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The Flare Path: Brighton Breezy

Simulation & wargame news

Flare Path at Rezzed. How To Find Us : On entering the main hall, head towards the Prison Architect watchtower, keeping the giant Day Z can of beans on your right. Beneath the Sniper Elite exploding testicles turn left following signs to the disabled toilets. Next to the toilet door is a fire-exit that opens onto Mancini Avenue. Use this exit then cross the street and enter the park opposite. See that big copper beech on the knoll? Under it you'll find a dozing middle-aged man in a grubby army greatcoat. Spread out on a blanket in front of him will be an assortment of sim and wargame-related bric-a-brac. Peruse said bric-a-brac. If the man wakes, smile nervously at him and quickly retrace your steps.



Pavilioned In Splendour

The Flare Path is almost certainly the only Rezzed participant that travelled to the event by train simulator. In an attempt to cut costs /carbon emissions, I sallied Sussex-ward aboard a recent RailWorks add-on.

Hurtling along the 50-mile commuter line with its sweeping super-elevated curves, and plethora of prototypical bridges, viaducts and stations, it was impossible not to reflect on how far train simulation has come in the last quarter century. In the mid Eighties I used to do this same trip regularly. The only difference was, back then my steed was an exterior-less King Arthur Class steam locomotive, and the chalky South Downs looked like they'd been scoured of houses, trees and topsoil by an impossibly fierce cyclone.

In today's treatment you get handsome bespoke recreations of many lineside landmarks.

“Southern would like to apologise for the late arrival of the 07.22. The driver of this service slowed down to screenshot Battersea Power Station, the site of the tragic Clayton Tunnel rail disaster, airliners landing at Gatwick Airport, and several gasometers”.

Brighton Station - a delightful combination of Victorian grace and 21st Century utility - has been crafted with particular aplomb. Loitering under its airy arches and blinking display screens, I found myself picturing a range of compact high-detail sceneries designed primarily for virtual shunting, signalling, and trainspotting. Right now I can only think of one game that lets me stand on a platform end for hours, as accurately timetabled and plausibly hauled trains come and go. Unfortunately, Hellfire, the game in question, is largely text-based.

London - Brighton comes with a modern single-lever Electrostar EMU that, while pleasingly sculpted and wholly appropriate, isn't a particularly exciting or atmospheric drive. Audio remains one of RailWorks' weaker areas, and the Class 377's bland monophonic cab murmur - rarely counterpointed by track noise or station hubbub - does nothing to challenge this.

A dozen bundled scenarios means it's likely to be some time before you trundle off to for extra activities. None of the challenges involve freight or zombies  but as the prototype line isn't exactly awash with wagons or the undead, that's not necessarily a criticism.

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>>Ghastly Step/Steppe Pun Here<<

One of the more curious curios on Flare Path's Blanket of Wonders is a genuine Grande Armee bâton de l'Hexagone. These folding brass-and-bamboo instruments were used by military surveyors during Napoleon's ill-fated attempt to build Europe's first permanent hex-grid. Riverine difficulties and Wellington ultimately put paid to the scheme, but that hasn't stopped generations of wargame fabricators pretending that it succeeded.

The latest hexample to land in my lap is a preview build of upcoming Eastern Front heavyweight Decisive Campaigns: Case Blue. Naturally drawn to boldness and economy in wargame design, I approached the game's dense counter-clogged battlelines with a degree of trepidation. Happily, after an hour or two of patient pocketing and stately Schwerpunkting, I have to admit I'm really rather impressed.

If Unity of Command has left you yearning for something a little grander - a less piecemeal portrait of the 1942-43 fighting at the Stalingrad end of Europe - then Case Blue could be just the ticket. While the basics are deeply traditional (48hr IGOUGO turns.  Brigade-sized units. Action points...) a host of ingenious embellishments give the VR Designs design plenty of personality, depth and flavour.

Play as the invaders in hefty scenarios like Operation Uranus and Case Blue and your out-of-touch bosses back in Berlin will attempt to influence your plans by issuing short-term objectives. Failure to achieve these randomly-generated(?) goals costs prestige points (a currency that can also be lost through insensitive management of your Italian, Romanian, and Hungarian troops). Why should you worry about PPs? Well, for starters, a commander that runs out of the things risks summary dismissal.

Intriguingly, designer Victor Reijkersz has provided the means for resisting top-down pressure. At any time - assuming you've got enough Regime Points - you can play politics cards. While most of these take the form of “Send more Stukas!”-style reinforcement requests, a few persuade far-away grandees to abandon dangerously unrealistic pet plans. Do you spend your political capital adding bite to your Blitzkrieg, or do you spend it ensuring  your forces aren't squandered securing vanity VLs? FP heartily approves of unusual wargaming dilemmas like these.

Treatment of weather, supply lines, and leaders all looks reassuringly fibrous. The manner in which the Russian AI scrambled to bottle-up my breakthroughs and encircle my stragglers suggests the CPU will make a worthy opponent. Just about the only criticism I can make at this stage relates to scenario approach. Unless changes are made before release, wargamers arriving fresh from titles like Panzer Corps, Unity of Command, and Open General, may find the scale of the majority of the challenges a little scary.


The Flare Path Foxer

Can't make it to Brighton? Fret not. Piering at this week's Foxer for a few minutes is guaranteed to bring you closer to the Sussex city.

Between them, XDeus, Shar_ds, Gothnak, Hydrogene, Alex Bakke, and deejayem successfully disentangled 66% of last week's tube-map tagliatelle. For their efforts they get FP Flair Points made from London Underground escalator emergency stop buttons.

Three of the four unsolved stations are on the Prague Metro, the fourth is a RER station in Paris:

Střížkov (red, bottom left corner)

Můstek (green and yellow, top right corner)

Národní třída (yellow, disabled access, below Můstek)

Luxembourg (white dot on narrow blue line, centre)

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