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The Flare Path: Unstitched

Sim and wargaming news

Crisis! Geoff, the retired sailmaker who usually stitches together FP news stories, phoned in sick this morning (housemaid's knee). We've experimented with alternative fastenings - velcro, staples, bulldog clips, ant-head sutures... - but none of them are strong and flexible enough to join this week's selection of topical sim and strategy snippets. Unless Irma's ongoing porridge experiments prove successful, I fear today's column will have to take the form of an index finger inconveniencing gallery.

Wargame purveyors and producers, if US defence chiefs ever invite you to the Pentagon to showcase one of your creations, be sure to take hiking boots and energy bars. According to a piece in British local newspaper the Epsom Guardian, Slitherine bosses Iain and JD McNeil, and WarfareSims' Dimitris Dranidis were led through “17.5 miles of corridors” during a recent visit to the nerve centre of the World's most powerful military. Explaining Command: Modern Air/Naval Operations' intricacies is hard enough when you're fresh. After five hours of passage wending it must have been nigh on impossible.

With Slitherine Group angling for an American defence contracts, the chances of CMANO fans getting 'Command LIVE' DLC based on clumsy Trumpian or Clintonesque foreign policy seem slimmer than ever. Thank goodness Putin is no shrinking violet.

Drive on Moscow, the second Shenandoah iOS title to be ported to PC, needs to be bug-free and challenging. Its predecessor, Battle of the Bulge, ultimately drove me away with its frustrating freezes and error-prone enemies. This statement from publisher Slitherine suggest things have improved in the AI department, but until I've got a few campaigns under my bandoleer (The game will be Wot I Thinked in next week's column) I won't be counting chickens or handing out gongs. I'm hoping that a week in the company of this enticingly priced release will also help me understand why designer Ted Raicer chose to rotate Russia ninety degrees to the left. Weirdly this is an Operation Barbarossa high tide in which the weary Wehrmacht waves move from bottom to top rather than from left to right.

If today's FP is a little shorter than usual blame Tante Ju. I visited the Ju 52 Wikipedia page intending to compare 1CGS/777's work-in-progress cockpit screenshots with a photo of the real thing and ended up wandering the Net for a good hour looking for verification of this fascinating statement: “On 10 May [1940] alone, 278 [Ju 52s] were downed or disabled. Thus, almost an entire year's production was lost in one day in the Netherlands. The lack of sufficient numbers of aircraft most probably heavily influenced the decision not to invade England following the Battle of Britain”.

IL-2 Sturmovik: Battle of Stalingrad's regrettable lack of flyable Ju 52s should have been rectified by the end of the year. A cockpit-equipped version of the Luftwaffe's corrugated workhorse is to be inserted into the sim and its sister title Battle of Moscow via a $25 ($20 if you pre-order) 'collector's plane' in the next month or two. In other IL-2 news, some of the sim's finest fliers are currently working out display routines and pushing Yak-1s to the limit in readiness for the 2016 AIRussia Open. A three-discipline competition taking place between the 18th and 27th of November, pilots that don't read Russian may struggle in the aerial orienteering, but shouldn't be disadvantaged in the race and aerobatic events.

Given a choice between a designed-from-scratch-for-the-PC wargame and a board game conversion my natural inclination is for the former. (When you've got a powder-coated protégé under your desk able to resolve a thousand shell impacts or test a thousand supply lines in the time it takes to flip a counter or roll a dice, it seems rather wasteful to use it for simulating cardboard crudities like strength steps and Combat Results Tables). However, in thematic areas where there is no choice, I'll happily take analogue hand-me-downs.

The Lordz Game Studios' latest project - Bloody April, 1917 - promises something unprecedented on the PC – a serious tactical recreation of WW1 air warfare. Let's hope the Slitherine-owned studio best known for Panzer Corps have the freedom to improve and enrich Terry Simo's design where necessary, and aren't planning to broaden the game's apparently narrow initial focus via a slow diarrhoea of DLC.

Dovetail have been talking about Simugraph, the vehicle dynamics engine that should ensure the trains in Train Sim World feel trainier than the trains in Train Simulator 2017. In theory the result of modelling rolling stock as collections of interlinked components is more realistic braking and acceleration and much subtler and more dynamic audio. It all looks and sounds marvellous, but my four-aspect anticipation signal will continue to show a single yellow light until the Chathamites provide proof that they're putting as much effort into simulating sideways and up and down movements as forward and backward ones. I'm tired of rural branch lines that feel like they were built yesterday, and weary of wagons and carriages that snake through points without a hint of sway.

Daniel López chose to follow Qvadriga, his fab chariot-racing TBS, with a radical re-imagining of chess. CHEXS plays so differently from its famous inspiration I was left wondering why the familiar pieces were used when new ones would have fitted the completely reworked play mechanics much better. Judging by the deserted forum, others have struggled with the game's uneasy marriage of old and new too, and may be just as pleased as I was to hear that Turnopia are currently neck-deep in ancient history again.

Here's everything I know about Project #3 at present:

  • It's a naval game.
  • It's inspired by Ben-Hur.
  • It's being made with the assistance of that genre-bestriding colossus, Slitherine Ltd.

“How does a game replicate the complexity of a mess like Syria?” asked Thomas McMullen in a thought-provoking if somewhat under-developed piece on Alphr a couple of weeks ago (Thank you Sunday Papers). One of the people I'd go to first for suggestions is Johan Nagel, the unconventional mind behind the unconventional 'hearts and minds' wargames Vietnam '65 and Afghanistan '11. The currently in beta A11 looks like it's going to push some very unfamiliar dilemmas at players. It will be particularly interesting to see how it deals with the resin-sticky issue of opium production. Destroying poppy fields will reduce Taliban funds. Will it also, I wonder, occasionally alienate the people whose trust you're supposed to be winning?

Show a leg! Splice the hornpipe! Dance the mainbrace! Wargaming has finally acknowledged that the dog-eared country moored just to the left of France was once a fairly big fish in the world of wet warfare. World of Warships got its first Royal Navy vessels last week. Ships in the ten-tier British cruiser line are on the whole more manoeuvrable, faster firing and harder to detect than foreign equivalents but the relatively thin armour of types like the Weymouth (II) and Leander (VI) means captains need to use them thoughtfully against anything bigger than a destroyer. The first pay-to-skipper RN vessel is HMS Belfast. While the real C35 can be experienced for £14.50, the cod one will set you back at least £27.50.

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Tim Stone