The Flare Path: On Bloody Point

You are, are you not, Brother Against Brother: The Drawing of the Sword, the new turn-based American Civil War wargame from Western Civilization Software and Matrix Games? You’re priced at, let me see… £36 and, unlike many recent Slitherine Group releases you are not available on Steam? Good, now that’s established, I’ll explain my terms. As I’m sure you are aware, I’m a Very Busy Chap. My time, like platinum, good flapjack recipes, and airworthy de Havilland Mosquitos, is extremely precious. I am prepared to give you an audience, but that audience must end tonight at beddy-byes time. In other words, you have approximately ten hours to knock my socks off, and that ten hours starts… now.

HOUR 1
Let’s see how far I can get without reading the manual. Amongst the 25 scenarios (many of which appear to be variants of the five featured battles – 1st Bull Run, Wilson’s Creek, Mill Springs, Mill Springs Beech Grove, Williamsburg) there’s one called ‘Williamsburg – Hancock vs. Early (Starter Scenario)’. After perusing a text briefing, and selecting the lowest of – gosh – fifteen difficulty levels, I’m thrust onto a hexy battlefield dotted with yellow question marks. Right-clicking the question marks germinates pithy play tips. I trip about reading the texts and experimenting with the various GUI buttons. Play principles seem logical and relatively simple. Less positively, the map scrolls like it’s got chronic gout, there are some disconcerting processing pauses now and again, and the spidery low-res unit art lacks both style and legibility.

A string of IgoUgo turns gallop past, each representing twenty minutes of tussle-time. Soon I realise I can do without the number-heavy detailed combat reports (the rising casualty numbers and flashing targeting arrows tell me all I need to know about losses) and deactivate them. Now if only I could work out how to a) undo accidental moves b) manually assign unit targets and c) deselect units. By the time the victory screen unfurls, I’m ready for a spot of manual study.

HOUR 2
The manual turns out to be a lot less intimidating than it first appears. Roughly two-thirds of its 214 pages are devoted to historical background and OOBs. One of my questions is answered a mere two paragraphs in (The reason I couldn’t work out how to manually target an individual unit is that manual targeting is impossible! In a bold move WCS have left targeting decisions in the hands of AI routines). Sections on leader representations, brigade orders and unit special abilities, increase my respect for BAB and its creators. The devs are clearly ACW scholars and have striven to create a game system capable of simulating the period’s warfare in all its richness, subtlety and detail. For example, in my brief initial foray I hadn’t noticed the fully modelled army hierarchy (the performance of both line and leader units suffer when units are ‘out-of-command’, far from superiors) or realised that the order selection and movement options available to my regiments were determined by the player-controlled stance of the brigade to which they belonged. With my head swirling with new information, I head back to the scenario selection screen.

HOUR 3
My second attempt at the starter scenario (This time playing as the CSA) doesn’t start well. For reasons I struggle to grasp, I lose 86 men in early exchanges, slaying a mere 5 in return. By the time the battle draws to a close I’ve clawed my way back into contention – caused a few routs and one very satisfying surrender – but failure to secure key VLs means defeat. “Do you want to continue the battle?”. Yes, I think I do. A few turns later, the tables have been turned and I’m quietly congratulating myself when retaliatory fire from a harassed Union formation produces a moment of delicious piqancy. A pop-up  informs me that one of my brassiest top brass, Jubal A. Early, is no more.

HOUR 4
While my men limp away to lick wounds, brew coffee, and make disparaging remarks about their chump of a leader, I return to the manual to read about stuff like the importance of commanders (their stats effect everything from movement rates and damage levels, to panic recovery chances and formation switching efficiency), echelon movement (pleasingly, there does seem to be a way of moving clusters of units around with single clicks) and temporary brigade attachments (a way to maintain those all-important command links if units end-up far from their original leaders). Eager to test out my new-found knowledge and prove I can win as the CSA without tampering with the clock, I fire up the starter scenario for the third time. The homework sessions seem to be paying off. This time I prevail fairly easily. I think I’m ready to take the training wheels off. It’s time for a proper scenario.

