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The Flare Path: And The Battling Bastards Of Charlie Sector 

A Wargame: Red Dragon AAR

Those creatures perched on the finials of Castle Shotgun? Pigs. The headline on the front of today's Hell Gazette - “HITLER AND STALIN WIN FIGURE SKATING GOLDS IN INAUGURAL WINTER GAMES”? Totally true. Pour yourself a stiff drink and schedule an emergency meeting between your eyebrows and hairline. You're about to read a late but heartfelt billet-doux to Wargame: Red Dragon on RPS!

Hopefully, you won't mind if that billet-doux takes the form of a lavishly illustrated AAR. In the week I've spent with Eugen's ravishing/riveting RTS thus far, I've seen enough to realise that Red Dragon is culmination rather than revolution - a creeping barrage rather than a breakneck blitzkrieg. Largely thanks to an extra speed setting - bullet-time (effectively an active pause) - it's the four-instalment Wargame series at its most wargamey and wargamer friendly. What I don't feel I'm in a position to do quite yet is completely write-off the new, slightly soggy naval dimension, or pass judgement on the long-term appeal of the plethora of unscripted Total War-style campaigns. (If you've been playing since release day, perhaps you'd be good enough to star shell these areas via the comments section).

I've spent recent days attempting to prevent Korean reunification. There have been some gloriously tense and plausible tussles but as Red Dragon refuses to record campaign scraps, I'm switching to the skirmish generator for this account.

Wonsan Harbour is a bijou seven sector map designed for 1v1 contests. Though I'll be playing in 'Destruction' mode (the first player to cause 3000 points worth of damage carries the day) control of those sectors will still be vital. If I can take and hold Alpha, Charlie, and Delta (I start in possession of Beta) over 60% of the map's Deployment Points will trickle into my treasury. Assuming I choose and choreograph units wisely I should, in theory, be able to keep the ravening AI hordes at bay.

The game's unit selection is dizzying, but a deck system, a role sorting GUI, and crystal-clear unit info displays mean selecting appropriate tools for the job isn't as hard as it first appears. I start by spending my initial DP fund on three distinct forces. C and D Force will attempt to seize their respective sectors with a mix of APC-delivered infantry and MBT-furnished firepower. Both groups include a Vulcan M163 air defence unit, a Sheridan recon tank, and - of course - the command jeep essential for securing the prize. Because Alpha Sector is likely to be shielded from attack by the troops in Charlie, its capture will be undertaken by a single command vehicle and infantry squad.

As the prongs of my misshapen trident extend, tracing roads to their destinations, I use the last of my DPs to buy a trio of pricey M1 Abrams tanks and a single Skyhawk II. The M1s are footloose firefighters. They'll plug holes in my lines should holes appear. The A-4M is token air cover, something to raise the spirits and settle the nerves of those about to enter the Valley of Death.

+3.30. Echo Sector turns scarlet and a pair of enemy Hip helos appear in the distance.

+3.40. My soaring symbol of hope starts popping flares. SAMs launched by unseen systems are seeking it and - gosh - finding it. Down it goes, trailing accusatory smoke. Damn! Unusually sickly mayflies have enjoyed longer lifespans.

+3.50. Alpha sector is now blue, the colour of freedom. I celebrate by purchasing my first naval unit, a Chamsuri-class patrol boat.

+4.00. The first sign of hostile ground forces. In Charlie a scuttling BRDM armoured car appears then disappears close to where my M113s are disgorging their human cargoes.

+4.13. Those Hips were scouting for a scarier sibling! A Hind gunship has just flung a fan of, thankfully, woefully inaccurate rockets at the throng of friendly units accumulating in Charlie.

+4.21. On the scoreboard at last. The bold BRDM has a close-range run-in with the M1s and , predictably, winds up smoke-blackened and sepulchral.

+4.30. Delta Sector is mine. Over in Alpha my hot-off-the-slipway gunboat immediately makes itself useful by downing a nosey Hip.

+4.55. Initial goals achieved. The capture of Charlie Sector means we now have the economic edge. Whether we can hold onto it for the next 25 minutes remains to be seen.

+5.09. Right in the kisser! The Hind that has been mercilessly pummelling Charlie's new tenants, has just tasted Vulcan wrath. Waltzing drunkenly, it spins to the ground adding another 60 points to my all-important kill tally.

+5.40. Things are really hotting-up in the middle of the map. M113s and BMP-2s burn merrily as infantry trade fire across narrow streets and alleys.

+6.43. My first tank casualty. The trio of friendly MBT-70s linchpinning my frontline is now a duo thanks to a sly T-64.

+7.00. I've just impulse-bought a costly La Fayette-class frigate. I hope I don't come to regret that.

+7.10. In Delta Sector birds are singing, butterflies are flitting and daisy-chains are lengthening. The enemy seems obsessed with Charlie. Should I weaken my right in order to strengthen my centre?

+7.15. The steel tide of Hind-supported T-55s, T-64s, and BMPs is rapidly eroding my centre. Another MBT-70 has just exploded. All that's left of the original C Force is one tank, a handful of almost useless APCs and a dozen increasingly alarmed infantrymen.

+7.32. That's the ticket. A rising '+120' marks the spot where an enemy command tank (?) met its maker. My three Abrams, now permanently attached to C Force, are, at present, outclassing everything the AI pushes down the left side of Charlie Sector.

+7.50. Charlie is neutral again. It seems I hadn't hidden the command jeep well enough. As the M1A1s breathlessly trash T-55s, smoke shells start bursting over the one building still held by friendly infantry.

+8.31. Raptors killing ungulates with snakes? The zoological surrealism of modern warfare. In an effort to see-off the Mi-24 threat once-and-for-all I've invested in a couple of flashy F-15s. Satisfyingly, the pair have just Sidewindered an enemy gunship out of the sky.

