Game Preview: Red Storm: The Air War Over Central Germany, 1987 (GMT Games)

Near the end of the Cold War, both NATO and the Warsaw Pact fielded impressively large and varied air forces that, thankfully, never contested the skies over Europe. Where the Warsaw Pact relied on larger numbers of robust but technologically-limited fighters and bombers, NATO offered up qualitatively superior but numerically inferior forces, making any conflict between the two sides one of doctrine as well as ideology.

Forthcoming from GMT Games and designer Doug Bush, Red Storm: The Air War Over Central Germany, 1987, seeks to model this potential conflict by enhancing the time-tested operational system originally designed by Lee Brimmicombe-Wood for his seminal work on the air war in Vietnam, Downtown. I’ve been lucky enough to work with Red Storm from the early playtest phase, and as a long-time admirer of both Downtown and its follow-on game, Elusive Victory, I find that Red Storm neatly brings the system’s strengths to the quite unique situation over Central Germany while addressing the complexities of the modern air battlespace.

Banner for Red Storm via GMT Games

As the playtest counter art shows, players will have at their disposal aircraft from several nations: the United States, the United Kingdom, the Soviet Union, the German Democratic Republic, the Federal Republic of Germany, Belgium, and Canada. And what a varied assortment of aircraft it is. From the top-of-the-line F-15s and MiG-29s through to the lowly Su-17s and puttering Alpha Jets, nearly every fighter and bomber that could have seen service in the Central German front makes an appearance. Doug has meticulously differentiated the airplanes, so that each flies, and fights, quite differently. Gamers who take the time to dig through the aircraft notes and make use of differences in radar, altitude performance, and weapon loadouts will be rewarded for their efforts.

Of particular note to me, the Su-25 Frogfoot close attack plane earns a few counter slots—it’s my personal mission as a wargamer to play every game that features this delightfully ungainly craft.

Playtest Art for Red Storm via GMT Games

Complicating both players’ plans, the electronic warfare support and anti-air missiles on each side make the mere act of flying hazardous. Going in on the deck might keep one safe from the SAMs, but then there are the copious low-level infra-red missiles and flak batteries to deal with. Successful ingress and egress require quite a few difficult choices. Making the initial flight plans could be a game in itself, and while players are never “on rails,” that initial planning does guide proceedings to a large extent, a hallmark of the system as a whole.

Planned scenarios range from contested bombing missions on both sides through to SAM-busting missions, rear echelon interdiction strikes, and escorting special forces on behind-the-lines infiltrations. One and two map scenarios will be included.

Red Storm promises to be both a worthy addition to the Downtown system and a signal accomplishment in air combat gaming in itself. Discussion of the game as it moves through development is taking place on ConsimWorld, and any gamer with interest in this hypothetical air conflict is welcome to head over there to follow along and participate.

(Playtest images and banner via GMT Games.)

Game Preview: Next War: India-Pakistan (GMT Games)

Over the past several months, I’ve had the opportunity to help playtest the forthcoming third entry in GMT Games’ Next War series, Next War: India-Pakistan, an operational level wargame covering a hypothetical conflict between the two South Asian neighbors. The testing has been done mostly online via VASSAL, but no matter how convenient computer-mediated wargames can be, nothing replaces pushing physical counters on a map. So recently, I sat down with the game’s research designer, Doug Bush, over a paper playtest copy of Next War: India-Pakistan at Labyrinth Games in Washington, DC.

Playtest images from Next War: India-Pakistan; not final graphics

Please note that all components are playtest versions; the final components will be spiffed up to GMT’s usual stellar standards, not that these don’t look fairly sharp in their current iteration. Pakistani forces are in light khaki, while Indian forces are in dark brown.

