I am very interested in getting Wing Leader: Legends to the table as it includes the “Decision Over Kursk” campaign system. Some readers may recall several “My Kursk Kampaign” postings from earlier this spring where I dove in-depth into that battle. At the time I wanted to explore the air war more:
As I start this exploration, my copy of Wing Leader: Legends 1937-1945 (GMT Games, forthcoming in 2021) is “At the Printer” meaning it may deliver sometime in mid-2021. If it delivers in time I would certainly like to play the campaign system which focuses on the air battles supporting the Battle of Kursk. I really want to explore a point Glantz makes on page 63 in his book; “Red aircraft might be inferior to their German counterparts, but they were certainly sufficient in numbers to deny the Luftwaffe undisputed command of the air.”
Although you can’t see it in the photo of The Dark Summer, I am, frankly, a bit surprised the game shipped in a 1.5″ deep box. One can interpret this as a sign that the game is smaller, and with a single 22″x34″ map and two countersheets that appears true. I guess I thought a Normandy campaign game just “has to be” big but this one-mapper is already challenging my preconceptions.
Game of the Week
Now that I’m back to a pretty regular work schedule (office is basically 100% reconstituted) I need to work on getting back to a “regular” gaming schedule. Thus, I will be starting a “Game of the Week” approach to play. Basically, the Game of the Week approach gives me seven days to unbox, learn, play, and consider a game. I have a rough idea of how a week might progress:
Sunday – Unbox new game, start rules learning/review
Monday – Rules learning/review, set up first play
Tuesday/Wednesday/Thursday – Play
Friday – (Skip Day)
Saturday – Considerations/Clean up (Family Game Night?)
I have a backlog of games on the “To Play” shelf that I need to get to over the next few weeks of summer before getting to Wing Leader: Legends and The Dark Summer: I’m trying to play games in the order of their arrival:
While playing games I also am also committed to reading more. When possible, I like to mix a book with the Game of the Week but that’s not always possible as I have other books on the “To Read” pile. I finished up Meade at Gettysburg: A Study in Command by Kent Masterson Brown (Chapel Hill: UNC Press, 2021) and it will be the subject of this coming week’s “Rocky Reads for Wargame” column. I am pretty sure that 2034: A Novel of the Next War by Eliot Ackerman and Admiral James Stavridis will likely be read in conjunction with Indian Ocean Region when it is up for Game of the Week.
One of my favorite online sources for plastic models closed due to bankruptcy late in 2020. Thanks to a new owner, www. squadron.com is back. The reopening has not been the smoothest, but they are trying to work out the kinks. Given how few good plastic model retailers there are online I hope they make it!
The RockyMountainNavy family tried a new-to-us restaurant this week. The Capital Burger bills itself as purveyors of “luxe” burgers. They use a proprietary blend of beef to make their burgers; I never imagined it could make a difference—but it does. Their Kung Pao Brussel Sprouts are my new favorite and a great replacement for french fries. Oh yeah, it all pairs well with a good ale….
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!
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.
Like the title says, didn’t get much gaming in this week as I return to basically full-time in the office. After a year of semi-telework it’s a bit of a shock to the system but, honestly, I love to be back at the grind.
Spoiler Alert: I like it but the message is mixed….
The Telescoping Game
Empire at Sunrise: The Great War in Asia, 1914 (hereafter simply Empire at Sunrise) is designed by John Gorkowski and illustrated by Jose R. Faura. The ad copy for Empire at Sunrise claims it, “depicts the struggle for control of Pacific sea lanes during the opening months of World War I.”
Well, not exactly. I mean, “Yes, but….”
Although the naval struggles makes up a large portion of Empire at Sunrise, there is also the land battle around Tsingtao (all the placenames are drawn from the period). Thus, the game becomes one that is more about the downfall of the Pacific Empire of Imperial Germany as they struggle to defend their possessions in the Far East in the opening weeks of World War I than simply a “struggle for control of the Pacific sea lanes.”
To deliver this Pacific-wide view of the conflict, Empire at Sunrise uses three different “telescoping scales.” The game is played across three maps that depict, “the area around Tsingtao at six miles per hex, the fight over the Asian Pacific at 240 miles per hex, and the entire Pacific Ocean at 1440 miles per zone.” Game turns are weekly and the 19 game turns represent the time from August through December 1914. Both land and naval units are depicted.
Three Maps, Two Games?
At first glance, Empire at Sunrise looks like it is actually two games in one; a land combat game centered on Tsingtao played on the Kiautschou Insert – KI map and a second naval game played out on the Asia Pacific Map (APM) and Pacific Chart (PC). The three-map telescoping design of Empire at Sunrise creates two immediate design challenges: First is a mechanical challenge to ensure the game “flows” between the three maps and the second is to depict the impact of the wide ranging conflict that spans both land and sea yet connects them in a manner that creates a set of meaningful decision points for the players.
Mechanically, the solution to the flow between the maps is very simple with easy to understand movement rules and only minor changes to combat. The solution to the second challenge is just as simple – Victory Conditions.
Keep Your Eye on the Target
A close study of the Victory Conditions in Empire at Sunrise shows that it creates both tension and hard decisions for each player throughout the game. Victory Points (VP) are scored both during and at the end of the game. During game play, the Germans score VP for:
+3 if the Australian Troop Convoy is Delayed or Destroyed (but it doesn’t enter until Turn 12)
+1 per Allied (“Anglo-Japanese Alliance – AJA”) Land Unit step Eliminated
+1 per AJA Naval Unit Destroyed
+1 if the British call any or all of their Atlantic Units into play
+1 per successful Commerce Raid (limit one per Turn)
+1 for each step of Naval Units in PC Zone F11 (enroute to the Falklands)
At the end of the game the AJA score VP as follows:
-5 if they control Tsingtao
-3 if NeuPommern controlled
-2 if Samoa controlled
-1 for each of the German possessions at Ladrone, Lamotrek, Palau, Yap, Truk or Wolea controlled
If the VP score is negative the AJA wins otherwise Germany wins. The maximum score for the AJA is 16 points meaning if the German scores 16 VP or more they will automatically win.
