A2Z

A is for Alphabetised wargame, sim, and site news. Once a month, assuming I can persuade Austerity’s Blackburn Cirrus Bombardier engine to perform the miracle of internal combustion, I spend a day or two scouring Simulatia and Grognardia for stories with the potential to fascinate, startle, cheer, dismay or amuse. Those stories are then dehydrated, alphabetised and delivered, via articles like this one, to people who’ve got better things to do than plough through puff and platitudes.

B is for Bale baloney

The portion of the THC naughty step reserved for agriculturally illiterate devs is getting decidedly crowded. The latest miscreant, Destructive Creations, earns its place for a classic gaffe – round bales on a WW2 battlefield.

C is for Cod history

Tempted to invest in Call of Duty: Vanguard? Be sure to read this barnstorming Kotaku piece first. John Walker doesn’t only lambast the game for its execrable dialogue and ludicrous plot, he highlights how it mangles history, squandering in the process a priceless opportunity to shed light on the war experiences of little-known warriors like Sidney Cornell and Johnny Smythe.

D is for Dilatory DLC

“Working out how much of Football, Tactics and Glory’s monstrous magnetism is down to the tac layer’s stylised-yet-evocative mechanics, able AI and beautifully judged randomness quotient, and how much is down to the way individual results speedily build into plausible multi-season club sagas is all but impossible. All I can say for sure is that I can’t recall the last time I played a PC wargame or simulation with a long game anywhere near this compelling.” said I, in 2018, of Creoteam’s fab footy TBT. A fiver right now, FT&G gained a second adjunct a couple of weeks ago. Uncharacteristically (Creoteam are consummate customer pleasers) Manager’s Journey has drawn some flak for increasing post-match turn processing time. Some of the discontented don’t appear to realise that zip can be restored by deactivating countries (the entire globe’s premier leagues are now simmed) in the options menu.

E is for Enchanting vistas

Looking at the screenshots for Decisive Campaigns: Ardennes Offensive, Matrix Games’ latest release, reminds me how much I love terrain windows in hex wargames. Having an appropriate miniature landscape painting appear in the GUI whenever a hex is clicked, is such a simple and effective way of closing the distance between the player and their men.

F is for False premise?

The demo-blessed Arms Trade Tycoon: Tanks (ETA Q2 2023) appears to have a little white lie at its centre. To my knowledge there have never been any “young arms trading companies, specialising in constructing and selling tanks all around the world” operating in Britain. Tank manufacture in Blighty has always been dominated by large concerns such as Vickers, and moonlighting car, lorry, bus, and tractor makers such as Austin. Am I willing to overlook the fib in light of the game’s unusual premise and obvious interest in the evolution of angry abodes? You bet.

G is for German germ

All of today’s race sims have Germanic ancestry, as this illuminating piece by Race Sim Central’s Tim Wheatley explains.

H is for Henge hooliganism

The sight of whirling strimmer cord and speeding ride-on mowers inches away from ancient standing stones brings me out in a cold sweat. I won’t be trying Lawn Mowing Sim’s first DLC until the game gets 1950s tech.

I is for Inexpensive Irish wargame

Two guineas* for the PC’s first Easter Rising wargame? Count me in!

* True, you need to own the ten-scenario base version of Wars Across the World to play Dublin 1916, but as that’s an absurd £1.80 at the moment, you’re still getting a bargain.

J is for Japanese job lot

Which of the following aren’t real WW2 tanks: I-Go, Yu-Go, Chi-Ha, So-Ha, So-So, Ha-Go, Ha-Ha, Tee-Hee? Gregory Adam Scott, the hardworking coder responsible for Armoured Commander II, almost certainly knows the answer. AC2’s latest update introduces a clutch of Japanese AFVs and the first of a planned series of Far Eastern and PTO campaigns.

K is for Knights kneed kno knarrative know

Tourney’s first update did sterling work. The medieval management sim featured in the last 3×3 now has a sandbox mode and more bunting than you can shake a marotte at.

L is for Latecomer

Combat Mission: Cold War has finally graced Steam with its presence. Predictably, some potential customers are a little taken aback by the price tag (£46) and some actual ones are a tad disappointed by framerates and the absence of engine improvements. However, on the whole, early feedback is positive. I’m downloading the game as I type this and will probably share some impressions next Friday.

M is for Miniature interview…

…with Mike West, a Tally-Ho Cornerite whose day job is Creatively Directing Flaming Fowl Studios, the outfit behind hexy hit Gloomhaven.

THC: Which aspect of game development brings you the most pleasure?

