New Arrival – Game Wizards: The Epic Battle for Dungeons & Dragons by Jon Peterson (Cambridge: MIT Press, 2021). This is definitely a hobby business history and NOT a history of D&D as a game. So all you Edition Wars fighters out there looking for Jon’s vote need to look elsewhere. I wish Jon would do the history of Marc Miller and Traveller someday. I know, not as dramatic but nonetheless of intense interest to a Traveller RPG fan like me.
WARGAMES ON NEAR-FUTURE OR CONTEMPORARY CONFLICTS ARE RISKY. Although very interesting, they can just as often turn out to be “right” as often as they are “wrong.” Fortunately, we got through the mid-1990’s without a major conflict on the Korean Peninsula so Crisis: Korea 1995 (GMT Games, 1993) is now an alt-history title. I recently pulled the game out for my 2019 CSR Wargames Challenge to play and think about. The game emphasizes ow three parts of then-modern warfare were viewed in that day. Taking a retrospective look at this title is a great chance to study the game model and see how it holds up against time.
The three areas Crisis: Korea 1995 emphasize are:
Exploitation or breakthrough by mechanized forces
North Korean Special Forces
Joint Air Warfare.
In 1993, the memory (lessons?) of DESERT STORM were undoubtably fresh in the mind of all involved in development of Crisis: Korea 1995. Battles like that of 73 Easting were already becoming legendary stories. However, as designer Gene Billingsley notes in the introduction to 7.0 COMBAT, he did not let any sort of victory fever taint his game model:
In contrast to what we witnessed during the Persian Gulf War, it is our belief that combat in Korea will inflict heavy casualties on both sides. The major reasons for this are terrain and massed firepower. With very little clear, flat terrain to speak of, and line-of-sight limited to an average of less than one mile by the numerous hills and ridges, even stand-off fights (tank engagements, TOW missile shots, etc.) will be fought at relatively short distances. Artillery firepower will be telling, as both sides deploy large numbers of guns with pre-plotted fires concentrated on likely routes of advance and reinforcement. Unit cohesion will play a telling role as huge losses take their toll on troop organization and morale.
Crisis: Korea 1995; 7.0 COMBAT
Further, instead of simply making Crisis: Korea 1995 a game about Air-Land Battle in Korea, it appears that the designer tried to reflect some of the then-current thinking about how North Korea would fight. In 1991, the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) publicly released North Korea: The Foundations of Military Strength. Although this title is not directly referenced anywhere in Crisis: Korea 1995 I am sure the designer and researchers used it. With regards to North Korean offensive operations, DIA makes the point that:
North Korean infantry and armored elements of the first-echelon divisions of the forward conventional corps would attempt to penetrate the allied forward defense. The mechanized corps, brigades augmented with attached self-propelled artillery, and combat support elements would attempt to pass through any openings the frontline corps create. The mechanized corps quickly would penetrate deep into South Korea, bypassing and possibly isolating many allied units.
North Korea: Foundations of Military Strength; Chapter 6 – Employing the Armed Forces, Offensive Operations
In the game Crisis: Korea 1995, “exploitation” is found in the Initiative Turn Sequence of Play where the initiative player can perform exploitation movement and combat. When I first saw this part of the SoP I tried to rectify it with my understanding of the US Air-Land Battle concept. However, after rereading the DIA product, I see it as reflective of the North Korean doctrine of war. Adding exploitation movement and combat to the initiative player is an elegant way to model the NK doctrine of the day.
The second combat area Crisis: Korea 1995 really digs into is Special Forces. The intelligence assessments of the day also emphasized the North Korean Special Forces and is reflected in the lengthy treatment it gets from DIA; eight full paragraphs or the same as Ground Forces which were the core of the North Korean Peoples Army. As DIA tells us:
North Korea classifies its special operations units as reconnaissance, light infantry, or sniper. Team-sized elements conduct reconnaissance to collect intelligence or targeting information. Light infantry operations are combat operations conducted with company- or battalion-sized units against military, political, or economic targets. Sniper operations basically are the same as light infantry except they are conducted in team-sized units.
North Korea: Foundations of Military Strength; Chapter 5 – Military Forces, Special Operations Forces
I again wonder if the designers didn’t use the DIA publication because that paragraph basically describes the game system in Standard Game 10.0 SPECIAL UNITS and Advanced Game 21.0 SPECIAL FORCES!