Hopefully you can see the immediate conflict in objectives for each player in Empire at Sunrise. For Germany to win they need to try to maintain their possessions but if they can’t (and given their lack of Land Units they almost certainly can’t) then they need to resort to naval warfare to gain VP by sinking enemy ships while not getting sunk and raiding commerce while at the same time they are trying to escape. Also, the most “valuable” German possession is also the one furthest from where the naval squadrons need to go to get points. On the other hand, the AJA player needs to grab possessions but also avoid losing too many ships as they hunt down the German fleet units.
Put together, what may be the greatest challenge in Empire at Sunrise is for player to manage their time. The Germans need to hang onto possessions as long as possible and sell them dearly but avoid becoming bogged down or cut off from escape. They need to take advantage of the turns before the Japanese enter to score a reserve of VP. They need to get to Cape Horn on the eastern Pacific but it may be worthwhile to also be near Australia when the troop convoy sails. For the AJA player seizing the German Pacific possessions is easy but it takes time; time to move on the Pacific Chart and time to actually take a possession. At 19 turns Empire at Sunrise looks like a long game but once you start playing you quickly discover that time is precious and never enough. The game is full of tensions that forces players to tie their play of both the land and naval game together and not bi-furcate their efforts by weighing one too heavily at the expense of the other.
New Age of Warfare? Hardly….
The rules for Empire at Sunrise are what I describe as “simply complex.” The rules mechanically are easy to learn and simple to play but the strategy you need to execute with those rules is a whole other level of complexity.
Take for example Naval Movement in Empire at Sunrise. Naval Movement is different on the three maps but moving from one map to another follows a very simple set of rules. The most important aspect of Naval Movement is actually Naval Interception. Phasing Units (i.e. on your turn) need to be in the same hex on the APM or zone on the PC to intercept. However, when you are the non-Phasing Player you can try to intercept a moving group of enemy ships every time it enters a new hex or zone if you already have ships there. As simple as that sounds it creates a wonderful tension as it behooves the German player to “escape” from the APM where they risk intercept every hex into the larger PC where they chance intercept only once on during their opponent’s turn (unless they enter a zone with enemy ships during their own turn).
Naval Combat in Empire at Sunrise is also simple but not what many longtime naval Grognards may expect. Here ships are not rated simply for “weight of fire” like so many ships of the day were judged, but instead ships with longer ranged, heavier batteries get to fire first. Thus, the Japanese 3-10-7 (Firepower – Resilience – Movement) Kongo BC fires first and damage is assessed before the British 2-9-7 Good Hope CA can return fire. Combat itself is very simple – roll 2d6 and beat the target’s Resilience with each hit causing a step loss. If you score a hit and roll doubles while you’re at it that scores two hits and sinks the enemy ship outright.
[This event specifically lead to one of the more spectacular moments in my first game. While destroyers are below the level of detail depicted by naval units, designer John Gorkowski put the German S90 Destroyer in the game since it historically scored a luck torpedo kill on the Japanese coastal defense ship Takachiho. In my game, S90 was trying to break out of Tsingtao just as the fortress was falling but was intercepted by a British Task Force led by the British pre-dreadnought HMS Triumph. The S-90, rated 4*-7-8 (the * means torpedoes only against ships) took on the 2-9-6 Triumph and, being rated 4, fired first. In order to score a hit a 10, 11, or 12 on 2d6 was required. Sure enough, S90 rolled “double boxcars” and not only got a hit, but the lucky two hits that sunk Triumph outright. To add insult to injury, none of the other ships in the British Task Force proved capable of hitting the elusive S90 and it escaped to live another day. Speak about a real narrative moment!]
Commerce Raiding in Empire at Sunrise is another deliciously simple rule that has an outsized impact on a players strategy. The rule is very simple; at the end of movement if a German Naval Unit is south of the Tropic of Cancer it can roll to destroy commerce. Each ship rolls 2d6 and ADDS the number of movement points expended in the turn; if the result is 16 or greater than 1 VP is scored (limited to once per turn). Thus, it again behooves the AJA player to hunt down every German naval unit and don’t give away free points.
The land battles in Empire at Sunrise are just as simple. Counter density is very low so stacking rarely becomes an issue. There are no zone of control rules; to attack one just needs to be adjacent. Seeing as this was the era of defensive supremacy it should come as no surprise that the few rules for trenches or Fortifications heavily favor the defender. The Japanese player does have Siege Artillery which destroys trenches and Fortifications but it is slow moving and takes time to relocate. Thus, the “Battle of Tsingtao” plays out much like one expects a World War I battle should – slow and cumbersome with strong defenses being difficult to dislodge.
An Untold Story
The most educational aspect of Empire at Sunrise is admittedly what the designer does not include. Empire at Sunrise, like it’s name tells us, shows the huge contribution that Imperial Japan made towards the defeat of Imperial Germany. Try playing this game without the Japanese forces and see what happens. The designer makes no explicit statement about the affects of Japanese contribution after the war; the players are given the game’s title and then left to discover it for themselves outside the game. For me, a wargamer who has battled back and forth across the Pacific of the 1940’s (and occasionally the 1920’s or 30’s), the geography was familiar but the situation was much different.
In many ways, Empire at Sunrise is a a good “bookend” game to use to see the rise of the Imperial Japanese Navy across the Pacific. Then place it against Victory in the Pacific (Avalon Hill, 1977) to see the other “bookend,” or downfall of the Imperial Japanese Empire across the Pacific. Together they make a good story.
CAREFULLY-CURATED HISTORICAL GAMES. That’s Hollandspiele’s slogan found on the back of The Lost Provinces: The Thai Blitzkrieg in French Indo-China, January 10-28, 1941. I had my eye on this title for a while but just hadn’t pulled the trigger. That is, until I read “The Franco-Thai War (1940-1941)” on the weaponsandwarfare blog. What an interesting conflict! After reading the ad copy from Hollandspiele I was also interested in the simple, soloable, tradition-with-a-twist mechanics:
This obscure conflict is the subject of designer John Gorkowski’s The Lost Provinces. This is a simple, small, and soloable game that can be played in an evening with new wargamers and grognards alike. It often utilizes traditional mechanisms but with twists and nuances that make them fresh again. For example, combat strengths are compared, to arrive at odds ratios, but those ratios are expressed via a die roll modifier rather than a column on a CRT, which results in greater uncertainty about how a given battle might turn out.
