The Flare Path: Wages War In The West

Grigsby, Billings, and Brors are to PC wargaming what Stock, Aitken, and Waterman are to pop music… what Freeman, Hardy, and Willis are to shoe retailing… what Rock, Paper, and Shotgun are to outdated Anglocentric intro references. They started making hexagonal militaria in the days when Tyrannosauri and Triceratopses grappled, and dragonflies the size of Dragonflies dragonflew. Their latest release, War in the West, is their biggest and most elaborate design yet. Suitably intimidated, I spent Monday and Tuesday eyeing the colossus through fieldglasses, and Wednesday and Thursday prodding it with a long stick.

What have I learned so far? Well, apart from the blindingly obvious:

*WITW isn’t cheap. (The download version is £66)

*It inherits many of its genes from War in the East.

*Its scope, depth and ambition are breathtaking, but its 10-strong scenario selection doesn’t stretch to representations of The Desert War, The Battle for France or Fall Weiss.

*Its map sports more hexes than the Giant’s Causeway.

I can confidently report…

Matrix and 2by3 provide a surprisingly large and soft ‘WELCOME’ mat.

Are there enough tooltips? No. Has the dense 310-page manual been embedded Civilopedia-style within the game for added convenience? Of course not. But a series of five, brief yet incisive video tutorials, together with a blather-free 35-page ‘Player’s Handbook‘ do make early forays a lot less bewildering than they might have been.

 

The new expanded air war element is almost a game in itself.

I whiled away most of yesterday happily fiddling with the lyrically titled ‘Introductory Air Campaign’, a four turn (1 month) hors d’oeuvre that tasks the player with decimating Axis heavy industry, fuel production facilities, and population centres. While analysing the results of air activity is far from straightforward (The post-sortie stats seem to provide few clues as to why some raids are spectacular successes, others dismal failures) actually getting aircraft to go where you want, when you want, is a piece of cake.

If you’re so inclined you can leave everything up to the capable AI. Your artificial air staff will select target areas and sortie types, and assign appropriate squadrons to fly those sorties (Typical of WITW’s endearing approach to detail, aircraft come in hundreds of historical varieties, each with their own weaknesses and strengths). The fun, of course, is in meddling. Air planners can be influenced through a simple ‘Air Directives’ priorities screen. With a few dainty clicks you can, for example, encourage your Tedders, Harrises and Doolittles to concentrate on pounding railyards or V-Weapon launch sites, or urge them to focus on air superiority or ground support.

The next rung up on the involvement ladder is modifying AI-generated Air Directives and fabricating your own from scratch. Neither option is particularly complicated. It’s the work of a minute to position or reposition an AD focal point on the map, define an AD’s radius (the AI will pick raid targets within an AD area), and, if you’re so inclined, assign specific squadrons, and modify default routes, heights, and meteorology instructions (Pilots will brave appalling weather conditions, if you insist upon it). Once the patchwork of multi-coloured ADs is in place, another key press executes the Air Phase, raid markers scuttle towards targets, interceptors scramble, casualty counts whirr.

 

It’s going to take weeks, maybe months, to properly assess this almost unique monster.

Once I’ve got my head round how the air war works, there’s a labyrinthine logistics layer to be understood, new amphibious and para drop mechanics to be mastered, and – the Elefant in the shellhole – the backbreaking workload of the bigger scenarios to be manfully shouldered. In WITW all ground units must be moved individually – sadly, there are no labour-saving HOI-style battleplans.

Presently, the game isn’t bug free or perfectly balanced.

Exposed to exotic audio codecs, WITW has a nasty tendency to freeze (Rather than purge my codec collection, I’ve chosen to play without sound for the time-being). Early adopters have winkled out possible problems with flak modelling (AAA is not as effective as it should be) aircrew training attrition (training is more dangerous than combat at present) and amphibious landing difficulty (Winter Line-sidestepping Operation Shingles are enticingly easy). Given the staggering complexity of the game, teething troubles are hardly a surprise, and won’t, I suspect, go unaddressed for long.

Expect further, fleshier, War in the West thoughts in the new year.

