The Flare Path: Danubian Speedboats

Like a dead swan floating down a river, The Flare Path usually delegates directional decision-making. Back at the start of the week, it looked like today’s column would end up devoted to Wars of Napoleon, the latest AGE-engined epic from AGEOD. I was taking in illuminating tutorial vids when an unexpected eddy nudged me towards a much older Boney title.

Campaigns on the Danube 1805-1809 is an operational wargame I’ve been meaning to try for over a decade. Spotting it in the Matrix Games Christmas sale list ($10/£8) and reading about an improbable recent patch finally persuaded me to arrange a meeting. That meeting morphed into a dalliance that drove all thoughts of Wars of Napoleon from my head.

The official product page describes CotD as IGOUGO; the screenshots make it look as stuffy as the Black Hole of Calcutta. In fact this dusty Adanac Command Studies relic is a WEGO (the orders of both sides are simultaneously executed) design with an adventurous streak a mile wide. In concept and feel it’s far closer to Command Ops or Flashpoint Campaigns than John Tiller’s Battleground Napoleonic Wars or Gary Grigsby’s War in the East. By modelling corps commanders as self-reliant semi-independent entities, and orders as slow-to-disseminate interceptable missives, creator Frank Hunter delivers a diversion that’s as evocative and forward-looking as it is easy to learn and play.

Some brass tacks. Hex centres are nine kilometres apart. Turns are day-long. Most unit counters represent divisions or brigades and can be controlled indirectly through powerful corps commander orders. When I grumbled about the lack of formation movement and delegation options in Decisive Campaigns: Barbarossa, what I was picturing was an approach very like CotD’s. Here there’s no need to laboriously manoeuvre every counter every turn. Because you’re a military commander not a chess player, a few clicks in a bigwig’s order menu suffice. Davout, attack Augsburg; fall back to Ulm if things go awry. Ney, cross the Danube at Gunzburg and move towards Munich, engaging any enemies you spot en-route. Murat, scout the road to Regensburg; if you hear guns, head for the hubbub. With half-a-dozen carefully modulated high-level orders, an entire army can be roused and directed.

Of course, the rousing and directing will probably take a while. Orders to corps bosses are galloped across the Central European map by invisible couriers. If they arrive – a big ‘if’ when foes are running riot behind your lines – then the recipient’s organisational stats determine how quickly they are read and transformed into a scatter of smaller division/brigade-mobilising orders. Often, by the time an instruction reaches a distant corps and that corps has got its arse in gear, the circumstances that prompted the instruction have changed dramatically. To enjoy CotD – to fully appreciate it – you must think several turns ahead and be willing to accept a generous dash of chaos with your combat choreography. Personally, I love the messy, confused operations this elderly offering serves up.

When opposing counter stacks wind up sharing a hexagon at the end of a turn, a multi-round battle is triggered. Assuming you’re playing on the default fog-of-war setting, you’ll have the opportunity of choosing a battle strategy before virtual dice are cast. The more ambitious strategies require the most capable generals and usually entail higher risks/potential losses. The relationship between the two picked strategies – the enemy also chooses one – together with dice rolls and a host of tactical factors (troop numbers and quality, terrain, weather, fatigue, cavalry superiority etc) ultimately determines which, if any, force emerges victorious. It sounds complicated, but, like most other elements of the game, it’s actually decidedly hunch friendly. Forget the maths and follow your instincts and you shouldn’t go far wrong.

Logistics is one area where the game threatens to overwhelm the novice and overtax the loafer. Happily, decisions about depot establishment, wagon trains and supply routes can be handed lock, stock and powder-barrel to an adept silicon helper, so there’s no reason for trepidation.

The AI is as competent in an adversarial role as a supportive one. Though blinkered by the same intelligence limitations, and hobbled by the same courier considerations as the player, foes invariably put up a good fight and re-think and experiment when situations demand it. The unpredictability is important bearing in mind CotD’s disappointingly slim scenario selection.

Of the game’s seven scenarios three are variants and none run for longer than three months (90 turns). Expect weeks of novel, untidy, plausible wargaming from Campaigns on the Danube rather than months. Expect the odd interface and fog-of-war flaw too. Inexplicably, the FOW settings seem to have become less flexible and logical over the years. In v3.04 go with the default intel setting – the most practical way of playing – and enemy counters show corps information but give no inkling of force size or ‘effectiveness’.