Hollandspiele is dead right about The Lost Provinces being simple. An eight (8) page rule book, 11″x17″ map, 88 counters, and one Display Sheet along with two dice is about as straight-forward a package you can get. That said, the map by Jose Ramon Faura is simple but easily understandable. The counters by Tom Russell are very generic but functional.
I play most of my games solo at least one, and often many times more. The Lost Provinces has no hidden information and if you are like me and play “two-handed solo” often enough you can play both sides fairly.
The real gem of The Lost Provinces design is that use of traditional wargaming mechanisms but with a bit of a difference. I appreciate that designer John Gorkowski uses many traditional mechanisms but mixes up a few; not too many but enough to make the game go from vanilla to very interesting. The ones that impress me the most are Contact, Attack Preparation, and Land Combat.
Contact: Movement starts out very traditional in The Lost Provinces with different terrain of course costing more Movement Points (MP) to enter. But don’t look for Zones of Control because Mr. Gorkowski uses the concept of Contact instead. Contact (Rule 8.21) describes units that are adjacent to each other. Leaving Contact or moving to another Contact hex costs 1 MP. Contact is important because units must be in Contact before they can attack.
Attack Preparation: Technically part of the Movement Phase, units that are in Contact with the enemy may declare an intention to attack. This Attack Preparation requires the expenditure of 1 MP in addition to the normal MP required to enter a hex. This simple twist requires you to be more aware of when and where you want a battle to happen. In my first game I constantly found myself just one MP short of being able to attack forcing me to consider if I really wanted to move into Contact this turn or wait until the next turn. A simple change to a game mechanism with a deep impact on your choices/decisions in a turn.
Land Combat: Combat resolution in The Lost Provinces is dead-simple – roll 2d6 and determine losses. Well, almost that simple. In Land Combat there are three die modifiers; +1 for Air Superiority, +1 for Combined Arms, and +1 for the Odds. The Odds modifier is the most interesting. To determine the odds you do like many wargames do – you compare the attack strength against the defense strength and express the result as odds. For example, 4 attacking 2 is 2:1 odds. In The Lost Provinces, however, you don’t look for that odds column on a Combat Results Table. Instead, the odds translate to another die modifier. The die modifier is the sum of the attacker subtracted from the defender. Thus, 2:1 odds is 2-1=+1 die modifier. Now the player rolls 2d6, sums them and adds/subtracts any die modifiers. The final number is compared to the Land Combat Table to get the result. The use of die modifiers instead of column shifts makes for more dramatic shifts in combat results, but not so much that players feel they have no agency in the outcome.
Buried within this modified combat mechanism is where the little bit of chrome in The Lost Provinces game design resides. When it comes to Supply or Movement there is little difference between types of units, but in combat the type of unit and where the attack takes place becomes very important:
Units Out of Supply, whether attacking or defending, have their strength halved.
Armor units on the attack are doubled IF they attack into a hex that has no Jungle or Mountains.
Non-Artillery units attacking across rivers are halved.
Artillery units attacking a hex where the defender is not Dug-In are doubled.
Dug-In defenders are doubled.
Infantry in Mountain hexes are doubled on defense.
These six simple rules give combat decisions in The Lost Provinces much depth. Supply becomes important. Armor can be deadly if they catch the enemy in the open. Digging in for defense, especially behind a river, is powerful and hampers Artillery. Add to these decisions the geography of the battlefield which creates many natural funnels and you have a very dynamic combat situation.
There are two other aspects of The Lost Provinces that are simple mechanically but add depth to the decisions. First is Air Superiority. Every turn, the Thai player can designate a hex (and the six adjacent to it) for Air Superiority. Attacks taking place under this umbrella gain a +1 DM for the Thai player. Once per game, and only once per game, the French player can use their air force to contest Air Superiority in ONE hex. This “one shot” decision is critical for the French player – your air force only gets to help you once so you better make it worthwhile.
As an old naval Grognard, I am also happy to see Naval Combat in The Lost Provinces. In keeping with the simple game design, Naval Combat is highly abstracted. Players line up their ships, roll 2d6 and add the Gunnery Score of the unit. If the modified die roll is greater than the Armor score of the target it’s a hit. The side suffering the greater number of hits returns to port. Control of the Gulf of Siam is worth 1 Victory Point at game end.
I have to agree; the use of few traditional wargame mechanisms with a twist in The Lost Provinces takes what on the surface is a very simple game and makes decisions mean so much more. I haven’t used the phrase “simple elegance” in a while but I certainly need to when talking about this design. John Gorkowski has taken what at it’s core is a very simple, straight-forward, no-nonsense wargame design and added just enough nuanced twists to make it very interesting. This carefully-curated design certainly deserves more table time.
Command & Control (C2) and C2 Countermeasures (C2CM)
Capt. Hughes also writes on ‘What a Navy is for.’
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. – Hughes, p. 9
South China Sea: Modern Naval Conflict in the South Pacific, Compass Games, 2017
BLUF – South China Sea may be the best representation of modern missile combat at sea but suffers from a questionable political game and needs to be updated to keep pace with rapidly changing political, technological, and military developments.
The scenarios in South China Sea do not particularly focus on a reason for the conflict or what role naval forces really have, but instead seemingly make the assumption that that conflict between the USA and PRC is coming. Play in South China Sea consists of a series of 1-6 Political Turns (3-7 weeks of time) during which Armed Conflict may break out. If Armed Conflict occurs, the game transitions to Military Turns (defined as ‘several hours’ each).
It is possible that the Political Turns end without triggering Armed Conflict (see 4.47). The most important outcome of the Political Turns is the alignment (via Military Cooperation) of Regional Powers (The Philippines, Malaysia, and Vietnam).
