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 Beware of the badmashes
No developer is shrinking my “Potential Untapped Tussles subjects” list faster than Strategiae. Released this week through waw-games.com, Sepoy 1857 brings the Indian Mutiny to Wars Across The World. For seven and a half Euros, purchasers get a fifty-turn scenario played on a subcontinent-spanning map, and some fascinating unit types and strategic dilemmas. Unfortunately, unless engine mechanics have been thoughtfully tweaked, what they may not get is satisfying sieges. WatW’s town, fortress, and garrison strangulations have always been too dice dependent for my liking.
C is for Competition for Combat Mission?
I think I may have put too much Scrumpy Jack on my cornflakes this morning. Surely the chap talking in the above video can’t be suggesting what I think he’s suggesting – that we could be playing an early build of an Unreal Engine 5-powered alternative to Combat Mission: Shock Force 2 by Christmas!
D is for Doubt not Drydock Dreams Games
Task Force Admiral will integrate 3D views of the player’s flag plot, fleet, and aircraft, with stylised 2D and 3D management screens, incredibly well, if this impressive video is any guide.
E is for Enhanced elegance
With its tiny order palette, formation movement possibilities, and (optional) turnless play, Attack at Dawn has the potential to be one of the most elegant wargames around. Preventing it from fulfilling that potential at the moment is a handful of small mousework-generating annoyances that, happily, should be patched into oblivion in coming months. In addition to reworking retreat code, Tomislav Čipčić is implementing a new counter view in which both chits in a shared hex are visible, and experimenting with a more flexible system for issuing movement orders (currently destinations can’t be occupied hexes, and movement orders are scrubbed the second a unit enters an enemy ZOC).
F is for French Wittmann
Thanks to the recent ‘multiple cannons’ update, it’s now possible to create working versions of Char B1s in Sprocket. Although the idea of mounting a tank’s main armanent in the hull rather than the turret never caught on, the Char B1’s quirky weapon arrangement and thick armour were, in the right hands, an extremely potent combination. In mid-May 1940, during the fierce, see-saw* battle for Stonne, a single Char B1 commanded by Pierre Billotte KOed two Panzer IVs, eleven Panzer IIIs, and two Pak 36 AT guns.
* The French town changed hands seventeen times during three days of fighting
G is for Grognard takes
Anyone concerned that Strategic Command: American Civil War’s lack of a tactical layer and approach to stacking might render it incapable of simming its subject in a believable fashion, should peruse this forum thread. While beta-tester JWW argues cogently that SC:ACW’s hex scale and occupancy limits don’t lead to significant ahistoricism, other players such as havoc1371 aren’t convinced: “The game in the East bogs down into a WWI-style line running from the Shenandoah Valley to the Potomac River with very little maneuver other than swapping out units trying to punch a hole”.
H is for High-quality Hexen homage
I is for Indonesia
Coming soon in a free update to adorable Art of Rally.
J is for Jam memories
While browsing A Wargamer’s Needful Things recently, I came across a piece on a ‘book wargame’ sure to appeal to anyone who participated in, or played the fruits of, the first and last Flare Path Game Jam. Unusual, pacy, mechanically simple, and, in paper form, relatively expensive (£20), Bismarck Solitaire looks like a perfect candidate for Castle Itter-style digitisation.
K is for Kleverness kompetition
In the interests of fairness I spent a portion of last weekend subjecting other WW2 turnbased wargames to the kind of AI tests that I conducted on the Second Front beta. I’d share the results with you here and now if I wasn’t planning to use them as the foundations of a future ‘AI Olympics’ feature.
L is for Ledger limpid lakes
…in Call of the Wild: The Angler. We know Expansive Worlds can craft stunning rural ramble spaces and deliver value-for-money DLC. By the end of the first week of September we should also have a pretty good idea of whether they have the requisite skill and will to produce plausible piscines and satisfying rodplay.
M is for Miniature interview…
…with Johan Nagel, the creator of games such as Vietnam ’65, Afghanistan ’11, and Terra Incognito. Johan is toiling on two projects at the moment. Unfortunately, legal constraints mean he can’t talk about his WIPs until the start of 2023.
THC: There may be people reading this who’ve never played an Every Single Soldier title. Which game would you recommend they try first, and why?
Johan: There are two distinctive streams with my current published games, namely the counter-insurgency series (Vietnam ’65 and Afghanistan ’11) and the other diverse attempts at abstract strategy games. The former being turn based and offering a very unique model of asymmetrical warfare, which I believe captures the essence of this type of warfare. The later category of my games (Carrier Deck, Her Majesty’s Ship and Terra Incognito) were games I wanted to play but couldn’t find on Steam!
