#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:

THE TWILIGHT: 2000 CONCEPT

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:

HEXCRAWLING

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:

THE CHALLENGE OF MILITARY ROLE-PLAYING

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

Sunday Summary – Summer Heat Wave of #Wargames, #Boardgames, and #Books

Not only is the heat arriving in waves, but so are the games!

Wargames

Boardgames

2 Minutes to Midnight: Fight the Cold War. USA vs Soviet Union – 1949-1991. A Strategic Historical Game (Preview Copy) (Stuart Tonge, Plague Island Games, 2021) – Stuart was kind enough to send me a preview copy. Plan is to share thought s around the kickoff of the Kickstarter campaign in mid-late June! Stay tuned!

2 Minutes to Midnight Preview Copy

Books

Am reading Most Secret and Confidential: Intelligence in the Age of Nelson by Steven E. Maffeo (Annapolis: Naval Institute Press, 2000) and sitting down with the wargame 1805: Sea of Glory (Phil Fry, GMT Games, 2009). I am working to make this a “#Wargame to History” (or is it “History to #Wargame?”) or “Rocky Reads for #Wargame” entry.

Puzzles

No, not puzzles, but actual jigsaw puzzles. As I type this I just got my shipping notice for my Academy Games historical puzzles. More relaxing summer fun!

September #Wargame #Boardgame Forecast – It’s Raining Games!

In late June I made a bold forecast that as any as nine (9) of 27 games I had on preorder or Kickstarter could deliver by the end of July. Alas, it didn’t quite turn out that way.

August looked much better. Let’s see what happened this month and look a bit ahead to September….

Delivered

  1. Undaunted: North Africa (Osprey Games, 2020)Preorder Waro. DELIVERED. Good game slightly marred by the printing errors….
  2. Fort (Leder Games, 2020): Publisher-direct Preorder. DELIVERED. Who are your friends? Only the ones you play with!
  3. Quartermaster General: The Cold War (PSC Games, 2018)Online Retailer Purchase. Strategy Wargame? – DELIVERED. BGG lists this as a wargame. Not so fast….
  4. Scythe Complete Rulebook (Stonemaier Games, 2020): Publisher-direct Preorder. DELIVERED. Having recently started replaying Scythe and nearing completion of our The Rise of Fenris campaign its good to get all the rules in one organized place. Email Update 28 Aug“To-date we have not found a single instance of a rules error impacting gameplay in the 136-page document. Except in one section. The Automa rules need some work. I apologize for this and we take full responsibility. We believe these errors are large enough to justify a reprint. The good news is that many of you don’t play using the Automa (solo mode), and may never reference this section of the rulebook. But if you use the Automa or plan to in the future, we will send you a new spiralbound Scythe Complete Rulebook for free.” Here’s what we’ll do. Simply fill out this form and we’ll send you another Scythe Complete Rulebook when it’s reprinted in a few months using the mailing address from your previous order.”
  5. Dragomino (Blue Orange Games, 2020): Bonus Purchase – DELIVERED. Billed as “My First Kingdomino” I was a bit dubious as to how they could accomplish this. After all, Kingdomino (Blue Orange Games, 2017) is already a very simple game. Ordered as part of the Gen Con Online specials. SO HAPPY! Mrs. RMN introduced this game to all her students; all love it. Even RMN Jr (Mr. Kingdomino in the RMN House) likes to play!
  6. Dig Dog Dig (Flying Meeple, 2019): Bonus Purchase – DELIVERED. Another game bought to support the younger students of Mrs. RMN. This title is criminally under-appreciated. At heart a memory game, the toy factor and play makes this perfect for the early reader or younger gamers in your family.