[The alignment system immediately shows the fragility of designing a modern game. In almost every scenario, the rules have Malaysia aligning with the PRC, Vietnam aligning with the US, and the Philippines rolling a die to cast their fate. The usual spread on the die is 1-3 aligns with US, 4-5 stays neutral, and on a 6 aligns with the PRC. I have to wonder what the spread should be given current issues with the Duterte administration….]
Victory in South China Sea is a combination of the outcome of the Political Turns and the battles fought in the Military Turns. VP moves during Political Turns, and once battles start the standard Victory Points for Military Events focuses on destruction of enemy units or, in the case of the US, control of the Spratly Islands:
-1 For each ‘at-start’ PRC Spratly Islet hex controlled by US forces
-1 If the PRC fires the first strike
-1 For each PRC air, non-CV naval, or ground unit destroyed
-3 For each PRC CV destroyed
+5 For each US CVN destroyed
+1 If the US fires the first strike
+1 For each US air, non-CVN naval, or ground unit destroyed
[The final VP score is translated to a Regional Power Victory or Global Power Victory. Again, the design shows some fragility given the ever-changing geopolitical situation in the South China Sea and ASEAN.]
Few scenarios have modified VP but in general the standard numbers are used. For a game that starts with a very strategic, political view of the conflict the final victory determination (and the bulk of the scoring?) is very much focused on destruction of the enemy. There is little strategic insight to be gained from a play of South China Sea but if you are more operational or tactically-focused the interplay of the various units may yield more insights.
“Through maneuver the elements of a force attain positions over time.” – Hughes, p. 177
“Maneuver is tactical speed and agility” – Hughes, p. 179
“The fundamental tactical position is no longer defined by the geometric relationship of the opposing formations, but by an operational element: the early detection of the enemy.” Guiseppe Fioravanzo as quoted in Hughes, p. 179.
Maneuver in South China Sea is abstract in the Political Turns (some units may be placed on the map but generally the map is unused) and very simple in the Military Turns. There are few considerations. For instance, in the Air Movement Phase, aircraft can move up to double their Combat Radius but units that do so are marked Spent and cannot make another strike in the turn. As always there is an exception; in this case rule 5.551 Mid-Air Refueling which can be used once per game by each side. In the Sea Movement Phase it is very straight-forward with the only exception being submarines which can spend extra movement at the risk of Cavitation or chose to not move at all and increase their Stealth score (see Scouting/Anti-Scouting below).
Like most of sea movement, there is a strong interaction with the Scouting/Anti-Scouting elements of the design. The most important element of movement is actually 6.25 Intervention. Basically, ships that enter the Illumination Radius of a unit can be stopped. The Design Note on p. 15 under 6.25 is the best explanation:
The intervention mechanism does not represent actually stopping the other guy’s ships, rather it accounts for the stationary (non-phasing) side’s ability to respond to enemy movement. Without it, the simple I-go-You-go turn sequence would enable the currently moving player to literally ride circles around the enemy. With it, each side suffers a very realistic uncertainty about how far they can push before provoking a response. This rule allows for full moves (to speed play) when opposing units are far apart, but it curtails movement as units close range and more interaction becomes necessary.
“Firepower is the capacity to destroy an enemy’s ability to apply force.” Hughes, p. 175
“At sea the essence of tactical success has been the first application of effective offensive force.” – Hughes, p. 206
“Another recurring tendency, perhaps common enough to be called a constant, is to overestimate the effectiveness of weapons before a war.” -Hughes, p. 207
“In modern battle, ships and aircraft will be lost at an agonizing rate. but we observe no trend toward greater destructiveness; we see a continuation of naval combat’s decisive and destructive nature. – Hughes, p. 208.
Every unit is South China Sea is rated for combat in four warfare areas. Where applicable, each area is rated in terms of a Weapon System Score and if necessary a Weapon System Range (in hexes). All Naval, Aircraft, and Ground units are rated for:
G – Gun Strikes (Note – see Ground unit below)
U – Anti-Submarine
A/S – Anti-Surface
A/G – Anti-Ground
Naval units also can have a T- Torpedo rating. Aircraft units can add an Air-to-Air rating. Ground units have Combined Arms (CA) in place of the G-factor of Naval and Aircraft units.
Strikes in SCS are executed in a strict Air/Sea Engagement Sequence. The order of Strikes is predetermined with attacks executed in descending order of the attackers Stealth factor or by order of the particular Weapon System Factor:
Anti-Air Strikes (Air-to-Air vs Aircraft) / Stealth Order
Torpedo Strikes by Submarines (Submarine T vs ships or subs) / Stealth Order
Anti-Ship Strikes (AS vs ships) / Stealth Order
Anti-Submarine Strikes (U vs subs) / In U order
Gun Strikes (G vs ships, Air or Naval Bases) / In G order
Torpedo Strikes by Surface Units (Ship T vs ships or subs) / In T order
Anti-Ground Strikes (AG vs Ground Units, Air Bases, or Fort) / In AG order
Combined Arms Strikes (CA vs Ground Units or Fort) / By CA order within Artillery then Defender then Attacker.
The obvious advantage goes units with higher Stealth or Weapon System Score get to strike first, with the results of that strike immediately implemented, regardless of being the attacker or defender. This is very different from many naval wargames where the attacker often gets to strike first or where combat results are applied simultaneously.
“Counterforce is the capacity to reduce the effect of delivered firepower.” – Hughes, p. 175
“While the success of defense against firepower has waxed and waned and at present is on the wane, the importance of diluting or destroying enemy offensive firepower continues.” – Hughes, p. 208.
“The prominent trend in defense is away from survivability through armor, compartmentation, bulk, and damage control. and toward cover, deception, and dispersion.” – Hughes, p. 186
Important to understanding these discussions is the way a fleet tactician looks at defensive force. Defensive systems collectively act like a filter (not a wall, or Maginot Line) that extracts a certain number of incoming aircraft or missiles. As it is able, a hull absorbs hits and allows a warship to conduct curtailed offensive operations.” – Hughes, p. 192
Counterforce in South China Sea takes three forms, Stealth, Steps and the Defense Score.
