Table for One: Alert Force (Close Simulations) Review

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Most wargames slot the player into a particular job, a particular role: supreme commander, divisional general, platoon leader, even quartermaster. Alert Force, a 1983 “microgame” offering from Wayne Close and his publishing company, Close Simulations, provides gamers the quite unique opportunity to play as a member of the United States Air Force’s Security Police, the alert force guarding the flight line and the nuclear-armed alert bombers parked in readiness thereupon. Opposing the Security Police on this fictionalized depiction of a Strategic Air Command base, the other player takes the role of undifferentiated Terrorists, seeking to destroy the bombers, hamper operations, and even purloin a nuclear device if possible.

On the surface, Alert Force comes in as a simple man-to-man tactical combat game, with a tiny footprint, a thin sheaf of rules, and a quick play time, but some nuances in both scenario design and rules chrome make for a deeper presentation than the meager box might suggest. While not a groundbreaking game in any particular way, Alert Force nevertheless repays its brief time on the table with streamlined gameplay and an interesting, if obscure, premise. Indeed, you might just have to own a game company in order to get a game on this topic published.

Overview

Alert Force
Close Simulations, 1983
Designed by Wayne Close

Alert Force Cover Detail

Alert Force comes in a small cardboard tuck box, measuring slightly more than 4″ x 7″, fitting it squarely in the Microgame size range that was quite popular in the late-1970s and early-1980s. Two sheets of half-inch die cut counters are included, totaling 112 counters. A matte-printed tri-fold map (12″ x 14″), plastic storage bag, and thin saddle-stapled rulebook round out the package.

The counters represent armed individuals not with figures but with icons of the weapon type they carry: machine pistol, assault rifle, or machine gun; additional weapons, such as satchel charges and light anti-tank weapons, have their own counters, as do vehicles and the unarmed aircraft crews. Numbers on the counters indicate defense value and movement points; attack strengths are a function of the weapon type and range, and are listed on a side table.

The artwork is serviceable, clearly conveying needed information though without much in the way of flourish. Informational counters likewise show either unadorned words (damaged, incapacitated) or drawings of effects (craters, flames). Only a few colors are used (two shades of red and green), but again, while not fancy, they get the job done. The game comes entirely from the hand of Wayne Close, who, in addition to design, is credited with cover art, rulebook art, and map and counter graphics.

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Table for One: NATO Air Commander (Hollandspiele) Review

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In the variety show that is wargaming, purpose-built solitaire wargames are the plate spinners—sideshow acts compared to the notional stars of the show, the multi-player, face-to-face games. It’s not that these solo games lack flair or substance; indeed, there’s virtuosity on offer, but in almost all cases, the skills and decisions required in these games differ wildly from those called upon in traditional hex and chit wargames. The entertainment in playing a purpose-built solitaire wargame, as in watching a plate spinner, derives from wondering when it will all come crashing down; failure is the expected end point, success a function of failing less badly.

It’s this heavy focus on risk abatement as the primary game decision space that has long caused me to shy away from solitaire wargames, which tend toward rather tedious, process-driven affairs. The player’s decisions revolve around a few choices that add up to little more than different die roll modifiers for the next run through the chart-heavy sequence of play. Fighting a system with the odds stacked against you frankly feels like work.

But subject matter often overcomes hesitation with wargames, and when I heard that Hollandspiele had NATO Air Commander, a solitaire World War III air game, in the works, I knew I had to check it out, even though I am, as is perhaps now obvious, averse to the process-laden solitaire genre. Getting to command wings of A-10s and Alpha Jets against echelons of Warsaw Pact forces? I’m so very there.

