Tuesday, 4 May 2021

Daaarrgh mateys, here be treasure!


I'm afraid blogging has taken third place behind two things beginning with B. Neither of which I feel the need to bother you about as they are in the news everyday. However, a little time away from blogging is a useful exercise sometimes and I have just been tinkering a little with things when not working.

I have made an entirely accidental discovery of some old wargames magazines which have been in a box for the last twenty years or so. It has been very enjoyable leafing through them. 

As you will have guessed from the picture, the box contains possibly the complete set of Practical Wargamer plus some special wargames issues from Military Modelling. I am surprised by how many I am familiar with and delighted to find some I really treasure. 

I imagine anyone reading this blog will remember PW, edited by the legendary Stuart Asquith.. If I recall correctly, it was a spin off from Military Modelling. The first issue was in the autumn of 1987, pretty much the same time as the first issue of WI. I think the last issue must have been around 2000 as I had just moved house when it folded. I was much disappointed as I was just about to resubscribe..

So here is one of my favourite PW issues.....Winter 1989

This issue featured the work of Clive Lane, a man dedicated to Airfix plastics and hexes. What a great combination. Here are a couple of tasters...

Another treasured magazine is this Wargames Manual from MM in 1983. This featured a fantastic article by Charlie Wesencraft.........

Large scale Napoleonics with each stand a battalion but able to change formation by the positioning of its various elements. A work of genius not seen, to my knowledge, anywhere else.

A great trip down memory lane when magazines were about doing stuff yourself and exploring the boundaries rather than just buying product (which is not a hobby!).

A couple of other things have also cropped up which are great and FREE!

  • Crossfire: A booklet of 2' by 2' Crossfire mini-scenarios including a campaign (Volkhov, Russian Front). Hopefully the first of many. Give them a try here.
  • Punched Magazine: The e-magazine with a game in it. This time round it focuses on COIN games. Not something I'm a fan off but worth reading nonetheless. Take a look here. In my view, issue 1 was more interesting (Franco-Prussian War).
Hopefully blogging conditions will improve from here onwards!

Thursday, 31 December 2020

When did WWIII start?


Happy winter greetings from the SAM 2 crew!

Never, perhaps, in the post-war decades has the situation in the world been as explosive and, hence, more difficult and unfavourable as in the first half of the 1980's.

 Mikhail Gorbachev February 1986

It is perfectly feasible to play a WWIII wargame, of any type, predicated on any number of start dates. Which date would you choose?

According to GDW’s Team Yankee, it was 1987. Battlegroup NORTHAG says 1983. Seven Days to the Rhine aims simply at the 1980s. Interestingly, The Red Effect by Harvey Black says 1984. Are any of these dates more likely than others and does it actually matter?

For most people I imagine, it doesn’t actually matter. Pick the rules you like and use the kit you fancy. If you want to use Conquerors to blow T-10s to molten slag, the answer is to come up with a rules set that covers these vehicles and figure out as much of a narrative as you need to set the scene.

For me, I like to play a game in which both sides have a believable narrative as to why they are fighting. The “historical” start date then sets the conditions in terms of force strengths, equipment types etc. The date is key for me because I’m writing my own rules and need to have an envelope for the kit and the tactics. The rules will cover only what is necessary and I will only need to find the specific models for the game. That keeps it simple all round and stops me going off at unnecessary tangents.

Warsaw Pact hat competition, Hungary wins!

I think 1984 is probably the last date at which a genuine WWIII could have broken out in Europe, but also probably the most likely. Could it have occurred earlier? Yes, certainly. There were many periods of extreme tension, starting with the Berlin Blockade in 1948, which could have sparked a war in Europe.  However, 1984 represents the culmination of a number of developments which pushed the possibility of conflict right up the scale.

The drivers for a conflict in 1984 are, as I see them, as follows:

  • Nearly a decade of competitive developments in weaponry (attack helicopters, new generation tanks) and in operational thinking (air/land battle and operational manoeuvre groups);
  • Strategic pressures brought about by Reagan’s election in 1980 and the possibility that his Star Wars project might provide a defensive shield behind which the US could launch a first strike;
  • Increasingly large and realistic exercises by NATO and Warsaw Pact (WP) which, even if not deliberately provocative, served to give that impression;
  • Stress and instability within the Soviet leadership structure due to Brezhnev’s death in 1982 and his replacement by, first, Andropov, and second, Chernenko.

