Monday, May 23, 2016

MegaUpdate - Red Storm Rising

Red Storm Rising is a novel about a hypothetical WW3 fought between NATO and the Warsaw Pact during the mid- to late 1980s. Written by Tom Clancy and co-authored by Larry Bond, it was published by Putnam in 1986 and has ever since lived on as one of the best examples of the Cold-War-Turned-Hot genre. Not only is it a very good thriller, its depiction of naval and land warfare was heavily based on how experts and simulations predicted the military hardware might perform.

I first read this book in 1987 as a teenager and I was immediately hooked on this genre. In fact, I still occasionally pull my old copy from the shelf and lose myself in its pages describing huge tank battles on the northern plains of West Germany and tense submarine warfare in the Atlantic Ocean. I can't remember anything about the movie I watched last week but I can always vividly picture the scene in "The Dance of the Vampire" where a US carrier group is severely mauled after the Soviets use drones to lure away the American interceptors from the real bomber group. My jaw nearly hit the floor when I read that the first time around. Who needs Game of Thrones, right?



The book was a big hit and a #1 bestseller. Only a year after the book was published, it had already sold well over 1 million copies. A computer game was released in 1987 with the same name as the book. Players could command a modern US nuclear submarine and go hunting around the North Atlantic. Despite the limitations of computer PC hardware in 1987, the game was pretty good for its time!







In 1989, we got another game based on Red Storm Rising - this time it was a boardgame. Based on the battle for Germany as depicted in the novel, this was the second boardgame to come out that was based on a Tom Clancy novel. The Hunt for Red October boardgame was published in 1988 and awesomely enough, it can be combined with Red Storm Rising for one big giant game of both naval and land action to create a huge WW3 battle that you could play over the course of days.

Yes, that bit about "Eastern Europe" irks me too. Ah well!


Instead of going for the traditional grognard audience, TSR went straight for the general public with the design of the game. I'm guessing they were trying to follow up the success of Axis & Allies with a wargame that would appeal to casuals. They did, however, make allowances for those who wanted something a little deeper than just a "roll the die" and try-your-luck game. The advanced rules for Red Storm Rising include a surprising amount of chrome. There is an air war component as well as different kinds of assets for each side to use (chemical, engineers, artillery, and armor). There are airmobile and paratroop rules and terrain effects that also come into play.

Ready...Set...Invade!


The basic rules strip all of this right down to a simple slugfest between units. Each turn in the basic game is broken down into a Warsaw Pact attack phase, Warsaw Pact movement phase, NATO movement, NATO attack, and finally a reinforcement phase. Players roll a 10-sided die to conduct an attack. If they can roll equal to or under the attack rating of their unit, the attack succeeds. If you roll equal to your unit's attack rating, the enemy must retreat or take a hit (different strength units can take different numbers of hits before being destroyed). If you roll under your unit's attack rating, the enemy must do both. If you roll a "1", the enemy is destroyed outright (if they have the same or less combat rating as the attacker). If you have an armor unit in reserve after a successful attack, it can make a breakthrough move into the vacated space and attack. As the Warsaw Pact player, you are always hoping to gain and keep momentum as the clock ticks down towards game end.

To say that the outcome of the basic game is mostly governed by luck would be an understatement. If you can manage to roll better than your opponent, you are certainly going to win no matter what decisions you make. There is very little real strategy involved as setup areas are confined to certain areas on the board. The NATO player is especially hamstrung by this as the rules dictate that he must have at least one unit in every space adjacent to the Iron Curtain at setup. It should be noted that there are optional rules to get rid of this setup rule and also to semi-randomize the game's end point with a die roll from the end of turn 4 onwards.

In the basic game, each side gets a limited number of support markers it can use to help out an attack. When you plunk down a support marker, your attacking unit gets to roll two dice for the attack and take the best result. So there is some strategy here but it is kept very light and luck-based.

Having said all that, I loved the basic game. It is a great gateway game to wargaming, especially for younger kids. I played the basic game my first time and I found it to be so light and cheerful with plenty of theme and some very nice components (maybe a little drab compared to today's games but excellent for 1989). I found it a very simple joy to sit and roll die and advance my tanks into West Germany as the Soviet player while trying to keep the Russians at bay as NATO. Part of the fun of the game is that it is meant to be played with hidden information. The units are placed on a stand with their attack values concealed from the enemy player by turning the printed side of the counter away from them. So you never know where your enemy strengths and weaknesses lie.

