Anti-Submarine Warfare: A Review

  • Author: Rear Admiral J.R. Hill
  • Year Published: 1984
  • Published by: Ian Allan Ltd.

In the mid-1980s, UK-based publisher Ian Allan Ltd. noticed something was wrong. The market had become saturated with military books that featured photos and dry numbers about the latest equipment. Very few of these publications, however, addressed the basic question of how all this stuff was used. Knowing a weapon’s range or a ship’s sensor suite was all well and good, but understanding why it had been built that way and how it worked in combat wasn’t really clear.

Ian Allan attempted to fill this gap with a three-part collection called Combat Roles. Written by men who were experienced and knowledgeable in each field, the books explored the various aspects of modern warfare. Written for the layman, they explored the central dilemmas and tradeoffs that drove weapons design and development throughout the years. They also offered an idea of how each system would hold up in major combat (i.e. the outbreak of World War III).

The first of these offerings, Anti-Submarine Warfare sets a high bar for the rest of the Combat Roles series. Its writer, Rear Admiral John Richard Hill served 41 years in the Royal Navy. Much of that time was spent on destroyers and frigates before working at the Ministry of Defense. Hill wrote no less than 14 books and countless articles that were published in defense journals throughout the world. He was an editor of the Naval Review and the Chairman of the Navy Records Society. So we’re in good hands here.

Hill opens with an introduction that covers the history of anti-submarine warfare and its development from the Second World War to the mid-1980s. We get an outline of the various roles of the modern submarine, from strategic deterrence to tactical employment against shipping and inshore operations. From the outset, he makes it very clear that the start of submarine warfare marks a clear step from tension to war. And for that reason, the rules of engagement in these areas will be fairly liberal. This is the underlying assumption that Hill works with for the rest of the book.

The Soviet threat to NATO convoys in event of WW3 in Central Europe

Chapter Two describes the current threat to NATO. Since the book is from 1984, this is obviously the Soviet Union. More specifically, NATO had planned much of its sea strategy around dealing with the Soviet ballistic missile submarine force, which was designed to attack and destroy NATO countries. Proof of this threat came from the USSR itself – with Gorshkov’s books placing great emphasis on “Fleet against Shore” activities (interpreted as sea-based nuclear attack on an opponent’s homeland) in his own writings.

Hill outlines the development of Soviet ballistic missile nuclear submarines since the end of the war. For decades, the Russians were plagued with problems in attempting to find a satisfactory sea-based ballistic program. A long string of failures led to the development of the dreaded Typhoon class submarine, which he describes as a “submarine battleship.” Its titanium hulls (Hill speculates it has two – actually, it has five), displacement (Hill estimates 30,000 tons – actually its 48,000 tons), and missile-capacity must have seemed fearsome to any naval analyst in the early to mid-80s.

In the same chapter, we get a look at the other side of the coin. The Soviet attack submarine force was largely neglected during WW2. The Russians didn’t seem to know or care much about how to use them. This changed dramatically after the war ended. With one eye toward protecting their homeland against the Polaris submarine threat and the other at taking on American aircraft carriers and NATO shipping, the Soviet attack submarine program took shape in the decades that followed. The design and development of nuclear-powered boats soon took precedence over conventional diesel boats.

Basic ranges and positioning of ASW assets at work

In Chapter Three, Hill writes about the “how” of ASW. Here we get a rundown of how sound travels through water and how the thermocline influences its propagation. Two major factors in understanding the underwater environment are 1.) the volume and quality of data that can be collected and 2.) the depth at which sensors are placed.

There is a constant tradeoff being made in an effort to determine a.) whether a submarine is out there (condition POSSUB) and b.) how to find it (CERTSUB). Advanced sensors pick up more noise and are therefore more susceptible to false alarms. Active sonar has its own particular problems – its range can be increased but at the expense of accuracy. Furthermore, the range of active sonar does not increase proportionately with the power applied. At some point, the law of diminishing returns steps in.

Non-acoustic detection has its own host of problems. Magnetic Anomaly Detectors (MAD) can detect submarines by looking for changes in the earth’s magnetic field caused by the presence of a submarine’s composition – ferrous metals. Unfortunately, their range is limited. Hill discusses the possible future ability to detect minute temperature changes on the water’s surface created by the passage of a submarine far below. This phenomena, known as “thermal scarring”, may be detectable to airborne and satellite observers.

Destroying a submarine consists of five distinct parts: Detection, Classification, Localisation, Tracking, and Kill. Hill describes how this is achieved through the use of bottom arrays, processing equipment such as computers, the use of active sonar and MAD, sonobuoys, and explosives. All of this equipment has its drawbacks and each step is fraught with the possibility for error. A successful ASW campaign involves understanding the intentions of the enemy as well as one’s own capabilities to detect and ultimately kill the enemy.

Chapter Four deals with Weapons. Hill shows how ASW has, by necessity, become a complex and integrated system with various weapons platforms working in concert.

Since submarine speeds have increased considerably since World War 2, the major issue has become how ASW platforms can deliver weapons systems quickly against a detected underwater threat. At the time of writing, rocket-propelled torpedoes such as the Sea Lance system were being developed to address this issue. Helicopters offer even greater flexibility, but are constrained by weight and fuel capacity in terms of the weapons and detection equipment they can carry. Hill goes into considerable detail about the proliferation of towed arrays and how they work.

In Chapter Five, Hill postulates how the ASW battle would be carried out in a hypothetical World War III between NATO and the Warsaw Pact. Winning the sea battle would be essential for NATO victory in Central Europe. The primary roles of the navy would be to reinforce Europe, preserve the West’s own strategic deterrence, and either destroy or deter the use of Soviet nuclear ballistic submarines. Sea power would also determine how the war progressed on NATO’s northern and southern flanks.

A look at how ASW assets might be deployed during periods of tension between superpowers

On the offense, Hill suggests a free-for-all approach to defeating the Soviets rather than a set-piece naval battle. He sees independent anti-submarine operations as a way to deceive and confuse the Russians. Only when it suited them would NATO’s submarine and surface forces work in concert to eliminate the Soviet threat.

The Support Group concept as illustrated

As for protecting NATO convoys against Soviet submarines, he believes that sea lanes are impossible to protect given the increasing range of modern cruise missiles and torpedoes. Rerouting convoys to the south would only lengthen supply routes to Central Europe.

Convoy protection boils down to the problem of scale and resources. Hill argues for a shifting support group concept where a constantly-moving collection of ASW platforms (ships, helicopters, carriers, ASW patrol craft) would operate with each other to detect and destroy threats as merchant shipping is passed along each successive patrol area like a conveyor belt.

The book shows that ASW is as much an art form as it is a matter of technology. There is no single simple solution that can be applied to each problem or scenario. Even with all the systems working together, conducting these operations is fraught with the very real possibility of human or machine error.

Overall, Hill’s book is an excellent introduction to the concepts and practice of anti-submarine warfare. It is written simply and with numerous charts, photos, and maps to elaborate his points. Although some of the data on Soviet subs was understandably unavailable at the time, the basics of how to deal with – and ultimately kill them – are no less applicable. I learned more about ASW in this short volume than from all the books about Cold War naval equipment I had ever browsed.

MBT: The Gap

“The Gap” is scenario 3 from Jim Day’s popular MBT (second edition, GMT, 2015).

The Soviet 8th Guards Army are pouring over the border into West Germany along with the rest of the Warsaw Pact. The 79th Guards Tank Division is given the honor of advancing first into the Fulda Gap, where it meets elements of the US 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment (ACR), the Blackhorse Regiment. The cav’s mission – delay the Soviet forces while the rest of the US forces move up towards the border.

In this scenario, the US gets an under-strength Armored Cav Troop. That means we have an M1IP tank platoon (the IP model was basically a slightly upgraded M1 Abrams in terms of armor and electronics) and two pairs of M3 Bradleys along with an M106 for indirect fire support. We also get four recon infantry sections armed with little more than LAWs to deal with the oncoming onslaught of Soviet armor.

The Soviets get a ton of tanks and fighting vehicles. They have an entire reinforced tank company with which to take on the US cavalry. This means four platoons of T-80BV tanks, three platoons of BMP-2s filled with infantry that have RPG-22s (and in one case, a Saxhorn ATGM launcher). They also have three self-propelled artillery guns and a couple of engineer squads riding around in a pair of BTR-70s. They get a BRM-1 reconnaissance vehicle too. That is a heck of a lot of firepower.

The major US advantages lie with the American concealment and prepared fighting positions. Two vehicles may set up in a hull down position while four units can use hidden unit markers (I am playing solo so I didn’t use these). The US player also gets a bonus when searching for hull down positions and a +20 to initiative rolls each turn.

The main objective of the Soviets is to get off the left edge of the map board. The Americans obviously want to prevent this from happening.

Here’s how it went:

Initial US Setup (ignore the errant KO marker)

We’ve got map board 1 above map board 3 here with a village or town on either side of the maps. The game starts up with the US set up and the Soviets off board. From turn 1, the Soviets get their tanks moving while the rest of the company (BMPs etc.) comes on board on turn 3.

One of the great things about the US M3 and infantry cav units is that they are recon units and therefore get their own unique command counters. No need to be within the command span of the US company HQ.

I set my units up with the idea of basically funneling the Soviets through the middle of the map and into the kill zone set up by my M1 tanks. To this effect, I put infantry up on the top of the southern hill in the woods hex under full cover. The M3s are set up on the east side of the hill. I am hoping to hit out at the Soviets as they come on the board and then pull them back over the hill as soon as possible.

To the north of them, I put infantry beside the road to ambush any hapless Soviet tanks that try to dash west along it. To the north of them, set up in Hull Down positions, are two M3 Bradleys. To the west, set up in and around the crops (the crops give automatic partial hull down cover) are my M1 tank platoon.

Further west in the village is an infantry squad and the company HQ tank along with the M106 artillery and an M3 Bradley with a TOW launcher to fire from extreme range.

Infantry and M3 Bradleys set up on and near hill in SE corner of map. 
NE of map: A pair of Bradleys and infantry near the road set up on overwatch.
M1 Tank platoon set up in NW corner of map with CHQ and arty in village

Turn 1:

End of Turn 1

During Turn 1, the Soviet tanks come on board, taking eye-watering losses to long-range ATGM fire from the Bradleys. Three tanks are knocked out by the Bradleys on the hill on the northeast section of the map. A Bradley way back on the western edge takes out another T-80. The pair of M3s to the south miss both their shots with the second one actually incurring a weapons malfunction!

Turn 2:

End Turn 2

By the end of turn 2, the Soviets have lost another pair of T-80s. However, the lead platoon is nearly halfway across the map and has managed a kill on an M1. The M3 Bradleys down near the southeast of the map are in deep trouble. One is killed while the other is in full reverse trying to get away from a pair of tanks rumbling towards it. As you can probably guess, the surviving M3 is the one with the weapons malfunction.

Turn 3:

Turn 3

The Soviets try to use a kind of bounding overwatch to move their remaining tanks forward. A pair of T-80s is pursuing the M3 Bradley to the south, getting dangerously close to being out of the command span (the scenario rules say the Russian command span is 8 but I used 10 here). At this point, it hits me that this is probably a bad idea. The T-80s both fire and somehow both miss their prey.

The BMPs come on board and head west out of the little town nearest their map edge. Due to the trees to the north, the M3 Bradleys cannot get an LOS on them even though they are on top of a large hill.

Turn 4:

The M1s are engaged with a Soviet tank platoon near the center of the board so the Soviet commander decides to just skirt around the southern hill and send the rest of his guys west while the Americans deal with the tanks. This seems like a pretty reasonable tactic at this point. There isn’t really anything that can hurt them that much, right?

