The Flare Path: A Roundhead Reflects

Apologies. This brief but heartfelt Pike & Shot: Campaigns recommendation is going to be heavy on the assumptions and inferences. Expect lots of statements like… The game’s unscripted version of the Great Turkish War is probably highly entertaining… Swedes will almost certainly adore the Gustavus Adolphus campaign… Multiplayer should be a hoot… I suspect there’s some cracking engagements amongst the historical battle selection… You see I’ve been so absorbed in a marathon recreation of the English Civil War that, despite playing Byzantine’s latest for the best part of a week, I’ve seen nothing of the game’s other charms.

My personal ECW ended last night in a glorious Parliamentarian victory. To mark the Royalist surrender I approved a three-day public holiday, and suggested that all good Republicans get totally rat-arsed and dance themselves silly ordered nationwide services of thanksgiving and temporarily lifted the smiling ban I’d introduced in 1642. Truly, I am a man of the people.

I also reflected on the fine time I’d had cowing the cavaliers. Pacy, plausible, friendly and fresh in its original form, Pike & Shot is now verging on the unmissable thanks to the addition of a simple yet effective strategic layer. In P&SC you can still fight through the old sequential campaigns – strings of authored historical scraps – but there’s also opportunities to participate in free-form map conquering jaunts in which victories and defeats cast pike-long shadows.

Available in ECW, Great Turkish War, Thirty Years War (Swedish phase) and non-specific European free-for-all forms, the new campaigns look a little crude at first. Moving armies around a cellular theatre map sparking battles and seizing territory is all very well, but where’s my tech tree, my espionage and diplomatic options, you ask yourself. Happily, there are hidden subtleties that imbue long games with extra flavour and shape. Subtleties like the supply system, season-linked turns and siege rules.

Merging armies into colossal bully-boy blobs is discouraged by provincial supply limits (overload an area and your force will eventually wither) and an opportunistic happy-to-cleave enemy StratAI. Forcing an enemy army out of a province doesn’t mean that province instantly switches allegiance. Before you can tax a new area, and draw on its population for recruitment, you must first overcome stubborn urban enclaves.

An automatic process (the bigger and better armed the occupying force and the longer you leave it in situ, the more chance there is of settlement surrender) the slow subjugation of provinces is further complicated by attrition amongst besiegers and the onset of winter. No-one messes with Jack Frost and Samuel Snow in P&SC. When winter comes (every sixth turn) your men pack up and head for the nearest friendly province.

You know that moment in a lengthy strategy game campaign when you start losing interest – when the ‘auto-resolve battle’ button starts looking especially attractive? That moment never arrived during my Cromwellian campaign. Thanks to unusually capable TacAI, an excellent random map generator, and inspired combat mechanics (See original P&S Wot I Think) I can honestly say I’ve enjoyed every battle I’ve orchestrated during the past six days. The images dotting this section might suggest samey engagements; in fact Byzantine’s semi-sequel has a knack of producing deliciously distinct scraps.

Glancing through my screenshots folder, images jab my hippocampus like cavalry spurs. Ah yes, that was the fight when I picketed the river bank, and Rupert’s gallopers turned my left flank! That was the nailbiter in the L-shaped valley where I was pushed off the knoll! That was the time my centre collapsed and we regrouped on the edge of that wood… On the battlefield P&SC has a wonderful knack for springing surprises and provoking perspiration. Though it still lacks leader representations, its smart AI cavalry and mischievous auto-pursuit rules ensure battles feel alive… chaotic… human.

Are there still areas where Richard Bodley Scott’s design can improve? Of course. Audio remains painfully weak, the camera unnecessarily restrictive; in campaign mode it doesn’t appear to be possible to attack a province from two sides simultaneously; Richard, any chance of replays in the near future and readily available unit advice for novices? (there are hundreds of unit types in the game and initially, it’s far from obvious how to employ each to best effect)

And oh yes, as a dyed-in-the-wool Parliamentarian I’d like to request an urgent unit buff. Currently, London Lobsters are about as dangerous as the Common variety.

The rather brilliant Pike & Shot: Campaigns is available now through Matrix/Slitherine (£25) and Steam (£30). There’s a 75% discount if you already own P&S.

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I don’t do studio visits or preview events anymore. Partly that’s because I don’t like to leave Mephistopheles IV in the hands of inexperienced valvejacks and stokers for any length of time, but mainly I no longer housecall because I always seem to come away disappointed by the half-hearted, half measures devs I meet on such occasions. Take attire for instance. During my last Creative Assembly visit (circa 2011) every single staff member I encountered was wearing modern garb; incredibly, there wasn’t a kabuto or kimono in sight! It was a similar story during my last Bohemia Interactive visit; not a whiff of a ghillie suit or a tactical vest. Call me old-fashioned but I like my gamewrights to breathe, eat, sleep and wear their themes. I like my gamewrights like Maxim and Oleg Ferapontov.

