THE TIME: Tomorrow
THE PLACE: The Taiwan Straits
THE EVENT: The PRC attacks Taiwan
THE BATTLE: Sparring Dragons (Norsehound Games, 2023)
Sparring Dragons: A Postcard Taiwan Conflict from Norsehound Games is a postcard wargame submitted in the Postcards From the Front competition (see hashtag #pftf). This (literally) small wargame portrays modern-day naval and air combat around Taiwan using game mechanics based on the 1988 wargame The Hunt for Red October from TSR.
My print-n-play version of Sparring Dragons was made by printing two copies; the first on a standard 8.5″x11″ sheet and the second on a larger 11″x17″ sheet. I used the smaller sheet to make my double-sided counters which are simply the sheet folded over and glued to greeting card-weight cardstock. The game is played on the larger map.
Sparring Dragons is designed to be played by two players. Units are usually undetected and only a generic side is visible to the other player. I played two-handed solo to learn the game but that meant all the pieces were kept face up.
Each turn in Sparring Dragons starts with an Initiative Phase where players roll a d6 to determine how many Detection Markers they will have this turn. The player with the most Detection Markers decides if they will be the first or second player. Each turn has the following phases:
- First Player Naval Movement
- Second Player Naval Movement
- Air Movement (starting with First player and alternating)
- Combat (Simultaneous)
Detection in Sparring Dragons is very important. During Naval Movement, if a ship/sub enters an area with an enemy submarine that sub can attempt to detect the unit. In the Combat Phase, players play Detection Markers to locate enemy ships/submarine or aircraft as only Detected units can be attacked. In the image below, you can see the situation at the end of the first turns Naval Movement, Air Movement, and Detection. Note how in the South china Sea (lower left) all units are detected, but in PRC patrol area just off the mainland (upper right) no units ended up detecting each other. The main scrum will be in the Taiwan Strait where both People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) frigates were detected but the PRC was only able to detect a single Taiwanese F16 unit.
The first combat of this Sparring Dragons game is resolves the South China Sea space. Both submarines roll hits and both go to the bottom.
The big first turn battle in this game of Sparring Dragons is that Taiwan Straits meeting. In the first round the first attacks will be by the PLAN frigate and People’s Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF) J15 against a Taiwanese F16 air unit. The other units, being undetected, wait.
After all combat in Sparring Dragons has been adjudicated a die roll is made for Reinforcements. In this case the U.S. Navy arrives! (Note that the one Taiwanese Frigate at the north end of the Taiwan Strait should actually be in the middle…small counters and big fingers don’t always work together!)
In order to win Sparring Dragons the PRC player must keep their amphibious unit next to Taiwan for one complete turn. Alas, in this game the early entry of the U.S. Navy enabled them to hold off the PRC invasion and ultimately claim victory.
Total playing time for this game of Sparring Dragons was right about one hour. That included time assembling the counters.
Sparring Dragons is a wargame that is very enjoyable to play. This is not a game that provides deep policy insights. If there is a lesson to be learned, it’s that detection is key to combat. More importantly—at the risk of overusing a tired cliche—this small wargame proves that fun can come in a small package.
***POST GAME CORRECTION***
Only into Turn 2 did I realize that the U.S. Navy F18 and the PLAAF J15 (which is really a PLAN J15) should be based on their respective aircraft carriers. I “rebased” the units at that point and playing them wrong in the first turn didn’t really make that big of a difference. That just means I will HAVE TO play Sparring Dragons again (oh, the shame!).
Feature image courtesy RMN