Turn 5:

The remaining pair of T-80s manage to both score kills on two M1 tanks at point blank range before being cut down by the Company HQ tank and the M3 Bradley in the town. A pair of T-80s races out of command span and tries to get into firing position near the town while the BMPs make a run across the hill and try to dash off the map.

Unfortunately for the Soviets, the M3’s weapons malfunction is repaired now and it starts killing BMPs. The pair of M3 Bradleys on the northern hill come down and try to get in position to score some kills on the swarm of BMPs as they make their escape. The infantry start to open fire on the nearest BMPs as they roll into sight.

Turn 6:

More devastation occurs as the infantry up on the southern hill start firing off LAWs at the escaping BMPs, scoring a pair of hits. The M3 on the hill pours in GP fire on a Russian squad that has bailed out of its damaged vehicle. Meanwhile, the CHQ and the M3 in the town manage to easily dispatch the T-80s that were attempting to provide cover fire. The swarm of BMPs has been whittled down to a little over two platoons.

The BTR-70s near the center of the map start firing at the M3 Bradleys at close range, causing a bail out result on one. The other is unscratched.

Turn 7:

A BMP manages to kill off the American M3 Bradley in the town to the north. Both CHQs fire at each other at point blank range and miss. The US artillery fire combined with the infantry GP fire and the M3 Bradley on the southern hill massacre two squads worth of Soviet troops, eliminating one and reducing two others.

On Turn 8, the rest of the BMPs and the Soviet CHQ race off the map edge, leaving behind the BTR-70s and (oops!) the 2S1 artillery as well. I have totally forgotten about them and concede them as lost to the enemy by the end of the scenario.

As you can guess, the Soviets lost badly in this one, with the US VPs reaching nearly double what was required for a win (something around 740, I think? – I was too numbed to count).

I had fun with this scenario. It’s really tense and although it may look like a cakewalk for the Soviets just by sheer numbers, it’s really easy to make a bad decision and lose quickly. Up until about turn 4, it looked like the Soviets would just cakewalk through the whole thing.

However, the Americans managed to cause enough problems to effectively hinder the Russians forces as they rushed towards the map edge. I would like to try this scenario again, this time using the Russian artillery more wisely and focusing my firepower just a bit more before rushing forward.

Berlin ’85 – The Setup

I’ve spent some time with Berlin ‘85 over the past couple of weeks now. I find it to be a bloody game with a peculiar agony awaiting both players who venture down its path. If you have already played the game, you will understand exactly what I mean. For those, who haven’t tried it, you’ll get an idea when you read the full playthrough report.

I wanted to get something out there for B85 since I’ve been getting lots of people asking and posting and commenting about it. So here’s the Setup and some notes about the game and why I’ve made certain decisions.

The NATO player sets up first. For this scenario:

The West German police (the blue units) set up on Supply Hexes anywhere in West Berlin and on any airfield control hexes.

The Americans set up in the American sector (duh!) two hexes from any barracks hexes. The French and British do the same in their sectors.

But before we do all that, let’s look at the lay of the land, my son.

We have one natural barrier running north-south into the British sector. A minor river running east-west in the American sector. And nothing in the French sector. The rest is just ugly city fighting.

There really aren’t any clear ways of saying this but you’re generally screwed from the outset. The question is…just how long will it take until we’re not only generally but completely screwed? For good measure, the city starts off completely surrounded by East German and Soviet forces so there will be no breakthroughs or brilliant counterattacks here.

Couple of general guidelines:

Setting up in Urban or Industrial areas is good. These give the most favorable combat column shifts for the defender (4 and 3 respectively).

Setting up in a POL site is extremely bad. It doesn’t take much artillery firepower to completely wipe out these hexes and cause a firestorm that kills everything within it. Most notably, firestorms can spread to other adjacent POL hexes so just being around these things is bad.

Barracks and Air Control Towers are worth two surrender points versus the normal one point for other victory hexes. These are worth keeping a unit in even though it’s gonna be targeted like crazy and will probably not last long at all.

Autobahn hexes should be protected or at least have a unit close enough to project a ZOC into in order to stop the WP from zooming around the city at will.

Then when you finish doing that, check out all those U-bahn hexes you forgot to cover with guys. Move some of your counters to make up for that and see that now you don’t have enough guys guarding the bridges. Now adjust your counters again a bit and see that there aren’t enough guys protecting key victory points. Now adjust your counters yet again and realize that you don’t have enough guys covering the autobahn hexes.

Now sigh and hold your head in your hands. The Warsaw Pact will get through and your little outpost will fall. There are too many holes in the dike. Too many bad guys coming at you all at once.

West Berlin Police

The best I can do is set up my West Berlin police units in the heart of Berlin where they gain the greatest combat shifts and where they can protect the U-bahn from being used as a Warsaw Pact merry-go-round. I also set up a few on the outskirts to serve as speed bumps for vital crossing points for ferries.

West Berlin Police Setup


US Garrison

Now it’s time for the rest of the NATO units to set up. First, we’ll set up the US units.

I try to space out the mechanized infantry units evenly enough. I set them behind the bridge crossings near the heart of the city, hoping this sends the WP further west on its attack. Of course the coverage isn’t perfect but there was an attempt.

Artillery goes way back to hex 2136 and I shore up my bridge defenses with a couple of MP and Engineer units. Tempelhof is too lightly defended. I know it. But that city center will hold for quite some time before it crumbles…hopefully.

US Army Setup

British Garrison
Now it’s the Brits turn to set up in their sector. I think the biggest question for the British garrison is whether or not to try and defend Gatow. It would require a ton of resources to try and hold while at the same time leaving so many other areas of the city without coverage. 
I elect to abandon it for the most part, except for one token unit to divert a few WP units from their rush towards the city center.
Most of the Berlin Brigade sets up west of the river, hoping to block the attackers long enough to get help from somewhere – anywhere – in a timely manner. The artillery sets up dangerously close to the river bank on the east side. The hope is to wage a fighting withdrawal across the river and draw east towards downtown.
British Setup

French Garrison

Then we at last come to the French sector. Woo boy. The French have no real natural barriers against the WP. The barracks are set too far north and there simply aren’t enough French soldiers to adequately defend the sector. 

The best I can do is set up some kind of awkward defense based around Foch Barracks and try to keep the WP attacking from the north at bay for a turn or two. The major routes to the city center are blocked off by ZOCs but this is absolutely a weak point from a numbers and terrain perspective.
French setup. 40 Mech is in Foch Barracks.
Well, that’s my unhappy setup for the NATO forces in this scenario. Let’s hope they manage to hold.
For the Warsaw Pact troops, the decisions are much easier.

1st East German
No-brainer here. We have prescribed hexes for setup to the southeast of the city. Obviously, these units will be rushing towards the US sector and trying to clear resistance on the outskirts of the city.
1 East German Setup
14th Guards Mechanized Division

Sets up within a certain number of hexes of the southern edge. These guys go straight up the middle and try to cut off the defenders to the east and link up with whatever remains of the 1st East German division after it cuts its teeth on the American defenders to the west.
14th Guards Mechanized Division
19th Soviet Mechanized Division
Set up to the west of the city. These guys are aimed at the British. Do we split them up and take Gatow or go headlong into the British defenders. I want those VPs so I’m gonna send three guys down to take Gatow airfield. I’ll keep one regiment in reserve with the rocket artillery placed to support either front. I’m not expecting anything amazing from these guys until the French are taken care of to the north and I can get in behind the Brits with the 6th Guards Mechanized Division.
19 Soviet Mechanized Division
Soviet 6th Guards Mechanized Division
These guys set up to the north. I put three units west of the river and the rest of them to the east. The main body will advance directly south and destroy the French. The smaller group of units will advance south and wreak havoc in the rear area of the British Sector. Hopefully they can even take out an artillery unit or two to ease the passage of the 19th Sov. Mech Division.
6 Guards Mechanized Division setup
34th Artillery Division

These guys are set up in East Germany or East Berlin within a certain number of hexes from the map edge. I have no solid plans for these guys other than to move them towards the city center and use for incidental support for whatever they can hit out and reach. The East Berlin police are useful for protecting these units so I’ll set them up in East Berlin.
34th Artillery Division sets up in East Berlin
East Berlin Police
I like to use these guys to protect the 34th Artillery division. Just place them in East Berlin and block off any ZOCs in the unlikely case that NATO tries anything foolish. 
East Berlin police setup
Conclusion:

And that’s it for setup!
Here’s the final look at things for the overall picture so you can see how badly the NATO garrison is hosed. 
Some gamers don’t like to play games like this where the conclusion if foregone before play begins but I think some pretty creative games have come out that deal with this kind of situation. For example, I really enjoyed the victory and loss conditions in Phase Line Smash. I thought they were a terrific way of handling a superior force beating the crap out of a smaller one. I also liked how Unconditional Surrender handled the inevitability of Germany’s defeat in its game. So for all my defeatist talk throughout this blog post, I am actually really pumped to try Berlin ’85. 
Next up! Turn One – The Battle Begins!

Berlin ’85

For me, 2017 has been the year of the magazine game. Last month’s look at Nord Kapp from S&T Fall 1983 was a big hit. I thought it was an excellent game and it deserved a look back after all these years. I’ve been scooping up some other magazine games lately, some of which have been languishing on the shelves due to a lack of time. It has been a crazy summer so far and shows no signs of slowing as we move from the rainy season here in Japan towards the hot hot heat of tropical summer.

This month, I would like to drag another S&T favorite off the shelf and take a look at it. Here goes:

There we go – fresh from the March/April issue of Strategy & Tactics is Berlin ’85, a game that focuses on a Soviet invasion of West Berlin in a WW3 conflict set in 1985. It’s now I notice that so many people used that particular year for setting a WW3 conflict to happen. That includes General Sir John Hackett in his novels and Jim Dunnigan in this game. What’s especially ironic is that 1985 seems to be the year that the world turned away from the possibility of this conflict as Gorbachev rose to power and started working with Reagan. 
In any case, Berlin ’85 is the brainchild of Jim Dunnigan with bonus star power provided by Redmond A. Simonson for graphics. None other than Nick Karp, future designer of Vietnam 1965 – 1975 is the developmental assistant and he must have been in his early or mid-teens at the time considering that he was in his freshman college year in 1984 when he designed his VG masterpiece. So not even mentioning the other great people who helped develop this thing, there is a whole lot of talent in this one magazine game. 
So what is this thing?
Berlin ’85 is a modern day Alamo (I owe that beautiful and concise phrasing to a reader) situation that pits the West Berlin police force, the US, French, and British occupation forces against the might of the 20th Guards Army.  There is absolutely no doubt that the NATO player will lose this game. It’s simply a matter of how badly they will lose it. I really like games that involve managing loss although I know some gamers prefer more traditional fare where the fate of the conflict is in doubt.
The map shows West Berlin and its surrounding environs. We are zoomed out a little bit from a street view but we do get an idea of varying terrain such as urban, industrial, and suburban streets. Parks and canals are represented here. Major rivers such as the Spree are shown winding their way through West Berlin. The city’s major airports are here too including the Tempelhof, Gatow, and Tegel.
The Warsaw Pact player wins if they take over all the airports in the city as well as all the objective hexes in the city – or in the more likely case, if NATO surrenders before all that happens. But there(s a neat twist here. 
By destroying units and, in the case of the Warsaw Pact player, capturing objectives, a player gains surrender points. When the Warsaw Pact player has at least 6 more surrender points than NATO, it may offer the “Honors of War” once per turn. A roll on the Honors of War table may result in a NATO surrender, a turn being skipped due to a ceasefire, bonus combat shifts for one side or another, etc. It is a very interesting rule that keeps you guessing as to when the game will end and also spurs the Pact player to take as many objectives as possible without taking too many losses. At the same time, this encourages the NATO player to hit out at as many Warsaw Pact forces as possible.
Some other interesting rules reflect the possibility and consequences of severe damage to the city. When the total firepower of artillery into one particular hex is added up, the player rolls a die and the result may be a rubbled hex, which increases the defensive terrain modifier, changes movement point costs, etc. What’s really interesting is that if the artillery lands or scatters into a hex with POL storage units, a firestorm can result that eliminates any unit within the hex. The firestorm may also spread to other nearby hexes.
More interesting stuff comes in the form of untried units. Since most of the units on the board are well trained but totally inexperienced in combat (this is the opening day or two of WW3 here), their effectiveness in combat is unknown. For that reason, each unit has a face-up combat strength shown as “U”. This combat strength is only discovered by flipping over the marker when the unit enters combat. 