Mike: I’ve been a video gamer since the early 80’s with my trusty ZX81, plus I used to dungeonmaster D&D at school a few years later, and developing video games scratches the same itch. I’ve never had any artistic flair, but I do have a good imagination and creating video games allows me to create worlds, characters and stories for other to enjoy. Also, there are a number of games that I want to play, but they don’t exist, so this is an opportunity to make them ourselves!

THC: If I was a green developer about to embark on a board game port, what advice would you give me?

Mike: Most importantly, pick the right game! Not all boardgames will port well to the digital space for two reasons. Firstly, you have removed the face to face interaction of the game, therefore spoken alliances and backstabbing across Discord don’t feel as binding, but if you are playing with random players with textual conversation there is no real social interaction at all. This is even more pronounced with AI players. If the player is betrayed they will blame the AI and if they never are, then the game loses a major aspect of the experience.

Secondly, pick a game where the ruleset is consistent and easily codeable, having to write unique code for a wide array of different and rather inconsistent abilities is both hugely complex, prone to bugs and very time consuming, trust me, I know! Avoid games with complex timing systems as constantly giving players prompts to say ‘do you want act now’ is not a fun experience and we redesigned a few small aspects of Gloomhaven to fix this.

THC: What is more important to you as a dev, glowing reviews from the big beasts of the games press or a “Very Positive” reception on Steam?

Mike: We develop with the community in mind and that is why we went into Early Access from a very early stage on Gloomhaven. The game had a large loyal following and was a big old beast with very complex rules and we knew a large part of our user base would be existing fans. Therefore we worked with them at every stage of the project, reviewing GUI, 3D art, and in some cases asking them directly for solutions to the most complex rule interactions, the first rule of Gloomhaven is now ‘You are playing Gloomhaven wrongly.’

As Gloomhaven was already rated as the number 1 boardgame by these fans, then the important thing was to make them happy while also attempting to lighten the complexity and difficulty where we could for new digital fans. We also improved the visuals and presentation to attract a larger audience and also get a better reaction from press.

As our publisher for this game is Asmodee Digital, we also were primarily aware this was for their market and therefore I think we’ve always wanted to prioritise Steam Reviews over press reviews, but when it came to it and the game released we’re sitting at a very healthy 81% on metacritic too!

THC: Any chance Flaming Fowl will tackle a historical subject at some point?

Mike: We’re all solid fantasy geeks here, we love our monsters and spells, so I’m not sure we’ll ever make anything particularly ‘real world historical’. That said, a number of our ideas in conception certainly fit nicely into historical settings, just with a number of tweaks to add more spice.

The problem with making a purely historical game for me, is the lack of source matter with abilities and combat. There are clearly a wide array of melee weapons, and a much smaller array of ranged weapons, but if you are making a game historically accurate, you can write a great story with great characters, but the combat devolves down to hitting each other with objects and some of the more interesting combos and strategies are removed. That said, having trained in medieval backsword, I might be interested at some point in working on a game that makes melee combat actually realistic, I think people probably wouldn’t enjoy the rather deadly and final combat though!

THC: Name a game, ether upcoming or released, that you think deserves more attention.

Mike: It’s a few years old now, it was critically acclaimed but I don’t think a vast majority of people will have played it, and that is The Return of the Obra Dinn. It starts off rather slow, but soon ramps up into the greatest detective story I have ever played and does an amazing job of making the player feel smart when they actually get something right. There are so many paths to victory, the voice acting and sound effects are great, but the music, I LOVE the music. A couple of years ago my wife and I decided to not go out for a change on New Year’s Eve and bought it on a whim, we played it until 3am that night, and then finished it on New Year’s Day. After finishing it we had that feeling after reading Lord of Rings or watching Star Wars that you’d never get to experience it for the first time again, an amazing game for smart people 😊. The fact it was also made by only 1 guy, mind blowing.

THC: Thank you for your time.

N is for Naval Hurricane

…an upcoming wet WW1 wargame inspired by Atlantic Fleet and currently seeking Patreon patrons. Annoyingly, the alpha demo refuses to unzip for me.

O is for Opletal remembered

Train to Sachsenhausen, the next Charles Games project, will explain how twelve hundred Czech students came to find themselves in a German concentration camp in late 1939. Unlike roughly half of the 200,000 unfortunates who tramped through Sachsenhausen’s gates during WW2, most of the young scholars were eventually freed, but several years passed before the releases began.

P is for Post Scriptum pepped up

In gentle decline for the past eleven months, Post Scriptum’s player numbers have surged in the last few days thanks to a combination of aggressive price cutting (the multiplayer team shooter is £6 on Steam at the moment) and a recent realism-boosting armour overhaul.

