People of Argentina, people of Britain, for the past week The Flare Path Strategic Studies Institute has been conducting detailed simulations of a possible Second Falklands War. Using Custer II - an engine built with the assistance of Bohemia Interactive, Battlefront.com, Turbo Tape Games and PopCap - we've run over 1000 separate conflict scenarios. Of these, 54% ended in stalemate, 19% were won by the defence industry, 12% by TV news networks, 8% by politicians, 5% by oil companies and 2% by anthropomorphic sunflowers. The FPSSI boffins are still analysing defeat data, but preliminary findings indicate that the biggest losers in any future Falklands bust-up would be hapless civilians, and servicemen and their families.
Midnight In The Kelp Forest
When Turbo Tape Games aren't busy updating Custer II's weapons database, they're usually to be found sea-ottering away on their own wet warfare sim. Naval War: Arctic Circle is a game that teaches you to be afraid of little crimson arrows. I know this because I spent yesterday being afraid of little crimson arrows.
The arrows represent incoming projectiles like Shipwrecks, Kayaks and Kedges, and are at their most alarming when you can't see the cagey Cupids that dispensed them. Like its great-grandfather, NWAC is a wargame built around an intriguing and very real dilemma: in contemporary naval confrontations finding your enemy often means activating the sensors that allow your enemy to find you. The devs have described it as like two torch-equipped men hunting each other at night in a forest.
On this occasion the forest is a rectangle of brine that stretches from the Barents and the Baltic in the east to Canada in the west. It's 2030 and what starts as a tiff over fishing rights between Russia and a slimmed-down NATO, rapidly descends into missile cruisers at twenty-thousand paces. The speed with which push turns to shove is matched by the speed with which the game transforms you from clueless landlubber to waypoint-scattering Norwegian vice-admiral. Four tutorials tear through the basics of unit movement, sub hunting, and air operations. Before you know it you're dunking sonar buoys and directing naval strikes like you've been doing it all your life.
Paradox productions don't come much more approachable or ergonomic than this. Though I'm hoping there's still time to add a dedicated sensor tutorial, and a map mode showing sensor coverage (I'm still unsure of the advantages and disadvantages of the various manually toggleable radar and sonar systems, and confused as to how weather and land masses effect detection) I've yet to stumble over any carelessly coiled GUI hawsers, or find myself trawling the manual in search of
halibut answers. While facing challenges that have included a Russian invasion of Iceland, and an attempted enemy sub breakout through the GIUK Gap, the only head-scratching I've done has been tactical head-scratching.
After a long spell of on-shore wargaming, the conundrums in NWAC feel sea-breeze fresh. My last engagement ended with a situation that has no direct parallels in Combat Mission or Command Ops. I was attempting to gain air superiority over Norway and, through careless sortie scheduling, managed to wind-up with 80% of my Gripens on the ground re-arming and refuelling at the same time. With my tireless AWACS planes tracking waves of incoming MiGs and Sukhois, there was nothing I could do but curse my own short-sightedness as the 'ready to launch' clock ticked painfully slowly towards zero. The first of the replenished fighters were just hauling themselves back into the fight when the volley of tiny crimson arrows pounded their unprotected airbase into oblivion.
If the first half-dozen NATO missions are any guide then the two 12 episode campaigns should be entertaining affairs. The life-or-death seriousness of the battle choreography is nicely offset by spiky inter-mission exchanges between your character and an ex-naval academy 'pal'; the deteriorating situation plausibly relayed by newspaper front pages. As a paid-up member of the Campaign For More Imaginative Wargame Campaigns Campaign I was disappointed to find scenarios arranged in a rigid line-astern formation, especially as failures seem to prevent any form of progress. Turbo Tape, is it too late for you to add a dash of unit carry-over or pre-battle purchasing to your story sequences?
American and Chinese forces likely to be added to the bulging unit database via a future add-on or sequel? Will we ever get a scenario editor or skirmish generator? Is there any possibility the engine could be adapted for use in the PC's first strategic simulation of the U-boat War?... Come to think of it, there's a lot of things I'd like to ask the developers of this refreshingly stealthy maritime mayhem simulator. Keep your Thales MRR 3D dishes pointed in this direction. An interview is almost certainly incoming.
Warning. This Demo May Contain Demo Charges
There's a chance - albeit a small one - that Wot I Think of Combat Mission: Battle for Normandy Commonwealth Forces won't be wot you think. For this reason, I urge you to play the new CMBN demo. Augmented with a lively Scots and Poles vs. Waffen SS ding-dong, the 570MB taster does an excellent job of conveying the current state of CMx2.
^This is me contemplating the intricate orchard-clogged map and wondering how on earth my scratch band of weary SS remnants are going to keep the central east-west highway open for their retreating comrades.
^This is me umming and ahhing about the positioning of my one artillery piece.
^This is a couple of Allied armoured cars regretting a turn into Stielhandgranate Avenue.
^This is me screaming at my schreck team to “Stop shaking, and start shooting!”
^This is my Jagdpanzer cooking the goose of the world's deafest and least observant Cromwell tank.
^This is my Tiger culling cocky armoured cars whilest praying none of the houses in this street are occupied by Mr and Mrs. PIAT.
The Flare Path Foxer
FP is thinking of buying an automobile. There are eight models currently on his shortlist. Can you name them?