Winter Offensive 2017 After Action Report

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Certain occurrences trigger a realization that another year has passed, making one wonder just where the time has gone. The swallows return to Capistrano, the bulls have their fun in Pamplona, and, for wargamers of a particular bent, the Comfort Inn in Bowie, MD, opens up three conference rooms and hosts Winter Offensive. This year’s running of the gamers has come and gone again, with hosts Multi-Man Publishing putting on yet another sterling Advanced Squad Leader tournament and general purpose gaming cavalcade.

Winter Offensive 2017

Attendance this year seemed slightly down from the 2015 peak of 165 gamers, with no exhortations needed on prime day Saturday to free up table space. A minor weather scare might have dampened attendance somewhat, and with no marquee MMP product being released this year, the crowds that typically attend in conjunction with such releases also failed to materialize. But the room was still nicely packed, and while the fair majority of gamers were there to play ASL, wargamers interested in other MMP product lines, like the Great Campaigns of the American Civil War, the Standard Combat Series, and the Operational Combat Series, as well as other wargames, took up a good third of the table space by my rough estimation. It’s no longer a safe assumption that anyone you speak with at Winter Offensive will be an Advanced Squad Leader player only (if, indeed, at all!).

My gaming weekend started out with an exhaustive playtest of Red Storm: The Air War over Central Germany, 1987, an operational air combat game being designed for GMT Games by Doug Bush, one of my long-time gaming buddies and an all-around good guy. We tested one of the larger scenarios in the game, portraying a large NATO air strike on several Warsaw Pact airfields deep in East Germany.

Red Storm Playtest at Winter Offensive 2017; playtest art/not final art

Defended by a massive belt of anti-air missiles, the airfields were a tough target, one that took the full complement of Doug’s considerable forces some time to pick their way through. The game system features many rules for air-to-ground and ground-to-air combat, including electronic countermeasures and anti-radar missiles, and we used them all in this one. The scenario depicted (all art is playtest and provisional; not final art) falls on the more complex side of what Red Storm has to offer; a full range of scenarios covers actions from small fighter engagements and bombing missions through to night paratrooper insertions. Several people stopped by to ask questions and watch a few minutes of gameplay, and I think this game has quite a bit of appeal—lots of interesting and difficult decision making, cool hardware, and a well-tested game system chassis underneath.

Saturday’s main event fell on the ASL side of the equation, as Mike Vogt and I sampled 159 “White Tigers,” a classic scenario pitting Japanese attackers against Gurkha defenders in the midst of an unrelenting rainstorm near Imphal, India. Mike, another of my very good gaming buddies and another all-around good guy, took the IJA forces with the task of occupying buildings. In my defense, I had some stout Indian soldiers and, as importantly, the services of a very flooded river that served to channel the attack into three main avenues.

159 White Tigers at Winter Offensive 2017

The Japanese made good progress on two of the three fronts, Mike’s progress helped somewhat by a few of my attacks turning his cardboard soldiers into berserkers who could run through the withering fire covering the most critical chokepoint on the map. My dice were quite hot throughout, a situation Mike bore with good grace, and by the end of the ten turn scenario, the Japanese had a foothold on the final two buildings they needed to secure the victory. But time just ran out, with the remaining Gurkhas holding on for a very narrow win.

Truly, one of the best ASL experiences I’ve had in a long time—great opponent, tense scenario, and a visual treat as well. Matches like this one encourage me to try to play more of this unparalleled game, about as close to a resolution as I’ve made so far in this new year.

Of course, it wouldn’t be Winter Offensive without the side gaming, and I managed to fit in two matches of group favorite Battlestar Galactica and three of The Dragon & Flagon, a relatively new fantasy bar fight game that seemed to be a big hit (pun slightly intended) with everyone. Many old friends were in attendance, too, and having the gang back together just makes a good gaming convention even better.

Battlestar Galactica at Winter Offensive 2017

My thanks, as always, to Perry Cocke, Brian Youse, and the rest of the team at MMP for another successful Winter Offensive, and to my gaming compadres for a great weekend of gaming. It might not keep getting bigger, year after year, but it certainly seems to keep getting better.

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

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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.)