#Wargame Wednesday – “The report of [wargame death] was an exaggeration”…maybe? Commenting on thoughts from Canvas Temple Publishing (canvastemple.com)

Jon Compton, long time professional wargame practitioner and owner of the small hobby wargame company Canvas Temple Publishing (CTP or “Old Codgers Trying to Retire!”) passed along some interesting comments in an update to his Kickstarter campaign for Imperial Campaigns Series 1: The Boer War:

In the meantime I’ve been working on CTP’s next Kickstarter project, but I admit I’ve been taking my time with it as I’ve been reconsidering printing on future games. It’s still very challenging finding a quality printer who will run the small quantities that CTP does. And while I’ve always been happy with the quality of the current printer (which is the only printer I’ve used I can say that about), these longer and longer time frames are obviously problematic. So although I’ve got two or three games somewhere in the pipeline, any future Kickstarter I run I’m going to have to have a better solution if there is one to be found. I’ve reached out to some friends at other publishers and frankly they report having similar problems for similar reasons. So although I’m  not alone with this problem, I’m also not alone in seeking a solution, and am somewhat disheartened that no one seems to have one on offer. Even worse is that no one seems to be getting any benefit from the strong dollar either. The problem with being small and having print runs in the hundreds is that CTP has no market power; a high-quality printer is practically doing me a favor printing only 500 copies of something at the specifications I demand. So as aggravating as these long delays are, it may be something we have to live with if I want to keep doing this.

“Word From the Printer (An Actual Update This Time)”, Oct 10, 2022

In a similar way to how many grognards will always debate the question of “What is a wargame” so too will we endlessly debate “Is wargaming a dying hobby?” I have personally participated in this debate as far back as “The Great Magic the Gathering Extinction Event” in the mid-1990s when MtG threatened to shutter most commercial hobby wargame publishers.

I am not a believer that we are on the verge of the “death” of commercial hobby wargaming, but I do think we are at—or nearing—an inflection point. From my perspective as a game consumer, I perceive that inflection is driven by two dynamics; publishing costs and gamer motivation.

“…any future Kickstarter I run I’m going to have to have a better solution if there is one to be found.

Jon Compton

The publishing cost part is maybe easier to understand. Quite simply, games are getting more expensive to publish. Part of this cost increase is driven by printing costs, but it is also related to consumer demand. The consumer demand is not only for high-quality components, but also an increasingly “complex” set of components. Our hobby has come a long way in how a game is presented. My copy of Tactics II (1973 edition) or Battle of the Bulge (2nd Edition, 1975) or even Victory in the Pacific (2nd Edition, 1981) are resplendent with horrible colored maps, simple counters, and rule books that look like they were produced on an old-even-for-their-day mimeograph machine. Compare that to the latest GMT Games titles! Not only is it component quality but other factors like colorblind-friendly components add to the “cost” of publication. Various pre-order schemes like the GMT Games P500 or Kickstarter or alternate publishing models such as that used by Hollandspiele or White Dog Games and Blue Panther try to reduce publishing risks and costs, but each has its inherent limitations. None are the optimal answer.

The second dynamic that is driving commercial hobby wargames towards an inflection point is gamer motivation. I fully acknowledge that the classic “grognard” wargamer like myself is both literally and figuratively dying. Rising to replace/displace the classic grognards are a new generation of wargamer that has not only different motivations but a seemingly more open approach to “what’s a wargame.”

“I don’t ‘play games'”

Classic wargamers often play to study history. However, I increasingly see more gamers who simply want to “play” rather than “study” wargames. While the results of surveys like the 2021 Great Wargaming Survey from Wargames Soldier & Strategy magazine are imperfect, they offer some supporting evidence. When asked which wargaming activities represented the best part of the hobby, the top answer was “Playing the game.” The motivation to play over study in turn drives component costs (and publishing costs in turn) as players seek to be “entertained” by a game. For instance, I love Root: A Game of Woodland Might and Right designed by Cole Wehrle from Leder Games but don’t for a moment believe that the game would be as successful as it is without the incredible artwork of Kyle Ferrin and the cute wood bits.

Root courtesy Leder Games

Another aspect of gamer motivation that is a major driver of change in commercial hobby wargaming is the incredible diversity of game mechanisms. While classic wargames are often associated with “hex & counter” games, the truth is that area or point-to-point maps and tokens or blocks or tiny figures/minis on a map (board?) have long been a part of the hobby. What I see as changing today is the widespread application/adoption of many different game mechanisms far beyond hex movement of cardboard counters and the (very classic? very staid?) Combat Results Table (CRT) in wargame design. I’m not just talking about the emergence of Card-Driven Games (CDGs), but also the use of game mechanisms not usually associated with wargaming. For instance, I recently played a small wargame that explores missile nonproliferation that is built around the roll & write game mechanism. Another one is an asymmetric information game, and a third is a variable pathways game. Not a single one of them uses hexes, all have bits instead of just counters, and each uses a “non-standard” game mechanism to deliver an enjoyable game.

Let me be clear here—an inflection point is not (necessarily) a bad thing. I view inflection points as opportunities. So what is the opportunity at hand? Quite simply, the opportunity we are being presented is to determine the future trajectory of our wargame hobby. Alas, as Jon Compton points out, the smaller wargame publishers—”micro-game publisher” if you will—are being threatened with fading away not because they can’t design a game, but because they are severely challenged to even get that game to print.

This is the point where I will invariably hear mentions of Vassal or Tabletop Simulator or other digital game implementations. While I agree that digital boardgames are a wave of the future (present?), I also believe that the tangible aspect of wargames remains a powerful draw. No digital platform can replicate the feel of a pair of dice in your hands, the blow “for luck” into your fist, and the clatter of the dice as they roll across the table.

@TheGascon – The best TTS wargamer there is…

While I can’t do much for micro-publishers like Jon Compton and Canvas Temple Publishing beyond buying their games when I can, I can hold hope and express my support that they find a solution to their—and by extension ours—publishing woes. While I hope that Jon Compton’s hinted at worst fears are unfounded, I am concerned about the potential death of wargaming. I have played wargames on the table for over 40 years now and I certainly don’t want to stop!

Feature image courtesy CTP

RockyMountainNavy.com © 2007-2022 by Ian B is licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0

(Quick) #SundaySummary #Wargame #Boardgame Travel Update

Sorry, was on the road for professional reasons the past week and was unable to get any posts ready before I went. Here is a short weekly update and a bit of a look ahead.

New Arrivals

  • Old School Tactical Volume 3: Pacific 1941-45, designer Shayne Logan, Flying Pig Games, 2019
  • The Hill of Death: Champion Hill – A Shattered Union Series Game, designer Hermann Luttmann, Tiny Battle Publishing, 2022

OST looks like another highly playable tactical wargame in the vein of the Academy Games Conflict of Heroes series with large mounted boards and chunky counters. The Hill of Death is supposed to be a very playable American Civil War design.

Wargame Practitioner

Thanks to the awesome support of an unnamed (for now) professional wargaming practitioner, I was able to take three micro-games along for my “business trip.” I owe the young designers some valuable feedback, but suffice it to say that their games did (and will) have a tangible impact on important issues.

Boardgames in the Wild

As I was transiting through an airport in Europe I was taken in by the display at a bookstore on the concourse. It had a quite large selection of children’s games including boardgames, card games, and puzzles. There were even gaming accessories on sale. That’s doing gaming right!

Feature image courtesy self.

RockyMountainNavy.com © 2007-2022 by Ian B is licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0

#TTRPG or #Wargame? — Thoughts on “Adventure Wargames” inspired by Five Parsecs from Home (@Modiphius, 2022) and Twilight: 2000 (@FreeLeaguePub, 2021)

I recently acquired two games that got me thinking, yet again, about the definition of a “wargame.”

The first game is Five Parsecs from Home: Solo Adventure Wargaming (Modiphius, 2022). Five Parsecs from Home is a skirmish-scale wargame where the battles are driven by a “story” developed using roleplaying game elements.

The second game is Twilight: 2000—Roleplaying in the World War III That Never Was (Free League Publishing, 2021). This 4th edition of the Twilight: 2000 family is a self-proclaimed “hexcrawl” military roleplaying game. As a military roleplaying game, Twilight: 2000 focuses on military player characters (PCs) and leans into the combat aspects of the setting, so much so that it’s not inconceivable that some might consider this a roleplaying wargame.

