Saturday, 8 October 2016

Professional grid game...

best game ever?

Ha, that's a loaded question! However, let's start at the beginning......

RAND Baltic game, hex grid overlay
I read with great interest the recent RAND organisation report on their Baltic wargame. Using lots of military types and what, to me, looks like a fairly standard NATO/Next War type game with 10km hexes, they have concluded that the Russians can overrun the Baltic states in 60 hours. Recommendation? Put in 7 brigades of additional troops including 3 armoured brigades as a deterrent. You can find the report here.

I mention the RAND game first because they have used a mix of a standard boardgame with little cardboard units that we are all familiar with in a combination with current military experience. The report is good, the concepts are great and the recommendations are probably very sound. Also, if you are interested in current developments in the east, their report is a great basis for some Cold War Commander battles.

According to Paxsims (one of my favourite sites): 
“full documentation of the gaming platform will be forth-coming in a subsequent report.” 
That will be very cool, can't wait.

The reason for mentioning this first is that RAND have been doing military analytics for at least 50 years, if not more, and they know what they are doing. The Baltic stuff is top notch. However, I have now found something that looks and feels like a major step forward. This is C-WAM!

Turkish M60s on the Iraqi border
The US Army have developed their own wargame, it is a map based game using a grid and counters. I don't have any pictures but General Dynamics IT have used the Freedom of Information Act in the US to get a copy of the rules. I have read them and, in my opinion, they are brilliant.

"Oh, alright, I surrender then!"
You can find the whole story here but, essentially, C-WAM (Centre for Army Analytics- Wargame Analysis Model) is a paper and dice based game. While its outputs are fed into a major IT system (Joint Integrated Contingency Model - big campaign management system), it is a battle simulation system that can be used in a very simple way (although you don't seem to be allowed just to do stuff unsupervised in the US Army!).

TOW: Great BBQ starter!
You can find a link to the rules here. I highly recommend reading them, Any experienced board or figure wargamer will feel very comfortable with the concepts. Just to convey some of these:

  • They use a square grid on a map;
  • Squares are 1 by 1 inch;
  • All units that take up space are represented on the map;
  • A grid square represents the area a brigade would occupy when deployed defensively;
  • Time scale is one or three day turns;
  • Squares may represent different sized areas depending on predominant terrain in the combat area e.g. 5km in rolling terrain;
  • Units are brigades;
  • Weather effects are very important, this is the first phase in a turn;
  • Cyber/Space/EW effects are included, you might be successful in dealing in a turn with information attacks and attacks on your space assets (satellites) but you may suffer degradation of in electronic warfare terms;
  • Intel/Surveillance/Recce effects are merged into a targeting value, if you are moving in a J-STARs area you are detected! Otherwise you are detected it there is a targeting value success. Special forces are primarily an information gathering/targeting device!
  • Deep strike bombardments (ballistic missiles, cruise missiles, air packages), atmosphere penetrators (oooer missus);
  • Integrated air defense system "gates" and air to air combat;
  • Forward Area Logistical Supportability: supply to you and me;
  • A major naval warfare sub-system (not useful in the desert but...);
  • Reception, Staging, Onward Movement and Integration (RSOI) Operations: reinforcements anyone?
  • Manoeuvre and stacking (that would be "battlespace limitations"!);
  • Force Multiplier Combat Values: artillery support;
  • Ground force combat with tables and die rolls!

Syrian forces exposing themselves to ISR detection
It says in the rules that they are not to be used without appropriate support. I agree. They are not a complete set on their own but, rather, a tool kit that needs to be carefully managed.

Are they the best game ever? No, but they are such a major insight into real-world wargaming and current US doctrine that they are extremely important. if you don't wear green pyjamas, reading these rules is the closest you will get to the smell of gunpowder. Oh, by the way, they use a square grid, how interesting is that! 

Thursday, 29 September 2016

October War....

Why it is brilliant!

October War (OW) is one of those SPI games that has lurked in my memory for nearly 40 years. It appeared in a 1977 issue of Strategy and Tactics magazine. It currently resides in an SPI flat plastic box with three other significant S&T games from the same era (Cobra, Kharkov and Ney vs. Wellington). All of these games were played in my youth with friends, all of them were real classic player's games. 