The counter-insurgency series is close to my heart and is the product of many iterations and has been refined over many years. I would always recommend that the first game to play would have to be Vietnam ’65, it showcases the counter-insurgency model in a very simplistic and almost unrefined way. It is a fairly unique model in so much that it doesn’t follow the classic wargaming model of Blue forces having to defeat Red Forces, but rather introduces the player to the frustrations inherent with this type of warfare. After playing V’65, the player who enjoys this model will naturally enjoy Afghanistan ’11, it is a step forward in the evolution of the model, introducing more depth that was purposefully left out of the V’65 model. The UK Marines DLC also added to the model with a few refinements stemming from lessons learnt from the feedback received.
With regards the games outside the counter-insurgency model, the recommendation would have to be Carrier Deck. A fast paced (hectic) real time abstract simulation of the operations on an aircraft carrier deck. A very easy game to ‘get into’ and seems to keep you coming back for more. I was always looking for a game that would simulate the ‘ouija board’ used on US carriers.
I actually started with the idea of making it a very technical game but somehow ended up with a very simplistic ‘ready, fire, aim’ version and received an overwhelmingly positive response, very much to my surprise. I still think there is a technical version of this game to be made.
THC: It seems an age since I wrote about your Vietnam ’65 prototype on RPS. What are the most valuable game design (and marketing?) lessons you’ve learned during the past eight years?
Johan: Without a doubt, stick to the original idea and don’t let it be corrupted by player wishes that don’t fit the authenticity of the game, Feedback is both critical and valuable, but if you go down the path of trying to satisfy every player’s individual wish, you will end up with a substandard game. I learnt this lesson the hard way, by actually publishing games I did not really want to play. Games like V’65 and Carrier Deck, I still play today and they continue to sell many years after initial publication. So, if I don’t actually really, really want to play a game I am developing, I either change the design or drop the project.
I am in a very fortunate position that I can afford to make games that I really want to play, without the constraints of it being profitable or not.
Marketing is a real challenge for indie developers, getting noticed in the clutter is a real challenge. I think the prevailing publisher model in the industry needs reforming, it needs to get with the times and adopt a more ‘pay for performance model’. There are however a few really great channels to market your titles and hopefully these innovative channels will flourish as indie games have a vital role to play, especially with regards innovation, something starting to be very much lacking in the triple A titles of late.
THC: I remember seeing an image of an HMS prototype being played on a tabletop with dice, counters etc. Do you test all your PC games this way prior to coding, and have you ever been tempted to skip the coding completely and produce a board game instead?
Johan: I am an avid boardgamer (cut my teeth on Avalon Hill Squad Leader in the early 80’s) and I always start with a cardboard version of my games, most of my games have a ‘board game’ feel to them and I absolutely want to publish a board game at some point in the future. Publishing a successful board game would be an achievement that would surpass any digital success. I am not done with HMS and I think it might be that board game :). HMS was a really steep learning curve for me and I took many valuable lessons from it, the most important being that I didn’t really want to play it after I had created it.
THC: Do you ever bump into other game developers in your hometown, Cape Town?
Johan: Unfortunately not, the gamedev community is tiny here in South Africa. I do use local talent for the artwork creation as well as some technical issues I encounter. I ‘bump’ into many gamedevs online though, and have made many connections and friends in the global community. This is something I find very valuable and make a big effort to keep and grow these connections, always volunteering as a tester for their game etc.
THC: If a serious wargame about the ongoing war in Ukraine released in the next few weeks, would you be interested in playing it?
Johan: Yes, without a doubt. Despite the human tragedy, the evolution of warfare that we are witnessing fascinates me. I am glued to the TV screen watching the developments, new weapons and tactics. We have been wargaming this West vs East conflict (although mostly on German terrain) since the 80’s. We are getting a glimpse of that now in real time and someone who can capture the essence of this modern conflict in a wargame will have the start of a great franchise. Unfortunately I am just a counter-insurgency veteran…
THC: Name a game, ether upcoming or released, that you think deserves more attention.
Johan: This is a difficult question, I usually have a game on my PC that keeps drawing me back to play (that game you are playing and before you know it, it’s 4am), but it has been a while since this has been the case. Oxygen Not Included was the last title to ‘grab’ me and have been in a lull since. Carrier Command 2 got me excited but then didn’t keep me interested for long, Stormworks (with the Weapon DLC) came close and I invested many hours designing my vehicles. The DCS Apache is something I just know I will need to get into at some point, takes me back to the many,many hours I spent playing co-op on Longbow 2.
THC: Thank you for your time.
