The Flare Path Dissects Decisive Campaigns: Barbarossa

Assault the town. Bypass the town. Commit your reserve. Don’t commit your reserve. Wait for that Sherman Firefly to get into position. Don’t wait for that Sherman Firefly to get into position… The choices in computer wargames conform and comfort far more often than they challenge and discombobulate. Homo Grognardus is not used to having mess-tins of snow-melt thrown in his face, and Anglepoise lamps turned on his soul. Lifelong hex fiends like myself aren’t used to having our martial fun interrupted by awkward questions like “Do you want to join the Nazi Party?”

A preview build of Decisive Campaigns: Barbarossa had the chutzpah to ask me the above question yesterday evening. The choice wasn’t included in VR Designs’ latest simply to shock. Developer Cameron Harris is genuinely fascinated in the political and moral choices that faced Hitler’s generals. Such choices tangle the dark heart of DCB.

Out next Tuesday (Price: TBC) the unusually colourful Decisive Campaigns: Barbarossa is a deep but approachable Ostfront wargame offering a single seven-month-long scenario playable from both the Soviet and the German perspectives. Invasions are executed on a large honeycombed map stretching from Leipzig in the west to Baku in the east. Hexes are 30km across, counters represent divisions, and pressing the ‘end turn’ button advances the clock/calendar by four days. AI routines appear to be excellent with CPU-controlled opponents quick to spot and exploit weakness, and willing to back-pedal when necessary.

Last seen on the Ukrainian steppe the Decisive Campaigns engine has been sensibly streamlined and ingeniously humanised for this outing. Victor Reijkersz’s Sturmtiger-solid code core no longer treats air and artillery assets as atomised hex-occupying entities. Now you influence the air war and control arty usage solely through card play. A typical turn involves a fair amount of counter shifting (If DCB is a monster wargame then the monster in question is more Gruffalo than Godzilla) some Political Points-funded card employment, and, Barbarossa’s most invigorating innovation, a nervous stroll through the minefield that was a WW2 general’s in tray.

Return to your desk after a stint at the map table and there’s sure to be a sheaf of new decision-prompting messages awaiting attention. Playing as the Germans – by far the most interesting option thanks to a more involved supply model and a more complex relationships web – these missives can come from above or below. Harris casts Axis players as Franz Halder, the chief of the OKH general staff that oversaw the invasion of the Soviet Union. Halder’s ear was regularly bent by his three most important subordinates, the field marshals in control of Army Groups North, Centre, and South, and by his immediate boss, Brauchitsch, the Commander-in-Chief of the German Army. The Bavarian traditionalist also had to deal with direct pressure from the Führer, and the likes of Göring, Himmler, and the Wehrmacht’s transportation and logistics supremi. DCB simulates all of these relationships and more.

It’s impossible to process the dilemmas that are dumped semi-randomly in your lap each turn without treading on jackbooted toes. Inevitably, in time you realise you’re pissing off someone in the command chain and that someone is showing their resentment by frustrating your plans… damaging your invasion effort. Offend Runstedt and the PP cost of playing strategy and posture-altering cards in the South will increase. Antagonise the head of the Luftwaffe, and arranging aerial resupply or close air support may become more difficult.

As a German player, obviously the man you can’t afford to ignore or defy for long is the Führer. The latest directive from the mercurial Mr Hitler might be totally impractical, but if you’re not exactly flavour of the month in Berlin, it’s probably wise to respond with enthusiasm rather than exasperation.

Here’s a relatively trivial choice confronting me at the moment. Guderian wants some of the Reich’s new high octane petrol to power his Panzers. Giving it to him will mean brassing off the Luftwaffe…

…but as my relationship with Göring is currently pretty good, I think I’m going to go ahead and give the tankers a share of the performance-boosting fuel.

Due to a preview code quirk, thus far I’ve seen few of the ethical decisions that can lead to the player finishing the game with a War Crimes Tribunal summons (play with the Geneva Convention option unticked and there are no consequences for brutal actions during the drive on Moscow, Leningrad, and the Southern oilfields). However, multiple starts have revealed an impressive range of less emotive choices and no obvious pattern to how and when choices appear. The option to delegate decisions is there – in fact it’s possible to play with the whole political dimension switched off – but to do so would be madness. Without the horse-trading, the brown nosing and the back biting, DCB is ‘merely’ another reasonably well-engineered, but essentially backward-looking operational wargame.