Still Waiting

  1. One Small Step (Academy Games, 2020)Kickstarter Boardgame. UPDATE from August 7– “The container ship Seaspan Raptor is currently off the coast of Mexico and will arrive at the Panama Canal today. It is expect it to arrive in Florida August 10th! Your games will be shipped to you by Quartermaster Logistics, located in Orlando, FL hopefully by the end of next week.” NOTHING SEEN/HEARD SINCE.
  2. The Shores of Tripoli (Fort Circle Games, 2020)Kickstarter Waro. August 10 Update: “I also have some bad news. The shipping date from China has been pushed back further – to September 7. Just as you all have shown patience with me, I know I have to show patience with the folks manufacturing the game. But it is still extremely frustrating. And, unfortunately, airmailing the games here is truly cost-prohibitive – sink the company, never to be seen again level of cost-prohibitive. So this means it won’t be in anyone’s hands until October.”
  3. French & Indian War 1757-1759 (Worthington Publishing): Kickstarter Wargame. From a July 29 Update “The ship carrying both CRUSADER KINGDOMS and FRENCH & INDIAN WAR will hit the port in New York August 13.  We should expect for us to receive the games within 2 weeks of that barring a customs snag. Thats means it is possible we may be shipping the last week of August, and if not then the first week of September!!!”
  4. Flying Colors 3rd Edition Update Kit (GMT Games): P500. Charged 05 August. To ship shortly thereafter. Enroute!

New Orders

  1. Empire of the Sun, 4th Edition (GMT Games, 202?): New to the P500 this month. Could. Not. Resist.
  2. Supercharged (The Dietz Foundation, 2021?): Kickstarter. Looks like a good racing game. As the husband of a mother that uses boardgames to teach I also like what the Dietz Foundation stands for. Here he talks about how to use racing games (like Supercharged) for learning. At the time of this post, it sits just under 80% funded with about 20 days to go. HEY, RACING FANS! LEt’s get behind this!

Quartermaster General: The Cold War (@PSCGamesUK, 2018) – a #wargame that isn’t about a war that wasn’t

I AM A CHILD OF THE 1980’s. No, I wan’t born in the ’80s but I came of age in that decade. As such, the Cold War had a very formative influence on my life. As a wargamer, the Cold War had a outsize influence on my gaming too. Reading books like Tom Clancy’s Red Storm Rising gave inspiration for wargaming out the ‘what-if’ of a ‘Cold War Gone Hot.’ Coming forward 40 years we now get games that are a retrospective look at the Cold War. This is where Quartermaster General: The Cold War (PSC Games, 2018) enters the conversation. This game, which BoardGameGeek users insist is a ‘wargame,’ barely meets the definition. More accurately, Quartermaster General: The Cold War is a card-driven strategy game of placing influence for control themed around the Cold War.

A war game that isn’t

pic4044695
Courtesy Mighty Boards

First, let me be clear up front that I don’t oppose the trend in wargame design that has delivered the waro to our shelves. I loosely define a waro as a wargame the uses many Eurogame-like mechanics. A supreme example in my book is Supply Lines of the American Revolution: The Northern Theater, 1775-1777 (Hollandspiele, 2017). In this wargame, it is the cubes of supply that are most important. Another great example is Nights of Fire: The Battle of Bucharest (Mighty Board Games, 2019), which wargame co-designer Brian Train refers to as ” a militarized Eurogame.” Bottom Line: A wargame does not have to be the classic hex & counter with a Combat Results Table.

When I got Quartermaster General: The Cold War (QmG: TCW) and went to add it to my BGG collection I was surprised to see it ranked as the #420 War game. I looked to see what it’s Strategy game ranking was and didn’t find one. Even Root (Leder Games, 2018), a classic “it’s not a wargame but it is” title is ranked the #17 War game and the #27 Strategy game. Interestingly, the original Quartermaster General (PSC Games, 2014) is ranked #105 in War and #468 in Strategy. So what makes QmG: TCW exclusively a wargame?

BoardGameGeek defines the wargames subdomain like this:

“A wargame (also war game) is a strategy game that deals with military operations of various types” (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wargaming). However many wargames cover political and strategic choices. They can simulate historical, fantasy, near future or science fiction themes.
A wargame can be played on a board with counters, with cards or/and with miniature figures.

