#Coronapocalypse #Wargame – When Siblings Fight: A Flight Leader (Avalon Hill, 1986) Scenario

WHEN IN COMES TO CONFRONTATIONS ON THE KOREAN PENINSULA, the traditional matchup is US versus North Korea. Occasionally one sees a South Korea vs North Korea battle. How about North Korea vs China?

As I was browsing the internet I found Dragon and the Hermit Kingdom in Modern War #45 (Decision Games). This game covers a near-future hypothetical invasion of the Korean peninsula by China. Which got me thinking….

What if China and North Korea had a “friendly” little dust-up today? By today I mean today; as in what wargame on my shelf could I use to make a quick battle to pass the coronapocalypse?

As I eyeballed my shelf of games, my eyes came to rest on Flight Leader (Avalon Hill, 1986). Flight Leader is a game of “Air-to-Air Jet Combat Tactics 1950 to Present.” I recalled a few years back I made a homebrew scenario with South Korean F-16s confronting intruding North Korean MiG-21s. It was based on a then-contemporary news article. When I pulled the box off the shelf and opened it, sure enough, my scenario was still in there.

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Flight Leader (Avalon Hill, 1986). Need to rebag those counters, eh?

One problem I had at the time was how to make fit “peacetime” Rules of Engagement (ROE) into the game. I didn’t just want both sides to start fighting, I wanted there to be a “dance” as both sides jockeyed for position or blocked or pushed the other. The answer I came up with at the time was…well, I really didn’t.

I decided to basically play the same scenario, only this time with North Korea versus China. For the People’s Liberation Army Air Force (PLAARF) I brought a 2-ship formation of J-11 fighters at Aircrew Quality C (2x Average pilots). For the game, I just used the stock SU-27 FLANKER. For the North Korean Air Force (NKAF) I used a 4-ship formation of MiG-21 Fishbed bis/L/N with an optional internal cannon. I set the North Korean Aircrew Quality at E (2x Average, 2x Inexperienced pilots). In the scenario this was a 40pt vs 40pt matchup.

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J-11b courtesy sinodefense.wordpress.com
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MiG-21 courtesy globalaviationresources.com

This time I tried to add a mechanism that would (crudely) simulate the chances of things getting out of control. You know, as in “out of control and lucky to live through it” like The Hunt for Red October….

The crude mechanic I decided upon was a d10 check every turn for each airplane. Based on the Aircrew Quality, there was a chance of a pilot “losing their cool” and opening fire. The crude metric I decided upon was:

  • Aircrew Rating C: Roll 8+. DM +1 per opposing aircraft behind 3-9 Line. DM-1 per opposing aircraft ahead of 3-9 Line. DM +1 if radar Lock-On by any opposing aircraft.
  • Aircrew Rating E: Roll 6+. DM+1 if any opposing aircraft behind 3-9 Line. DM -1 if any opposing aircraft ahead of 3-9 Line. DM +1 if pilot Inexperienced. DM +1 if radar Lock-On by any opposing aircraft.

As I played it out, the early turns were indeed “peaceful” as both sides jockeyed for position and kept the others in their forward hemisphere. However, once the merge happened and both sides started twisting an turning it got much more interesting. Sure enough, it was one of the Inexperienced NKAF pilots who blinked first.

The fight was on, but that gave me another scenario design problem to deal with; what was victory?

I decided that once the fight started, each side would have to meet certain conditions:

  • PLAARF: Force NKAF to withdraw. If aircraft lost must destroy 2x NKAF for every loss.
  • NKAF: Force PLAARF to withdraw. Shoot down at least one J-11/SU-27 if any aircraft lost.

Not the greatest thinking but a start. In this battle the Inexperienced pilot who started the battle took a poor HW (Heat-Seeker, Wide Angle) shot and missed. The J-11s engaged and quickly shot down 2x MiG-21. The last two MiGs took parting shots and scored some damage on a single J-11 before skedaddling. I ruled this a solid Chinese victory.

This battle made me think about the greatest Top Gun parody ever. Makes me wonder which one was Red Maverick….


Feature image courtesy USA Today

#Wargame Wednesday – Back to the future? TAC AIR (Avalon Hill, 1987)

THERE ARE SOME IN OUR HOBBY who insist that a wargame must be historical. From today’s perspective, a game about Air-Land Battles in Germany in the 1980’s is kinda historical. Or at least historically-plausible. Thankfully, the Cold War never went hot. So playing TAC AIR (Avalon Hill Game Company, 1987) is a blast into the coulda-been past. I recently played TAC AIR as part of my 2019 Charles S Roberts Award Challenge. TAC AIR won the CSR in 1987 for Best Modern Era Boardgame.