Overview

NATO Air Commander: Solitaire Strategic Air Command in World War III
Hollandspiele, 2018
Designed by Brad Smith

NATO Air Commander, Hollandspiele, 2018

NATO Air Commander follows what appears to be the standard Hollandspiele format, with a small-scale box (11.5″ x 9″), 22″ x 17″ matte map, a sheet of absurdly thick die-cut, double-sided 9/16″ counters, and in this case a deck of cards. Hollandspiele uses a print-on-demand process for components other than the cards, and while the saddle-stapled rulebook pages might be a bit thin, the colors on the map are crisp and the counters show no registration issues at all.
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Table for One: Revolt in the East (SPI/S&T) After-Action Report Part Two

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Revolt in the East (SPI/Strategy & Tactics 56, 1976)
Standard Scenario After-Action Report
Part Two: Turns Seven through Twelve

Overview

Please see Part One of the Revolt in the East AAR for a detailed breakdown of the first half of the scenario.

The Soviet Union currently holds fifteen of the twenty-one victory cities, leaving six for the Warsaw Pact/NATO side. With only a simple majority needed for victory, the WP/NATO side has quite a bit of work to do, but their faster unit replacement rate should help even the odds a bit. The map currently favors the WP/NATO side as well, with the Soviets spread out all over; if the Soviets can consolidate these disparate forces, however, they should be able to hold their current gains.

(Combat results are EX—Exchange; DE—Defender Eliminated; DR—Defender Retreat; AR—Attacker Retreat. Phases with no significant action omitted.)

Turn 7

WP/NATO Reinforcement Phase:

A well-armed West German corps re-enters after absorbing replacement troops and materiel.

WP/NATO Movement Phase:

With all Soviet troops evicted from East Germany, NATO forces may spread out as they wish. The Turks and Greeks stream into Bulgaria, in an odd reversal of the Balkan wars at the beginning of the century, and fortify Sofia and Plovdiv. The considerable mass of troops in East Germany heads south and east, hoping to secure Poland up to the Vistula and Czechoslovakia down to the Danube. Overextending could be costly, as Soviet armies destroyed the last several turns have been reconstituting themselves, albeit more slowly than their NATO counterparts.

Revolt in the East, Turn 7, NATO Breakout from East Germany

WP/NATO Combat Phase:

The rampage of the Boleslav Army comes to a close, as five NATO corps, supported by the largest air armada yet seen in this conflict, surrounds the battle-tested warriors. [25 attack strength against 3 defense strength for max 7:1 odds. Combat dr=4 for DE.] The US 7th Corps has the honor of marching into a liberated Prague.
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Table for One: Revolt in the East (SPI/S&T) After-Action Report Part One

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Revolt in the East (SPI/Strategy & Tactics 56, 1976)
Standard Scenario After-Action Report
Part One: Turns One through Six

Overview

The Standard Scenario in SPI’s Revolt in the East lasts for twelve turns, each of a week’s duration. The entire map is in play.

Victory is premised on control of cities in Warsaw Pact nations, as well as those in otherwise neutral countries (Albania, Austria, Yugoslavia) that are invaded during the course of the game. With twenty-one cities in the Warsaw Pact countries, draws are impossible barring neutral invasion; a simple majority wins. Control does not require lines of communication.

Initial Thoughts

For the Warsaw Pact/NATO player, the key seems to be in tying down Soviet units. With incredibly sticky Zones of Control, a single WP or NATO corps can tie down as many Soviet armies as can be moved adjacent to; though the Soviet units will certainly retaliate, since ZoCs cannot be exited, they’ve been held up for a crucial turn. An edge in airpower will also allow NATO forces to punch above their weight. Additionally, keeping cities garrisoned where possible will increase the chances of the Soviets needing to take more than one turn of combat to suppress the city—only Defender Eliminated (DE) results will suppress a city, so a single odds column shift on the CRT can make a huge difference.

For the Soviet player, speed is of the essence. Revolts need to be put down decisively to keep the number of cities in revolt low; the longer NATO intervention, keyed to a die roll linked to cities in revolt, can be delayed, the better the chance of victory. Defeat in detail should be the order of the day. The airborne units need to be reserved for cutting off NATO unit supply lines; throwing them away taking a city should be avoided unless they’re needed to tip an odds column to the next higher level.