I admit that I played this solo for my first run-through. When I played the NATO side during each turn, I simply turned the Warsaw Pact counters around and vice versa when I played the Pact. Luckily, I am getting old so I quickly forgot about the combat values of the enemy counters when it came time to switch sides.

Peekaboo! The game is played blind with counters facing away from the enemy player - much like a block game.
After playing lots of complex games, I was worried that I would be bored with Red Storm Rising. I probably would have if there was only the Basic Rules to play with and I were only playing solo. I could definitely see myself playing this with my young son some day, which was my main motivation for getting it.

In my first game, the Soviets managed a breakthrough near Hannover on the first turn. British and Belgian troops managed to keep the Russian tanks from completely getting through by counterattacking against the lead Russian units. However, on turn 2, the Soviets took three more cities. Kiel, Hamburg, and Kassel fell in the north and it looked very bad for NATO. The Soviets only needed one more city for a victory. In the second half of turn 2, NATO counterattacked in the northern sector, mauling several Soviet divisions but failing to take back any of their cities.

The Soviets grab several cities in the northern sector - turn 2.


In turn 3, the Soviets finally achieved the breakthrough they were hoping for in the south, capturing Nurnburg and with enough cities to declare victory if they could hold on to them until the end of turn 4. The West Germans managed to place several reinforcements near Dortmund and moved them west in an organized push. The Soviets tried to consolidate their gains in turn 4, making space around Nurnburg. Although it held into turn 4, the West Germans in the northern sector used their armor to great effect and rolled several "1"s, which destroyed at least 4 Soviet divisions near Kassel. The Brits followed up with a counterattack and the city fell back into NATO's hands. Game Result: Draw.

The Warsaw Pact makes headway into the southern sector (left) while pushing towards Dortmund in the north (right).

Having played through the basic game in about two hours, I decided to try and take on the advanced game. As I mentioned above, the advanced game has several additional bells and whistles. The Land Game introduces assets such as artillery, armor, engineers, and chemical munitions. Artillery and armor increase a unit's attack rating by 1 while engineers allow you to cross rivers without incurring a movement penalty. Chemical munitions increase your attack value rating by 2 but at the cost of losing East German support (all EG pieces are immediately removed from the game when they are used).

The Air/Land Game introduces air units into the game. We get out the air board that splits Central Europe into a northern and southern sector and work out most of the game's air phase here. At the start of each turn, players assign command missions for surveillance aircraft, which can be used to give bonuses to air-to-air combat. Air units on both sides vie for air superiority in a way that is very similar to GDW's Third World War: The Battle for Germany game.  Once you go through the air superiority phase, remaining air units can be assigned to tactical air missions at the start of your side's attack phase. You check an air superiority table and make a roll to see if your tac air unit gets to perform its mission or is shot down or damaged or aborted on the way. You can use tac air to either hit and damage enemy ground units or you can perform interdiction.

Turn 1:

I randomly assigned missions here as I was playing solo. The Pact player assigned two Mainstays to command missions in the northern sector while NATO put AWACs into both sectors.

One of the cool things is that the F-19 can be used to perform a one-time mission at the start of the game to try and shoot down the opposing player's command aircraft and the WP player doesn't even get a chance to fire back or defend their command aircraft in any way. BOOM! Both F-19s scream into East Germany on the first night of the war and shoot down one of their Mainstays. That felt great.

In the air superiority phase, the Pact player lost a considerable number of airplanes. Two MiG-27 squadrons in the northern sector were damaged and aborted while one Su-27 and two MiG-29 squadrons were outright eliminated in the north.  Down in the south, Pact air losses were kept to two MiG-29s. Two Su-27s were damaged and aborted their mission.

NATO air fared well in the northern sector. There were some light losses, including a Dutch F-16 squadron that aborted, while an American F-15 and F-16 squadron and a French F-1 squadron were damaged and aborted. Oddly enough, it was nearly the same in the southern sector with an F-15, F-16 and French F-1 damaged and aborted. No NATO planes in either sector were eliminated.

NATO whittles down the Soviet air force on turn 1.
The Warsaw Pact ground attack phase started and I assigned assets across the front. No real surprises here. I spread out the love with artillery and armor assets given to units attacking towards key target cities like Kassel and Hamburg in the north as well as any units that would be attacking into mountainous or rough terrain in the southern sector.

