The Bear and the Jackal is an expansion for LnL’s tactical game, Heroes Against the Red Star. This expansion deals with the Soviet war in Afghanistan during the 1980s. It’s great to see wargames that deal with this conflict because even though it seems to have faded into public obscurity, it is one of the most fascinating wars in modern history – not so much for the usual reasons, but because of how important this conflict was for shaping the world as we know it today. So before I get into the game itself, let me talk a little bit more about this.
The First Domino: Afghanistan
In December of 1979, the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan in a bid to keep its puppet government in Kabul from being overthrown by a growing but determined insurgency in the countryside.
It wouldn’t take long for the shock waves to be felt around the world.
The West was unanimous in its condemnation of the Soviet invasion. US President Jimmy Carter boycotted the 1980 Moscow Olympics, announced punitive sanctions, and began a trade embargo. But this was just the beginning. Though it wasn’t obvious at the time, this was only the first link in a chain of events that would shape the coming decade.
For better or worse, the invasion of Afghanistan served as a political lightning rod throughout the 1980s and was used to confirm what conservatives had always asserted:
The Russians were big. They were bad. They were coming for us all. Afghanistan was just the start.
The invasion of Afghanistan wiped away long-held liberal assertions that detente was a necessary and sustainable strategy in light of the Vietnam War hangover of the 1970s. Reagan was elected in 1980 on a rising tide of patriotic resurgence that rode on the back of traditional conservative values and a pledge to revitalize America’s role as the premier force of moral good and order in the world.
Perhaps nowhere was this newfound moral certitude more evident than in movies like Rambo III, which depicted the Mujahideen as valiant freedom fighters battling against the evils of oppression. But western support for the Afghan insurgency was also material in nature. Generous shipments of Stinger anti-aircraft missiles began in the mid-80s courtesy of Uncle Sam and soon enough, Hind helicopters began dropping out of the sky.
The Soviets, who were already looking for a way out of the quagmire, now faced a well-armed and emboldened enemy in a foreign land that had known only war for a thousand years. The longer the war dragged on, the more it served to erode trust in Soviet leadership at home. Abroad, it completely demolished the aura of moral superiority the USSR had enjoyed during the years of the Vietnam War. The Soviets keenly understood this problem and looked desperately to military solutions that would stabilize the government and allow them to withdraw their forces.
But the war had an appetite of its own. It consumed careers and materiel at a prodigious rate. Every time an operation failed, the solution seemed to always be the same- more troops, more helicopters, more of everything was needed. And as the bear struggled to get out of the trap, the more ensnared it became. In the end, it took ten years and no less than four Soviet general secretaries to throw up their hands and call it a day.
When the last Russian troops withdrew in February 1989, there was little cause for celebration. 15,000 Soviets were dead along with 2 million Afghans. The country was in tatters – a collection of fractured groups with diverse agendas who were set to vie for control of what little remained (I am talking about Afghanistan here but I can understand if you thought it was the Soviets).
With the bad guys gone and the Cold War drawing to a close, the plight of Afghanistan no longer warranted the same level of interest from the Western public, who were too busy celebrating the fall of the Berlin Wall and contending with new threats in the form of Saddam Hussein.
It would only be after the events of September 2001 that the West would come to realize its folly with Afghanistan and this time, it would cost more than Stinger missiles to set things right.
The Bear and the Jackal
TBaJ comes with a 35-page booklet, a single sheet of counters, two maps, and two player’s aid charts. The game was initially included with Line of Fire magazine issue 15 and LnLP has decided to just send out that countersheet with the game. As a result, you’ll also get ten counters that don’t belong to this particular game. That’s okay. Use ’em as spares for making your own games, I guess.
The booklet includes nine scenarios designed by Ralph Ferrari, Jeff Lewis, and Norm Lunde. These are presented in chronological order starting from 1981 and go all the way up to late 1987. Scenarios range in size from single-map battles with low counter count right up to much larger engagements over multiple maps. Speaking of which, the maps are gorgeous and give the player a sense of the arid hills and sun-drenched valleys of that inhospitable land. As you can see below, Marc von Martial did a beautiful job with the art.
The Mujahideen are tough fighters and this is represented by their advantage in movement in mountainous terrain. They can also split up their forces from full to half-squads during the Rally Phase if they are stacked with a leader. Finally, we get an ambush capability much like the VC units in Heroes of the Nam. If a Mujahideen unit enters melee with a unit that did not have LOS to it at the beginning of the impulse, their FP is tripled for the first round of melee.
The Soviets get 2-3-4 forces, which represent experienced special forces teams that show up in later scenarios to reflect the Russians adapting to the situation. This is really neat and I love that you’re using standard infantry for the early battles, reflecting the Soviet’s stubborn insistence on with using fixed doctrine against an insurgency.
