To help evaluate modern naval wargames I am comparing various games to the writings of Capt. Wayne Hughes Jr., USN (Ret.). Capt. Hughes recently died, which led me to reread his classic Fleet Tactics and Coastal Combat (Second Edition)*. In chapter 7 of that edition, Hughes writes of The Great Trends & Constants:
- Firepower & Counterforce
- Scouting & Anti-Scouting
- Command & Control (C2) and C2 Countermeasures (C2CM)
Capt. Hughes also writes on ‘What a Navy is for.’
A navy’s purposes deal with the movement and delivery of goods and services at sea; in contrast, an army’s purpose is to purchase and possess real estate. Thus a navy is in the links business, while the army is in the nodes business. Seen that way, a navy performs one or more of four functions and no others: At sea, it (1) assures that our own goods and services are safe, and (2) that an enemy’s are not. From the sea, it (3) guarantees safe delivery of goods and services ashore, and (4) prevents delivery ashore by an enemy navy. – Hughes, p. 9
Seapower & the State: A Strategic Study of World War Three at Sea, 1984-1994
This post I look at Seapower & the State: A Strategic Study of World War Three at Sea, 1984-1994 designed by Stephen Newberg and published by Simulations Canada in 1982. Seapower & the State (S&tS) is a rare game in that very few wargames present a strategic view of World War III at sea. As the designer notes, “The viewpoint of the simulation is that of grand strategy and thus has the players acting as the overall commanders of the naval forces of the Eastern or Western alliances.” (1.0 Introduction)
What may be the most distinguishing feature of S&tS is the Conflict Level. Each turn, player bid on the level of conflict with five possible choices ranging from no combat to all-out nuclear war (yikes!). Each one has different game effects:
Level 1: No Active Combat
Level 2: Conventional Weapon Combat
Level 3: Conventional & Tactical Nuclear Weapon Combat
Level 4: Conventional, Tactical Nuclear, & Operational Nuclear Combat
Level 5: Strategic Nuclear Weapons Combat
That said, the game has elements of the operational level of war (allocating missions) and even a bit of a dip into tactical warfare (combat). As the designer notes, “The very strategic level of the game requires numerous abstractions, but to keep the doctrine differences clear an upper operational level was retained for the purposes of combat resolution systems.” (21.0 Designer’s Notes) Scale-wise, the map covers the entire world using 900km hexes. The time of each turn is amorphous with only turns at Conflict Level 2 or higher counted as turns played towards the Endturn. The game ends after about 10 turns of Conflict Level 2 or greater conflict, or as the designer notes “about 6 weeks of combat.” The game automatically ends if Conflict Level 5: Strategic Nuclear Weapons Combat is chosen.
The General Course of Play (2.0) provides a good overview of the game:
After choosing a scenario to be played and which player will play which side the players start each turn with a Conflict Level Determination phase in which the intensity of the combat for the turn will be fixed. The Eastern player then begins his player phase by moving his units. After movement is completed a combat sequence if followed for each hex that contains units of both players. Next, the Eastern player conducts mine operations and finally satellite operations. The Western player then begins his player phase, which is identical to that just completed by the Eastern player. After the Western player’s phase is completed and Endturn phase begins in during which the players determine the effects the turn has had that will apply to later turns and determine victory points each has earned during the turn. the turn ends and the next turn begins. In general each player should try to use his units in a manner as to prevent the other player from earning victory points while at the same time trying to earn as many victory points as possible. At the conclusion of the last turn a comparison of victory points will determine the winner of the game.
BLUF – Seapower & the State provides a grand strategic view of a potentially nuclear 1980s/1990s World War III at sea using an abstracted Scouting/Anti-Scouting model, a range-dependent Firepower combat system, and a doctrinal C2 model that emphasizes maritime Sea Lines of Communications and preservation of nuclear deterrent forces.
Seapower & the State fully embraces CAPT Hughes’ viewpoint that navies are designed to ensure the safe delivery of goods. However, S&tS goes even further by introducing a political element concerning allies and neutral nations. The game also has a very Cold War element of preserving an at-sea nuclear deterrent. Indeed, the treatment of nuclear war sets this game apart form many others in an unsettling manner.
In recognition of CAPT Hughes’ importance of delivering goods and services across the sea, the primary means of generating Victory Points for either side is through Shipping. There are 24 shipping routes on the map. The Eastern player earns VP for interdicting routes with ships or aircraft and sinking merchants and tankers. The Western player earns VP for preventing Shipping loses and getting ships through. Further, if the Eastern player interdicts certain routes, Western bases are captured or rendered inoperative.
