Happy New Year!

 

Late last month, I made all the books from 2017 available in a single volume. At first, I was honestly tempted to stop writing the series at this point and just put the offering there for anyone who wanted to read and enjoy the series. Looking back over the books I had written was invigorating! Some of them worked out well while a couple of them fizzle out. However, there was enough good material and enough lessons learned to keep me going with the series in the new year.

Today, I began work on the next installment of the series. The next book will feature a look at Operation Gladio. This was reportedly a covert NATO operation to have a stay-behind force to conduct guerrilla operations in the event of a Warsaw Pact invasion of Europe. Although little is really known about Gladio, there have been enough hair-raising headlines to offer a good fiction-writer some ideas for a story set in the Tales of World War III: 1985 series. I’m enjoying the developing characters and dilemmas that the characters face in the story and – not to worry – there are some fun action sequences to satisfy readers who want a thrilling read. I’ll keep you updated on the progress of the book throughout the month. Thanks for reading.

NATO Air Commander – Designer’s Thoughts

I spent a lot of time this year in what one might generously term “interesting circumstances”.

One of the outcomes of that was a game I had in the back of my mind for years.

NATO Air Commander is the first game I have ever designed and I’m particularly humbled by the show of early support from playtesters and wargamers. Tom and Mary Russell, the heads of Hollandspiele Games, were particularly supportive and I am especially grateful for that.

Just like the title says, this is a solitaire game that is supposed to put the player in the shoes of an Allied Air Commander during a hypothetical World War III set around 1987.

To that end, the decisions you make in this game are big theater decisions and the scale of the game works on the level of flights of aircraft. Each turn, you’re creating and assembling raids and assigning missions to air units, hoping to influence the ground war – over which you have limited control.

The game came out of a desire to see more depth in the air portion of the wargames that I was playing. Quite often in traditional wargames, air units are relegated to bombing the hell out of an enemy counter during a separate air phase and shifting the CRT to the right one or two columns during ground combat. This game is coming at the issue from another angle where you have some deeper decisions over how your air units fit into the overall warplan.

During the early part of the summer, I read a few books that directed the development of the game. The first was Dr. Albert Price’s Air Battle Central Europe. This helped me think about the missions that different aircraft would perform and how they would work together in the “big picture” air war. Another book was Col. James Silfe’s Creech Blue. This book talks about how NATO tactical air was utterly transformed in the post-Vietnam era. That brought me around to reading about General Bernard Rogers, who was NATO’s supreme commander during the 1980s. That pulled me towards the importance of hitting at follow-on-forces since General Rogers thought this would be an intrinsic part of winning any World War III scenario in Central Europe. This paper delves nicely into the topic.

I tried to provide a smorgasbord of missions that would allow you to attack the enemy in your own way and to formulate your own air strategy. You can certainly just shove all your air units to the front and hammer at the enemy with close air support. It may not be enough to turn the tide though. The Warsaw Pact is a huge beast and you’ll find yourself scattered thin in any such attempt.

Or you can go for enemy headquarters and try to stifle overall command and control ability, which will slowly influence how the game plays out from turn to turn. This is done by letting the player remove cards from the game. It takes time for that to work though – and as the NATO player you don’t have much of it.

You can also decide to spend your time and resources hitting at the enemy’s defenses and trying to gain air supremacy. The only problem is that you’ll have to take precious resources away from performing CAS missions at the front or hitting at enemy reinforcements that are rolling to the front. All the while, you’ll be getting screamed at by ground commanders to hit back at the enemy pushing through in their sector.

I wanted the game to provide the player with tough decisions and live with their consequences. I also wanted the feeling of frustration at succeeding in the air war but it still just might not be enough to win things on the ground. I’m not sure I have that right yet and I am hoping the playtesters’ comments will help me guide things in the right direction for that.

I also wanted NATO Air Commander to be a simple and fast-playing game. An ideal playing time would be an hour or so. This is because I’m a really busy guy with not a lot of spare time. I am worried that games of this type tend to get bloated (and some are bloated in amazing ways, mind you).