Q is for Quick tea break

I was hoping the first bits of THC merch would be available in time for Christmas. Unfortunately, distractions and quality control issues have scuppered those plans. While I’m fairly happy with the pictured mug design (eventually there will be versions with a destroyer, U-boat, or tank on the central panel for those who don’t like Lancs) I’m still in the process of finding a print-on-demand firm that can guarantee crisp, accurately aligned decoration.

* One or two of these will be Churchill-free too.

R is for Return to Stalingrad

2×2 seem content to revisit old stomping grounds with their Unity of Command 2 DLC. It’s been two years now since the release, and I suspect I’m not the only fan a little disappointed by the thematic conservatism of fun extenders such as Stalingrad. That said, anyone who takes advantage of the current Steam sale (sale ends on December 1) and picks up the base game plus all four of its adjuncts for £31, has a wonderful few months of wargaming ahead of them.

S is for Seasoned sodbusting sim

Agricultural sims without seasons are a bit like flight sims without gravity, but Giants Software has been selling them for the past thirteen years and doesn’t seem to have suffered as a result. Released last Monday, Farming Simulator 22 finally gives mod-averse players a reason to contemplate the calendar. The days when you could plant crops and make hay whenever you liked are over. Unless, that is, you opt to ignore Earth’s axial tilt via an options menu tickbox.

T is for The sea shall not have them

A question for the silver-templed sub simmers out there. Would I be right in thinking no U-boat sim has ever modelled convoy rescue ships before? After reading this eye-opening description of their courageous and extremely perilous activities in the North Atlantic and Arctic Ocean, I dredged my brain for relevant sim memories and came up empty.

U is for Under new management

John Tiller might be gone, but his oeuvre and approach are set to live on. Wargame Design Studio, the dev behind John Tiller Software releases such as Scheldt ’44 nd Kiev ’43, now own and sell the entire JTS range. Starting as they mean to go on, the new owners have already upgraded several of the older series with higher-res graphics, and overseen their first launch, a fifteenth Civil War Battles title. Forgotten Campaigns is, by CWB standards, unusually far-flung and briny. The fighting ranges “from frontier actions in New Mexico during 1862 to Mobile Bay in 1865. The Red River campaign of 1864 is included as is the War in Mississippi with Brice’s Crossroads and Tupelo. Naval combat plays a prominent role in many actions as well, with coastal actions from Charleston to Baton Rouge and many others.”

V is for Virtually ignored

Wargamewrights seldom show much interest in Sub-Saharan Africa. Depictions of WWI’s East African theatre are almost unheard of. That deserted playing field means SGS Heia Safari, the latest offering from the makers of SGS Afrika Korps, can’t fail to be novel. What I’m eager to discover is, is it fun, challenging (The AI in SGS:AK wasn’t brilliant), and educational (Far more African porters perished during the campaign than European combatants) too?

W is for Whoops

Something tells me the 100th edition of History of War magazine was put to bed in a hurry. Having sprinkled countless typos in my career, I hope the person responsible for this one wasn’t reprimanded too ferociously.

X is for Xcellent value

One of the most attractive Autumn sale deals I’ve come across so far, has to be Field of Glory II plus all five of its add-ons for £26.

Y is for Your stories

If you’re a THC reader with an interesting game-related story to tell, send it to me (tim at tallyhocorner dot com) with a few relevant images, and there’s a fair chance it will appear in the penultimate slot of a future A2Z. Today’s anecdote provider is TV-PressPass, a chap who unknowingly influenced a famous milsim.

“I am a licensed Canadian firearms owner and sport shooter. In the Great White North a lot of the immediately recognizable military rifles from the 20th Century are banned from civilian ownership. Kalashnikovs, G3s, FALs, sporting or otherwise, are all prohibited. In 2011, I was new to the sport, and eager to collect. There were only a handful of “cool” guns available, many of them recent imports not named in the legislation, and all of them expensive.

The rifle that captured my imagination and several accumulated paycheques was the Tavor TAR-21. It was a bullpup, meaning that even with the long barrel (critical in Canadian law) it fit a compact profile, and while it was the standard issue assault rifle to the IDF, there was a specific sporting configuration available in Canada.

When I bought the Tavor, it was all my disposable income for 6 months, and there was little in the way of resources or information available. Beyond the core safety manual, and a handful of grainy youtube clips from Israel, there was minimal online discussion, configuration, or recommendations.

So I started tinkering, taking photos, making videos, and writing. I installed new optics, muzzle devices, and slings. I experimented with magazine reloads, grip, and stance. I made my own barrel wrench, carrying case, and many a new friend at the firing range who would inevitably ask “What is that thing?”