Hinds, Su-25s, and Hips were sent out in search of ground targets. I tried my best to hit the Danes and the Belgians as hard as possible to pave the way for a northern sector victory. About half of my tac air got shot down on the way to the target since air superiority was contested. Down south, I assigned a Hind, Su-25 and other ground attack aircraft the mission of hitting units near the border closest to Nurnberg. Unfortunately, nearly all Pact air units were shot down or aborted on the way to the target in the southern sector. Two paratroop landings were attempted near Dortmund but both were shot down on the way to target and the units were destroyed.

The Soviet tanks rolled west and, despite the poor start to the air war, they did a nice job of establishing breakthroughs thanks to the liberal use of support markers and assets. Kassel fell to Pact forces on turn 1 and Munich appeared to be left wide open for Soviet forces as a Soviet spearhead worked its way along the northern banks of the Danube.

NATO pulled back its forces in the north to accommodate the Soviets but kept hold of Kiel and Hamburg. NATO air was spent on trying to support a failed attempt at taking back Kassel but A-10s did manage to blunt the Soviet advance west of the city, keeping the Pact forces contained. In the south, NATO air struggled to do any good whatsoever. Several planes were lost on the way to the target and although helicopters were very effective in their attacks, they took losses in turn.

By the end of the turn, NATO was attempting to shore up Nurnburg in the south and putting West German reinforcements in the Ruhr. The French reinforced Strasbourg and sent some armor towards Munich to help keep the Soviets from taking the city unopposed. The Soviets reinforced success by putting several armored divisions near Magdeburg, ready to help with the drive towards the Ruhr.


A look at the front lines near the border at the end of turn 1.

Each side gets air reinforcements. NATO pulls a couple of F-16s and an AWACs while the Soviets get two MiG-23s and an Su-24.

Turn 2

The air war goes badly for the Soviets at the start of the turn.  Much of the Soviet air force is knocked out of the air in the north while it is entirely wiped out in the southern sector. Having said that, NATO has taken higher than expected losses. The Americans have shouldered much of the pain, losing two F-15 squadrons, both Stealth fighters, and several F-16s.

Air board at the end of Air Superiority Combat phase in turn 2. NATO owns the south.

The Soviets went for an even split of tactical aircraft between the two theaters again this time. Most of the air in the north is sent in to support the furthest advances west. Assignment of air assets in the south is evenly split along the front. The Pact player really wants to dislodge more American and West German units along the Czech-German border as the Soviet "breakthrough" down here is more of a trickle of armor rather than a river of angry men and steel.

There are no more artillery assets to assign but there is still plenty of armor and engineers to go around. Most of the available assets are assigned to the northern sector. Engineers are assigned to the mechanized infantry divisions northeast of Kassel in hopes of prying open the NATO defense around the lead elements of the northern advance.

Soviet 39 Guards, 3rd Shock and East German 7th Armored get fresh assets: start of Turn 2

The Pact player starts rolling for his attacks in the north, checking the results of each air mission on a particular space prior to hitting it with land forces.  The Danes retreat from Kiel and lose the city while Hamburg holds on against repeated assaults. Some air gets through but it is mostly ineffective.

The real surprise comes when the 39th Guards MRD completely annihilates a strength 4 British armored unit defending in the forests north of Kassel. The linchpin of NATO's defense in the northern sector is completely gone in a surprise victory for the Pact player. To both players' astonishment, the way to the Ruhr is now wide open!

In the south, every single Pact aircraft (save for two) assigned to tactical air missions is either shot down or mission aborted (most are shot down) by NATO fighters. There are a couple of minor NATO retreats along the inter-German border but the front is largely stabilized down here at this point.

By the end of the Pact movement phase, the Soviets have taken Dortmund and things are looking very bad for NATO indeed as several key German cities are in easy reach of the Soviets. It is staring to look like an unqualified disaster for NATO. Probably should have used some aircraft for interdiction. Oops!

Looking west...Soviet units have reached the Ruhr. The north is in peril.

During the NATO move phase, West German and British units are rushed back west to help try and stop the bleeding in the northern sector. West German paratroops land in Dortmund and US 101st also lands in the city to help secure it. NATO tactical air is mostly ineffective here but the West Germans manage to destroy a large East German "5 strength division south of Dortmund with the help of A-10s.

In the south, NATO tactical air has pretty much free reign to do whatever it wants since NATO has air superiority in this sector.  NATO attempts a counterattack into East Germany with a mechanized infantry and armored division. By the end of the turn, they are threatening Leipzig, much to the Soviets' dismay.