The game, a one-mapper, plays rather quickly in person, as the counter densities are very manageable. Even with potential superpower intervention—there are rules, and counters, for bringing Russian, Chinese, and U.S. forces into play, including some great aircraft counters—one never loses the map in a sea of counters. Consequently, solid fronts don’t develop, forcing both players to watch flanks with a wary eye. Feints and counter-thrusts become the order of the day. The mostly open terrain is criss-crossed with major rivers and canals, slowing movement and making bridges very important to hold (or to destroy). Marshes dominate the center of the map near major population centers, posing a barrier to armored units, and the mountainous region of Kashmir is also modeled, complete with rules for mountain troops.

Doug and the NW:IP team have done a very nice job differentiating between the relatively balanced forces of India and Pakistan, and Doug has posted some detailed design notes on ConsimWorld on the decisions behind various unit strengths. The air matchup provides a wonderful cornucopia of planes, with indigenous Indian Tejas fighters squaring off against the U.S. supplied F-16s of Pakistan. (Don’t mind the air display from an earlier game in the series, used for playtest purposes only.)

Playtest images from Next War: India-Pakistan; not final graphics

Various scenarios in the game posit both Indian and Pakistani offensives, including some smaller scenarios that only use portions of the map. Next War: India-Pakistan promises to be a definitive treatment of any possible conflict between these two proud and strong nations. The game is currently on GMT’s P500 pre-order list, hopefully to be published in 2015. I’m looking forward to having the finished product on my shelf.

Game Preview: Angola

Which is rarer? A wargame on the Angolan Civil War, or a serious wargame that plays very well with three or four players? Well, the former, probably, but rarer still is a multi-player wargame on the Angolan Civil War. And that’s where Angola comes in.

Originally published by the Ragnar Brothers in 1988, Angola, an area-move game with card-driven unit activation, covers the opening portions of the Angolan Civil War in 1975-76, with the four major factions (MPLA, FNLA, UNITA, and FAPLA) represented.

Angola Prototype Counters from MMP

Multi-Man Publishing is re-releasing Angola as part of their International Game Series line, with updated graphics courtesy of Lee Brimmicombe-Wood, a noted game designer in his own right whose graphics always strike a balance between functionality and style. MMP’s Angola is currently available for pre-order:

The game is finely balanced, and all players frequently feel as if they are simultaneously on the verge of victory or defeat thanks to an ingenious victory point system that rewards good play for both sides and allows players to absorb reversals and strike back with the right countermove.

Reports from people who have played the original indicate that Angola provides an unique experience, with lots of deception and posturing possible, making it great for multi-player (or at least for the guys I usually play against). The rules scale to accomodate between two to four players, so it’s not strictly multi-player. And given that this is a MMP game, a VASSAL module is almost certain to be released as well, providing an excellent method for conducting multi-player sessions.

Angola has been sitting on MMP’s pre-order page for a while now, so if you have any interest, get over there and pony up a pledge. This game looks to be a hidden gem.

(Image from MMP)

Game Preview: Lensman (or Return of the Retro Rockets)

From io9 comes news that a wargame based, sort of, on E.E. Smith’s Lensman space opera series, will be republished in a tidied up version. Originally published by Phil Pritchard in 1969, Lensman features multiple levels of play, from basic conquest to full-blown exploration and expansion:

Lensman provides three versions, each more complex and detailed than the last. Game 1 is a fun, quick game that plays in a few hours. Game 2 is a longer game with exploration, industrialization, production and lots of combat. Game 3 is the most complex version with tactical combat in deep space or in star systems uniquely generated for each game.

Most interesting is the design decision to provide two versions of the map and counters, one version keeping the essential look of the original and another updating the graphics to more contemporary standards. I assume that the map and counters will be double-sided, with one version on each side.

Playtest Lensman counters, taken from

I suppose that’s one solution to the age-old debate between NATO symbols and figures on wargame counters, though I’m fairly sure there’s not an established symbology for interstellar dreadnoughts at present. I’m partial to the “retro” version, if only because it allows me to imagine the dreadnought’s appearance myself.

No firm ETA or pre-ordering information on the Lensman game site as of yet, but the world needs more science fiction wargames, so I’ll be monitoring this one.