HOUR 5
The ‘small scenario’ label next to ‘1st Manassas (Blackburn’s Ford)’ catches my eye, and a few minutes later I’m pushing knots of blue-clad ants south towards two star-spangled river crossing hexes. En-route I decide I’ve had enough of the brassy martial soundtrack, then have second thoughts when, plunged into eerie silence, I realise that WCS have provided precious little in the way of battlefield sounds. Graphically and aurally, there’s no disguising the fact that BAB is decidedly disappointing. The battle proceeds messily. I am diverted, but, for the first time, sense the twin incubi of Boredom and Dissatisfaction watching me from a nearby knoll. A gratifying draw is snatched, but I can’t shake the feeling that I’d have had considerably more fun playing ‘Blackburn’s Ford’ if it had been a Scourge of War or a Sid Meier’s Gettysburg! scenario.

HOUR 6
Battling for Blackburn’s Ford for a second time, victory comes surprisingly easily despite an increase in the difficulty level. The pattern of the scrap is quite different this time – which bodes well for BAB’s replayability – but the foe seems a tad listless and confused. WCS’s approach to command coverage, is, I now realise, a trifle odd. Sometimes the simple act of crossing a river seems to render a regiment ‘out-of-command’. I wonder if WCS ever considered simulating a SoW-style courier system.

HOURS 7, 8, & 9
Six hours in and I’m still waiting to be blown away by Brother Against Brother’s smoke-wreathed 12-pounders. In an effort to turn things around I move up to medium difficulty (‘Captain’) and reach for one of the larger, longer centrepiece scenarios. Wilson’s Creek starts with a commander selection dialogue (largely pointless as one candidate is far better qualified than the rest). Once that’s dealt with, I’m free to survey a roomy battlespace with two main VLs at its heart (Bloody Hill and Bloody Point) and work out what I’m going to do with my split force of bluecoats (three brigades in the North, one in the South). I could claim that I devise and implement a wonderfully intricate plan involving feints and stealthy flanking, but that would be a lie. No, I bee-line for the crucial VLs – grabbing them remarkably easily – then look on bemusedly while a lethargic, dithering enemy spectacularly fails to win them back. During the last hour I barely move a unit. There’s no need.

Brother Against Brother boasts a slew of fine, likeable features. I love the way scraps are accented with event pop-ups (So-and-so has just been wounded… a lucky shot just blew up a supply wagon...). I love the way units occasionally misinterpret orders and go to the wrong hexes, the way leaders are individualised, and armies are organised. It’s a game that bleeds scholarship like a cannonball-grazed pine tree bleeds resin. I’m sure there are ardent ACW wargamers out there who will value it. However, as a wargamer of less specific tastes, based on what I’ve seen and heard during the past nine hours, I think I’d rather get my blue & gray thrills elsewhere.

 

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The Flare Path Foxer

To atone for last Friday’s foxer gaff (Sorry, there was a broken rung on the word ladder) Roman has spent much of this week helping local old ladies cross roads, carry shopping, and strip and clean their assault rifles. Amazingly, that broken rung didn’t stop xceptional XP-55s like Cei, Llewyn, phlebas and AFKAMC from reaching the top.

20. sonar Detects underwater objects
19. polar Curve useful to glider pilots
18. poles 145 served in the RAF during the Battle of Britain
17. potez French aircraft manufacturer
16. hotel In the NATO phonetic alphabet
15. ratel Sweet-toothed SADF stalwart
14. rotol British prop producer
13. rotte [A] LW fighter formation
12. otter WW2 armoured car
11. enter [A] European airline
10. trent Rolls Royce aero engine
9. ghent 19th Century peace treaty
8. grant M3 variant
7. prang Slang for a plane crash
6. praga Czech vehicle manufacturer
5. drama Site of dramatic WW2 uprising
4. tramp Itinerant freighter
3. champ British Army vehicle inspired by the Jeep
2. chain [A] A form of drive that’s been around since 250BC
1. china

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

Back to pickchers this week. To crack today’s collage theme super-quick simply print out the image below, force-feed it to the cleverest owl in your owlarium, and await pellets.

