Table for One: The China War (SPI/S&T) After-Action Report

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The China War (SPI/Strategy & Tactics 76, 1979)
Scenario Two: Objective: Hanoi! After-Action Report

Overview

The second of three scenarios in SPI’s The China War, Objective: Hanoi! covers a hypothetical Chinese attack on Vietnam and Laos in the 1980s, designed to preemptively prevent potential Vietnamese intervention in a wider Sino-Soviet conflict. The scenario lasts for ten turns, each of a week, with both players receiving Victory Points for eliminating enemy units and controlling six hexes, mostly large cities. The Vietnamese side controls all six victory hexes at game start, giving them an initial 57 VP advantage.

No optional rules are used, and the rules-as-written guide play, meaning that the barest sliver of mountain in a hex turns the entire hex into a mountain hex, with commensurate penalties for movement, combat, and stacking. In effect, the entire Sino-Vietnamese and Sino-Laotian border becomes ringed with mountains. Suggested house rules—basically boiling down to appeals to common sense—would use predominant terrain, or crossed-hexside terrain, as determinant, but the rules-as-written hold sway in this playing.

Initial Thoughts

Objective: Hanoi! features fewer than twenty units on the Chinese side and a scant eight on the combined Vietnamese/Laotian side. Almost all of these units are corps/army in size. While the Chinese player can break down armies into three divisions each, the Vietnamese player cannot do so, almost certainly due to countermix limitations rather than any real-world tactical inability. As a result, the initial Vietnamese setup cannot cover all possible avenues of approach. Combined with the game system’s lack of zones of control, the Chinese will make headway somewhere right from the start.

The China War, Objective Hanoi!, Vietnamese/Laotian Setup

Vietnamese/Laotian Setup

I opt to place the strongest Vietnamese unit, a Mechanized corps, in Hanoi as a mobile reserve, with three Infantry corps lining the eastern border, from Haiphong through Cao Bang. The mountainous northern approach remains open. On the Laotian front, a Vietnamese Infantry corps sits in Dien Bien Phu, with the three weak Laotian Infantry divisions screening Vientiane.

The China War, Objective Hanoi!, PLA Setup

PLA Setup

Stacking limits in mountain hexes, three divisions or one army/corps, severely restrict the Chinese ability to mass firepower, so the main invasion thrust, some eleven first- and second-line PLA Infantry armies, will be directly towards Hanoi from the open region near Nanning. A “flying squadron” of two third-line PLA Infantry armies, backed by a lone Armored division and an Airborne division that can’t actually airdrop, will attempt to race in from Kunming in the north, hoping to encircle Hanoi from the west. The remainder of the Chinese forces set up to attack Laos, but the strong Vietnamese unit in Dien Bien Phu poses a threat to an already precarious supply line on that front. They may need to initiate another siege in that famous village.
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Table for One: The China War (SPI/S&T) Review

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Forty years on, it’s easy to forget that the Cold War trended hot in China in the late 1970s and early 1980s. The beginning of 1979 saw the Sino-Vietnamese War, a Chinese invasion of Vietnam ostensibly in response to the Vietnamese invasion of Cambodia. Though relatively brief in terms of actual fighting, the political ramifications of the conflict lasted for years and raised the specter of a clash between the Soviet Union—Vietnam’s erstwhile benefactor—and China.

Having already published one game on a potential Sino-Soviet conflict in 1974’s The East is Red, the fervid design and development team at SPI revisited the concept in 1979 in light of contemporary developments, coming out with The China War. Far more than a remake of the earlier game, The China War attempts to model the state of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) after the end of the Cultural Revolution and with regard to its performance in the Sino-Vietnamese War, with the aim of envisioning what a war between the Soviet Union and China might look like. The resulting game is not quite subtle, but then neither would the conflict have been.

Overview

The China War: Sino-Soviet Conflict in the 1980s
Simulations Publications Inc. (SPI), 1979
Strategy & Tactics 76
Designed by Brad Hessel

The China War, Cover Detail

The China War saw publication in two forms, as an issue game in Strategy & Tactics 76 (September/October 1979) and in a boxed format, a not-unusual publication approach for SPI’s magazine games at the time. The game comes with a single die-cut countersheet of 200 back printed half-inch counters with a matte finish and a single matte map that, in the magazine version at least, comes in slightly smaller than standard at 21.75 by 32.5 inches. The boxed version includes the rules and accompanying magazine article from S&T as separately staple-bound booklets.

Units are either Armies or Divisions, with the Chinese Armies equal in size to Corps in Western military parlance. The counters display particular unit types using standard NATO symbology. Surprisingly, none of the units have any formation designations; perhaps sufficient order of battle information was not available, as the earlier game The East is Red also lacks specific unit designations.

The China War, Counter Details

The counters themselves keep to the standard, pleasingly yeoman-like Simonsen-era SPI style, though the presence of cadre notations on the left side of the Soviet and Chinese counters results in an off-centered presentation for the unit symbol and combat factors, making those counters all seem slightly askew, with a fair bit of wasted space in the middle. The typical SPI counter color bleed on the countersheet at color transitions remains in effect here, as does the occasional counter that is a bit more or less than half an inch wide due to some wobble in the likely overworked cutting die.

Of note, the rules actually specify that these “variances” are acceptable and to be expected, such that “SPI cannot replace counters displaying these minor manufacturing innacuracies.” If it’s in the rules, I suppose one can’t complain…
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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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