Perhaps the most interesting aspect of the wargame Littoral Commander: Indo-Pacific (designer Sebastian Bae, The Dietz Foundation, 2023) is the Joint Capabilities Cards (JCC). In a wargame that “explores future tactical concepts, emerging technologies, and all-domain warfare” (1.0 Introduction) how to portray “different” is a serious design challenge. The use of JCCs in Littoral Commander is simultaneously a way to streamline play for players while still delivering a sandbox for experimentation.
“This is my rifle. There are many like it, but this one is mine.”
Players in Littoral Commander get to use different unit types ranging from infantry to tanks to naval combat ships. As seen in rule 4.2 Unit Symbology and Appendix A: Reference Sheets, the USMC player has eight basic types of units to fight with. The PLANMC team has 12 basic unit types to use. Even so, the units are in some ways quite generic with each unit defined using a combination of Movement Points and combat values for Ground Assault, Long Range Strike (LRS), Interception, or Resupply. In addition to the combat values on unit counters, seven supply characteristics (Hit Points, Ground Assault Supply, LRS Supply, LRS Supply v2, Interception Supply, Interception Supply v2, and Logistics Supply) are tracked on unit cards. Even with these many values and characteristics, the units are still relatively generic. So how does one show the trappings of modern warfare, especially all the “cool toys?” In Littoral Commander that is done using Joint Capabilities Cards or JCCs.
For example, a USMC rocket artillery section has two Long-Range Strike (LRS) values. The first combat value, 104, means that weapon has a range of four hexes and hits on a roll of 1-10. The section has a supply of six for this weapon meaning it can fire six times. The section also has a second LRS combat value, 129, that comes with a supply of three. If the USMC team spends a single CP the JCC “Precision Strike Missile” that has a combat value of 1425 and a supply of six can be “attached” to the section. To finish off the description, the section has three movement points and two hit points.
While some scenarios of Littoral Commander direct which JCCs a player will start with, the sandbox design approach of the game means that in many cases the players (USMC and PLANMC teams) are given some control over how to spend their scenario Command Points (CP) to buy JCCs. With over around 50 JCCs on each side to chose from, it is very easy to find oneself in the midst of decision paralysis even before the game starts. This post will talk broadly about the different JCCs and some considerations that hopefully can assist players of Littoral Commander in exploring the impact of JCCs on both gameplay and outcomes. In later posts I intend to delve down into the different JCCs and make some observations that might assist players in building their force.
Streamlined JCC rules
In Littoral Commander a JCC is defined as:
Joint Capability Card (JCC): These are special effect cards that represent a diverse range of joint capabilities in modern warfare from underwater unmanned vehicles (UUVs) to space satellites. The playing of a specific JCC represents not only the platform and associated effects, but also the planning process and coordination required to execute. The JCCs are an abstraction to enable a wide range of gameplay with simple mechanics.Appendix C: Glossary of Terms
In rule 9.0 we see that JCCs are color-coded by the type of function they support.
- RED = Fires
- GREEN = Maneuver
- PURPLE = Interception
- BLUE = Information Operations
- YELLOW = Command, Control, Communications, Computers, Cyber, Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance (C5ISR)
In Littoral Commander, JCCs can be used to represent just about anything beyond the standard attack/defense/movement factor of a unit. In a scenario, players are either assigned a pool of JCC cards or they can be purchased using CP (3.01). Each JCC ranges in cost from 0-5 CP. JCCs are played during a player’s Action Stage impulse (see 3.31 “Play a Joint Capability Card (JCC) (9.0)”).
Attached JCCs. Attached JCCs (see 9.3) have a paperclip symbol and are “attached” to a host unit; such JCCs often represent “munitions, autonomous weapons, or other attached capabilities of units.” For example, “Aegis Ballistic Defense” (USMC 33) is a Purple/Intercept JCC with a CP cost of 0 that is attached to an eligible DDG(X) ship and represents ballistic missile defense (BMD) capabilities beyond the standard anti-air defense of the ship.
One-time JCCs. Most JCCs are one-time use (9.1); that is, they are returned to the team deck after use and can be repurchased later if the scenario allows. “Hypersonic Glide Vehicle” (PLANMC 54) is an example of a one-time JCC. When used, this HGV JCC “Rolls 4 dice to attack units in one hex or any one naval zone. LRS [Long Range Strike]: 1-18 [roll 1-18 to hit]. Range infinite. Enemy BMD may INTERCEPT, but INTERCEPT value is decreased by 8. Remove JCC from game after use.”
Persistent JCCs. JCCs marked with the infinity symbol are Persistent (9.2). Once played, a Persistent JCC remains in effect for the rest of the game (though its effect can only be used one per Actions Stage). For example, “Signal Management” (PLANMC 80) is a Blue/Information Operations JCC with a CP cost of 3 that a player can use once per turn prevent an opposing player from revealing a friendly unit.
Interception JCCs. Some JCCs can be intercepted by enemy IAMD (integrated Air & Missile Defense) units (units with a combat value shown using an inverted purple pentagon) (see 9.11). For example, “Quadcopter Drone” (USMC 35) is a Yellow/C5ISR JCC that can be attacked by enemy IAMD-capable units or JCCs.