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Armour-plate your punt! Bow-wave goodbye to your flag irises! Erect bollards around your riverside wedding reception! The Flare Path is in possession of Todd Wasson’s new high-fidelity motorboat sim Design It, Drive It: Speedboats.

Although Todd candidly admits that, right now “there’s not a whole lot to do but design and drive boats around, so your average gamer is probably going to get bored really quickly… At this stage I’m just aiming it at high performance boating enthusiasts, many of whom build or modify their own hulls in real life.” after sculpting hulls and bothering (invisible) ducks for a couple of days, it’s not hard to picture a version of the $25 sim with much broader appeal.

Step 1. Add a few tooltips to the powerful WYSIWYG boat editor. Explain the significance of stuff like chine width, pad dimensions, propeller pitch, and step positions to landlubbers.

Step 2. Provide some modification motivation. A selection of serpentine time-trial courses – ideally incorporating some jump challenges – would be enough.

Step 3. Let users add maps. Currently, there’s just the two. A tree-hemmed lake and a river-style playground surrounded by scrub and sun-scorched hills.

Step 4. Introduce wind effects, chop, and wake interaction.

Step 5. Let users spawn ramps and floating obstacles on maps.

Step 18. Implement machineguns, torpedo tubes, droppable mines, and smoke generators.

Step 34. Add multiplayer deathmatches then sit back and marvel as novelty-hungry simmers the world over discover the joys of a boaty battle game with top-notch hydrodynamics.

Easy!

Or to put it another way ‘Extremely time-consuming and difficult!’

Todd’s childhood sowed the seeds for DIDIS…

“I grew up on a lake with a boat like the ones you can make in the simulator. There’s a feeling to driving one that just isn’t reproduced in any games I’ve tried, the way they half fly, half skim across the water, gently blowing around in the wind at high speeds with all kinds of interesting dynamics. Just driving straight at 80 or 90 mph can keep you busy while trying to wring out that last mph.”

…but it was his experience with a certain VR device that kickstarted coding.

“I might not have done boats at all if it wasn’t for the Rift. I had looked at the demos and other products available for virtual reality and didn’t find any with small, high speed boats. I wanted to experience that, and also had some ideas about how to do it that had been cooking over the years, so gave it a try and it worked beautifully.”

“The Rift makes the experience feel more real, like you’re really there. You find yourself looking around at the scenery in a way that you don’t on regular monitors. The sense of scale for everything is right all the time no matter what you do. The sense of speed because of that along with the depth perception is greater too. The Rift is the main reason I didn’t make the scenery quite as detailed as it could be. I wanted the frame rates to be high enough for the Rift experience to be smooth and fluid all the time. It almost makes you forget that you’re sitting in a chair at a desk.”

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The Flare Path Foxer

As any late-war B-17 gunner will tell you, spotting comets isn’t easy. Eagle-eyed AFKAMC had eagle-eyed last week’s collage for almost 12 hours before he realised it was teeming with dirty celestial snowballs.

Comets (defoxed by AFKAMC)

a Comet tank (Shar_ds, AFKAMC)
b Yokosuka D4Y Suisei (AFKAMC)
c Vega program (AFKAMC)
d Comet railcar (Matchstick, Aphrion)
e Comet airliner (AFKAMC)
f Komet designer, Alexander Lippisch (unsolved)
g Roman coin featuring depiction of the Temple of the Comet Star (Matchstick, AFKAMC)
h GWR (users of Comet class locomotives) (unsolved)
i 433 Eros* (Orontes)
j Bayeux Tapestry bird (Shiloh, Aphrion)
k Comet Line HQ, Villa Voisin (Hydrogene, Stugle)
l Rapunzel’s tower (AbyssUK, Orontes)

*Clearly, Roman’s telescope isn’t powerful enough to distinguish near-Earth asteroids from comets.

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Foxer Fact #1018

Greek philosopher Anaphylaxis of Thessaly believed the cosmos was one giant foxer, and devoted much of his life to decoding it. Though he never arrived at a solution he was completely satisfied with, in De Caelo Teumessia, his most famous work, he suggests several possible themes including ‘beasts of burden’, ‘confectionery’, and ‘Tarzan’.