40 years seems a lifetime ago. In historical terms, OW was a description of current events. The Yom Kippur War had taken place only in 1973. Data was derived largely from open source reporting. In warfare terms we see Shermans and Centurions vs T55s and Saggers. The first war featuring massive use of anti-tank missiles. In game terms this is the descendent of Panzer Blitz via Panzer 44 and Mech War 77. 

So why do I think this is game is so great?

  • All units are platoons (see above) and linked very much to their real world prototypes. It feels like you are playing with real units. This is reinforced by the use of step reduction rather than an abstract disruption status caused by combat. When a unit has taken casualties you know it is down to one tank!
  • It has multiple scenarios based on the Sinai and Golan Front battles. These are historical rather than abstract. There are also two multi-scenario campaign games, one for each front.  
  • The sequence of play is integrated: The turn starts with a direct fire phase, each side takes it in turn to fire one unit. Who goes first is a 50:50 die roll. This is followed by a similar movement phase for units that have not already fired. This includes opportunity fire. Each player makes choices all the time.
  • Any unit attempting to move or fire has to roll for "panic". An SPI fetish with very random panic results. In this game it makes every decision fraught with uncertainty, despite issues with the concept (its a bit gamey!), it works.
  • Overruns can be attempted. Who goes first in an overrun depends on a die roll 1-5 Israeli and 6 Arab. A massive incentive for the Israelis to use overruns and disincentive for the Arabs. Every now and again the Arabs get to shoot first, much to the surprise of the Israelis.  
  • Indirect fire is pre-plotted in advance.
  • Combat effects include step losses and suppression
  • There is no melee, all combat is fire combat.
The fact that this game has remained so firmly fixed in my mind after all these years is due simply to the fact that it is unpredictable and very very realistic. You can feel the heat and smell the smoke.

The Golan 73 game has set me off down this road again. I can't see why this approach was not retrofitted to Panzer Blitz/Leader. Compared to OW, Arab Israeli Wars by AH was a developmental dead end. I wonder if we can use OW in a miniatures game? Hmmmmh!

There are more details about the game, including the rules, on BGG. One very nice thing is some great scenario cards......

Fantastic stuff!

Friday, 23 September 2016

An interesting list......

new stuff!

Things have been really busy recently so progress on most fronts has been pretty slow. However, I've been going through one of those periods where there is a lot of interesting stuff arriving on my desk. 

Books first....

  • The Men Who Would Be Kings (TMWWBK): The latest Dan Mersey rules from Osprey. From what I have read these are very simple and very entertaining. If I was starting Desert Eagle again, I'd start from here. Very interesting.
  • Table Top Wargames: By Risk Priestley and John Lambshead (Pen and Sword). The jury is out. I don't think they are giving any secrets away in this one. Some of the key design issues (movement distance vs. firing distance for example) were covered off nicely by Phil Barker in a short article in The Nugget (if I remember correctly) some years ago. 

  • Sandbox Infantry Patrols: This is brilliant (and only $2.99 from Wargames Vault). Basically a solo campaign for small scale patrols in Iraq or Afghanistan. Very, very nice. As some of you may have guessed, I don't do rules as written (RAW) but this one really tempts me to just do it as per the book.

Golan '73: This arrived very unexpectedly by post a couple of days ago. I had been watching the GMT P500 news on this for a while and had gone so far as to read the e-rules. My chum Pete, who well remembers our battles on the Golan using October War (SPI) in the 1970s, sent it to me as an early birthday present. A very welcome addition as well as being a great reminder of some happy times. I'll definitely win this time round!

In other news:

  • CnC Medieval: Check this out. I'm not sure 6/7th century Byzantium counts as medieval but very interesting nevertheless.
  • Heroes of Normandie Card Game: I love the boardgame, will this be even better?

  • Firestorm Bastogne: I'm a big fan of Firestorm as a concept, this looks great too. 
I'm sure there is lots of other stuff occurring but this is enough for me to be getting on with for the moment!

Wednesday, 14 September 2016


here come the bad guys!

An ISIS fighter with a competency issue

Having survived the back to school period, things return somewhat to normal. My priority is to finish up the Desert Eagle draft and get in some full game tests. I've been doing a lot of thinking about ISIS and have just completed the first draft of the background to an ISIS army list. This is now on the Desert Eagle page. The detailed ratings will follow shortly.

I have also been tempted by a few different things.....

