The Flare Path: More From The Web

By Tim Stone on August 28, 2015

With Fidget, our Ferret scout car, on loan to the Peshmerga, and Pam, our photo-reconnaissance de Havilland Mosquito, grounded with dry rot, Flare Path is totally reliant on the intel-gathering equipment of cyber comrades at the moment. Today’s stories came via Subsim.com’s cod-kissed sonobuoys, Tactical Wargames’ perpetually circling Auster AOP, Real and Simulated Wars’ energetic-Dutch-schoolboy-on-a-bicycle, and Rock, Paper, Shotgun’s own infinite Tu-95.

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On Tuesday Tactical Wargames C-in-C Wodin was kind enough to draw my attention to one of the most exciting grain elevator pitches I think I’ve ever read. There’s nothing to see yet of Barbarossa: Decisive Campaigns except words, but, gosh, those words are promising. In the Gobi-dry domain of hexes, ZoCs and CRTs you don’t find many Eastern Front operational titles preambled like this:

“Grey Dawn. Murky ersatz coffee not doing it’s job. Bustling headquarters. Oberleutnants pinning army dispositions on the wall map. Markers relentlessly pushing eastwards. It’s a big map. Ostland. A nagging, slow burning, realisation of just how big it is. Bottom corner of the map flapping in the draft. Bolshevik cold overwhelming a proper Germanic wood fire.

Sipping mud. Pondering army realignments. Squinting suspiciously at the growing pile of reports on your desk. Staffers spiking ever more teleprints and summaries. In competition with a second pile. Requests. Arbitrations. Judgements. Something to do in between incessant phone calls. Berlin demanding you drop everything. The Führer has called a conference. Again. Colonel Rattus Facius, currently in dispute with your Quartermaster General, is impatiently waiting for you next door, striding up and down in his black, SS, leather boots, demanding that you intervene.

People. Strongly defined personalities. Under pressure. Fighting a war. Fighting for their own corner and agenda. Equally capable of helping or hindering. Decisions. Delegation… COMMAND. It’s this gnarly, gritty experience of front line, operational command that Barbarossa Decisive Campaigns seeks to capture.”

Feature lists seldom promise decision environments as rich or real as this:

  • Are you able to work within a Command Hierarchy with both Superiors and Subordinates in an environment where strategy and politics often conflict?
  • Can you stand up to the Führer? Are you willing to put it all on the line, demand Military Independence, and risk being fired? Or would you prefer to toe the line and support the Führer in whatever goal he is currently fixated upon?
  • Fight to get winter clothing and equipment for your men. Argue with Göring over fuel allocations. Order your individual Divisions to report their status. Fifty different stats and values are tracked for each.
  • Deal with the Dark side of the war. Trade ethics off against operational imperatives. Answer to a War Crimes Tribunal if you lose. Or order both sides to observe the Geneva Convention and fight a gentleman’s war.

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VR Designs (Basically Dutchman, Victor Reijkersz) has crafted some Sturmtigersolid wargames in the past but nothing this daring, this unconventional. If he succeeds in blending the STAVKA-OKH-style office politics with compelling counter choreography, the result could be amazing – a new breed of role-playing groggy entertainment. Best of luck, Victor. Thank you for sticking your head above the commander’s cupola.

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A prospect almost as exciting as Barbarossa: Decisive Campaigns is Combat Operations, a WIP WeGo operational title properly introduced to the world on Monday via a post at Real and Simulated Wars. If you’re anything like me you’ll walk away from Matt’s article with the following two thoughts uppermost in your mind:

Blimey, we could be about to get the Combat Mission operational layer we’ve been waiting for for 15 years!

and

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16 player co-op multiplayer! Swish.

Initially focussed on Western European WW2 activity, CO will sport battalion and company-sized units, and simultaneously executed turns each representing two hours of tussle/travel-time. When chits clash (the ‘screenshot’ at the top of this section is little more than a concept sketch but boardgamey counters seem likely) it will be possible to use the game’s own combat engine to determine results or – kettledrum drum roll, please – switch to Combat Mission and play out engagements in sumptuous 3D. Though early on the integration between the two titles will probably be fairly Heath Robinson, Battlefront have indicated that they “will be willing to join a mutual effort to create an interface for CO and CM to work together” if CO sales figures are sufficiently healthy. Read more about the planned symbiosis here.

