Wargame SITREP 230320 N7 Design- Fog, Friction, and Chance in World at War 85: Storming the Gap (Lock ‘Load Publishing, 2019)

I play wargames not only for fun but also to educate myself about and analyze the dynamics of a conflict. Sometimes those dynamics focus on the history, but more often than not the dynamics I study are the game system and how it models—or presents—the situation. There is a delicate balance in wargames between “realism” (whatever that means) and “playability” (equally nebulous). With my acquisition of World at War 85: Storming the Gap by designer David Heath Keith Tracton from Lock ‘n Load Publishing (2019…ignore the “2029” on the back of the Core Rules book) I am given a chance to explore a 1980’s Third World War platoon-level ground combat wargame. World at War 85 makes for a interesting case study in how modern (as in contemporary) wargame design uses different game mechanisms to create fog, friction, and chance in warfare and how each balances realism and playability.

It’s actually a VERY big box…

Carl is Back

Fog, friction, and chance in warfare are perhaps best described by Carl von Clausewitz. As Daniel Sukman in an article for The Strategy Bridge tells us:

Clausewitz, in his seminal work On War, introduced the concepts of fog, friction, and chance. If, as Clausewitz claimed, warfare is an extension of politics by other means, and if man is a political animal, then logic concludes war at its very foundation is a uniquely human phenomenon full of these three elements. Moreover, fog, friction, and chance are critical to the centrality of violence in warfare. Fog is the uncertainty in war, friction is the countless minor incidents that make the simple very difficult, and chance is the unpredictable circumstances that consistently occur in war.

“Human Fog, Human Friction, Human Chance,” The Strategy Bridge, 02 April 2015

I’m going to use fog, friction, and chance to look at Storming the Gap help explain the different design approaches to realism and playability in this two wargames.

Storming Looks Back

At first glance, World at War 85: Storming the Gap looks not too much unlike most any bog-standard hex-and-counter wargame. In Storming the Gap units are platoon-sized (10-15 troops or three tanks), each turn is 5 to 15 minutes of time, and each hex is 150 meters across with elevation given in 10-25 meters of height difference.

It is worth stating the obvious that World at War 85 depicts a hypothetical 1985 conflict in Europe that thankfully didn’t happen. While Storming the Gap looks back with the benefit of almost 40 years of military study hindsight (and declassification of sources) there is no such thing as an “accurate” depiction of the history, just another wargame of assumptions. We must remember that the battles depicted never actually happened meaning empirical data—useful for baselining “reality”—is absent in the design.

Once the designer (and players) frees themselves from trying to slavishly “recreate” a history in World at War 85 that didn’t happen and instead focus on bringing the history to the table in a playable manner, the aperture of game mechanisms to be used opens wide. Regardless of what critics (and sometime wargamers themselves) say World at War 85: Storming the Gap is a game.

Fog and Friction in the Gap

“Fog is the uncertainty in war, friction is the countless minor incidents that make the simple very difficult…”

Daniel Sukman

Depicting the Fog of War in wargames is a difficult proposition if for no other reason than a tabletop game often conveys too much information. Unless using a block wargame or double-blind design, players usually have much more information available to them than their “real life” counterparts. In most wargames, players can see the complete game board and the array of units upon it. It’s hard to be surprised when you can see that flanking maneuver assembling behind that hill! This “perfect knowledge” pierces the literal “fog of war” which makes generating friction in wargames that much more difficult to design. In World at War 85 the designers choose to use a form of a chit-pull game mechanism to write rules for command and control to help depict the fog and friction of war. This game mechanism is embodied in the Formation Cards.

Storming the Gap uses a very different approach to C2 through the use of Formation Cards. Rather than dicing off for initiative and expending Operations Points, in World at War 85 players build a Formation Deck that has Formation Cards, Close Air Support Cards, Electronic Warfare Cards, and even Battlefield Event/Friction Cards. When building the Formation Deck, two (or three) End Operations Cards are also included before shuffling. During a turn, players draw the top card from the Formation Deck to see which formation activates or event is executed. Once two End Operations Cards are drawn, the Operations Phase of the turn ends.

As the Core Rules book for Storming the Gap notes, “The Formation Cards form the heart of the WaW85 game turn” (7.0 Formation Card, p. 37). The unpredictable and uncertain chit-pull-like draw of Formation cards, as well as the other “event” cards means that players simply cannot know in what order units will act. In some scenarios, a formation might even have more than one Formation Card shuffled into the deck meaning there is a chance the unit will act more than once! The fact the two End Operations cards are randomly mixed into the deck also means there is great uncertainly as to when a turn will end. Is that second End Operations buried in the deck or are they both near the top? There is only one way to pierce the fog of war in World at War 85 and that is to draw the next card!

Drawing cards from the Formation Deck in Storming the Gap creates a very playable, yet realistic-like flow of events. There is no artificial rolling for initiative nor an IGO-UGO or even a simple alternating sequence of play. The simple game act of turning over a card keeps play moving.

The Formation cards in World at War 85 deliver a very simple “Fog of War” without undue game overhead. Players will certainly know there is a chance for a unit to activate, or for an event to occur, but the specific timing and order is “lost in the fog.”

When building the Formation Deck in Storming the Gap, players also shuffle in Battlefield Event/Friction Cards. These cards deliver friction to the battlefield in a very quick-to-play manner:

Since the players really represent the overall commander in a scenario, the events on the Battlefield Events Table are outside of an overall commander’s control, those unexpected and chaotic things that happen on the battlefield, both good and bad. A Battlefield Event may require a roll on a second, grittier Battlefield Friction Table, generally defining more chaotic things that happen to specific units.