Cameron Harris’ bid to turn Decisive Campaigns into gaming’s first WW2 field marshal simulator has only been partially successful. Tramping through the political swamp he’s so skilfully evoked with his plethora of history-rich, humour-flecked decision dialogues, provides a wonderful sense of what it must have been like to sit in the turret of the German war machine in 1941. Sadly, the illusion starts to crumble when you shift your attention to unit choreography.

Perhaps I’ve been spoilt by titles like the Command Ops and the Scourge of Wars, but I find myself disappointed by DCB’s lack of battlefield delegation options. I’m Franz Halder, Operation Barbarossa’s biggest bigwig, yet I’m expected to personally move every single one of my units every turn. When things are hotting up in the South, why on earth can’t I leave Leeb, commander of Army Group North, to his own devices for a few turns? Having played as the Soviets I know he’s perfectly capable of lunging for Leningrad without an overworked human holding his hand. The game strictly delineates the map into three ‘fronts’/’theatres’, temporarily handing one of these over to a subordinate now and again really should be an option.

At the very least VR Designs should have implemented formation movement – move an HQ and its handful of subordinate counters attempt to stick close. The stack movement system that is available is a poor substitute. Unless you’re careful and methodical, keeping armies together – vital considering the game’s harsh control, supply, and theatre-violation penalties – can be hard work.

And talking of hard work, anyone unfamiliar with previous iterations of Decisive Campaigns is likely to find DCB’s movement and combat system surprisingly laborious. Shifting a counter is a three step process (select, dab shortcut key or button, click destination) and – I think I’m right in saying – the only way to assess the combined combat power of a friendly or enemy counter stack is to select it.

None of these irritations will drive me away from the genre-stretching, character-stuffed Decisive Campaigns: Barbarossa or erode my respect for its visionary creator, but they do leave me wishing we wargamers had a title with DCB’s human intricacy and Command Ops’ control flexibility.

*  *  *  *  *

 

The Flare Path Foxer

“Of all the defoxing joints, in all the towns, in all the world, AFKAMC and Phuzz walk into mine!” Roman’s words last Friday on realising that his carefully crafted Casablanca Conference collage had been cracked wide open inside twenty minutes. If he’d heeded my advice (Lose the Conference Pear and replace the Boeing 314 Clipper with a Skymaster or the Commando Comics logo) I suspect the summit would have remained a secret far longer.

a Liberator pistol (unsolved)
b The French aircraft carrier Charles de Gaulle (AFKAMC)
c Conference pear (phuzz)
d Hap Arnold stamp (unacom)
e Flight data recorder (FDR) (unsolved)
f Paul Henreid (Shiloh)
g Churchill tank (Rorschach617)
h Counters from board wargame Unconditional Surrender (Zogg)
i Anfa cigarettes (AbyssUK, AFKAMC)
j Portal icon (AbyssUK, Rorschach617)
k Boeing 314 Clipper (AFKAMC)

*  *  *  *  *

Top foxer setters are quite prepared to concept filch when the need arises. Deprived of his virtual scissors and glue for most of the past week, the resourceful Roman has borrowed an idea from one of his favourite TV quiz shows for today’s puzzle.

Below is a list of ’25 Things You Might Find On An Aircraft Carrier’ (‘Things’ and ‘might’ are used here in their broadest possible senses). For purposes of obfuscation, the ‘things’ have been stripped of vowels (and, in some cases, numbers) and had spaces repositioned. For example, if ‘arrestor cable’ was present, it might appear as…

RRS TRCBL

The last five entries in the list – those marked with asterisks – are especially fiendish. Not only are they vowel-less, they have also been anagrammed.

BS TFL CK!

