and withdraw), good tooltips, an engaging tutorial sequence, and a fairly unfussy turn structure, meant I was Cromwelling with competence confidence within half an hour of seeing the title screen for the first time.

Richard Bodley Scott’s wargame design experience and historical knowledge means the simplicity doesn’t come at the cost of period flavour. P&S doesn’t feel like any other wargame I’ve played. The unfamiliar units together with unexpected rules and behaviours, give battles a shape and momentum all of their own. Control is constantly threatening to turn to chaos as units, intoxicated by local victories, rush off in pursuit of breaking or routing enemies. In the middle of a scrap it’s not uncommon to find that half your units are oblivious to orders due to ongoing melee or automatic pursuits. Those pursuits can snowball and splinter in delightfully unpredictable ways as fired-up chasers clash with other units while away gallivanting. They can also lead to uncomfortable absences and unnerving reappearances, pursued and pursuers scuttling off map edges then reappearing a little later in different places eager to rejoin the fight.

Scott’s system communicates the unwieldiness of Seventeenth Century armies very nicely. Facing is of paramount importance. Flank attacks and fusillades frequently send eye-watering casualty totals floating heavenward. Big changes of direction often empty Action Points reservoirs.

Post-battle death toll details don’t elevate eyebrows. This is a game about breaking the will of an opposing army not reducing it to a heap of corpses. Going by what I’ve seen so far, 60% seems to be the magic number. Rout six tenths of your enemy’s troops and victory is yours. Morale degrades in clear stages, and is infectious (units can be shaken by the rout of nearby comrades). A ‘Disrupted’ or ‘Fragmented’ label appearing above a particularly resilient enemy formation is one of the game’s most heartwarming sights.

In my brief brush with the skirmish mode the AI seemed to cope well with a randomly generated battlefield and hand-picked opposition. Fieldworks were exploited, flank-attack spoiling sallies organised. It appeared to understand what I was attempting to do and responded sensibly and – very nearly – successfully. Much more testing will be required for a proper assessment, though.

The “unique graphic style based on 17th century styles and battle paintings” probably won’t garner too much praise from players. While scenery and unit art evokes the game’s tabletop wargaming roots reasonably well, the feeble zoom, lack of animations and corpse sprites (Visually, units in melee never actually mingle or lower pikes) mean sessions lack the colour and spectacle of a good miniatures barney. Sound effects are similarly underwhelming.

The GUI – which, to be fair, is a placeholder at present – needs major work. Right now, without selecting individual units, it’s hard to assess basics like Action Point totals, terrain effects, and unit types. The game badly needs a set of helpful toggleable icons for quick battlefield assessment, and some handsome unit portraits to help players visualise units.

The beta includes content from two planned expansion packs (English Civil War and 16th Century Italian Wars). The base game draws on The Thirty Years’ War for inspiration, using ten large historical scrap recreations as the basis for its campaign. I plan to dip into these, and perhaps the PBEM MP next. Stay tuned for more analysis of a wargame that understands that PC grognards have been deprived of cockney crustaceans for far too long.

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Pike & Shot’s publisher, Slitherine, acquired a fine iPad developer this week, but waved goodbye to a brilliant PC one. Panther Games, the Australian studio behind marvellous military Petri dishes
like Command Ops: Battles From The Bulge and Airborne Assault : Conquest of the Aegean, have signed with an undisclosed US publisher after ten years in the Matrix/Slitherine fold. According to AI alchemist and company president, Dave O’Connor, the parting was amicable. Pundits within the wargaming community are speculating that the new publisher is a large board wargame publisher rather than a PC specialist. Future Panther ouput may well include reprints of the studio’s cardboard creations as well as new Command Ops titles.

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The older I get, the larger and slower I like my sim targets. Back when I was a spotty stripling I was happy to pursue PzKpfw IIs and Me 163s all day. Now I’m middle-aged and decrepit, I much prefer PzKpfw VIIIs and Zeppelins. It usually takes patience to reach the altitudes where WWI airships dwell, but, once you’re up there, it takes rare skill to miss them with chattering MGs or volleys of Le Prieur rockets. As owners of great Great War air combat sim Wings Over Flanders Fields are soon to discover.

The rather special WOFF is in line for more expansion packs. Having infested the early war Western Front with swarms of Fokker Eindeckers, Old Brown Dog are now turning their attention to the original Blitz. At a date TBC gargantuan gasbags and giant Gotha bombers will start appearing over Big Ben and Buck House. Transfer to one of Blighty’s scrupulously researched and skinned Home Defence squadrons, and you’ll get a chance to ensure the Luftstreitkräfte lummoxes never get home.

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The Flare Path Foxer

“What connects dismembered AK-47s, a Czech biplane, and a traffic jam?” asked guest foxer setter All is Well last week. “American Football?” suggested a quite right Syt after early element decrypts by the likes of Matchstick, AbyssUK, FuryLippedSquid and mrpier.

