Harpoon: Captain’s Edition – Surface Encounter

So I just got Harpoon: Captain’s Edition, which is a nice little beer and pretzels game released by GDW in 1990.  If you’re a fan of modern naval combat games and you want something lighter than, say, the Fleet series then this is actually a pretty fun game.  It’s probably set at just the right angle for introducing a kid or a spouse to wargaming.  The first few scenarios are basically just training scenarios.  As you read the rulebook and learn more rules, it tells you to play certain scenarios that use them.  This is a nice gradual learning curve approach that makes this game even more friendly for introducing non-wargamers into the hobby.

Anyway, I’m going to show a recent playthrough of scenario 1, which uses the bare minimum of rules.  This is the scenario that you’re supposed to be able to play within 30 minutes of opening the box.  You don’t need to use the detection rules.  Both sides start out detected.  There are no air units or large collections of ships.  This scenario is just a straight up knife-fight between two fighting ships.

In this scenario,.called “Surface Encounter”, an Arleigh Burke-class destroyer is escorting a merchant vessel somewhere and it happens to detect a Soviet Sovremenny-class destroyer with an Ivan Rogov-class landing ship.  A skirmish ensues with both sides trying to sink the other’s escorted ships.  The Soviets win a victory if they sink the merchant vessel while NATO wins if it can sink the Rogov.

Starting forces:  Task Force 1 (NATO) and Task Force A (Soviets)

Okay, so here’s our lineup.  The Americans basically have one ship that can do any real fighting.  The DDG has 4 long range SSMs (can fire up to three hexes away) and 2 short SSMs (can fire one hex).  The ship has 2 gun factors.  In terms of defense, the Burke-class DDG has 10 long range SAMs and a Point Defense value of 3.

The Soviets have the Sovremenny-class DDG with 8 short range SSMs and no long-range SSMs.  What the ship lacks in ranged weapons, it makes up for in terms of defenses.  It has six short range SAMs and a whopping Point Defense rating of 5.  It also has 4 gun factors – twice the value of the Burke-class DDG’s guns.  Note that both ships have the same speed and hull rating.

The Soviets also have the Ivan Rogov, which has 2 short range SAMs for defense and a gun rating of 1.  It has a hull rating of 3 but so does the NATO merchant vessel.

You would expect this to be a fairly even fight, I suppose!

Setup:  NATO TF-1 is three hexes away from Soviet TF-A.  Both TFs are detected.

The Soviets set up three hexes northeast of Jan Mayen Island (Task Force A) while the NATO player must set up three hexes east of the island (Task Force 1).  The direction that each group is facing in the hex doesn’t really matter.  Both sides have already detected each other so there’s no need to sneak around here.  The fighting starts right away.

We pull our first chit from the cup and it’s Task Force 1 so the NATO player moves his ships north towards the Soviet task force.  I could have just fired off my 4 long range SSMs at the Soviets but I want to get close enough to fire off all my missiles at once in order to try and overwhelm the Soviet ship defenses.  The NATO player announces his attack so the Burke-class DDG launches all six SSMs at the Soviet task force.

Missiles away!  6 SSMs fly towards the Soviet ships in TF-A.

The Soviets would normally have a chance to try and shoot down the incoming SSMs with long range SAMs first.  However, neither the Sovremenny DDG nor the Rogov LPD have long range SAMs.  The missiles continue their flight.

6 missiles en route to LPD Ivan Rogov

So 6 missiles are now on the way to the LPD Ivan Rogov landing craft and the Sovremenny and Rogov both decide that enough is enough and it’s time to try and shoot them down with their short-range SAMs.  The Sovremenny DDG fires first.  It has 6 short range SAMs so we roll 6 six-sided dice.  Each roll of 4 or 5 eliminates 1 missile.  Each roll of 6 eliminates 2 missiles.  We get a 6 and two 5s so three  four missiles have been eliminated.  The Ivan Rogov fires its SAMs and we get a 6 and a 4.  The three remaining missiles are shot down. Bad luck for the American DDG.

The Soviets pull the next chit in the cup and it’s for Task Force A. They now get to move and/or fire back at the NATO task force.  The Sovremenny DDG fires its 8 short range SSMs straight at the US ships.

Incoming!  Soviets fire 8 SSMs straight at the Americans. 

The Burke has 10 long range SAMs to fire at the incoming missiles.  So we roll 10 six-sided dice and any results of 4 or 5 eliminate a missile while a roll of 6 eliminates 2 missiles.  The American player rolls horribly, shooting down only five of the eight SS-N missiles.  Normally, the US player would get a chance to use his short range SAMs next to try and further whittle down the number of incoming missiles but neither American ship has any short range SAMs.  The three remaining missiles are about to slam into the US merchant ship.

3 missiles get through US defenses.

The Soviet player rolls a die for each missile.  Results of 3 to 5 mean a missile scores a hit while a result of 6 means one of the missiles scores 2 hits.  We get a 3, 4, and a 6.  That’s 4 hits on the merchant ship, one more than is actually needed to sink it.  Down it goes to the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean!

With no more missiles left, it decides to enter the Burke’s hex and engage it with guns.

Soviet TF-A enters NATO TF-1 hex in 1009.

The NATO player chooses to make a stand here and possibly sink the Ivan Rogov with its own guns.  This is now a close-range gunnery duel so both sides set up their ships in pairs and decide which of the ships will fire and which ship will be screened.  Of course, the NATO player only has the one ship so it will be firing.  The Soviets obviously choose the Sovremenny-class DDG as the firing ship while the Rogov hangs back.

The ship with the highest gunnery rating fires first and results are implemented immediately.  The Sovremenny has a gunnery rating of 4 while the Burke has only 2.  Any result between 4 and 6 results in a hit.  The Soviet player rolls 4 six-sided dice and gets 1, 1, 4, and 5.  The Burke-class DDG takes 2 hits and is sunk.

The Soviet task force, having won an overwhelming victory, sails on towards its objective.  The pride of the Red Banner Northern Fleet remains intact.

Conclusion:

I really wonder if there is any way the Americans can win this scenario.  It seems to really be a matter of luck with the Soviets having a slightly better chance at winning.  Attacking the Sovremenny DDG seems like a bad idea.  The ship’s combination of SAMs and Point Defense make it almost impossible to hit.  I don’t think I really made it clear how ships defend against missiles here so I’ll try to explain it here.

When missiles are fired at a task force, they need to pass through three potential defensive belts in order to have a chance at hitting.  Long range SAMs fire first at the total number of incoming missiles.  It doesn’t matter which ship they are targeting in the defending task force, the missiles are treated as a group that any ship in the TF with long-range SAMs can try and hit.   Any surviving missiles can be fired at with short-range SAMs next.