TAC AIR looks and plays in many ways like a military training aid. That’s because it basically was! Designer (and then-USAF Captain) Gary C. Morgan designed the game FEBA for the USAF Project Warrior. As Air Force Magazine put it in 1982:

For a couple of decades, Air Force people (and the institution) edged away from warfighting as a state of mind, and toward an eight-to-five, business, managerial mindset. Today’s Air Force leaders are determined to reverse that trend, and create a professional mission-oriented force. Project Warrior is the means of change….It is a new program whose goal is to create and maintain and environment for Air Force people to think and plan in warfighting terms….Under “education,” the Air Force is establishing a professional studies support program. It is composed of selected readings, discussion guides, wargaming resources, and other media to develop individual understanding of military strategy, tactics, and logistics, as well as a better appreciation of the role of airpower in the nation’s deterrent and defense policy.

Project Warrior, Air Force Magazine, August 1982

TAC AIR was published in a time when professional and recreational wargaming was at an intersection. Jim Dunnigan’s Firefight (1976) started life as a US Army project. In the 1980’s Avalon Hill was on a roll with Gary Morgan’s Flight Leader (1986) and then TAC AIR which both started in Project Warrior. (Philip Sabin, Simulating War, Bloomsbury Academic, 2012).

TAC AIR depicts the (then) “modern air-land battle, complete with integrated air defense systems, detailed air mission planning and Airspace Control considerations” (TAC AIR, Designer’s Profile).

I played this game a few times back in the late 1980’s but seemingly remembered it as “too much Air Farce.” At the time I was really into modern naval combat (ala Harpoon) and was not as interested in ground combat in Europe. If I really wanted to play a modern Cold War ground combat game I would pull out Frank Chadwicks Assault (GDW, 1983).

That’s too bad because TAC AIR, while not perfect, makes learning about Air-Land Battle doctrine quite fun.

TAC AIR is really two games on one. The “Land” portion of the Air-Land Battle is a fairly standard ground combat game where ground units and helicopters move and fight once per turn. The “Air” portion of this game is where the real emphasis lies – not surprising given this was an Air Force training aid! Every turn in TAC AIR includes an Air Phase which consists of 10 identical Air Rounds. Attacks by air units and air defense fire happens during aircraft movement each Air Round. Here planes zoom around the board dodging air defenses and delivering strikes on ground units to disrupt them. A ground unit that accumulates four Disruption is eliminated.

TAC AIR is also interesting in what is included and what is not. In addition to the ground units and aircraft, there are special rules for Electronic Warfare (a vastly under-appreciated domain of modern warfare even today), the then-highly innovative Joint Air Attack Tactics mixing A-10 aircraft and Apache attack helos, as well as long-range ATGMs and standoff weapons. One aircraft you will not find in TAC AIR is the F-117 Nighthawk. I’m not surprised; Captain Morgan may not have even known about the program and even if he did it was still classified at the time. The F-117 was not “publicly unveiled” until 1988 – a year after TAC AIR was published.

I played Scenario One – “Covering Force” where elements of the US 2nd Armored Cavalry Regiment screen against advancing elements of the Soviet 6th Guards Tank Division. Although the combat systems and platforms used were obviously from the mid-1980’s Cold War, I could not help but think about how different – or not – a similar battle in Poland might be today. Makes me wonder if anybody in the US Army or Air Force is looking at an updated version of TAC AIR for today’s military.

I also took note that one “Captain Matt Caffrey” is listed as contributing as a game developer. Today, Matt Caffrey Jr. (Colonel, USAFR, Ret.) is the author of On Wargaming from the US Naval War College published this year. Good to see the grognards of the hobby still contributing to the cause.


* FEBA – Forward Edge of the Battle Area (welcome to the world of military acronyms)

Book Finder – February 2017

Visited the Friendly Local Model Shop today. They are (unfortunately) going out of business following the death of the owner. As part of their end-of-days, they put all their items up on a great fire sale.

img_1351Among the many models were more than a few books. I picked up a few. As you can see, they were mostly Osprey and cover some eras I really love, like the Falklands War, and aircraft I admire (Tomcats Forever!).

After playing Wing Leader: Victories and Wing Leader: Supremacy, I realized I don’t know as much about Japanese fighters as I thought I did. The Japanese Army Air Force Aces 1937-45 book is the usual Osprey-fare with many pictures and plates and just enough depth to make it interesting. The Japanese War Machine is a 1976 publication and is what I call “coffee-table history;” i.e. an oversize book with many pictures and maps and not too in-depth text.

Air War in the Falklands 1982 looks to be an updated version of an earlier Osprey publication. Glancing through it I noticed many more Argentinian pictures and related text. It is good to see “the other side” of this war.

Iranian F-14 Units in Combat is another “forgotten war” book. As much as the US flew the F-14, it was Iran who flew the Tomcat in combat during the 1980’s. There are many little snippets in here that make good scenario fodder for Flight Leader or Air Superiority or Birds of Prey.

I am also very blessed in that my boys are interested in history and are voracious readers.  They too will read these books and we will likely have several long discussions about them. Although I didn’t pay much for these book, the real payoff is in the talks with my boys which are priceless.