Stealth in effect represent the ‘Information Warfare’ elements of cyber and EW as many Strikes are resolved in Stealth order conferring an advantage to units with a greater score. Stealth not only effects the chances of successfully evading a Strike, but also where in the Strike order the unit acts – a better Stealth score is highly advantageous.
Steps represent both hits and a breakdown of units. A player can use Consolidation or Breakdown on two-step (only) units to combine, or break up, those units.
The Defense Score comes in two flavors; Missile Defense and ‘intrinsic.’ Some units have an Area Missile Defense (AMD) value that can protect other friendly units:
AMD scores represent area defense systems built around phased array radar such as those carried by US Navy Arleigh Burke destroyers and the People’s Liberation Army Navy Lu Yang III destroyers. AMD provides very accurate, supersonic interceptor missiles (and maybe one day lasers or rail gun projectiles) to shoot down incoming missiles tens of miles away. The very simplified anti-aircraft fire of AMD accounts for its ability to down enemy planes without having to get lost in details about which stand-off weapon was fired from where by each aircraft. Design Note, p. 13
[Again, this relatively recent design is already showing its age. What about attacks using hypersonic weapons? Should the MD or AMD score be reduced, and if so, by how much?]
“Scouts deliver tactical information about the enemy’s position, movements, vulnerabilities, strengths, and, in the best of worlds, intentions.” – Hughes, p. 175
“The goal is scouting is to help get weapons within range and aim them.” -Hughes, p. 193
“It seems pedestrian to say that scouting has always been an important constant of war. Perhaps the way to put it is this: winners have outscouted the enemy in detection, in tracking, and in targeting. At sea better scouting – more than maneuver, as much as weapons range, and oftentimes as much as anything else – has determined who would attack not merely effectively, but who would attack decisively first.” – Hughes, p. 212
In South China Sea, Scouting is accounted for in rule 5.4 Situational Awareness: Illumination, Evasion, and Hiding, rule 6.25 Intervention, rule 6.41 Focus, and rule 6.42 Evasion. SCS starts with a major assumption about detection as found in the Design Note for rule 5.4:
The modern air-sea-land battle space is awash in electromagnetic radiation that has enhanced detection capabilities and made stealth paramount to survival. Drones with modern detection technology ensure that units will have situational awareness well beyond the limits of old fashioned ship based radar even after satellites are knocked out. These rules account for this new dynamic.
[Ah…but don’t those drones also rely on satellites for control and communications? What if those satellites are gone?]
Rule 5.41 directly addresses the Gods-Eye issue:
Although players can see all their pieces on the map, those pieces have varying degrees of awareness of each other. Illumination is the key to awareness. Evasion describes how pieces escape detection. Hiding is avoiding illumination altogether.
Rule 5.44 allows for ‘hidden’ units. Basically, a hidden unit is not on the map and, “…do not assert control, do not illuminate, cannot intervene, cannot strike, cannot provide their AMD to friendly units, etc. Nor can they be targeted for strikes.”
As noted under Maneuver above, the non-phasing player can use rule 6.25 Intervention to ‘stop’ the phasing player’s movement. This in turn allows a player to Focus (rule 6.41) on a hex in order to strike it. Using a F2T2EA (Find-Fix-Track-Target-Engage-Assess) construct, the default map condition is ‘Find-Fix’ and Focus is ‘Track-Target.’ If the targeted units fail to evade (rule 6.42 Evasion) they are attacked.
“Antiscouts destroy, disrupt, or slow enemy scouts.” – Hughes, p. 175
“As the destructiveness and range of weapons grew, the means of surviving enemy attacks diminished and emphasis shifted to reducing the enemy’s scouting effectiveness.” – Hughes, p. 197
“Antiscouting by cover, deception, and evasion would now aim at limiting detection, tracking, or targeting.” – Hughes, p. 197
In South China Sea a unit can avoid Intervention and Focus by evading. Both uses of evasion utilize the same mechanic; roll 2d6 adding the evading units Stealth score and an amount equal to one-half the range to the nearest enemy unit. If the roll is greater than 11 the unit has successfully evaded. Note that units that evade remain in the targeted hex but do not participate in Strikes. They also cannot illuminate targets, cannot be targeted by Strikes, cannot be hit, and cannot use their AMD score to defend other friendly units.
“Command decides what is needed from forces and control transforms needs into action. These are processes. C2 systems are defined, perhaps a bit artificially, as the equipment and organizations by which the processes are performed.” – Hughes, p. 176
“A tactical commander uses C2 to allocate his forces for four activities: firepower delivery, counterforce delivery, scouting, and anti-scouting.” – Hughes, p. 176
“A modern tactical commander will expend relatively less of his energy on planning for and delivering firepower, and relatively more on planning and executing his scouting efforts and forestalling that of the enemy with antiscouting and C2 countermeasures.” – Hughes, p. 201-202.
For the most part, C2 in South China Sea is abstracted out of the game. All units are always commanded; there is no Information Warfare ‘strike’ in the game. 5.34 Stacking, 5.35 Air Basing, and 5.36 Naval Ports impose some restrictions on how combat units are organized.
That said, commanders will have to decide when a unit needs to evade (given the restrictions that come with that condition) and when a unit Strikes. Once a unit Strikes it is Spent and cannot participate in a later Strike in the Air/Sea Engagement Sequence (with AMD-capable defenders being a notable exception).
The Stealth score of a unit is used when sequencing strikes. Most Strikes are executed in the descending order of the Stealth score. The higher the Stealth score the earlier in the Strike Sequence one can operate.
C2CM (Command & Control Countermeasures)
“Command and control countermeasures (C2CM) are steps to limit the enemy’s ability to decide (command) and disseminate decisions (control). – Hughes, p. 176
Like C2, C2CM in South China Sea is heavily abstracted. The closest thing to a C2CM factor is the Stealth score which is used to avoid Intervention and Focus.
I really like how Stealth and Missile Defense are represented in South China Sea. I feel like this game (as presaged in Breaking the Chains) is the first ‘modern’ naval warfare game to get missile combat ‘right.’ That said, the game is not without its problems.
