Behind the Lines
November 2008

In This Issue

 

A Special Holiday Event: The 2008 Matrix Games Christmas Sale!

With a bundle of discounts on strategy games, Matrix Games is spreading holiday joy by announcing their 2008 Holiday Sale Event! This is set to be the largest Holiday sale Matrix Games has ever had, with more games on sale than ever and the largest discounts to date! Starting on the morning of November 26th through midnight on January 7th, gamers around the globe will be able to purchase almost every title in the Matrix Games catalog at up to 30% off! Only games released in the past six months or those already priced at $19.99 and below are excluded. Every other game is part of the 2008 Holiday Sale!

Looking for an extra few stocking stuffers for the extended family? Strategy gamers will love you for getting them titles like Gary Grigsby’s War Between the States, Panzer Command: Kharkov or Advanced Tactics: World War II. Sports fans would be delighted to find PureSim Baseball or Maximum Football v2 wrapped and ready to play under their Christmas tree. Why not stay in touch with gamer friends and family through play by email gaming (PBEM)? Matrix Games offers a wide selection of titles that support PBEM as well as TCP/IP play which give players a convenient and easy way to connect through gaming with distant family and old friends. Try some of our newest releases like Close Combat: Wacht am Rhein, Kharkov: Disaster on the Donets, Commander: Napoleon at War or classics like The Operational Art of War III to catch up with that uncle or buddy who lives halfway across the country while pummeling him with your Panzers at the same time! It’s the best of both worlds, not to mention bragging rights for next year…

Click here to get a full list of the games on sale this year, with discounts listed based on the digital download price.



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Grazing Fire


Longbows at Waterloo - Napoleon Gets the Shaft!

This may not smack of a typical newsletter introduction but my recent mullings brought me to an interesting revisionist conclusion for the Battle of Waterloo had technology taken a step backward. Here goes nothing:


The Duke of Wellington famously described the Battle of Waterloo as being "A damned close-run thing", and he should know. At numerous points during that fateful; day (June 18, 1815), the outcome of the early 19th Century's most decisive battle hung by a thread. Historians have long debated which factors most contributed to the ultimate Allied victory - the muddy ground that caused the Emperor not to deploy his cannon until noon, the tardy but critical arrival of Blucher and the Prussians, or the inexplicable fact that Napoleon just seemed a bit, well, "off his form" through the whole engagement. Take your pick of these or a slew of other "pet theories", but the fact remains that if events had tilted just slightly in favor the French at several critical junctures, the subsequent history of Europe would appear vastly different than it does.

It seems to us that Wellington already HAD, within his grasp and his nation's capacity to quickly mass-produce, a "secret weapon" that could well have cinched an Allied victory by mid-afternoon. Nobody thought of utilizing this secret weapon because, well, the last time an English army had fielded it decisively was in the early Fifteenth Century and if Wellington's officers had ever even seen an example of it, it was probably in a museum.

We refer, of course, to the great equalizer that allowed the sturdy English yeomanry to decimate the proud armored knights of French chivalry: the humble longbow. Even if some unorthodox military maverick had scene the longbow's advantages on a modern battlefield, it would have taken months to raise and train a corps of bowmen - the skills required, after all, had atrophied nationwide, except for a few hunters and target-shooters. But there was time, in the months leading up to Waterloo, and had the concept been approved, it would have been quite feasible for Wellington to confront Bonaparte with, let us say, two divisions of archers, each numbering 6,000 men (along with a vast supply of arrows, which could easily have been pre-positioned on suitable terrain, and after all didn't weigh nearly as much as a battery of cannon). Had he been able to do this in secret, the psychological impact of that first arrow-volley (darkening the sun…the vicious bee-swarm hum of shafts and feathers tearing through the air!) would surely have been psychologically devastating. And there's no reason why it couldn't have been kept secret - even if Napoleon's spies brought him reports that the enemy was stock-piling medieval weapons, he would likely have dismissed the reports as proof positive that the English were as daft as he'd always suspected.

The precise origins of the English longbow are lost in the historical mists, although some evidence suggests the weapon is Welsh in origin. By the turn of the Thirteenth Century, the longbow was widely used in several forested English districts - Sherwood, `Sussex and the Chilterns - for both hunting and self-defense. King Edward III whole-heartedly embraced the longbow and devised tactics around it because his chief opponents in battle were, and for the foreseeable future would be, the French, who could field armored knights in far greater numbers than their enemies could ever hope to match. In the hands of a steady, well-trained man, however, the longbow proved capable of humbling the proudest French noble.