(Via; image from Phil Pritchard’s Lensman)

Game Preview: Nightfighter

It looks like the next air combat game to come from designer Lee Brimmicombe-Wood, who previously brought us Downtown (GMT, 2004) and The Burning Blue (GMT, 2005), will be Nightfighter, focusing on, well, air combat at night in World War II:

Nightfighter will recreate the tactics of night fighting, from the ‘cat’s eye’ fighting of the London night blitz to the Mosquito intruder operations at the end of the war. Scenarios include Freya AN interception in the Dunaja dark fighting zones, Himmelbett zones, the introduction of AI radar, Wilde Sau and Zahme Sau tactics. The evolution of electronic systems and countermeasures is modelled, including the use of ‘Airborne Cigar’, ‘Window’ and ‘Serrate’.

Most interesting to me is the use of one player as an “umpire” to simulate the uncertainty of locating attacking forces at night, sort of a “single blind” situation. Lee Brimmicombe-Wood’s prior two games both featured one player pre-plotting an attacking air raid that, while not “on rails,” was restricted in its ability to alter course once the defender engaged. Both sides still had plenty of decision points in those games, regardless of any tactical restrictions.

Nightfighter seems to move the attacking force even more strongly into an automated mode, with the umpire more of a moderator than a player, raising the question of how much fun the game will be for the umpire player.

Discussion by playtesters over at the ConsimWorld Nightfighter topic suggest that the game is enjoyable for the umpire, owing in part to the umpire’s omniscient view of the battle. Depending on game length, it might be feasible to play one and run one in an evening’s gaming. I can see myself enjoying running a bomber stream even without many decision points, if only because I can make droning bomber noises and fake cockpit chatter while my erstwhile opponent sweats out the details of the raid . . .

Nightfighter playtest map detail from

The graphics, even in their playtest state as above, taken from the Nightfighter site, look great. Not that we spoiled gamers have come to expect anything less from Lee Brimmicombe-Wood.

Doesn’t sound solitaire friendly, but then anything with hidden movement/placement seldom is. With luck there will be a VASSAL module produced shortly after this game comes out to facilitate online/PBeM play, as we had with both Downtown and The Burning Blue.

Some of the playtest materials that have been posted bear a GMT logo, so it’s likely Nightfighter will be offered there first. I’m looking forward to this one and will pre-order as soon as it’s on any company’s pre-order list.

Game Preview: Birds of Prey

You know, some mornings, you just wake up and say, “Gee, the world needs another jet era air combat game that fits somewhere on the difficulty scale between Air Superiority and Speed of Heat.”

If that was you this morning, then you’re in luck:

Birds of Prey playtest set, taken from

Birds of Prey (Ad Astra Games), which just entered its pre-order stage, is a tactical air combat game focusing on jet dogfights, notable for its use of pitch and altitude markers under “box minis” that actually tilt the plane in its proper attitude—sort of a counter-miniature hybrid game.

Sadly, there’s not much information available on the Birds of Prey website beyond some basic marketing text. Not enough, at least, to justify a pre-order from me as yet—particularly given the strange self-e-mailing PDF pre-order system they’re using that is incompatible with the default Mac OS .pdf reader—but I’m hopeful that they’ll get a proper site with more details online soon.

In particular, I wonder about the “box minis”—will the registration on the die cuts be tight enough, and the construction simple enough, to produce aesthetically pleasing results? The “box minis” look pretty good in the playtest image above, but what about average results? I’m not renowned for my arts and crafts acumen. Board wargamers want to punch and play (or at the very most, punch, trim, and play). Don’t make us glue and fold stuff.

Worth following, though, and they’re shooting for a Summer release at Origins.

Update (March 14, 2008): Phil Markgraf has been in touch with me regarding the pre-order difficulties noted above. He’s put information on how to pre-order via e-mail on the Birds of Prey website. [Link outdated as of 2023, somewhat understandably.]