The Flare Path: Ablaze

… The last time we saw Golovina was on the evening of the 14th. We passed her on the road to Lipsk. She was bringing in a Sd.Kfz 11/5, a real nice example. Said she’d found it “under a gooseberry bush”. There were rumours that a big Kraut convoy had gone down in the wets near Krikštonys, and Golovina and that idiot winchman of hers, had found it. Most magpies steer clear of that part of the world on account of the wisps, but she had balls as big as Tiger turret bearings. She went where she liked. Anything that so much as glimmered at her funny, got a signal flare in the mush …

The Flare Path has been bog angling this week, and our toothy Swamp Hydra has snagged Vietnam ’65, DCS World, Ultimate General: Gettysburg, and Steel Armor: Blaze of War stories.

Released yesterday, Vietnam ’65 [official site] is not a typical piece of historical hexiana. Ingenious, evocative, deceptively simple… it’s a tactical wargame filled with monster cabinets, milk runs and tricky unit purchasing and base placement decisions. Much of the time you’re fighting communist ghosts – guerillas who are far more interested in ambushing, mine-laying and inculcating, than engaging in full-blown pitched battles. The Hueys and Chinooks that buzz around the randomly generated maps aren’t period decor or optional combat luxuries, they are the circulatory system that keep your war effort effervescent.

Though I haven’t had a chance to play the release version yet, the menu screen suggests that Every Single Soldier haven’t slipped in a campaign mode at the eleventh hour. It looks like they haven’t worked out a way to inject more variety into their random maps either. If Vietnam ’65 carried a typical Slitherine/Matrix Games price tag, such shortcomings might have been reasons to burn your draft card and make for Canada. At $10, the surprisingly reasonable RRP, I’d argue they’re merely overlookable (and, hopefully, patchable) annoyances – mild disappointments that you put to the back of your mind while you’re busy massaging hearts and minds, and deluging hillsides with napalm.

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Will someone prod me with that cannon wormer over there when Ultimate General: Gettysburg [official site] arrives at its final destination. I was rather hoping the long-awaited 1.1 patch would mark the end of major behaviour and campaign tweaks, but the wide-ranging hotfix that came hot on its heels suggests Nick Thomadis is still struggling to get his campaign flowing and his sprite soldiers battling exactly as he’d like.

Until everything is nailed down for good, attempting a second assessment or nagging Nick for details of UG2 (Shiloh? Sharpsburg? Waterloo? Isandlwana?) seems fairly pointless.

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If you’re an impatient crumpet toaster or a frustrated Maverick impersonator, the latest DCS World [official site] news is guaranteed to seed a smile. Not only has the F-86F Sabre recently gained a formidable sparring partner…

…Leatherneck Simulations, the poly-national perfectionists behinds the MiG-21bis, have announced that a recreation of the seldom-simmed F-14 Tomcat is on the way.

Feature list talk of “highly accurate” avionics, weapons systems, and flight and external models is hardly a surprise. What snags my attentional arrestor hook is the mention of “one free theatre bundled with aircraft” and “JESTER AI – A proprietary AI system for fully voiced, dependable and smart RIO/WSO”. Will our artificial cockpit companions berate, barrack and barf, I wonder? Will we get to buzz the tower at NAS Miramar? We should know by Christmas.

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How exactly does the Steam store’s ‘New on Steam (Featured New Releases)’ list work? I ask because perusing it this morning I couldn’t see any mention of the fact that one of gaming’s most entertaining and ambitious armour sims, trundled onto Steam yesterday.

Steel Armor: Blaze of War [official site], also available at GamersGate, is a true eccentric. It champions Cold War war chariots like the M60 Patton and the T-62, and provides large, deformable Cold War-era battlefields based on genuine Angolan, Afghan, and Iranian/Iraqi real estate.

It can be transformed into a Combat Mission-calibre tactical RTS at the press of a button.

And a marvellous turn-based strategy layer means there’s meaning and uncertainty in every campaign engagement.

In effect a rich, high fidelity tank sim welded to a rich, high fidelity wargame, the unique SABOW unfortunately comes with an interface as rambling and idiosyncratic as its theme. If you’re new to Graviteam games, you’re going to struggle at first. A tooltip-utilizing tutorial mode attempts to teach the basics, but my advice to initiates would be:

* Print out the extensive key list

* Set up some simple scraps with the skirmish generator

* Once you’ve deployed units, rely on the Close Combat-style right-click order list rather than the potentially confusing grid of icons in the lower-right corner of the screen

* Read Krabb’s gunnery guides (M60 firing, T-62 firing, using the M60 rangefinder, tank weakspots)

* Experiment

* Experiment

* Experiment

After a day or two of acclimatisation, the Byzantine GUI will, I promise, start to make sense. You’ll begin to notice and utilize more and more of its powerful features.

Wow, that’s handy, I can get my units to auto-deploy in cover by clicking that icon. That one lets me see individual soldiers on the tac map. If I dab that one, my AFVs will attempt to use roads to reach their destination…

The more comfortable you get with controls, the freer you’ll be to savour SABOW’s potent atmosphere and savage spectacle.