The U-Bahn is another neat little feature of this game and lets the player move units around by subway. This can be used to get around enemy ZOCs and also zips your units around a faster rate. As might be imagined, its a great tactic to use in order to pop up behind your enemy and surprise them or a nice way to get into the enemy’s rear and hit their supply lines. 
Airpower is handled nicely by the use of Ground Support Points. The Warsaw Pact has air superiority for most of the game but there are some turns where NATO has air superiority. It may also gain air superiority by rolling an 11 or 12 when checking for NATO reinforcements during a turn. Ground Support Points can be used much like artillery (it adds to either the barrage strength when attacking or friendly firepower when defending).  
There are also Warsaw Pact paratroops in the game, which can be used to drop on to hexes in West Berlin. These can also be flown onto a controlled airfield and brought directly into the fight. The Warsaw Pact player gets to choose how and when to bring these reinforcements into the game. The NATO player is never sure if they will get reinforced (they must roll on a reinforcement table to check each turn) and they must be airlanded. 
C-54 attempts landing at Tempelhof during the Berlin Blockade.
If all NATO airfields have been seized then no NATO reinforcements enter the game. And since the Warsaw Pact will absolutely gain control of those airfields at some point in the game, NATO is well and truly screwed from the start. Some people might not like this but I love fighting losing battles – just ask my wife.
If you’re still not crazy about this game, there are three scenarios here – which is incredible for a magazine game. The first scenario is Operation Unity, which is a straight-up brawl between the 20th Guards Army and the hapless defenders of Berlin. No spice is added here – you just set it up and let both sides go at it for however long you need. NATO is going to lose and lose badly here.
The second scenario, Operation Werewolf, hands the NATO player a little bit of help with a free setup for West Berlin police units (that also get a column shift during combat) and the 10th Jagerbrigade, a kind of special forces West German brigade that gets men set up inside the city just ahead of (and possibly during) the battle. NATO will still lose but it will probably take out a fair few Warsaw Pact units along the way down.
Operation Medicine Wheel is the craziest scenario here and looks like great fun. In this scenario, the NATO garrison decides to make a pre-emptive strike into East Berlin before the Soviets can muster an attack. They also decide to try and get as many units as possible into the East German countryside to conduct guerrilla warfare and play hell with the rail network feeding men and tanks to the front. Everything is helter skelter with random Ground Support Units, no reinforcements for either side, NATO surrender off the table, and the WP player starts with his forces unprepared and out of supply until he can make a successful Supply Priority roll starting with Game Turn 8. Wow!
I’ll be running through the first turn of a game to show how it works in my next upcoming post. Stay tuned for more Berlin ’85 fun.

Nord Kapp: World War III in the Arctic Circle

I’ve just finished my game of Nord Kapp from the Fall 1983 issue of Strategy & Tactics. Wow! Great stuff. I loved this game. I played a standard scenario pitting the Soviets vs. NATO. If you’re interested in the first half of the first turn of the game, I have a blog post that details exactly how the game works. Check it out before you dig in. Otherwise, here’s how the whole thing went;

Game Turn 1: NATO Turn

Despite getting some RAF, Dutch, and American squadrons, I have no bases left in Norway to put them. They sit uselessly by while the Norwegians try their best to deal with the situation.

The CHOD reinforcements land in Bardufoss without their equipment (it was destroyed by the Soviet airborne forces who found it sitting in Tromso waiting for them). Otherwise, the Norwegians manage to mobilize a reservist unit near Narvik, which cuts them off from supply from Evenes airbase to the north. The Norwegians take advantage of the situation to take Narvik back. It’s a small victory but it’s a nice start. They earn a little breathing room for now.

Norwegian 1/NORD force takes back Narvik from the 227 Soviet airborne regiment.

Game Turn 2:

Nasty flying weather for June. About half of the Soviet air force is grounded this turn after an avionics roll of 5. The entire Norwegian Air Force is grounded but the American F-4 Phantoms and F-15 Eagles are okay to fly. Potent aircraft but not nearly enough of them to deal with the sheer quantity of missions that need to be flown.

Soviets airdrop heavy equipment and troops to Bodo, Alta, and Banak airbases. F-15s and F-4s intercept airdrops of equipment and men bound for Tromso, bouncing the Soviet escorts and aborting the landing attempt.

The 45th MRD has snuck along the bottom of the map and has reached the Swedish border now. Next turn, we’ll check for transit rights. The rest of the Soviet half of the turn is about consolidating gains. There is some action near Narvik again with Soviet naval infantry pushing back a garrison of Norwegians from Bodo. Otherwise, there is a huge airmobile operation taking place in the very north of the country for the port of Batsfjord.

Soviet airmobile units take Batsfjord in the far north of the country.

During the combat phase, Soviet Naval Infantry make a bid for Bardufoss with the help of two air units for ground support. They fail badly and are eliminated by an oversnow unit and the CHOD infantry reinforcements. However, the Batsfjord operation goes over beautifully and the town is captured with no losses for the Russians. Far to the west, the port of Bognan falls to the 76th airborne.

The Allied Mobile Force arrives at Bardufoss, the last remaining Norwegian air base. The Norwegians also get two divisions that mobilize. The Canadians are sent north to retake the port of Tromso. The Brits go west to get Evenes air base back. The Italians stay put and keep hold of Bardufoss while the Norwegians secure the roads to the east, hoping to prevent the Canadian and British operations from a sudden Soviet paradrop that would cut their supplies.

British Para near Evenes airbase right near Narvik. The Canadians are the blue up near Tromso. The Italians (purple) secure Bardufoss.

At the end of it all, the Canadians eliminate the Soviets in Tromso but are themselves eliminated also. The Brits take back Evenes airbase (providing basing for the NATO air reinforcements that are waiting for it) and the Norwegians near Narvik have cleared out a nasty little airborne unit to the southwest of the city. The area around Bardufoss is slowly getting cleaned up by NATO. But will it last?

Game Turn 3:

Good flying weather. The Avionics roll is a “3” so most of the planes (except for those damn MiG-21s!) get to fly this turn.

Norwegian F-16s have some success with interdiction from the road leading down through Andoya airbase. It’s enough to knock a naval infantry unit out of supply. Seeing the writing on the wall, I pull back a unit near Bodo and put it to sea. Although the airbases are secured by the Russians, the ports are dangerously left unguarded. I’ve also started transporting my airmobile units from the USSR towards the captured ports. I’ve also reinforced Kirkenes near the border with the USSR just in case NATO tries to get any ideas about trying to invade the motherland.

During the ground movement phase, maneuver the 54th MRD armor up towards Bardufoss. At the bottom of the map, the entire 45th MRD is sitting there just waiting to go in. I roll to test Swedish neutrality and get luck again with a result of “2”. The Swedes grant transit rights and the Soviet tanks waltz right in like they own the place.

NATO has its own share of good news. British and Dutch Commandos land near Bardufoss. The British Paras that liberated Evenes chases the Soviet Naval infantry up towards Andoya. Meanwhile, 42 Commando reinforces Bardufoss and 45 Commando is inserted by helicopter up at the port in Andoya. The Norwegians cobble together some light infantry and send them towards the roads east of Bardufoss airfield where no less than three Soviet armor regiments are heading towards. The Italians rush up towards Tromso and recapture the port. Is this a turning point?

NATO units retake ports and reinforcements rush east to meet the encroaching Soviet threat.

The Soviets send up no less than six squadrons to provide air support to the beleaguered naval infantry near Andoya. NATO planes are kept out of the area by the sheer number of Soviet aircraft but do manage to destroy an Su-17 squadron.*

The rest of the planes deliver an impressive amount of firepower, turning a fight that was originally 3-1 in NATO’s favor into a 1-3 column fight. The only way the British Paratroopers can win is to roll a “6” — which they do. A Norwegian unit is destroyed in exchange for the destruction of the Soviet marines.

*As an aside, I think the air losses are way too light in this game. Only a post-battle roll of 2 or 12 [or a 12 if your side won the air combat] is enough to destroy a squadron. Also, there should be a limit to the number of aircraft you can reasonably assign to a specific mission. If I were the designer, I would have put four squadrons on each side as the limit and any roll equal to or over the Avionics rating destroys a squadron post-battle.

Game Turn 4:

The nice flying weather continues as a 3 is rolled for avionics.

NATO aircraft attempt to interdict the north-south road the Soviets are using to move their armor up through Norway. The Soviets get enough aircraft in the sky to ruin that air mission.

Soviet helicopters disperse airmobile troops inland. There is some juggling with unit types here. A unit from the 76th airmobile is dropped off in Tarvik and the naval infantry guarding the port are brought up on board for a future amphibious assault, presumably against Tromso, which has a lonely Italian 4-12 unit guarding it.

Three Soviet armor battalions from the 45th arrive from their jaunt through Sweden, knocking on the south perimeter formed around Bardufoss. Three mechanized battalions arrive from the Norwegian units protecting the eastern side of the perimeter. NATO is badly outnumbered.

Both sides go all in during the air support phase. The Soviets put big numbers on the attack on the east while NATO puts up big numbers on the south. I’m rolling randomly for air assignment but surprised at how well this actually works.

The Soviets push the NATO defenders back along the eastern perimeter. However, disaster strikes down south when the entire armor assault is destroyed by NATO air as it attempts to dislodge the Dutch from the road towards Narvik.

The US 2nd Marine Amphibious Brigade arrives along the road from hex 2051. Not sure what to do with these helicopters so I just land them within seven hexes of their entry hex and make sure they are in supply. I’m surprised I forgot to deploy all these Marine VMFA units back on Turn 2 when I should have done so. Oh well.

The Norwegians doff their equipment and take off into the bushes to help with the Marine assault on the port of Rognan. Grabbing the town would free up my supply lines a bit — at least until the rest of the 45th Soviet MRD arrives from Sweden and looks to get some revenge for the ass kicking their buddies received at the hands of the Dutch.

Marines take back the port of Rognan. Bodo is now open to the north.

The Marines take back the port despite being out of supply. Throwing in a ton of airpower made up for it but at the cost of two Norwegian oversnow battalions. This is the last of the reinforcements so those are not easy losses to replace.

Game Turn 5:

Ten days into the invasion of Norway and things are turning into a kind of stalemate. The Soviets still have plenty of airbases and ports under their control. But the few supply and victory hexes that NATO still clings to are the most important ones. Tromso seems safe for now even though it is slowly being cut off by efforts of the 54th MRD and the Soviet naval infantry won’t budge from the port. Bardufoss is well under NATO control with some heavy units stationed at the base. It has become a hub of supply and military reinforcement and a kind of NATO perimeter has been formed around it.