In this case, the attacking player divides up which of his SSMs are going for which ship in the enemy task force.  The defending player, who has already divided up his ships into pairs, declares which set of incoming missiles he is firing at with his short range SAMs.

So, for instance, I could have fired 4 of my SSMs at the Ivan Rogov and 2 SSMs at the Sovremenny.  The Soviet player would then have to decide whether to fire both ships’ short range SAMs at the 4 incoming missiles on the Rogov OR the 2 incoming missiles at the Sovremenny.  If the Sovremenny chooses to protect the Rogov with his short range SAMs, the 2 incoming missiles aimed at the Sovremenny would automatically get through.

The next defensive belt is for each individual ship.  This is the point defense (usually high rate-of-fire gatling guns) system.  Any missiles that survive long and short range SAM defenses must finally make it through an individual ship’s PD systems in order to have a chance at hitting their target.  Because PD systems are very short range, they can only be used to protect the ship on which they are mounted.  So the Sovremenny, in my previous example, would get to roll 5 dice to try and hit those 2 missiles coming at it.  Any rolls between 2 and 5 eliminate one missile.  A result of 6 eliminates 2 missiles.

So as you can see, it is very difficult to hit an enemy ship with a missile in Harpoon: Captain’s Edition!  Keep in mind, though, that this is a very tiny scenario with a very small number of ships.  Once you get further into the game with large task forces that can fire huge numbers of missiles, it is much easier to completely overwhelm the defenses of even the strongest ships,

Fleet vs Harpoon

So I wanted to see, just for fun, how this situation might have worked itself out in 2nd Fleet.  I’d like to stress that I’m just doing this out of curiousity to see what will happen rather than to point out any weakness in either game.  So I set up the game on Vassal.  First thing I noticed is that the scale is slightly bigger for Harpoon (60 nautical miles per hex vs. 46 nm in Fleet).  I set up the units slightly further apart on the 2nd Fleet map to reflect the difference.

The first thing you notice with the Soviet and US units is that the stats for offensive missile power approximate those in Harpoon: CE.  The Burke has a longer range for missiles (5 hexes vs 2) but less firepower (8 FP vs. 14) than the Soviets.

The big difference between the games are in the defensive values.  The Burke and the Sovremenny both have a close anti-air value of 5. I suppose these are like short range SAMs. It seems like there is a difference here with the games as the Sovremenny DDG clearly has a better short-range SAM and point defense rating than the Burke DDG in Harpoon: CE.

In terms of long range defense, the Burke DDG has an area anti-air value of 7 while the Sovremenny has an area anti-air value of only 4 in the Fleet series as you can see above.  This is a major difference between the games because Harpoon: CE has the Burke DDG with 10 long range SAMs while the Sovremenny DDG has zero!

So let’s play this thing out.  I put a merchant ship (the Baugh) with the Burke and an amphibious ship (the Beloy) with the Sovremenny-class DDG.  Neither side has enough combat units to form a task group, never mind a task force.

The Burke and the merchant ship move up adjacent to the Soviet ships in order to get a bonus to the attack roll for being right next to the enemy.

The US player declares an SSM attack on the Beloy, the amphibious ship stacked with the Sovremenny.  The area anti-air value of the Soviets is 4.  The combined close anti-air value of both the DDG and the LDP is 8 for a total defensive value of 12.  I roll on the CRT and get a 2 for the Soviet defensive roll.  We subtract one from that because the target is not in a task force or task group.  The result is a “1” for the Soviets.  The result on the CRT is a zero.
Now the NATO player rolls.    We get a “1”.  Cross-referencing this with the 8, we get a zero result.  
The Soviet player goes.  It starts off firing its SSMs at the American merchant ship.  We combine the anti-air values of the Americans for a defensive total of 13.  We roll an “8” (-1 for no TF/TG is 7).  The result is a 4 on the CRT.  The Soviets roll for their attack.  They get a “1”, from which the 4 is subtracted for a -3 on the 9 to 14 column.  The result is a zero.  Neither side wins the scenario assuming SSMs have now run out.  
If we had gone with the Close Combat optional rule on page 48 of the 2nd Fleet rulebook, how would things have turned out?
The Burke and the ship approach the Soviets and fire off their SSMs in the adjacent hex.  The Burke has a CCV of 16.  The die roll is odd so the NATO player can fire first.  This time, the Soviets roll a “3” for defensive fire (2 for no TF/TG) and we get a result of 2 on the CRT.
The US player rolls an 8 (-2) for a total of 6 on the roll.  We get a “4” on the CRT on the 15 to 20 column. The Beloy is sunk.  
The Soviet player now fires back at the US ships, hoping to sink the Baugh.  The US player rolls defensive and gets a zero.  Ouch!  The Soviet player now fires 18 CCV straight at the Americans.  We get a 4 on the die and cross-reference for 3 damage.  The Baugh is sunk. Both players lose the scenario.  

What a ride!  You can see the unpredictability built into this scenario by having two ships that are pretty much even in terms of defensive and offensive firepower.  It’s far from the rather decisive win that Harpoon: CE presented in the same scenario.  I have no idea which game is the better one or more accurate but I can say that I enjoy playing both of these games immensely for different reasons.

Harpoon: Captain’s Edition (GDW) – 1990

Harpoon: Captain’s Edition is not one of those games you hear people talk much about these days.  There are quite a few good reasons for this but mainly it was a victim of incredibly bad timing.  This 1990 release from GDW focused on naval combat in a hypothetical World War III between the Soviets and Americans in the GIUK gap.  Designed by Larry Bond, the same man who designed the Harpoon series, Harpoon: Captain’s Edition was an attempt at creating sort of a “Harpoon Lite” version that was accessible to a wider audience.

A Victim of Timing

Looking at the components and the rules, it seems to be aimed at the “dad-son” gaming crowd.  Unfortunately, by 1990 the Cold War was over and done with and everyone just sort of wanted to move on with things.  I don’t have any proof of this but I get the impression that Harpoon: CE may have been one of the very last games that was in the pipeline when the Cold War abruptly ended in 1989 and GDW was left standing around with a Cold War game ready to go.

I also get the feeling that Harpoon: CE was one of those games that fell between the cracks of a real audience.  For Harpoon enthusiasts, it was way too simplified and for casual boardgamers, it was too complex.  I remember seeing this in my FLGS when it came out and I assumed it was an expansion for Harpoon, which I already considered way too meaty for my tastes.

Finally, I should mention that computer game company 360 Pacific had released Harpoon as a PC game in 1989 already, which took the legwork out of learning a complex set of rules – or any rules at all, for that matter.  Maybe the Harpoon PC game was just a little too good.

Anyway, this is all just speculation because from the limited amount I’ve played Harpoon; CE, it’s actually not a bad game.  It plays smoothly and I’ve found nothing wrong with it.