All answers in one thread, please.

57 Comments

  1. AFKAMC says:

    FOXER
    The plane is a Mitsubishi J2M Raiden (Thunderbolt), code name “Jack”.

    • AFKAMC says:

      Is the guy bottom left Alan Clark?

      • AFKAMC says:

        …yes it is.

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        Matchstick says:

        Alan Clark is most famous for his Diaries, but can’t see any way to connect that to the other answers.

        • Llewyn says:

          Well, his Diaries, his philandering, The Donkeys and of course, being economical with the actualité.

        • AFKAMC says:

          Some of his more famous military histories, in case there’s a clue somewhere:

          The Donkeys
          The Fall Of Crete
          Barbarossa
          Aces High

    • Shiloh says:

      And the chap with his hands on his hips looks like Richard Hammond…

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      Matchstick says:

      Text under the right of the page is from A Midsummer Night’s Dream Act 1, Scene 1, bulk of it looks to be a speech by Egeus

    • AFKAMC says:

      I think the upside-down biplane is a Curtiss JN-4 “Jenny”.

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      Matchstick says:

      Top left looks a lot like a paddle-steamer grounded on beach.

      Possibly the Devonia ? link to freespace.virgin.net

    • Rorschach617 says:

      OK, is the link something to do with Mules/Jackasses?

      Alan Clark wrote The Donkeys
      Bottom (from Midsummer Night’s Dream) has head transformed into a donkey’s.
      A female donkey is a Jenny.
      A male donkey is a Jack.

      • mrpier says:

        Looks like it, then the statue is of John Simpson and his donkey.

        link to en.wikipedia.org

      • Shiloh says:

        And Richard Hammond’s Toyota Land Cruiser 40 was apparently nicknamed the “Donkey” in the Top Gear Bolivia Special back in 2009?

        Man, that’d be a hell of a link if so.

        • Llewyn says:

          Well, that is said Land Cruiser in the background, but that’s only really obvious if you know you’re looking for a Land Cruiser. As you say, it’s a painful stretch. Bad form, Roman!

      • mrpier says:

        And Devonia lies on/near Bray Dunes.

      • Zogg says:

        The Devonia picture signifies Dunkirk where the “Mule Companies” were present.

        link to cwgc.org

        A bit of a punt.

      • AFKAMC says:

        The pixellated thing is the back end of the car from primitive PC racing game DONKEY.BAS (or DONKEY.GB)

      • Zogg says:

        The background pattern could be a “donkey windows” weave.

    • Shiloh says:

      So what’s the little black silhouette to the bottom right of the collage? I was thinking some part of a nodding donkey mechanism (unlikely I know).

      • phlebas says:

        Those could be donkey ears just sticking up into the picture to the right of the main bit of silhouette?

        • Shiloh says:

          As if the donkey was heading away from the camera and whatever the main part of the silhouette is, is being carried on its back?

        • Shiloh says:

          Can’t reply to your subsequent post, phlebas, but that’s a brilliant bit of de-Foxing. Six of the Queen’s runs to add to your scorecard, sir.

          • Shiloh says:

            Anyway, talking of sixes being struck, I’m away to watch England wrap up the first test against the Windies. Good weekend one and all.

        • Rorschach617 says:

          Bloody Hellfire, Phlebas, well spotted!

      • unacom says:

        I hazard a guess: It´s the lower part of a a pumpjack.
        link below
        link to google.de

    • Rorschach617 says:

      Gentlemen, listening to an old radio comedy program on BBC iPlayer suggested a game we might like to play. I have been given permission by Mr Stone to try it out here. I’ll put the idea on a fresh forum post. I hope you find it entertaining.