My local FLGS had Five Parsecs from Home stocked on the roleplaying game shelves. This was also where they sold Twilight: 2000 from. Could either of these games be sold from the wargaming side of the store?

My answer is yes, if one fully embraces the concept of an “Adventure Wargame.”

Adventure Wargame?

While my recognition of Adventure Wargaming is relatively new, the truth to the matter is I have owned Adventure Wargames since the early 1980’s. If I had use one game to define this genre, it would be Behind Enemy Lines (1st edition, FASA, 1982). This is how Behind Enemy Lines describes itself:

Behind Enemy Lines is a role-playing game which allows you to take on the character of a U.S. infantryman in World War II. Parachute drops, night raids, sniper ambushes, pitched battles, combat patrols, and long-range reconnaissance probes are the challenges you face. Your enemy is cunning, well-trained, and well-equipped. Your ingenuity, your courage, and skill are all that stand between you and disaster.

Behind Enemy Lines box back

The box for Behind Enemy Lines included (courtesy RPGGeek):

  • Book 1 – Character Generation and Basic Rules. 96 pages of information and tables ranging from character generation, tank data and equipment weights to the basic sighting and fire tables.
  • Book 2 – Event Tables – 48 pages filled with event tables for all types of terrain and situations. In all, 38 tables giving detailed Game Master information and general player descriptions are included.
  • Book 3 – Missions – A 56 page booklet containing three full length missions, four incidents, historical biographies, and 192 non-player characters. A 16 page booklet filled with maps for the missions and incidents is also included.
  • 112 illustrated counters depicting American and German soldiers, civilians and special equipment, are provided. The counters are two-sided, showing active and incapacitated states of the various characters.
  • Four cardstock sheets of the charts and tables most used in play. Also included is a sample character sheet.
  • Two six-sided dice.

Book 1 was clearly intended to make Behind Enemy Lines a roleplaying game. On this point there is no controversy as the game was nominated for—and won—the 1982 H.G. Wells Award for “Best Roleplaying Rules” given by the the Academy of Adventure Gaming Arts and Design (AAGAD) at the Origins Game Fair.

To understand what an Adventure Wargame is, we must first understand what military roleplaying games are. Fortunately for us, some have already given thought on the matter:


Serious role-playing games are built around drama, and there is no situation more dramatic than that of a soldier in wartime, so you might think the military is a natural setting for role- playing. However, RPGs work best in anarchic situations— where the player characters are their own bosses— and, in the army, discipline and coordinated group action are the keys to success. To get around this, the most successful military RPGs have settings where small groups can act with a large degree of autonomy, on commando raids, during guerilla warfare, or (most popular of all) after civilization has broken down due to holocaust or invasion.

The first attempt at military role-playing was Eric Goldberg’s Commando (SPI, 1979), which was primarily a board game of small-unit combat that had some role-playing features. The first version of The Morrow Project (Timeline, 1980) was also mainly a set of combat rules, but the designers were perceptive enough to set it in a post-holocaust future where the players could have freedom of action. This was also the case with Aftermath (Fantasy Games Unlimited, 1981), a game of paramilitary survival after a nuclear war.

These were followed by Behind Enemy Lines (FASA, 1982), a World War II game; Recon (RPG Inc., 1982), set on the fringes of the Vietnam War; and Merc (Fantasy Games Unlimited, 1983), which tried to capitalize on the brief public fascination with mercenary soldiers fighting in Third-World nations. None of these games met with sustained success. It looked as there might not really be a steady market for military RPGs until GDW released Frank Chadwick’s Twilight: 2000 in 1984. Once again the setting was after civilization was shattered by World War III, but this time background was more believable and worked out in great detail. The rules were unexciting but solid, and GDW supported them with a steady stream of scenarios and supplements that catered to players’ fascination with modem military machinery. Other contemporary military systems debuted in 1986 (The Price of Freedom, West End Games; Phoenix Command, Leading Edge Games; Delta Force, Task Force Games; Freedom Fighters, Fantasy Games Unlimited), but none have been able to make much headway against Twilight: 2000, which recently [1988] received a complete updating and revision.

Lawrence Schick
Heroic Worlds: A History and Guide to Role-Playing Games
Amherst, NY: Prometheus Books 1991

In each of these games, the PCs were cast as military members and the focus of adventuring was combat. These setting conditions are remarkably similar to many skirmish-scale wargames that focus on man-to-man combat. Similar, but not identical. Indeed, I see a spectrum of military roleplaying games to wargames with Adventure Wargames in the middle.

On the Spectrum

To illustrate my vision of the military roleplaying game to wargame spectrum, I mapped out where I think various titles in my gaming collection fall (see below).

Created by RMN

I’m not the greatest graphics artist, so please bear with me as I try to explain what you see here. I envision a spectrum of gaming that goes from military roleplaying games on the left to skirmish-scale wargames on the right. The more to the left you go the more the games are composed of narrative storytelling and character creation. The further you move to the right of the spectrum the more the focus of the game is purely on combat. In the middle are games that I am willing to call an “Adventure Wargame.”

I note that several of the games on the left side of the spectrum have related wargames. The Babylon Project has rules for fleet combat in its Earthforce Sourcebook that use the Full Thrust game system. Of course, the Traveller RPG has many wargames connected to it. Even FASA Star Trek was connected to the Star Trek: Starship Tactical Combat Simulator where the characters could play individual bridge crew members. However, just because a military roleplaying game might have a connected wargame that does not automatically make it an Adventure Wargame.

The middle of the spectrum is where Behind Enemy Lines (FASA, 1982) sits. I also have placed two roleplaying game supplements here to help further illustrate what I see as an Adventure Wargame. Hammer’s Slammers for Mongoose Traveller (Mongoose Publishing, 2010) is a supplement that brings David Drake’s Hammer’s Slammers mercenary stories to life using the Mongoose Traveller 1st Edition rules. Players create characters using the RPG rules but the setting fully expects that they will be in combat situations. Likewise, ALIEN: Colonial Marines (Free League Publishing, 2022) is a sourcebook for the ALIEN Roleplaying Game (Free League Publishing, 2021) where the characters are assumed to be Colonial Marines and will undertake (mostly combat) missions across the known—and unknown—galaxy.

The further to the right you move on the spectrum the less important narrative storytelling becomes. You also find that the further you move to the right the “thinner” the character creation systems are until you pass into pre-generated “characters” or characters defined only by skills. Of note, there are some games like Car Wars or Battletech that have supplemental roleplaying games that can help define individual characters.

Moving even further to the right, other games like Star Warriors have no character creation system per se, but the system used is ready to integrate with a roleplaying game; in this case West End Games Star Wars D6 system.

To the far right of the spectrum are skirmish-scale wargames that lack character development. Individual soldiers may be depicted, but they are generally not given any defining personality and instead are defined simply by skills or abilities. They may be individuals, but they are defined very generically and only for the purposes of enhancing combat, not to help create any sort of narrative story.

All Models are Imperfect

I fully recognize my spectrum is imperfect. Even I have made the argument before that a good wargame helps create a narrative story, thus meaning the narrative story bar should extend across the entire spectrum.

In earlier drafts of my spectrum, there were two boardgames I considered including but eventually didn’t:

  • I initially considered placing Battlestar Galactica: The Board Game in the Adventure Wargame area of the spectrum, but eventually dropped it because, while it tells a narrative story, it lacks character creation and the focus is not on combat but on survival with a traitor in your midst.
  • I had placed Pandemic: Fall of Rome just to the right of Adventure Wargames because it had individual, pre-defined characters and a strong focus on combat; I eventually dropped it because I reconsidered the real depth of those individual characters and decided they were just too generic and more an archetype vice a well-defined individual.

Going back a few years, U-Boot: The Board Game won the 2021 Charlies Award for “Best Wargame of the Year.” That event has spurred many a discussion on the “Mentioned in Dispatches” podcast of the Armchair Dragoons. Some of you might be tempted to tell me, “Hey, U-Boot fits your Adventure Wargame definition and really is a wargame!” In response, I will tell you I (still) disagree because, while U-Boot has pre-defined characters and has combat situations, the focus of the game is not actually the combat but the cooperative effort to operate the U-Boat. In other words, combat is the driver behind the need for cooperative action, but it is not the focus of the game. Too bad, so sad!