I learned some very important things with this first design. The first is that WOW – designing a game is definitely not an easy task. I thought NAC would be simple to design because I was trying to make it simple to play. After my first couple of solo playtests with my first version of the rules, I had an inkling of just how hard it was going to be. I revised and tinkered with the rules for months and each time I thought I had things right, something else would pop up that brought me back to the drawing board. When people talk about “unfinished games”, they are really talking about every game.

The second thing I learned is that game design requires a certain amount of faith and a considerable amount of hubris. Making estimations of real-world unit capabilities was one of the toughest things I had ever done. Coming up with a formula for values was nearly impossible. At first, I counted hardpoints on air units, then the issue of range came up, then electronic warfare capabilities, pilot training, etc. There is a tendency to try and take so much into account that the formulas start to break down at some point.

The answer was to simplify. I looked at what other games around that time had done, read about the primary roles of each air unit in real life and the weapons they could carry, and then made some modifications from there. Much of it is guesswork and that’s okay because we’re talking about a conflict that never actually happened. There’s some liberty in that but I know I’ll have people who are unhappy with the A-10’s ground rating of “7” or whatever. I can live with that.

Hopefully though, the game will be enjoyable more than anything else. If it brings a smile to someone’s face, it will have done it’s job.

Battle for Berlin ’85 Released!

The Battle for Berlin: 1985I have just published The Battle for Berlin: 1985, my newest entry in the Tales of World War III: 1985 series. I am very proud of this work and I think it represents my best effort so far.

The book is about a Special Deployment Commando team in West Berlin during an invasion of the city by the Warsaw Pact forces. It deals with the personalities involved in the small elite unit as it learns to fight a losing battle against a numerically superior force.

During the course of the first day’s fighting, the members of the team experience first-hand the trauma and shock of modern warfare, watching and taking part in the destruction of their hometown with nowhere to retreat.

There is intrigue, betrayal, and military action all wrapped up in this one story as the desperate battle for West Berlin is waged on the first day of World War III.

Go and grab your copy here and let me know what you think.

Summer Reading

For this summer, I’m happy to be reading some books from some of my favorite authors. Jim Butcher is great and I am reading Fool Moon from the Dresden Files. Very nice atmosphere and way to take a fresh approach on the pulp noir genre. I also have my sights set on Colder Than Hell by Joseph Owen, an excellent true story about a company commander in the Korean War. Finally, I’ve been reading a book called Creech Blue about Bill Creech’s influence on modern air war strategy in the 1980s. Not as dry as I expected and downright fascinating how one man can make so many positive changes in such a short time.

Enemy Lines – The Revenge Story

So if you read Enemy Lines, you’ll notice there’s a little loose thread at the end of the book that I have left dangling. Not to spoil it for anyone who hasn’t yet read it, but there’s a certain someone that has something coming to them. If you’re wondering how that plays out, have no fear. I’m writing that short story right now and I’ll be including it as a free download in the coming weeks.

As for my other works in the series, summer has been busy and I have slowed my pace of writing down a bit. But I have something very nice planned for the next book and I’ll be dropping hints about it in some upcoming blog posts. Stay tuned!

Nord Kapp: How it All Played Out

Quick post today. The scenario depicted in my latest book, “Storm Scarred Banner” was based off a game created in 1983 by legendary designer Charles T. Kamps. For a look at how the game played out, you can read my blog post here over on my game blog. One thing I wish I had talked more about in the book was how the weather influences fighting just as it did in the game. Enjoy!

A Man and a Plan: General Bernard Rogers and FOFA

Since my last book, “Storm Scarred Banner” was released a couple of weeks ago, I’ve been busy with a game design project. Although I can’t say too much about it at this point, I can tell you that it looks at the large-scale events in the book series from a broad top-down perspective.  To that end,  I’ve been conducting research and deepening my knowledge of the wider issues of a Third World War fought in the 1980s.

One of the more interesting ideas I didn’t know about until yesterday was that of FOFA or “Follow On Forces Attack”.