Narvik has plenty of units too and it is the other anchor for the defense of Bardufoss. Although the Soviets lost Rognan last turn, its too far away from Narvik to be held for long. The Marines retain control of the port but with the Soviet 54th MRD coming from Sweden, it may not last very long. Everywhere around Bardufoss are just a series of hard decisions. What to keep. What to let go. Figure it out before the other side and you just might have a chance at winning.

Avionics roll of “4” this turn ends up grounding a bunch of Soviet planes. It looks like NATO will have the run of the skies this turn.

NATO pours in the Marine air on interdiction missions for the roads leading up from Sweden into Norway. In a close air battle, the Russians manage to fend off the Marine air units but the Soviets suffer a loss of their Su15 squadron.

Marine air hammers the hell out of the supply lines of the 45th MRD.

Soviet naval infantry assaults the port of Tromso, hoping to put real pressure on the Bardufoss perimeter. Soviet air is strongly committed to the assault. Chemical weapons are also used. Dun dun dun. Things just got a lot more serious here. Tromso falls to the naval infantry and the Italians are forced to retreat back south.

Norwegians defending from south of Tromso are sent back towards Bardufoss as the 54th Division closes in.The tanks of the 54th push up from Sweden and destroy the sole Dutch defenders guarding the road. Norway is in big trouble now.

Soviets near Bardufoss (the helo is stationed in the hex) lined up against NATO defenders. 

1/Para moves out from Bardufoss and has formed up with the remaining defenders to the south. 45 and 43 Commandos head east from the airport and get a counterattack going. The Marines near Rognan rush towards Narvik, hoping to reinforce it in case of attack. Units zoom up and down the highways rushing into battle. The Norwegians push back against the 54 MRD encroaching on Bardufoss. The highway junction to the east of the city is a vital conduit for Soviet supplies but it’s still safely in the hands of the Russians.

Game Turn 6:

Beautiful flying weather with a roll of “2” for avionics. Even those MiG-21s can get up in the air this turn.

Starting off with interdiction, a whole whack of Marine air is thrown at the 45 MRD, coming up the road from Sweden. The entire division is thrown out of supply due to the air efforts! And not a bit too late as they are strong enough to take on everything but the kitchen sink on that side of the board.

Despite being out of supply, the 45th MRD continues its advance up from Sweden and destroys the Norwegian unit blocking the road thanks to the use of airpower and chemical weapons. Bardufoss comes under surprise attack from a Soviet airborne unit and is nearly taken except for the generous use of NATO airpower. Both the defending Norwegians and the Russian airborne mech inf. unit are mutually wiped out.

I forgot to move the 111th Soviet mech division in last turn. I just took care of it now. I put it in Sweden where it can help out with the attacks either on Rognan or Bardufoss depending on how it goes for the guys in the other division. Also, the number of roads leading into Norway is just not enough to support three divisions for supply. Better to keep them back as a reserve in case the crap hits the fan.

Jostling east of Bardufoss eliminates one Soviet oversnow unit but takes a Norwegian heavy infantry unit. The way to Bardufoss is now open. Things look bleak for Norway. If the airport is taken, I don’t see how the game can be won. Even now, things have gotten so defensive for the Norwegians that it seems unlikely they can pull this off.

Game Turn 7:

NATO air interdicts supplies south of Bardufoss, hoping to delay defeat for just one more day. However, the defenders are now spread so thin that it doesn’t look good.

The Soviets pull of nothing short of a genius sneak attack on Bardufoss. A nearby helo unit drops an airmobile brigade on the airfield, followed with an attack by tanks of the 54th MRD. The Russians throw a ton of air in and NATO does the same. With the game on the line, the die is thrown for air combat and the Soviets prevail. They drop chemical weapons for their last chem attack of the game and the CRT tilts in their favor. The end results with a loss of 3 steps for the NATO forces and 2 steps for the Russians. With only two units in the hex, NATO has an unfulfilled loss point and the Soviet tank brigade is saved. Bardufoss falls and the Norwegian and British defenders to the east collapse as they run out of supply.

Bardufoss falls to airmobile assault combined with an attack by Soviet ground forces. There goes the neighborhood!

The NATO player calls it, seeing that all but two airbases and two ports are under his control. The Soviets have absolutely dominated the game and gain a marginal victory – which would eventually be a strategic victory if the game continued to the bitter end.

Why did this happen?

The Soviets were lucky with gaining transit rights through Finland and Sweden. That really forced the Norwegians to spread out and try to defend against multiple incoming routes of attack against fresh units. More importantly, however, the secret to bleeding the invading Soviets successfully is to turn to guerrilla warfare.

The Norwegians should have had their oversnow units operating off the roads and used to shift the columns for attacks by the major units. As it was, I was too reluctant to reduce the strength of my Norwegian units. The result was a battle for the roads of Norway – a battle NATO just can’t win against tons of tanks and mechanized infantry in their element.

I think I also squandered my NATO reinforcements by not being more aggressive with them. With those helicopters, you can really get guys behind enemy lines and cut off supplies, roads, etc. I think I dispersed them too much and gave them way too many missions. Pairing the AMF units with Norwegians and hitting at the major Soviet attack axis would be fairly effective, I would think. I believe NATO has to first bleed the Soviet attackers as much as possible and then use whatever strength it has left in the final turns to take back the airfields.

Great game. Gives a real feeling of the problems the Norwegians would have faced defending their land in the far north. Also gives a good idea of the range of equipment on both sides and the difficulties that the Soviets would have faced with such an invasion. It would have been a huge gamble – especially if Finland and/or Sweden had fought back. As I mentioned before, all of this plus the reinforcement arrival variability and seasonal variation in terrain and combat effects makes each game very different.

More Reading:

For more information about this kind of conflict, check out this Rand paper that goes into great detail about the problems of reinforcing NATO in a conflict.

I have to say that I was very inspired by this game and wrote a short story e-book that you can download from Amazon. It’s called Storm Scarred Banner. The events take place in Kirkenes, Bardufoss, and Tromso and are based on how this game played out.

Nord Kapp: Setup & Game Turn 1

From Strategy & Tactic’s 1983 issue, Nord Kapp is a game set in Scandinavia that features a World War III scenario between the Soviets and NATO. There seems to be a lot of curiosity about this game. Before we dive in, I should state that yes, I know the counter clipping showcased herein is a crime against humanity. I can only say in my defense that these are finnicky bastards that sat in a ziplock bag for almost 35 years.

Seasonal Determination:

The first thing we do is roll for season determination. Three six-sided dice are rolled to see what time of year the game takes place. We get a 4 for the first roll, which puts the game in Spring. The second roll is a 5, which means we have a June invasion. The final roll is for weather type. We roll a 1 and the result is “-“, which means we have full range of movement through all terrain types. A roll 4 – 6 would have kept our mechanized and armor units tied to road-only movement.

This is probably one of the most significant series of die rolls in the game. Having a winter or spring invasion introduces a huge variability in the terrain effects chart and movement point cost for each unit. For example, a mechanized infantry unit pays 4 MP for moving through a clear hex in spring or fall. The same unit pays 2 MP for moving in the summer. Likewise, units are going to scoot over frozen lake or water hexes in the winter at no additional MPs but get hit with a +3 MP penalty for trying to traverse over them in the spring as the frozen waters melt and you get flooding that goes everywhere, not to mention the mucky mess you get everywhere else.

This time, it seems we have good tanking weather for the Russians.

Norwegian Setup & Reinforcements:

We start off with a handful of Norwegian units mobilized. These are mostly oversnow (I’m calling them overland units here since we’re in June right now) infantry units. The bulk of the army is near Tromso with some mechanized infantry, and helicopters. Five air units are available off-map.

Norweigan army near Tromso and Narvik

Since I’m playing solitaire, I’m going to roll randomly for these units. Normally, the NATO player secretly selects the airbases where CHOD, 1/13, 2/13, and 3/13 will appear. CHOD appears on turn 1 and the rest of the units are supposed to appear on turn 2. I’ll roll an 8-sided die during the reinforcement segment and if the die correlates to a base that’s occupied by the Soviets then it’s not coming into play.

Soviet Setup

Soviet 54 MRD on the border with Norway

The 54th Motorized Rifle Division sets up anywhere in the USSR. Two regiments start off right near the border with Norway while the other one sets up closer to Finland. The plan is to try and get transit rights through Finland on Game Turn 1 and then move the armor as far as it can go.

The 76th Guards Airborne Division is deployed off map and can enter by paradrop on Turn 1. During the paradrop phase, the Soviet player has to choose how he will allocate his air capacity. You consult a table and choose from a menu that ranges from dropping a few heavy equipped units to dropping 10 lightly equipped ones.

The Northern Fleet Naval Infantry Regiment’s 3 units begin at sea and will conduct amphibious invasions on Game Turn 1.

The Leningrad Air Assault Brigade (LEMD) can be deployed anywhere in the USSR or off-map and ready for paradrop activities. I’d rather have them for helicopter assault so I’m keeping them at the bases in Kilpyavr and Murmansk. [ed note: later Mulligan’ed this after the game started]

North Western Border District is deployed in the USSR. These guys are mostly weak leg units that I’ve just used to beef up my attacks with the 54th MRD.

Soviet Army Aviation. 5 helicopters are available for free deployment in the USSR. I put 2 each in Murmansk and Kilpyavr ready to transport the LEMD brigades. One is based further east ready to be used for reserve transport to anywhere that needs it.[ed note: later Mulligan’ed this after the game started]

The rest of the units arrive later as reinforcements.

The three Soviet air squadrons (104, 36, and 122) are ready off map. 104 and 122 Squadrons are a light mixture of attack aircraft and interceptors. The 36th squadron is the real workhorse here with a ton of Su15, Su17, MiG-21 and -27 aircraft.

Soviet Army Aviation based at airfields in Murmansk and Kilpyavr

NATO Reinforcement Schedule:

Rolled for prior to the start of the game.

British 3rd Commando Brigade: DR”1″ – All four units available. (Game Turn 3)

Canadian 5e Groupe-Brigade du Canada – DR”6″ – Not available

Allied Mobile Force – DR”3″ – Available. (Game Turn 2)

US 2nd Marine Amphib Brigade: DR”3″ – Available (Game Turn 4)

We also get reinforcements on the first turn automatically from a variety of sources including:

  • Air Unit 41 RAF
  • Allied Mobile Force air units 1 RAD and 314 Klu
  • US air units 53 TFS, 10 TFS
Game Turn 1
Soviet Player Turn:

A. Weather Determination Phase:
We roll a “4” and Avionics for this turn are rated at “4”. Only aircraft with an Avionics rating of 4 or more can fly this turn. For the Soviets, that means all four squadrons of MiG-21s (avionics of “2) are grounded for the turn. For the Norwegians, a squadron of F-5s are grounded.

B. Air Interdiction Phase:

Normally, the western player would place air units to interdict supply here and the Soviets would place interceptors to keep them at bay. However, since this is the first turn, we’ll go with no interdiction. All Soviet units are in their home country for now.
C. Supply Determination Phase:
For the Soviets, supply in Nord Kapp is handled by determining two factors: First, the unit in question has to be within half its MP to a supply line (road or rail movement) and then the supply line itself must be connected to a supply source (i.e. a road or railroad line going off the map on the Soviet side). Each road can only supply one MRD at a time so you have to make sure one division isn’t hogging all the supply routes. 
D. Airborne/Airmobile Phase:
I have decided to target six airbases in Norway on the first turn. For that reason, I am going with Option C on the airborne drop options, three heavy units and four light ones. The three heavy ones land at:
Bodo, Evenes, and Bardufoss.
The four light ones land at:
Banak, Alta, Tromso, Narvik (this last one is not an airbase but rather a supply hex for NATO)
I allocate what little escorts I have to them.