The emphasis on Special Forces in Crisis: Korea 1995 is also not surprising given the involvement of Joe Bermudez, author of the book North Korean Special Forces which was first published in 1988. Joe gets a shout-out from Mr. Billingsley in the Game Credits, and Gene tells us why in his More Design Notes:
I’ve always liked games that let you resolve Special Forces Missions. I used to love ambushing enemy Supply Convoys in Mark Herman’s GulfStrike (still one of my favorite all-time games!). But I never liked keeping track of each detachment or mission on a separate piece of paper. Thus, the Special Forces Mission markers. In Korea, the North’s Special Forces are very, very important. The North Koreans have so many eggs in that basket, that you could almost say that, regardless of whether the NKPA Special Purpose Forces succeed or fail, they will have a decisive impact on the conflict. If they succeed, the US/ROK command structure, mobilization capabilities, air power, and reinforcement capacity will be in serious trouble. If they fail, the North, in my view, doesn’t have a prayer of winning the war.
Crisis: Korea 1995; More Design Notes
A third area of then-contemporary warfare that Crisis: Korea 1995 looks deeply into is the air war. It is amazing to look at the Advanced Air Game in Crisis: Korea 1995 and compare it to the the Gulf War Air Power Summary Report from 1993. The report, assembled by the RAND Corporation, may not have been released until 1993 but it is obvious that many within the Services were already thinking about and incorporating the lessons learned from DESERT STORM. Again, the best insight into the model comes from designer Gene Billingsley in another part of his More Design Notes:
This air game took a long time to put together. I want to especially thank Matt Caffrey, J.D. Webster, and a host of F/A-18 Hornet pilots who helped me though the various part of the host of redesigns and modifications to get the game where it is now. Basically, I wanted to create a system that would allow for interaction between Detection, SAMS, Strikes, and SEAD aircraft without bogging the player down in counting hex ranges and plotting interception points. I really like Mo Morgan’s Tac Air game, as it represents the interaction really well, though at a different scale. For this scale, I couldn’t find any system that really gave that kind of feel without reverting to Mark’s GulfStrike-like approach, which would take WAY too long for this game. The Air Defense Tracks seem to do the trick, and are an aspect of the design that I personally enjoy very much. Even after they win the Air Superiority battle, the US/ROK planes have to duel with that huge air defense system. then again, if they wipe outs its detection capabilities, essentially blinding it, they can pull off something akin to Desert Storm. We’ve tested this system in theory in other parts of the world already, and it should port (if we decide to do another in this series) without much trouble. I want to keep improving it, however, so if you have suggestions on how to make it better, let’s hear them.
Crisis: Korea 1995; More Design Notes
Beyond the three areas of emphasis, as a former Navy Guy I was very disappointed that Crisis: Korea 1995 abstracted the naval aspects of the war. Designer Gene Billingsley tried to explain why in his notes for 6.81 Sea Control:
In game terms, we have greatly simplified and abstracted this sea battle. At one time we had about 200 counters representing virtually everything that floats in the theatre. Unfortunately, each turn of naval combat at that scale added about three hours to each game turn, with marginal enhancement to game play. Basically, after three or four turns, the North and South Koreans were virtually wiped out, and the US was in form control of the majority of the waters around Korea….The only essential information to determine from the sea battle is “Can you move troops and supplies to and from ports and beachheads?” Thus, we’ve opted for sea control die rolls to determine control, with a built-in assumption that once the United States Navy gains control of the sea, it will not relinquish control.
Crisis: Korea 1995; 6.81 Sea Control
As much as it pains me to admit, the “assumption” that Mr. Billingsley makes is reflected by DIA. Here are a couple of pull-quotes about the North Korean Navy from DIA:
“Although largely a coastal defense force, the Navy can support some offensive operations.” (p. 44)
“North Korea has a limited capability to provide support troops on shore. Therefore, it would have to curtail naval support to he ground forces soon after landing.” (p. 59)
“The Navy and Air Force could act in a strong supporting role in the initial stage of an offensive. the level of sustained operations would depend on the size and composition of US air and naval force augmentation. If confronted by strong forces, the North Korean air and naval forces would revert to largely defensive roles.” (p. 59)
In retrospect, Crisis: Korea 1995 is a game that took on a then-contemporary potential conflict and faithfully portrayed its most dynamic parts. The fact that Crisis: Korea 1995 and its other sister Crisis games became the jumping off point for GMT Games very successful Next War-family of games is a testimony to it’s solid core foundations. I am confident that, had war on the Korean Peninsula broken out in the 1990’s, then Crisis: Korea 1995 would have been more “right” than “wrong” about the conflict.