In Quartermaster General: The Cold War, each turn supposedly represents between two and two-and-one-half years of time. Each turn, players play different cards to place or remove armies, air forces or navies on the map. In the Scoring Phase which occurs after every 2 turns players gain VP for each Army that is on the map and for each Army that occupies an uncontested space with a Supply symbol (or Supply token of the same nationality). Different Status cards (if readied) may also award VP if the conditions are met. Navies and air forces do not provide VP.

pic4163569
Courtesy BGG User @van00uber

The use of military units, be it an army or navy, as well as the powerful air force unit (the only unit that can attack from beyond a space) leads to a misunderstanding of what they actually represent. In Quartermaster General: The Cold War the various units don’t really represent military formations; they actually represent influence the owner has placed into that space. National power is composed of many elements, the classic definition being known as DIMEDiplomatic, Intelligence, Military, and Economic. That Army unit on the map is a combination of the result of DIME and are placed/removed or scored based on Status and Event cards representing many of the Diplomatic, Military, and Economic activities that happened during the Cold War or Espionage cards showcasing much of the shadowy Intelligence game of East vs West (or others). If we look at the game as a strategy game of placing DIME influence, then we are closer to the BGG definition of a wargame. The play of cards and placement of units of influence is definitely a set of ‘strategic choices.’ But what of the military operations?

 

Cold_1a3459_5812711
Courtesy funnyjunk.com

Battle and Elimination is actually a major section of the rule book for Quartermaster General: The Cold War. The section is short and sweet:

There are two types of battles: Land Battles and Sea Battles. In order to battle another Bloc’s Army or Navy, you must have a supplied Army or Navy in the same space, and play or use a card that allows you to battle in that space. Then, barring some other reaction, the enemy Army or Navy you’re battling is removed from the board. If both enemy Blocs are in a space, you may only battle one with a single battle action. (p. 29)

Missing here is a key component of a wargame – a randomizer. Not all wargames need a die but to reflect a Clauzwitz component of war – friction –  some sort of randomizer (cards, dice, etc) is needed. However, combat in Quartermaster General: The Cold War is prescriptive and absolutely deterministic (save having a readied card that can counteract the battle effect).

At the end of the day, Quartermaster General: The Cold War is not a wargame but a strategy game of placement and removal of influence which is unhelpfully depicted as military forces.

The war that wasn’t

The Cold War is often described as a bi-polar conflict of East vs West, Capitalism vs Communism, or Freedom vs Totalitarianism. Quartermaster General: The Cold War breaks from this approach and makes the Cold War a three-way race between the Soviet, West, and Non-Aligned Blocs. This is a fair revisionist view of history which gives attention long-past due to the activities and motivations of countries and movements beyond Washington and Moscow.

Understanding the three-way race further reinforces the reality that the pieces in Quartermaster General: The Cold War do not represent military forces but the spread and influence of movements and ideas as much as military hardware. Nowhere is this better demonstrated than by the Nationalists. Take for example the Orange Espionage card Khmer Rouge (Use in your Begin Turn step. Eliminate all Armies in Southeast Asia that are not Nationalist.”). This card represents the movement, not the military forces. As a matter of fact, the Khmer Rouge never fielded large military forces but it was a powerful movement of ideas. In QmG: TCW this influential control of the movement is depicted using an Army.

khmer_rouge_04
Khmer Rouge Occupy Phnom Penh

Not a wargame? So what?

If you’re still reading at this point you probably think I don’t like Quartermaster General: The Cold War. Actually, I think it is a good game. To be sure, it is not a history or simulation of the Cold War, but it does offer insights. In many ways, it accomplishes the goals spoken of by game designer Mark Herman who wrote, “As a designer, I always strive to develop game systems that allow the players to compete in a plausible historical narrative that allows for the suspension of disbelief and offers insight into a period’s dynamics.” (Zones of Control, MIT Press 2016, p. 133).

Nowhere is the period dynamics of the Cold War better demonstrated in Quartermaster General: The Cold War than by Escalation and WMD Costs. WMD – Weapons of Mass Destruction – cards can be very, very powerful but using them comes at cost of VP. The more powerful the card, the more costly it is to play. But, the cost of using the card is reduced by the target Blocs Escalation Level against your Bloc which makes it less costly (easier?) to use if you have been in an escalating contest with that Bloc. It makes for a natural arms race and illustrates how easy it is to escalate; and how hard it is to back off.

To be honest though, the number one reason I bought Quartermaster General: The Cold War is to play with the RockyMountainNavy Boys. It is unusual to find a game that supports three-players from the beginning. The three-Bloc set up of QmG: TCW combined with the quick-play (90-120 minutes) nature of the game engine is a natural fit for our family game night. It doesn’t hurt that the game also covers a period of history that I lived but they only (barely) heard about in school.