The Components

Here’s a look at the components:

Now, you have to admit that the cover is pretty bad-ass.  You’ve got the battleship guns in the forefront (I believe that is supposed to be the Iowa, which is in the game).  You also have an F-14 Tomcat buzzing the tower with “Top Gun” still firm in everyone’s minds at that point in time.  You’ve got a ship on the left and the Nimitz off in the distance.  GDW tried to distinguish this from other Harpoon products with the “Easy to Learn / Fun to Play” in red at the bottom and – just to be sure about it – put another red box with “Start Playing in 30 minutes”.  I got this game in the mail yesterday and, true to form, I was up and running the first scenario in 30 minutes.  Good for GDW!
Now, let’s take a look at the back of the box.  

Alright, we’ve got a blurb that explains what Harpoon is and what this game is about and the fact that it’s easy to play repeated again.  We have a little bit of text about Larry Bond and the fact that Harpoon was used as a source for Clancy’s The Hunt for Red October.  All good stuff.  The one nitpicky issue is that the silhouette for the Bunker Hill is wrong.  You can see on the bow and stern of the ship, there are Mk. 26 missile launchers but the Bunker Hill was the first cruiser with the Mk. 41 vertical launching system.  Not a big deal if you’re a casual gamer but a very big deal if you’re a Harpoon fanatic.  I wonder if that may have hurt a few sales.

Opening the box up, we find lots of interesting goodies:

Inside the box

I love the assortment of stuff that’s included in the game.  You have plastic pieces, counters, roster sheets with checkboxes, cards, maps, references, you name it.

Here’s the log sheet for the game.  Very simple.  The pad is still pretty full.  I’d say there are about 200 sheets in here:

We have 54 cards with US and Soviet ships, planes, and subs.  There are also “dummy” cards meant to fool your opponent.

Each card outlines the basic capabilities of the ship in terms of detection (ASR = Air Search Radar, SSR = Surface Search Radar, SON = Sonar), fighting capability, movement, and hull strength.  I like the cards because they help to keep the counters and the map uncluttered.  They are very simple but they look good and they work well for this sort of game.  You can divide up your task forces very easily without having to stack counters or write anything down.  Information can be accessed quickly.

You get these plastic pieces that are supposed to be search planes. The red ones are Soviet and the blue ones are NATO.  They each have a number (for NATO) or a letter (for Soviets) affixed to the bottom.  I’m not totally sure why these are plastic or what the numbers/letters are for but there you have it.  Perhaps the plastic pieces are there to enhance the “friendliness” of the game to beginners?

And of course, there are a bunch of cardboard counters here in the game.  They are mostly aircraft and missile counters.  There are also counters for Task Forces on each side with chits for each task force.  During the movement phase, players pull a chit from a cup and that determines which task force gets to move, shoot, etc.

Ships fire a certain number of surface to surface missiles at each other and they need to get through the defenses of the enemy ships in order to have a chance at hitting.  As the enemy defenses go to work, they whittle down the number of missiles coming at them (if they’re lucky).  So having missile counters is necessary.  Also, the missiles go for specific targets in the enemy task force, so during an attack, you can break up a certain number of your missiles to go for one target in a saturation attack or try your luck by spreading out the missiles among various targets.   The bottom line is that the missile counters track how many missiles are still active as they go through enemy defense layers and which targets they are aimed at.

The Base Charts are used for each player to track their forces in the more advanced scenarios.  I haven’t played any of these yet so I’m not sure exactly how they work.  The game has some advanced rules that allow for things like tanker refueling, which is pretty cool.  Again, I haven’t yet gotten into this yet so I can’t explain it much further.

And here we have the map.  It’s not elegant by any means but it’s functional and works for a game made in 1990.  The hexes are actually quite large and the map is small enough to fit on a coffee table.  It features an area of the GIUK gap with airbases included.  There is seasonal ice (which has its own special rules) up near Greenland and West Spitsbergen.  It’s a paper map but it’s a nice thick paper that lays down well.  I have no real complaints.

There are two books included with the game – the Captain’s Rules (the rulebook) and the Captain’s Briefing (a scenario book).  The rules are a bit spotty in some places with tables and charts interjected among explanations but there’s nothing confusing here.  It would have been nice to have the tables and charts on a separate sheet although I’m apparently missing two player screens that may actually have them on there.

There are over 30 scenarios in the scenario book, which is pleasantly surprising. The scenarios cover everything from small duels between enemy frigates right up to full-scale WW3 battle with lots of units.  One really nice thing is that players secretly “purchase” their units in the advanced scenarios prior to play so you don’t really know what kind of force you’ll encounter out there.  Also, players get secret mission objectives that they must fulfill during the scenario in order to win.  This adds considerably to replayability.

First Impressions

So far, I’ve played the first two scenarios of the game, which seem like training scenarios.  The first scenario features the Arleigh Burke DDG and a merchant ship fighting against a Sovremenny class DDG escorting an amphibious ship (LPD Ivan Rogov).  Whoever can sink the other’s merchant/amphib ship is the winner.

The central problem is whether the Americans should fire their long range SSMs first and then close with and fire their short range SSMs later or if they should get close and fire all their missiles at once.  The only way I’ve managed to score a hit on the Soviets is by using the latter method.  The Soviet anti-missile defenses on the Sovremenny are impressive and if the short range SAMs down’t take care of your incoming missiles, the Point Defenses certainly will.   After the American player runs out of missiles, the Soviets just close in and use guns to sink everything in sight.  It is unbalanced but it works fine as a training scenario.  I’ll do a playthrough of it later to show how the game system works.

Harpoon: CE vs. the Fleet Series

You may be wondering how Harpoon; Captain’s Edition stacks up against other modern naval games from around that time.  The closest game to this that I can think of (in terms of theme/scale/etc) is the Fleet series of games from Victory Games (specifically 2nd Fleet, which deals with the same location/subject matter).  Harpoon: CE happens at a slightly lower scale than Fleet but the basic principles of detection and combat resolution are similar.  Combat is a bit smoother in Fleet as the close anti-air values and area anti-air values are calculated for a single modifier that helps resolve combat very quickly with only one or two rolls.  Harpoon, on the other hand, has a “bucket of dice” approach to combat where players roll a set amount of six-sided die equal to a ship’s rating and then consult a table to see the results of each of the die rolls.

The Fleet series also allowed for a bit more nuance.  Damage to ships in Fleet result in lowered ratings on virtually all aspects of the ship’s abilities.  In Harpoon: CE, damage to a ship results in lowered movement ratings only (though there are a few more consequences for damage to an aircraft carrier).  So a ship in Harpoon is basically at near 100% capability or sunk.  I wonder if anyone thought about using the back side of those cards for a damaged version of each unit.  Attack capabilities of different SSMs are abstracted in the Fleet series in a way that accounts for more than just the number of missiles a ship carries.  In Harpoon: CE, a missile is a missile and seem to be distinguished only in terms of whether it is a short range or long range missile.  

