Monday, 26 December 2016

Time Commanders

Over the Christmas break I have been catching up on any TV programmes that I missed whilst Sue and I were on our recent cruise. Amongst these was the latest incarnation of BBC's TIME COMMANDERS.


The concept is to pit two teams of three players against each other using a computerised game engine (developed by The Creative Assembly). Unlike the previous two series, which were hosted by Eddie Mair and Richard Hammond respectively, the host is Greg Wallace. He is assisted by Dr Lynette Nusbacher and Mike Loades.


The first programme saw a team of Scottish wrestlers take on a group of historical board gamers from London. The battle that was recreated was the Battle of Zama, with the wrestlers being the Carthaginians and the board gamers the Romans. In two initial skirmishes – which were intended to give both teams an opportunity to practice using the game engine – the Carthaginians won quite decisively. In the actual re-fight, the Roman side drove off the Carthaginian elephants (which had attacked without support) and then overwhelmed the enemy cavalry. The Carthaginians then attempted to regroup ... whilst the Romans stood and watched. The Romans then slowly moved forward, using their cavalry to first outflank the block of Carthaginian infantry and then attack them from the rear. In the end the battle degenerated into a massive infantry slogging match, with both sides winning on their right flanks and losing on their left. Eventually the Romans prevailed ... although both sides lost their commanders.

The second programme featured a team of aquarium workers (Imperial France) fighting a team of archers (Allies) in a re-fight of the Battle of Waterloo. The programme followed the same basic format at the first programme (two short trial skirmishes followed by the re-fight) and ended in a narrow victory for the Allies ... but it was one hell of a messy battle, during which Napoleon was killed!

I think that the new format works better than the previous one, and Greg Wallace's enthusiastic hosting – which could easily have been quite annoying – actually made the programmes more interesting to watch.

I look forward to watching the rest of the series.

18 comments:

  1. I quite enjoy the programme. I'd like to see a group of gamers playing rather than teams who haven't got a clue.

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    1. Ray Rousell,

      One of the teams in the first programme were historical board gamers and did badly in the skirmishes but won the actual battle.

      I understand that the producers have been approached by groups of wargamers who waned to enter as a team, but that they were rejected because it was thought that they might be too knowledgeable.

      All the best,

      Bob

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  2. I watched about 30 seconds of the first program but steeled myself to watch all of the second one.

    The annoying presenter was greatly outshadowed by even more annoying 'experts'.

    The Waterloo scenarios were quite pathetic renditions and did not reflect anything like the real event and completely missed several significant facts.

    I would be deeply disappointed if I hadn't seen any of the pre-released information which did not get my hopes up.

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    1. Jim Duncan,

      One of the experts was (and may still be) a lecturer at RMA Sandhurst. That does not, however, ensure that they can communicate their knowledge and understanding without it sounding a bit histrionic.

      For some reason the weather factor seem to have been ignored in the Waterloo scenario; likewise the players had to decide to garrison the forward strongpoints rather than that having been done during the previous evening. In my opinion these two things certainly affected the outcome.

      I had very low expectations and was pleased that it was nowhere near as bad as I had expected.

      All the best,

      Bob

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  3. For those of you interested there are a number of comments on the Pendraken Forum regarding Time Commanders.

    http://www.pendrakenforum.co.uk/index.php/topic,15158.0.html

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  4. I've greatly enjoyed both of these so far. I remember the original series, and, as my brother remarked, the battles would go quite differently if they had commanders who know how the computer game works. It's definitely an improvement to have teams facing off against one another, as the old format of one team vs. AI would be tired nowadays.

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    1. Peter Ball,

      I tend to agree with everything you have mentioned in your comment. It may not be a perfect programme ... but I've watched worse!

      All the best,

      Bob

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  5. It's complete and utter twaddle - and your second photograph shows tbe main reason. The presenter/experts are a joke - it's not as though the BBC are short of a few historians?

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    1. Jeremy Ramsey,

      In its defence, it is supposed to be entertainment rather than educational ... and it is no more twaddle than a lot of other entertainment. For example, over the last two days the BBC's top TV programmes have been dance and cooking competitions.

      Most of the historians that seem to be used by TV companies these days appear to be recruited for their blandness and/or visual appeal; whatever happened to using the likes of A J P Taylor?

      All the best,

      Bob

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  6. I have to agree with you Rob the new format is much better than the original Human v AI Engine.

    I took it as "historical light entertainment" but actually it was "a little more than interesting than that" (the Wellington player seemed to know a little too much history and was almost caught on the hop but she pulled it back to her credit), post-doc PhD historical analysis it wasn't but flavoured historical fun, yes and I'm looking forward to the third.

    I was impressed by the Roman commander who kept hi cool when goaded and was man enough to admit the decisions he got wrong. Anyone put under the spot-light of having their real-time decision making "under the microscope" deserved credit IMHO. I know enough tabletop experts, war-gamers who throw their toys out of the parm if they don't get "a dubious modifier" ;)

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    1. Geordie an Exiled FoG,

      I agree wholeheartedly with your comments. When seen as 'entertainment' rather than as a serious historical reconstruction, it has its merits, and the use of the team vs. team format is so much better than the previous team vs. AI one. The weapon information is rather sparse for anyone who has read more than a modicum of military history, but at least it gave viewers some understanding of the types of weapons that the opposing sides would have used.

      All the best,

      Bob

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  7. I agree with most of what has been said.I would also like to say if we had some proper wargamers it would be a different story. Plus I suspect a lot less attention paid to the experts .

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    1. David Fleck,

      I suspect that the average wargamer would do little better than most of the contestants that I have seen so far. From my experience wargamers - when presented with subordinate roles - either ignore their orders or argue with them. Some are capable of being team players ... but not the majority.

      All the best,

      Bob

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  8. I'd not heard of these shows before reading this posting, and found the Waterloo one on Youtube. How long it will last there, I don'y know.

    I enjoyed the thing. I don't reckon they were too serious about the battle itself, but more on the technology of the day, and upon the command and control aspects from the players' points of view. I would like to see more.

    I have seen some video game competitions, and although they have their points of interest, it is often too hard to see what's going on to be truly engaging.

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    1. Archduke Piccolo,

      This format is much better than the one used in the previous two series. When contrasted with the GAME OF WAR (where it was a proper kriegsspiel-style wargame) it is more of a fun entertainment programme than a serious historical one.

      I'll certainly watch the next one, but viewed as light entertainment and a study in team dynamics than anything more serious.

      All the best,

      Bob

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    2. Bob, it was, indeed, the team dynamics that were entertaining, rather than the game, which was very difficult to follow and bore very little relation to Waterloo. By the end, viewers without any historical knowledge would have gained as much idea of how to conduct a Napoleonic War battle as I have of making a Madeira spongecake after watching British Bake Off!
      I think the whole format would work better if the teams were fighting a smaller, non historical scenario that was simpler for both them and the audience to follow. The 'practice' games were more entertaining than the actual battle, IMHO.
      Regards,
      Arthur

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    3. Arthur1815,

      This morning I managed to watch the last programme of the series ... and one of the teams made a right dog's breakfast of it. Highly entertaining, but there were no great historical or tactical insights other than to reinforce the fact that leadership is about clarity of thinking and the ability to communicate with - and to enthuse - one's subordinates.

      All the best,

      Bob

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