I also question the ‘rosy’ view of detection used in the game. With the recent creation of SPAAAACCCE FORRRRRCCE (!!!) the assumption that the space domain is automatically available is, well, a questionable assumption at best.
As with any modern game, it is hard to keep up with the times. One glaring omission I see in South China Sea is Anti-Ship Ballistic Missiles (ASBM). Even Breaking the Chains had a rule on the Chinese ASBM so I was very surprised to NOT see it here.
Although the Chinese seem to be calling Nanchang a ‘destroyer,’ it almost anywhere else it would be a cruiser. Here is a datasheet on the ship that accompanied the commissioning ceremony:
In South China Sea, designer John Gorkowski identifies this class of ships as ‘CG TYPE 55.’ Here is the counter for the ship in the game:
The Quick Reference Card in South China Sea tells us how to decode the counter. It is also useful as we can compare the CG TYPE 55 to the US Navy ‘CG TICONDEROGA.’ Fair warning here – I did not assist in the development of South China Sea so I actually do not have any ‘official’ insight into how the various factors were decided upon. What follows is my interpretation of the factors in South China Sea and how they relate to the announced capabilities of the Type 055 destroyer.
Let’s first start by looking across the bottom of the CG TYPE 55 counter. The first factor is Gun – rated a 2. The Type 055 has a single 130mm gun forward. The Ticonderoga has 2x Mk45 5″/45 caliber lightweight guns. Although the guns are somewhat similar there are no half-factors in SCS so 2 seems fair.
U (Underwater) – 2: Very similar to the US TICO-class, the Type 055 is credited with a bow-mounted High/Medium-frequency sonar and a towed Variable Depth Sonar (VDS) as well as two helicopters. While Ticonderoga’s have torpedo tubes, the Type 055 carries the ‘CJ-5″ ASW rocket/missile. The U rating of 2 seems fair.
A/S (Anti-Surface) – 4 Range 6. The Type 055 is credited with carrying the YJ-18 anti-ship missile. According to US government sources, the YJ-18 has a range of 290nm, or 6.4 hexes in South China Sea. Although the missile is subsonic, the warhead of between 140-300kg mass is delivered by a supersonic sprint vehicle. A lethality rating of4seems fair although I worry that it may be underrated as compared to the Harpoon (4 Range 5) used by the US Navy. Recommendation: CHANGE the A/S rating to 5 Range 6 (Optional).
A/G (Anti-Ground) – 4 Range 10. The Type 055 is supposed to carry the CJ-10 cruise missile. Most sources give this missile a range of 1,500+ kilometers (809nm). In South China Sea-terms this would be a range of 17.7 hexes – well in excess of the 10 shown on the ship counter. The US Navy TLAM missile flies between 700-900nm – 15.5 to 20 hexes in SCS – but is only credited with a range of 12 (~2/3rds of max range?). Using that very rough rule, the CJ-10 could be range 12. As for lethality; the CJ-10 appears comparable to the Tomahawk so a lethality rating of 4 again appears reasonable. Recommendation: CHANGE ‘CG Type 55’ A/G rating to 4 Range 12.
Let us now turn to the combat factors on the upper right, Missile Defense and Torpedo. In South China Sea the CG TYPE 55 is given a Torpedo rating of 2. Yet, on the factsheet, no torpedo tubes appear. An oversight in the datasheet? Look for other sources….
The CG TYPE 55 is rated a 9 for Missile Defense. This is in part because of the 4-panel S-Band AESA multifunction radar with X-Band rotating AESA radars supporting the HHQ-9 anti-air missile. Note the color of the Missile Defense rating – black. In South China Sea, ships with a Missile Defense rating in RED, like US Navy Aegis-equipped ships, are capable of Area Missile Defense:
5.81 Units with MD scores printed in red have Area Missile Defense (AMD). AMD functions like MD (missile defense) but can also protect other friendly units while also threatening enemy air units in the same and adjacent hexes. Air units in air to air combat are the one exception; they are not protected by an AMD score.
5.82 Therefore, with the exception of air units in air to air combat, a targeted friendly unit can always cite the red AMD score of a friendly AMD-capable unit that is in the same or an adjacent hex and engaged in the current engagement. Any number of units can call on the same AMD any number of times.
These newer ships use modern combat management systems and air surveillance sensors, such as the Sea Eagle and Dragon Eye phased-array radars. These new units allow the PLAN surface force to operate outside shore-based air defense systems because one or two ships are equipped to provide air defense for the entire task group. (p. 70)
This makes a good case that the MD rating of the CG TYPE 55 should be a red AMD factor. As far as the lethality number? A factor of 9 seems a good place to start. Recommendation: CHANGE the MD factor to RED.
The numbers to the upper left of the counter are Move and Stealth. The Move factor is in line with what is expected of ships like this so we will leave that be. In South China Sea, Stealth is used to evade contact. When a unit enters the Illumination Range of a unit (5 hexes for a surface naval unit) the unit must stop and make an evasion roll (2d6 + Stealth). If the roll is greater than 11 the unit has evaded detection and can continue movement. In the case of the CG TYPE 55 a Stealth rating of 3 is very good, even better than the Stealth rating of 2 for US Arleigh Burke-class DDGs. Indeed, the much smaller Freedom-class has a Stealth factor of 3. Looking at the pictures of the Nanchang, there is some radar shaping but there are also some good radar-bouncing areas. To my (untrained) eye it looks more like an Arleigh Burke. Recommendation: CHANGE the Stealth rating of the CG TYPE 55 to 2.