S&tS also the strategic issue of allies and alliances. As the Conflict Level escalates, Western alliance nations may waver and sue for a separate peace (16.5 Committed Nations Armistice / 16.51 Early Wavering). Additionally, if the Western player fails to keep the sealanes open, bases fall as some nations may be overrun (16.52 Overrun) and drop out of the war. India and China appear in S&tS in a very interesting manner. India can enter the war on the Eastern side once enough Western bases are overrun. Once India enters the war China enters on the Western side. I recognize that these rules are very dependent upon a somewhat narrow interpretation of the political situation as seen in the early 1980s. The designer recognizes it as such and even has a specific rule, 16.53 Opinion, which encourages players to modify or suit the political judgements as they feel fit.
The last element of victory in S&tS is one of the more macabre wargames rules I have ever encountered. It concerns Level 5 Conflict – All out nuclear war. If the Conflict Level Determination Phase goes to Conflict Level 5 a special ‘end of the world’ procedure is executed:
17.6 Level 5 Conflict – If a Level 5 conflict was bid for the turn the Level 5 Conflict Resolution portion of the play sequence [is] used. Both players must examine the positions of all their SB [SSBN] type units. The BM [Ballistic Missile] range is on the back of the SB unit counters and may not be examined by the opposing player prior to a level 5 turn. The range represents the number of hexes distant that the SB unit may attack a land target hex….After totaling points earned by each player for SB units in range, each player must subtract from his total 10 points for each opposing target hex that did not have at least one of his SB type units in range to attack that target (regardless of the BM range of the SB unit). In addition, 1 point is subtracted for each SB unit that was in range to attack but was not within 14 hexes of a friendly CSAT [Communications Satellite] present marker….A Level 5 turn is always the last turn of the game, regardless of the number of turns that have been played.
“Through maneuver the elements of a force attain positions over time.” – Hughes, p. 177
“Maneuver is tactical speed and agility” – Hughes, p. 179
“The fundamental tactical position is no longer defined by the geometric relationship of the opposing formations, but by an operational element: the early detection of the enemy.” Guiseppe Fioravanzo as quoted in Hughes, p. 179.
Like many other naval games, Seapower & the State uses a God’s Eye view of the map with all surface and submarine units on a shared map. Given the scale of the map there are few restrictions on movement. Aircraft are assigned to a given base and can be assigned missions to particular hexes on the map.
There are relatively few movement restrictions in S&tS. The Panama and Suez Canals are present, littoral regions and the Ice Cap special rules. Weather may also have an impact.
The rule with greatest impact to maneuver is actually the Conflict Level. At Conflict Level 1: No Active Combat many movement restrictions, like neutral forces, change. Conflict Level 2: Conventional Weapon Combat sees all the movement rules used in the standard manner. Conflict Level 3: Conventional a & Tactical Nuclear Weapon Combat sees the firepower of most units increase by a factor of 5 (tactical nukes) which will likely change a player’s scheme of maneuver. At Conflict Level 4: Conventional, Tactical Nuclear, & Operational Nuclear Combat all ships or subs in European bases are eliminated, all non-base hexes with 5 or more units are potentially eliminated. Three out of four aircraft and two out of three satellites are eliminated. The list of impacts goes on but you hopefully get the point – nuclear war at sea is BAD.
“Firepower is the capacity to destroy an enemy’s ability to apply force.” Hughes, p. 175
“At sea the essence of tactical success has been the first application of effective offensive force.” – Hughes, p. 206
“Another recurring tendency, perhaps common enough to be called a constant, is to overestimate the effectiveness of weapons before a war.” -Hughes, p. 207
“In modern battle, ships and aircraft will be lost at an agonizing rate. but we observe no trend toward greater destructiveness; we see a continuation of naval combat’s decisive and destructive nature. – Hughes, p. 208.
Every platform in S&tS is rated for combat using two factors; an numerical strength and an alphanumeric range. Combat is resolved in ‘layers’ with the far standoff Range A going first and proceeding down to to Range D (Visual Range):
8.3 Range: The range concept is central to AA [Anti-Aircraft] and AS [Anti-Surface] combat resolution in that certain weapons systems can only be applied so far away from the location of the firing platform. As AA & AS combat is resolved for each range, simulating the phasing units moving deeper into the area represented by the hex, more weapons of shorter range will be able to contribute. Similarly, as the phasing units move away from the non-phasing units in the hex (if they break off combat before range “D”) the shorter range weapons will no longer play a part sooner. In addition, the actual localization and resolution of combat against submarine type units requires very close ranges, and hence phasing units that do not close to range “D” are prohibited from participating in these operations.
“Counterforce is the capacity to reduce the effect of delivered firepower.” – Hughes, p. 175
“While the success of defense against firepower has waxed and waned and at present is on the wane, the importance of diluting or destroying enemy offensive firepower continues.” – Hughes, p. 208.