Effectively, Reagan started the war threat rolling in 1980 and cranked it up with Star Wars. Andropov, KGB Chairman in 1981, responded with a massive project to obtain early warning of a US first strike (Op. RYaN) and this response continued when he took over following Brezhnev’s demise.

Here we come, ready or not!

What pushed things to the brink of war was the 1983 NATO exercise season. Although often referred to as Able Archer 83, that exercise was only a small part of a series of exercises under Autumn Forge 83. These started in September and ran through to November 1983. Able Archer was the final component. Autumn Forge was a massive exercise involving a full test of the reinforcement plan for NATO (Reforger 83) and also extensive planning of B52 “strikes” including the transmission of nuclear codes.

From a Soviet point of view, this was a close to NATO war preparations as they had ever seen. There is the possibility. therefore, that a Soviet pre-emptive strike could have been put in place for 1984 for use if the threat of a US/NATO strike was detected. This would have a been a standing start attack into West Germany with a view to disrupting the attack on the WP but with the advantage that it would shift the Iron Curtain further west and make far more difficult for NATO in future.

All of this would, of course, totally ignore the possibility of nuclear and chemical exchanges, the scale of military and civilian casualties and the long term damage to the countries involved. Luckily for us, this did not happen, phew!

So, what does this all this hot air mean then? Deep thinking on WWIII tactical OHW (possibly called Red Effect: Tactical). More later....in the meantime, Happy New Year!

Monday, 28 December 2020

Interesting stuff for Christmas!


Condiments of the season! Hopefully things are well with you all. 

I have been very unproductive in the last few months so, in lieu of anything new from me just at the moment, I present some interesting, and free, stuff for your entertainment. 

Les Guerres Picrocholines A small game from Nuts!, and one I have had my eye on for a long while. Based on the famous adventures of Gargantua and friends by Fran├žois Rabelais (1534). Nuts! have this up as a free print and play here.

Punched magazine A new on-line wargames magazine with a game in it(!). The first edition is here. The game is Gravelotte 1870, an interesting little rock, scissors, paper game. One that looks like it could be very adaptable to other times and theatres. Invading Russia 1941 perhaps? Well worth checking out.

Able Archer I have been remiss in picking up the Rapid Fire Reloaded rules, on the list for next year. However, I have been tinkering with an interesting RF adaptation covering the cold war. You can find these rules on the Free Wargames Rules website here. Able Archer is a subject I intend to return to in the spring.

Peter's WSS rules Last but not least, Peter has published his draft WSS rules, a bit hidden away here. Brilliant!

Back in the New Year.

Thursday, 29 October 2020

What did you do in the Third World War Dad?


2017 story in the Independent, plus ca change

Well children, there wasn't just one WWIII there were loads! I remember the first one well. It was 1962 and I can recall them testing the nuclear raid warning sirens. There was a big one outside the Trebor factory. I can't think there was any point to them as the idea was that you would be dead in four minutes which isn't much time even to finish lunch. We won that one, the Russians lost and the Cubans have been made to stay at home for nearly 60 years.

The next WWIII was in 1965 but it was very secret. They made a documentary about it and, apparently, we pretty much all died. Because it was secret no-one really noticed until 1985 when we all seemed to be OK again.

There was a rumour in 1975 that the Russians had nuked Wurzburg but this was only a game. As were Red Star/White Star, NATO, WWIII, Next War, Fulda Gap, Mech War '77 and Firefight. By the time they got to NATO Divisional Commander most people were shell-shocked and needed a rest. Public Information films didn't provide any comfort!

We then had another two pretend WWIIIs made up by the military to get more funding by frightening the citizens. First, in 1978, Sir John Hackett described the future war that would break out in 1985. Then in 1979 Shelford Bidwell made the case for more cash in World War 3.

In 1983 the NATO big boys played a wargame called Able Archer. Unfortunately, the Russians, being a totalitarian criminal enterprise, didn't have a sense of humour. Luckily, the war was another pretend one but only because two officers, one Russian and one American, took morally sound decisions. Unfortunately, no-one made a documentary about this because nothing went bang!

Well pleased that WWIII was over we had another documentary in 1984 about when they nuked Sheffield which most people thought was a great idea.

The final WWIIIs took place in the 1980s. These seem to be the basis for most current WWIII themed scenarios and games and follow on from the Able Archer turmoil. 