As a weapon, it could not have been simpler, more robust, or more easily maintained under campaign conditions. Its effective range gave it a long, deadly reach. At 500 yards, a bowman could not, of course, hit an individual enemy soldier, but a mass of bowmen could reliably drench the ground on which enemy formations stood with a hailstorm of steel-tipped missile fully capable of penetrating plate armor, and of piercing chain mail as though it were Saran Wrap.

It took brawn to draw a longbow - to attain maximum range and accuracy, a man needed to exert a pull of about 80 lbs. over and over again without wavering. Aiming, at longer ranges, was a matter of instinct and experience - the archer after a while simply "knew" when his elevation was on target: a steady pull, a quick and confident "eyeballing" of the aim, and a crisp clean release were the essentials of an accurate volley.

And such a volley! Let's take one classic example: the charge of the French chivalry at the Battle of Crecy, in 1346, where Edward III deployed 5,500 archers. When the French unleashed their knights, they were utterly confident of sweeping through the ragged thin line of "peasants" opposing them. But they faced an uphill gallop over uneven ground and even the specially-bred horses employed by the knights couldn't make such a trek without growing winded, given the combined weight of rider and armor. Given the distance from starting point to target, the French knights were in effective longbow range for almost three minutes.

During that time, Edward's bowmen EACH fired an average of 36 missiles (typically, an archer would save a half-dozen shafts for close-encounters of the most dangerous kind), for a total of thirty aimed volleys…an arrow-storm of approximately 150,000 missiles. The knights were as brave as they were arrogant - fifteen charges they made, always with the same results: hysterical wounded horses bolting and kicking, dismounted men trapped and helpless, others with arrow-shafts sticking out of their skulls, shoulders and eye sockets. As each charge dashed itself to pieces, the bowmen rushed forward and finished off the wounded with axes, mauls, and long knives, helping themselves to whatever loot caught their eyes. When King Philip withdrew from the field at nightfall, he left some 10,000 men behind, captured or dead, including the cream of the French nobility.

Admittedly the anachronistic deployment of archers at Waterloo was the kind of dramatic tactical trick that could only work once, but once was all Wellington needed. He could have positioned the bowmen in defiladed ground, out of sight, and then ordered volley fire as soon as Napoleon's columns came within range. The effect would have been just as shattering as it was against the knights at Crecy and Agincourt. Consider the virtues of the two main opposing weapons:

FLINTLOCK MUSKET
ENGLISH LONGBOW
Rate of Fire 2 shots/ minute 12 arrows/minute
Effective range 100 yds 500 yds
Percentage of missiles likely to hit a target in a 5,000-shot Volley at 150 yards: 10 - 15 % 35 - 40%

The only effective counter-measure Napoleon could have applied was his superiority in artillery, and the archers would have seen the guns coming long before the gunners could open fire - ample time to scurry out of danger and regroup at the next suitable position.

Of course, Napoleon might have unleashed his magnificent cavalry, but horses are even bigger targets that foot-soldiers and the highly trained steeds at Agincourt proved no more able to stand up to a rain of steel than any other poor dumb brute tormented by sudden excruciating pain.

Naturally, we're just fooling around here in the time-honored "alternate history" manner here. But in every department except "visual effects", the longbow was a vastly superior weapon to the Brown Bess smoothbore, and we think our "what-if" scenario has a lot of merit.

Perhaps some of our readers could war-game it and let us know what happens…

Enjoy the newsletter,
The Newsletter Team

Comments? Questions? We'd love to hear from you through our general feedback contact form.



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This Week's Historical Short: The Worst Light (Or Sub-) Machine Guns Ever Wuz! (Part 1)

The Historical Short section is designed to provide a brief snapshot of an interesting historical event or trivia that is a little off the beaten path of regular historical discourse.

The Worst Light (Or Sub-) Machine Guns Ever Wuz! (Part 1)

To judge from reader feedback, one of the most popular sidebar features we’ve ever published in this newsletter was “The World’s Worst Weapons”. So popular did that feature prove to be that we naturally began thinking of follow-ups along the same lines. In a spasm of cleverness that surpassed our own usually high standards, we even came up with an “award for “negative superlatives” (worst, laziest, dumbest, most cowardly, most sexually ambiguous…you name it, military history provides colorful examples OF it…whatever “it” may be!). So for this issue, we’ve chosen to honor a representative group of the absolute worst-looking and worst-functioning light automatic or submachine guns in the annals of military history.