****************

 

Protracted PDF manual poring tends to strain my peepers and my patience. Several times this week I’ve nipped off to clear my head and stretch my legs on Naval Action’s pitching poop decks.

Do yachts and cutters (the only NA vessels I’ve unlocked thus far) have poop decks? Not sure. After a spell with me at the helm, frankly they’re lucky to have decks.

Naval Action is in closed alpha at the moment (The GUI visible in the accompanying shots and vids is WIP). Sessions revolve around atmospheric PVE and PVP skirmishes. Neither exasperatingly slow nor anachronistically fast, combat features plenty of wind-gauge jockeying and broadside trading. AI controlled vessels are dangerous, gunnery, especially at long range, is exacting. It’s not uncommon to find yourself shortening sail or shifting course in order to lower the cannon muzzles of a heeling craft. Regularly you look on, mortified, as roundshot punctures ocean rather than planking.

I’ve yet to experiment with the four ammo types currently modelled, or completely master the handling technique illustrated in the vid below. In my last engagement, clumsy tacking caused me to grind to a halt right next to a furious French frigate. Thankfully, my crew were far too busy being blown to smithereens too grumble about the shoddy seamanship.

 

Could Naval Action eventually do for fighting sail what War Thunder has done for soaring fighters and World of Tanks has done for fighty crawlers? It’s very early days yet, but stranger things have happened.

 

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The Flare Path Foxer

It takes Roman longer to clamber out of his new Balkenkreuz-emblazoned Messerschmitt KR200, than it took Matchstick and chums (Rorschach617, Shiloh, deejayem, foop and Kaben) to fathom last week’s ‘split’ foxer.

A. Split decision
B. Split level
C. Stock split
D. Split pin
E. Split S
F. Split atom
G. Cornish split
H. Split pea
I. Banana split
J. Split screen

****************

During the past month, Roman has been approached by several companies and organisations interested in sponsoring The Foxer. In the light of recent controversies, he thought it would be wise to run these potential partners past the defoxing community before choosing one. Does anyone have a problem with any of the following?

a) Muddy Fox
b) Fox’s Biscuits
c) The Wire Fox Terrier Association
d) Bruce Foxton
e) The Fox River Trolley Museum
f) The Fox & Hounds Inn, Slaughter-on-the-Wold, Gloucestershire
g) Fox News

Answers in one thread, please.

48 Comments

  1. All is Well says:

    Foxer-related:

    Lower left is a British-captured FW 190 A-3 of Stab III./JG 2

  2. foop says:

    That’s a 5p from Gibraltar, with a Barbary macaque on it.

    • foop says:

      The coin was issued from 1990-1997. The barbary macaque is also know as the ‘Magot’.

    • All is Well says:

      The lower-left airplane is a captured FW 190 A-3, I think, of III./JG2, in British colors.

      Edit: A bit of an aside, but I think it might specifically be the FW 190 of one Armin Faber. Interesting story.
      link to en.wikipedia.org

      • Guvornator says:

        The tank upper right is from the game “Z: Steel Soldiers”

      • Llewyn says:

        Würger in German is shrike in English.

        • All is Well says:

          Hah, I was just thinking about that. Also, the A-series was nicknamed “Anton” I think, so that could be a lead too.

          Edit: If it’s the squadron we should be looking at, JG2 was named “Richthofen” after the ace.

    • foop says:

      The helicopter is a Boeing Vertol CH-46 Sea Knight, designated CH-113 Labrador when used by the Canadian Air Force for air-sea rescue work.

    • phlebas says:

      The man with the pipe appears to be James “Shogun” Clavell.

      • Llewyn says:

        Well spotted, I knew I’d seen that photo somewhere before, just hadn’t realised it was quite so long ago.

      • Hex says:

        So…each potential sponsor relates to a part of the foxer, right? For example, perhaps Pinky Pinkerton (or Clavell) is known to enjoy Fox Biscuits, or that lady in the middle was a pioneer mountain-biker, a la Muddy Fox?

      • Hex says:

        My comment keeps being eaten..

        My comment was regarding the possibility that each of the…wait, maybe this was what was getting me flagged.

        …perhaps each of the s-p-0-n-s-0-r-s contacting Roman is related to one of the bits of the foxer.