Finally, we get a unique terrain feature here in the form of rooftops. These are a welcome addition to the LnL Tactical universe. It’s been a while since I played “A Day of Heroes” but I don’t remember rooftops being on there. In any case, rooftops basically act as an upper level marker on small buildings with a +1 defensive terrain modifier. Great if you have some guys with an RPG who want a little cover to fire from.
Scenario AAR: Nightmare
“Nightmare” is the first scenario from TBaJ. It’s a cozy one-map affair that has a small Afghan force fighting for its life as the Soviets bring in an impressive amount of firepower against them.
August 1981: Alishang, Laghman Province, Afghanistan
A Mujahadeen force entered Alishang and met up with the local forces. After sleeping the night in the village, they awoke to find the village surrounded by the Soviet army. When dawn broke, the fighting began.
Scenario Length: 6 turns. The Soviets must control all nine buildings in the village by the end of the game.
The Mujahideen must set up in any building hex in the village. We get two leaders (Abdul and Hakem). I put Abdul toward the southern entrance to the village with a 1-6-4 and 1-3-4 and arm them with an RPG-7 and PKM. Hakem is in the eastern part of the town with a 1-6-4, 1-3-4 and 0-4-4. Like Abdul’s team, they have a rocket launcher and an LMG.
The Soviets enter on Turn 1 with Captain Sarukin and 5 x 2-5-4 forces armed with two RPKs. Sarukin brings up the rear with a few men while the platoon pushes forward toward the outskirts of the town.
Hakem and his men get on the rooftops but leave the 0-4-4 on the ground level to fend off any early incursions. Abdul and his men start to move to flank the oncoming Soviets.
The Soviets retain the initiative and push a little further toward the village.
The Russians move a squad with RPKs into the same hex as the 0-4-4 squad and enter melee. It’s indecisive. The rest of the platoon gets to the rough terrain in M2 and O3. It takes some light fire from Hakem and his men, but nothing really effective.
Abdul and a squad sneak up along the southern edge of the village ready to pounce on the Russians as they come over the wall. The 1-3-4 to the north in J2 will serve as the other half of the trap.
Clearly Sarukin is waiting for the second element to arrive and push up from the south. For now, it’s just probing action and getting into position.
Tanks! The Soviet T-55 rumbles in and starts laying fire on Abdul and his men, shaking all of them with main gun and heavy MG fire. One of Sarukin’s squads moves up and eliminates them in melee.
I should have seen that coming but got carried away with my ambush plans.
Trinov and his men make no delay in moving up north toward the village. By the end of the turn, we have a pair of 1-4-4 half-squads in the southern end of the village. The others have a base of fire set up in E7 and G7.
Meanwhile Sarukin to the east moves a squad into M5. Some ineffective fire is traded with Hakem and his men. The melee in M3 drags on without conclusion.
Sarukin has had enough of delays. Another 2-5-4 enters melee in M3 and finishes off those pesky 0-4-4 Mujahideens. Sarukin gets his men into the village, only for them to be shaken up in M4. Trinov uses this opportunity to get the bulk of his men and the tank into the village and they start doing damage.
The Afghans are in real trouble right now. Hakem splits his full squad into two 0-4-4 squads and hopes for the best. The 1-3-4 squad in I2 is hoping to mix it up with the Soviet 1-4-4 in H4 next turn if it can manage an ambush.
Things look bleak for the Mujahideen.
The Soviets win initiative yet again and Trinov shoves his men into the building in H3/I3. Despite some light fire from the enemy in I2, the whole thing goes smoothly. The tank blasts Hakem and his men, shaking them up. The whole stack is just barely saved when the squad in J3 sprints across the road under fire and enters the building in L4. Though they keep Hakem and his men on the roof safe, the 1-3-4 squad pays for it in melee with the Soviets.
Another short and deadly melee ensues in K4 between a 0-4-4 Afghan and 1-4-4 Soviet half-squad. Both are eliminated. It looks briefly like there might be some hope for the Mujahideen to pull off a win if they can keep holding onto L4 for just one more turn.
But it is not to be.
Hakem fails to rally and now his only hope is the 0-4-4 squad in his hex. Well, it’s not nearly enough. The tank opens fire and wounds Hakem and shakes the squad. It doesn’t take long before the Russians in M3 storm the building and eliminate everyone in the hex.
Trinov pushes the rest of his men to seize the remaining buildings while tying up the Mujahideen squad in I2. The result is a Soviet victory.
Lots of fun! As expected, plenty of brutal close-in fights here with a great deal of tension toward the end.
Controlling the Mujahideen requires a bit more finesse than the Soviets. You can see I probably didn’t use them to their full capabilities here. Losing Abdul in Turn 3 was also a huge problem but it happens when you lose sight of when your enemy reinforcements are coming on the board. Perhaps if I had rolled better initiative for the Afghans, things would have worked out differently. Would have. Should have. Could have.