All answers in one thread, please.

52 Comments

  1. Stugle says:

    FOXER: The ship is HMS Rodney or Nelson, I do believe.

    • AFKAMC says:

      FOXER: Is the tower partially obscuring a de Havilland Dragon Rapide?

      (I got my 1930’s airliner mixed up last week, so don’t necessarily take my word for it.)

    • AFKAMC says:

      Nose of a Grumman F2F top left?

      • MadKerbal says:

        I think it may be an F3F as the F2F has the landing gear mounted lower down and a deeper engine cowling.

    • Stugle says:

      The ship picture matches perfectly with a 3-view profile drawer of HMS Nelson on Wikipedia, so let’s go with Nelson. As she was in 1931, apparently.

    • Rorschach617 says:

      First of many tentative guesses :)

      Top Right, the portee gun. Possibly an M6 Fargo (3/4 Ton Dodge truck with 37mm gun).

      • Beowulf says:

        You are correct regarding the vehicle – 37 mm Gun Motor Carriage M6, known as M6 Cargo.

        What I was wondering really is the gun, it doesn’t look like 37mm M3.

    • Stugle says:

      The logo on the top top left (above the tentative Grumman) seems to show the Golden Gate bridge and the skyline of… LA? This feels entirely ill-conceived, but I’ll go with it anyway.

      • unacom says:

        I´m thinking along the same lines -however I can´t place the logo…

      • Shiloh says:

        Could be San Francisco (if it’s the golden Gate Bridge) though?

        • Stugle says:

          Yeah, could just be San Fran. I thought the tallest building in the skyline looked a bit like the Bank of America building in downtown LA, but it could be the TransAmerica Pyramid with the pointiest bit cut off by the lettering.

          • Shiloh says:

            I’m wondering if that second word could be the first three-and-a-bit letters of “TOWER”.

          • Stugle says:

            “COIT TOWER”? I think we don’t have the third line needed for “I-T-T”. Personally, I was wondering if the fragment “HOW” could be in there, but damned if I can come up with anything relevant.

          • Shiloh says:

            SHOWER? With the bottom right of an S and half the H in blue, the other half of the H and the WE in olive drab…

          • phlebas says:

            SHOWBIZ?

          • skink74 says:

            Aha found it – it’s the logo for Dirt : Showdown
            link to en.wikipedia.org

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      Matchstick says:

      Airfield is RNAS Culdrose is Helston Cornwall aka HMS Seahawk (which immediately makes think of American Football teams)

      I really should have got that quicker as my Parent-in-law live just out of the picture.

    • Shiloh says:

      The picture of the woman sleeping by a tree looks like an Art Nouveau illustration for a children’s book of fairy stories.

      • AFKAMC says:

        Snow White had crossed my mind; because the guns on HMS Nelson were apparently named after the seven dwarves. No other link, though; there were no dragons in the story, were there?

    • AFKAMC says:

      Boxing champions?

      Joe Calzaghe known as the “Italian Dragon”
      Bob Fitzsimmons born in Helston
      Grumman was founded by Leroy Grumman – Leroy Jones

      But I realise the Nelson hold is from wrestling, so maybe not.

      • Stugle says:

        Another theme suggestion: Oil?

        HMS Nelson was nicknamed ‘Nels-ol’ because it’s profile looked like an RN oiler;
        Fargo is a boomtown in the North Dakota oil bonanza;
        RNAS Culdrose is where Harold Wilson cabinet decided to us the RAF to bomb the Torrey Canyon in a spectacular-if-of-dubious-merit example of thinking outside the box. I mean, seriously, they BOMBED an oil tanker in hopes of burning off the oil slick that was developing?

        I know my theory doesn’t hold up, but that Torrey Canyon bit was too good not to mention. :)

      • Rorschach617 says:

        OK, I have to stop for the day soon, so some things I have noticed that might spark some synapses.

        Both the Class 47 Loco and the Dragon Rapide (as the DH Dominie) were built at the Brush (Falcon?) works at Loughborough.