        For example, perhaps Pinky Pinkerton or Clavell may be known to enjoy Fox Biscuits, or that lady in the middle was a pioneer mountain-biker, a la Muddy Fox. Something along those lines.

    • Great Cthulhu says:

      The comic book character appears to be G.I Joe’s Flint.

    • Great Cthulhu says:

      James Clavell was born in Australia.

    • Rorschach617 says:

      Comments getting deleted.

      Macaques not native to Gibraltar.
      FW190 and Sea Knight not native to Britain or Canada.
      James Clavell wrote about westerners living in the Far East.

      Is that OXO written across the Foxer?

    • Rorschach617 says:

      Fourth time I am typing this in, apparently I am “spamming”.

      Macaques are not native to Gibraltar.
      FW190 and Sea Knight are not native to RAF or Canada.
      James Clavell novels about westerners living in the Far East.

      • Rorschach617 says:

        And does it say OXO across the Foxer or am I losing it?

      • Llewyn says:

        The strange thing is that at least one of your previous attempts showed up, and got a reply from another Pathist pointing out that Clavell was born in Australia.

        • Rorschach617 says:

          Apparently restarting your PC after every comment helps

          or just waiting a long time. Spam filter is too sensitive.

          Have to go. Sorry guys, can’t think of anything better

      • Hex says:

        Dammit! It’s happening to me too.

      • phlebas says:

        Could it be about having different names either side of the Atlantic?
        Sea King/Labrador
        Little finger/Pinky
        Zed/Zee

      • Gothnak says:

        Is it something like being from one country and spending most of their life in another?

        German Fighter, ended up used by the British.
        British Helicopter, used by the Canadians.
        German Princess, lives in Russia
        English Author, goes to Australia, captured by Japanese, goes to live in the US
        Part of Spain, owned by Britain
        English Commando, in American Squad?
        You could shoot the occupants of the vehicles in Z and take them over with your own soldiers, so they end up being used by the other side?

        Tenuous enough?

    • deejayem says:

      I know that woman from somewhere but I can’t place her. She looks a bit like a young Virginia Woolf, but not quite lugubrious enough.

      • Shiloh says:

        I think it’s one of Queen Victoria’s descendants (has the family look about her – hooded eyes, sharp nose) but I can’t find the exact pic. I’m fairly sure I’ve seen it before though, late Victorian/early Edwardian.

        • Rorschach617 says:

          Good spot, Shiloh.

          Alexandra Feodorovna, Empress Consort of Russia, Wife to Nicholas II.

          link to pinterest.com

          And there I was thinking “Hmm, descendant of Queen Victoria, only 80% of the royal families to check then” :)

  3. Premium User Badge

    Matchstick says:

    If we did get sponsorship from Fox’s Biscuits does that mean Foxer solvers would get a pack of Rockies as a prize ?

    If so, I say go for it ! :)

  4. Shiloh says:

    I’ve been playing a lot of War in the East recently – it’s an absolute monster on the bigger scenarios, but a whole load of hex and counter fun. And the manual… pretty much everything you could wish for if you like massive, complicated, highly detailed old school wargames.

    Which I do, obviously.

  5. Duke of Chutney says:

    im unsure on computer hex and counters in general, and so havent bought into eithe War in the East or this. they do look interesting though.

    I absolutely love the Operational Combat Series from MMP on the table top, and like Victory Game’s Korean War and Stonewall Jacksons Way. So i do like hex and counter. On PC, I have tried War in the Pacific (way to over complex and over done. I’ve also tried Airborne Assault Conquest of the Aegean, Korsun Pocket, and John Tillers Civil War battles. There are somethings i like about these games, but i find them sort of impenetrable. I usually don’t understand why attacks succeed or fail or what is really going on. With 3d games like Wargame Red Dragon or Combat Missions I can see the visual representation of the result and then can understand what has happened and why. In the table top i have to added up the combat modifiers and roll the dice. Perhaps its because i, less inclined to chug through thick pdf manuals for pc games.

    So my question for the eventual review is; How easy is it to parse what is going on? How clear does the game communicate the consequences of my actions? Do i need to memorize the manual to actually understand the game?

