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The Flare Path: Goes Dutch

simulation & wargame blather

When covering Pegasus Bridge or Eben-Emael wargames, verbose intros are verboten. You are duty-bound to coup de main your subject... drop right on top of it in the dead of night or at the crack of dawn. When writing about Market Garden wargames the rules are a little different. Not only are leisurely preambles permitted, questionable conclusions written in Polish are fine too. Can't be arsed to acknowledge the Panzery portion of the game in question? Not a problem. Ignore it. Of course, the thing that really marks out a quality MG piece is liberal use of static. Every paragraph should be festooned wFZZZTTZZZTTating WIEEEEUUUWW the reader KLIKKLIKFZZZZZZZZZdesperateHISSSSSSSSSSHZZZPPerated.

Operation Market Garden wargames might be two-a-penny but the prospect of the next (and final) Combat Mission: Battle for Normandy module, still leaves me a trifle giddy. The last time Battlefront tackled Monty's ambitious attempt to leap the Rhine and shorten the war in Europe, series pioneer Combat Mission: Beyond Overlord provided the facilities. Arnhem ended up an airy collection of bungalows, perfectly square townhouses, and grid-like roads - the iconic concrete-and-steel bridge, a stone eyesore lacking main arch, pillboxes, or parapets. The whole thing, even then, felt like an abstraction too far.

This time out, screenshots suggest we're about to get one of wargaming's most atmospheric and accurate 3D battlefields. BF workers have been busy crafting a range of distinctively Dutch structures including handsomely gabled Seventeenth Century patrician houses, van Goghian canal bridges, and, of course, winsome windmills. Like a circle in a spiral, like a wheel within a wheel, never ending or beginning on an ever spinning reel, they've then patiently positioned these objects on the seven vast master maps from which the game's 14 standalone and 21 campaign mission maps will be cut.

Those campaign episodes are shared between a smallish German sequence in which players use scratch forces in environments ranging from heathery drop-zones to soggy polders and pristine middle-class suburbs, and a larger Allied one focussed on XXX Corps' slow progress up Hell's Highway, and the bloody capture of the bridge before the bridge too far by the US 505th Parachute Infantry. While the tenacious Red Devils up at Arnhem don't get their own showcase, their efforts are likely to be recognised via standalone scraps, and are sure to feature in numerous user-made projects.

The list of CM: Market Garden's debuting units and formations is as long as a Bangalore torpedo, but look closely and you'll see that, while many of the incomers might be new to CM:BfN a fair few have appeared previously in sister wargame CM: Fortress Italy/Gustav Line. Genuine strangers include a slew of unfamiliar German halfrack variants, and Allied armoured oddballs like the Crusader III AA Mk II and the does-my-turret-look-big-in-this? Challenger Mk VIII.

In certain connoisseurial corners of the Combat Mission community, official talk of urban fighting improvements has caused just as much excitement as screenshots of obscure weaponry and luscious Low Countries scenery. At present CM:BfN's failure to model tank gun elevation limits, and blanket ban on the use of bazookas, panzerschrecks, and panzerfausts inside buildings, means urban environments are not quite as perilous for steel trundlers as they possibly should be. There's no hard information yet on what form the improvements will take, but if they make it possible for desperate infantrymen to employ AT weaponry while inside buildings (with all the back-blast risks that sometimes entails) then they're sure to be popular.


Third Rail, First Look

While wargame devs have always fawned over Arnhem, the sim variety tend to prefer the city sixty miles down the road. Fresh-ish from a starring role in Ship Simulator and a cameo in Euro Truck Simulator 2, Rotterdam now finds itself at the centre of a rather promising train sim beta.

MetroSimulator, a one-man rapid transit recreation, features a fictional three-line, nineteen-station network inspired by the Rotterdam Metro. Though scenery and lighting are pretty basic at present (improvements are on the way) and Rotterdamers Rotterdamians Rotters are nowhere to be seen, strong physics, detailed systems modelling, and unusually flexible AI suggest creator Michiel is more than capable of crafting the definitive light rail sim.

In the current build, driveable EMUs include all of the five classes that have bustled along RET rails since they were laid in the late Sixties. There's also a crude diesel shunter for shuffling stock in the network's pair of crowded depots. Preparing trains for service is actually a game in itself in MetroSim. Because the ceaseless timetables draw on a finite supply of rolling stock, and Michiel shuns the smoke-and-mirrors spawning of other sims, the option is always there to play as a yard dogsbody forming and positioning trains for the constant stream of AI drivers.

Non-clickable panels, simulated vigilance systems, and local peculiarities like the ATB in-cab signalling system mean going for a spin without first browsing the manual may lead to irritating immobility. Once mastered, however, most of the rides are, thanks to single-lever combined throttle and brakes, a doddle to operate. With underground sections, improved shadows, and replacement of the lollipop trees on the cards, the near-future for Metro Sim should be fascinating.


The Flare Path Foxer

Asked to identify a WW2 tank from its drive sprockets, a 1930s bomber from its wheel spats, or a Great War submarine from its barnacles, veteran defoxers seldom disappoint. The only time you really see them floundering is in the presence of 'Spot the Schreck' or 'Pinpoint the PIAT'-type puzzles. Last week's 'Find the Firebomb' generated a blizzard of bafflement intense enough to bury a KV-2. Rather than return the five unclaimed prizes (copies of WeGo classic Combat Mission: Barbarossa to Berlin) to GamersGate, I thought I'd give everyone a second bite of the cherry orchard.

To make things a little easier this time around, a selection of the unsuccessful guesses have been marked on the grid. Send your new guesses in via the 'Tim Stone' link at the top of the column, and if you're close enough (one square away will do) and swift enough, I'll reply with a CMBB activation code (0 left!).

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Tim Stone