Designer Ian Brody in Quartermaster General: The Cold War gives us a streamlined card-driven game system that creates a plausible narrative using historical events and conditions that offers insights into the dynamics of the Cold War. It’s a good, highly playable strategy game, not wargame, view of the Cold War.

#Coronatine #Wargame Thoughts – Why to fight in Blue Water Navy: The War at Sea (@compassgamesllc, 2019)

A navy’s purposes deal with the movement and delivery of goods and services at sea; in contrast, an army’s purpose is to purchase and possess real estate. Thus a navy is in the links business, while the army is in the nodes business. Seen that way, a navy performs one or more of four functions and no others: At sea, it (1) assures that our own goods and services are safe, and (2) that an enemy’s are not. From the sea, it (3) guarantees safe delivery of goods and services ashore, and (4) prevents delivery ashore by an enemy navy. – Captain Wayne P. Hughes, Jr., Fleet Tactics and Coastal Combat, Second Edition, Annapolis (Naval Institute Press), p. 9

ALL TOO OFTEN WHEN WE GROGNARDS PLAY WARGAMES, we focus on the ‘how’ of the fight and forget ‘the why.’ My history of playing naval wargames shows this to be very true for myself. My first naval wargames were Wooden Ships & Iron Men (Avalon Hill, 1974) and Harpoon II (Adventure Games, 1983). Both of these game are very tactical; in each you are often fighting an individual platform (or groups of platforms) executing a specific mission or task. This makes it very easy to get focused on ‘how’ a platform fights but not necessarily understanding ‘why’ the ship/sub/plane is there. Operational-level wargames, like the venerable Fleet-series from Victory Games in the 1980s, do a bit better of a job by forcing you to combine platforms to execute missions. But at the end of the day the real reason for a navy does not always come thru. In true wargamer form, the battles are often fought out to the last with no objective other than the complete an utter destruction of the enemy. Fun (in a way) but not very informative.

Thus, I was surprised at Blue Water Navy: The War at Sea (Compass Games, 2019).  The game is another in the recent renaissance of ‘Cold War Gone Hot’ wargames, this time focusing on the naval war in the North Atlantic, Arctic, Mediterranean, and Baltic. As the ad copy says:

Blue Water Navy covers the war at sea, air, close-ashore and low-earth orbit from the Kola Peninsula in Northern Russia to the Mediterranean Sea and West over the Atlantic Ocean to the United States and Cuba. The game models the full order of battle that could be expected in 1980’s wartime, from multi-regiment Soviet Tu-22 Backfire bombers to multiple US carrier groups.

I posted some thoughts on Blue Water Navy before. At that time, I focused in on the ‘how’ to play the game. With my extra Coronatine-time I pulled the game out again for a deeper dive into the system. I happily discovered another layer of the game that I had missed; one that makes Blue Water Navy a great example of ‘why’ navies fight. It is so obvious. I mean, designer Stuart Tonge put it in the Introduction, “Always remember the game is about the convoys – if they get through, NATO wins the war.”

Of the 32 numbered major rules in the book, the two most important for this discussion are 18.0 Amphibious Landings & NATO Troop Delivery and 20.0 War & Invasion Tracks. Indeed, buried within 20.0 is the actual victory condition for the Campaign Game:

Hammer and Sickles: This shows when the game is won. To win the Soviet player must be able to count four hammer and sickle symbols on War Tracks overrun by Soviet armies.

“But wait,” you say. “I thought Blue Water Navy is a naval wargame! What is this talk of Soviet armies?” The truth is no matter what you do in Blue Water Navy, as a player you are trying to move the Invasion Marker along the War Tracks.

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Blue Water Navy Invasion Tracks (North to South): Norwegian, Danish, Europe North and Europe South. Hammer & Sickles for the win!

The Soviet player advances along the Norway and Denmark Invasion Track by putting Troops ashore using Amphibious Landings. NATO can strike Soviet troops to stall the advance. One advance is cancelled for every three hits scored by NATO. This means NATO needs to project power ashore, in this case using airpower or cruise missiles to slow the Soviet advance.