    • ExitDose says:

      If Korsun Pocket is giving you trouble, then you should probably steer clear of Grigsby’s monsters. I’m not sure what to recommend, have you tried Unity of Command?

      • Duke of Chutney says:

        unit of command whilst good, was so simple it was almost puzzle like. I am difficult to please.

        • ExitDose says:

          Decisive Campaigns: Case Blue is the only other suggestion that I can think of.

  6. Stugle says:

    Don’t know the shoe retailers, but I certainly remember Stock, Aitken, and Waterman! And now I feel old.

    War in the West sounds appealing (much like I think that War in the East sounds awesome), but I know that I’ll never have the time to even master one of the introductory scenarios, let alone one that actually has some meat on it. Something for the more dedicated grog.

    • Thurgret says:

      I’ve been having fun with it despite being generally rubbish at it, and I’m not even a particularly dedicated wargamer (I play lots of wargames — I also play oodles of other games too).

      It is indeed more difficult than counters in hexes would initially suggest. The AI appears to know what it’s doing. I just about managed Operation Husky, the simplest scenario in the game, and had a go at the 12 turn breakout from Normandy, as the Allies. On turn three, frustrated with my lack of progress, I dropped three airborne divisions in around Évreux (I think) to capture a number of airfields there and sever a rail link, thinking that, hooray, maybe I can stop fresh supplies getting to the Germans — they completed their objectives, despite an initial scare with one division being dropped in the wrong place, though I’m not sure that 1500 casualties just getting by German AA is really desirable. So the AI reacted. Not by turning to try to drive off the paratroops. It just withdrew and consolidated. By turn five, I had run into a reformed German defense positioned along the Seine, my armoured units were running direly low on fuel, my casualty ratios were doing well if they were only 2:1. I took Le Havre as some small consolation, then just gave up on the scenario after banging my head off a well-formed defensive line with four panzer divisions placed in reserve (meaning they come to the aid of other units under attack).

      I may need to read the manual.

  7. libdab says:

    I’m trying to resist War in the West for now (until bugs have been ironed out, etc.) but I’ve got a feeling I’ll end up getting it for myself as a Christmas present.

    On a related note, I see that Schwerpunkt have just released (with a lot less fan-fair) a new game, World War II – Europe, which seems to have an even wider scope (see brief review on Real and Simulated Wars). I wonder how they measure up?

    • Shiloh says:

      I’ve got Ron Dockal’s Russo-German War – venerable now but I used to play it a lot, a very solid operational wargame.

      • libdab says:

        I might give it a go – certainly, it’s a lot cheaper than WitW and has some scenarios that might only be covered by WitW in future (expensive) DLCs – e.g. France 1940.

        Looks like it’s a bumper Christmas for us old hex-map enthusiasts! :-)

  8. Premium User Badge

    phuzz says:

    Tim, you must be getting confused, the pub you’re thinking of is just called The Fox (no hounds), and it’s just outside Stow on the Wold and northeast of Upper and Lower Slaughter (or just ‘the Slaughters’ as we call them).

    Oddly given the name, Upper Slaughter is one of the very few British villages not to have lost any inhabitants during the First or Second World Wars, a so-called ‘Thankful village’.

  9. bartleby says:

    There should be support for coop. I think there’s only PBEM, right? With this sort of complexity, I can see taking a staff position as pretty entertaining. I’ll take S4!

  10. Soviet Pachyderm says:

    I like my wargames as much as any Flarepathgoer, but both this one and C:MANO befuddle my brain. I’d best just save up for Command Ops 2.

    Speaking of befuddlement and various other words starting with the letter ‘B’, I wonder if there are any wargames about the Bosnian War?

    • Shiloh says:

      Hmm… I remember playing Soviet-era Afghanistan and Chechnya in Steel Panthers: World at War… but I’m not sure that the Yugoslavian civil war has been much covered.

      Talking of “B”s, I was looking for a Boer War wargame recently, but without success. I used to have HG Wells’ Little Wars book when I was a youngster, and spent many a happy hour massacring the proud Zulu at Rorke’s Drift and changing history at Isandlwana, but I don’t think I’ve ever seen a mainstream wargames publisher cover the period.