There are some things I actually prefer about Harpoon over Fleet. I do like how ships can react to other ships in Harpoon.  One thing that was missing in the Fleet series was the ability to react to what another player was doing during this turn (except in the case of CAP).  In Harpoon: CE, the active player moves his task force and the enemy player has a chance to attack him if the active player’s unit is detected.  That provides a bit of tension to the game, which is nice.  As I said before, the idea of buying your units and selecting secret missions before play seems like a fantastic idea.

Conclusion

Frankly, I really haven’t played too much of Harpoon: CE to say too much more about it at this point.  I can say that from what I’ve seen, the components for the time were quite good and the rules do succeed in giving the feeling that you’re simulating modern naval combat in an extremely simplified but earnest manner.  I think GDW tried its best with this product and rolled the dice.  It’s too bad that the game never caught on but if it had come out in 1984 or 1985 (both during the Cold War and right before the Fleet series came out), it might have seen much greater success.  I’m looking forward to playing this game with my son some day.  It seems like an extremely good way to get a kid into gaming.  There are enough interesting decisions to make and the rules are provided in a simple – but never patronizing – way that makes it easy to explain and get playing.

The End of World War Three

Slowly but surely, I got halfway through a recent game of GDW’s The Third World War:  Battle for Germany to see things bog down into a stalemate by the beginning of turn 5.  NATO’s defense was sub-par due to its lack of depth and inability to cut through the Soviet breakthrough in the middle of the board.

The Soviets, on the other hand, were unable to follow up their early successes with further breakthroughs and by the time, they got within spitting distance of the Rhine, the front line had bogged down as a motley collection of heavily disrupted units were unable to make the final push.

In the early game, the Soviets had an overwhelming success by clearing NATO units in the center of the board and following up with successful second echelon attacks.  NATO air superiority in the subsequent turns managed to blunt the Warsaw Pact’s attacks as they reached further into Germany and began to push through a few lonely divisions into Belgium.

As the Soviet player, I kept to one or two tenets for my overall strategy.  The first and foremost was to keep moving and the second was to reinforce success.  While the Pact was stymied by strong NATO defenses in the north near Bremen and Hamburg and down south near Munich and Frankfurt, it did keep a lot of NATO units busy in these sectors while the other Pact units funnelled right through the middle.   As NATO reinforcements and POMCUS units came online, however, they were able to stem the flow of Pact reinforcements coming through the initial breakthroughs.  Both sides quickly found that they had committed all their frontline units and reserves into a slogging match that went nowhere fast.

Warsaw Pact penetration into West Germany.

Nuclear artillery was used by both sides but to little effect.  The Pact focused their nukes on hitting at stubborn NATO units sitting inside of cities and comfortably defending themselves against Category G units with low proficiencies.  In the meantime, NATO nuclear artillery was used to some degree of success for getting surrounded units out of isolation and back towards a more defensible line.  On turn 4, the escalation level allowed for nuclear attacks by air units, which NATO probably could have used to better effect than the Soviets given the situation on the board.  I suspect NATO might have been able to roll back some Soviet gains in the next couple of turns but not enough to make a huge difference.  The die had already been cast by mid-game and it seemed that neither side had the ability to push back against their opponents.

With most of the Ruhr occupied by Soviets at this point, I couldn’t imagine that either side would be happy with the way things turned out.  For the next game, I would need the Soviets to keep their second echelons well back during each first echelon attack phase instead of committing them all wholesale and hoping for the best.  NATO, on the other hand, would need to use their heavy divisions in a more intelligent way.  It doesn’t pay to use them in rough wooded terrain where their attack factors are halved.

Great game!  The best thing about it is the initial forward movements by NATO basically help to determine where the Pact is going to get its first breakthrough.  If the WP is going to have a successful time of it, the breakthrough needs to be followed up by some very careful planning in subsequent turns.

The Reds Smash Through

Playing “Third World War:  Battle for Germany” again these days after a break from it.  I’m really starting to enjoy how simple but elegant the system works and takes into account the different capabilities of both sides.  To further explain, the Warsaw Pact gets two movement and combat phases, both with a second echelon phase that allows follow-up units in the rear to take advantage of breakthroughs by first line units by advancing through the breach in the front lines.  Thinking more deeply about how to maximize my second echelon units, I managed to get quite a breakthrough happening in turn one as Soviets ended up making their way close to Dortmund.  Yikes!

End of Turn 1:  Third World War – The Battle for Germany

On the other hand, I’m starting to get the hang of NATO defense and counterattack.  The Pact player is trying to advance quickly, which means that there are going to be some vulnerabilities in their advance.  The NATO player needs to find those weaknesses and hit at them as hard as they can with the American units while using the other smaller and weaker NATO defenders to sit back and try to slow the Pact onslaught.

I’ve been playing the game all through this week, one or two segments per evening.  Finally after finishing turn one, I’ve tried some different things in this playthrough that have yielded some interesting results.  First off, NATO rolled horribly for initial movement.  The largest US divisions were stuck twiddling their thumbs way off to the west while the Soviets were poised to enter West Germany without an invitiation.

The Pact predictably won air superiority at the start of the turn and managed to cause some minimal damage to NATO airfields while putting a Canadian unit near the front out of supply (NATO used emergency supplies to reach the Canucks but had to deprive a French division near the France/West German border to do so).  NATO played it smart and did not try to contest air superiority for this turn (NATO will almost certainly get it next turn so why worry?).  Unfortunately, a number of F-15s were lost intercepting Russian strike missions but they gave as good as they got.

The Soviets used lots of air transport points (something I hadn’t done in any previous games to any serious extent) and got several desant and para regiments to take Frankfurt and Mannheim (another airmobile raid on Dusseldorf ended in disaster for the Russians – oh well).  This really slowed the rear NATO units from advancing from western Germany and France towards the Fulda Gap. NATO had to spend one valuable turn eliminating these pesky units from their cities before launching a counterattack at the massive Soviet breakthrough in the middle of the board.  On the second NATO attack phase, air units played a pivotal role in helping the American and British divisions force a few key Soviet and Polish divisions on a retreat.  The tide is hardly stemmed, however, and things look particularly dire for the western forces as they attempt to staunch the bleeding.

Aircraft maintenance phase at the end of the turn was a boon for NATO as every single one of its air units was able to get back in the action for next turn.  The Soviets faired poorly, however, as only half the Warsaw Pact air force was able to recover.  My prediction is that NATO will be able to use its air power to better effect after gaining air superiority and they may be able to cut off the large Soviet force making its way steadily towards the Rhine.