RockyMountainNavy.com © 2007-2022 by Ian B is licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0

Office-al #Wargame #Wednesday – Ambassador office gaming with Flashpoint: South China Sea by @HBuchanan2 from @gmtgames #fscsgame

Yeah, I know I wrote that Harold Buchanan’s Flashpoint: South China Sea (GMT Games, 2022) is a good game but not a great tool for learning about the issues of the day. Still, it’s a short-play game that at least looks the theme. I had hemmed and hawed about taking the game to the office for some “office-al” gaming. Putting my reservations about the game aside, I took it in.


Thankfully, the footprint for Flashpoint: South China Sea is fairly small so I was able to set aside a part of my desk to set up the game. In the course of a week I “played” three solo games during lunch and walked several colleagues through a few turns on the other days. With a bit of some rules familiarity, I was able to easily complete the tree campaign turn game within a lunch hour.


I have said from the beginning that Flashpoint: South China Sea is a well-designed game. I am not particularly a card driven game (CDG) fanatic but I must admit that the game engine hums along nicely in this game. Not only does the game play well, but it actually is quite easy to teach.

Strategy – Don’t Let the Pooh Win

With less than a dozen games of Flashpoint: South China Sea under my “belt and road,” far be it from me to offer advice on gameplay strategy or call a game unbalanced. That said, I note that all three of my solo plays ended in a PRC victory. Of the three games, twice I played the U.S. side against the Chinese Bot. Those games were relatively close with the PRC side winning by +2 the first game and +6 the second game. The third solo game I played the PRC against the U.S. Bot. I enjoyed this game because I ended up at +10!

A placard of Winnie the Pooh representing Xi Jinping is held by pro-democracy supporters during a rally outside of Chineses Liaison Office on 24 May, 2020, in Hong Kong, China.
 (Antony Kwan/Getty Images)

Show Off

While my assessment that Flashpoint: South China Sea actually offers little insight into the very real and serious political, economic, and military issues surrounding the region remains unchanged, I must admit the game looks good on the table. I had more than a few folk just walk into my office to see the game. I was often able to explain what the game was and how it played. If nothing else, the nice table presence and refined rules made it easier for “non-gamers” to see themselves playing. Maybe that is the real “role” of Flashpoint: South China Sea—to be a good-will boardgame ambassador and entice new players into hobby gaming.

Feature image by RMN

RockyMountainNavy.com © 2007-2022 by Ian B is licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0

#RPGThursday—A new roleplaying dawn with Twilight: 2000 – Roleplaying in the World War III That Never Was (@FreeLeaguePub, 2021) #ttrpg

”“Good luck. You’re on your own now.”

Last communications from Headquarters, November 2000 (Alternate Timeline)

Red Twilight

I AM A “COLD WAR” GAMER. I mean, I started playing wargames and roleplaying games (RPGs) in 1979 and came of “gaming” age during the Reagan years of the Cold War. While I played many different wargames, for RPGs I focused more on science-fiction than fantasy. My first RPG was what today we call Classic Traveller from Game Designers’ Workshop (GDW). After that I had a few different RPGs from World War II in Behind Enemy Lines (FASA, 1982) to spy thrilling in James Bond 007 (Victory Games, 1983). Late in 1984 a new roleplaying game landed on my table.

In those days the Cold War seemed on the brink of going hot. This was two years after President Reagan’s “Evil Empire” speech. The TV movie everyone had watched and talked about in 1983 was The Day After. We didn’t know it at the time but the 1983 Exercise Able Archer had brought us close to the brink of war. The nuclear anti-war movement was in full swing following the deployment of Pershing II and GLCMs to Europe in late 1983. The summer 1984 movie Red Dawn may not have been a box-office hit with critics but my generation soaked it in, all the more because I lived in Colorado and my friends and I could very easily imagine ourselves having to become Wolverines.

“If history teaches anything, it teaches self-delusion in the face of unpleasant facts is folly. We see around us today the marks of our terrible dilemma– predictions of doomsday, anti-nuclear demonstrations, an arms race in which the West must, for its own protection, be an unwilling participant. At the same time we see totalitarian forces in the world who seek subversion and conflict around the globe to further their barbarous assault on the human spirit. What, then, is our course? Must civilization perish in a hail of fiery atoms? Must freedom wither in a quiet, deadening accommodation with totalitarian evil?”

President Ronald Reagan
Speech to the House of Commons June 8, 1982

Into this cauldron of doomsday worries that GDW in November 1984 released Twilight: 2000. – Roleplaying in the Aftermath of World War III . The concept was very timely and seemed not only relevant, but possible:


Five years ago, the nations of the world began their war for global supremacy.

Three years ago, a massive nuclear exchange failed to give any side the decisive advantage they sought.

One year ago, the US Fifth Infantry Division launched a drive into enemy-held Poland, part of an offensive to knock the Soviets back to their homeland.

It failed. Now the Red Diamond is deep in enemy territory, reduced to small units without support, supply, or reinforcement. The war for Europe has turned into the war for survival.

Now what?

GDW presents a new concept in role-playing. World War III began five years ago. It’s still going on, but that’s the least of your problems. A few days ago, you were soldiers in the U.S. 5th Division. Now you’re just fighting to survive while the world falls apart around you.

Welcome to 2000 AD. Your equipment was brand new in 1995; now it’s wearing out. Gasoline is rare, so your vehicles run on alcohol you distill yourself. And 5th Division’s cavalry—when there was a 5th Division—rode horses. There’s not much government left in central Europe, just warlords, marauders, and free cities. Even the major powers are collapsing; some units, even whole divisions, are refusing orders and heading home.

Your division is gone, and you’re hundreds of kilometers inside enemy territory; fortunately, the Soviets aren’t in much better shape than you are.

Your job is to stay alive, find enough fuel and spare parts to keep moving, get home (wherever that is), and maybe even strike at the enemy.

Player’s Guide to Twilight: 2000 (ver 2.2)

Looking back on T2K now, I clearly see the game is not that much different than a medieval Europe setting. Sure, some high-tech gadgets are available, but in many ways the game is a survivalist adventure challenge. But all that really did’t matter because the setting was our worst nightmares manifested on a tabletop.

After 1984 GDW continued to evolve the T2K system and setting. The collapse of the Soviet Union in 1993 and a drive by GDW to put have all their RPG titles use a common game engine led to T2K 2nd Edition where the setting moved to a sort of alternate history.

New Dawn

Fast forward to 2021 and we have a new fourth edition released—Twilight: 2000 – Roleplaying in the World War II That Never Was (Free League Publishing). Though nearly 40 years have passed since T2K was first released, the core setting remains quite similar:

The new edition of the apocalyptic RPG Twilight: 2000 is the fourth in the series, the first being released by Game Designers’ Workshop in 1984. Just like the original version, the new edition is set in a year 2000 devastated by war – now in an alternate timeline where the Moscow Coup of 1991 succeeded and the Soviet Union never collapsed.

Just like the original game, the new edition of Twilight: 2000 is set in a Poland devastated by war, but the game also offers an alternative Swedish setting, as well as tools for placing the game anywhere in the world.

In the game, players take roles of survivors in the aftermath of World War III – soldiers or civilians. Their goal, beyond surviving for another day, can be to find a way back home, to carve out their own fiefdom where they are, to find out more about the mysterious Operation Reset, and maybe, just maybe, make the world a little bit better again.

T2K homepage, Free League Publishing

Though the setting of T2K has remained relatively the same in the latest edition, Free League Publishing is using a variation of their house system called the Year Zero Engine:

The core gameplay uses the hexcrawling system established in Mutant: Year Zero and Forbidden Lands RPGs (both Silver ENnie winners for Best Rules, in 2015 and 2019), developing it further to fit the gritty world of Twilight: 2000. The core rules build on the Year Zero Engine, but heavily adapted to fit Twilight: 2000 and its focus on gear and gritty realism.

T2K homepage, Free League Publishing

Zero to 2000

The first edition of Twilight: 2000 was very math heavy both in character creation and combat. This new edition does way with lots of the math and instead uses Free League’s Year Zero Engine (YZE). There are two choices for character creation; archetypes or life path. Regardless of the character creation system used, combat is resolved by a dice pool mechanic where players roll two dice; the first is based on your skill level (d6 to d12) and the second for the connected base attribute (again d6 to d12). For a success, you must roll a 6 or higher on either die. Failures narratively matter. Players can “push your roll” with risk if success doesn’t occur on the first attempt. Player characters (PCs) can group their rolls for a better chance of success. Modifiers, if any, are expressed through “stepping up” or “stepping down” a die. Combat, which can (will?) occur very often, can be very deadly.