 

The North and South War Track both represent the invasion of Europe. The North Invasion Track is the classic Central Germany front and the South Invasion Track is the route through Yugoslavia to Italy. Every turn the Soviets advance one box westward. On the North War Track, NATO can cancel the advance by expending Supplies or Partial Supplies. These ‘supplies’ can only be delivered by NATO Convoys to Western Europe ports. On the South War Track, the advance is cancelled by hits by NATO, much like the Norway or Denmark War Track.

Rule 28.0 NATO Losses also forces the NATO player to think about what he is fighting with. A Convoy Massacre (destruction of a Convoy) earns one NATO loss point. Another point is lost for a carrier damaged (2 if sunk). If the carrier is lost north of the SOSUS line it’s another loss point. If the NATO loss marker ever reaches six points, it’s worth one  Hammer and Sickle of the four needed to win for the Soviet player.

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From my NORTHSTAR ’92 cruise above the SOSUS line. Nice to know if sunk I would’ve been worth an extra NATO loss point!

There are several other rules that have an outsized impact on the number of Hammer and Sickle. Rule 22.1 First Strike Points (FSP’s) , “…represents the nuclear posturing of both sides. If the Soviets can maintain a credible First Strike capability, the Politburo…will feel able to take aggressive actions such as using nuclear weapons or assassinating high-value targets.” FSP’s play directly into 27.0 Soviet Stability which tracks the political climate in Moscow. If the Soviets trend toward instability, the advances may be slowed, more ‘supplies’ arrive, and at worst they lose a Hammer and Sickle. Oh yes, less you think nuclear weapons are a quick route to victory, once the genie is out of the bottle and Battlefield Nuclear Weapons are used those Hammer and Sickle spaces on the Invasion Tracks with more than one are reduced to a single symbol.

 

The Rule Book for Blue Water Navy is 56 pages. Realistically speaking, 52 pages are ‘how’ to fight the war but there are four essential ‘why’ to fight pages. That is part of the lesson here; the fight is complex even when the reason or objective is simple. All those rules for ships and submarines and different aircraft exist for a few simple reasons. Going back to Captain Hughes’ words at the beginning of this post, Blue Water Navy very clearly illustrates that the role of the navy in war is, At sea, it (1) assures that our own goods and services are safe, and (2) that an enemy’s are not. From the sea, it (3) guarantees safe delivery of goods and services ashore, and (4) prevents delivery ashore by an enemy navy.


Postscript Note: Bit worrisome that in this day of return to near-peer competition the ability of the US Navy to protect the movement of forces across the Atlantic is doubtful. See Navy Drills Atlantic Convoy Ops for First Time Since Cold War in Defender-Europe 20. I particularly note this quote, “The Navy is exercising a contested cross-Atlantic convoy operation for the first time since the end of the Cold War, using a carrier strike group to pave the way for sealift ships with a cruiser escort to bring the Army ground equipment for the Defender-Europe 20 exercise.” First time since the Cold War? First time since 1986? Looks like the USN needs to find a way to play the 1:1 scale version of Blue Water Navy more often.

Doing a little #coronapocalypse #wargame Morning Recon all by myself in Red Storm: The Air War Over Central Germany, 1987 (@gmtgames, 2019).

KDiDKYRhSZyzuc78FsjBeAIN A PAST LIFE AS A US NAVY SQUADRON INTEL OFFICER, I did more than a fair share of Mission Planning for airstrikes. That is part of the reason I love designer Lee Brimmicombe-Wood’s Downtown: Air War Over Hanoi, 1965-1972 (GMT Games, 2004). In 2019 the latest addition to the series, Red Storm: The Air War Over Central Germany, 1987 (GMT Games) designed by Douglas Bush arrived after a not-to-long stint on the P500. This week, as I fight off the zombies-of-boredom of the Coronapocalype, I pulled Red Storm out and committed to a deeper learning experience.

First off, I must commend designer Douglas Bush and GMT for publishing such a high quality product. Not only do the game components look great, but the errata is quite small for such a ‘complex’ game. Part of this is surely the result of previous titles working out many of the kinks in the system design but Red Storm kicks the complexity of the simulation up a notch from the others so I expected more errata than exists. Kudos!