Let’s begin with the undisputed Tog Dog of them all!


The Worst Of The Worse: The Infamous French Chauchat

One of the hoariest principles of aesthetics states that “form follows function”. If that be true, the evolving appearance of submachine guns could serve as a handy subject for an intriguing, if highly eccentric, dissertation. Generally speaking, the light automatic weapons that proved most successful in combat also tended to be the sexiest-looking ones as well.

Think about it: the German MP-40 (so often erroneously called the “Schmeisser”), the Bren, the M2-carbine, the Thompson (especially with its impractical but ever-so-cool-looking 50-round drum magazine), etc. – these were efficient, lethal, dependable weapons, trusted by their gunners and feared by the enemy. The one visual quality they all have in common is their slim, deadly, elegance. They had, for want of a better word, “character”. Even movie directors know that – it’s the main reason why a far greater percentage of German soldiers carry MP-40s in the average World War Two movie than ever carried them in actual service; the very “look” of that guns whispers “NAZIS! BEWARE!” into the ear of your subconscious!

On the other hand, the weapons that looked like mechanical pigs tended to function crudely and without any touch of redeeming grace; they lacked even the clean, honest, utilitarian lines of well-made plumbing. They were redolent of the grease, sweat, and burning-ozone smells of a machine-shop, and although in well-trained hands they could kill someone just as dead as a hand-made Tommy Gun wielded by a George-Raft gangster in a pin striped suit, there was a world of existential difference (from the observer’s point-of-view) equal in its significance to the difference between the artistry of swift decapitation by a Yojimbo-class samurai and the barbarous excesses performed by the average deranged serial killer hacking-away with a meat cleaver.

Had enough high-flown rhetoric? Okay, fine; we know you get the point by now, so we’ll pass on to the conclusion of our speculation: To a remarkable extent, and to an extent not found in any other type of infantry weapon, the uglier a light automatic gun happened to be, the less effective it tended to be in battle.

Exhibit A is today’s winner: the ugliest, crudest-looking, most pointlessly unwieldy, and most ergonomically counter-productive automatic weapon ever issued to ground troops; even today, 93 years after its debut in combat, it is still widely considered to be the most worthless, unreliable, and universally despised weapon not just of the First World War, but perhaps of the entire Twentieth Century.

Ladies and gentlemen, we give you the notorious contraption known as the Chauchat:

…a weapon so bad that a number of French soldiers were actually court-martialed for trying to sell or trade them to the Boche!

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Historical Perspective

The Historical Perspective section is intended to give readers the "history behind the game." This month, Will Trotter gives us the first part of a series about the evolution of military technology before during and after the American Civil War.

Crucible of Blood - The American Civil War And the Evolution of Modern Military Technology

Part 3 - In America’s Military, Dark Clouds Gather, and Confusion Reigns

William R. Trotter

Until the 1850s, the only “contemporary” subject of study in the realm of “military theory” was the campaigns of Napoleon Bonaparte. While studying those epochal events was (and still is) highly useful to a professional soldier, the world-wide burgeoning of technology had rendered “military science” at least co-equal in its importance to “theory” rooted in historical precedent. To those younger, more progressive officers who wished to stay current with, or even a bit ahead of “the curve”, theories propounded on the basis of new developments had perforce to be speculative in nature. Every officer who was not a hopeless blockhead understood that the long-range rifle musket, the multiplying new patterns of artillery, the telegraph, the steamship, and the railroad, would inevitably render future military campaigns as different from Bonaparte’s as Napoloen’s were from those of Julius Caesar. The hardest question to answer was HOW.

Within professional military circles, debates were spirited, and if you read numerous excerpts from the military journals published during the decade proceeding Secession, you can discover, among the baroque welter of highly personal prognostications, two dominant overall philosophies gradually taking shape. While they DO roughly correspond to “Liberal” and “Conservative”, those labels are a gross oversimplification. I prefer to use the terms:

UTOPIAN / FUTURISTS

And

REALIST/ SKEPTICS (as in “weapons evolve and machine change, but human nature remains both obdurate and beyond the realm of mere logic!”)