6.0 Battlefield Event/Friction card , Core Rule Book, p. 36

Players of World at War 85 must also realize that the Fog of War of the Formations Deck is also a form of friction on the battlefield. Perhaps you need that unit on the left, the one already reduced in strength, to conduct a spoiling attack and wear down that defender a bit before the unit on the right storms through. Sounds like a plan, until the stronger unit draws its Formation card first. Do you still push the attack without the benefit of some attrition first or do you wait. FRICTION!

Example of Play – Scenario 1: Storming the Gap

Scenario 1 of World at War 85: Storming the Gap is a simple learning scenario with two formations; the U.S. player has “Charlie 1/11th ACR” which is defending against an attack by the “1/15th GTR.” Per the scenario setup rules, the Soviet player has a single Formation Card and the U.S. player has two. The use of the Battlefield Event/Friction Card is optional in this scenario (added here) and two End Operations Cards are shuffled into the Formation Deck. Once assembled, the Formation Deck has a total of six cards.

Per the scenario rules, the Soviet player holds the Initiative on Turn 1 and will execute a Formation Impulse first. After the Soviet Initiative Phase, the rest of the turn uses the Formation Deck and played out like this:

  1. [Soviet Initiative Phase]
  2. U.S. formation activation #1
  3. Battlefield Event/Friction (Roll 1d6 to determine side affected; roll of 2 means NATO. Roll 2d6 for Event = 9 “High Speed Approach”: Activate one formation for a modified Formation Impulse with only Movement or Move & Fire Actions allowed; this is literally another U.S. formation activation)
  4. End Operations
  5. Soviet formation activation
  6. U.S. formation activation
  7. End Operations (Proceed to Marker Removal Phase, reshuffle Formation Deck)

On Turn 1 the Soviet use the Initiative to jump off for their attack. The U.S. response is quick; so quick they get to “move” twice before the Soviets roll on. The Soviets continue their advance but the U.S. gets another “reaction.

Turn 1 after Soviet Initiative Phase, Formation Deck flops

On Turn 2 there is no Initiative Phase so play proceeds according to the draw of the Formation Deck:

  1. End Operations
  2. U.S. formation activation
  3. Soviet formation activation
  4. End Operations

Turn 2 ends rather quickly with each side getting only a single formation activation. The scenario is only 10 turns long and the Soviets need to quickly cross the map to seize their objectives…

Short Turn 2

Chance without CRT

“…chance is the unpredictable circumstances that consistently occur in war.”

Daniel Sukman

Wargames seem to love using dice and combat results tables (CRTs) to represent chance and those “unpredictable circumstances” that occur on the battlefield. Storming the Gap uses dice, but does away with CRTs.

“Every Die Roll in the Series” is actually the title of Player Aid Card (PAC) 09. PAC09 is a two sided card with about 40 entries on it. While most are simple roll 1d6 or 2d6 and look up results. The most interesting and mechanically innovative, however, is Direct Fire.

Chance by dice in World at War 85

Direct Fire in World at War 85 uses a dice pool game mechanism. Take for example a Direct Fire action with a West German Leopard 2 tank shooting at an East German T-72 tank.

  • Once the West German player has determined that they possess a weapon that can attack (in this case a valid attack by a unit with an Orange AP value attacking a Heavy Armor Target) , the unit is within range (Effective Range of 14 for the Leopard 2) and has a Line-of-Sight the attack starts. Without any modifiers, the Leopard 2 has 4x Firepower dice with a To-Hit of 3. This means the Leopard 2 will roll 4d6 and each die that is 3 or greater is a hit.
  • The T-72 now gets to use it’s Armor Save values. The T-72 is rated 3-5 meaning the T-72 rolls 3d6 and every 5 or 6 is a “save” and will stop one hit.
West German Leopard 2 scores 2 Hits against no Armor Saves by East German T-72

I’m pretty sure that if you run the maths here that the chances of hit/penetration will be similar to those found in other games that use CRTs or simulations. The difference in Storming the Gap is the playability, i.e. the pure enjoyment players on both sides of the attack will get—the attacker rolling to score a hit and the defender rolling to save themselves. World at War 85 delivers realism in the math behind the results but with oh-so-much-more playability.

Playing with Carl

The Formation Deck and dice-off resolution game mechanisms make World at War 85: Storming the Gap a wargame that emphasizes “game” over simulation. Simply put, this title is a truly “gamified” version of warfare. The game not only educates players on what the battlefield in a “Cold War Gone Hot” situation might have looked like, but it educates then and allows some simple analysis of how that conflict would have (literally) played out. It delivers this education and analytic toolset by presenting Fog, Friction, and Chance in warfare using game mechanisms that make manipulating the game fun and not an exercise.

Playable realism. On a game that looks awesome on the gaming table too.

Feature image “Fulda Gap; Spring 1984” courtesy dustycrosley via DeviantArt

RockyMountainNavy.com © 2007-2023 by Ian B is licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0

3 thoughts on “Wargame SITREP 230320 N7 Design- Fog, Friction, and Chance in World at War 85: Storming the Gap (Lock ‘Load Publishing, 2019)

  1. Hi, just a correction, David Heath is the publisher, I am the designer. 😉 Though David most certainly contributed to the design as he always does! Any mistakes are all mine. 🙂 Thanks for taking a deep dive!

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