The airmobile LEMD are transported from right across the border (I actually Mulligan’ed my setup here and moved them right up to the border after a second reading of the rules).

I don’t want to move them too far inside Norweigan airspace. If you use only half the helo’s MPs, they can’t be intercepted (assumed to be flying Nap of Earth). I drop one LEMD unit off in Vomso and the other near a Mobilization Hex. This should cut off from supply the Norwegian unit near the border with the USSR.

Airmobile landings behind enemy lines. That should be a light unit in 1209.

Now the Norwegian player allocates interceptors. Since the Soviets are supposed to have hidden sides up for their air units, I’ve just rolled randomly for the Norwegian fighters.

The Norwegians send F-16s to intercept the planes at Evenes, Narvik, Bardufoss, and Banak.

F-16 Air Interceptions near Evenes, Narvik, and Bardufoss.

Air to Air Combat:

This is very quick and smooth. Both players reveal their air units by turning them from hidden sides up. Then you just roll a six-sided die and add it to the AtA combat rating. Player with the highest total wins.

The Norwegian fighters get pretty poor rolls on the first time round and lose all of the air combats. They abort and are placed aside.

Now we roll again for actual losses. For the losers, a “2” or “12” will do it. For the winners, a “12” will incur a loss. We roll and neither side takes losses.

E. Amphibious Movement Phase:

So now we can go ahead and land our Soviet naval infantry. We have three naval infantry units, which is exactly our amphibious transport capability per turn. I want to land one naval infantry at Tromso,  the other at the airfield in Andoya and the other one in Hammerest.

First, I roll for Sea Transport Attrition. Depending on whether you’re east or west of the Norwegian Coastal Defense Line, the odds change as to whether your unit will be at the bottom of the ocean before it even starts its assault. I roll for all three units and they all make it safe.

The Naval Infantry takes over Tromso airfield (I can use these to base Soviet aircraft if I want) and move six hexes south to the crossroads east of Bardufoss.

My naval infantry at Hammerest moves south and is near Alta airfield. The entire country is getting overrun quickly by Soviets in various forms – marines, Spetsnaz, tanks – you name it.

F. Ground Movement Phase:

I would love to move elements of the 54th MRD up through Finland. I test its Neutrality with a die roll and get a “1”. Finland has granted Soviets the transit rights to move through their country and all Finnish units are now removed from play. My armor is sent far west into Finland. I want it to get as far as it can to Sweden and either move through it if I can get the transit rights or run straight up the road into Norway if I can’t.

Two battalions (Mechanized and Overland) are sent directly across the border to face off with the SVG infantry unit. Looking over the movement rules I had to mulligan this one too. There is exactly one road over the border and the rest of the hexes appear to be forest hexes which are prohibited movement. I decide to stack six units together (3 heavy mech. and 3 light infantry) with an AT

G. Air Unit Movement

I have five aircraft here to help out with ground attacks. Since Norway has used its F-16s in the airmobile phase, I don’t need to worry about them. Su17s and T28s are sent out to support the amphibious invasion at Andoya. Two Su17s attack the airfield at Bardufoss and the remaining plane is used against the SVG infantry on the border (probably overkill but what the heck). Air units simply add their combat rating to the ground attack rating of the units attacking or defending.

H. Combat Supply Determination Phase:

Airmobile, airborne, and naval infantry are considered in supply for the first turn they land so no need to check those. The other units are all in supply. No problem here.

I. Ground Combat Phase:

Ground combat is just a matter of adding up unit totals for attacker and defender, checking for modifiers to combat strength, and converting the result to a ratio. Once the ratio is determined on the CRT, terrain effects are checked again for column shifts left or right.

A d6 roll yields the final result. The result indicates how many “loss points” the defender must take. If attacked by more than one ground unit, the first of the Defender’s Loss Points must be satisfied by eliminating a unit. Defender Loss Points can be satisfied by retreating or eliminating units or any combination of both. Defending units can only retreat as much as their MPs allow. The Attacker’s Loss Points must be taken as elimination of units. However, if the defender chooses to retreat, the number of LPs the defender soaks up through retreat is deducted from the loss points suffered by the attacker.

Combat 1:

54th MRD vs. SVG Norwegians in Kerkennes (Norway-USSR border)

Attacker Strength: 34
Defender Strength: 2

Combat Strength Modifiers:
Attacking over Water Barrier (halves attacker’s strength) 34/2 = 17

Odds: 17:2
Ratio: 8:1
CRT Column: 7:1

Terrain Effects Column Shifts: 
Attacking into a Town – Shift One Column Left

Final CRT Column Used: 6-1

Roll: 2

Result: 3/2

The Norway SVG unit is attacked by more than one ground attack unit. It must be eliminated in order to satisfy the LPs. The first LP is satisfied but the second LP is unfulfilled.

The CRT result calls for the attacker to take 3 LPs. 2 of the LPs are fulfilled by eliminated two units. The third LP is deducted because the defender has one LP left unfulfilled. The Soviets eliminate two Overland units. Due to the unfulfilled combat loss by the defender, the attacker may also advance into Kerkennes after combat.

Combat 2:

Soviet Airborne landing at Bardufoss
Soviet 76 Airborne (Heavy) vs. Norwegian Garrison unit

Attacker Strength: 4 (airborne unit) + 8 (air support)
Defender Strength: 3

Combat Strength Modifiers:
x2 for attacking ground unit due to surprise attack with airborne heavy infantry: 4 x 2 = 8

Odds: 16:3
Ratio: 5:1

Terrain Effects Column Shifts:
Attacking into Rough – Shift One Column Left

Final CRT Column Used: 4:1

Roll: 4

Result: 1/2

Well, this is a tough one for the Norwegians. They certainly don’t want to lose Bardufoss. It’s worth the maximum 6 VP, making it one of the three most valuable airbases in the game.

They could satisfy the loss by retreating everyone two hexes and losing the airbase, hopefully to regroup later and regain it. On the other hand, we could eliminate both Norwegian units, forcing the Soviets to eliminate their airborne attacker and thereby keep hold of the base. Seems like a short term solution though – especially considering that the Soviets have plenty more airborne units to drop in future turns. The Norwegians can’t afford to lose too many units right now.

Looking at my supply situation, Bardufoss is the only supply source that hasn’t yet been captured in this region of Norway. I decide to keep it at all costs. a hard decision, to be sure. Both Norwegian units are eliminated to satisfy their LPs. The Soviet player must eliminate the airborne. Bardufoss holds on – barely.

Norway holds Bardufoss by a fingernail.

Combat 3:

Amphibious landing at Andoya.
Soviet Naval Infantry vs. Norwegian Garrison.

Attacker Strength: 4 (naval unit) + 6 (air support)
Defender Strength: 2

Combat Strength Modifiers:
None

Odds: 10:2
Ratio: 5:1

Terrain Effects Column Shifts:
None

Final CRT Column Used: 5:1

Roll: 4
Result: 2/3

Eliminating the Norwegian unit would satisfy one LP but leave the other 2 LPs unfulfilled, thus allowing the Soviet unit to survive the attack.  Far better to just retreat the Norwegian unit three hexes. Andoya is now captured by the Soviets and the Naval Infantry pursues them south.

Soviet Naval Infantry capture Bodo airfield and pursue south.

Combat 4:

Amphibious landing at Bodo.
Soviet Naval Infantry vs. Norwegian Garrison.

Attacker Strength: 4 (naval unit) + 2 (air support)
Defender Strength: 2

Combat Strength Modifiers:
None

Odds: 6:2
Ratio: 3:1

Terrain Effects Column Shifts:
None

Final CRT Column Used: 3:1

Roll: 6
Result: 1/3

Another situation where we should definitely retreat. The Norwegian garrison pulls back three hexes south down the road.

Time to roll for air losses for the Soviet air support units:

Bodo (6 VP) Andoya (6 VP), Kirkenes (3 VP), Tromso  (4 VP), and Alta (3 VP) are all in the hands of the Soviets by the time this half of the game turn ends.

End of the Soviet Turn

Well, that is an extremely interesting first half of the first turn. I am just amazed at how much this little game seems to accomplish. Rules for all sorts of units with different capabilities. There are varying rules for movement, combat, and air according to weather. What’s more, I find it quite fun. It is great to pick and choose over a menu of airborne options like some grizzled Soviet general in a command bunker.

It feels amazing to watch your paratroopers drop from the skies on an airbase and surprise the hell out of the Norwegians. It is great to push your luck with the neutrals and see if they will allow you to move through their country or if they will fight back. So much happening in just one half of the first turn.

There are two words I would use to sum up my impression of this game so far: “replayability” and “player choice”. There is enough randomness at the setup (season, weather, reinforcements, transit rights, airborne and amphibious options) to provide you with lots of ability to play this a ton of times and never have the same game twice. So far, great stuff!

A Look at Nord Kapp: World War III in the Arctic Circle

Strategy & Tactics Magazine has been around a loooong time. And just to show you how far back it goes, take a look at the price of the issue in the top right corner of the photo below.

Yep. Six clams.

Nord Kapp is the game included with the Fall 1983 issue of S&T. It features a wide mix of international units all working together to stop the Soviet hordes from taking over the Kola Peninsula and using the air bases to hammer Central Europe while using the naval bases to burst through the GIUK gap.

Of course, that’s just the game. The magazine has a really great article on the German invasion of Scandinavia in 1940. Notable in here is a review of Hell’s Highway from a new wargaming company called Victory Games. To help date this thing even further, we have Ian Chadwick’s article discussing the pros and cons of various commercially-available computers at the time, including the Atari 800, the Apple IIe, and the Commodore C64.

Anyway, the game’s accompanying article does a terrific job of highlighting the unique aspects of fighting World War III in Scandinavia, including the make-up of NATO forces, the different Soviet strategies that would combine naval and airborne landings with armor and motorized rifle regiments. The need for troops on both sides who are equipped and trained for mountain and cold weather warfare is discussed as well as the special equipment such as snow-moving equipment.

Of course, the problems of fighting in damp cold and its effects on weapons and technology is explored too. There seem to be a whole lot of unknowns here as to just what could have gone wrong – many more than are usually brought up when discussing the traditional Central European theater of conflict (and that’s saying a lot!).

The chief issue for the Soviets would seem to be maneuvering and coordinating attacks in hostile terrain that is not tank-friendly. A big problem for NATO would be getting the bulk of its planned defensive forces into theater on time and in one piece. It’s notable that the Canadians were tasked with getting several regiments to help defend Norway but this would possibly take upwards of a month due to lack of transport capability. By then, I suspect the Soviets would have been washing their boots in the North Atlantic.

The US Marines had the capability to get there fast but didn’t appear to have enough training for the mission. Most promising were the Royal Marines and the Dutch 1st Amphibious Combat Group, who might have been able to get there in a few days and get to work.

So you can see right away that this game has something for everyone to get frustrated about in a variety of ways.

Units in Nord Kapp.

The Game

The game itself is pretty standard fare for the most part with some exceptions. Players can roll to see what season the invasion takes place in and this, of course, will change the game considerably for both players. This is going to affect a whole bunch of stuff, such as aircraft operations to terrain effects and movement.

To win the game, the Soviet player needs to control airbases. Territory itself is of little concern. This is a great way to show the importance of this theater of operations and why it is essential for the overall war strategy.