Free League describes the latest edition of T2K as a “hexcrawler” which they define as an “open-world campaign.” Free League tells Referees that, “This game doesn’t demand much preparation from you” (Referee’s Manual, p. 28). As long as the Referee sticks to the eight general principles of the game all should be right:

  1. Nowhere is safe
  2. Resources are scarce
  3. Players lead the way
  4. Rumors abound
  5. Everything is personal
  6. The end is never set
  7. Death is a part of life
  8. Hope never dies.

If you don’t understand what a hexcrawl is, Twilight: 2000 in Appendix I of the Referee’s Manual tells us:


Some of the very first roleplaying games relied on the exploration of a map broken down into hexes. Players would decide which hex to explore next, and the Referee would tell them what they found. Behind the scenes, Referees crafted stories from these encounters, but the players drove the story. This is the nature of a hexcrawl, and a core element of how Twilight: 2000 is played.

Referee’s Manual, Appendix I

If you want to better understand how Free League envisions a hexcrawl in action, look no further than the many, many hex maps included in box of Twilight: 2000. How many maps? I’ll let the back of the box speak as well as list other relevant items:

  • A huge 864 by 558mm double-sided full-color travel map.
  • 15 engraved custom dice, including ammo dice and a hit location die.
  • 16 modular battle maps, designed to create an endless variety of battlefields.
  • 108 cardboard tokens for fighters, vehicles, conditions, and more.
  • Four battle maps for specific scenario sites.
  • 52 encounter cards.
  • 10 initiative cards.

You know, all those maps and dice and encounter or initiative cards makes this fourth edition of Twilight: 2000 sound alot like, uh, a wargame. When you come right down to it, military roleplaying and wargaming go hand-in-hand. GDW was a wargaming company that also produced RPGs. When GDW faced the challenge of publishing a military roleplaying game in 1984 we got Twilight: 2000:


Serious role-playing games are built around drama, and there is no situation more dramatic than that of a soldier in wartime, so you might think the military is a natural setting for role- playing. However, RPGs work best in anarchic situations— where the player characters are their own bosses— and, in the army, discipline and coordinated group action are the keys to success. To get around this, the most successful military RPGs have settings where small groups can act with a large degree of autonomy, on commando raids, during guerilla warfare, or (most popular of all) after civilization has broken down due to holocaust or invasion.

The first attempt at military role-playing was Eric Goldberg’s Commando (SPI, 1979), which was primarily a board game of small-unit combat that had some role-playing features. The first version of The Morrow Project (Timeline, 1980) was also mainly a set of combat rules, but the designers were perceptive enough to set it in a post-holocaust future where the players could have freedom of action. This was also the case with Aftermath (Fantasy Games Unlimited, 1981), a game of paramilitary survival after a nuclear war.

These were followed by Behind Enemy Lines (FASA, 1982), a World War II game; Recon (RPG Inc., 1982), set on the fringes of the Vietnam War; and Merc (Fantasy Games Unlimited, 1983), which tried to capitalize on the brief public fascination with mercenary soldiers fighting in Third-World nations. None of these games met with sustained success. It looked as there might not really be a steady market for military RPGs until GDW released Frank Chadwick’s Twilight: 2000 in 1984. Once again the setting was after civilization was shattered by World War III, but this time background was more believable and worked out in great detail. The rules were unexciting but solid, and GDW supported them with a steady stream of scenarios and supplements that catered to players’ fascination with modem military machinery.

Lawrence Schick, Heroic Worlds: A History and Guide to Role-Playing Games
Amherst, NY: Prometheus Books 1991 via FFE

Let’s also not forget that one of the supplements for the first edition of Twilight: 2000 was actually a wargame. Last Battle (GDW, 1989) was a “man-to-man, tank-to-tank game of high intensity personal combat.” This single game had two distinctive uses:

Two Distinct Games

  • A system for resolving combat in the role-playing game Twilight: 2000.
  • A stand-alone board game. As a Twilight: 2000 board game, Last Battle quickens vehicle and troop combat resolution while preserving the detail and flavor that has made the role-playing game so popular. As a complete, stand-alone board game, Last Battle is the ultimate simulation of immediate post-holocaust warfare.
Last Battle ad copy

The new fourth edition of Twilight: 2000 is not a true wargame, but it certainly can be viewed as a fairly comprehensive set of skirmish-scale wargame rules using characters created by the players. If I had to place Twilight: 2000 on a spectrum of RPGs to wargames, I think T2K would end up to just (barely) the left of of center (i.e. an RPG but with many wargame-like elements).

Created by RMN

“Good Luck. You’re On Your Own Now”

If there is one line that is iconic inTwilight: 2000, it is the final transmission from Headquarters at the start of the adventure: “Good luck. You’re on your own now.” While this simple phrase is used to show the transition of the players from military discipline to depending upon their own means, I didn’t expect 4th edition to lean so far into the meaning that the game becomes solo, or truly a game “on your own.” RPGs are, by nature, social events. Players usually are led by a game master or referee or the like on an adventure. So it was a bit surprising to see Appendix I: Solo Rules in the Referee’s Manual of Twilight: 2000 (4th edition). This appendix tells us:

These rules should be considered guidelines for your solo game. You, the player, have total agency. We’ve provided a host of prompts, tables, and ideas to help form your progress through the hexcrawl of your world. What you find may be random – how you tie it together as a narrative need not be. Saddle up your troops and get ready to endure the harsh world of Twilight: 2000 as a single player.

Referee’s Manual, Appendix I

Actually, I should not be surprised to see an “adventure by encounters” game able to run solo. Even my beloved Classic Traveller RPG has a solo option using Playing Solo Classic Traveller (Zozer Games, 2022). To be quite honest, even my recently acquired Five Parsecs from Home: Solo Adventure Wargaming (Modiphius, 2022) should have shown me the way.

What’s Old is New Again

When I mentioned in my Twitter feed that I had acquired the latest edition of Twilight: 2000, one commentator ruefully tweeted their disappointment in the lack of support Free League appears to be giving T2K as evidenced by the dearth of new materials. That same worry was in the back of my mind; that is, until I reached Appendix II of the Referee’s Manual.

Appendix II: Conversion Rules allows you to “convert PCs, NPCs, weapons, and vehicles from the 1st and 2nd editions of Twilight: 2000 to the 4th edition.” It goes on to state, “You can also use these guidelines to create 4th edition stats for any vehicles and weapons in the world.”

I’m fortunate enough to have physical copies of many 1st edition materials, and what I don’t have in deadtree form I have on a CD from Far Future Enterprises that also has the 2nd edition materials. For me, the lack of support from Free League is not as troublesome, but I certainly understand (and deeply empathize) with those T2K players that don’t have the same back library as I do. Given the “attention” that Free League has given to newer titles like their ALIEN – The Roleplaying Game and the forthcoming Blade Runner- The Roleplaying Game I can only guess that the company has made the deliberate decision to leave T2K as it is.

Twilight Dawning

Let’s be honest here; it would not be incorrect to describe Twilight: 2000 (4th Edition) as a solo-ready wargame played through roleplaying encounters. To get the maximum enjoyment out of the game and go beyond the provided (basic) adventures the Referee/Player(s) will need to go beyond what’s in the box, maybe even leveraging older but related titles.

That’s not a bad thing…but it’s not necessarily the best thing going either.

Feature image courtesy Free League Publishing.

RockyMountainNavy.com © 2007-2022 by Ian B is licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0

#Wargame Wedneday – Bag job with The Crew in Five Parsecs from Home (@Modiphius, 2021)

The continuing sage of The Crew ‘s adventures played using Five Parsecs from Home – Solo Adventure Wargaming published by Modiphius (2021).

The Set Up

The Crew (minus B0T5 who is left behinds) has a Patron mission to Deliver a package. They are walking into a Small Encounter where they will face a seven-man Anarchist-Criminal gang armed with a Colony Rifle, 3x Military Rifle, a Hand Laser, an Infantry Laser with a Specialist carrying a Rattle Gun; each also carries a Blade.

Battle Round

Morphius casually eyed the plaza from a block away. “What ya’ think?”

