Invasion Taipei -or- TAIPEI: The Communist Invasion of Taiwan, 2000 -or- Taipei: China Invades (Decision Games, Strategy & Tactics 202, 2000)

What’s in a name? Apparently, when Decision Games went to publish Joseph Miranda’s operational-level simulation of a hypothetical mainland Chinese invasion of Taiwan they couldn’t decide on a title. Invasion Taipei appears on the cover. TAIPEI: The Communist Invasion of Taiwan, 2000 was on the rule book. Taipei: China Invades is the BoardGameGeek listing. After looking at the over, with two of three photos showing naval action, my comments on the game posted to BGG showed further confusion:

This is a game of GROUND combat on Taiwan. Three other (major) factors of the battle are abstracted: Information Warfare, Air Warfare, and Naval Warfare. IO is treated as an operational overview using IW points. The air module is something akin to Crisis: Korea 1995 or the Fleet series. Naval warfare is TOTALLY abstracted out. For me, these three components are even MORE important than the land battle, hence my lower rating for inappropriate focus.

This week I relooked at Taipei and have some different thoughts.

In [1.0] INTRODUCTION, the claim is made that “The game simulates the full range of modern operational level warfare, including land, air and information operations.” Note the lack of naval. There are naval aspects to the game but they are heavily abstracted. The focus of the game is the fighting ashore in Taiwan. Combat focuses on ground and air units. For the most part, this campaign is presented using a somewhat standard hex & counter wargame approach.

The real difference in Taipei is the Information Warfare rules. IW in the game comes in two flavors, C4I and Information Warfare. First, certain units are given a C4I Rating. Units with a C4I rating can execute Infiltration Movement (move from one enemy Zone of Control – ZOC – to another ZOC). They also have a choice of which Combat Results Table (CRT) they want to use (there are three in the game). Most powerfully, units with a C4I Rating and “In Command” gain a second impulse to move and fight.

The Advanced Rules Game includes [25.0] INFORMATION WARFARE. This form of IW takes two forms; missions (such as EW, PSYOPS, or OPSEC) – what the military commonly calls EW & Cyber today –  and the Information Warfare Index. The IW Index is a balance of world opinion, political support, and media access for both sides. Executing IW missions affects units on the battlefield. The IW Index is shifted based on Direct Action; a shifting of points up or down the index based on battlefield actions and results. Each player strives for IW Dominance which add Political Points.

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IW Attack Table and Direct Action Effects Chart

Political Points leads to the victory conditions and probably one of the most confusing parts of the game for me to grasp. In concept it looks simple. To start with there are no Victory Points to track. Instead, there are two types of victory in Taipei; military and political. A Military Victory is straight-forward – occupy both Taipei city hexes AND at east three other city hexes AND at least two port towns. A Political Victory is a bit more complicated. A Political Victory occurs if, at the end of the game, one player has at least twice as many Political Points as their opponent. Political Points are earned by adding the cost taken in the Scenario Options PLUS 50 points for IW Dominance. Grokking the interaction between Political Points and Scenario Options and the IW Index takes a bit of work. Not helping is the fact the IW Index is not included in any table or on the map. My IW Index was found on Grognard.com.

The “game thesis” of Taipei appears to be a simulation of the then-current thinking about the Revolution in Military Affairs. In this case, Miranda focused on the advantages a C4I-enabled force would bring to the battlefield. Thus, the US forces have a C4I advantage while only a few allied units can fully integrate. The Chinese forces, on the other hand, are far more numerous but, with very few exceptions, lack the C4I to compete with the Coalition. Outside of Information Warfare, Miranda approached the battle in very conservative, conventional terms. The third CRT is names the AirLand Battle CRT – clearly a throwback to the 1980’s AirLand Battle concept from Europe and executed in the 1990’s in DESERT STORM. Taipei does not take on the then-emerging concept of Anti-Access/Area Denial (A2AD) – the naval campaign just to get to Taiwan.