The game last 10 Game Turns. Each Game Turn consists of two Player Turns. Each turn consists of nine phases, covering everything from air interdiction, supply, amphibious movement, ground movement, and ground combat.

One very interesting thing about this game is that players can opt to give up equipment for the sake of speed. Units on their front face represent combat units with all their equipment – they have higher attack ratings and lower movement points. On the back of each unit, you have the unequipped version of the unit with lower combat values but higher movement. One great thing is that if you unequip the unit, the equipment itself stays behind in the hex and is marked. The unit can go back and grab the equipment or an enemy can march into the hex and destroy it.

Combat is pretty standard, with a CRT used to determine results. Combat modifiers are due to terrain, aircraft, and chemical weapons.

Air transport is a big deal in the game and it’s at the very heart of Soviet operational planning. One of the cool things about this game is that the Soviet player can ninja drop his airborne troops on top of occupied airbases and attempt to seize control from the Norwegians. This brings in another dimension to the “equip/unequip” option because you can choose to use your air capacity to drop a few well-equipped airborne units or you can strip them down to the bare essentials (a pocket knife and harsh language) and drop tons of them in an attempt to swarm the airbases.

Amphibious landings are even neater. You can transport the amphibious troops’ equipment ahead of time by sea transport, drop it off on a coastal hex and land your guys further away to link up with their equipment. Again, you would want to do something like this to maximize your transport capacity for sheer numbers of troops.

NATO reinforcements are rolled for prior to the start of each game. Some of the units may simply be unavailable for the entire game. The Swedes and Finnish troops may enter the game if the Soviets violate their territory.  Both countries may just agree to allow Soviets to transit through their country if the die roll is favorable to the Soviet player.

The map


Components:

The map is of Scandinavia with a 16 kilometer per hex  scale and the time is 48 hours per turn. Lots of neat units ranging right from Canadians, Italians, US Marines, British, and the Dutch troops. The Soviets get a full range of invasion options with airmobile, amphibious, tank, and infantry units. The map is colorful and I like it. The counters are functional and work fine for the time the game came out.

Cannot wait to play this thing. I’ll update you on my next playthrough.

The Hunt for Red October – Arctic Patrol

The first scenario from The Hunt for Red October pits two NATO submarines against three Soviet subs. In this tense battle beneath the waves during the early days of World War III, which side will come out ahead?

The objective is to sink as many enemy subs as possible and also to get your subs within five spaces of the enemy base.  In this case, the NATO base is Iceland while the Soviet base is Kola. To flesh things out a bit, both sides get ASW aircraft. NATO has a P-3 stationed in Iceland while the Russkies get two IL-38s in Kola.

Soviet ASW planes stationed in Kola

The Soviets are first to set up their subs within three spaces of Kola.  NATO then places their own subs within three spaces of Iceland. The Soviets can place up to 2 subs in one space. NATO can place only one in each space.

Despite the two subs per space allowance, the Russians place their subs alone in the deep water spaces just off the coast of Norway in the Norwegian Sea. NATO opts for coverage and places each sub three spaces apart just to the north of Iceland.

Soviet and NATO player set up. Soviet subs are to the right. NATO subs are on the left.

The classes of the three Soviet subs are: Alfa, Victor, and Tango. The two NATO subs are a US Navy Los Angeles-class attack sub and a British Trafalgar-class SSN.

Los Angeles class attack sub reporting for duty. Detection rating 6. Attack rating 4.

We start off with 2 detection markers for each side. The Soviets roll a d6 to determine additional DMs while the NATO player gets to roll a d10. We get a 6 for the Russians (total of 8 DMs) and a 9 for NATO (a whopping 11 DMs). This gives NATO the initiative.  The NATO player lets the Soviets move first.

The Soviets move their subs cautiously towards Iceland, avoiding areas with NATO subs.

Soviet subs move towards Iceland.

The NATO player decides to move both of his submarines into the nearest space with a Soviet sub. The Soviet player gets to choose whether or not to play a detection marker and declines. By doing this, he is hoping to stay hidden until the Battle step when he can bring in his ASW aircraft to help out. In the Aircraft Movement Phase, both players bring their ASW aircraft into the same spot.

Aircraft Movement Phase – Turn 1

Both sides play 3 detection markers since each unit in the space is allowed to play one detection marker.

NATO and Soviets both play 3 detection markers.

The Tango sub is detected while both NATO subs are undetected. All units move to the Battle Board to resolve combat.

All units are placed on the Battle Board
Because both NATO subs are undetected, they roll a d6 instead of d10 for their attack die. At the end of the step, the subs will become detected and whoever is in the Attack Second box can attack. I’m still learning the system a bit and make a bad decision by putting the Tango in the Attack First box. Oh well.
It doesn’t matter anyways. The Tango will not survive the firt round of attacks. Both NATO subs roll equal to or under their attack ratings of 4 and the Tango is sunk. Submarines are sunk after only one hit in this game.
NATO subs score hits on the Tango submarine

Turn 2:

All unused detection markers for both sides are tossed out and 2 new ones are assigned to both sides. We reroll again for initiative and NATO gets 9 DMs while the Soviets get 3. If there were more units in this scenario, this would probably be a really big deal as one side would have to think carefully about when to play these markers. However, it’s not enough to really change much in this scenario.
Rolls and DMs for both sides. NATO – blue, Russians – red.

Both sides have 2 subs left each so the odds are evened up a bit. NATO lets the Soviets go again. The Soviets move into the Los Angeles’ hex. The NATO player declines to play a detection marker and play passes over to NATO. The NATO player brings the Trafalgar into the same space. The Soviets decline to play a DM and again the ASW aircraft are brought to bear. The Soviets have more units in the space (2 ASW aircraft and 2 subs) so they get to play 4 detection markers. NATO has only three units there (the P3 Orion and the two NATO subs) so they play their maximum three DMs.
Both Soviet subs are detected. The NATO player has a bit of an advantage because the Soviets get a -2 detection rating when trying to detect NATO subs so they need to roll a 2 or less to detect. One of the IL38s manages a roll of 2 and the Trafalgar is detected. 
Sub battle brewing – Soviets play 4 detection markers and NATO plays 3.
On the Battle Board, I decide that the Soviets will just go for a shot at the Trafalgar instead of hoping to survive past the first attack round and shooting at the Los Angeles so I place the Soviet units in the Attack First box again.
The NATO subs attack first. The Trafalgar rolls on a d10 since it is detected but the Los Angeles rolls a d6 since it is undetected. The Trafalgar goes for the Alfa and misses but the Los Angeles hits the Victor.
Trafalgar rolls over its attack rating while Los Angeles scores a hit.
The Victor is sunk but it still gets to attack before it goes down. Both Soviet subs roll a d10 to hit the Trafalgar.  The Alfa rolls a 4 and the Victor rolls a 2. Both shots hit and the Trafalgar is sunk. The second hit is overkill but that’s okay with me.
Both detected Soviet subs manage a hit on the Trafalgar.
Now the surviving boats are placed back on the board and we go to Turn 3.
Tense! The end of Turn 2.
Turn 3:
Both sides roll for DMs as usual and roll ‘1’s. Both sides have 3 DMs for the turn. Since the DM numbers are equal, the Soviets have initiative. No one moves or plays detection markers. We go straight to Aircraft Movement. The same old thing happens this turn – the ASW aircraft move into the space. This turn, NATO can play 2 DMs while the Soviets place 3 DMs.
The P3 detects the Soviet Alfa class submarine and the Soviets fail to detect the American sub at all. We move to the Battle Board. The NATO player places his sub on the Attack First space while the Soviet player, hoping for the best, puts the Alfa in the Attack Second space. The NATO player need only roll a 4 or less on either of two dice to sink the Alfa and win the game.
Nope! The NATO player rolls a ‘7’ (on a d10)  for the P3 Orion and a ‘6’ (on a d6) for the Los Angeles submarine. The Alfa survives the initial heat and fires back at the now detected American submarine.
We roll a ‘1’ and the Los Angeles class sub is sunk!
Soviet Alfa-class sub fires back at Los Angeles class submarine
At the end of the turn, the Soviets had the only submarine on the board and were declared the winner with 7 VPs (2 enemy subs sunk x 2 VP + 3 VP for sub within 5 spaces of enemy airbase) while NATO had 4 VPs (2 enemy subs sunk x 2 VP).
The Alfa class submarine slips away under the cold waves of the Norwegian Sea.
This was a really fun first scenario and well-aimed at teaching the basics of movement, detection, and combat. As I mentioned in my first impressions, this is really a game of knowing when to play your detection markers. It is extremely light but has a very solid theme and enough uncertainty built into the system that you’re always guessing and hoping for the best. It ain’t exactly 2nd Fleet by a longshot but if you are looking for a nice beer and pretzels game or a dad and son/daughter game, this might do the trick.

The Hunt for Red October – First Impressions

In 1988, TSR published “The Hunt for Red October”, a boardgame based on Tom Clancy’s 1984 debut novel of the same name.

The Hunt for Red October boardgame from TSR (1988)

The book was a tense thriller set in the late Cold War period. It focused on a Soviet submarine captain’s attempts to defect to the United States. Clancy clearly showed a talent for explaining the complex topic of submarine detection and warfare in layman’s terms without condescending to the reader.

The book that started it all.

The book not only spawned a boardgame, but also a computer game, as well as a movie starring the irrepressible Sean Connery as Captain Ramius and Alec Baldwin cast as the main protagonist, CIA analyst Jack Ryan. Clancy went on to write dozens of novels and several non-fiction books dealing with the military before his death in 2013. All of that – the movies, games, and TV series – began with this one novel. So looking at this boardgame as one of the starting pieces of Tom Clancy’s hugely successful career feels a bit odd. As a fan of the novel and the movie, I was always curious about how the boardgame fit into the overall Clancy legacy. Was it an early cash-in or was there some quality here that rubbed off from having the Tom Clancy name attached to it? I wasn’t sure.

Connery as Ramius: “Shome thingsh in here don’t react well to bulletsh.”

The game comes with several high quality components for its time. There’s a 29 page rulebook filled with examples of play, diagrams, and flavorful descriptions of various ships and aircraft of both the NATO and Warsaw Pact. The book has 8 scenarios ranging from short submarine duels to all-out battles of World War III with carriers, fighter planes, subs, and surface ships like frigates and destroyers. Of course, scenario 2 provides the players with the chance to recreate Captain Ramius’ defection as depicted in the novel. One player plays the role of Ramius and secretly plots Red October’s path while the other player uses the entire Soviet navy to try and track him down and prevent him from reaching the Americans.

The board is beautiful and features a map of the North Atlantic Ocean and the Norwegian Sea between North America and Europe. The SOSUS lines are indicated on the map with NATO symbols. Shallow and deep waters are colored differently and airbases for both sides are clearly shown. In addition to the map, there aretwo task force boards (one for each player) so as to avoid crowding on the main playing surface. There is also a ‘battle board’ that allows players to place their units according to when they will attack (first or second) in the battle phase and where each piece falls in the composition of the task force (ASW, anti-air, etc.). I was surprised by how good these looked and how large they were. For its time, this game had some very nice components.

The pieces of the game include the naval and air units. The naval units are two-sided. On one side is the name and class of the ship with its detection and attack ratings. On the other is simply the NATO or Warsaw Pact symbol so as to keep the enemy player in the dark about what exactly is out there until successfully detecting the enemy. The game comes with two 10-sided die and two six-sided die.

Los Angeles class SSN ready for action.

Learning the game required a bit of head-scratching due to the poor rules organization. It’s clear though that this was a good attempt at building a fun family game that tries to model the very basics of naval warfare. For those looking for anything more than beer and pretzels depth, this game will be a disappointment. Anyone who just likes the theme of the game and an afternoon of moving around cardboard submarines and ships is probably going to have a good time.