N is for Nineteenth Century newcomer
Myriad bugs, rudimentary AI, and day-one DLC hasn’t prevented free 19th Century TBS Fire & Maneuver from garnering a ‘Very Positive’ review rating on Steam during its first week of Early Access. Given my penchant for wily foes, I think it would be pointless for me to assay Armchair History’s first foray into interactive entertainment until the difficulty slider, currently padlocked on ‘Very Easy’, has been freed.
O is for Ordnance survey
The other day, influenced by this tweet and some recent comments by Cornerites TV-PressPass and g948ng, I found myself pipedreaming a wargame with outdated/unreliable cartography at its heart. Not only have I never encountered a misleading map in a wargame, I don’t believe I’ve ever captured a map adorned with the plans of my enemy. Can anyone think of battle sims, other than Radio Commander and Radio General, that treat maps as anything but prosaic play aids?
P is for Pan führer
Crush Depth’s galley ambitions invite ridicule, but as Private Frazer observed in an episode of Dad’s Army “When the shells are flying, it takes a strong man to stay below and make shepherd’s pie”.
Q is for Quick tea card
The cards issued by British tea company Brooke Bond featured work by some superb artists. This is number 31 from ‘History of Aviation’, a 50-card 1972 set illustrated by Roy Cross, the man behind much of Airfix’s finest box art.
R is for Red Rover
S is for Sea of sand
Too few Desert War wargames acknowledge that desiccated North African terrain comes in many different forms. Happily, the latest Unity of Command 2 add-on is a sensitive geographer. On its battlefields, tracts of wheel, track, and foot-wearying dunes rub shoulders with expanses of sun-baked dirt that are much easier to traverse.
T is for Tour de France TBS
Although my previous employer still hasn’t got round to hiring a new wargames ‘n’ sims specialist, it recently took on a rail enthusiast, and has, in Alice O’Connor, a top-notch bicycle game correspondent. The Cyclist: Tactics, one of the titles covered by Alice during her ongoing Tour de France-inspired tour of pedal-em-ups, received a monster update last Friday. Amongst the peloton of improvements implemented by Camshaft, are reworked AI, new tactics and results screens, and an editor that allows users to recreate real-life races.
U is for Uptruthed and uncostly
Roman’s favourite race sim has just been vigorously uptruthed and price-slashed. Until July 25 it’s a bargain £6.50.
V is for Very expensive video player?
Anyone hoping for a fix for Rail Sim: Journey to Kyoto’s “throttle alters speed of approaching trains as well as speed of own train” ‘bug’ is in for a long wait. The £46 offering uses video footage in conjunction with a polygonal cab to persuade users they’re bimbling along the Eizan Electric Railway.
W is for Where’s Aerofly FS 3?
Search me. Unconventional IPACS has decided to skip the smallest odd prime number. The Aerofly FS2 sequel that hit virtual shelves earlier this month wears a 4, and, by the sound of it, is well worth considering if you value smooth framerates and naturalistic whirlybirds.
X is for X-Plane insights
The July/August issue of PC Pilot magazine contains a fascinating five-page detective story written by X-Plane dev, Austin Meyer. In it he explains how, with the help of an Israeli Phantom flight instructor, he turned the sim’s F-4 flight model from a passable approximation into something suitable for actual instruction. As X-Plane uses blade element theory to produce its FMs, Austin couldn’t simply tweak numbers to achieve the accuracy he was after. The Phantom’s physical model had to be refined and the sim’s core FM analysed and reworked so that behaviours across the flight envelope occurred naturally.
“The moment the speed comes below Mach 1, what happens? The centre of pressure suddenly moves forward from 50% (supersonic) to 37.5% (delta wing)… The lift is now well in front of the heavy engines. The nose suddenly lurches up from that lift coming forwards. The G-load suddenly jumps up, the angle of attack skyrockets and the shock waves have vanished to be replaced by the hurricane vortex forming over the wing. The lift is huge, the drag is huge, the G-load is crazy… the nose claws around the turn at a crazy angle of attack and G-load. All of this is a well-known characteristic of the real F-4 and all of this is simulated perfectly by X-Plane as emergent behaviour, because the centre of pressure shifts on the wing and all the physical dynamics follow it without any additional code at all.”
Y is for Yearnworthy
Just six weeks away from a Steam release, Cold War armour sim Gunner, HEAT, PC! has a seriously mouthwatering Early Access roadmap ahead of it. Infantry, aircraft, and dynamic frontlines are amongst delights on the way.
Z is for Zeppelins not included
Having never played tabletop Wings of Glory, I won’t be able to shed much light on how faithful this released-yesterday £11 digital port is. However, what I will endeavour to do in the next 3×3 is give you an idea how appealing Dire Wolf’s effort is to a fussy wargamer familiar with and fond of Achtung Spitfire! and Sid Meier’s Ace Combat.