Dex, who grew up in crowded cities, looked on approvingly. “It’s not a big park, but I really like the two buildings overlooking the place, not to mention the four little shops for good cover. Those walls along the moving walkway also provide cover.” He hefted his Infantry Laser. “I think I can get a good overwatch position on a roof.”

Wedge, who was holding the package, looked doubtfully at Dex. “Dude, you’re the fastest one we got. Why don’t you carry the package? I’ve got Vera here.” Wedge lovingly patted his Marksman Riffle with Laser Sight. “I should be overwatch.”

“We just need to go and get this over with,” said Whiskers. Mac nodded.

“OK,” Morphius decided. “Dex is the bagman. Wedge to overwatch. Whiskers leads and Mac brings up the rear. We wait 5 mikes to let Wedge get into position before we enter from the west. I don’t see any obvious bad guys, but Gabner said we should expect some. On my hack….HACK!”

No sooner had Whiskers stepped off when seven goons armed with an assortment of gear spilled out of the north building. Fortunately, Morphius saw Wedge set up on the roof of the south building and gave him the signal as The Crew quickly loosened off a barrage of fire. [The Crew is able to Seize the Initiative and each get a shot off except for Whiskers who finds the targets just beyond the reach of his shotgun. Four rolls to hit give 2x Hits from a pair of natural 6s!. Of the two hit, one goes down.]

Seeing one bad guy down, Wedge quickly lines up another target and lets loose. [Wedge is assigned the lowest Reaction Roll and is firing in the Quick Actions segment.] Another one down…five more to go.

Having seen two of their comrades already fall the gang of Anarchist Criminals return fire [Enemy Actions] as bystanders flee in terror. Much to The Crew’s surprise, Wedge, Mac, and Whiskers are all hit. Mac stumbles and falls to the ground…

[Slow Actions] Morphius and Whiskers both take Aim and Fire. Two more baddies fall (three left). Dex dashes for the kiosk where the delivery is to be made…

[In the End Phase the baddies test for Morale but all pass. New Battle Round begins…]

Wedge gets off yet another shot, this time at the apparent leader [Quick Action after Reaction Rolls]. Unfortunately, he rushes his shot a bit and just misses…

Dex’s movement attract the fire of two bad guys, while Whiskers comes under fire from a third [Enemy Actions]. As bullets plink off the castcrete walls of the walkway, Dex thanks the gods for the cover. Whiskers, on the other hand, has to shrug off a hit from a Colony Rifle.

Morphius, and Whiskers take Aim and Fire again while Dex reaches the delivery point [Slow Actions]. The Crew seem a bit rattled here as all miss. It doesn’t really matter as the remaining bad guys turn and run.

[Technically, the mission is a Success since Dex reached the objective. Though they are deemed Aggressive the remaining Anarchist-Criminals flee which leaves The Crew Holding the Battlefield].


Word on the street travels fast, and this gang of Anarchist-Criminals, known as Red Revenge, swear vengeance [Resolve Rival Status – GAIN Rival]. The Crew’s Patron, Gabron, is very pleased and introduces The Crew to Channing who hints at future “prospects.” [Resolve Patron Status – Added]. The Crew also gets a lead on Mac’s lost girlfriend [Determine Quest Progress – d6+1 = 4 > Gain Quest Rumor].

Gabron settles up with The Crew. After bonuses, they add 9 Credits to their account [Get Paid]. The Crew watches their bank account go from 17 Credits to 26…with 32 Credits debt on their ship. That was one heckuva important package, eh? The Crew also found a vial of “Rage Out” on one of the fallen baddies [Battlefield Finds – Consumables – “Rage Out”]. Whiskers reminds the group that, as a Feral, he doesn’t need Rage Out. Morphius hands it over to Mac who is the unofficial “Doc” for the team, but wonders what would happen if the stoic Mac took some. “Don’t want to find out,” he thinks to himself.

This was not an Invasion Battle so there is no Check for Invasion. As The Crew gathers their payment and other Loot which is how the come to possess two data files [Gather Loot – Rewards – “Data Files” (2x Rumors)].

Although Mac went down in the battle, when all is said and done the only loss is a bit of Mac’s pride and his Scrap Pistol [Injury roll…Equipment Loss].

Experience Points (XP) Gained

  • Morphius – 3 XP (Survived and Won)
  • Wedge – 4 XP (Survived and Won, First Character to Inflict a Casualty)
  • Mac – 4 XP (Survived and Won, Became a Casualty)
  • Dex – 3 XP (Survived and Won)
  • Whiskers – 3 XP (Survived and Won)

No character has enough XP to upgrade an Ability Score at the moment nor do any chose to go to Advanced Training. Mac convinces The Crew that some new gear is needed and after paying 3 Credits he is the owner of a Frag Vest.

With the word on the street that the Red Revenge has put a mark down on The Crew yet another “businessman” reaches out to Morphius about The Crew “engaging in services” [Roll for Campaign Event – “You’ve made some business contacts.” (Add new Patron)].

[Here endeth the Campaign Turn]

Although this world is Travel Restricted, the fact you don’t need a Freelancer License and with several Patrons on hand leads The Crew to decide not to travel. Before taking up their next job, The Crew drops into a “local establishment” that is known for playing a long-lost boardgame simply known as “Settlers.” [Back to World Step].

Feature image courtesy newscientis.com

RockyMountainNavy.com © 2007-2022 by Ian B is licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0

#MiniaturesMonday – Hark, the Gascon Speaketh – @TheGascon #podcast with @littlewarstv on Digital Miniatures Gaming

Missed flagging this podcast for everyone a few weeks back. Give Jim a listen for he has many good thoughts worthy of your time and consideration. From Little Wars FM:


(March 31, 2022) Does online “virtual” miniature gaming have a future post-COVID lockdowns? Miles & Greg debate with an expert!

Episode #33 is available now on Apple PodcastsSpotify, or Podbean

Courtesy Little Wars TV

Feature image courtesy Jim

RockyMountainNavy.com © 2007-2022 by Ian B is licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0

#RPGThursday – Introducing ‘The Crew” that’s adventuring Five Parsecs from Home (from @Modiphius)

Five Parsecs from Home: Solo Adventure Wargaming from Modiphius is clearly a set of miniatures wargaming rules. It is also a very tabletop role playing game-like campaign setting. Let’s meet “The Crew.”

“The Crew”

We met through…mutual protection in a hostile universe. We are best characterized as cut-throat outlaws.

Morphius (Leader)Mercenary human from a subjugated colony on an alien world motivated by survival

  • Reaction 1 / Speed 4″ / Combat Skill +1 / Toughness 4 / Savvy +0 / Luck +1 / XP 0
  • Military Rifle, Beam Pistol, AI-Companion

WedgeHuman technician from Tech Guild searching for romance

  • Reaction 1 / Speed 4″ / Combat Skill +0 / Toughness 3 / Savvy +2 / XP 0
  • Marksman’s Rifle w/Laser Sight, Handgun, Cyber Hand

MacNomad Human bureaucrat motivated by order

  • Reaction 1 / Speed 4″ / Combat Skill +0 / Toughness 3 / Savvy +0 / XP 0
  • Military Rifle, Scrap Pistol, Med Patch

DexHuman scoundrel from giant, overcrowded dystopian city seeking truth

  • Reaction 1 / Speed 6″ / Combat +0 / Toughness 3 / Savvy +0 / XP 0
  • Infantry Laser

“Whiskers”Ganger Feral alien seeking wealth

  • Reaction 2 / Speed 4″ / Combat Skill +0 / Toughness 3 / Savvy +0 / XP 0
  • Shotgun, Machine Pistol, Hazard Suit
  • In battle, “all enemy imposed penalties to Seize the Initiative rolls are ignored”
  • When making a Reaction Roll at the start of a battle round, if the dice score a single 1 it must be given to the Feral crew member

B0T5Standard Bot

  • Reaction 2 / Speed 4″ / Combat Skill +1 / Toughness 4 / Savvy +2
  • Scanner Bot (Gadget)
  • 6+ Armor Saving Throw

The Crew’s Ship

The Rusty Bucket, retired troop transport, 35 Cr debt, 35 Hull with Emergency Drives

The Crew “Shares”

  • Bank Account – 17 Credits
  • Story Points – 3
  • Patrons – 1
  • Rivals – 0
  • Rumors – 2
  • Quest Rumors – 2

The Legend Begins

As this is my first campaign, I set the Victory Conditions at “Complete 3 Questswith Normal difficulty and no House Rules specified. I roll 1d6 +1 for Story Points, getting 4 but adding another three from character creation (Story Point total = 7).

