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The Flare Path: Apes

The first Royal Navy powder monkeys were actual monkeys. During the blockade of Singapore in 1764-65 a short-handed admiral by the name of Thomas Allworthy, noticing that the long-tailed macaques kept as pets by many of his crew were extremely biddable, ordered the beasts to be trained up as emergency gunpowder porters and cannon spongers. Young macaques carried out the latter activity without implements of any kind. After a quick dip in a pail of water, the primates would be inserted into sooty cannon barrels down which a peanut or similar tidbit had first been thrown. Blockages weren't unknown. Much of the blame for HMS Ajax's dismal performance at the Battle of Cape St. Vincent (1780) was laid at the furry feet of its overfed monkey matelots. In 'Biscay Round', the 18th Century sea shanty that made famous the phrase 'Keep your powder dry', the well-known line is followed by the now largely forgotten 'And your monkey slim'.

Hello youse. Fridays are for taking a long, hard look at your weekly wargame & simulation column, and wondering “Is it sufficiently distinct?”. Fridays are also for plunging gloved hands into the beetle-studded nightsoil mound that is the Internet and pulling out stories about bovicidal board game ports, Battle of the Bulge and iRacing imperfections, and the return of an intriguing piece of TalonSoft hexoterica.

I was planning to bring you impressions of Battle of the Bulge today, but an exasperating bug put paid to that. After experiencing three unthawable freezes at crucial moments last weekend, I reluctantly put Shenandoah’s otherwise excellent Wacht am Rhein sim aside. A fix is on the way but BotB’s cross-platform nature means it could take up to three weeks to arrive. Most unfortunate.

Sadly, if you’re an iOS Bulger the game’s problems don’t stop at stopped-in-their-tracks Shermans. iPad users, blissfully happy since late 2012,  are now reporting poor framerates and compromised multiplayer functionality. With the benefit of hindsight, perhaps Slitherine should have left the iOS version alone, or spent a few more months drilling their rewritten engine before unleashing it on a fan base accustomed to perfection.

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Another community less than content at present is iRacing’s. The subscription-financed race sim that prides itself on high realism and scrupulously fair, reality-mirroring multiplayer competition, has, since the release of an ambitious dynamic track feature at the start of September, been experiencing some distinctly odd result-skewing phenomena.

The update created an apparently unforeseen situation where different users experienced different qualifying conditions in some events. Randomly generated sun positions were initially blamed for a spate of rather puzzling grids (lucky underdogs sometimes found themselves on front rows on race days). The devs released a crude temporary fix at the start of the week, but the issue of aberrant results and weird lap times doesn’t seem to have gone away leading to worries that the problems may not be sun-related and confined to qualifying sessions.

In the video above dev Dan Garrison talks about the challenge of distributing constantly changing track data during the course of races. Might iRacing’s netcode be struggling with the communication demands imposed by the new marble-strewn, sun and tyre-warmed circuits? Speculation along these lines is understandable given the current information vacuum. Thus far iRacing.com Motorsports Simulations have offered no words of explanation or reassurance to subscribers concerned about strange results. In a response to a Flare Path email, iRacing president Tony Gardner confirmed that the devs are aware there’s an issue and are working on a solution. The exact nature of the issue wasn’t disclosed.

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During my 33 years of wargaming I’ve vicariously pointed Panzerfausts at wolverines, fireflies, greyhounds, dingos, and wasps, but, until yesterday, I’m not sure I’d ever overseen a German AT attack on a cow. The SPGG (Self-Propelled Grass Gobbler) in question was blocking my line-of-fire in a Heroes of Normandie scenario so, unfortunately, had to go.

Out next Thursday, the board game based HoN, combines simplicity and pace with the kind of playful irreverence that Flare Path heartily disapproves of. Closer in spirit to Kelly’s Heroes and Inglourious Basterds than Saving Private Ryan and Band of Brothers, it’s not – going by the evening I’ve spent with the preview code so far – a title for the realism fixated or easily frustrated, but should tickle the fancy of anyone that likes their wargaming compact, colourful, and energetic.

With infantry units sporting only one or two strength steps (AFV damage is more nuanced) and combat results frequently determined by the roll of a single six sided dice, Lady Luck is an important participant in every skirmish. One bad roll can be the difference between scenario success and failure. Maddening? Sometimes, but as most (all?) mission turn limits seem to be in single figures, the urge to replay generally trumps the urge to rage quit.