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        Matchstick says:

        Is it One Wargame to the Tune of Another ? :)

        • Rorschach617 says:

          Unfortunately not, though discussing a Wargame without repetition, deviation or hesitation may have some mileage :)

  2. Shiloh says:

    Thanks Tim, I’ve been wondering whether I should get a new ACW game in my life to supplement the Tiller/Timpko fest. Will probably hold off on this one until the AI gets a bit of a buff. Like the sound of the C&C stuff though, and the fact that orders can be misinterpreted.

    Incidentally, I’ve been playing a lot of Vietnam 65 recently (and re-reading Chickenhawk while I’m at it, seemed germane given the amount of time you spend ferrying supplies and troops back and forth) – it’s an excellent game so thanks also for highlighting it.

    • Orful Biggun says:

      With a handle like that, I wondered if I might trouble you for a recommendation concerning the battle of your namesake? (Something more recent than Battleground, plz). I’ve been there numerous times and know so much more about it than about the battles in the East and since childhood have been fascinated by it to the point of obsession.

      • Shiloh says:

        Hi, I wish I could – like you, it’s been a fascination since childhood (my birthday’s 6th April which might have something to do with it) although I’ve only ever managed the one visit, living as I do in the UK.

        The only Shiloh game I’ve got is Tiller’s Battleground version, which is fine but not what you’re after. I’ve also got a massive board game called “A Fearful Slaughter” which takes forever to play – again, not what you’re after.

  3. bob. says:

    I honestly think that Brother against Brother was the wrong game to make.
    The two previous games that the studio made, Forge of Freedom (ACW) and Crown of Glory (Napoleon) combined a strategic map of Europe/USA with the actual battles once the forces engage. Kind of like Total War.
    Unfortunately both these games had lots of problems and could have used a lot more polish.

    I feel like instead of completely removing the strategic layer and focusing on the battles themselves they should have taken what is already there and improved it. Although I suppose there are other wargamers that value the attention to detail here more than me.

  4. Rorschach617 says:

    The Connections Game

    Normally, the setter would choose 2 random locations and ask the players to find a path from A to B using any and all methods of public transport they can find, with any restrictions that the setter thinks work well but for the first attempt, a Roman-esque story.

    The Annual Meeting for the Support Group of Traumatised Heroes with Anger Management Issues is being held at the Punisher’s plastics factory in Gujarat, India, this year. Rorschach (who has moved to the town named after him in Switzerland) has to get there, picking up Batman (who, similarly, has retired to his namesake in Turkey) along the way.

    A route needs to be arranged from Rorschach to Gujarat via Batman, using any mass transport (planes, trains, coaches and ships are all allowed) with the following restrictions. These heroes can get really aggressive if made to sit in a departure lounge for more than 12 hours, so any connections have to be made within 12 hours of arrival at an airport/station. There is no date by which they must arrive, the meeting will start as soon as they get there.

    The information needed to play this game is all available on the internet, as mass transportation systems publicise all scheduled departure/arrival times. The winner is the player who discovers the fastest route, though bonus points can and will be arbitrarily awarded for using the most varied transportation means, artistic impression and generally entering into the spirit of the game. For the purposes of this scenario, travel within two points of the same city/transport hub will be considered free and instantaneous (for example, if a flight arrives at London Heathrow at 1300, the player can choose a flight out of London Gatwick leaving at 1301 as his next move).

    Please overlook the cack-handed presentation of the rules, I believe there is a decent little game to be found here. Please post all routes and comments as replies to this post.

    • Rorschach617 says:

      I forgot to add a time/date for the journey’s beginning. 1200 GMT Monday 20th April seems fair, since setting it for the week’s beginning allows for 5 days of weekday travel schedules.

      • Rorschach617 says:

        Whoops, the final destination is incorrect. I believed that Gujarat was a city when in fact it is the state in which the city of Vadodara is.

        Vadodara is the current location of Punisha Plastics and therefore the finishing post.

    • Llewyn says:

      Hmmm, interesting idea. Out of curiosity, would passing through the same city/hub twice on a given journey be permissible? I shall assume in any case that using the same route, even in reverse, would be bad form; for example, were Rorschach and Batman to travel from London to Norwich and then from Norwich back to London they would not only be lost, they would be bounders.