The last (?) WW2 operational wargames to offer high headcount command-chain simulating co-op play never seemed to garner the following their tense, evocative and unusual MP warranted. Let’s hope CO can succeed where the likeable likes of Iron Cross and Hours of War failed.

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For years The Flare Path was drier than a silica gel factory. Nowadays, wet wargames like Naval Battles Simulator seem to feature almost every week. What’s going on?

Sadly, contractual constraints prevent me from answering that question (You’d have to ask our new sponsor, Shippam). What I will say is that FP is always pleased to see a new wargame dev messing about in boats/ships especially when that dev is a demo believer.

The trial of Anarchy97’s unfinished and skirmishy Naval Battles Simulator is a six scenario affair involving (not at the same time) WW2 warships of the Royal Navy, Kriegsmarine, Polish Navy and Royal Norwegian Navy. Scraps are turnless, small scale, and – to be perfectly honest – not especially gripping at the moment. Peer hard however, and you can make out sunlit headlands on the horizon.

Damage modelling is one area where NBS could end up shining. There’s already a lot of subtlety. For damage purposes, vessels are split into three multi-cell layers. Individual weapons can be disabled. Fires can spread, flooding rise, and list angles increase. In my last engagement, one of my ships sustained Bismarckian rudder damage and was left wiggling about the North Sea like a legless mermaid*.

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*Yes, I’m fully conversant with mermaid anatomy.

Once damage control mechanisms are introduced, more complicated scenarios become available, and Anarchy97 begin exploring campaign options, NBS should be able to withstand comparisons with rival titles far better.

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I was nudged in the direction of today’s last spotlighted game by RPS Nudger-in-Chief, Graham. Seeing all those lovely hexes and all those aerodynamic aerodynes, he probably thought the Early Access £7 Sky Rogue would be right up my street.

It is. Sort of. Visually, it’s an unalloyed delight – a tilted sweetie jar gleefully spilling clean clutter-free forms and unapologetically bright colours all over the place. On paper, the concept appeals too. Ace Combat’s accessibility, pace, and intensity paired with randomly generated sorties/landscapes, and a totally fictional far-future setting. What could go wrong?

Just enough, it turns out.

An evening or two of Sky Rogue’s missile slinging, bomb dropping, flare popping, horizon twirling aerial action is an evening or two well spent, but this old Crimson Skies, Wings of Prey, Heroes of the Pacific, Secret Weapons Over Normandy, Red Baron, Wings of Power, Wings of War.. etc. fan feels the game lacks the variety, campaign heft and flashes of inspiration necessary to sustain long-term play. While difficulty increases and new technologies become available with each passing mission, you find yourself doing the same sort of thing over the same sort of islands time and time again.

A splash of story and a sprinkling of characters would definitely help (currently, Fractal Phase make no attempt whatsoever to explain the game’s ongoing conflict) as would cockpit cams and more interesting damage implementation, but if I had the developer’s ear/confidence I’d be pushing particularly hard for more to be made of RS’s under-utilized secret weapon – those procedurally generated landscapes.

Why are all the islands so bally flat and so bally green? Why do I never find myself navigating monumental canyons… threading spectacular arches… grazing snow-capped peaks? I want to be awed, disorientated, and challenged by the topography. Toss in some dynamic weather, dangerous fauna, and – ok, I’m getting greedy now – a malleable ground war, and I suspect Sky Rogue’s roguish charms would be utterly irresistible.

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The Flare Path Foxer

Watching Stugle, Shiloh, AFKAMC, Hydrogene, billy_bunter, Beowulf, Rorschach617 and Arglebarf crack last week’s foxer was like watching an unusually dexterous octopus open a jar of Shippam’s Red Herring Paste. Textbook defoxing.

(theme: uprisings)

a Pontiac’s Rebellion
b Revolt of the Barretinas
c Easter Rising
d Warsaw Uprisng
e Boxer Rebellion (The pictured device is a Boxer lifesaving rocket)
f Rappenkrieg
g Sioux Uprising
h Pugachev’s Rebellion
i Simba Rebellion

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This Is Just To Say

by Carlos Williams Carlos 1963-1883

 

I have solved
the foxer
that was in
the icebox

and which
you were probably
saving
for breakfast

Forgive me
it was delicious
so sweet
and so cryptic

 

All answers in one thread, please.

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