The position of the technologically hip Futurists may be summarized thusly:

Click here to continue Crucible of Blood - The American Civil War And the Evolution of Modern Military Technology.

Enjoying the article so far? Why not check out these great titles that focus on the same period?

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Great Community Scenarios for Advanced Tactics: World War II!

With a powerful map editor and a versatile engine, Advanced Tactics: World War II has been cultivating a vibrant and enthusiastic community of scenario makers. This feature provides just a snapshot of all the incredible user-generated content available for Advanced Tactics completely free of charge. Thanks to a terrific community, purchasing Advanced Tactics today means buying a title which is at least double the value it was at its original release.

World at War v33
(by Tom Weber)

Without doubt this scenario is one of the best. It has been fine tuned and balanced through more then 33 iterations and now brings one of the best global ww2 gaming experiences available. The scenario can be played by up to 5 players as Germany, Western Allies, USSR, China and Japan. Each turn represents a month. Units can be considered corps level. All sides have special equipment and troops like SS, flak88 and kamikazes. The scenario comes with weather zones, manpower modelling and dozens of special action cards for each side. And zillions of special historical rules and choices. For example the Western Allies can choose to spend political points to boost the French and avoid a Vichy France after the fall of Paris.

Special rules ensure historical play, while leaving room for divergence.

Building capitol ships takes time as hulls are slowly completed.

By clever use of different hex scales the map size stays reasonable and thus fun and playable


Race For Cherbourg
(by Plasman)

This scenario zooms into just a few weeks of war in the top of Normandy in 1944. It shines in its attention to detail and proves that bigger is not always better. Each turn represents a day. Units are on a regimental level, though independent battalions are present too. The designer especially did a good job on this scenario because he added a lot of artwork by taking into account the 1944 troops and equipment and the scenic Norman landscapes.

Special cards to influence the battle

Excellent historical research provides an educational experience

The Order of Battle as well as the landscape is very historical


American Civil War
(by Tom Weber)

The American Civil War. Each turn represents a month. Raiders and militia are modelled. Differing quality of the generals on both sides is represented. Several other historical events are in this scenario, like the option for the North to choose the Emancipation Proclamation. Furthermore, the scenario models the seasons and the rail system.

1861

This scenario uses action cards to let the player buy new units

Infantry, Cavalry and Artillery make up the armies



Click on to see other fantastic free Advanced Tactics community scenarios, like The Roman Empire, the Great War, The Great Patriotic War and more!


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Latest News

In this section we provide a rundown of the latest updates from Matrix Games, just in case you missed a press release or two.

  1. World War One 1.0.4c Beta Update Now Available - A new and improved beta update to address the most critical issues for World War One has hit the trenches
  2. A New Hired Guns: The Jagged Edge Video Now Available - Another gameplay video for Hired Guns is now available just before the game’s anticipated release!
  3. Matrix Games to Publish Hired Guns: The Jagged Edge - Guns, mercenaries, and African dictatorships to come to the Matrix online store
  4. World War II – Road to Victory Gets an Update - The 1.21 update rolls out more fixes and improvements to this World War II grand strategy game
  5. World War One – La Grande Guerre Now Available! - In Depth World War One strategy action now available for purchase
  6. Empires in Arms Is Updated - A major new v1.04.07 update for the computer adaptation of the famous Napoleonics game offers over 70 fixes and improvements!
  7. War Between the States Gets An Update. - The new v1.030 update adds even more gameplay enhancements and historical accuracy to this American Civil War grand strategy hit.
  8. Close Combat - Wacht am Rhein Now Available! - Hardened troops and ferocious armor are now rolling across the frozen European landscape and on to hard drives everywhere!
The latest additions to the Matrix product lineup.

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A Parting Shot

This time of year is busy for everyone and here at Matrix is no exception. We have some particularly interesting things going on around now. For one thing, the highly anticipated tactical game Hired Guns: The Jagged Edge, is slated to release very shortly. And if you haven't missed our banners, press release, and note in this newsletter, we're having our biggest holiday sale EVER! Massive discounts on a huge variety of titles are coming to Christmas trees everywhere so take advantage of this great deal while it's still available!

And as always, anyone who would like to drop us a line and give us some feedback, complaints, death threats (or how 'bout some Christmas cheer for a change, eh?), etc., please don't hesitate to do so through our general feedback contact form.


Thanks for reading and happy holidays!
The Newsletter Team


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