For my day of Red Storming, I decided to start at the beginning and use scenario RS1: Morning Recon. This is a solo introductory scenario where a flight of 2 SU-24MR have to Recon four targets. Victory is determined by the NATO player accomplishing four tasks. In the scenario as written, there is no actual combat (though the combat sequences are exercised). The scenario note is what made for my repeated plays:

Note: Player should try this scenario at least twice, once with the WP [Warsaw Pact] flight at Medium or High altitude (and faster speed) and once at Deck (lower speed, harder to detect). That will give a feel for the difference between “going high” and “going low” when trying to both get to a target and intercepting flights doing so. In addition, during the second playing of the scenario, players should let the NATO side attack the WP flight in order to further learn the combat rules.

Deciding to take the game one step further, I decided to play a fifth time, but in this case incorporating as much of Rule 33.2 Full Solitaire Rules as possible. To further mix it up, I used the Order of Battle Tables in the Appendices Book to randomly generate the forces. For NATO this meant rolling on the NATO QRA Flight / 2ATAF table for a result of “6-4” giving a flight of two Belgium F-16A. For the Warsaw Pact the roll randomly between the USSR and GDR [German Democratic Republic – East Germany] getting GDR than a “4” on the WP Special Missions / Tactical Recon table which launched a flight of two GDR MiG-21M. I decided to make this a “Combat allowed” version of RS1.

The resulting game was MUCH different than the regular Morning Recon scenarios. Not only were the fighters different but the lack of real BVR capability on the Belgium F-16A’s meant this was destined to be a knife fight. The GDR MiG-21M is armed with only an internal 23mm cannon so it really is in their best interests to avoid a fight.

I let the Bot run the GDR but gave it one input at start using a random die to chose between “going high” and “going low.” The random was “go high” so off we went. NATO was able to quickly gain a Detection on the flight but gaining a Visual Identification proved a bit more difficult as early Engagement rolls by me were whiffed. Amazingly, the simple Noise Jammer on the MiG-21M also slowed Full SAM Acquisition. However, the superior maneuverability and radar suite of the F-16A eventually prevailed and both MiG-21 were downed…although the second was just before it passed back over the inter-German border. All in all a very good fight!

844At present, an expansion for the game, Red Storm: Baltic Approaches is on the GMT Games P500 and at 485 pledges. I hope it comes “makes the cut” soon so I can get more Red Storm goodness to the table. Then again, I’m being greedy for there are 29 other scenarios in the base Red Storm and two campaigns (not to mention four Solo Scenario) to help me get through my coronapocalypse isolation before then.

So what?


Feature image: Three aircraft from the U.S. Air Force in Europe in flight on 6 April 1987 near Ramstein Air Base, Germany. These aircraft were part of a larger, 15-aircraft formation taking part in an aerial review for departing General Charles L. Donnelly Jr., commander in chief, U.S. Air Force Europe and commander, Allied Air Forces Central Europe. The visible aircraft are (front to back): McDonnell Douglas F-4G Phantom II (s/n 69-0237), 81st Tactical Fighter Squadron, 52nd Tactical Fighter Wing, Spangdahlem Air Base, Germany; Fairchild Republic A-10A Thunderbolt II (s/n 81-0995), 510th TFS, 81st TFW, RAF Bentwaters, Suffolk (UK); McDonnell Douglas RF-4C-39-MC Phantom II (s/n 68-0583), 1st Tactical Reconnaissance Squadron, 10th Tactical Reconnaissance Wing, RAF Alconbury, Cambridgeshire (UK). Courtesy wikimedia.org.

#Wargame #FirstImpressions – Blue Water Navy: The War at Sea (@compassgamesllc, 2019)

BLUF – A mechanically simple wargame that builds a believable narrative of combat but is slowed by many rules.

I CAME OF AGE IN THE 1980s. At that time, I was heavily into naval wargaming and studying the latest weaponry so of course some of my favorite wargames were the Harpoon series by Larry Bond. I started out first with Harpoon II (Adventure Games, 1983) but quickly moved on to Harpoon 3 from GDW (1987). I eventually joined the Navy (1989) just at the end of the Cold War; which is to say I joined a Navy in flux for although I fought in Gulf War I we still trained for the Cold War. Thus I found myself in the Vest-fjord of Norway in 1991 not long after the attempted coup in Moscow. The war I trained for, the Cold War at Sea, was ending and I (thankfully) never had a go at the Soviets.