In Classic Traveller RPGand the more recent Cepheus Engineimplementation of the rules spacecraft weapons generally are either Missile or Beam (lasers, particle beams, fusion beams). In Traveller 5 another class of weapons, Data Broadcasts or Beamcasts, is introduced. As advanced as Traveller technology is, it appears that Humaniti is too inventive.
Space-based capabilities provide integral support to military, commercial, and civilian applications. Longstanding technological and cost barriers to space are falling, enabling more countries and commercial firms to participate in satellite construction, space launch, space exploration, and human spaceflight. Although these advancements are creating new opportunities, new risks for space-enabled services have emerged. Having seen the benefits of space-enabled operations, some foreign governments are developing capabilities that threaten others’ ability to use space. (Executive Summary)
One graphic in particular stood out to me; it concerns Kinetic Energy and Orbital Threats:
In Traveller RPG terms, Kinetic Energy Threats are covered by Missiles. However, several of the Orbital Threats shown are not immediately represented in Traveller or Cepheus Engine.
Lasers, KKVs, and Robotic Mechanisms are easily portrayed using the existing Traveller or Cepheus Engine rule set. Using Traveller 5 one can get to Radiofrequency Jammers using Datacasters.
High-power Microwaves is not easily found in the rules. This weapon is maybe a form of an EMP device:
The electromagnetic pulse (EMP) weapon, also called the e-bomb, or the radio flash weapon, is capable of disrupting or damaging the circuitry of most electronic devices.
The weapon accomplishes this by sending either a single pulse or a series of fast, high-powered pulses of electromagnetic energy in the range of 100 MHz to 20 GHz. These pulses are similar to a lightening strike or a nuclear blast. The power level of these pulses can be several hundred megawatts (MW). The EMP weapon has a range of at least several hundred meters, but reportedly can be transmitted up to 15 Km.
The specific method by which the pulse attaches to the circuitry is called coupling. Coupling is simply the binding of an energy wave onto a conductor. There are two types of coupling. The first is called front door coupling and it happens when the energy wave binds to the antenna of a device. The other type is called back door coupling. It occurs when the wave binds to external components such telephone lines, network cables and power lines.
It can also occur with ports on the back of a computer, such as serial ports. After the energy binds, it then moves through the circuitry, frying or disrupting sensitive internal components, such as crystal diodes, ICs, mixers, logic circuits, etc.
The precise targeting of electronic devices can be accomplished in the following way: First the EMP weapon can be aimed in a specific area. The primary factor is not the power of the pulse, but the ability to focus the output. The energy must be accurately deposited at a certain range to be effective.
Next, it can be configured to send a single pulse consisting of a specific frequency, which will only destroy the circuitry of a device that functions on that frequency. In this manner, if an operator has the frequency signature of a target device, then only that single device will be affected, while others in the area remain unharmed.
Furthermore, a series of fast pulses consisting of multiple frequencies can be sent to an area, which will affect the circuitry of all devices operating on those frequencies. This type of delivery is referred to as an ultra wideband pulse (UWBP). It can be adjusted to cover large areas, even an entire city. (newworldwar.org)
In Traveller/Cepheus Engine terms this sounds like a weapon that can be used to destroy sensors or otherwise fry circuits. At higher Tech Levels, the EMP pulse could even be tailored to attack specific components of a ship.
Chemical Sprayers looks interesting. Even spraying something as simple as water in space may create ice that could be lethal at high velocities. Or maybe its chemicals to coat optics or smear solar cells? Other sci-fi ideas may be a chemical that eats at door seals (depressurization?). Maybe what we have here is an early form of the Sandcaster?
Of course, the lowest-tech solutions are also effective. Where in Traveller was there ever harpoons in space?
China’s expanding global activities in some of the areas listed above present military force posture, access, training, and logistics implications for the United States and China. The PLA’s first overseas military base in Djibouti and probable follow-on bases will increase China’s ability to deter use of conventional military force, sustain operations abroad, and hold strategic economic corridors at risk. The PLA’s expanding global capabilities provide military options to observe or complicate adversary activities in the event of a conflict. (p. 4)