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The Flare Path: Does The Hippy Hippy Shako

Simulation & wargame blather

Why are AGEOD revisiting the American Civil War? Is firing from the Hip as tricky as it looks? What's the largest animal that could pass through a John Deere 1400 baler and survive? Why is there Marmite on my bannister?* Does beginning yet another Flare Path with a string of questions mean I'm as creatively bankrupt as Nathan "Oh. Oh my." Grayson? In this week's Flare Path I intend to answer the questions the other simulation and wargaming columns won't, can't, shan't, daren't or Robert Plan't answer.

*Not a euphemism.

Let's get the baler and the bannister ones out of the way first (Juvenile badger. My domovoi has a thing for yeast extract).

AGEOD's motivation is harder to pin down. After a day with Civil War II preview code, I suspect the studio briefly known as Paradox France have returned to the disUnited States of the 1860s because they are determined to make my brain melt think a massive new map and some interesting extra play mechanisms will lead to richer and more redolent American Civil War recreations.

The opportunity to play regional decision cards and choose battle plans does mean there's more period flavour and military intimacy this time round.

More an additional order selection than a card game-style fan of possibilities (your hand is determined by the scenario, and many cards can be played several times) decision cards affect single regions and generally result in new units, weakened enemies, boosted treasuries, conscript pools, or VP tallies. Sometimes there's a cost in cash, local loyalty, or national morale, and a chance your efforts will be fruitless. As a mechanism for adding historical nuances like submarine ops, slave labour (only available to CSA players, natch) and scorched earth tactics without introducing a mass of extra rules at the same time, it's rather clever.

The battle planner, another sound idea, is less pleasingly executed. Engagements in earlier Athena engine games could feel a tad arms-length, a little lottery-like. The WeGo turn structure meant you plotted unit movements and assigned combat stances, then looked on helplessly as armies attempted to carry out those orders, possibly colliding with enemy unit stacks in the process (The actual fury of battle was, and still is, represented by a jaunty slaughter swingometer). Now when two opposing armies tangle, you're sometimes invited to influence the bloodshed by choosing from a range of deployment templates and battle blueprints. The better your commander, the more information you'll have on the enemy deployment, and - in theory - the higher your chances of picking a canny plan. While it's nice to have a seat at the tactical table at last, that seat is currently a little too low and far away from the lantern-lit maps to be all that useful. Because the battle planner interface doesn't let you scrutinise your own force composition and fails to provide much useful information on the opposing general - his character, previous battle habits etc - the 'let the AI decide' button ends up far more attractive than it should be.

The combination of multi-tiered armies and a vast 3000-territory map mean this is not a game I could confidently recommend to an AGEOD ingenue (If you've never tried one of the dev's creations Alea Jacta Est is probably the place to start). Where earlier titles in the series simply ask you to attach leaders to suitably sized stacks of brigades, battalions or legions (the better the commander, the larger the force they can boss), in CW2 truly effective armies are those thoughtfully subdivided into corps and divisions.

At the start of the 114-turn (turns represent 15 days) full campaign, there are numerous unattached generals and brigades standing around waiting to be appointed and arranged. It's all a bit overwhelming to be honest. Command chain chores combined with that colossal play area, and some crashes (that, happily, AGEOD seem to be on top of) explain why I've spent most of my time thus far with the three short scenarios: Bull Run (5 turns), Shiloh (8 turns) and New Mexico (16 turns).

With its Amerindian units, fort-littered venue, and approachable scale and duration, the latter has a strong whiff of the excellent Birth of America 2 (another good place to start if you're new to the series) about it. What a shame there won't be more challenges of this size included with the base game. Once you've tired of the three lunchtime-friendly micro-scenarios, you've no option but to embark on one of the two versions of the mammoth main attraction.

I'm not sure I can say anything all that useful about AI quality and turn processing durations at this point (Though, early in the main campaign there's no sign of Pride of Nation-style ponderousness, and based on previous AGEOD offerings, I'd be surprised if artificial opponents were less than competent). Musically and artistically, CW2 is a demure delight. Card illustrations and unit and general portraits are lovely. The cartography and terrain window art isn't as decorative or atmospheric as it was in Civil War I, but with the new style comes greater clarity.

Released next Tuesday, CW2 isn't for the faint of heart. Series veterans and scholars of the Civil War should enjoy the colour, depth and the dizzying room to manoeuvre, but newcomers may find themselves floundering at first and decrying the lack of medium-sized scenarios later.


Hip Hip Hooputthattruckthere?

At the time of writing DCS:WW2 is $35,000 away from getting its airworthiness certificate and $310,000 away from taking off from a significantly extended map in the company of a Flying Fortress.

Meanwhile, in another corner of the DCS World aerodrome, Belsimtek erks are crouching nervously in the weeds as dumpy Russian helos flown by an assortment of eager Mi-8MTV2 early adopters stir up dust clouds, flop onto concrete taxiways, and clip carelessly parked service vehicles.

I'm finding the latest DCS World helo - a breathtakingly detailed depiction of the Mi-8 Hip - a bit of a handful compared to the Huey unveiled a few months back, but having had a soft spot for these ungainly workhorses since sharing skies/sorties with them in Digital Integration's Hind back in the Nineties, I'm not sure there's a faux flying machine I'd rather be spending time with right now.

Proper cold starts are much more involved than they are on the Iroquois. If the Mi-8's overhead panels weren't fitted with natty hinged bars that allow rows of switches to be switched simultaneously, getting this Soviet-era stall wart ready for flight would be a digit wearying business.

Originally intended for civilian use, the Hip has big child-bearing hips, a cavernous cargo womb, and, yes, this analogy was a bad idea. Weapons such as bombs, rockets and gun pods are bolted to unflattering fuselage brackets giving the aircraft an endearing A-Team air. Used by air forces the world over for tasks ranging from ground attack and recon to mine laying and medevac, repainters and sortie builders should have a field day.

At present, while the FM is essentially complete (and verified by a real Mi-8 pilot) there are substantial gaps in the documentation and tutorials, and little campaign content included. By the time this pricey ($50) but painstakingly researched add-on bids goodbye to beta status, those gaps will have been filled and, fingers crossed, Hipsters should be collecting and delivering new high-detail infantry, and wrestling with pendulous sling loads.


The Flare Path Foxer

Making your way in the world today takes everything you've got. Taking a break from all your worries sure would help a lot. Wouldn't you like to be as good as solving Foxers as phlebas? After Zephro, All is Well and FuryLippedSquid put names to most of last week's collage components, the phabulous phleb drew their attention to the Cheers theme.

A) Browning Automatic Rifle (BAR) and Pointe du Hoc cliff.
B) Sikorsky S-64 Skycrane.
C) Bristol Bullfinch (The Bull & Finch pub was used for Cheers exterior shots)
D) Verville Air Coach.
E) Woody.
G) Douglas Boston.

As I think I may have mentioned before, many volumes in my Alexandria-rivalling reference library have been ravaged by the ink-partial larvae of the common booklouse (Biblioscelis expungus). Just yesterday I was thumbing through a tome written in the 1930s and stumbled on this completely incomplete passage. A Flare Path flair point made from the handle of Neville Chamberlain's chamberlainpot to the defoxer whose 15 suggestions match my memory of the missing words most closely.

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