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USS America (CV-66) operates in the Vest-fjord of Norway during Exercise NORTH STAR 91 (Cruise Book)

Blue Water Navy: The War at Sea (Compass Games, 2019) allows wargamers to see what a “Cold War gone hot” might of been like. It focuses on NATO and the Atlantic, although the Mediterranean is also included:

Blue Water Navy covers the war at sea, air, close-ashore and low-earth orbit from the Kola Peninsula in Northern Russia to the Mediterranean Sea and West over the Atlantic Ocean to the United States and Cuba. The game models the full order of battle that could be expected in 1980’s wartime, from multi-regiment Soviet Tu-22 Backfire bombers to multiple US carrier groups. (Blue Water Navy – back of the box)

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F-14 Tomcat from CVW-1 escorts a Russian bomber near USS America (CV-66) during Exercise NORTH STAR 91 (Cruise Book)

Blue Water Navy is large both in game scope and game contents. The two-piece 30″x45″ map uses areas spanning approx. 500nm to depict the battlespace from the Gulf of Mexico to the Kola Peninsula to the Mediterranean and Black Sea. Over 700 counters represent groups of ships or aircraft (although to be fair about half are markers, not units) and each turn is 2 days. Play time is rated at 1-3 hours for shorter scenarios and 8-16 hours for a campaign.

To try and make this all work, the game uses a form of the Ops-Events card-driven mechanic:

The game is card driven, with each card providing points to move or trigger special events such as ‘KGB Assassinations’ and ‘Space Shuttle’. There is also a reaction mechanic where most cards can be used in the other player’s turn to perform a spoiling event such as ‘Raid Aborts’ and ‘Friendly Fire’. (Blue Water Navy – back of the box)

To avoid the “God’s Eye” problem of wargaming, the rules feature robust detection rules:

The heart of the game is detection. Task Forces can only be attacked once detected. By contrast, land airbases can always be attacked. The race to detect opposing Task Forces begins as soon as they enter potential striking range…. (Blue Water Navy – back of the box)

Here are some of my impressions after reading the Rules Booklet and playing the first short scenario, ‘The Boomer Bastion, 1983’:

Game Mechanics & Rules

Mechanically, Blue Water Navy is not very complex. The Operations Cards and possible Actions are fairly straight-forward. Movement is very simple; even detection is logical. There is no Combat Results Table (CRT) in Blue Water Navy; combat ‘strength’ is expressed in terms of d10 rolled, with a natural 10 being highly favorable and doubles often also having a favorable effect. Modifiers are few.

That said, combat in Blue Water Navy is very procedural and, although the core mechanic of rolling multiple d10 is the same, every combat type is handled differently (and even within warfare types, such as air, different engagements are not always handled the same way). The use of Player Aid Cards (PAC) is absolutely essential. When coupled with the detection and reaction rules and the interaction of weapons systems (such as SAMs vs missiles or aircraft) this dramatically slows the game down.

Blue Water Navy also lacks an index (though the PAC has rules references). This can make finding essential rules a chore. For instance, the shorter scenarios use a ‘smaller’ Ops Track with different rules found in an unnumbered section at the beginning of the Scenario Book.

Gameplay

Gameplay in Blue Water Navy feels very organic. There is a very natural (dare I say, realistic?) feel to the flow of combat. Battles in Blue Water Navy build a narrative. In my scenario play, a US nuclear fast attack submarine (SSN) entered the Soviet Bastion hunting for Boomers (SSBN) and was intercepted by a Soviet SSN which got a shot off but missed. Now alerted, a Soviet MPA aided in the search supported by a surface ASW group. Facing off against this threat, the US SSN eventually was lost, but not before it exacted a heavy toll on the Soviet surface ASW group. This in turn set the stage for another US SSN to get into the bastion and, with Soviet ASW forces attrited, it was able to sink a Boomer. Another US SSN faced off against a Soviet SSN but lost out to the Rocket Torpedoes of the Soviet Victor III SSN.

