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The Flare Path: Battleships, Gunships, Rosehips

Simulation & Wargame Blather

While much of the European Regional Development Fund is frittered away on Spanish zeppelin termini and 200ft-tall unicorn sculptures for Romanian mountain tops*, some does end up in the hands of genuinely deserving recipients like JetCat Games. The Vilnius-based studio are using a slither of the vast EC money pie to help build a multiplayer military chopper game. Currently in closed alpha, Heliborne has 'POTENCIALAS' written all over it.

* probably

Clearly, JetCat have been enjoying Gaijin's wonderful War Thunder and eyeing Wargaming.net's Cyprus-obscuring cash heap. There are no details of the business model yet, but FP would be surprised if this rotary-wing WIP eventually emerged as a traditional £30 purchase with all 64 of the planned chopper types available from the outset. No, it's far more likely we'll be starting out in bumbling MASH-style Sioux and Piasecki Flying Bananas, and gunning, rocketing, missiling and troop-taxiing our way up towering tech trees to the guano-streaked roosts of sleeker, more modern whirlybirds.

On paper, Heliborne's team tussle concept sounds inspired. Vietnam, Afghanistan, and Balkans-themed maps will be studded with capturable bases. Deliver troops to these sandbagged staging posts before your opponent and they'll come under your control. Arrive to find the foxholes occupied and AA guns manned and you've a scrap on your hands. Gunships like the Hind, Huey and Apache will probably do the majority of the base bothering and dogfighting, while specialised snoopers such as the Westland Scout and Kamov Helix scope out future conquest opportunities and keep an eye on current possessions.

With air insertion at the heart of the game, big-bellied transports are sure to be an important element in every force too. When the likes of Chinooks, Hips and Hueys aren't busy shuttling men and supplies to hilltop Khe-Sanhs, they'll be chauffeuring pesky anti-air and mortar teams to less obvious locations. Fixate on flying foes and base acquisition and your session may well be cut short by a patient rural ambusher packing a Stinger or an RPG-7.

Encouragingly for those fliers fonder of Apache Air Assault AH-64s than Comanche 4 RAH-66s, JetCat are planning to implement an optional 'realistic' FM mode at some point. Having spent a significant portion of the past week on anachronistic WW2 battlefields attempting to sink USN dreadnoughts with USN dreadnoughts, the dev's commitment to uninational teams and theatre-appropriate ride choices also earns them Flare Path flair points.

My alpha application was submitted yesterday. Assuming it's accepted, expect impressions of Heliborne hellraising very soon.

Cover image for YouTube video

Always fancied dipping your toes in the DICASS-dotted waters of Command: Modern Air/Naval Operations but never had the requisite £45 to hand? Slitherine/Matrix/Warfare Sims may have just furnished a solution.

The £13 15-scenario Command: Northern Inferno (also sold through Steam) is available as either a CMANO expansion pack or a standalone wargame. The missions have been crafted by Paul Bridge, a serving RN officer and Falklands War veteran, so should ring true. Browsing his scenario descriptions, the following phrases leap out like bow-wave-frolicking dolphins.

"Norway has been invaded."

"Iceland has been heavily bombarded and then seized by Soviet forces."

"The Soviet Navy is sending its Sverdlov heavy cruisers down the Denmark Strait"

"The Ark Royal carrier group and its Buccaneer low-level strike aircraft will strike at the heart of Soviet Naval Aviation."

"Multiple cells of SAC B-52 bombers, armed with nuclear weapons, are reaching their “point of no return” locations over the Arctic Circle."

"RAF bases have been hit with nuclear weapons."

"25-megaton blasts have devastated Plymouth and Faslane, and much improved Portsmouth."

One of those quotes may be fabricated.

There's no mention of editor compatibility in the feature list, so it sounds like Northern Inferno purchasers won't be able to extend their WW3 fun with community-made challenges. That's a bit of a shame - half of CMANO's appeal is its plasticity.