Looking at Taipei through this narrower lens, in this case as only a simulation of a C4I-enabled force fighting a non-C4I enemy, the game makes more sense. After one play I am not sure one can draw too many lessons from the game. Given its age, that may be too much to ask. Then again, AirLand Battle is making a bit of a comeback. Instead, I probably need to accept Taipei for what is is; a time capsule of then-contemporary thinking of the impact of information warfare on the battlefield.

 

Strategy & Tactics Quarterly Issue #1 (Spring 2018 Premier Issue) – Caesar: Veni – Vidi – Vici

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Courtesy Strategy & Tactics Press

In my experience, wargaming magazines have been a hit-or-miss affair. Many times the magazines are nothing more than “house rags” – publications devoted to a single publisher and focused exclusively (or near-exclusively) on their games. The old Avalon Hill The General was much like this, as was C3i Ops from GMT Games (now RBM Studio).

And then there were the wargame magazines. Publications like Strategy & Tactics. Magazines with games in them! Taking about those games will be another post for today I want to focus on the newest S&T publication, a brand new magazine called Strategy & Tactics Quarterly.

In the premier issue, the publisher has added the following note:

Welcome to the launch of a new magazine with a new format. This magazine is a stepping stone for military history magazine readers who are interested in going beyond stories to examine and understand the how and why of military history. We analyze the actual operations and maneuvers as well as alternative plans and possibilities. A Lessons Learned section summarizes how the topic and outcome influenced later events and why certain principles and techniques are still important today. Each in-depth issue focuses on one topic by a single author and includes over 20 detailed maps plus one large map poster. We also include an annotated bibliography for further reading as well as an overview of other media and games on the topic. – Christopher ‘Doc’ Cummins

The premier issue focuses on Julius Caesar. The issue author is Joseph Miranda, a longtime associate of Strategy & Tactics. Weighing in at a meaty 112 pages, the issue is divided into three major sections; I Caeser’s World, II Caesar Conquers, and III Caesar Triumphant.

Inside one finds lavish illustrations, images, the usual high-quality S&T maps. I especially like the addition of a timeline along many pages to help me track the many events as I read about them. The level of detail is not enough to make a wargame scenario, but it can provide deeper background to an existing game. The pull-out poster is double sided with one side being a map and the other a description of forces with lots of text. Makes it easy to decide which side to show when hanging….

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Poster Map for S&T Quarterly Issue #1 – Caesar

The writing is pretty good but I see nothing dramatically “revisionist” or “new” in the analysis. In some ways I am disappointed; a cursory look at the sources reveal very few “modern sources” – that is – unless Osprey Publishing books from the mid 2000’s counts as “recent.” Maybe this is not a real negative because the target audience is a more pedestrian reader. I know that the presentation draws my high school and early college boys to read the magazine. That is certainly one definition of success….

I am a bit disappointed that the only wargames mentioned are all S&T products, but I guess that is expected as this is an S&T publication.

According to the back of this issue, future topics include, “America in WWI, Battle of Stalingrad, World War III What-ifs, and the French Foreign Legion.” An interesting selection of topics; one standard (Stalingrad), one tied to a historical anniversary (100th Anniversary of WWI ending), one hypothetical (WWIII) and one narrow (French Foreign Legion). A print subscription is $44.99 for 1 year/4 issues or $79.99 for 2 years/8 issues. That’s a lot of value for $10-11 an issue (and a small savings off the $14.99 cover price). S&T Press also offers a digital option at $14.99 for 2 issues / $29.99 for 4 issues. I tried the digital subscription for S&T Magazine before and didn’t like it because it was too hard to read all those great maps!

In the end I will probably keep buying S&T Quarterly if for no other reason than breezy historical reading and sharing with the RMN Boys.