1. SKJM P
2. NCHR
3. BLCKBR NBCCNR
4. WRDRM
5. DCKTR CTR
6. KM VKHRMN
7. SRKYM MT
8. RBB RDCK
9. MNBSS
10. SHNY NGJ
11. LN DNGSG NLFFCR
12. DV SBRRR
13. FRYG NNT
14. STTR BTRC KRS
15. JMSDL TTL
16. VG HTSBVN DCTR
17. CHR CLS
18. FNTL
19. FLT TNRFL
20. SPCSH TTL
*21. ZLCG FMLZD
*22. RRR LCTCN
*23. PRG
*24. TSCT TMPL
*25. SQ SNCLN

All answers in one thread please

95 Comments

  1. Stugle says:

    FOXER: First is ‘Ski Jump’, 2 could be ‘Anchor’, three is ‘Blackburn Buccaneer’.

    • Stugle says:

      5. Deck Tractor
      11. Landing Signal Officer

    • Shiloh says:

      4 Ward room

    • AFKAMC says:

      4. Ward Room?

    • Rorschach617 says:

      4. Wardroom?

      • Stugle says:

        The three of you solving the same clue, at the very same time, conjures the image of a squad of destroyers expertly executing a high-speed turn. ‘Tis a thing of beauty. :)

    • Shiloh says:

      16’s got a vowel in it. Thn kstm!

    • Rorschach617 says:

      8. Rubber Duck, or Rubber Deck or Rubber…?

      • Arglebarf says:

        Rubber ducky would be slang for the inflatable life vests worn by aircraft passengers.

      • Stugle says:

        Rubber deck, or flexible deck (near the bottom of the article): link to en.wikipedia.org

        • Rorschach617 says:

          Thanks for the confirmation.

          Specially since the alternatives either made the navy look childish or… shall we say what happens at sea, stays at sea :)

          • Arglebarf says:

            I’m with rubber deck being the most likely foxer answer, but trust me, “rubber ducky” is a thing. Aircrews use it specifically to refer to the LPP-1 model inflatable life vest, which is given to non-aircrew passengers being transferred around.

          • Rorschach617 says:

            I am not arguing that Rubber Ducky is not real, just that the clue does not include a “Y”, which only leaves room for a 4 letter word after “Rubber”

    • Rorschach617 says:

      18. Fantail?

    • Shiloh says:

      13 Fairy Gannet

    • Llewyn says:

      13. Fairey Gannet

    • Zogg says:

      18 Fantail

    • Shiloh says:

      15 James Doolittle

    • Stugle says:

      12. Could be [something] barrier.

    • Llewyn says:

      15. James Doolittle

    • AFKAMC says:

      16. Vought SB2U Vindicator

    • Stugle says:

      6 Kamov Hormone

    • Llewyn says:

      14. (Grumman) S-2T Turbo Trackers.

    • AFKAMC says:

      20. I wondered if this could be something shuttle, as in catapult shuttle?

      But then I’m thinking, maybe Space Shuttle, if the Boeing 747 which transported it can be called an “aircraft carrier”?

      • Arglebarf says:

        I’m pretty sure that the Intrepid museum has a space shuttle on board.

      • Stugle says:

        The first space shuttle (the non-space-going one) was called Enterprise, so there seems to be enough of a tenuous link to include it… Actually, ‘Enterprise’ is on display on a museum carrier in New York, so you’ve got it.

    • unacom says:

      9. is MiNiBoSS

    • Rorschach617 says:

      24. Steam Catapult?

    • unacom says:

      10. Shiny New Guy. Used to call´em FNG…

    • AFKAMC says:

      22. Nuclear Reactor

    • Shiloh says:

      7 Isoroku Yamamoto

    • Shiloh says:

      21 Dazzle camouflage

    • Llewyn says:

      Collated version, by my reckoning we’re missing 10, 17, 19, 21 & 25

      1. SKJM P Ski jump
      2. NCHR Anchor
      3. BLCKBR NBCCNR Blackburn Buccaneer
      4. WRDRM Wardroom
      5. DCKTR CTR Deck tractor
      6. KM VKHRMN Kamov Ka25 Hormone
      7. SRKYM MT Isoroku Yamamoto
      8. RBB RDCK Rubber deck
      9. MNBSS Miniboss
      10. SHNY NGJ
      11. LN DNGSG NLFFCR Landing Signal Officer
      12. DV SBRRR Davis barrier
      13. FRYG NNT Fairey Gannet
      14. STTR BTRC KRS S2T Turbo Trackers
      15. JMSDL TTL James Doolittle
      16. VG HTSBVN DCTR Vought SB2U Vindicator
      17. CHR CLS
      18. FNTL Fantail
      19. FLT TNRFL
      20. SPCSH TTL Space shuttle
      *21. ZLCG FMLZD
      *22. RRR LCTCN Nuclear reactor
      *23. PRG Grape
      *24. TSCT TMPL Steam catapult
      *25. SQ SNCLN

      • Llewyn says:

        Well, that wasn’t as neat as intended, or as up-to-date… 21 down already.