Each turn is broken down into 6 steps. First, both players roll initiative by determining how many detection markers they get beyond the basic allotment of two each. Detection markers are played at various times during the turn to try and detect the enemy’s units. The NATO player gets d10 worth of detection markers while the poor Soviets get only d6 detection markers. Whoever has more detection markers has the initiative.

Soviets roll to get 3 detection markers compared to NATO’s *gulp* 9.

After that, the player with initiative decides who will move their ships first. If a ship moves into the same space as an enemy ship, the enemy has the choice of whether or not to play a detection marker to try and detect the enemy unit. If the opposing player decides not to play a detection marker, the moving player can just keep moving. However, if he does play a detection marker, the moving player can then play his detection markers too. If one or both sides detect the other, naval battle may ensue. Players have to decide whether their units will attack first or second as there are different benefits and drawbacks for each choice.

The battle board – here’s where you make those decisions you live to regret…

The air movement phase comes next. If you want to launch your ASW aircraft or conduct an air raid against an enemy force, this is your chance to get those aircraft on to the board. In the final step, the battle phase, the players get another chance to play detection markers and fight it out again if they so wish. As you can see, much of the game is spent moving, rolling dice, and playing detection markers.

All in! Aircraft and subs go for broke during the Combat step.

It’s deceptively simple but somehow it ends up being more than just the sum of its parts. I’m not sure if its the branding or the optional rules that allow for a more nuanced game (these optional rules include SSM missile defense, anti-aircraft doctrine, decoy submarines, SAMs and jamming to name a few). Judging from the rulebook and the amount of effort that went into designing a simple but fun and playable game of modern naval combat, I don’t get the impression that this was a weak cash-in but rather a nicely put together board game that was primarily aimed at the dad-son crowd much more than a serious simulation of sorts.

MegaUpdate – Red Storm Rising

Red Storm Rising is a novel about a hypothetical WW3 fought between NATO and the Warsaw Pact during the mid- to late 1980s. Written by Tom Clancy and co-authored by Larry Bond, it was published by Putnam in 1986 and has ever since lived on as one of the best examples of the Cold-War-Turned-Hot genre. Not only is it a very good thriller, its depiction of naval and land warfare was heavily based on how experts and simulations predicted the military hardware might perform.

I first read this book in 1987 as a teenager and I was immediately hooked on this genre. In fact, I still occasionally pull my old copy from the shelf and lose myself in its pages describing huge tank battles on the northern plains of West Germany and tense submarine warfare in the Atlantic Ocean. I can’t remember anything about the movie I watched last week but I can always vividly picture the scene in “The Dance of the Vampire” where a US carrier group is severely mauled after the Soviets use drones to lure away the American interceptors from the real bomber group. My jaw nearly hit the floor when I read that the first time around. Who needs Game of Thrones, right?

The book was a big hit and a #1 bestseller. Only a year after the book was published, it had already sold well over 1 million copies. A computer game was released in 1987 with the same name as the book. Players could command a modern US nuclear submarine and go hunting around the North Atlantic. Despite the limitations of computer PC hardware in 1987, the game was pretty good for its time!

In 1989, we got another game based on Red Storm Rising – this time it was a boardgame. Based on the battle for Germany as depicted in the novel, this was the second boardgame to come out that was based on a Tom Clancy novel. The Hunt for Red October boardgame was published in 1988 and awesomely enough, it can be combined with Red Storm Rising for one big giant game of both naval and land action to create a huge WW3 battle that you could play over the course of days.

Yes, that bit about “Eastern Europe” irks me too. Ah well!

Instead of going for the traditional grognard audience, TSR went straight for the general public with the design of the game. I’m guessing they were trying to follow up the success of Axis & Allies with a wargame that would appeal to casuals. They did, however, make allowances for those who wanted something a little deeper than just a “roll the die” and try-your-luck game. The advanced rules for Red Storm Rising include a surprising amount of chrome. There is an air war component as well as different kinds of assets for each side to use (chemical, engineers, artillery, and armor). There are airmobile and paratroop rules and terrain effects that also come into play.

Ready…Set…Invade!

The basic rules strip all of this right down to a simple slugfest between units. Each turn in the basic game is broken down into a Warsaw Pact attack phase, Warsaw Pact movement phase, NATO movement, NATO attack, and finally a reinforcement phase. Players roll a 10-sided die to conduct an attack. If they can roll equal to or under the attack rating of their unit, the attack succeeds. If you roll equal to your unit’s attack rating, the enemy must retreat or take a hit (different strength units can take different numbers of hits before being destroyed). If you roll under your unit’s attack rating, the enemy must do both. If you roll a “1”, the enemy is destroyed outright (if they have the same or less combat rating as the attacker). If you have an armor unit in reserve after a successful attack, it can make a breakthrough move into the vacated space and attack. As the Warsaw Pact player, you are always hoping to gain and keep momentum as the clock ticks down towards game end.

To say that the outcome of the basic game is mostly governed by luck would be an understatement. If you can manage to roll better than your opponent, you are certainly going to win no matter what decisions you make. There is very little real strategy involved as setup areas are confined to certain areas on the board. The NATO player is especially hamstrung by this as the rules dictate that he must have at least one unit in every space adjacent to the Iron Curtain at setup. It should be noted that there are optional rules to get rid of this setup rule and also to semi-randomize the game’s end point with a die roll from the end of turn 4 onwards.

In the basic game, each side gets a limited number of support markers it can use to help out an attack. When you plunk down a support marker, your attacking unit gets to roll two dice for the attack and take the best result. So there is some strategy here but it is kept very light and luck-based.

Having said all that, I loved the basic game. It is a great gateway game to wargaming, especially for younger kids. I played the basic game my first time and I found it to be so light and cheerful with plenty of theme and some very nice components (maybe a little drab compared to today’s games but excellent for 1989). I found it a very simple joy to sit and roll die and advance my tanks into West Germany as the Soviet player while trying to keep the Russians at bay as NATO. Part of the fun of the game is that it is meant to be played with hidden information. The units are placed on a stand with their attack values concealed from the enemy player by turning the printed side of the counter away from them. So you never know where your enemy strengths and weaknesses lie.

I admit that I played this solo for my first run-through. When I played the NATO side during each turn, I simply turned the Warsaw Pact counters around and vice versa when I played the Pact. Luckily, I am getting old so I quickly forgot about the combat values of the enemy counters when it came time to switch sides.

Peekaboo! The game is played blind with counters facing away from the enemy player – much like a block game.

After playing lots of complex games, I was worried that I would be bored with Red Storm Rising. I probably would have if there was only the Basic Rules to play with and I were only playing solo. I could definitely see myself playing this with my young son some day, which was my main motivation for getting it.

In my first game, the Soviets managed a breakthrough near Hannover on the first turn. British and Belgian troops managed to keep the Russian tanks from completely getting through by counterattacking against the lead Russian units. However, on turn 2, the Soviets took three more cities. Kiel, Hamburg, and Kassel fell in the north and it looked very bad for NATO. The Soviets only needed one more city for a victory. In the second half of turn 2, NATO counterattacked in the northern sector, mauling several Soviet divisions but failing to take back any of their cities.

The Soviets grab several cities in the northern sector – turn 2.

In turn 3, the Soviets finally achieved the breakthrough they were hoping for in the south, capturing Nurnburg and with enough cities to declare victory if they could hold on to them until the end of turn 4. The West Germans managed to place several reinforcements near Dortmund and moved them west in an organized push. The Soviets tried to consolidate their gains in turn 4, making space around Nurnburg. Although it held into turn 4, the West Germans in the northern sector used their armor to great effect and rolled several “1”s, which destroyed at least 4 Soviet divisions near Kassel. The Brits followed up with a counterattack and the city fell back into NATO’s hands. Game Result: Draw.

The Warsaw Pact makes headway into the southern sector (left) while pushing towards Dortmund in the north (right).

Having played through the basic game in about two hours, I decided to try and take on the advanced game. As I mentioned above, the advanced game has several additional bells and whistles. The Land Game introduces assets such as artillery, armor, engineers, and chemical munitions. Artillery and armor increase a unit’s attack rating by 1 while engineers allow you to cross rivers without incurring a movement penalty. Chemical munitions increase your attack value rating by 2 but at the cost of losing East German support (all EG pieces are immediately removed from the game when they are used).

The Air/Land Game introduces air units into the game. We get out the air board that splits Central Europe into a northern and southern sector and work out most of the game’s air phase here. At the start of each turn, players assign command missions for surveillance aircraft, which can be used to give bonuses to air-to-air combat. Air units on both sides vie for air superiority in a way that is very similar to GDW’s Third World War: The Battle for Germany game.  Once you go through the air superiority phase, remaining air units can be assigned to tactical air missions at the start of your side’s attack phase. You check an air superiority table and make a roll to see if your tac air unit gets to perform its mission or is shot down or damaged or aborted on the way. You can use tac air to either hit and damage enemy ground units or you can perform interdiction.

Turn 1:

I randomly assigned missions here as I was playing solo. The Pact player assigned two Mainstays to command missions in the northern sector while NATO put AWACs into both sectors.

One of the cool things is that the F-19 can be used to perform a one-time mission at the start of the game to try and shoot down the opposing player’s command aircraft and the WP player doesn’t even get a chance to fire back or defend their command aircraft in any way. BOOM! Both F-19s scream into East Germany on the first night of the war and shoot down one of their Mainstays. That felt great.

In the air superiority phase, the Pact player lost a considerable number of airplanes. Two MiG-27 squadrons in the northern sector were damaged and aborted while one Su-27 and two MiG-29 squadrons were outright eliminated in the north.  Down in the south, Pact air losses were kept to two MiG-29s. Two Su-27s were damaged and aborted their mission.

NATO air fared well in the northern sector. There were some light losses, including a Dutch F-16 squadron that aborted, while an American F-15 and F-16 squadron and a French F-1 squadron were damaged and aborted. Oddly enough, it was nearly the same in the southern sector with an F-15, F-16 and French F-1 damaged and aborted. No NATO planes in either sector were eliminated.

NATO whittles down the Soviet air force on turn 1.

The Warsaw Pact ground attack phase started and I assigned assets across the front. No real surprises here. I spread out the love with artillery and armor assets given to units attacking towards key target cities like Kassel and Hamburg in the north as well as any units that would be attacking into mountainous or rough terrain in the southern sector.

Hinds, Su-25s, and Hips were sent out in search of ground targets. I tried my best to hit the Danes and the Belgians as hard as possible to pave the way for a northern sector victory. About half of my tac air got shot down on the way to the target since air superiority was contested. Down south, I assigned a Hind, Su-25 and other ground attack aircraft the mission of hitting units near the border closest to Nurnberg. Unfortunately, nearly all Pact air units were shot down or aborted on the way to the target in the southern sector. Two paratroop landings were attempted near Dortmund but both were shot down on the way to target and the units were destroyed.

The Soviet tanks rolled west and, despite the poor start to the air war, they did a nice job of establishing breakthroughs thanks to the liberal use of support markers and assets. Kassel fell to Pact forces on turn 1 and Munich appeared to be left wide open for Soviet forces as a Soviet spearhead worked its way along the northern banks of the Danube.

NATO pulled back its forces in the north to accommodate the Soviets but kept hold of Kiel and Hamburg. NATO air was spent on trying to support a failed attempt at taking back Kassel but A-10s did manage to blunt the Soviet advance west of the city, keeping the Pact forces contained. In the south, NATO air struggled to do any good whatsoever. Several planes were lost on the way to the target and although helicopters were very effective in their attacks, they took losses in turn.