Nullify JCCs. Some JCCs are marked with a slashed circle indicating these are Nullify JCCs (see 9.4). A Nullify JCC can be used to negate or cancel a JCC effect, usually dependent on the outcome of a die roll. For example, see “Blindspot” (PLANMC 9), a Blue/Information Operations JCC that can be used to Nullify the “Space Satellites” JCC.
Fighter JCCs. The final JCC type is the FTR or fighter JCC (9.44). If a player has a FTR JCC it can be used to Nullify a JCC with the FTR symbol. “NGAD: Unmanned” (USMC 83) is a JCC with only the FTR attribute: “Roll 4 dice. For every 1-14 rolled, NULLIFY an aviation JCC. Enemy FTR NULLIFY must first roll 1-4 to DETECT. If NULLIFIED by “Unmanned Hacking,” reduce the required roll by 7.”
An important point to emphasize is that JCCs generally “follow the rules” for Littoral Commander. The effects of JCCs are different and found on the cards, but even those effects don’t “break” other rules as much as they leverage them. This design approach lessens the learning curve for new players of Littoral Commander because, for the greater part, rules are rules and cards are effects, not exceptions.
Each scenario in Littoral Commander lists the initial CP allocation for each team (3.11). Some scenarios will assign JCCs while others will simply allocate CPs. Deciding which JCCs to buy is an important decision to make; the rule book for Littoral Commander, alas, offers little guidance.
Auto Free. One JCC that is automatically given to each team in every scenario is “Tactical Network” (card USMC 1 / PLANMC 1). The only other free JCC is “Aegis Ballistic Defense” (USMC 33)/”Ballistic Missile Defense” (PLANMC 75) which is attached to US Navy DDG(X) ships or PLAN Type-55 DDG when called for in the scenario rules.
Purple/Intercept. Both the USMC and PLANMC team have nine (9) Purple/Intercept JCCs to chose from. Like the name implies, these JCCs can be used to “intercept” long range strikes. Of the nine USMC JCC, two (2) are the free “Aegis Ballistic Defense.” The PLAN has three similar “Ballistic Missile Defense” JCC (PLANMC 75). For more on intercepts see 7.5 Intercept.
Yellow/C5ISR. Each team has 19 Yellow/C5ISR JCCs to chose from, including their free “Tactical Network” JCC given to them. Generally speaking, Yellow/C5ISR JCC will reveal enemy units (see 6.13), a necessary condition for combat since only revealed units can be fired upon.
Red/Fires. The USMC has 23 Fires JCCs whereas the PLANMC has 25 Fires JCC to chose from. Many of these JCCs are special weapon abilities that are often attached to units or represent a special weapon capability.
Green/Maneuver. Most of these JCCs represent some sort of movement or transportation/logistics ability. Both sides have 26 JCCs to chose from.
Blue/Information Operations. By far the most numerous of the JCCs, the USMC has 35 JCC to chose from while the PLANMC has just two fewer at 33. These JCCs represent cyber operations as well as more traditional electronic warfare or psychological operations and more. In many respects, the Blue/Information Operations JCCs may be the most important of all the JCC categories for the success of a team’s operation.
For example, in the introductory scenario for Littoral Commander, “Meeting Engagement,” the players are both assigned JCCs and given a small allocation of six CP to buy additional cards:
- Both teams start with the Yellow/C5ISR “Tactical Networks” JCC face-up on the map.
- Both sides have one Purple/Intercept “Combat Air Patrols” JCC already deployed on the table and available to activate for free.
- The USMC team is also given Green/Maneuver “Unmanned Ground Vehicles (UGV),” Yellow/C5ISR “V-BAT,” Blue/Information Operations “Tactical Cyber Attack,” and Green/Maneuver “MARSOC HALO” in their hand or attached to a unit.
- The PLANMC team also has Green/Maneuver “Unmanned Ground Vehicles (UGV),” Yellow/C5ISR “Tactical Unmanned Aerial System (UAS),” Blue/Information Operations “Tactical Cyber Attack,” and Green/Maneuver “HALO Insertion” attached to a unit or in their hand.
As already noted, some of these JCCs are already deployed (“Tactical Network” and “Combat Air Patrols”). The other assigned JCCs are a mix of Maneuver, C5ISR, and Information Operations. What is not pre-assigned is any Red/Fires JCCs.
So which JCCs to buy? The objective of the “Meeting Engagement” scenario is to destroy the greatest number of enemy units in three turns. One could make a good case for buying Red/Fires JCCs to increase a units lethality. One could also make the argument for more Yellow/C5ISR to reveal more enemy units (“you gotta see ’em to shot ’em”). A few of the Green/Maneuver JCCs add to a units firepower or defense. Purple/Intercept JCCs can help defend your units, and Blue/Information Operations JCCs could potentially cripple an enemy attack (or shrug off one against you). The real question is what do YOU want to do? Are you looking for straight-up fisticuffs? Buy red! Looking to leverage the enemy out of their defenses? Buy green! Want a good look to strike from range? Buy yellow! Maybe you just want to make it as hard as possible for the enemy to shoot (Huh? Another software update?). For that you buy blue!
Regardless of your choice, the rules of Littoral Commander make it easy for players to concentrate on what they want to do and not get bogged down in the game mechanisms. That design philosophy is best depicted in the many JCCs that open up the Littoral Commander sandbox as far as players dare to imagine.
Feature image courtesy RMN
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