        Can anyone see a Cherry link (Nelson and Rodney were called the “Cherry Tree Class” since they were cut down by the Washington Naval Treaty.

    • mrpier says:

      Could the theme be spain/panish civil war?

      Hemingway novel set in pamplona, Franco escaped in a De havilland dragon rapide.

      • AFKAMC says:

        Yes:

        Spanish Civil War?

        “The Sun Also Rises” set in Spain
        Hemingway also wrote “For Whom The Bell Tolls”
        Dragon Rapide and Grumman FF both aircraft used in the war
        Steve Nelson was the political commissar of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade

      • mrpier says:

        Bah, edit-button, “spanish civil war” and franco was flown into spain with a dh89, not escaped.

      • AFKAMC says:

        What looks like a column on the left is actually a Vickers (Maxim) machine gun: link to regimentalrogue.tripod.com

      • mrpier says:

        The 37mm anti-tank gun on the truck was built based on experience from the spanish civil war apparently.

      • mrpier says:

        San Fransisco logo – Dictator Fransisco Franco I guess.

      • Rorschach617 says:

        Both San Francisco and Seattle (Seahawks link?) have monuments to the Abraham Lincoln Brigade.

      • Tim Stone says:

        Roman assures me the Spanish Civil War theme is totally accidental, and that ‘boxing champions’ and ‘oil’ are wild geese. This foxer still has plenty of fox in it.

    • Aphrion says:

      What is the border artwork thingy at the bottom of the foxer, overlapping everything but the Hemingway cover art? It’s a separate thing, but I don’t recognize it at all.

      • Aphrion says:

        Also, perhaps it’s a California theme: the Dirt logo clearly shows the Golden Gate bridge and other CA imagery, the Class 47 train is operated by West Coast Railways (link to en.wikipedia.org), and the Hobart building is located in San Francisco. Can anyone dis/prove this?

    • AFKAMC says:

      OK, I’m wondering if the link is Errol Flynn. Thanks to skink74 for setting me off on this trail.

      Flynn was born in Hobart, Tasmania.
      He appeared in “The Sea Hawk”.
      He also appeared in the movie version of “The Sun Also Rises”.
      One of his other movies was “Dive Bomber”, which featured the Grumman F3F, amongst other types.
      He co-starred with Olivia de Havilland several times.

      • AFKAMC says:

        He played Captain Nelson in “Objective, Burma!”
        He played the Earl of Essex “The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex” – is this the link to the locomotive?
        His first western was “Dodge City” – did we say the gun truck was a Dodge?

      • AFKAMC says:

        Major Geoffrey Vickers in “The Charge of the Light Brigade”.

      • AFKAMC says:

        And he wrote a novel called “Showdown”.

        Which just leaves the design across the bottom unaccounted for, I think?

        • Aphrion says:

          Well, there goes my theory. Nice job!

        • Stugle says:

          Well done! The Foxer seems to be turning more and more into a grudge match between you and Roman, with the rest of us fulfilling the role of more or less hapless bystanders. :)

          • AFKAMC says:

            Thanks. De-foxing does seem to have become something of an unhealthy obsession in the AFKAMC household lately. That, and the Flare Path jigsaw club…

  2. AFKAMC says:

    FOXER: Is the tower partially obscuring a de Havilland Dragon Rapide?

    (I got my 1930’s airliner mixed up last week, so don’t necessarily take my word for it.)

  3. iainl says:

    If there’s a point to speedboats, it’s their speed. So getting at least time-trial racing in there seems a no-brainer to me. Having put rather more hours into Waverace 64 than I care to count, some sort of racing game that’s about learning how to best ride the chop would do me nicely.

    The problem is, I want to race the things, rather than design hulls – so this isn’t really the game I’m after, it seems.

  4. TC-27 says:

    Thankyou Tim for discovering yet another wargaming gem for me to try – at £7 I am sold.

    AGEODS WON is also pretty good and to be fair its mainly a grand 1805-1815 campaign game so at a very different scale to COTD. Unfortunately a bug with the peace of Pressburg has stopped me getting much past 1806 but the developers have given me a fix before the official patch so hopefully we will get there.

  5. Canadave says:

    Step 36: License this song for the soundtrack: link to youtube.com