Campaign Turns in Five Parsecs from Home are executed in a very methodical manner; Step 1: Travel, Step 2: World, Step 3: Tabletop Battle, and Step 4: Post-Battle Sequences. Let’s see how The Crew starts out…

The Crew is not fleeing an invasion, and decides not to travel (skip Starship Travel Events). Instead, they will see what this world, Zahhuz, has to offer them.

New World Arrival

  1. Check for Rivals – NONE
  2. Dismiss Patrons – NO (Mac has a Patron The Crew will lean on)
  3. Check for Licensing Requirements – No license required
  4. World Traits – “Travel Restricted”: No more than one crew member may take the Explore option each campaign turn

World Steps

  1. Upkeep & Ship Repairs – Spend 1 Cr on Upkeep and make 3 Cr payment toward debt (13 Cr left in bank; debt 32 Cr)
  2. Assign & Resolve Crew Tasks – Morphius and Wedge will Trade, Mac will Find a Patron, Dex will Train, and Whiskers will Explore while B0T5 will Track. Morphius finds something with “A lot of blinking lights” (a Snooper Bot) while Wedge sells some Trade Goods for 4 Cr (17 Cr in bank); Dex earns 1 XP for training; Whiskers Got a Few Drinks but nothing else; Mac uses his contacts to Find a Patron; and while The Crew has no known rivals, B0T5 makes sure none are following the group.
  3. Determine Job Offers – The Patron is offering a Corporation job with a bonus of +3 Cr for Danger Pay that must be completed This Campaign Turn; the job comes with a Connections Benefit (Gain a Rumor), is a Hot Job that has a better chance of earning an enemy, but , if successful, will keep the crew Busy and employed by the Patron next campaign turn.
  4. Assign Equipment – Standard load-outs are used
  5. Resolve any Rumors – The Crew has 3x Rumors, rolling d6 gets 2 (less than 3) gains a Quest Rumor
  6. Choose Your Battle: This is a Patron Job


  1. Determine Deployment Conditions – This is a Small Encounter and B0T5 will sit it out
  2. Determine the Objective – The Patron Mission is to Deliver. Wedge is carrying the package.
  3. Determine the Enemy – The Crew is going up against 5 7 enemies (1x Specialist present) who are Criminal Elements-Anarchists (Stubborn: Ignore first casualty in a battle when making a Morale check); with Panic 1-2 / Speed 5″ / Combat Skill +0 / Toughness 3 / AI A (Aggressive) armed “2B” (Colony Rifle, 3x Military Rifle, Hand Laser, Infantry Laser with Specialist carrying Rattle Gun); each also carries a Blade.
  4. Set up the Battlefield – NEXT TIME!
Photo by RMN

Feature image courtesy Kotaku.au

RockyMountainNavy.com © 2007-2022 by Ian B is licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0

#History to #Wargame – Imperial Japan’s Indian Ocean Campaign through The Darkest Hour (@Helionbooks) and Second World War at Sea: Eastern Fleet (Avalanche Press, 2001)

Exploring history through reading and wargames….

I love my Osprey Books, but these days the titles from Helion Books seem to capture my attention more. Like Osprey Books the Helion titles are illustrated with many photographs and color artwork along with extensive tables of information. For a wargame player, The Darkest Hour series of books from Helion provides in-depth background into the Imperial Japanese Navy offensive into the Indian Ocean in 1942 which in turn makes playing a wargame like The Second World War at Sea: Eastern Fleet that much more enjoyable since the “why” of certain rules or victory conditions becomes much easier to understand.

History Reading

Piegzik, Michal A., The Darkest Hour – Volume 1: The Japanese Naval Offensive in the Indian Ocean 1942 – The Opening Moves (Asia@War No. 31), Warwick: Helion & Co., Ltd., 2022 (84 pages) / Piegzik, Michal A., The Darkest Hour – Volume 2: The Japanese Naval Offensive in the Indian Ocean 1942 – The Attack against Ceylon and the Eastern Fleet (Asia@War No. 33), Warwick: Helion & Co., Ltd., 2022 (72 pages)

The Darkest Hours from Helion Books

From the book backs:

The Darkest Hour presents the Imperial Japanese Navy offensive in the Indian Ocean area in March-April 1942, the main goal of which was to destroy the Royal Navy in the Far East and achieve domination on the western flank of the Pacific War on the eve of the Battle of Midway. The bold operation by two Japanese task forces (Kido Butai and Malay Force) in the Indian Ocean would only be possible with the fall of Singapore in February and the Dutch East Indies in early March 1942.

The first volume examines events up to the capture of the Andaman Islands and Christmas Island…

The second volume examines the Japanese aerial assault upon the British bases on Ceylon, and the attacks on the carrier HMS Hermes, cruisers HMS Cornwall and Devonshire, and the destroyer HMS Vampire.

The Darkest Hour Vol 1/Vol 2 book back

The Darkest Hour series is basically broken out into a strategic/operational volume and a tactical volume. The strategic/operational aspects of the Imperial Japanese Navy’s Indian Ocean campaign are covered in Volume 1. The first volume sets the strategic situation and follows the operations up to the morning of 5 April 1942. This is where Volume 2 starts. The second volume dives into tactical details of the battles fought between 5 April and 9 April after which Kido Butai retired. To be fair, the later half of the second volume steps back up to the operational/strategic levels following the early April battles but that is not the focus of the volume.

Both volumes of The Darkest Hour are well illustrated. I don’t consider myself well-read on the Indian Ocean campaign, but I do think I have more than passing knowledge and some familiarity with the subject. I was pleasantly surprised to see photographs in these books that I do not recognize from elsewhere. The color plates are as one should expect but what really caught my attention was the other illustrations that in hindsight present information I have obviously seen before but never paid attention to. For instance, color plate ix in Volume 1 presents “Japanese Aircraft Carrier Deck Markings in Indian Ocean Offensive.” I have looked at countless pictures of Imperial Japanese aircraft carriers but never before did the different flight deck markings stand out to me.

In terms of written content, The Darkest Hour is a fairly-comprehensive overview of the political and military situation surrounding the April 1942 campaign. The split-volume format works quite well with the background situation covered in the first volume and a zoomed-in focus on key battles in the second volume. I hate to always be making comparisons between Osprey and Helion but The Darkest Hour is a great example of why I enjoy Helion books; The Darkest Hour provides a high-level overview but with more-specific depth when needed. For the wargamer in me, The Darkest Hour gives me a deeper understanding of the “why” behind a wargame scenario or campaign without it becoming a doctoral-depth deep dive.

The wargamer in me also enjoyed a little wargame-ish call out in The Darkest Hour. Buried in the middle of Volume 2 is a section titled, “Simulation of the battle of Aircraft Carriers in the Indian Ocean” (Volume 2, p. 47). This small entry discusses the article “The Brave Operation in the Indian Ocean” published in the Japanese magazine Gakken as part of their Military History Pacific War Series in 1992 (though the bibliography credits it as 1993.). The source article is in Japanese, but from the summation presented in this volume it certainly appears the (uncredited) author/researcher conducted either a wargame or some form of operations analysis. Alas, the scenario presented is more a flight-of-fancy than any real serious analysis, with Kido Butai being surprised by a combined air strike from HMS Formidable and HMS Indomitable just as the five Imperial Japanese carriers are set to launch a strike. Fortunately for us, there is a wargame title available that can be used to explore Imperial Japan’s Indian Ocean campaign.

Wargame Pairing

Second World War at Sea: Eastern Fleet, designer Michael Benninghof, Avalanche Press (my copy is boxed first edition 2001).

Here is how Avalanche Press describes Eastern Fleet::

Following their victory at Pearl Harbor, the Imperial Japanese Navy’s First Air Fleet moved through the American, Dutch and British colonies of South and East Asia. Having taken the mighty British naval base at Singapore, the next move was to enter the Indian Ocean and challenge the Royal Navy there. 