In the 1980s, NATO was trying to figure out the best way to stop the Soviets from succeeding with a conventional war in Europe. Knowing that Soviet doctrine relied on the echelon system, where successive waves of troops would be thrown into battle time and time again, the new NATO strategy came to be that of hitting these successive waves from the air as they came up to their staging areas behind the front.

General Bernard Rogers, who was SACEUR throughout most of the 1980s, was a major proponent of this concept. General Rogers, a force of nature in military circles back then, was  concerned with the overwhelming advantage in numbers of men and tanks that sat behind the Iron Curtain. Despite NATO’s unquestionable technological superiority, Rogers seemed concerned that it was not enough to deter or stop the Warsaw Pact from gaining the upper hand in a conventional fight.

Despite falling out of favor with Washington and forced to resign over comments related to the withdrawal of Intermediate Nuclear Forces in Europe, Rogers’ FOFA concept was held in esteem by many military thinkers at the time. To read more about FOFA and how it would have been put into practice, check out this study project paper from the US Army War College in 1990. Very interesting reading.

Storm Scarred Banner Released!

A week ago, I uploaded my latest book, “A Storm Scarred Banner” to the Amazon Kindle Store. Since then it has taken off along with the rest of the books in the “Tales of World War III: 1985” series.

The title comes from the lyrics to the Norwegian national anthem, from the line:

“Rugged, storm-scarred o’er the ocean. With her thousand homes”

I thought that was quite stirring and lovely. The effect is almost visceral and the story of how the country was forged through battle and peace was appropriate for a novel of this sort. The banner, of course, refers to the red banner of the Soviet Union and the Red Banner Fleet.

I think this is one of my better works in the series because it looks a little more closely at the soldier’s lot in a war. There are no superheroes in this book – just men trying their best to survive in their current situation.

Inside The Soviet Army

One of the best aspects of writing a book like this is expanding my own knowledge and understanding of how the Soviet and NATO military doctrines worked, from the divisional level to the level of the individual soldier. I tried to touch upon this in the first book of the “Tales of World War III” series with three short stories that looked at such a conflict from different scales. The reviews I read of the book showed that some people “got” what I was trying to do and some people didn’t, which is fine too.

The sources I’ve used for these books include games, magazines, and books. My current favorite book on this topic is Victor Suvarov’s “Inside the Soviet Army”, published in 1982. Suvarov was a high ranking armor officer in the Soviet army for many years and brought his extensive knowledge and experience to bear in this book.

Some of the interesting finds in this book include the routine bullying and harassment that new recruits faced from the conscripts who were more senior to them – not in rank but relative to how close they were to finishing their two-year service period. I had never read anything about this in the popular fiction about this time period so I decided to incorporate it into my newest book.

One of the main characters, Yuri Semenovich, is a conscript who has just been assigned to the 45th Motorized Rifle Division. His platoon is infested with severe bullying from the other more senior men around him. Terrorized by a gang of thugs, he decides to ride out the abuse as best as he can until the war is over. This decision has a series of consequences that transform the young Yuri over the course of one week. It become apparent that Yuri’s enemies are not only NATO troops but also the men who serve with him.

How will Yuri deal with being caught between the two of them?

Nord Kapp – Morality in War

The story I’m currently writing in the series explores a couple of different themes. The major theme here is courage. For the characters involved, courage comes in many forms and this short work tries to explore moral courage especially. As the chaos of war is brought into the characters’ lives, they are thrust into situations that test their moral fiber to stand up for what is right. Not so easy to do in the midst of a world war.

I chose this theme because I realized the best war movies out there tend to address this component. In particular, the movies Platoon and Casualties of War are about moral courage. Apocalypse Now seems to dismiss the possibility of morality in an inherently immoral act of war but I would disagree with this notion. Certainly, there are enough examples of people doing the “right thing” even in the most terrible situations.

Rest assured, the story also tries to show how such a conflict might actually have happened. I’m currently researching equipment and training for the forces involved. Also, I’m wargaming the situation out with a wargame called Nord Kapp, published in 1983 by SPI. It’s a fascinating look at what a conventional modern conflict in the Arctic Circle might have looked like. You can follow it on my wargaming blog, Hexsides & Hand Grenades.