NATO reinforcements come online at the end of the turn and we get a Belgian infantry division, French tank division, and a US division. The Americans are placed in Ostebruck while the Belgians are placed west of the cities of the Ruhr. The Soviets get three mech infantry divisions, two of which are placed near Leipzig and two of which go near Magdeburg. East German cities near the NATO breakthrough look quite secure.

For air reinforcements, NATO gets an French Jaguar (attack value 4 for tactical air use), a Belgian Alphajet and a West German F-4 squadron (both of whom are attack value 4).  Not a minute too soon, the Soviets get another Mainstay AWACs and a couple fighter squadrons (Mig-23 and Mig-21 both with yellow air attack rating of 3).  I wouldn't exactly say that the Soviets are back in the game for the air war but they might be able to keep their hold on one of the sectors next turn if they don't get too greedy and dilute their existing airpower by spreading it out across both sectors.

End of Turn 2


Turn 3

The turn started off with the Pact player facing a decision - either place two AWACs in one sector or spread them out and risk an attack on them by NATO aircraft. Interceptors were running low for the Soviets so they played it safe and put both Mainstay command aircraft in the north. Of course, NATO was amply supplied with its own AWACs and put two in each sector.

The Warsaw Pact failed to shoot down any full strength NATO planes though it did manage a couple of aborts and finished off a damaged squadron or two. Most NATO aircraft were fighting in the south with only a handful of jets in the north. Still, the fighters in the north fended off the worst of the Soviet attacks and had a single Alphajet in the sector by the end of the air superiority combat phase, which left the skies contested. The Soviets had absolutely no luck in the south but NATO couldn't manage to do much either. The result was a contested southern sector and both sides were left fuming and frustrated by the end of the phase.

NATO finally got wise and assigned several planes to interdiction this turn. Tactical aircraft swept across the areas east of Dortmund in hopes of slowing the Pact's advance to the Ruhr. In the south, NATO helos were sent to interdict any enemy troops headed towards Nurnburg. However, poor rolling on the air superiority table ended up removing pretty much all NATO tactical aircraft in the south.

During the attack phase, the Pact has some very nice success all across the board. In the south, the Soviets and Czechs take Nurnburg. In the far north, Hamburg and Hannover are taken next. The WP has a total of six German cities under its boot - one more than is required for victory. Two tank divisions manage a breakthrough near the center of the map and nearly reach Frankfurt during the move phase. The Soviets manage to miraculously get an airmobile unit into Dortmund to help hang on to their precious gain.

Things starting to look desperate for NATO now.


NATO is left reeling and scrambles to put together a counterattack near Nurnburg while Belgians and US airmobile units and paratroopers move into the West German cities west of the Rhine. NATO manages to take back Nurnburg in its planned counterattack. The last NATO unit (a Dutch infantry unit) pulls back across the Elbe. There is an US armored unit and infantry unit running around in the Pact rear through East Germany. If it can take an East German city, the Soviet margin of victory will be seriously reduced. The Soviets are forced to park their reinforcements in Magdeburg and near other East German cities to help prevent this.


Turn 4

One of the things about playing this game solo is that you have to randomize certain parts of the game because so much of it is double blind. The way I get around this in the air phase of each turn is to basically consider myself as a ground theater commander making a request to the air force commanders for allocation of resources to a certain sector. This influences a d6 roll to determine where each plane gets sent. So if the NATO ground commander wants air primarily assigned to the northern sector, for example, a given aircraft will be sent there on a d6 roll of 1-4. Otherwise, it goes to the south. This has worked very well for me so far during the game and has kept things interesting (and sometimes frustrating). This turn was no different.

In the northern sector, NATO assigns six squadrons of aircraft while 5 go to the southern sector. I actually was trying to get more aircraft sent south but the die roll leaned north instead. The Pact commander also requested forces in the south and largely got what he wanted. Three squadrons are assigned northern sector and 5 are sent south.

Northern and Southern sector air superiority assignments (before tac air assignments)


The results of air combat were not too surprising. NATO completely wiped out the Pact forces in the north and gained air superiority in the sector. It had less success in the south, where it lost a Belgian F-16 and suffered a damaged British F-4. The southern sector remained contested.