        • Shiloh says:

          I was wondering if 17 was a C-130 Hercules, but I’m not sure you’d find that on an aircraft carrier…

          • Llewyn says:

            Genius. Heaviest aircraft to successfully land on a carrier, apparently. Makes me wonder what else has unsuccessfully landed on a carrier.

          • Stugle says:

            Google suggests (in websites and pictures) that C-130s have landed on carriers (and presumably flown off again, too).

          • Rorschach617 says:

            I believe that the C-130 that trialled the carrier landings had “Look Ma, no hook” written on the side.

            It just might be visible on the youtube video

        • Shiloh says:

          And furthermore, whether 25 is Queen’s [something] – silence, clans, license etc?

    • Stugle says:

      I desperately want to turn 25 into ‘Queen Anne Class’, but that is sadly not a thing. Can’t think of anything else with a ‘Q’ in it, though.

      • Shiloh says:

        I was trying to make “QSS Lincoln” for 25, but I don’t think that’s a thing either…

        • Llewyn says:

          Quins’ colons, explaining why he no longer writes for RPS: he’s too busy hunting lost punctuation.

          • Shiloh says:

            Queen’s uncles – lots of them will have been aboard an aircraft at some point I’d imagine.

          • Shiloh says:

            Sequoia… quinine… USS Quincy [something]… I’m reaching a little here, I’ll admit.

      • unacom says:

        Queen Anne´s Lions – IF they visited an aircraft carrier and if I did that darn apostroph right.

      • Shiloh says:

        I think 25 might actually be “Queen’s uncles” – Edward VIII was in the Navy, George VI served in the Navy during WW1, George Duke of Kent was also a seaman at one point… only Henry Duke of Gloucester bucked the family trend and served in the Army.

        So what do we think?

        • Stugle says:

          Sounds better than my latest desperate lunge at “Sequence lens”, but did these royals serve aboard aircraft carriers?

        • Stugle says:

          Maybe “Queen’s son [cl]”, for Prince Andrew? He flew helicopters from HMS Invincible during the Falklands War.

        • Rorschach617 says:

          Just want to suggest that there could be an abbreviation or something in here, eg. Number 16 includes the letters SBD.

          So, we could be looking for something like AN/SLQ-25 “Nixie”?

          • Stugle says:

            Good point. I was looking at drone aircraft, because I think I recall the Predator has a ‘Q’ in its official designation.

          • Shiloh says:

            Could be, I was wondering about that… then again, the British Pathé news site has film of George VI aboard a carrier (link to britishpathe.com), there’s another of a 1932 inspection of the Home Fleet including shots of George (Duke of Kent) on board a ship (link to britishpathe.com), while in the same film the Prince of Wales (soon-to-be king Edward VIII) accompanies his old man George V aboard an aircraft carrier.

    • slapcup says:

      17. c130 herules

    • AFKAMC says:

      19. How about: Flettner Fl 282

      Wikipedia: “Flight testing of the first two prototypes was carried out through 1941, including repeated takeoffs and landings from a pad mounted on the German cruiser Köln.”

      • Shiloh says:

        Wow, excellent work!

        • AFKAMC says:

          Thanks. I was thinking maybe Mr. Flettner lent his name to some obscure piece of on-board equipment, like Mr. Fresnel did with his lens. But maybe it is just the helicopter he designed.

    • AFKAMC says:

      10. Shenyang J-15 – Chinese carrier-based multirole jet fighter.

      • Llewyn says:

        Thank you for putting me out of my misery. I’ve spent far too long searching for Korean admirals/captains/pilots, convinced it must be Ji and completely forgetting there could be numbers.