The Men Who Would Be Kings: Yes, I've now got this and its great. It will not cause me to change my direction on DE but I can see other possibilities with it. It is cleaner and more simple than Dragon Rampant so it doesn't hurt my brain. Also, I've got loads of Hat colonials, so who knows what's next!

Tabletop Wargames: A Designers' and Writers' Guide: By Rick Priestley and John Lambshead. On the one hand its seems to be designer's notes for Bolt Action (and you know what happened when I read those rules!) and, on the other, a combination of Fowler's Modern English Usage and Usage and Abusage by Eric Partridge. The only thing I have found useful about this book so far is that it recommends that original historical research should be left to others since you can waste loads of time on it. Sorry, its a first impression, I'm sure a second reading will improve it. I may have missed a semicolon here!

Sandbox: I love the idea of this, especially for $2.99. Something for the weekend I think.

Monday, 5 September 2016

New Desert Eagle stuff...

it's quite good!

NSyA top brass promo pic

Well I think so anyway! I've been doing quite a bit of work recently on the New Syrian Army (NSyA) to generate a first army list for DE. I have been surprised by how complicated the internal wiring is for Dragon Rampant and converting it into something it is not intended for is fraught with complications. Nevertheless, I have produced two things:

  • An army list description which is, as far as I can see, pretty much up to date (within the last week);
  • A very first draft set of unit characteristics.

You can find both of these on the DE page here. Loads more work to do on these but nearing a first playtest on a table with some counters!

My thoughts have been drawn to the impending battle for Mosul, Op. FATAH (CONQUEST). Over Christmas last I worked on the Ramadi game and found myself drawn into the conflict in quite a personal way. I was encouraged to do a similar piece of work on the recent battle for Fallujah and, in fact, have done a lot of research on the fighting as information has become available. Although I will return to Fallujah at a future point, the Mosul operation will have enormous consequences so my intention now is to work up a similar game to the Ramadi one but looking at Mosul in real time. 

Anyone with concerns about wargaming and real life should look away now because Mosul will be my immediate focus. It will also generate what young people call factions(?) for DE. I have spent some very interesting hours looking at the Peshmerga and my level of understanding has substantially increased. The ability of wargaming to gain insight into the real world is vastly overlooked so my next few months I believe will be a real journey. At the end of which I'll probably revert to playing Stratego but, hey ho, who knows!

Sunday, 28 August 2016

Desert Eagle play testing.....

its all go!

Well, I have made a start. I have finished the play test counters and these have been posted on the DE page. I have even put the counters on the board, or at least the NSyA.

I'm surprised how nice the counters look and how normal it feels to have 3D scenery and 2D counters.

I have yet to cut out the OPFOR counters and will do so during the week. I'm still working on the values for the various characteristics. I'm also pondering whether the Jordanian Special Forces, who I know to have night vision equipment, should move faster at night and if so, how much?

Coming to post this I realise two things, firstly this is my 200th post. A notable event and worth a beer or two tonight! Also, I haven't posted much recently on all of my other projects and interests. I'm sure I will return to these in due course. One precursor of a change in tack is my scouring of the net for interesting stuff. Just so you know, there is a huge bundle of FiveCore rules and supplements on Wargames Vault for "pay what you want". This includes the original versions of FiveCore Skirmish and Five Men in Normandy. Well worth a look. 

Sunday, 21 August 2016

Op. Desert Eagle 16-1

Mission GO!

SIGINT confirms that 4 NSyA prisoners are held in compounds at al-Susah, in Syria north of al-Bakamal but across the Euphrates and close to the Iraq border. 
Actual compounds in al-Susah
SIGINT suggests that they are held up because of Coalition air interdiction. They are waiting for a quiet moment to slip over the border to Qaim where they will be executed on live TV.


ISIS are believed to have one SF team in close protection of the prisoners with support in platoon strength with heavy weapons and sniper team. They are deployed to the west of the target area suspecting action by NSyA from the Syrian side of the border.


One Jordanian SF team from 71 Counter Terrorism Bn plus 2 NSyA teams and one heavy weapons support. These are in-bound from Iraq guided by the Desert Falcons, Sunni fighters from al-Waleed, so are coming from opposite direction expected by ISIS. 

All is calm at Dark o'clock...

A little more verdant than in real life...drone footage from the west (Iraq)
Remember, this is a game, its not real so no-one needs to bomb anything anywhere near al-Susah, that goes for the Russians too!