My last campaign – a recreation of Operation Hooper – was a corker. Tracer-laced night engagements between South African Olifants and Ratels, and FAPLA-supporting Cuban-crewed T-62s in the thick of the Angolan bush. Bloody infantry scraps for riverside villages. Desperate retreats across plains patrolled by swooping bomb-burdened Strikemasters … Historical wargaming doesn’t get much more gripping or exotic.

Units in stablemate Graviteam Tactics: Operation Star (aka Achtung Panzer: Operation Star) occasionally exhibited clumsy pathfinding and sometimes seemed a little cavalier during assaults. Though the engine has come a fair distance since my APOPSTAR Wot I Think, the refurbished SABOW suffers from similar issues now and again. Don’t be put off. No-one else is making games like this. Perhaps if we pray and plead hard enough, the Ukrainian devs will eventually give us a WW2 version.

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The Flare Path Foxer

Last week’s foxer was literally littered with literary locales. Only a Pamplona street scene and the site of Dresden abattoir foxed fiction fiends Matchstick, Gusdownup, phlebas, Shiloh, Rorschach617, foop, Smion, Pockets and Halk.

a. Pamplona (The Sun Also Rises)
b. Oran (The Plague)
c. Lyme Regis (Persuasion or The French Lieutenant’s Woman)
d. Cannery Row, Monterey (Cannery Row)
e. Woking (The War of the Worlds)
f. Sacra di San Michele, Piedmont (The Name of the Rose)
g. Slaughterhouse 5, Dresden (Slaughterhouse-Five)

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I’m 127 words into my ‘History of PC Wargames’ book and the £2000 advance is already almost gone. I was hoping to get at least the introduction done yesterday, but the discovery of a fascinating scrapbook filled with old wargame adverts put paid to that. See how many of the following ten ad fragments you can identify before getting an uncontrollable urge to DOSBox Steel Panthers or Fields of Glory.

All answers in one thread, please.

63 Comments

  1. Premium User Badge

    Syt says:

    “H” is the logo from Panzer General if I’m not mistaken.

    • Premium User Badge

      Syt says:

      And “E” ought to be “Harpoon”

    • Philopoemen says:

      “I” is Tigers on the Prowl by HPS sims.

    • Premium User Badge

      Matchstick says:

      Is F Fire-Brigade: The Battle for Kiev – 1943 ?

      It won the 1988 Charles S. Roberts Award for Best 20th Century Computer Game and 1989 Apple Developers Award for Best Entertainment Package, but I haven’t found the ACE, ZZAP etc review yet.

    • Rorschach617 says:

      Is J from Age of Rifles?

      • Premium User Badge

        corinoco says:

        Yes, it is. Wargame Construction Set 3. I think I have the original WCS around here somewhere, the box is nowhere near as impressive

        • Rorschach617 says:

          I had WCS on the Amiga and AoR on the PC. It’s definitely one of those.

    • Premium User Badge

      Matchstick says:

      For D the Red Badge of Courage was a novel set during the American Civil War so it would make sense that the game covered the same

    • Shiloh says:

      Given my love of 19th century American history and my fascination with the Civil War, I really should love UG:G… but it just doesn’t do it for me. Even with the addition of Shiloh, I don’t think I’d be tempted to fork out on it.

      A question for Tim – have you played any of John Tiller’s Vietnam games? If so, is Vietnam ’65 (what you’ve seen of it) comparable in terms of mechanics and flavour?

      • Tim Stone says:

        Vietnam ’65 is nothing like Squad Battles. It’s far more stylized. Combat isn’t the heart of the game. You spend as much time ferrying troops and supplies about, hunting the enemy, and gathering intel from villages. Presence is everything. In my 30-odd years of gaming I’ve not played anything quite like it. Unusually, the trailer is actually quite informative.

        Based on what I’ve read about the Vietnam War, it captures the challenge and conveys the flavour of COIN operations pretty well.

      • Tim Stone says:

        There’s some potentially useful ‘first impressions’ posts appearing over at grogheads.com at the moment.

        link to grogheads.com

    • Premium User Badge

      corinoco says:

      I think the theme is ‘SS’ – each game features the letters either in units (the German SS), vehicles (Harpoon – SSBs) or publishers SSI, SSG

    • phlebas says:

      Might B be Close Combat?

      • Premium User Badge

        Matchstick says:

        I was wondering exactly the same thing, but it would likely be on the back of the box and I haven’t found any art for that yet.

        • Rorschach617 says:

          It has to be an early game. I was thinking “wasn’t there a game that was kind of like Combat Mission, but top down with sprites?” Couldn’t remember the name tho :)

      • Premium User Badge

        Syt says:

        It looks like the type font of the CC: A Bridge Too Far manual (IIRC), so it might well be.

    • Stugle says:

      I don’t have anything constructive to add, but I appreciate the sensible location of the ‘C’ on that image (which is, I presume, Hitler getting the boot).