I have to say that I really admire the way that the game handles aircraft by integrating the factors into ground combat attack odds.  It works really well without distracting from the game’s main focus while at the same time accounting for how crucial the air war is for both sides.  I’m starting to gain an appreciation for why the game is so well-liked by the community.  It is indeed a classic in the true sense of the word.

GDW Twilight: 2000 – Last Battle: A Review

By the late 1980s, GDW was elbow-deep in both the roleplaying and wargaming business, pumping out an impressive volume and variety of award-winning titles.  The wargaming end of the business around that time saw the release of games like Stand & Die: The Battle for Borodino, Team Yankee, and Test of Arms, which were all part of the company’s new (at the time) “First Battle” series.  This series was an attempt at producing wargames that were accessible to new wargamers, boasting an easy-to-learn basic rules set that allowed new players to get the game home and start playing right away.  This was quite a shift in GDW’s previous approach to wargames, which were often quite complex and meant only for hardcore wargamers (see Assault, for example).  One game, “Last Battle”, was released in 1989 as part of the “First Battle” series and I’m going to talk about how and why I bought this obscure 25 year old game and the circumstances surrounding its recent intersection with my life.

Chicks, Cars, and the Third World War – Twilight: 2000 

First off, I need to explain a bit about my own background in relation to GDW as a teenage roleplayer in 1989 who was obsessed with one GDW roleplaying game in particular – Twilight: 2000. In the late 1980s, I was in my mid-teens and my friends and I were firmly a part of the much admired and extremely popular group of high school kids that spent their Friday or Saturday nights playing roleplaying games.  After the first adventure, we were hooked – Twilight: 2000 quickly became our “go to” game and we played the hell out of it for years.

To provide some background for the uninitiated, Twilight: 2000 was a roleplaying game about World War III and it was released by GDW in 1984 at the height of the late Cold War, right in the middle of Reagan and just before the arrival of Gorbachev when things were tense and it wasn’t at all odd to wake up wondering if today was THE DAY when either side would push the button and the human race would finally have the distinct pleasure of kissing its collective ass goodbye.  So this game was really a product of its time and it shows through its basic premise.

In Twilight: 2000, Chadwick drew up a historical timeline that set the stage for a Sino-Soviet conflict in the mid-90s that, through a series of complex but somewhat believable events, sparked a sudden German reunification that quickly spiraled into World War III between NATO and the Warsaw Pact in Central Europe.  As both sides wore each other down in a conventional conflict that went nowhere, the urge to use nukes became irresistible but instead of having an all-out strategic conflagration, they inched towards armageddon with a series of limited nuclear exchanges. 
By July of 2000, much of the world is devastated through conflict, radioactive fallout, disease, and famine but the war drags on and the US is about to launch one last major push into Poland to end the war and bring its troops back home to rebuild.  The Warsaw Pact catches the US forces with a well-timed counterattack, however, and pushes them back all the way into Germany.  
Everybody Wants to Rule the World – Twilight: 2000 and Design

The players take on the role of US soldiers who are part of this last failed NATO offensive and the game starts with the group of player characters caught behind enemy lines in Poland (around Kalisz) and they must break their way out of their predicament in order to…well, do whatever the hell they want.  Some groups of players tried to get back home while others conducted guerrilla warfare or turned to looting the countryside while others simply tried to survive.  The characters are given access to modern weapons, vehicles, and other assorted toys and let loose in a post-apocalyptic warzone to create their own destinies.   It was this freedom in particular that appealed to many players and the rules were broad enough to support the players in trying to create their own life paths through the rubble of World War III.

The game tried so hard to be realistic that I think of it as the antithesis of games like Dungeons & Dragons.  There were no spells or wizards or dragons to be found within a thousand miles of a Twilight: 2000 rulebook.  The contents of the player’s guide also made it fairly clear that players would be spending most of their time trying to just survive in a harsh post-nuclear environment with danger around every corner.   You had to keep faithful track of ammunition and fuel expenditure, vehicle maintenance and upkeep, food consumption, and healing time for any wounds.  So much for setting out to save the fair maiden from the old castle near Helm’s Deep. This was “reality” roleplaying at its finest.
The combat rules were complex but not overly so – Chadwick  Marc Miller was a Vietnam veteran and it’s clear that he tried his best to model combat in a detailed and realistic manner but not so much that it bogged down the system.  Things like artillery, anti-tank missiles, armored combat, small arms, and heavy weapons are all handled well by the system and provide for a good play experience.  With the Twilight: 2000 roleplaying rulebook in hand, you were basically all set for a fun evening provided that your players didn’t get into a huge battle.  The system was just wieldy enough to handle combat between small-ish forces (less than 10 guys per each side).  When you wanted to run bigger battles, however – and it happened quite a bit in the published adventures – the system would bog down under the strain of it all and the game quickly became unplayable.



I Can’t Go For That (No Can Do) – The Arrival of “Last Battle”

To resolve this problem, GDW released a Twilight: 2000 supplement called “Last Battle”, which provided roleplayers with a way to resolve larger-scale combat between two forces.  GDW released this as part of the “First Battle” series and I suspect that they were hoping that the wargame-y mechanics of “Last Battle” would appeal to the grognards as well as those who had never heard of Twilight: 2000 and would otherwise want nothing to do with a roleplaying game.  At the same time, I’m sure GDW was hoping that “Last Battle” would make enough of an impact on roleplayers that it would serve as a gateway game to introduce Twilight: 2000 players to GDW’s wargame products line.  This notion is certainly supported by the blurb on the back of the box, which claims that “Last Battle” is both a roleplaying supplement and a standalone boardgame.
I’m not sure the gamble paid off.  I can remember dismissing “Last Battle” as too much of a wargame (something I was not interested at all in at the time) and I’m sure there were more than a few wargamers who dismissed the product as simply a roleplaying supplement and not a “real wargame”. Were people just confused by this product?  I always got the impression, perhaps wrongly, that “Last Battle” was an effort by GDW to fuse together their roleplaying and wargaming lines.  Although I’m not real clear on the history here, the fact that GDW didn’t really attempt anything similar to this afterwards shows that it probably didn’t work. I think it says a lot that the game is largely ignored on boardgamegeek and not even listed on rpggeek.  Most people today would look at “Last Battle” and think, “What the hell is this thing?” and that’s basically what people thought 25 years ago too.

Anyway, you open up “Last Battle” and you get about 15 pages of rules along with a scenario book that has about 10 scenarios in it featuring forces of various size.  The scenarios are all based on battles from various Twilight: 2000 published adventures, from classics like “Armies of the Night” and “The Ruins of Warsaw”.  I couldn’t help think about how all of these various scenarios with different forces would probably never make sense to someone with no background knowledge of Twilight: 2000  (“Why are the French fighting the Americans?”  Why is a street gang in New York fighting the US Army?”) but would be instantly recognizable to anyone who loved the roleplaying game.