+9.00. MBT-70s are evidently carved out of blocks of pure mithril! My last one has been weathering a storm of vicious 30mm autocannon rounds for what seems like an eternity.

+9.30. Ah, even mithril has its limits. Farewell stout MBT-70, your implacability has bought us precious seconds. Even now reinforcements are spilling from dusty M113s and rushing to occupy buildings lining the highway the AI seems so keen to utilize.

+9.40. Cripes. Three empty M113s immolated in under ten seconds. I'm giving points away here. Must be more careful.

+9.50. C Force's eleven surviving riflemen are running desperately short of ammo and courage. It's vital I get support or supplies to them swiftly. Where's my nearest cargo truck? Damn. Miles away. It's at time like these that I miss RUSE's automated logistics.

+10.10. Behind swirling smoke, the eleven fight to the last man. As the enemy overrun their position, I'm busy establishing new strongpoints with fresh footsloggers just metres away. If you want Charlie Sector, Mr. AI, you're going to have to fight for ever bloody inch of it.

+10.13. D Force's MBT-70s and Sheridan are now enroute to Charlie. A small counter-attack from an unexpected direction may not turn the tide but it should slow it. Rifleman from Delta are also moving out. The foe seems to be pushing most of his attack down the long straight road that connects Charlie with Echo and Golf. If I can disrupt traffic on that road, even for a few minutes, by occupying a crossroads or two then I'll be happy.

+10.42. A replacement command jeep bounces to a halt in one of Charlie Sector's few quiet corners. That precious +4 DP income is mine again.

+11.02. As smoke clears, shoulder-supported LAWs spit 66mm rockets at approaching T-55s with gratifying results. Backed by the M1s, the second batch of defenders are proving as hard to dislodge as the first. Red Dragon captures the vulnerability of AFVs in urban terrain better than many of its more serious peers.

+11.10. Engaging at long range the arriving MBT-70s are doing their bit admirably, and yet somehow the armour-heavy red wedge continues to edge in the direction of Beta. Glancing at my DP total I decide to splash out on a couple of hovering hoodlums. Under the protective umbrella of the Eagles, two Cobra gunships mosey towards the mayhem.

+11.53. Their first contribution is as spectacular as it is effective. A pleasing rash of 'rout' icons sprout amongst enemy dismounts. Red Dragon gunships are scarily vulnerable to fighters and AAA, and require a fair bit of micromanagement (like all units they must be periodically rearmed and refuelled) but in situations like this one there's nothing quite like them.

+12.50. Interdicting the main highway with small suicide squads of infantry, catching the enemy in the flank with long-range MBT-70 fire, while punching him in the face repeatedly with Hydra rockets (I've now got four Cobras working in shifts) seems to be getting results. The pressure on Charlie finally seems to be decreasing. I take advantage of the half-lull to move up cargo trucks and withdraw redundant M113s.

+13.35. That will teach me. The flanking MBT-70s are now fiery monuments to foolhardiness. Instead of leaving them where they were I decided to advance them. They ended-up tangling with a gang of tough Chinese-made Type 89 tank destroyers.

+15.00. “Your team now has 70% of the destruction points needed to win”. My foe's fixation on Charlie means I'm well ahead in points. Unless the AI is massing for a final tsunami, I reckon I've got this in the bag.

+15.57. A sharper AI would have spotted the understrength garrison in Alpha and attempted an amphibious assault. Cooling their keels in the harbour, my naval investments are doing excellent white elephant impersonations at the moment.

+17.40. Aha! The gunboat isn't totally useless. By sending it up one of the rivers I can harass targets on the main highway.

+17.54. The AI has just gifted me four armoured supply carriers (unlike most vehicles, ammo and fuel deliverers can be captured). I accidentally repay the favour by carelessly deploying my Eagles far too close to one of his advancing AAA units.

+19.16. Things are plainly pretty desperate now for my rival. While I attempt to seize his one remaining sector - Golf - with a circuitous mechanized infantry sally, he raids the local tank museum. My M1s and gunboat are now exchanging AP with WW2-vintage T-34-85s.

+21.20. Put away your opera glasses, holster your hip flask, collapse your deckchair... it's all over. The culling of those superannuated Soviet trundlers has nudged my score over the requisite 3000 points. I'm now free to go study the timeline of destruction courtesy of the detailed de-brief, enjoy my triumph in movie form via the replays folder, or - and this is the option that appeals most at the moment - return to Wonsan Harbour in the company of a 'hard' or even 'very hard' artificial adversary. Tactical tips for the imminent rematch would be most welcome.


The Flare Path Foxer

After an hour of prodding and poking from the likes of BryanTrysers, Rorschach617, All is Well and Beowulf. Mark Judd's Terra Nova expedition foxer cracked like a fumbled Emperor Penguin egg.

A. Bower birds
B. Wilson basketball
C. Inniskilling Dragoons badge
D. Emperor Penguin egg
E. Teddy Roosevelt
F. James Taylor's 'JT' album
G. Cherry Picker
H. F-16 Fighting Falcon

It took the mental trebuchets of Rorschach617, JustAPigeon and BryanTrysers a little longer to batter a breach in Mark's 'parts of a castle' collage.

A. Turret
B. Ward
C. Barbican
D. Keep
E. Curtain
F. Hall
G. Bailey bridge


Defeated by the collages in last week's digital foxer collection? Read, learn, kick yourself...

(Elephant Graveyard)

(B is for Baffled)



Dances to Podcasts is today's guest foxer setter. Stare at the components of his comely composition until General Knowledge and Colonel Ofanidea flush out the theme.

All foxer answers in one thread, please

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Tim Stone