The best of these books are:

First Clash by Kenneth Macksey and written as a training guide fo the Canadian Army, featuring the 4th Canadian Mechanised Brigade Group fighting off a Soviet attack in the summer of 1984.

Team Yankee
was written in 1987 and probably sets the story in a similar time period. An excellent book and good game from GDW.

Red Thrust by Steven Zaloga is interesting because it describes a number of scenarios on the southern part of the Central front which provide a basis for analysing and evaluating Soviet capabilities. Although the war is nationally set in 1993, started by East German disturbances and starting a conflict over Berlin, the descriptions are equally valid for earlier in the 1980s, although the book itself was written n 1989. This shortly before official end of WWIII between 1989 and 1991 depending on your perspective.

Tank War: Central Front, also by Steven Zaloga, was published by Osprey in 1989 and, for my money, is a great place to start on WWIII gaming.

The big problem was that some people decided that having won WWIII there wouldn't be any more history and liberal democracy was the new defacto world governmental model. Frances Fukuyama was possibly ill advised to adopt this position since we have had lots of history since then, mostly not very entertaining. Liberal democracy looks to be an endangered species just now, who's up for a game of Dixie?

Tuesday, 27 October 2020

Periscope up, prepare to surface!

Blowing main ballast tanks here to come up for air and recharge batteries! The COVID/Brexit morass just doesn't go away.

Anyway, reason number one for posting just now is the above nice video from Diagonal Move about my Ramadi game. Good enough for any occasion.

Reason number two is that I am old enough and ugly enough to recognise my own faults, including being too quick to reach a judgment. I'm not yet at the point of revisiting Battlegroup NORTHAG, although I certainly will, but just to say that I have just finished reading Red Effect by Harvey Black. A book I had initially cast aside after 30 pages. 

My initial thoughts were that the characters were typical cardboard and the story moved at the pace of something very slow. I have given it a second go and have to say that, by the end, I was very much taken with the his approach and the technical detail.

It reminded me of both Red Thrust by Steven Zaloga and First Clash by Kenneth Macksey. Both of these books are professional military analyses. Ken's book was, of course, produced as training material for the Canadian Army. Both of these books have some cardboard in them but the technical detail is excellent. I'd put Harvey's book in the same league but with it actually being a lot more exciting on the action elements. I'll be asking for the next two volumes in the trilogy for my birthday.

Time to dive, dive, dive! Hopefully will surface again before Christmas.

Sunday, 30 August 2020

Simple Wargames are Go!


While dealing with Covid 19 issues and preparing for the Brexit Omnishambles at work, I have been quietly getting on with Stout Hearts. It is going well, fingers crossed! Here is the current map, on the M44 editor, my preferred design tool. This will be a simple game but simple games are hard to design.

I am very pleased therefore that Disgruntled Fusilier at Sound Officers Call has been running a series of tests on simple games and evaluating them against standard criteria. The latest tests have been of DF's own EAGLES CHEAPER THAN BRAIN CELLS.

What has really interested me is the AARs. You can tell from the way the games have played that there are some really interesting features here. I have been really impressed with the way that the rules produce a cracking back and forth battle for control of terrain as seen here.

It is rare that I get excited about stuff but, as with some of the rules produced by Norm and Peter, I think DF has got something special. Key features are:

  • Orders issued to units at start of each turn, based on 1d6 die roll.
  • For units in contact, orders cost double.
  • A general is available for every six units, who can order troops directly and aid combat etc.
  • Initiative is only decided after orders are issued!
  • Although the initiative is tested each turn, the reacting player needs to score more than 2 more than the active player to take it over.
The reason for my excitement is that this fits really well with OHW and has loads of options, including the influence of the general on orders and initiative.

I'm still mulling over the other interesting features of the rules including the firing and assault rules. Lots to consider here and, judging by the AARs, these rules produce a great game. I'm looking forward to the rest of the series.

Tuesday, 23 June 2020

Indoors update 4

Follow that, er, sort of T34!

Well, are they Cubans? Well they are now! Previously Imex North Koreans, these chaps are now my generic OPFOR for Latin America, Africa and, possibly, parts of the Middle East. I just need some chaps with RPGs. T34 cunningly disguised as a T34! Bases not yet finished.

Obviously an NCO

Nice to see Simplicity in Practice being given a workout by Mr M J Tar here and here.

Also the concluding episode of Waterloo a la Carte by Mr Crook here.

Despite being indoors still, it appears to be all go!