Cover image for YouTube video

Ignoring a sage warning from FP reader mariandavid, I've done most of my World of Warshipping aboard a tier 3 South Carolina Class battleship these past seven days. Apparently built from recycled firework cardboard and fitted with a rudder the size of a cigarette case, this hulking leviathan is guaranteed to test the patience and sap the spirit of even the cheeriest captains.

The first BB available to US tech tree scalers, its particular talents include the ability to...

Shield friendly vessels from shoals of incoming tin fish.

Distract enemy attackers with extravagant pyrotechnic displays.

And sink swiftly beneath the waves, thus clearing fire lanes for more effective comrades.

When I pressed the South Carolina's purchase button, I naively assumed that a BB's outsized armaments would allow me to sit back and pound cruisers from afar. I foolishly imagined thicker armour would mean I lived longer and needed to reach for the firefighting key less often. In fact my Castle of Steel rarely seems to be outside the range of its targets, and any small advantage in reach and punch is more than counterbalanced by horrendous rate of fire and turret traverse speed disadvantages. In short, the South Carolina is a loathsome lummox.

But, like a nugget-obsessed 49er, I persevere, going out day after day in the hope of seeing the glint of gold. Paydirt for the WoWS battleship user is the golden "Hits to Citadel" ribbon. Occasionally - very occasionally if you're captaining a Carolina - one of your arcing AP shells will find a weak-spot, an open hatch, a vulnerable magazine. A huge hull-rending explosion will make all the misses, all the dawdling towards the action, seem worthwhile.

I gather other types of battleship are far less exasperating than my current tub. Though I'm looking forward to unlocking vessels that (a) come with launchable scout planes and (b) don't ignite at the drop of a hat, I do wonder if I'll ever enjoy WoWS's BBs the way I enjoy the DDs and CAs. It's not just the sluggishness and slow reloading that taints the battleship experience, I'm not sure I like the way Wargaming have implemented damage control in capital ships. Skipper a cruiser and damage control is limited to dabbing the firefighting key now and again in order to halt HP-haemorrhaging blazes and flooding, and restore temporarily disabled systems. In a BB you also have the dubious 'Repair Party' ability at your disposal - a 'consumable' that actually restores hunks of lost hitpointage when used. Even for a game that manhandles history as roughly as WoWS does, the ability to gulp what is, in effect, a giant hole-patching, corpse-animating Health Potion in the midst of battle feels like a stylisation too far.

Next week in FP, assuming Neptune smiles on me, thoughts on carrier captaincy.




The Foxer

AFKAMC defoxes like a young* Elvis Elvstrøm. The quiet industry, the lateral litheness, the infectious confidence... watching him fillet last week's Woody Allen collage took me straight back to the Leipzig Metropole and the extraordinary summer of '78.

* pre-LSD

Theme: the films of Woody Allen (defoxed by AFKAMC)

a Midnight in Paris, Paris Manhattan (AFKAMC)
b Annie Hall, Radio Days (mrpier)
c Annie Hall (foop)
d Sleeper (AFKAMC)
e Mighty Aphrodite (Shiloh)
f Bananas (Artiforg)
g Broadway Danny Rose, The Purple Rose of Cairo (Stugle)
h Hannah and Her Sisters (AFKAMC)
i The Curse of the Jade Scorpion (All is Well)
j Blue Jasmine (All is Well)
k Manhattan, Manhattan Murder Mystery, Paris Manhattan (Shiloh)


Roman and his ilk are a superstitious bunch. A few of the things you'll never find in a foxer:

An open umbrella
A horseshoe bat
A spadefoot toad
A snark
A boojum
A salt cellar
Amy Johnson
Blood diamonds
Brewer's yeast
The toenail clippings of a serving Postmaster General
The toenail clippings of a serving Witchfinder General

All answers in one thread, please

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Tim Stone