Seapower & the State meets the Fleet-series…sorta

When it comes to Cold War navy wargames, the standard against which all others are held, even today, is certainly the 1990s Fleet-series by Victory Games. When it comes to strategic World War III at sea, I also fondly recall Seapower & the State by designer Stephen Newberg at Simulation Canada (1982). In many ways, Blue Water Navy attempts to cover the scope of Seapower & the State using Fleet-like mechanics. Interestingly, Stephen Newberg is credited as an advisor to Blue Water Navy!

I rate Blue Water Navy a qualified success in depicting World War III at sea. Blue Water Navy has the strategic coverage of World War III at sea (operations planning & events, movement, detection) but it takes an extended time to play because combat delves deeply (too deeply?) into the operational-level of warfare. The rules are generally simple but no two combats are resolved in the same manner thus slowing play. I like the game and I want to get the other short scenarios to the table. Maybe in doing so I can build up a rules-familiarity to speed play. Only then would I dare to attempt a campaign game.


Feature image – Blue Water Navy box cover (credit – self)

 

#WargameWednesday -The 80’s are calling and they want their 7th Fleet (Victory Games, 1987) back!

AFTER basically taking April off from heavy gaming, I jumped back into my 2019 Charles S Roberts Award Challenge this week with the 1987 Winner for Best Modern Era Boardgame, 7th Fleet from Victory Games. In late 2018, Compass Games announced they would be reprinting the Fleet-series. This got me thinking….

I played 7th Fleet not that long ago so this play was a bit easier since the rules were not stale in my head. This time through I asked myself why this game should be reprinted. The best answer I came up with was, “Because it does operational-level naval combat from the 1980’s so well.” 7th Fleet, and indeed the entire Fleet-series, is an excellent snapshot of what naval combat in the 1980’s at the operational level was expected to be. This is not to say it is perfect; the Fleet-series was informed by the best publicly available information. I want to focus on three issues, sea-skimming missiles, cruise missiles, and intelligence-surveillance-reconnaissance (ISR) to help make my point.

The sea-skimming missile shot to fame (no pun intended) in the 1982 Falklands War with the Exocet anti-ship cruise missile (ASCM). As a sea-skimmer it was harder to engage because it usually flew below most weapons engagement envelopes.

In the Fleet-series, “sea-skimmers” like Exocet get their own call out in the rules and prevent the defending Area Anti-Air value from being multiplied when in defense. It is interesting to me that the only missile attribute that gets recognized is sea-skimmers. Other attributes, like speed or steep diving, were simply factored into the SSM Attack Value. This “boutique rule” (my term) makes the Fleet-series a reflection of its time. I wonder what the update is going to do; keep the sea-skimmer “exception” or go further? How should the Fleet-series handle supersonic and hypersonic ASCMs?

The other missile that gets recognized is Cruise Missiles. Rule 10.5 Cruise Missile Combat lays out the use of cruise missiles. In 7th Fleet, only the US Navy mounts cruise missiles so this is, in effect, a bonus US rule. Today, we understand that some of the very large Soviet missiles also had a land-attack capability. Another boutique rule; another limitation of the understanding from the 1980s, and another challenge to the designers and developer’s looking at a reprint.

In the Fleet-series , during the Strategic Detection Segment of the Strategic Cycle, Reconnaissance air units in an air zone can locate an enemy surface unit (or stack) or attempt to place a Strategic Detection marker on a submarine. In other words, all detection is from tactical, organic assets. The role of space-based ISR is ignored. Not that it was unknown; even the CIA took note of a Jack Anderson column in the Washington Post in February 1985 that talked about Soviet threat satellites.

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To be clear, I am absolutely NOT accusing designer Joe Balkoski or Victory Games of ignoring the role of space-based ISR. Even though Jack Anderson got a scoop in 1985 the contribution of space-based sensors to ship tracking was actually highly classified at the time. For the designers to not include them in the game is understandable, and another example of how the Fleet-series is a product of its day.

All of which makes 7th Fleet and its sister-games in the Fleet-series so wonderful. To get a good taste of what people popularly thought the Cold War at Sea would look like one either read Tom Clancy or played a Fleet-series game. The game rules capture the essence of naval combat in the 1980s with few boutique rules or rules exceptions. I am fortunate enough to own the entire Fleet-series so I have little pressure to acquire any reprints. I am interested in seeing what is done with the reprints and, if there is enough differences, may look to invest.


Feature image BoardGameGeek