“The prominent trend in defense is away from survivability through armor, compartmentation, bulk, and damage control. and toward cover, deception, and dispersion.” – Hughes, p. 186
Important to understanding these discussions is the way a fleet tactician looks at defensive force. Defensive systems collectively act like a filter (not a wall, or Maginot Line) that extracts a certain number of incoming aircraft or missiles. As it is able, a hull absorbs hits and allows a warship to conduct curtailed offensive operations.” – Hughes, p. 192
Counterforce in S&tS is abstracted into two factors – Defense and EW Rating. Combat is resolved by summing the attack strength of all attackers and comparing it to the summed EW Rating of all defenders. The difference is the attack superiority. the defender has to eliminate units with a total Defense value equal to the attack superiority.
“Scouts deliver tactical information about the enemy’s position, movements, vulnerabilities, strengths, and, in the best of worlds, intentions.” – Hughes, p. 175
“The goal is scouting is to help get weapons within range and aim them.” -Hughes, p. 193
“It seems pedestrian to say that scouting has always been an important constant of war. Perhaps the way to put it is this: winners have outscouted the enemy in detection, in tracking, and in targeting. At sea better scouting – more than maneuver, as much as weapons range, and oftentimes as much as anything else – has determined who would attack not merely effectively, but who would attack decisively first.” – Hughes, p. 212
Since S&tS displays all units on the map, the game assumption is that the general location of all units is known. However, to attack, the targets must be localized (7.0 Localization / 7.1 General). To localize a unit the phasing player rolls 1d6 and compares it to the unit in the hex with the highest EW Rating. After some simple map a result is given in the number of units localized, starting with those possessing the lowest EW Rating. Modifiers are limited and center on submarines (silent SSBNs) or Trailers (i.e. ‘tattletales’) shadowing US carriers at the start of a conflict.
Both players also have access to RSATs (Radar Satellites) which are launched to provide coverage detection in different areas of the world. Seabed Sonar Sites (i.e. ‘SOSUS’) also can assist in localization.
“Antiscouts destroy, disrupt, or slow enemy scouts.” – Hughes, p. 175
“As the destructiveness and range of weapons grew, the means of surviving enemy attacks diminished and emphasis shifted to reducing the enemy’s scouting effectiveness.” – Hughes, p. 197
“Antiscouting by cover, deception, and evasion would now aim at limiting detection, tracking, or targeting.” – Hughes, p. 197
The concept of Anti-Scouting in S&tS is captured in the EW Rating of a unit. Players also have access to Anti-Satellites (ASATs) and can even alter the orbit of their RSATs to destroy or preserve those assets.
“Command decides what is needed from forces and control transforms needs into action. These are processes. C2 systems are defined, perhaps a bit artificially, as the equipment and organizations by which the processes are performed.” – Hughes, p. 176
“A tactical commander uses C2 to allocate his forces for four activities: firepower delivery, counterforce delivery, scouting, and anti-scouting.” – Hughes, p. 176
“A modern tactical commander will expend relatively less of his energy on planning for and delivering firepower, and relatively more on planning and executing his scouting efforts and forestalling that of the enemy with antiscouting and C2 countermeasures.” – Hughes, p. 201-202.
The C2 rules in S&tS are actually a bit subtle. In the Movement Segment, rule 6.31 Logistics defines stacking limits and a requirement to touch bases throughout the game (carriers and nuclear ships are exempt from this rule). Different classes of bases can supply different numbers of ships – or aircraft. Players must pay attention to the ‘supply lines’ of their fleet. The price paid for not having ships in supply (or even ‘overstacking’ in supply) is brutal – unit elimination.
Buried within the Anti-Surface Combat rules is another subtle C2 rule – 10.33 Central Command. This rule, based on doctrine, requires the Eastern player to be within a certain range of a Communications Satellite (CSAT) to conduct certain attacks.
C2CM (Command & Control Countermeasures)
“Command and control countermeasures (C2CM) are steps to limit the enemy’s ability to decide (command) and disseminate decisions (control). – Hughes, p. 176
There are no rules in S&tS that I can identify as explicitly C2CM-related with the possible exception of ASATs that can be used against CSATs. That said, the improper application of the C2-related rules creates, in effect, a C2CM situation.
Seapower & the State is strategic wargame that is the embodiment of CAPT Hughes’ concepts of naval warfare. It is also the only naval wargame I know of that addresses a strategic World War III at sea. The game is deceptively simple with only 14-pages of rules, a simple map, and rather plain counters. By today’s standards it looks like a cheap DTP effort. The reality is designer Stephen Newberg has created a relatively simple model of a worldwide – potentially nuclear – conflict that captures the essential essence of why navies fight (and the potential for nuclear Armageddon) using Firepower/Counterforce, Scouting/Anti-Scouting, and C2/C2CM elements.
* The book is now in a Third Edition which I need to order the next time it’s on sale.