I’ve been playing Supremacy 1914 for the better part of a fortnight, a free Java-based game in which you assume control of one of ten European powers in a pre-WWI setting. The first ‘Oooh’ point to this game is that it runs in literal real-time – that is to say, I’ve been playing for 11 days now and in the game it’s Day 11. This means that there’s not a lot to do once you’ve given your troops their orders, spent your daily intake of taxes and written threatening letters to the major powers of the continent – unless, of course, you end up playing with people who are also frantically refreshing the browser to pounce upon the latest political development, in which case a lot can occur.
I’ve been playing with some people from a forum, so everything was organised beforehand – if you’re going to delve into the servers on your own, you might be waiting ages for players to fill the space on the roster (as the game won’t start unless it has the required numbers), or be stuck with idiots who will use the diplomatic interface to inundate you with requests for “aan alianc” before getting bored with the real-time gameplay and sodding off back to Band of Battlefield Brothers in Armed Assault III.
The diplomacy, with the assumption that you’re playing with people who have a competent grasp of the English language, has so far (as I’ve not had a proper war yet) been the best bit because the players are left to their own devices on this. You can cajole, bribe, threaten and scare the hell out of your neighbours and – if you’re familiar with your co-players – can have quite a bit of fun with it all.
Which is why I am playing entirely in-character as John Locke from Lost, or should I say ‘Pope John of Italy’ (countries were randomly-assigned and the game thinks that the Pope is the Head of State of Italy). Pope John – a former regional manager of a Turin box company (REFERENCE!) – has so far helped his Moroccan trading partners (ruled by Jafar from Aladdin…) stamp out sabotage in Algiers, invaded Belgian-owned Switzerland (I don’t know why Belgium, either) to gain valuable lumber resources to feed Italian rail expansion, made friends with the Swedish leader (yep, Bjorn from ABBA…) by solving their coal crisis, and annoyed Austro-Hungary by accidentally tearing up a Mutual Protection Pact – although I still maintain that I got confused with the interface, rather than it being a thumbed-nose to my neighbour – and is very close to war with them as a result.
As far as the warfare goes, until you can expand your infrastructure and start building serious hardware like artillery and tanks (Note: There is a degree of naval combat, but naval units appear very high up the tech-tree) you’re restricted to infantry units, and the only tactics involved there are “Get enough of them – Run at enemy – Come back tomorrow and see if you’ve won”. Management of your production of materials such as Iron, Lumber and Oil are the key to unlocking the big guns (literally) because of how much material you have to expend to build the province improvements that get you them. If I had known, I’d have probably not sold off all my key goods while trying to make friends with the rest of Europe, but better luck next time – although, with that real-time system, ‘next time’ might even be sometime next year. I’m not joking.
As a wargame, it’s a good, accessible bit of fun with some fairly meaty strategic and tactical potential in the later game (I imagine), and a lot of variable options and opportunities. For instance, I think next time I’ll play in-character as Bennett from Commando. Or Luther Blissett. Or Sanjeev Bhaskar. Thoughts?
The RAF today marked the centenary of powered flight in the UK, and it’s always events connected with military aviation that bewilder me with the contrasts between modern air power and the machines that these ‘birthdays’ and anniversaries intend to commemorate, no less so in this case where even the the decade following the flight of British Aeroplane No.1 saw huge changes to military aviation.
Well, I say ‘changes’ – the whole concept of the aeroplane as a weapon of war was perfected and vindicated during those years, and at the end of the First World War (an event which we will be marking less than a month from now) the machines that made up the first, established air forces of the combatant countries (except Germany, of course, as they weren’t allowed one) were technologically leaps and bounds ahead of the first aircraft to make aviation a serious concept – they were still mostly canvas-and-wood biplanes, yes, but four years of a mass-production, mass-slaughter war created tremendous requirements to the military aircraft that led to such determined development (War being the engine of change and all that).
But anyway, I was talking about how commemorations inspire thoughts about contrast. Just look at a flypast at these events with any degree of imagination and you’ll see what I mean: The aircraft in these flypasts could probably take off, fly to ceiling height and come back down to the airfield before Biggles could even have finished his tea and tiffin. Even H.G. Wells – the prophet-eugenicist sci-fi writer who first envisaged practicable examples of air and tank warfare in his novels – would have called anyone who described a Harrier or an F-15 a drunken loon and had him ejected from the premises.
Even if we look at the birds of the next war along – ‘World War II: This Time It’s Atomical’ – there was another massive leap forward in the technology and design; monoplanes were now the established and refined norm, airspeed and maneuverability vastly increased, and the first jets had not only come off the drawing-board by the end of hostilities but were airborne, armed and already had a great many kills under their collective belts. In Britain, even the institution had changed, with the Royal Flying Corps having become the Royal Air Force (incorporating also the Royal Naval Air Service) in 1918 and, through the experiences of the Second World War, once again done much to reaffirm air power as a necessary arm.
What would really save me a lot of hot air and repeating a lot of things you all already know would be a fly-past of all the prominent designs of the past 90 years, in order to see side-by-side the gigantic strides that air technology made. Have the Sopwiths alongside the Spitfires, Hurricanes and Harriers, Tempests, Typhoons and Tornados. It would be astonishing, and beautiful.
But then that would also be a bloody disaster: the juddering biplanes would probably run out of fuel trying to keep pace with the Merlin- and Rolls-Royce-engined thoroughbreds of the second War, which would fall out of the sky if they slowed down enough to let Biggles catch up, and then when turning back to refuel (Sod’s Law stating that the airfield is on his left, which in the Camel means banking right in a 270-degree turn because of the notorious torque off that rotary engine) the little Camel would be sucked into the engine of the fast-approaching Tornado – whose pilot had only left the base five minutes before, partly due to the distance he could cover in that machine and partly because Flt-Lt. Wainwright had the new Squad Action Stamp Death Kill game for the mess PS3 – and the biplane is spewed out like canvas confetti over the assembled onlookers.
But, like those magnificent men in their flying machines 90 years ago, we can dream. In the meantime, raise a glass of your finest to British Aeroplane No.1 and Samuel Franklin Cody who, alas, was killed during a test-flight in those embryonic days of aviation.