By the end of the turn, NATO was attempting to shore up Nurnburg in the south and putting West German reinforcements in the Ruhr. The French reinforced Strasbourg and sent some armor towards Munich to help keep the Soviets from taking the city unopposed. The Soviets reinforced success by putting several armored divisions near Magdeburg, ready to help with the drive towards the Ruhr.

A look at the front lines near the border at the end of turn 1.


Each side gets air reinforcements. NATO pulls a couple of F-16s and an AWACs while the Soviets get two MiG-23s and an Su-24.

Turn 2

The air war goes badly for the Soviets at the start of the turn.  Much of the Soviet air force is knocked out of the air in the north while it is entirely wiped out in the southern sector. Having said that, NATO has taken higher than expected losses. The Americans have shouldered much of the pain, losing two F-15 squadrons, both Stealth fighters, and several F-16s.

Air board at the end of Air Superiority Combat phase in turn 2. NATO owns the south.

The Soviets went for an even split of tactical aircraft between the two theaters again this time. Most of the air in the north is sent in to support the furthest advances west. Assignment of air assets in the south is evenly split along the front. The Pact player really wants to dislodge more American and West German units along the Czech-German border as the Soviet “breakthrough” down here is more of a trickle of armor rather than a river of angry men and steel.

There are no more artillery assets to assign but there is still plenty of armor and engineers to go around. Most of the available assets are assigned to the northern sector. Engineers are assigned to the mechanized infantry divisions northeast of Kassel in hopes of prying open the NATO defense around the lead elements of the northern advance.

Soviet 39 Guards, 3rd Shock and East German 7th Armored get fresh assets: start of Turn 2

The Pact player starts rolling for his attacks in the north, checking the results of each air mission on a particular space prior to hitting it with land forces.  The Danes retreat from Kiel and lose the city while Hamburg holds on against repeated assaults. Some air gets through but it is mostly ineffective.

The real surprise comes when the 39th Guards MRD completely annihilates a strength 4 British armored unit defending in the forests north of Kassel. The linchpin of NATO’s defense in the northern sector is completely gone in a surprise victory for the Pact player. To both players’ astonishment, the way to the Ruhr is now wide open!

In the south, every single Pact aircraft (save for two) assigned to tactical air missions is either shot down or mission aborted (most are shot down) by NATO fighters. There are a couple of minor NATO retreats along the inter-German border but the front is largely stabilized down here at this point.

By the end of the Pact movement phase, the Soviets have taken Dortmund and things are looking very bad for NATO indeed as several key German cities are in easy reach of the Soviets. It is staring to look like an unqualified disaster for NATO. Probably should have used some aircraft for interdiction. Oops!

Looking west…Soviet units have reached the Ruhr. The north is in peril.

During the NATO move phase, West German and British units are rushed back west to help try and stop the bleeding in the northern sector. West German paratroops land in Dortmund and US 101st also lands in the city to help secure it. NATO tactical air is mostly ineffective here but the West Germans manage to destroy a large East German “5 strength division south of Dortmund with the help of A-10s.

In the south, NATO tactical air has pretty much free reign to do whatever it wants since NATO has air superiority in this sector.  NATO attempts a counterattack into East Germany with a mechanized infantry and armored division. By the end of the turn, they are threatening Leipzig, much to the Soviets’ dismay.

NATO reinforcements come online at the end of the turn and we get a Belgian infantry division, French tank division, and a US division. The Americans are placed in Ostebruck while the Belgians are placed west of the cities of the Ruhr. The Soviets get three mech infantry divisions, two of which are placed near Leipzig and two of which go near Magdeburg. East German cities near the NATO breakthrough look quite secure.

For air reinforcements, NATO gets an French Jaguar (attack value 4 for tactical air use), a Belgian Alphajet and a West German F-4 squadron (both of whom are attack value 4).  Not a minute too soon, the Soviets get another Mainstay AWACs and a couple fighter squadrons (Mig-23 and Mig-21 both with yellow air attack rating of 3).  I wouldn’t exactly say that the Soviets are back in the game for the air war but they might be able to keep their hold on one of the sectors next turn if they don’t get too greedy and dilute their existing airpower by spreading it out across both sectors.

End of Turn 2

Turn 3

The turn started off with the Pact player facing a decision – either place two AWACs in one sector or spread them out and risk an attack on them by NATO aircraft. Interceptors were running low for the Soviets so they played it safe and put both Mainstay command aircraft in the north. Of course, NATO was amply supplied with its own AWACs and put two in each sector.

The Warsaw Pact failed to shoot down any full strength NATO planes though it did manage a couple of aborts and finished off a damaged squadron or two. Most NATO aircraft were fighting in the south with only a handful of jets in the north. Still, the fighters in the north fended off the worst of the Soviet attacks and had a single Alphajet in the sector by the end of the air superiority combat phase, which left the skies contested. The Soviets had absolutely no luck in the south but NATO couldn’t manage to do much either. The result was a contested southern sector and both sides were left fuming and frustrated by the end of the phase.

NATO finally got wise and assigned several planes to interdiction this turn. Tactical aircraft swept across the areas east of Dortmund in hopes of slowing the Pact’s advance to the Ruhr. In the south, NATO helos were sent to interdict any enemy troops headed towards Nurnburg. However, poor rolling on the air superiority table ended up removing pretty much all NATO tactical aircraft in the south.

During the attack phase, the Pact has some very nice success all across the board. In the south, the Soviets and Czechs take Nurnburg. In the far north, Hamburg and Hannover are taken next. The WP has a total of six German cities under its boot – one more than is required for victory. Two tank divisions manage a breakthrough near the center of the map and nearly reach Frankfurt during the move phase. The Soviets manage to miraculously get an airmobile unit into Dortmund to help hang on to their precious gain.

Things starting to look desperate for NATO now.

NATO is left reeling and scrambles to put together a counterattack near Nurnburg while Belgians and US airmobile units and paratroopers move into the West German cities west of the Rhine. NATO manages to take back Nurnburg in its planned counterattack. The last NATO unit (a Dutch infantry unit) pulls back across the Elbe. There is an US armored unit and infantry unit running around in the Pact rear through East Germany. If it can take an East German city, the Soviet margin of victory will be seriously reduced. The Soviets are forced to park their reinforcements in Magdeburg and near other East German cities to help prevent this.


Turn 4

One of the things about playing this game solo is that you have to randomize certain parts of the game because so much of it is double blind. The way I get around this in the air phase of each turn is to basically consider myself as a ground theater commander making a request to the air force commanders for allocation of resources to a certain sector. This influences a d6 roll to determine where each plane gets sent. So if the NATO ground commander wants air primarily assigned to the northern sector, for example, a given aircraft will be sent there on a d6 roll of 1-4. Otherwise, it goes to the south. This has worked very well for me so far during the game and has kept things interesting (and sometimes frustrating). This turn was no different.

In the northern sector, NATO assigns six squadrons of aircraft while 5 go to the southern sector. I actually was trying to get more aircraft sent south but the die roll leaned north instead. The Pact commander also requested forces in the south and largely got what he wanted. Three squadrons are assigned northern sector and 5 are sent south.

Northern and Southern sector air superiority assignments (before tac air assignments)

The results of air combat were not too surprising. NATO completely wiped out the Pact forces in the north and gained air superiority in the sector. It had less success in the south, where it lost a Belgian F-16 and suffered a damaged British F-4. The southern sector remained contested.

Frustratingly, the Pact air commander insisted on sending the bulk of tactical air to the northern sector where it would likely be shredded by NATO interceptors. The Soviets debate a bit about using chemical munitions for what may be the final turn of the game It ends on a roll of 7 to 10 at the end of this turn. If not, the same roll is made each subsequent turn. The East Germans, however, are holding in and around some key cities in the north so whatever short term gains might be made with chemical munitions would probably be lost due to lack of manpower. The war is going well for the Soviets so far so it makes no sense.

Three WP tactical aircraft are assigned to attack Dusseldorf while two attack Bremen. Amazingly, two tactical aircraft (both Su-24s) make it through NATO’s air screen and attack Dusseldorf, inflicting a hit on the defending West German paratroopers defending the city. Soviet infantry invades the city from nearby Dortsmund and eliminate them shortly afterwards. The tip of the Soviet invasion has now reached the east bank of the Rhine. An East German armored division attacks Bremen and manages a success, sending the defending Dutch retreating. Seven German cities are now in the hands of the Pact player. The only good news for NATO commanders is that the planned attack on Frankfurt fails miserably.

Pact forces double up their defenses on each of their captured cities during their movement phase. Taking back anything will be a tough nut to crack. NATO maneuvers a few units around the tip of the Soviet spear and send a West German armored division and a US infantry and armored division to take back Dusseldorf and Dortmund. The West German counterattack fails but the US infantry lays a beating on the defending Soviet infantry in the city. The Soviets lose a defending unit and tactical air manages a hit on the defending armored unit but the city is still held by the Russians at the end of the turn.

Soviets push through all the way to the Rhine. 

US infantry across the Rhine attack into Dusseldorf, scoring a die roll that matches their attack rating value. The Soviets decide to soak up the damage and stubbornly remain there.  Another “Hail Mary” attack from the Danes manages to dislodge the Soviets temporarily from Hannover but a retreating Soviet tank division falls back into the city to secure it.

A few counterattacks are attempted in the south but NATO cannot seem to get anything going here. It seems the front has stabilized mostly around Nurnberg. French reinforcements arrive near Frankfurt to help with the city’s defense.

End of Turn 4: NATO counterattacks…but it isn’t enough.

We roll to see if the game is over and a “10” is rolled. With seven NATO cities in Soviet hands, the Russians have won with an overwhelming victory.

Conclusion:

I really enjoyed Red Storm Rising. It was deeper than I thought it would be. Although the basic game is ruled almost entirely by the luck of the die, the advanced game offers both players some interesting decisions like air and asset allocation, which plays a very influential role on the overall outcome of the war. For a light wargame, I think Red Storm is just the right balance of fun and strategy with a nice theme on top of it. For anyone wanting anything even slightly deeper, VG’s NATO: The Next War in Europe is what you are looking for.

In terms of balance, I think NATO has a very tough job of it going into this game because of the setup rules. Luckily, there are optional setup rules that allow for the NATO player to pick and choose where to deploy his initial units. On the other hand, NATO air ratings are way better than Pact air units and a decent player would have probably gained air superiority more quickly than I did in my game. I also didn’t use NATO aircraft for interdiction until turn 3. A smarter allocation of air resources might have halted the Soviet thrust towards the Ruhr. I could have also assigned planes to attack Warsaw Pact assets. If I played this again, I would send a plane at anything that had an engineer attached to it because those assets basically nullified my river defense strategy.

I made a couple of house rules during my game, which I would state below:

1.) Units cannot retreat into cities captured by the enemy, even if they are vacant. Units can always retreat into friendly-captured cities no matter what.

2.) If a unit’s attack rating is reduced to 1 or less, it cannot destroy an enemy unit on a roll of 1. Instead, the attack is treated as if the roll was equal to the attacker’s combat value. That means the enemy unit can either retreat or opt to remain in its location and take a hit.

I can see pulling this thing out when my son gets older and giving it a go. It’s probably one of the best beer & pretzels (or coke & chips) game I’ve played in a long time. It is a very nice entry-level wargame that has all the basic ideas (breakthrough, asset allocation, maneuver) of a deeper wargame in there. What’s more, you can play this through in a single sitting. I would recommend Red Storm Rising to anyone interested in a game with this kind of theme and weight to it.