There is one last ‘factor’ I want point out; the number of Steps for the CG TYPE 55. See those three boxes between the Move/Stealth and Missile Defense/Torpedo? The CG TYPE 55 is a three Step unit, more so than the CG TICONDEROGA with two-Steps. A multi-step unit is flipped on the first hit and destroyed when the number of hits equals the number of Steps. At full load a Ticonderoga weighs in at 9,600 tons, a bit smaller than the 13,000 full load tons of the Type 055 destroyer. Is that extra 30% worth an entire extra Step? Another consideration is the state of damage control training in the PLAN. When I see a Step in SCS I don’t just see how many ‘hit points’ the ship has but also how well the crew is trained to save the ship. The US Navy is amongst the best in the world and, to be frank, there are questions as to the real technical competence of the average PLAN sailor. My gut tells me that giving the CG TYPE 55 three Steps is too generous. Recommendation: CHANGE the number of Steps on the CG TYPE 55 to 2.
I want to be very clear that in making this ‘reassessment’ of the CG TYPE 55 in South China Sea I am categorically NOT saying the original version is flawed. Mr. Gorkowski, in taking on a modern subject like South China Sea, is at the mercy of publicly available information. Even in the few short years since South China Sea was first published, the information available has changed significantly. You can play a scenario with the out-of-the-box CG TYPE 55 or, if you want, look at my attempt to update. Whatever way you chose to play just make sure you are having fun while you do it!
SUMMER IS NOT THE BEST TIME for boardgames or wargames in the RockyMountainNavy house. There are so many outdoor activities to be had and family events on the weekend that games get pushed to the back burner. So it was for August in the RockyMountainNavy home. I recorded a measly 13 plays of 9 different games…my worst month in almost two years of recording plays.
The best family night game was a long overdue session of 1812: Invasion of Canada (Academy Games, 2012). With the beginning of the school year and a return to a somewhat normal cycle of weekend family games I am sure that the many Birth of America / Birth of Europe-series titles will land on the table regularly.
On a recommendation at CONNECTIONS 2019 I picked up Cowboy Bebop: Boardgame Boogie (Jasco Games, 2019). I haven’t written up my thought yet but (spoiler alert…again) this tune is a bit flat to me.
I attended CONNECTIONS 2019, the professional wargaming conference in mid-August. I have yet to compose all my thoughts but I did get to see a bit of wargame history with Upton’s US Infantry Tactical Apparatus.
Looking ahead, designer John Gorkowski was kind enough to send me an e-kit to playtest with for the next game in South China Sea-series from Compass Games. Indian Ocean Region is already available for preorder and this is my chance to try and influence the game and make it better for everyone.
As mentioned before, the return to school means a return to a more regular schedule of gaming. I also still have several games in my 2019 CSR, Origins, and GameGeek Challenges to complete before the end of the year.
Every year, the US Department of Defense must prepare a report to Congress titled “Annual Report on Military and Security Developments Involving the People’s Republic of China,”
The report shall address the current and probable future course of military-technological development of the People’s Liberation Army and the tenets and probable development of Chinese security strategy and military strategy, and of the military organizations and operational concepts supporting such development over the next 20 years. The report shall also address United States-China engagement and cooperation on security matters during the period covered by the report, including through United States-China military-to-military contacts, and the United States strategy for such engagement and cooperation in the future.
Making a modern wargame is difficult as so much changes so rapidly. The hardest part may be the military hardware since games are based on open sources and not privy to the latest classified assessments. Wargames may rapidly become OBE and not of relevancy (and interest).
South China Sea does not suffer from this problem, at least yet. This may be because SCS actually is two games, one political and one military.
As I read the 2018 China Military Power Report, I found myself flipping through the Political Cards in SCS. I found many cards directly related to events in the Report. Previously, I stated that I found the Political Turn in SCS not necessarily to my liking. After looking at the Report and comparing it to the SCSPolitical Cards I now see that the game actually does a very good job at capturing the political factors around the issue. Indeed, if one really wants to understand why a fight may happen in the South China Sea, one really needs to play the Political Turns in SCS and not just focus on the military.
That is not to say the military is not important. The Report also lays out the high-level factors related to combat in the South China Sea. The Report makes it clear that China is on a ship-building spree; a spree that may not be fully captured in SCS. While one can argue about the order of battle in the game, the underlying truth is that the game system accounts for the growth of the PLAN. More importantly to wargamers, the underlying combat mechanics of the Military Turn in SCS, that of detection and strike, remains a useful model of modern naval conflict.
Let me be clear up front – I generally like South China Sea but wish it was better. I honestly have little room to complain as I was a marginal participant in the open playtest designer John Gorkowski ran. I did a pass through the original rules draft and provided comments to John. Unfortunately, I was unable to stay involved. So in a sense I had my chance to influence the game before publication and failed. I should be happy with what the product is; and like I said I generally am. That said, I still have conflicts!
South China Sea(hereafter SCS) is a combination of two games played out in Political Turns and Military Turns. Political Turns represent 3-7 weeks of international action. If (when?) conflict erupts, the game transitions to Military Turns representing several hours of combat operations.
This is SCS‘s first conflict; is it a political or military game? Political Turns are played using a deck of cards. Some cards are playable only by Global Powers (US and China) while others can only be played by the Regional Powers (Malaysia, Vietnam, The Philippines). Card play moves the Victory Point Track which starts at 10VP. Moving down the track (minus VP) is good for the US, while moving up the track (positive VP) is good for China. So for the US to win they have to have less VP. [Forgive me for being an American, but having less VP seems counterintuitive to me.]
My second conflict with SCS is Armed Conflict, specifically how it happens. Certain cards call for a Roll for Armed Conflict which, if failed, moves the game to Military Turns. Now, I guess I can see how (few) cards affect the initial set-up, but it is few. I am not sure the balance between the Political Turns and Military Turns in really there; the Roll for Armed Conflict seems to be a rush to get the “forces to sea” and start the fight.
My third conflict with SCS is the Military Turns themselves. I am conflicted here because I actually really like the Military Turn Sequence and how it uses rules for Situational Awareness. Although units on the map are “spotted,” they must be Illuminated to be targeted. Evasion is how units escape Illumination, and Hiding is avoiding Illumination. These rules are a simple way to portray the battle to locate the other side. Combined with a very simple Strike mechanic (2d6 + Weapon System Score +/- Modifiers vs Defense Score or Missile Defense) combat is resolved quickly. The Air/Sea Engagement Sequence captures the order of Strikes with Stealth Rating vitally important as most Strikes are resolved in descending order of Stealth Rating. Thus, the Stealth Rating (3) F-35 fires first against the Stealth Rating (2) J-31. Simple mechanics makes for simple combat resolution while maintaining the feel of modern naval combat.