(Combat results are EX—Exchange; DE—Defender Eliminated; DR—Defender Retreat; AR—Attacker Retreat. Phases with no significant action omitted.)

Turn 1

Revolt Phase:

Revolt in the East, Turn 1, Poland revolts

Poland revolts. Possessed with the most formidable of the Warsaw Pact armies, and with the most cities to control, Poland represents a difficult challenge right off the bat for the Soviets.

WP/NATO Movement Phase:

NATO units remain immobile until East Germany falls into revolt and intervention has been triggered. So for now, the Poles are on their own. The Polish 4th Army, on the Oder, prepares to attack the adjacent Soviet 5th Army, while all other Polish units move to fortify cities.

WP/NATO Combat Phase:

In a blow for freedom, the Polish 4th Army attacks Soviet 4th Army. [Attack strength of 5 against defense strength of 5 for 1:1 odds. Combat dr=6 for AR.] The Poles retreat towards Wrocław, beaten but unbowed.
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Table for One: Revolt in the East (SPI/S&T) Review

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Many a wargame exists on hypothetical NATO/Warsaw Pact conflicts after the Second World War. Fewer still exist—possibly just one—on a joint NATO and Warsaw Pact conflict against the Soviet Union in that same time period.

Using the freedom afforded by the need to stick a complete game in a magazine every two months, SPI delivered a decidedly fresh take on the Cold War in James F. Dunnigan’s Revolt in the East, postulating a potential NATO intervention in an uprising spreading throughout disaffected Warsaw Pact member nations. Simple in design and streamlined in execution, Revolt in the East manages to provide an engaging game on a decidedly undergamed topic, even if the constraints of the basic SPI game “chassis” get occasionally in the way.

Overview

Revolt in the East: Warsaw Pact Rebellion in the 1970s
Simulations Publications Inc. (SPI), 1976
Strategy & Tactics 56
Designed by James F. Dunnigan

Revolt in the East, Cover image

Revolt in the East saw life as a “folio” sized game included in one of SPI’s house magazines, Strategy & Tactics, Issue 56 (May/June 1976). Coming in at an even hundred half-inch mounted counters, matte printed on the front only, and with a simple four-panel matte printed map measuring 22″ x 16″, the folio format severely limited the design space available—and probably helped drive many game development decisions. Other than lacking sufficient informational/mnemonic markers for tracking which Warsaw Pact cities are in revolt, however, the game doesn’t seem to have suffered from the physical restraints imposed upon it.

The counters feature typical Redmond Simonsen discipline, using generic “army man” figures for ground combat units (each representing an army or corps) and top-down aircraft silhouettes (F-4 for NATO, MiG-25 for the Soviet Union). Specific unit designations are provided, with the only other numbers on the counter a combat strength and, for air and airborne units, a range. The color registration on my copy leaves a fair bit to be desired, with about an sixteenth of an inch of offset color on several of the Warsaw Pact and Neutral nation counters. (I suppose it’s too late to write to SPI for replacements…)

Revolt in the East,  Situation in Bulgaria

The accompanying article on the game in Strategy & Tactics goes into detail about the locations of the various units in play, but in practice, the game does set too great a store on which unit sets up in which hex so long as it has the proper nationality and combat strength.

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Table for One: Sinai (SPI) After-Action Report

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Sinai: The Arab-Israeli Wars, ’56, ’67 and ’73 (SPI, 1973)
1967 Scenario Report (Base Scenario; no optionals)

Overview

The 1967 scenario for SPI’s Sinai tasks the Israeli player with three objectives, which seem at first rather daunting:

  • Occupy/Control all Suez Canal crossing hexes (15 VP plus 5 per turn before T12)
  • Clear all Arab forces from the West Bank (10 VP plus 2 per turn before T12)
  • Clear all Arab forces from Syria (5 VP plus 1 per turn before T12)

However, given the forces at their disposal and the severe restrictions placed on the Arab nations in terms of mobility and supply, as outlined in my review of Sinai, the Israeli player will be able to accomplish all three tasks; the question is how long it all takes. The highest level of victory (Decisive) comes in at 75 points, which corresponds to completing the first objective by Turn 6 (15 + 30) and the other two by Turn 7 at the latest (10+10 and 5+5).