A. O.J. Simpson pursuit
B. Tailback
C. Naval Air Station Fallon (NFL) badge
D. Hawker Sea Hawk
E. Hope And Glory movie poster
F. AK-47 receivers
G. Pom-pom gun
H. Cardinals
I. Aero A-11

This week’s foxer is a Rorschach Test. Serial defoxer Rorschach617, with some artistic assistance from Roman, has created a puzzle tough enough to stump stumps, bamboozle bamboo, and perplex perspex. The original version was done entirely with ink blots but failed to get past the RPS pornography filters.

All answers in one comments thread, please.

43 Comments

  1. FurryLippedSquid says:

    Is that Hendrix? Is the diagram a Hurricane?

    The 2 NZD note features a bird called a Rifleman.

    • Premium User Badge

      Syt says:

      The New Zealand banknote seems to show a Titipounamu, or Rifleman.

      EDIT: Reading comprehension fail. :D

      • Beowulf says:

        Exactly. A Rifleman – Acanthisitta chloris. But also Red Mistletoe to the left of it. And even more rare bird – Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II on the front.

        Bottom right looks like a cabin of MIM-72A/M48 Chaparral. But I can’t figure from what game (Wargame perhaps) the model comes from.

        Edit – The photo of the airship is the photo of the L-8 US Navy Blimp drifting in Daly City, California.

        • AbyssUK says:

          That particular shot is of the Ghost Blimp that crashed and became quite the mystery..
          to fit with the TV Western Theme “The Grey Ghost” perhaps ?

          • Shiloh says:

            Could it be the USS Shenandoah, maybe?

            EDIT: No, it definitely is the Ghost Blimp. Ignore me.

    • Premium User Badge

      Syt says:

      And the logo top left appears to be from the Virginian Railways.

    • Stugle says:

      The helicopter bottom left appears to be an AH-56 Cheyenne.

      • Beowulf says:

        Cheyenne you say? According to Wikipedia chapparal means also “a plant used in Native American medicine and modern herbology”. But it may still be too early to go that way.

    • Commander_Zeus says:

      It’s not a Hurricane, the canopy looks more like a type of Spitfire, probably a late version as it appears to be armed with like cannon? Stubby wingtips look like the pictures on Wikipedia of Griffon engine powered versions.

      • Useful Dave says:

        How about a Fairey Firefly? Features the cannon armament, likely the wing-blisters in some of the ASW variants and what looks like the observers position towards back.

        Oh, and this is the top-right plane, correct?

    • Rorschach617 says:

      Have to say, this looks a lot better than the hodge-podge I submitted.

      Also, using different photos means I cannot recognise some of the clues :)

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        Syt says:

        The plane in the middle appears to be a Beechcraft Bonanza. I think I’m getting the theme, but since I guessed last time I will let someone else do the honors. :)

        • Beowulf says:

          Hmm, The Rifleman would also go for Wyoming (insert caressing evil goatee motion).

          So many (Wild) West States – some kind of a trail?

        • phlebas says:

          Bonanza, Firefly, Cheyenne, (the high) Chaparral – Are we looking at TV westerns here?

          • Beowulf says:

            I thought it has to be a place. But you may be right, unless it is their common studio/set.

          • phlebas says:

            Apparently The Rifleman was a series too.

          • Stugle says:

            So was The Virginian, says Wikipedia. TV Westerns seems a plausible theme. Now only to draw in an American barrage balloon and the dude with the impressive afro… :)

          • phlebas says:

            Not to mention the flying crown, which is from Sky King.

          • SpiceTheCat says:

            L-8, per wikipedia, may have been called the Ranger. Which could tie in to The Lone Ranger or Walker, Texas Ranger..

    • Shiloh says:

      The dude with the afro is Leroy “Sugarfoot” Bonner, lead man of funk band The Ohio Players. Sugarfoot is a TV Western series, apparently. Looks like we have the theme, gentlemen.

      • Stugle says:

        Cheers! My boss thanks you for solving that, as not knowing this answer would’ve destroyed my productivity for the rest of the day. :)

  2. Goateh says:

    “Pundits within the wargaming community are speculating that the new publisher is a large board wargame publisher rather than a PC specialist.”

    Please be GMT, please be GMT. They’ve been on and off with adapting their games to tablet and/or PC with mixed success so far, abandoning and restarting some projects due to the inexperienced developers they contracted. Someone like Panther Games getting involved with them would be fantastic.

  3. Premium User Badge

    Syt says:

    Really looking forward to Pike & Shot. There’s precious few tactical games about the 17th century.

  4. CookPassBabtridge says:

    Eagle Dynamics is having a (non-steam) sale.

    GO AND BUY ALL THE THINGS. I’m having a weekend wing binge. Hurrah!

    • Synesthesia says:

      Oh! It’s a shame i can’t redeem them on steam. I’ve seen them quite low at summer sales!

      • Stellar Duck says:

        Well, it’s not like there is much point in using Steam for DCS, but for what it’s worth, I just entered my P-51D key I bought last night into Steam and it was validated.