Eastern Fleet is a complete game in the Second World War at Sea series covering these campaigns. Scenarios range from the Japanese invasions of Burma and the Andaman Islands through the massive carrier raids to the planned but never executed invasion of Ceylon. The Japanese often have overwhelming superiority in the air, which the British must counter with guile while trying to lure the enemy into range of his slow but powerful battleships.

Pieces represent the ships and aircraft that took part in the campaign. The Japanese fleet is built around its five powerful fleet carriers with their deckloads of Zero fighters, Val dive bombers and Kate torpedo bombers, all wielded by expert pilots and crews. They are supported by four fast battle cruisers, fast but lightly protected heavy cruisers and big destroyers armed with the awesome Long Lance torpedo.

Eastern Fleet ad copy
First edition box cover (courtesy BGG)

The SWWAS series of wargames are operational-scale campaign systems; players represent fleet commanders fighting a campaign. The situation in Eastern Fleet lends itself to an easily manageable campaign due to the number of ships and aircraft involved. Though the map may not be as crowded as some other titles, the situation is no-less tense.

As I reviewed my copy of Eastern Fleet for this posting, I was surprised by what the game actually covers. My first edition has three Battle Scenarios, only one of which is from the April 1942 campaign (and one of these scenarios is purely hypothetical). Looking at the eight Operational Scenarios, only three are from the March-April 1942 period; the other five range from July 1942 out to February 1943; several of those Operational Scenarios are outright hypotheticals! The actual depth provided in the background is also “thin” to say the least. Looking at SWWAS: Eastern Fleet after reading The Darkest Hour I now see the game’s focus more on “widgets” and less on the situation:

The Royal Navy is outnumbered and outgunned in the air, with three fleet carriers — all of them smaller than their Japanese counterparts — and one nearly useless light carrier. The British do have four old and painfully slow R-class battleships and the much more useful Warspite, newly rebuilt in an American shipyard. British cruisers are vastly inferior to those of the Japanese in both numbers and capability, as is the case with the British, Australian and Dutch destroyers.

Eastern Fleet ad copy

In a further example, here is the background for Operational Scenario 3 ” Raid on Ceylon – 26 March – 11 April 1942,” arguably the main focus of The Darkest Hour (especially Volume 2):

Having stunned the British with the rapid conquest of Malaya, Singapore, and the Dutch East Indies, The Japanese next turned their attention to the hapless British Eastern Fleet operating in the Indian Ocean. The crack First Air Fleet targeted British bases on Ceylon and Allied merchant shipping in the Bay of Bengal. Meanwhile, a large troop convoy used this diversion to move the 18th Infantry Division from Singapore to Rangoon.

Operational Scenario 3

Compare that “backgrounder” to the introduction of The Darkest Hour Volume 2:

At the beginning of April, the expected Japanese carrier-borne strike on Ceylon could severely influence the strategic situation in the Pacific War and lead to more threatening Axis’ combined operations against the British Empire in the following months. The Royal Navy’s command correctly interpreted the Combined Fleet’s plans. However, the British lacked more detailed intelligence information about the enemy’s movements in the Indian Ocean to prepare for a night counter-attack. With only two modern aircraft carriers and dozens of bombers with fighter escorts at his disposal, Admiral Somerville could rely only on Japanese mistakes and his instinct to hit the stronger task force, literally described as “invincible,” without taking the risk of being destroyed in return….Once set sail for the Indian Ocean, Kido Butai had only one chance to destroy Eastern Fleet and could not afford to make any mistakes.

The Darkest Hour, Volume 2, Introduction

I have to hand it to Avalanche Press; they do a great job setting the game up as the “invincible” Imperial Japanese Navy versus the underdog Royal Navy. For the longest time the (simple) Avalanche Press version of the history has dominated my conceptions of the campaign. The Darkest Hour goes a long way towards reeducating me by providing a deeper understanding and a greater level of appreciation for the challenges both sides faced.

There is one other aspect of Eastern Fleet that I feel fails to delivers—the “secret” British base at Addu Atoll. Again, we go to the ad copy:

But this is the Royal Navy, with a tradition of victory and a secret base on which it can fall back in the middle of the supposedly empty Indian Ocean. The British cannot be counted out until their last warship is sunk.

Eastern Fleet ad copy

What are the Eastern Fleet rules for that secret base?” Avalanche Press first tells us, “The Japanese were not aware of the base’s existence during the April 1942 carrier raids in the Indian Ocean, and Somerville’s fleet used it extensively. So we should expect some secret base rules, right? Well, not so fast…

In our game Eastern Fleetwe gave Addu Atoll no special secret abilities: The Japanese player knows the British have a base there. The game system doesn’t lend itself to “secret” bases, since the opposing player is going to figure out that a task force probably isn’t going to halt in mid-ocean for several turns. Optional rules make it harder to detect, but unlike Chuichi Nagumo the Axis player already knows it’s there and therefore knows to look for it.

Eastern Fleet: Britain’s Secret Base (Nov 2011)
Courtesy Avalanche Press

I don’t know what “optional rules” the Avalanche Press is talking about as I don’t find any such rule in my first edition rule book. Maybe it was added in a later edition?

Feature image “Aircraft carrier HMS Hermes sinking, 9 April 1942by Unknown Japanese photographer – http://cas.awm.gov.au/item/302403 courtesy Australian War Memorial.

RockyMountainNavy.com © 2007-2022 by Ian B is licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0

#ThreatTuesday: South China Sea #wargame danger zone – Will the PLAN wield a trident with ASBMs and carriers?

I play wargames to learn. Wargames, or what some call “historical conflict simulations” have taught me alot of history. But I also believe wargames can provide insights into the future. While think tanks use wargames to inform or influence decision and policymakers, hobby wargamers can explore similar issues using commercial titles.

I recently read the article “Analysis of the Relations between Chinese Aircraft Carriers and the Maritime Order of the South China Sea” in The Korean Journal of Defense Analysis (Vol. 34, No. 3, September 2022, 433-452). What caught my attention in particular about this article was the authors; Xingxing Wang and Jiyong Zheng, are from the Shanghai International Studies University; Fudan University; People’s Republic of China. Articles about sea power and the People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) are a dime-a-dozen these days, but to read an article written by “the opposition” is not as often encountered. Wang and Zheng’s article is intended more to inform than to propagandize, but it does fit into a series of studies around the maritime aspects of the U.S.-People’s Republic of China (PRC) competition that relates several articles and books together. Along the way, we also have an opportunity to look at what wargames can help us better explore these issues.

Aircraft Carriers

As Wang and Zheng explain:

“China has gradually shifted its geopolitical focus from land-based control to sea-based developments out of both security and economic considerations. Marked by the official launch of its aircraft carriers a decade ago, China has dedicated resources to building up its navy as a blue water force rather than the offshore defensive force that it had primarily been until that point. Meanwhile, by serving as the pillar of sea power, these aircraft carriers will play more important roles in China’s naval development, ultimately reshaping the global strategic picture of sea power. This article aims to explore the influence of Chinese aircraft carriers to maritime order of the South China Sea and strategic pattern of global sea power by analyzing the Chinese aircraft carrier fleet’s operational design and reconstruction of China’s naval strategy. The presence of Chinese aircraft carriers in the South China Sea and their inherent combat capabilities has inevitably cased a subversive light on the region and brought the attention of the United States’ and other regional actors’ own activities and strategies for the region. This research has great significance for understanding China’s grand strategic conception and practice on the South China Sea issue as well as construction of a new maritime order in the context of China-U.S. competition.” (Wang & Zheng, 433)

If you are a wargame player like me, then you might of gamed out a confrontation between a PLAN Carrier Task Force and a U.S. Navy Carrier Strike Group (CSG) using a game like South China Sea: Modern Naval Conflict in the South Pacific (Compass Games, 2017) or Harpoon V (Admiralty Trilogy Group, 2020). Playing such scenarios may lead to the assumption that a PLAN Carrier Task Force is not a true match for a CSG. While that conclusion may have some basis, it ignores the impact of the PRC’s “carrier killer.”

Carrier Push Back

Gerry Doyle and Blake Herzinger are co-authors of the book Carrier Killer: China’s Anti-Ship Ballistic Missile and Theater of Operations in the early 21st Century (Asia@War No. 29, Warwick: Helion & Company Ltd., 2022). Doyle and Herzinger frame the issue this way:

“The idea of an anti-ship ballistic missile has taken root in China’s military planning. The country is not only building more of its first version of such a weapon, the DF-21D, but has developed an anti-ship warhead for another such missile, the more-numerous DF-26, billed as having a 2,500-mile-range — more than enough to hit Guam from several hundred miles inland in China. In theory, that puts any naval adversary at risk long before it is in Chinese waters, let alone within striking distance of China’s coastline.