    • AFKAMC says:

      ‘C’ is Patton Strikes Back: Battle of the Bulge

      link to vgprintads.tumblr.com

      • Premium User Badge

        Matchstick says:

        Well Spotted ! :)
        I would congratulate you in person but you’ve buggered off out of the office after posting that ;)

    • Rorschach617 says:

      Still missing “A”

      Gives me a Desert War/Tobruk vibe, but searches for games are coming up empty. Any ideas?

  2. Premium User Badge

    corinoco says:

    J has me thinking Breaker Morant / Boer War but I can’t identify anything obvious

  3. Llewyn says:

    Argh. A made me think of Pamplona, but I couldn’t find any image of that particular location anywhere on the internet. In the end decided that it was just vaguely reminiscent of the town hall square and gave up.

    • Rorschach617 says:

      Once I was certain that the blue shop on the left of the street wasn’t a Greggs (joke), I was certain it was somewhere in Spain. Tried finding Hemingway’s addresses, but came up empty.

  4. Rorschach617 says:

    Am I the only one who feels like the Foxer is a wasted opportunity?

    Next week, Mr Stone, just give Matchstick and Phlebas a real unsolved crime.

    “A is the body, B shows the bloody knife, exhibit C is a copy of the local paper dated 17th May 1972”

    An hour later you would have the motive and the murderer’s current address :)

    • Rorschach617 says:

      And Shiloh, cannot forget Shiloh :)

      And Llewyn!

      I can make the tea!

      • Llewyn says:

        You’re very kind, but excessively modest. I think it’s clear to everyone that you sit with the others at the grown-ups’ Foxer Table, whereas I’m very much a novice with a limited repertoire.

        That said, being beaten to answers by you lot (or more commonly marvelling at the agile mental leaps) is always an entertaining way to spend Friday lunchtime.

    • Premium User Badge

      Matchstick says:

      You’d need to make sure the solution is somewhere on the internet or I’m totally useless ;)

    • Shiloh says:

      Heh, I’ve often thought this. Maybe get GCHQ or CENTCOM to sub-contract some image analysis work to the Flare Path – incidentally, don’t know if this will work, but I was Google Earth-ing North Korea recently like you do, and came across this… copy this into the search box and marvel at the size of those helicopters!

      39 29’25.88 N 125 59’55.82 E

      • Stugle says:

        Works when I plug it into Google Maps. Look at the size of those choppers (o-er!).

      • Premium User Badge

        Matchstick says:

        Looks to be 8-bladed so I guess it’s something like a Mil Hi-26 Halo ?

        That’s a big chopper but I suspect the deep shadow is making it look even bigger

  5. Gothnak says:

    Still no games at the complexity level of Steel Panthers… Either too simple or too complex/dry for me…

  6. TC-27 says:

    I was just about the buy Operation Star and this comes along and complicates things…

  7. Mr Bismarck says:

    How exactly does the Steam store’s ‘New on Steam (Featured New Releases)’ list work? I ask because perusing it this morning I couldn’t see any mention of the fact that one of gaming’s most entertaining and ambitious armour sims, trundled onto Steam yesterday.

    It’s actually called “popular new releases”, not “featured.” For no reason I can determine, a detailed simulation of driving T62 tanks through Angola isn’t popular.

    At the bottom is a button that says “All New Releases” which does include SA-BOW, but if you check that list on a day TRAINZ decides to vomit a collection of new DLC, then you may have to page down a bit. Although you can use “Show selected types” to display only games and no DLC.

    • Mr Bismarck says:

      (Unless you mean the big colourful scroll across the top, in which case I have no explanation for the arcane formula required to get there. It seems to neatly bifurcate between big money releases and this week’s multiplayer survival release.)

  8. phlebas says:

    On non-foxer matters: That last screenshot is rather wonderful.

  9. jpm224 says:

    Sharpsburg…

    So you’re a southern boy, Mr. Stone?

  10. Eggman says:

    LNS are incorporated in Poland, but the oldest member is a real-life Serbian fighter pilot, additionally there’s a Romanian, an American and five Swedes.

  11. Wytefang says:

    It’s awesome that there’s a specific wargame-based thread here at RPS but I can barely understand what this fellow is writing. It’s like some strange code of gibberish. Weird. Thankfully there are links I can click on to figure out if any of these games are interesting.

    • Tim Stone says:

      Welcome to Flare Pathland. What you call ‘gibberish’, we call ‘local colour’. If you stick around, things should start making sense.

  12. tigershuffle says:

    not sure if you intentionally missed Steel Fury tank sim as WW2 version of SABOW
    or you meant that the devs should make a new version of it.?

    Really wish they would

    Steel Fury has been modded and still worked on to this day link to graviteam.com

    link to youtube.com game play from a few months back

    • Tim Stone says:

      Steel Fury is great, but unlike the genre-splicing SABOW it’s pure tank sim. What I’d love to see is a fusion of Steel Fury and Graviteam Tactics.

      • tigershuffle says:

        theres so many great sims that would be lovelier if spliced with a broader tactical game.
        Id just be happy with the tank sim part of War Thunder with Men of War but I like shiny things