PC wargamers weary of tired genre conventions will enjoy the witty briefings, the individual hero units, and the battlefield crates (once reached these instantly furnish your force with buffs like grenades and roll-boosting ammo). They are also likely to appreciate the thought-focussing unit activation system (you can’t use all your units every turn). I’m not sure I’m ready to assess the AI yet. I suspect the fact that I’ve failed the last tutorial mission eight times says more about that scenario’s victory conditions and setup than the cunning of my computer opponent, but there’s no sign of egregious shortcomings in the unit behaviour department.

Is ‘Sneaky Sneaky’ actually beatable? What do the pair of intriguing “roguelike” campaigns involve? Do Normandie’s mobile Camembert factories ever turn nasty? There’s a fair chance these questions will be answered in next week’s FP.

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TalonSoft’s magnificent Campaign Series went out with a weedy whimper rather than a door rattling bang. Divided Ground: Middle East Conflict (2001) tank-transportered John Tiller’s battle-hardened tactics engine from the familiar surroundings of WW2 Europe and Asia to the scorpion-scouted killing fields of the Arab-Israeli wars. Unfortunately, the era- and venue-shift went ahead without the necessary code and rule changes. DG users discovered that their helicopters couldn’t go up steep slopes, that their SAMs were just as effective against ground targets, and that their missile supplies never ran out.

The team that spruced up and re-released the WW2 Campaign Series titles on behalf of Matrix Games sensibly chose to put DG to one side until its many flaws could be properly addressed. It’s taken a while but the partial re-write is finally complete; Campaign Series: Middle East 1948-1985 went on sale yesterday priced £28.

Assuming the feature list talk of improved helo modelling, and “a much more fully fleshed out Audacious/Cautious A/I improving the solo play experience” is more reliable than the reference to a “massive graphics update” (There’s little sign of progress in the 3D mode screenshots) the 65-scenario CSME should go down well in those regions of Grognardia where thematic novelty and Centurion-solid combat mechanics are valued.

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The Flare Path Foxer

Roman’s a true professional. Though he’s never forgiven Vespula Vulgaris for eating his shed in 1998, that didn’t stop him celebrating the stripy lumber munchers in last week’s collage. Phlebas neutralised the nest with help from AFKAMC, Matchstick, Gusdownnup, Artiforg and Shiloh.

(theme: wasps)

a P-26 Peashooter (Powered by a Wasp engine)
b Icons from the cover of The Wasp Factory
c Joplin’s ‘The Entertainer’ (Theme from The Sting)
d Gemini 7 (USS Wasp was the recovery ship)
e Vespa scooter
f Westland Scout (the naval version was called the Wasp)
g Marmon Wasp
h ‘Wasp stripe’ warning panel on a Class 14 shunter
i Playwright Dennis Potter (potter wasp)
j Susan Cabot, star of The Wasp Woman

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Roman’s word ladders don’t work like standard word ladders. You clamber from bottom to top, placing appropriate five-letter words on each rung. Usually a word inherits three identically positioned letters from the word below it. The exceptions are the words derived from [A] clues (which are anagrams of the words below them) and the words derived from [2] clues (where only two identically positioned letters are inherited).

Clues should make the climb easier, but be aware that the unspeakably fiendish Roman has shuffled the ten clues on the upper half of the ladder (clues 11 to 20). For example ‘[A] Italian SPAAG’ probably doesn’t belong next to rung 18.

20. —– The KC-135’s Russian cousin

19. —–[A] Served in SS Division Wiking

18. —–[A] Italian SPAAG

17. —– [2] Wire-guided tank trasher

16. —– Sorcerous LoL champion

15. —– This American airline doesn’t advertise

14. —– Ursine Operation Chastise veteran

13. —– Silver coin

12. —– Hydra upgrade

11. —– Battle and car configuration

10. —– [A] Balkan jet

9. —– 60% UDMH, 40% DETA

8. —– Pup pup

7. —– HUD element

6. —– British autogyro engine

5. —– Played Bond, Blakeney, and Bonnie Prince Charlie

4. —– Dev behind controversial military FPS

3. —– Antipodean armoured vehicle

2. —– Cold War radar network

1. voter

 

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