The counters aren’t anything special but they contain all the essential information and they’re easy to read.  I greatly appreciated the fact that the counters were numbered according to their colors, which made it easier to distinguish between counters on opposing sides (I’m colorblind and telling brown from green is very tough for me).
There are 6 paper maps included with the game and although they aren’t terribly exciting in terms of color or appearance, they work well in terms of providing enough playing space for all your counters in their individual hexes, especially handy since there are no stacking limits for soldiers.

When Doves Cry – My First Impressions of “Last Battle” as a Wargame

Playing through my first game of “Last Battle”, the U.S. Army faced off against the Los Diablos gang in New York City.  The Diablos had an advantage in numbers but the Army had veteran troops and better weapons so the New York street gang managed to take out one or two soldiers before getting completely wiped out.  So far, so good – but it was nothing too exciting.

The second scenario I played through was based around a particular scene in the excellent adventure module, “Going Home”.  In the adventure module, the  players are trying to make their way through war-torn Germany to get back to a ship that will take them back to the States.  Unfortunately, the Americans need to get through the French “neutral zone”, which has been declared off-limits to all combatants.  So in this scenario, the US soldiers fight against the French.  This scenario had vehicles in it, an M2 Bradley and 2 Fast Attack Vehicles.  The French had some support weapons as well as a tankbreaker anti-tank missile launcher.  This is where things got pretty ridiculous.

American M2 Bradley advances on the enemy position after getting hit twice by anti-tank missiles.

The M2 Bradley made it to the top of a hill and the French fired their tankbreaker and hit the vehicle.  I rolled on the damage table and got…a “radio damaged” result.  Wait a second.  An anti-tank missile managed a direct hit on the M2 Bradley (on the top of the IFV) and the radio got broken?  The French fired again in a subsequent turn and this time, the turret was completely destroyed but the vehicle was still able to drive around no problem with all crew members alive and inside.  Something was wrong here.

Another problem soon hit me too.  Since your troops have different levels of experience, they all get different modifiers to their “to hit”  and save rolls.  Keeping track of which of your guys had what experience on a crowded map became an exercise in frustration, especially when their were no counters to show experience and guys kept moving around, getting killed, replaced with other counters, etc.  So I really started to dislike this game…and then something wonderful happened.

Don’t Worry Be Happy – “Last Battle” as a Roleplaying Supplement

I had a couple of beers.

I came back to the gaming table, a bit reluctantly, and threw caution to the wind.  I guessed at experience levels, I guessed at damage tables, I even guessed whose turn it was.  And I had fun!  Lots of it.  I could suddenly sense that this game, played around a crowded table by a group of teenagers in 1989 with pretzels and bad music in the background and the occasional conversational diversion about how much the latest Miami Vice episode sucked, might work alright provided no one worried too much about following the rules to a tee or fretted over achieving realistic outcomes.  After I stopped approaching “Last Battle” as a serious wargame and looked at it as a roleplaying supplement or a beer and pretzels kind of game, it actually became somewhat enjoyable.

As part of the “First Battle” series, “Last Battle” doesn’t measure up to the other products in the lineup.  As a way of resolving large battles in a roleplaying universe using some quick and easy rules, however, it’s a pretty decent effort.  As a Twilight: 2000 fan, GDW deserves some praise for offering a product that solved a problem in the game but it’s easy to see why it probably didn’t get much love from wargamers despite trying to cast itself as such.  I don’t know how often I’ll be putting this game on the table, but I suspect that when I start to get nostalgic for that time and place, “Last Battle” might scratch the itch for a fun evening of mindless gaming – beer in hand, of course.

(Update:  In the original post, I incorrectly stated that Frank Chadwick was a Vietnam veteran.  In fact, it was Marc Miller who served in Vietnam.  My sincere apologies to both men.)

The Third World War: The Reset

Well, I went through the next several turns of my first game of “The Third World War:  Battle for Germany”.  I made lots of rules mistakes and played through them as best as I could, gradually picking up the system until I had a fairly good grip on it.  Three turns and several evenings passed by while I worked out where I had gone wrong both in terms of rules and overall Pact strategy.  During my first play, NATO had kept the Soviets pinned tightly to the East German border and three weeks of fighting ended with only a trickle of Russian armor breaking out in the south before NATO plugged the gaps.

Several mistakes I had made:
1)  Not counting movement points correctly when leaving enemy ZOCs
2)  Not advancing units correctly after forcing enemy retreats
3)  Not calculating terrain combat modifiers correctly (about half the time)

Those are some pretty big errors but pushing through the turns definitely helped to give me the chance to learn the rules better and incorporate the lessons in my next game, which I promptly set up and began again.

Here’s my turn-by-turn reports from my latest play of Third World War:  Battle for Germany, starting over from turn 1.


Turn 2 report:

Turn 3 report:

Turn 4 report:

The Third World War: The Battle for Germany – NATO Counterattack!

Well, here we are coming to the end of turn 1 but there are two very important impulses to go through before things start to really wind down.  NATO gets two consecutive movement and combat impulses now, each with a regrouping phase at the end of it that lets you get rid of those nasty disruption markers that degrade unit proficiency.

I pulled back quite a few units at the start of the impulse because I wanted to give them a chance to regroup.  The big advantage that NATO has over the Pact in this regard is that NATO units can fully recover their disruptions while the Warsaw Pact units cannot recover from the first level of disruption so once a Russian tank unit is hurt, for example, it stays hurt for the rest of the game.

To that end, I had several units in the south that the Pact had hurt quite badly, including a West German panzer division with five disruptions.  Up north near Hamburg, so many units were hurting that I basically pulled the line back to the nearest river and set up a defense there.  I could also see the real possibility of the Pact isolating and destroying the units very quickly in the coming turn with the way they were positioned.

Poor movement decisions in the first impulse seriously limited my attack options against the Warsaw Pact.  An unfortunate 3 -1 attack near Hamburg resulted in two disrupted NATO units and not a single loss for the Soviets.  Other minor attacks resulted in little to no gains being made.  I shuffled around my units in the second NATO combat/movement impulse to get some better results and ended up pushing back two divisions of the 28th Guards Army back across the East German border – not an easy task but something had to turn my way after the setbacks and terrible choices of the past turn.

Perhaps the best thing about this turn was that NATO had yet another chance to regroup its units and suddenly the situation was looking a lot better.  Both sides failed their escalation rolls at the end of the turn to see if they could use nuclear weapons in the coming turns.  That’s too bad because NATO could definitely use some nuclear assistance to push back the Soviets off of West German soil.

Here’s a short video to explain a bit more about what’s happened and what’s about to happen.