The two brothers – shown above in their usual 9-to-5 attire – have been crafting Nineteenth Century naval wargames for a good seven years now. While Flare Path hasn’t always showered their efforts with praise, the appearance of an elegant strategic element in Ironclads 2 was most encouraging. If anyone still questions whether Totem Games are headed in The Right Direction then the screenshots which dropped into FP’s inbox last week should remove all doubt.

In addition to working on an Ironclads 2 update which will introduce amphibious assaults and harbour sieges, Totem are busy engineering a new generation title packed with the kind of tactical subtleties their more discerning/demanding fans and critics have been requesting for yonks. Intricate ship systems, crew interaction, damage control, and high fidelity ballistics promise to make High Seas: Blue & Gray (No ETA yet) far bulkier and more engaging than its shallow-draft predecessors.

Coal-fired floating fortresses are clearly Totem’s first love (Maxim, a published naval historian presently writing a monograph on the Battle of Lissa, has been interested in the subject since coming across a book on the Russo-Japanese War as a child) but the work-in-progress tech is being built with other eras in mind too. Amongst the sheaf of screenshots sent to FP were several images of the Prinz Eugen, the WW2 heavy cruiser that accompanied Bismarck into the Atlantic in May 1941.

The pic below is particularly intriguing and definitely warrants a closer look (click to embiggen)

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The Flare Path Foxer

Last week’s foxer extravaganza brought Roman to his knees. He just about managed to sift the sacks of submissions for correct answers (see the updated column for all eight solutions), draw winners, and send out Steam codes, but responding to the warm words that accompanied many of the guesses proved beyond him. Sorry about that.

I’ve given my knackered collage king the day off today. The prizeless puzzle below is the work of Roman’s understudy, Roger, a man so keen on London double-deckers he…

  • Comes to work dressed in a suit made from ‘Routemaster’ LT moquette
  • Refuses to watch Live and Let Die
  • Removed the back door from his house and fitted a vertical pole in the space*

*He’s now the most burgled man in Berkshire.

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39 Comments

  1. AFKAMC says:

    FOXER: Bottom left possibly tail rotor of Bell 47 Sioux, as featured in M*A*S*H.

    • Stugle says:

      The planes in the left background show off Pugachev’s (spelling?) Cobra, methinks.

    • Arglebarf says:

      The sequence of planes is a Su-27 Flanker doing a cobra maneuver.

    • Shiloh says:

      The chap with the extravagant tache is, of course, Salvador Dali. And the actress is a young Virginia McKenna.

      • Stugle says:

        The hat on Msr. Dali’s head is called a barretina.

      • Hydrogene says:

        And Virginia McKenna is playing in the movie Simba, with Dirk Bogarde.

    • AFKAMC says:

      The stamp top right is Chilean. The aircraft looks like a Vampire or Venom. In the original, there’s a carved stone head: link to stamps.sellosmundo.com

      • AFKAMC says:

        …the stone head looks like an Easter Island Moai.

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        phuzz says:

        It’s a Venom, you can tell from the wingtip tanks.
        Oddly it doesn’t look like Chile ever operated the Venom (or Vampire), Venezuela did though.

        • Stugle says:

          The Venom was used during the Malayan Emergency, if I’m trying to tie it to the uprising theme.

    • billy_bunter says:

      Top left looks like the Pontiac logo, possibly hubcap

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      phuzz says:

      I think the car on the middle right is a Buick Roadmaster from the 1940s or 50s , but I’m not quite sure of the model yet.

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        phuzz says:

        Starting to think it may actually be a Pontiac. Definitely a GM, but I’m having trouble tracking down that front grill and two tone paint job.

        • Beowulf says:

          Well, to me it looks like FSO Warszawa, a Polish post WW2 car

          • Stugle says:

            I haven’t found the exact picture, but Google Images shows a lot of photos of the Warszawa with that characteristic bar across the grill, so I think you’re right. Warsaw uprising would fit the theme, of course.

    • Stugle says:

      Okay, going out on a limb, but could the theme be ‘insurrections’? The movie ‘Simba’ is about the Mau Mau uprising, Pugachev’s Rebellion happened in imperial Russia after Catherine II seized power, the Sioux were involved many conflicts with the US, including the Great Sioux War (featuring the battle of Little Bighorn), and Pontiac’s War happened after the French and Indian War ended.

      • Rorschach617 says:

        I’ve been thinking along the same lines.

        The Revolt of the Barretines, an Catalan insurrection against Castilian rule.

        • Rorschach617 says:

          Could the Venom stamp be a reference to the Jebel Akhdar War in Oman, or the Aden Emergency?

          • AFKAMC says:

            This might be going out on a limb a bit, but if the pertinent bit of the stamp is the bit which is not shown, i.e. the stone head on Easter Island – Easter Rising?