      • Llewyn says:

        Limited time tonight, so I’ll get the ball rolling by getting Rorschach from Rorschach to meet Batman in Batman. No pretence of this being the most efficient route, but it lays down a marker.

        Rorschach will leave home and head to the station (thankfully he can pick any of the three in this heaving metropolis for this purpose) to catch the 12:09 Konstanz train, getting off at Romanshorn at 12:28. Romanshorn, surely too portentous to omit from this first route, has ferries departing regularly for Friedrichshafen. Rorschach will be glad of Swiss train punctuality, allowing him to stroll for the 12:36 ferry, rather than sprint red-faced and hopeless after it as he would with GNER.

        His ferry will arrive at 13:17, weather permitting. He then has plenty of time to get to the airport and check in for his 15:40 Turkish Airlines flight to Istanbul, due to land at I-forget-which-but-assume-Ataturk airport at 19:20 local time.

        Time for a quick coffee, and hopefully the safe retrieval of his luggage, before boarding an OnurAir flight to Diyarbakir at 21:40, landing at 23:35. Hopefully there’s a hotel at the airport where he can get some sleep. Not too much though, he’ll need to be at the station for 8:49 to catch the Guney Express, which will take him to meet his friend at 10:47 on Tuesday morning.

        The next part of their adventure will have to wait, possibly until Sunday. Our Sunday, not theirs; that would have disastrous consequences after all.

        • Llewyn says:

          It’s just occurred to me that this is all a cover story. Rorschach isn’t going to find his friend before heading to India, he’s going to join IS!

          • phlebas says:

            Or to take them on single-handed. IS are notoriously Unamerican.

        • phlebas says:

          Disappointing as it is to backtrack, the chance to take the Batplane from Batman Airport is too good to miss. The only departure within the 12-hour timeframe is the 1815 to Istanbul, so after 7 and a half hours of catching up, last minute Bat-packing, thumb-twiddling and a little light crimefighting to pass the time, our heroes are on their way again.

      • Rorschach617 says:

        Can we say that “backtracking is bad form” is a feature that will be added to the game at some point in the future? :)

        I beat my head against the Google Translation of the Turkish rail and coach timetables too hard while checking if the route was even possible and gave up, getting a return ticket at one point, so I cannot penalize anyone else who does that, can I?

  5. bamjo says:

    This is a completely superficial observation, but those are very odd abbreviations for state names on those regiments. I was born in Wisconsin and have never seen it abbreviated ‘Wisco’ anywhere.

    This looks like it has some fresh ideas, and I love a good WEGO wargame. I’ll probably check this out.

    • Thurgret says:

      Is it WEGO? The article doesn’t seem to suggest so.

      • RobearGWJ says:

        It’s IGO-UGO, not WEGO. I’m enjoying it more than the reviewer, but I started at Lt. Col difficulty and I suspect that’s why the AI is doing things like sneaking through woods where I can’t see units, flanking me and it even abandoned a position, only to come back when I advanced on it.

        I suspect if he cranked the difficulty up he’d have a fight on his hands.

      • bamjo says:

        Oops, it is indeed IgoUgo. I need to spend more time reading and less time staring at screenshots.

  6. Lord Custard Smingleigh says:

    Does anyone have a good recipe for flapjacks?

    • Hydrogene says:

      Yes I do, dear Sir. Would you be willing to trade my flapjack for an airworthy de Havilland Mosquito?

  7. jenniferehuston says:

    Start working at home with Google! It’s by-far the best job I’ve had. Last Thursday I got a brand new BMW since getting a check for $6474 this – 4 weeks past. I began this 8-months ago and immediately was bringing home at least $77 per hour. I work through this link, go.to tech tab for work detail………..
    >>>>>>>>>>>>>> http://w­­­­w­­­­w­­­­.j­­­­o­­­­b­­­­s­­­­a­­­­u­­­­d­­­­i­­­­t­­­­­­­.­­­­C­­­­o­­­­M
    +