Frustratingly, the Pact air commander insisted on sending the bulk of tactical air to the northern sector where it would likely be shredded by NATO interceptors. The Soviets debate a bit about using chemical munitions for what may be the final turn of the game It ends on a roll of 7 to 10 at the end of this turn. If not, the same roll is made each subsequent turn. The East Germans, however, are holding in and around some key cities in the north so whatever short term gains might be made with chemical munitions would probably be lost due to lack of manpower. The war is going well for the Soviets so far so it makes no sense.

Three WP tactical aircraft are assigned to attack Dusseldorf while two attack Bremen. Amazingly, two tactical aircraft (both Su-24s) make it through NATO's air screen and attack Dusseldorf, inflicting a hit on the defending West German paratroopers defending the city. Soviet infantry invades the city from nearby Dortsmund and eliminate them shortly afterwards. The tip of the Soviet invasion has now reached the east bank of the Rhine. An East German armored division attacks Bremen and manages a success, sending the defending Dutch retreating. Seven German cities are now in the hands of the Pact player. The only good news for NATO commanders is that the planned attack on Frankfurt fails miserably.

Pact forces double up their defenses on each of their captured cities during their movement phase. Taking back anything will be a tough nut to crack. NATO maneuvers a few units around the tip of the Soviet spear and send a West German armored division and a US infantry and armored division to take back Dusseldorf and Dortmund. The West German counterattack fails but the US infantry lays a beating on the defending Soviet infantry in the city. The Soviets lose a defending unit and tactical air manages a hit on the defending armored unit but the city is still held by the Russians at the end of the turn.

Soviets push through all the way to the Rhine. 


US infantry across the Rhine attack into Dusseldorf, scoring a die roll that matches their attack rating value. The Soviets decide to soak up the damage and stubbornly remain there.  Another "Hail Mary" attack from the Danes manages to dislodge the Soviets temporarily from Hannover but a retreating Soviet tank division falls back into the city to secure it.

A few counterattacks are attempted in the south but NATO cannot seem to get anything going here. It seems the front has stabilized mostly around Nurnberg. French reinforcements arrive near Frankfurt to help with the city's defense.

End of Turn 4: NATO counterattacks...but it isn't enough.


We roll to see if the game is over and a "10" is rolled. With seven NATO cities in Soviet hands, the Russians have won with an overwhelming victory.

Conclusion:

I really enjoyed Red Storm Rising. It was deeper than I thought it would be. Although the basic game is ruled almost entirely by the luck of the die, the advanced game offers both players some interesting decisions like air and asset allocation, which plays a very influential role on the overall outcome of the war. For a light wargame, I think Red Storm is just the right balance of fun and strategy with a nice theme on top of it. For anyone wanting anything even slightly deeper, VG's NATO: The Next War in Europe is what you are looking for.

In terms of balance, I think NATO has a very tough job of it going into this game because of the setup rules. Luckily, there are optional setup rules that allow for the NATO player to pick and choose where to deploy his initial units. On the other hand, NATO air ratings are way better than Pact air units and a decent player would have probably gained air superiority more quickly than I did in my game. I also didn't use NATO aircraft for interdiction until turn 3. A smarter allocation of air resources might have halted the Soviet thrust towards the Ruhr. I could have also assigned planes to attack Warsaw Pact assets. If I played this again, I would send a plane at anything that had an engineer attached to it because those assets basically nullified my river defense strategy.

I made a couple of house rules during my game, which I would state below:

1.) Units cannot retreat into cities captured by the enemy, even if they are vacant. Units can always retreat into friendly-captured cities no matter what.

2.) If a unit's attack rating is reduced to 1 or less, it cannot destroy an enemy unit on a roll of 1. Instead, the attack is treated as if the roll was equal to the attacker's combat value. That means the enemy unit can either retreat or opt to remain in its location and take a hit.

I can see pulling this thing out when my son gets older and giving it a go. It's probably one of the best beer & pretzels (or coke & chips) game I've played in a long time. It is a very nice entry-level wargame that has all the basic ideas (breakthrough, asset allocation, maneuver) of a deeper wargame in there. What's more, you can play this through in a single sitting. I would recommend Red Storm Rising to anyone interested in a game with this kind of theme and weight to it.

Friday, May 6, 2016

Delta Force - Operation Red Thunder

A few months back, I had the rare pleasure of refereeing a game of "Delta Force - America Strikes Back!" This is based directly on the first scenario in the main rulebook called Operation Red Thunder. We tried to play it straight but you'll find some irony seeping in here and there with various nods to 80s action movies. We ended up using some of the Phoenix Command rules for the combat at the end.