All this presumes that the Arab player is prevented from his/her own objectives of destroying Israeli cities and fortified settlements (10 and 2 VP, respectively), and units (1 VP per point of combat strength). Though they’re fairly well de-fanged by the rules, the Arab nations can still strike painfully if they choose their moments.

Sinai 1967 Scenario Set-Up

Sinai 1967 Scenario Set-Up (Click for full-size image.)

Should Jordan not enter the conflict, the West Bank victory condition cannot be fulfilled and the VP levels are dropped by 16 points. A late Jordanian entry is not accounted for in the victory conditions, but should they come in after Turn 1, the Israeli player will have a more difficult time reaching the Decisive level owing to fewer turns to clear the West Bank.

Initial Thoughts

On the Israeli side, efficiency is key. Not only does the possibility for a Decisive victory dwindle after Turn 6, but also automatic supply runs out. Once the automatic supply falters, any Israeli offensive will perforce be channeled along roads in the Sinai, meaning a lone Egyptian unit passed by can cause havoc if it can throw even a Zone of Control onto the supply path. Some units will have to stay back to guard against this possiblity.

The single Israeli airmobile battalion starts near the Sinai, but I think it will do much better up in Jordan, should they enter the war—Arab nations have to trace supply to the map edge, and there are only two bridges across the River Jordan and only a few paths to the fort line in Syrian. Shutting down one of those supply lines will make clearing the forces dug in much simpler. Besides, the Israeli mechanized units can move eight hexes a turn on roads—who needs air-mobility when you have treads!

For the Arab nations, it’s a matter of playing spoiler while trying to avoid encirclement (and thus elimination). A unit surviving one turn longer than it rightly should can throw off the entire Israeli timetable. There are a few fortified settlements that appear vulnerable to at-start forces, but attacking them allows Israeli units into Trans-Jordan. The VP trade-off might not be worth it if that allows for Israeli forces to sweep at the West Bank from behind.


Turn One

Israeli forces jump off and conduct a number of overruns in the Sinai, clearing the Gaza Strip and freeing armored forces to race down the Mediterranean Coast. The airmobile unit promptly uses its 15-hex movement ability to transfer to near the Syrian front, while the forces there push around the Sea of Galilee to try to flank the Syrian forts. Even though they’re occupied only by 1-1 strength Syrian Infantry units, the defensive bonuses from terrain and forts make them hard to clear. On the Jordanian border, a second unit moves to West Jerusalem to fortify the unit already there. With automatic supply, there’s no need to worry about lines of communication being cut quite yet.

Sinai 1967 Scenario Turn 1 after Israeli Combat Phase, Sinai Front

Sinai 1967 Scenario Turn 1 after Israeli Combat Phase, Sinai Front

The initial onslaught causes enough combat losses that Egyptian forces suffer the full brunt of the Arab Command Control Table—over half their units run towards the Suez Canal. Most of them would have anyway, because the column of Israeli armor pushing down the coast road can’t be intercepted. There are simply no roads from their positions to the coast road, as their mobility restrictions keep them on roads and clear terrain. For a desert, there’s not a lot of clear terrain in the Sinai.

Worse still, the two best units of the Syrian Army, a pair of mechanized brigades, fail their command roll and speed off map, not to return. They would have stiffened the fortified line as well as provided some flank protection, but for this scenario, it’s not to be.

Meanwhile, an Egyptian raiding force of two mechanized units pushes into the lightly defended Negev Desert, hoping to reach the fortified settlements there. Only a lone Israeli infantry brigade stands in their way, but it sits on the only clear/road path available and cannot be bypassed.

Jordan enters the war at the very first opportunity, a bright spot for the Arab nations.
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