#WargameWednesday – Decision Games Air War Series

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Courtesy BGG

I recently was able to pick up three games in the Air War Series designed by Joseph Miranda and published by Decision Games. These are (in order of publication) Eagle Day: The Battle of Britain (2012), Cactus Air Force: Air War Over the Solomons (2012), and MiG Alley: Air War Over Korea 1951 (2015). The back cover of MiG Alley describes all three games in general:

The game uses the Air Wars series rules. Aircraft are rated according to type. Fuel consumption is factored into the plane types, so a player must manage the available forces to ensure enough combat power is ready when needed. Each player has a unique set of campaign cards generating movement, combat bonuses, historical events, and reinforcements. Playing the right card at the right time is crucial to winning.

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MiG Alley – Courtesy BGG

Each game is packaged in DGs Mini Game Series format. These introductory games come with an 11″x17″ map, 40 (small) die-cut counters, 18 (small) campaign cards, four-page series rules, and two-page scenario rules. Each game is of Very Low complexity and can be played in 1-2 hours.

The timescale is most realistic in Eagle Day (Days-Hours) but more abstracted in Cactus Air Force (Months-Hours(?)) and MiG Alley (Partial Months- Hours). Working past the non-sensical timescale, each turn consists of a Planning Phase (Days/Months/Part Months)  and Operations Phase (expressed in Hours). Each Planning Phase consists of Campaign Card draw (and occasionally play), Replacements, and Reinforcements. In the Operations Phase, players take turns using Campaign Cards, moving, fighting, and bombing.

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Courtesy BGG

Each game is a simple representation of an air campaign, a level of warfare notoriously difficult to game/simulate. In my collection, Eagle Day occupies a similar game space to John Butterfield’s solitaire RAF and Lee Brimmicombe-Wood’s The Burning Blue. Eagle Day, and the others, easily falls at the lowest end of the complexity spectrum – like the Mini Games series intends to do.

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Courtesy BGG

Of the three games, I think the abstractions in the Air War series make Eagle Day the weakest game. There is no game mechanic for scrambling aircraft meaning as the Intruder Player the German often can catch British fighters on the ground. In Cactus Air Force, the small unit count (limited by the 40-counter game limit) leads to a very balanced combat situation, and I don’t find the “desperate struggle” like that related in Lundstrom’s The First Team and the Guadalcanal  Campaign or Prados’ Islands of Destiny: The Solomons Campaign and the Eclipse of the Rising Sun. On the other hand, MiG Alley seems to evoke the right feeling of the air campaign with few North Korean and Chinese jets beating up on hapless lumbering B-29s while the new American jets – never in enough numbers – try to take over the bombing campaign.

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Cactus Air Force – Courtesy BGG

Each game is very affordable ($12.99 retail). This is both positive (affordable) and negative (limited components). Decision Games is also what I term these days a “classic” wargame publisher. The Mini Game Series are classic hex-n-counter wargames. The only real innovative feature beyond a “classic” wargame is the use of Campaign Cards to create scenario variability and fog-of-war.

 

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Courtesy wargamecenter

(Which makes me think just how great a candidate these games are for the simple “block” treatment. The game is already two-player, and most counters are double-sided with a generic “Based” on one side (representing the planes on the ground) and the actual aircraft on the other. If the board was enlarged and blocks used it would avoid the inevitable ‘gotta flip the counters to see what I really have there’ syndrome by allowing the counters to be stood on edge with the “Based” side facing the opponent while still allowing the owner to see the aircraft. When flying, the block is placed aircraft face-up. Of course, this would raise the price-point of the game but….)

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Courtesy BGG

As much as I sound negative, I actually am very happy I bought these games. The games will serve as good “filler” or introductory (teaching) games and are small enough to travel easily. If one desires simple, small, easy to learn and short to play classic wargames with just a few “innovations,” the Air War series of Mini Games from Decision Games are good candidates to put on your wish list.

 

RockyMountainNavy Verdict: BUY and PLAY for travel games but manage expectations.