        I suspect that ED doesn’t shift a lot of copies so the non Steam keys are not in use yet? In any case, I got the module on Steam, as well as on the DCS site now.

        • Synesthesia says:

          Yeah, it’s mostly for comfort, i like having my library launched from a centralized place. The few games i bought away from steam get misplaced, installations lost. And with a 350 game collection, it’s sorely needed.

          I just remembered i had bought this hex survival game, where you start in a lab and something is scratching at the door, where you move towards the lighta t the east, and it’s detroit. What was it called? I want to play it again.

          • Useful Dave says:

            NEO Scavenger, perhaps?

          • Premium User Badge

            Syt says:

            Yes, sounds definitely like NEO Scavenger. It’s actually on Steam these days. If you bought it from the devs before it was on Steam, chances are there’s a way to get a Steam key from them (I also saw that it was recently updated again – haven’t played the latest build yet, though).

    • Ross Angus says:

      Bundle Stars are doing a Trainz bundle:

      link to bundlestars.com

  5. tatumthunderlips says:

    That is the nose of the Lockheed AH-56A Cheyenne Concept Design at the bottom right.

  6. Duke of Chutney says:

    I’ve been playing Conquest of the Aegean recently. Not very good at it, but it is tres interesting. Hopefully a move away from the Matrix fortress will make Pather games more available, and perhaps cheaper.

    How does Musket and Pike compare with Ultimate General gettysburg in terms of ease of play? The look pretty similar in some respects.

    Also play Ultimate General Gettysburg if you have not already, a lot of game for £6 and very easy to play.

    • Duke of Chutney says:

      also, any knowledge on how much Musket and Pike is likely to retail for?

    • Beowulf says:

      Yep, Matrix prcing policy is a big deterrent. I have high hopes for the new publisher.

  7. Thurgret says:

    So, not really relevant to this week, but I picked up AGEOD’s To End All Wars, and I am really rather enjoying it. What other AGEOD games are worth a look at? Considering Alea Jacta Est, and Civil War 2.

    On the note of Command Ops, is the expansion to Battles from the Bulge worth a look?

    • Beowulf says:

      I won’t be very helpful, but I played Alea Jacta Est and had fun with it, but can’t really compare it to TEAW. From what I gathered, the scope is smaller in comparison, more focused on single strong stacks, but your experience my differ.

      Same goes for the expansions to Battles from the Bulge. I’ve played only Conquest of the Aegean back in the day and it was bloody addictive. But again, can’t really compare since I don’t own Battles […] now. For sure it will be change of setting and pacing that will force new tactics, I remember playing some high mobile desert warfare in community made scenarios.

      • Thurgret says:

        I looked at Conquest of the Aegean, but I have an aversion of sorts to intentionally going backwards by a few years where strategy games of that ilk are concerned – I’d be surprised if they could match the AI in Command Ops back then.

        • Beowulf says:

          The AI was always though, and I have no doubts that it was somehow improved since their first games, but I doubt the difference is that big. Anyway, I was referring to the expansion: link to matrixgames.com:.Battles.for.Greece ,which is their previous instalment being sold as an expansion pack. The same goes for Highway to the Reich, which was their first game in the series, if I’m not mistaken.
          So you get old scenarios with up to date mechanics.

          Unless I somehow misunderstood your post, and you don’t want to go back to 1941 from 1944?

          • Thurgret says:

            Sorry, got confused! I was thinking of the Airborne Assault series — I didn’t even realise that they had moved old scenarios up to use the new game mechanics. I’ll have to take a look at those.

            … I’ll also have to get them to reactivate my base Command Ops download. I wish they had a more elegant download system, I really do.

    • Stellar Duck says:

      I’m really enjoying Civil War 2 though it should be noted that I’m absolutely terrible at it and I have barely a clue as to how to play it. My Virginia campaign is bogged down across the Rapidan, starting at Johnstons army and Grant is currently bogged down near Island Number 10 waiting for Halleck to show up. Which will be some time seeing as a cavalry raid just got to Cairo and I really need them to go away. And Fremont. Damn Fremont. That campaign was a disaster and I’m back to the drawing board in Missouri.

      • Thurgret says:

        I understand the core of the game isn’t too far from To End All Wars, so it might well be worth a look. I think that where I’m tripping up on TEAW myself is with naval and overseas portions. Fleets are just a hassle to manage. Given the setting, I imagine that naval elements in Civil War 2 are very minor, so that might be something.

        What are the order resolution times like? They’re probably the biggest downer on TEAW. I don’t really like waiting two minutes between being able to do things.

        • Stellar Duck says:

          The turn resolve is a bit slow but I also have a really shitty computer so I can’t really comment on how it is on harware post 2008. It’s about 60 seconds I think but I haven’t timed it.

          As for the navy bit, that’s the part I’m even more useless at. There is an optional rule where your blockade ships don’t use supply but are less effective. But I have no clue how to gather if they’re effective at all.

          The chapter in McPhersons ‘Battlecry of Freedom’ after the war starts is called Amateurs Go To War. That’s completely fitting for me.