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The Flare Path: And The Disappointed Dervish

Simulation & wargame blather

In the fast-moving world of Flare Path, new games, like Armour Piercing shells and commandant-impersonating stalag escapees, only get one chance to make a good first impression. This week three titles have trooped into the converted Pickett-Hamilton Fort I use as a workspace, only to troop out again a short time later looking like shellshocked Dragons' Den survivors. The first of those games was shown the door in under 10 minutes.

On November 6, a quartet of elderly MicroProse sims surfaced on Steam. As GOG.com had supplied me with the two Silent Services earlier in the year, and my one abiding memory of the genre-blurring Across The Rhine is the awfulness of its weird windowpaned interface, I made directly for Task Force 1942.

The Pacific naval sim that paved the way for the marvellous Pacific Air War, TF1942 has no modern equivalent so seems like an excellent candidate for resurrection. All that a responsible Jerry Cruncher needs to do to secure the approbation/funds of BB-starved simmers the world over, is remove the manual-reliant name-the-vessel piracy protection that precedes every mission, ensure the 25-year-old veteran works on modern systems, and attach a fair price tag. While Night Dive Studios just about managed the latter (TF1942 is $7/£5) they failed dismally in their other duties. Not only does the Steam version bar you from bridges if you fail to name a warship chosen at random from the recognition section of the original manual (naturally, a pdf of that manual isn't provided) there's also a good chance it will refuse to play any sounds outside of the intro video. Poor show Night Dive, poor show.


My feelings towards Buzz Aldrin's Space Program Manager have taken longer to crystallize, and are slightly more nuanced, but basically boil down to the same thing. Disappointment.

Polar Motion's paean to space exploration is packed with carefully researched history and appealing animations. As an interactive encyclopaedia, it's fascinating. Where it struggles is in converting all that Sputnik slinging and Eagle engineering into compelling play mechanisms.

A turn-based R&D race/man management sim with structural similarities to Buzz Aldrin's Race Into Space, it asks you to spend far too much time laboriously assigning training topics to faceless personnel, and watching rocket reliability bars slowly extend. Choosing which of the myriad possible projects to pursue next can be thought-provoking, but the unimaginative way in which skill and reliability stats improve then translate into mission success chances, means the pattern of play rapidly becomes tiresome.

Even technical crises and astronaut-extinguishing disasters don't accelerate pulse rates. When something goes wrong a vague message appears, dice are rolled (silently, off-stage) and another officious pop-up announces whether your rocket, probe, shuttle etc. has survived the scare. Mini-games, humour, flawed astronauts, acerbic performance assessments from Mr. Aldrin... BASPM needs something to enliven its dry-as-moon-rock proceedings.


The last of this week's sigh-coaxers is an Early Access beta so probably deserves a little leniency.
The fact that my first game of Making History: The Great War made Alice's Adventures In Wonderland seem workaday, doesn't mean I've totally given up on Muzzy Lane's Paradoxian WeGo TBS.

As tutorials are not yet implemented, and the basics of troop movement and country management aren't hard to grasp, I thought I'd leap straight in and try my luck as France in 1914. My first one-week turn was spent commissioning army and naval units, choosing R&D projects, switching factory output from civilian goods to weapons and ammo, and rail-transporting combatants to north-western provinces. In the second, third, and fourth turns I watched and waited, cagily cursor-scrutinising the Boche forces milling about in the Ruhr and Alsace-Lorraine.

When war finally arrived, the results of early engagements were so encouraging I decided to go on the offensive. By the second week of October, half of Germany was the same shade of blue as a French Army greatcoat, a British expeditionary force was fighting near Keil, and two of my boldest cavalry units were a short gallop from Berlin. On November 1st, 21 turns in, the Kaiser's capital fell. On December 6, the on-its-knees Germany declared war on the Austro-Hungarian Empire and I accidentally spluttered some blackcurrant squash onto my keyboard.

For my second session I thought I'd turn my back on European silliness, and try life as an African minor. In a dervish state I plumped for The Dervish State and almost instantly regretted my decision. Flicking through the various map filters, it was clear I'd selected a tiny, very poor two-province country at war with all of its neighbours. To the west lay a vast and hostile Abyssinia, to the North the small but scary British Somaliland, and to the East and South, the similarly well-connected Italian East Africa. After my hurriedly dispatched peace envoys were all snubbed, I prepared for imminent extinction.

I hadn't reckoned on the sleepy incompetence of my foes. After seeing off a feeble assault from the west, I left my capital undefended and marched into Abyssinia. By turn 14, the Ethiopian armies were shattered, the handsome Dervish flag was flapping over Addis Ababa, and 433 captured golds were cluttering my treasury. I was rich and conquest of the entire Horn of Africa suddenly seemed perfectly practical.

Soon after that, French Somaliland fell without a whimper, Italian-administered Mogadishu too... By the time I saved and quit, uprisings in occupied lands were starting to cause problems, but there was no sign that the likes of Italy, Britain, and France were about to rain on my dusty parade.

My brief brush with Making History: The Great War suggests Muzzy Lane still have a lot of work to do. Players looking for plausible treatments of The War To End All Wars are not short of choices, and while MHTGW is friendly, reasonably attractive, and packed with playable nations, it doesn't appear to have the AI strength, military finesse, or finely balanced scenarios necessary to compete with the likes of Commander: The Great War, Strategic Command WWI and To End All Wars.



The Flare Path Foxer

Last week's collage had impresario implications - impresario implications impressively intuited by AFKAMC (with assistance from FurryLippedSquid, Napoleon15, foop, deejayem, phlebas, and Rorschach617).

a. Commodore Nutt
b. Sherman Jumbo
c. K3 EX-135 'Humbug'
d. Beriev A-40 'Mermaid'
e. Sea area 'Bailey'
f. Triumph Herald
g. Interface detail from P.T.B
h. The Missing Link
i. Jenny Lind locomotive


Five things you probably didn't know about Roman, the wizened wikipede who composes the picture puzzles for this column:

1. On June 18, 2010 he gave up fear, tact, and dairy.
2. In 1975 he was knocked down and almost killed by this mobile library.
3. His aquarium features a 1/72 scale model of a Rettungsboje.
4. His vivarium features a 1/72 scale model of a crashed Caproni Ca.133.
5. His formicarium features a 1/72 scale model of Professor George Edward Challenger.

All answers in one thread, please.

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Tim Stone