That puts US carrier strike groups — a linchpin of US power projection, able to hit any corner of the world at short notice with overwhelming force — in a situation they have never before faced. For years, US war planners took for granted that American naval power could operate unimpeded anywhere on Earth and deliver strikes with relative impunity. If a missile can sweep that option off the board, it changes the balance of power not just in Asia, but across the Pacific.”(Doyle & Herzinger, book back)

Photo by RMN

Again, wargames like Harpoon V or South China Sea can help game out the impact of these anti-ship ballistic missiles, at least at the tactical levels. While South China Sea provides some insight into the strategic impacts of the ASBM on operations in the South China Sea, the topic is actually underrepresented in wargames. Maybe, just maybe, the arguments advanced by Wang and Zheng regarding the capabilities of a PLAN Carrier Task Force are not that inconceivable if the PRC uses their “carrier killers” to keep the U.S. Navy out of the South China Sea…and beyond. That in turn creates opportunities for the PRC to “wield a trident.”

Trident Strategy

Kohji Kuhara of the Japanese Maritime Self-Defense Force writes in the Spring 2022 edition of the Naval War College Review about China’s ‘Trident” Strategy (Kuhara, Kohji (2022) “Countering China’s “Trident Strategy—Frustrating China’s Aims in the South China Seas and the Indian Ocean,” Naval War College Review: Vol. 75: No. 2, Article 4):

“China is trying to construct a naval strategy to deny U.S. forces freedom of action in the western Pacific Ocean. Looking back to the U.S. Navy’s last major strategic contest, against the Soviet navy during the Cold War, provides comparisons between Soviet and Chinese strategies that yield insights and analogies that can help develop more effective countermeasures against undesirable Chinese initiatives.”

Kuhara reminds us that, unlike the claims of Doyle and Herzinger, the U.S. Navy has indeed faced before a situation in which access to the worlds oceans was contested. In the Cold War, the Soviet Union challenged the United States for supremacy on the high seas. Wargamers can play out this confrontation in many games, ranging from Victory Games’ Fleet series (Victory Games, 1985-1990) for operational campaigns to the strategic Blue Water Navy: The War at Sea (Compass Games, 2019) or Seapower and the State (Simulation Canada, 1982). Alas, there are very few “modern” equivalent game showing the confrontation between the U.S. Navy and PLAN, and certainly none at the strategic level. Quite simply, there is no good wargame to help fully navigate “the danger zone.”

Danger Zone

Hal Brands and Michael Beckley write in Danger Zone: The Coming Conflict with China (New York: W.W. Norton & Co., 2022) that:

“China is at a perilous moment: strong enough to violently challenge the existing order, yet losing confidence that time is on its side. Numerous examples from antiquity to the present show that rising powers become more aggressive when their fortunes fade, their difficulties multiply, and they realize they must achieve their ambitions now or miss the chance to do so forever. China has already started down this path. Witness its aggression toward Taiwan, its record-breaking military buildup, and its efforts to dominate the critical technologies that will shape the world’s future.” (Danger Zone dust jacket)

Photo by RMN

Finding a wargame, or in this case maybe more properly a strategy game that looks beyond kinetic military confrontation, of the U.S.-PRC competition is nearly impossible. I had some hope earlier this year with the release of Flashpoint: South China Sea from GMT Games which advertised itself as thus:

Flashpoint: South China Sea is a two-player strategy game that simulates the complex geopolitical contest currently taking place between the United States and China in a disputed region of the South China Sea. The game is driven by a card deck that captures developments ripped straight from today’s headlines, bolstered by cards with a context-setting reading of recent history, and a set of speculative cards capturing a diverse range of potential future events. 

The Chinese player works to influence other countries in the region, establish territorial claims and regional hegemony, and improve its world standing. The U.S. player works to maintain influence with allied countries in the region, secure freedom of navigation, and keep China in check. Success for both players hinges on the support and allegiance of non-player countries in the region. The game stops short of dealing with a potential full-scale military conflict. Rather, it requires the nuanced exercise of political, economic, and military resources, in a form of prima facie diplomacy – on the waters, in the air, and ultimately in the minds of the people – to achieve victory.”

Photo by RMN

Alas, for all the theme in the ad copy, Flashpoint: South China Sea is more “Euro” than “wargame;” it’s a mechanically well-executed game with the thinnest of themes layered over. Consequently, its ability to explore the “danger zone” is limited at best.

Building from the Brands & Beckley book, we can see how the “Trident Strategy” is but one part of the danger zone, and the PLA’s “carrier killer” anti-ship missiles are one of those technologies that change maritime strategy. Does our perceptions of what a PLAN aircraft carrier is intended to do change?

Wargaming the South China Sea

Wargames seem very popular in the think tanks of Washington, DC. A recent article from War on the Rocks by Robert Haddick titled “Defeat China’s Navy, Defeat China’s War Plan” talks about what wargames are “teaching” decision and policymakers:

“Washington has already lost the war for Taiwan — at least according to the most recent wargames organized by the Center for Strategic and International Studies. The think tank’s simulation of a conflict between the United States and China saw several U.S. aircraft carrier strike groups sunk, hundreds of U.S. combat aircraft destroyed, and thousands of U.S. military personnel lost in the war’s opening days.

These games, planned long before the most recent Taiwan crisis and set in 2026, add to decades of analyses of the Taiwan scenario conducted at war colleges and think tanks on both sides of the Pacific Ocean. Scheduled to be written up later this year, the games have reinforced at least one previously well-known conclusion: should the United States attempt to fight the battle for Taiwan relying mainly on military forces located west of Guam, U.S. losses will be severe. The United States and its allies might stalemate the People’s Liberation Army. But the cost could very well be too high for U.S. society to sustain. And if China’s leaders believe this, even wrongly, deterrence will collapse, and the risk of war will rise.”

Via YouTube

With an online moniker of “RockyMountainNavy” it should be obvious where my loyalties lie between navalists and (ch)air force advocates. This makes it a bit hard to accept Haddick’s advocacy of using U.S. Air Force bombers to defeat the PLAN:

“Destroying China’s maritime power would end China’s capacity for conquest in the western Pacific. Yet the Chinese navy is not an Air Force priority, despite its vulnerability to U.S. bombers. As Taiwan-focused wargames show, the shortage of U.S. anti-ship munitions represents a missed opportunity that will come with high costs. 

Civilian policymakers should make China’s maritime forces a top targeting priority for the U.S. bomber force. First, they should require Air Force officials to explain how their munitions strategy supports deterrence by denial against Chinese forces. Following that, they could demand the Air Force fund the rapid development of Mark Gunzinger’s affordable mid-range munition and acquire, say, 2,000 long-range anti-ship missiles, even if this means acquiring fewer joint air-to-surface standoff missiles. Policymakers could also demand the Air Force repair and return to service some of the 17 B-1B bombers that were recently sent to the boneyard despite each being able to carry 24 long-range anti-ship missiles. These relatively minor expenses would quickly add substantial striking power against the Chinese Navy.

More broadly, policymakers should recognize that the sensor-missile military-technical revolution has transformed the Indo-Pacific into a military theater where long-range aerospace power dominates. America’s aerospace power is an enduring competitive advantage that matches up well against several Chinese vulnerabilities, starting with its navy. Exploiting this competitive advantage is the most direct way to strengthen U.S. deterrence in the Indo-Pacific region.”

Regardless of my service biases, even I recognize that Haddick’s proposal is probably worthy of exploration with a wargame. This seems like a good scenario to explore at the tactical level using Harpoon V or at the operational level using South China Sea.

What does the wargame tell you?

Which brings us back to our original inquiry: Wang and Zheng talk almost exclusively about the “defensive” power of a PLAN aircraft carrier. What if the PLAN wants to operate those carriers out to the limit of, or beyond, the coverage of their ASBMs? Will the pointy end of the trident be sharp or dull? Does that change the nature of the danger zone? What are the alternative strategies that armchair commanders can wargame at home? More broadly, how can we use hobby wargames to explore this strategic situation?

Feature Photo: Simon Yang, CC-BY SA 2.0

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