My fourth conflict in SCS are the game components, specifically the map and counters. The counters feel a bit “thin” for my taste and are graphically very crowded. Having all the information needed to play on the counter face is very helpful but I and not sure you want to risk any corner clippers with these! The map is more problematic. Look below:
Although hard to see there are actually two map sheets. They do not butt against each other, but actually overlap by 5 hexes. Why? None of the scenarios are single mappers…so why the large overlap? Note also the littoral and sea hexes to the west of Myanmar. Why? Bangkok is not used in any scenario (Thailand is not a playable country) so is this for a future expansion? Another part that bothers me is the placement of the Guam and Okinawa Transit Tracks…on the northwest part of the map or away from where the US player is likely to sit (for it seems to me the logical seating would be PRC to the north, US to the south, Vietnam west, The Philippines to the northeast, and Malaysia to the southeast). Thus the Transit Tracks are about as far away from the US player as they could be. To my untrained eye it seems to me that west edge of the map could be five hexes closer and added to the east edge giving space to move the Transit Tracks to the same side of the map as the entry hexes.
I played a solo game to experiment with the rules and learn the game system. Although the Political Turns are not really soloable, in my effort to experiment with the system I played through a sample game assuming that:
China’s overarching goal was to assert sovereignty in the SCS
The US opposed China and wanted Freedom of Navigation
Malaysia generally supported the Chinese
Vietnam generally supported the US
The Philippines was focused inward (but leaned to the US)
After the cards were dealt I “played” out the first round. The Chinese led by publishing a negative Human Rights Report on the US but it didn’t shift world opinion. US companies in the meanwhile made a major Gas/Oil Find in the SCS and gained 2VP while avoiding armed conflict. Embassy Demonstrations in Malaysia were ignored, and a Humanitarian Disaster in Vietnam allowed the US to place one Arleigh Burke DDG near Cam Rahn Bay. The Philippines tried appeal for ASEAN Solidarity and when supported by Vietnam pushed the VP further to the US side. Of note, the VP Track starts at 10 VP with less VP good for the US and more VP favoring China. At the end of the first Political Turn the VP had moved 4VP towards the US (6VP on the track). In the Political Negotiation Phase, I simulated the give-n-take by trading cards since the Global Powers had cards they could not play and vice-versa for the Regional Powers.
In the second Political Turn the Chinese led off with a High Level Visit to Malaysia but again failed to move the Victory Track. The US played Economic Sanctions and, with the support of Vietnam and The Philippines, shifted the VP again (now at 5VP). Malaysia invited China for a Combined Military Exercise but it backfired and shifted world opinion further towards the US (VP track now at 4VP!). Not wanting to risk a conflict while things were going well for their patron, both Vietnam and The Philippines passed (discard). In the Political Negotiation Phase a few more cards were traded.
Trying to get something back, the Chinese declared a major Gas/Oil Find and shifted 2VP in their favor while avoiding armed conflict. The US played a High Level Visit that fizzled (no change in VP) and Malaysia passed (discard) while trying to avoid igniting a conflict. The Vietnamese instigated a Embassy Demonstration outside the of the PRC consulate but again the world ignored. The Philippines then tried to buy arms (Arms Sales) from the US, which agreed, and moved the VP marker to 2VP. However, the roll for armed conflict failed and the game moved to Military Turns.
Of note, playing strictly by the RAW and with 5-players and factoring in Analysis Paralysis, this card play portion of the game might of been 45 minutes or more. That’s assuming 2-minutes per card play and the 10-minute Negotiation Phase at the end of each 5-card round. All this interaction placed exactly one unit on the map in my game.
The scenario being played was Scenario 1: Clash of the Flattops. This pits a US Carrier Strike Group (CVN with F-35s escorted by DDG and a Virginia SSN in loose company) versus two Chinese CV with J-31 and J-15 navalized fighters and escorts supported by a Song/Yuan SS. The scenario calls for six Military Turns.
Combat was…quick. By the end of the third Military Turn the Chinese strike against the US carrier group had failed and the Americans refused to enter the range of SSMs on Hainan. One Chinese CV and both naval fighter squadrons were destroyed at the cost of one Vietnamese fighter squadron. Seeing no way to win, I declared a cease-fire in the Military Negotiation Phase at the end of the third Military Turn. The total play time for the Military Turns was maybe 30 minutes.
As a longtime fan, collector, and player of Victory Games’ Fleet Series, it is inevitable that I compare SCS to the Fleet Series. SCS, with its simple Strike resolution mechanic and superior Air/Sea Engagement Sequence is a faster playing, more streamlined game than the Fleet Series that also seemingly better captures the feel of modern naval combat. But SCS – at least this first iteration – seems to lack the some of the depth that the Fleet Series has. I admit that more depth may mean more “chrome” on the game and more rules overhead and time to play. I think it may be worth it as the “bones” of SCS (Situational Awareness, Strike, and the Air/Sea Engagement Sequence) are strong.
Finally, there are two other (very) small quibbles I have with SCS. The first is the subtitle and the reference to “South Pacific.” I’m sorry – when I think of the South Pacific I think of it in terms of World War II and the South China Sea is NOT part of that definition. Second, there is this section of the publisher’s blurb,
Most important, SCS allows naval units to move more than one hex in a single turn, but includes a mechanism, based on stealth, that enables the other side to “check” multi-hex moves to create a more dynamic, variable, and volatile environment. This last adjustment allows quick moves at a distance, but prevents close-in ships from “jumping” through the beaten zone of modern anti-ship cruise missiles (ASCM), 290 nmi in some cases.
In all my time as a naval grognard and while on active duty as a naval officer I never heard the term “beaten zone” used with ASCMs. “Engagement Zone” maybe, but not beaten zone. In my mind I associate beaten zone with artillery and the Army. Maybe I’m behind the times….