All of the aircraft that weren’t shot down return to base and we’ll make maintenance rolls at the beginning of next turn to see if they manage to get back up in the air.  NATO gets quite a few air reinforcements so I wouldn’t be surprised if it manages to get air superiority.  On the other hand, it’s slated to lose 2 random air units thanks to the Soviet Blackjack runway cratering mission earlier in the game turn.

From this point, I’ll play a bit more and then set up the game again and go for another try now that I’ve learned the very basics of play and I’ve had the chance to make some mistakes.

My impressions so far of “The Third World War”:  It’s a very tense game that makes you think hard about how to use your units and there are always tradeoffs as NATO between getting guys up to the front and rotating them to the back to recover.  For the Warsaw Pact, you have to be extremely forwad looking in order to exploit your second echelon moves otherwise you’ll be stuck slogging it out at the border.

I’m pretty sure that I blew the Pact’s first turn by approaching the front line in a big column of guys and trying to hammer at the enemy rather than exploiting gaps and pushing divisions and armies through the holes to isolate NATO units and then push on.  As it stands now, I’ll reset and see what can be done with the benefit of lessons learned.  My bet is that this game would probably have NATO winning in a couple of turns due to air superiority and reinforcements coming on line.  The Pact’s major advantages seem to lie at the beginning of the game and it quickly loses steam every turn henceforth.

Third World War: The Ground War – Part 2

Continuing with my posts on my first game of “The Third World War” here and I’ll try to provide a bit more detail here about what’s happening.  If you’re new to the game, it sort of flows in this basic sequence:

1.  Air Phase
2. Warsaw Pact move and attack (first echelon) with a NATO reserve movement phase in here afterwards
2a.  Warsaw Pact move and attack (second echelon)
3. Warsaw Pact move and attack (first echelon)
3b. Warsaw Pact move and attack (second echelon)
4. NATO move and attack x 2
5. End of Turn stuff (Supply, Aircraft maintenance, etc.)

Right now, I’ve gone through 2 and 3 and I’ve “paused” the game just at the end of phase 3 to give this little report.  Basically first echelon phases allow for everyone to move and attack and second echelon allows for those Pact units that are not in enemy ZOC to move and attack again.  This allows for the Pact to keep pushing with its attempt to find a breakthrough in the NATO lines.

The Warsaw Pact moved and attacked during the first echelon impulse phase and managed to dislodge a few NATO units but not make any real advances across the front.  No serious breakthroughs have happened although NATO is kind of in trouble around the center of the board.

A look at the board as the Warsaw Pact combat phases end and the NATO phase is about to start.

In the second echelon phase, the Warsaw Pact gets to move and attack with its units that are not in an enemy zone of control.  This means that if you have units behind the frontline (or if your units were lucky enough to push enemies back so they are no longer in your zone of control), they get to move and attack again.

Making mistakes is all part of being a new player and I’m no exception here.  I had forgotten to enter the Pact’s reinforcements on the board.  That’s okay – I send forward about six Soviet divisions, enetering on the east side of the board from Poland.  Most of the units are used to reinforce the successes in the center of the frontline although a couple of units are sent to buff up the northern sector near Denmark, which has had few successes against the stubborn NATO resistance in the area.

Although the Pact moves and rearranges a few forces along the line in the second echelon phase, the changes are quite minor to the overall battle and no further attacks are made in the second echelon.  I suspect my attacks have not been wisely coordinated enough with the second echelon impulse properly in mind.  I feel that even though I’m in the first turn, I should be well past the border by now.

The Warsaw Pact gets another full combat impulse with a first and second echelon movement and combat phase.  This time the Pact concentrates its attacks and tries to focus a little more on a breakout rather than just hitting randomly at weak units.  The results are a fair bit better this time as NATO crumbles a bit in the center of the board and Pact units are now 100 kms into West Germany.  The British lose the 3rd Armored Division up near Hannover while a West German mechanized division down south of Nurnberg gets hammered by the 4th Guards Tank and is sent back west in a retreat, taking two more disruptions (for a total of 5) by the time it pulls back towards Munich.

UK suffers losses from the 28th Guards Army southeast of Bremen
Further south of Bremen, the Pact is getting very close to a breakout!

The Soviets decide to help out the Poles in their attack on West Berlin but thanks to rolling a “1” on the attack die, the British, US, and French forces hang on, suffering only a single disruption.  It’s kind of amazing how such a small force is managing to tie up several divisions of armor and infantry and I need to take care of them very quickly so I can get those Poles to the front. (I initially thought those NATO units in West Berlin must be isolated but according to the rules, NATO units in the city are never isolated).

By the time the NATO impulse comes around (they get two in a row now), things are looking fairly good for the Pact near the Fulda Gap while the south of the map shows a steady advance of Pact units moving towards Munich (although most of them are suffering disruptions – which basically affects unit proficiency.  This acts to shift the CRT odds in favor of the enemy when attacking units with higher proficiency levels).

In the south of Germany  West Germans suffer major disruptions but Soviets are hurting a bit too.

In the north, a stalemate has occurred but there are quite a few Soviet tank divisions moving up from the line to help out after dealing serious damage to the nearby British.

Anyway, here’s a youtube video that sort of describes what’s been happening over the last couple of impulses and might help to make things more clear for those interested.

Next Up:  NATO!

The Third World War: Battle for Germany – The Ground War

Okay, it’s time for the Warsaw Pact to get this party started on the ground.  The first echelon impulse begins and we start with some jostling around the intra German border, hoping to hit at nearby NATO units and push hard past them.

The Intra German border at the start of WW3

Everything in the south part of the board suddenly looks pretty vulnerable right now on the western side of the border.  A couple of the Pact units in the extreme south make it  including the Czechs in the far south, who are hitting at the 4th Panzergrenadiers Division to the east of Augsburg.  The odds here are actually pretty low (only 1.5: 1 in the Pact’s favor) for this attack due to the low proficiency rating of the Czech divisions.  It probably would have been wiser to support their attack with a Soviet unit but I wanted to hit the 2nd ACR up north as hard as possible.  I also think that I can supplement the attack with air support, especially since the WP has air superiority this turn.

Su-25 Frogfoots revved up for the attack

Further north of that, to the east of N├╝rnberg, the 8th Guards Tank Army piles on the attack factors versus the 2nd Air Cav of the US 5th Division at odds of 5 – 1.  Again, I’m going to be sending in aircraft to bring up the odds even further and hopefully earn enough of a victory to send my Pact units far forward in the second echelon phase.

Everyone jumps in against the 1st Armored Division (15-15-7)

Going further up north, the Warsaw Pact is going to throw everything it can at the US VII Corps’ 1st Armored Division.  I’d like to start clearing out the big units here to free up my other guys so they can surge forward without having to worry about them too much.  This attack is a big combined operation consisting of the 8th Guards Army, 1st Guards Tank Army, and 8th Guards Tank Army.  Of course, I’d like to throw air into this battle too, even at 6-1 to make for a nice schmorgesborg of destruction.