    • Rorschach617 says:

      Bottom Centre:

      1 Rappen coin from Switzerland

      • Stugle says:

        Which could reference the Swiss peasant war of 1653 (thank you, Wikipedia). Or the generally bellicose temperament of the Swiss people, before they realized there was more money to be made banking than sending off mercenaries to fight other people’s wars. :)

    • Stugle says:

      I wonder if the picture of that gun/mortar/projector on the tripod is from the Spanish Civil War. Can’t prove it, don’t even know what that thing is, but the trench coats seem to fit the Republican side.

    • GernauMorat says:

      FOXER: the presidential palace of Chile (la moneda/the mint) was bombarded by I believe hawker hurricanes before the final assault against Allende by the Pinochet led rebellion.

      • GernauMorat says:

        A democratically elected marxist overthrown by US sponsored militarist/fascists, if that matters.

  2. Arglebarf says:

    The stamp is a Spanish Airmail stamp with a de Havilland Vampire.

  3. Electricfox says:

    Argh, Parliamentarian!! Fetch me my poodle!

  4. Auldman says:

    Pike and Shot Campaigns might be less glossy than a Total War game but it’s far better than anything that series has put out of late and therefore a welcome addition to my Steam library.

    • Arthur ASCII says:

      Yes, Creative Assembly UK totally ruined Total War. The Australian studio (in Brisbane) who made Medieval II and the original Rome were clearly the real talent and creative drive but I guess they all had to be fired as they became too expensive for Sega’s budget? Or was there some other reason for the closure?

      • WhatAShamefulDisplay says:

        The Brisbane studio only made Medieval 2 and Kingdoms. Shogun 1&2, Rome 1&2, Empire, Nappy and Attila were all made in Horsham in Sussex.

        • sunburned says:

          Horsham … poor bastards. At least it’s close to Gatwick.

      • Thurgret says:

        Attila’s pretty good.

        • Auldman says:

          Attila left me non-plussed. Can’t say I care for it. CA seem utterly incapable of making a game with an economic system that is not incomprehensible. I got tired of having over 100 bread (whatever that means) and a large amount of money and spending some of that to make farms, build up sanitation, and industry only to in the next turn (which represented only a few months) to be nearly bankrupt and near starvation. Make some adjustments in reaction and next turn get the money back up and the bread back up only to find the same situation the next turn. That’s not fun or enjoyable and it doesn’t make much sense either in gameplay or historically. They clearly don’t understand it either for they’ve never fully written out their rationale for it. That’s not good design.

    • blastaz says:

      I’m afraid that as far as grand strategy goes ( which is the addition p&s:campaigns added) that’s simply not true.

      It’s systems are both far simpler (no tech development diplomacy etc)and more occluded (how does reinforcement/maintenance/cost and points/unit experience etc. work? This could all be fixed with a slightly better thought out Ui and so is less forgivable)

      Not to knock the game, I saw this on flare path when it first came out and picked campaigns up on a whim. I had an enjoyable evening restoring St. Charles Martyr to his rightful throne (not sure how it takes six days professionally) it’s an unusual period of history with a vast scope in the army lists, and lots of personality. However the grand campaign is really underdeveloped, if they’d put more effort into it (say as much as in medieval tw1) then it would be a classic. However to say it’s better than any tw game is just contrarianism of the highest order…

      • ExitDose says:

        That was my experience as well.

      • Tim Stone says:

        I had an enjoyable evening restoring St. Charles Martyr to his rightful throne (not sure how it takes six days professionally)

        Quick work! My Parliamentarian victory involved 20-odd battles.

        • blastaz says:

          5 battles 2 of which were auto resolved. The Campaign ended at late Autumn 1645 with the simultaneous fall of their last two provinces the west country and east Anglia

          I basically would force all their armies into one province and let attrition go to work, with a slightly bigger and much more elite army to bully them back if they tried to split up/break out.

          Meanwhile raw infantry and artillery would spread out over the country sieging down the rest of their provinces without a fight.

          They ran away so much their elan was terrible and all the attrition they suffered meant that most of their army was pretty raw so when our two main stacks did clash I had a pretty hefty advantage, I felt rather hamstrung though as I had masses of cavalry but relatively little infantry so the battles were quite dicey hoping my veteran infantry could hold long enough for my cavalry to smash theirs, rally and then descend on them from the back and sides.

  5. sunburned says:

    Having started to play Pike & Shot: Campaigns I have to say that I really like it, and being an old & not so wise guy I don’t enjoy games as easily as back in the Eighties or Nineties. My favourite TW game is/was RTW with Europa Barbarorum on top.

    I should be working on our own game 24×7 (shameless self-promotion: The Great Whale Road) and now I am fighting the Turks on the weekend instead. I blame you, RPS.

  6. Duke of Chutney says:

    comwellian pike and shot looks with a shot, onsteam wishlist.

    Good to see the answers for last week up. I got 3/4 correct which is quite satisfying. Got one or two of the missing words wrong unfortunately.