With big-army origins, the Tavor followed the same aesthetic selection process as the Model T: flat black polymer, one size fits all. But I had a friend who airbrushed hockey helmets, and with a little cajoling he painted the rifle in a striking two-tone green, following the lines of the chassis. I loved it.

I bought the rifle right around the time I was first trying the Arma 2 campaign, charting paths across Chernarus and cursing the AI as it inevitably ran into walls and shouted warnings for baddies who weren’t there. I loved the complexity and the dynamic outcomes of Arma 2, and it certainly had the most realistic modern military representations since my tangle with Combat Mission Shock Force.

In 2013 when Arma 3 was teased, and an Alpha was offered to early adopters, I put on my space boots and was ready to stride into their brilliant fictional future with only a minor pang of regret for the rusty reliables of reality.

Imagine my delight to find that the Tavor was now in Arma, under the future-label of TRG-21. Imagine my surprise to find that the rifle in-game was somewhat distanced from the actual Israeli version, and much closer to my own. They had similar colouring and identical optics, and while the charging handle wasn’t quite right, it was quite different from the real-world military rifles. I was fascinated to think that at some point, the BI designers must have seen images of my personal firearm. Heck, may have even watched videos of my gangly younger self fumbling his way through reloads while nattering away.

Today, IWI US exists as a company, and new guns are everywhere in all kinds of configurations and colours. The more modernized iterations have a distinctive look, but I still have a soft spot for the form and feel of those early units. Even now a quick google-image search for Tavor TAR-21 will reveal a wide range of my photographs in the results, along with a smattering of other “inspired” similar builds.

I don’t keep up with much in the way of new guns these days, or new games for that matter. But it was a strange confluence of hobbies for that short window when all the answers weren’t online, they were in my gunsafe.”

Z is for Zion

Sadly, the talented Nina Paley has never made a game.

18 Comments

  1. The “This Land of Mine” animation is a great one, thanks for getting it under my eye again.

    I remember Edward of TVPressPass back from Door Kickers 1 times. I think he might have something to do with the Tavor being in the game? Can’t find my emails now, but I remember talking about it 🙂

  2. How is this possible: An article on a ‘gaming’ website without any mention of black friday? Nor does it try to sell me some peripheralia I don’t care about!

    This is not in the spirit of the season!

    For which I do want to thank you Tim! Xoxo

    • A gentle reference to a good opportunity in the ‘Autumn’ sale, so thanks to Steam too for that. Although it snowed yesterday, here in Blighty that means it’s jolly well Winter.

      However, on another of the A2Z: That Nurburgring cabinet is showing a game that looks rather like Commodore’s Midnight Drive, which I had for the Vic-20 on a cartridge. Given the relative dates of the two releases it looks like Commodore were a bit naughty.

  3. I think we all know the Yu-Gi-Oh is the only tank in this list you did not just make up on the spot.

    Thank you for pointing me to a John Walker article. They are always worth the time. One of the things that resonate in this one is how many games are hardly interactive anymore. Just a prolonged quick time event plastered over with bombastic yet thematically and narratively timid window dressing.
    To my fellow readers I would also recommend the article about convoy rescue ships.

    • John Walker put into eloquent words (and fleshed out) what has always struck me as deeply misguided about these new Calls of Duty. Basically with their heart in the right place, insofar as any corporate committee-designed product can have, but managing to erase the difficult histories of actually marginalized groups in these conflicts.

      What a breath of fresh air a AAA COD-like would be that told the story of the soldiers of one of the Expeditionary Force Indian divisions on the WWI Western Front, or told the story of the first racially integrated US combat units in the Korean War. Missed opportunities…

  4. Speaking of Wars Across the World, Tim… in the comments in an earlier column we discussed the developer’s refusal to bring later ‘season’ packs to Steam. Apparently there has been a change of heart, as seasons 3 & 4 (2019 and 2020) are now available there!

  5. Worth noting that the fresh coat of paint applied by Wargame Design Studio to the JTS Napoleonic games has somewhat revitalized them. In addition to improving the 3D terrain graphics, they’ve finally added hotkeys and the ability to automate Defensive Fire in phased play, which makes the whole thing much less of a grind. (Whether ‘phased play’ was the best way to simulate the tempo of Napoleonic warfare is another discussion—I hope they consider a new approach if they ever completely remaster these games as they should.)

    The 2D graphics remain (in my opinion) too busy to see what’s happening at a glance, but you can replace those with an excellent mod based on some real 18th-century cartography: http://wargame.ch/board/nwc/viewtopic.php?f=5&t=16572&p=94683&sid=0963ff2a5c37af80eb79ae20f93cfa0e

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