        • AFKAMC says:

          I spent some time trying to work out if it was something ending in “GI Joe” – he had a an aircraft carrier, apparently (the USS Flagg).

    • AFKAMC says:

      25. SNCASE Aquilon

      • Llewyn says:

        I prefer Shiloh’s suggestion.

        (Well done nonetheless)

      • Stugle says:

        With a mix of mostly reverence (and a smidgen of annoyance at constantly being bested) I ask: is there anything you cannot defox?

  2. Arglebarf says:

    23. Grape (fuel guy in purple)

  3. AbyssUK says:

    19. Floatation rifle.. if that is a thing…

    • AbyssUK says:

      if it has a typo It could be floatation raft… if the last L is meant to be a T

  4. unacom says:

    Excellent Foxer, this one.
    But You totally forgot: NJR CD V97.33XD

  5. Stugle says:

    What a wonderful picture to start of the Foxer. That’s Ark Royal, isn’t it?

    The preview of Decisive Campaigns Barbarossa is very flavorful and exciting. Shame about the micro-manage-y aspects of it: the politicking sounds very good, but manually moving dozens or hundreds of units is not something I’d enjoy. I’ll have to wait and see more before deciding about this one.

    Finally, I want to say that I recently bought Rule The Waves and I’m having a lot of fun with it. Thank you for the recommendation, Mssr. Stone, as otherwise I would never ever have heard of it.

    • Joshua Northey says:

      Rule the Waves is tremendous!

    • Premium User Badge

      Al__S says:

      Can’t be Ark Royal- or indeed any Invincible class carrier- it’s lacking a Ski Jump!

      • unacom says:

        I´d rather go with Audacious class.
        So that could make her HMS Eagle or HMS Irresistible/Ark Royal (R09).

      • Stugle says:

        I was thinking of the original (?) Ark Royal aircraft carrier: link to en.wikipedia.org. I think it fits: those cranes/booms at the end of the flight deck always seemed very distinctive to me.

    • jgf1123 says:

      I’m with you there. Division-level games of the eastern front are not my cup of tea. Otherwise, the idea sounds interesting.

      Rule the Waves does sound interesting. But $30?

      • Stugle says:

        Actually, $35, I believe. :) I’m not enough of a connoisseur of naval sims to know how Rule The Waves compares to other games, and it definitely is pig-ugly (and sonically very spare – some in-battle sound effects, but that’s all there is). That said, I’m having more fun with it than I expected. The battles are fun enough by themselves, but it’s that extra layer of building your own fleet (and risking it in battle) that makes it special.

        So yeah, I’d recommend it, but I’d also recommend getting some more information about it – at least from someone more knowledgeable than me. :)

  6. frogulox says:

    I feel like an AI general option would be great for an RPG take on the situation – by assigning all three front to be handled by the appropriate personalities, you could sit back and manage the requests and decisions part and see how those choices play out.

    … which i think would still be interesting :)

  7. Rorschach617 says:

    “…Lifelong hex fiends like myself aren’t used to having our martial fun interrupted by awkward questions like “Do you want to join the Nazi Party?”…”

    Is it ok that when I read this, “Springtime for Hitler” went through my mind?

  8. tlwest says:

    Decisive Campaigns sounds very interesting, but I’m unsure how successful marrying ultra-high level decisions of a field-marshal’s career and division level movement and combat will work.

    Both are interesting situations, but the idea of essentially losing 150 hours of division level play time because I’ve made on catastrophic meta-decision may be realistic, but doesn’t necessarily make a good game.

    I think an army level simulation matched with the grand-strategic decisions might make more sense.

    Also, is the AI really any good? I’ve been getting a strong impression from developers that expecting a strong AI for something literally orders of magnitude more complicated than Go is perhaps a tad unrealistic. (Do I hear a $100,000,000 KickStarter for a good Civ 5 AI?)

    Still, decent chance I’ll buy it because hope springs eternal, and this niche needs all the help it can get.

  9. Premium User Badge

    phuzz says:

    “Of all the defoxing joints, in all the towns, in all the world, AFKAMC and Phuzz walk into mine!”
    To be fair, it was mostly AFKAMC, but I’m honoured to be the target of Roman’s ire.