The US V Corps’ 11th ACR is slated for annihilation next at 9-1 odds against.  No need to throw air into this one.  Unless something really bad happens, the poor 11th should be just a nice little speedbump on the way to Paris.

I’m gambling big time with a 1.5 – 1 attack vs. the British 1st Armored Division.  I know this isn’t a good idea but a good result for the Pact here could really set back NATO in the northern area and let the Warsaw Pact make some big gains in the ensuing second echelon phase.  Airstrikes are going in to help improve Pact odds.

As we get further north, up near Magdeburg, the 1st Panzer Division is about to get its lumps.  Facing off against the entire 3rd Shock Army at odds of 8 to 1, a victory for the Pact here could rip open the entire northern area for advance since there are so many gaps in the line around here. At the northernmost point, the area around Hamburg is getting crowded with NATO units, so it’s time to at least try and send one of them packing.  The West German 1st Airborne Helo Regiment and the 3rd Panzer Division are attacked by 2nd Guards Army and 4th Guards Tank Army (which has just rolled in from Poland, I believe) at 2-1.  Hopefully, Pact air strikes will make the difference here by shifting the odds a little further in the Soviets’ favor.

Over to the east, the Poles are assigned the task of crushing NATO forces in West Berlin.  Although the fight looks easy enough at first due to overwhelming numbers, the proficiency of NATO units (especially the British) in West Berlin and the perils of urban fighting help to tip the balance a little further towards the beleaguered NATO units.  At 3 – 1, the Poles should be able to pull of a win here but I’ll throw some air at the situation to try and ensure success.

Ground Attack: 

A total of 5 Su-25 air units are assigned to hit at the NATO forces along the border and in West Berlin.  NATO decides to stay its hand and doesn’t send up any counter-air as it would likely get shot down pretty quick.  Also, with the impending loss of two flights from the runway cratering mission, it might be wise to be a bit conservative with its air right now.  Hopefully, air defense will manage to be enough.

The missions take off and…hol…ee…crow.  Only one mission succeeds while air defenses cause two aborted missions and shoot down the remaining two air strike missions.  The good news for the Pact is that the West German 1st Helo and 3rd Panzer Division are now being attacked at 5-1 near Hamburg.  However, there were two missions that really needed to get through that cause me great concern (the 1.5-1 fight between the Czechs and West Germans in the deep south and the 1.5 – 1 fight against the British 1st Armored Division near Hamburg in the north).  I’m suddenly starting to get a sinking feeling here about the coming battle.

Attack Results:

The terrible effects of losing so many aircraft on ground attack missions is sobering and the lesson has hopefully been learned – air support is is to be used as additional insurance for attacks rather than a substitute for a lack of ground attack strength.  It can shift the odds in your favor but shouldn’t be relied upon too heavily.

The frontline after the first echelon attack phase

Despite all that, the attack rolls don’t go too badly for the Warsaw Pact.  Near Hamburg, the 3rd Panzer Division and 1st Helo are take 2 disruptions and get pushed all the way back to the city.  The 1st Panzer Division east of Hannover gets completely destroyed as does the poor 11th ACR further to the south near the Fulda Gap.  South of that, the 2nd ACR takes two disruptions and retreats back southwest.

The attack against the British ends up with nothing gained, nothing lost as both sides take a disruption hit.  The big loser here is the US VII Corps 1st Armored Division, which takes 2 disruptions and is forced to retreat.  This was the most powerful unit the Pact attacked this turn and this result hurts NATO.  To make matters worse, because it passes through the LOC of a Pact unit on its way back, it takes yet another disruption.  Down at the very south of the map, the Czechs fail to gain any ground, inflicting a disruption against the West Germans and suffering disruptions themselves.  I believe the Pact will be able to carry out a few interesting moves here in the second echelon phase.

I think I got everything right in this phase!  I’m sure I could have allocated the attacks in a better way but as this is my first playthrough, it felt pretty good to actually get some units past the border.  Now let’s see what we can do with the gaps we’ve created.

Up Next:  Warsaw Pact Second Echelon Impulse!

The Third World War: The Air War – Turn 1

This is just a series of short posts dealing with my attempts to play through a turn of “The Third World War” in order to learn the basics of the game.  If you haven’t tried it before, hopefully this will give you some insight into how it plays – providing I don’t make too many major rules errors!

The Air Superiority Phase starts and the Soviets throw anything up in the air that might be able to fly – regardless of whether it’s obsolete junk or the newest high-tech fighters.  They have more air units available this turn (NATO starts getting serious with air reinforcements in the coming turns) so this is the Warsaw Pact’s big chance for AS (and probably the only time they’ll get it all game, from what I’ve been reading).

Warsaw Pact throws almost everything into the air to gain air superiority on turn 1

With 24 air units on air superiority missions, NATO concedes the air to the Warsaw Pact for now and assigns its better aircraft (F-15s and F-16s mostly) to intercept Pact air missions attempting strike or ground attack missions.  The rule here is that the player who has air superiority gets to have two air units on air superiority missions (escorts, interception, top cover, etc.) while the one without only gets to have one unit on these kinds of missions.

The Deep Strike Phase happens and NATO is unable to launch any strikes on turn 1 so the Pact goes ahead and tries for a runway cratering mission and also a logistical strike.  The cratering mission is flown by long range Tu-160 Blackjack bombers and escorted by Su-27s and Mig-29s.  Meanwhile, the logistical strike mission will be flown by Polish Su-20 attack aircraft and also escorted by Su-27s and Mig-29s.

NATO scrambles USAF F-15s to attempt to intercept the incoming strike missions.  First off, we resolve interception against the cratering mission and the F-15s manage to shoot down the Su-27 escorts before being shot down by the Mig-29s.  The same exact thing happens with the F-15s intercepting the logistical strike mission.  Despite the nasty losses of the F-15s for NATO, the loss of the Su-27s is far more devastating for the Warsaw Pact, which has fewer high capability combat aircraft to lose.  NATO still has F-15s left in its arsenal and will have more coming online in future turns.

Left:  Runway cratering mission w/ escorts vs F-15s  Right:  Logistical Strike mission w/ escorts vs F-15s

The runway cratering mission gets to its destination and has some remarkable luck, catching two NATO air units on the runway and destroying them (these aircraft will be randomly selected and removed in an upcoming impulse).  The logistical strike is also quite successful, putting 5 NATO brigades out of supply.  This will come into effect on the turn 2 Supply Phase*.  So far, things have been going quite well for the Soviets and their allies but the real test is yet to come.

*Oops, no. That should have come into effect immediately.  I tried to balance this out in the subsequent turn.

Next up:  The Ground War begins!