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Date: May 8, 1986

The call came in at 1050 this morning. You were up and doing your morning training routine at Rammstein AFB. A nervous captain pulled up in a Hummer and told you to pile in. 10 minutes later, you were being whisked away by Huey towards Eschwege, a US Army base within a stone’s throw of the East German border.

During the 90-minute flight, the Delta Force captain briefed you over the headset as the green hills and forests of West Germany rolled away beneath you.

“This morning at 0925, MPs at a US Army base near Eschwege received several panicked phone calls from witnesses who claimed they saw a shooting occur at the base PX. From what we’ve been able to corroborate, at least three and possibly four men entered the store shortly after it opened at 0915. One of the men pulled out a handgun while another reached inside a large plastic garment bag he was carrying and pulled out several Soviet-made assault rifles, distributing them among his accomplices. The group opened fire, reportedly wounding and possibly killing several bystanders. Most of the military and civilian personnel in the PX at the time ran out safely.

At 0955, the local base commander at Eschwege received a phone call from the PX. A male voice on the other end of the line identified himself as belonging to The United Action Front of The Red Army Faction.”

The person on the phone stated that they had taken over the PX and were holding several hostages. The demands were that three members of the Baader-Meinhof currently held in Bonn are to be released as well as access to a network-wide TV hookup to make an anti-American political announcement.”

“The German police have offered leniency to the terrorists if they give up their hostages and come out safely but they have been firm with their demands and they have stated they will kill their hostages by 1800 if their demands are not met. They state that they have taken three hostages - two German check-out girls and one US soldier, which we can confirm as highly likely after getting more detailed information from witnesses.”

“Despite pleas for more time to negotiate from Bonn, Washington has given the go-ahead for a military option in resolving this crisis. Delta has authorized a four-man assault team to take on the job. Your task is to carefully study the map of the building and decide on a plan to rescue all the hostages and either capture or eliminate the terrorists inside the PX. If you have questions, now is a good time to ask them.”

At this point, the players asked for a map of the PX, which I gave them:

One of the players asks if there are eyes on the PX right now:

The captain nods his head. “Affirmative. Right now, the area around the PX has been cordoned off by MPs and local police. An experienced civilian negotiator from Frankfurt who happened to be running a training course this morning for the local police is on site and has been in contact by telephone with the tangos.

The front of the PX has two automatic doors and there are also several large glass windows.We have spotted movement inside. In the front of the store, we have sighted two people, probably males, who were wearing ski masks and holding AK-47 assault rifles.

There is a door at the back of the store that goes to a storage area. The building is about 10 meters high. There are no windows or doors on the sides of the building. If you choose to go through the roof with a breach, we can provide you with the materials you need.

Note that there is an office room suspended directly above the main floor. It is accessible by stairs from the main floor. It is walled by clear plexiglass.” (marked as area 9 on the map)

The Huey nears the base at Eschwege just after 1230 hrs.

As the helicopter slowly descends to the tarmac below, you look over the general layout of the base area. You can see three concentric rings of vehicles and men set up around and inside the base. It’s a safe bet that the German police have cordoned off access to the base by setting up roadblocks on highways and major roads outside of it. Inside the base, the MPs have set up two perimeters - one inside the base and a smaller one around the PX itself.

As you step out of the helicopter, you observe that the base is alive with activity. It is on high alert. All posts are double-manned with heavily armed sentries. Men in military trucks and jeeps wander the roads of the base conducting patrols and security checks.

A burly man in his 50s walks towards you. He sports a shoulder-length mane of grey hair. He is wearing a light Ocean Pacific jacket, a ruffled polo shirt and blue jeans. He introduces himself as Tom and the restrained power behind the handshake is evident.



He gestures towards an ageing van sitting across from the tarmac. The van’s baby blue exterior shows scuff marks and dents that mark years of hard driving. Everyone gets in and Tom gets behind the wheel without saying a word. You sit on the benches in the back of the carpeted van and a Willy Nelson tape blares as the engine roars to life.

Looking out the window, you can see Tom getting waved through several checkpoints after he points to an ID sticker on his van’s windshield. Although you’ve never been to Eschwege before, it’s more or less a typical army base in terms of layout and aesthetics.

You note from the signs that Eshwege is the sometimes home and training center for the 1st battalion of the 1-68 Armored Regiment of US V Corps. The regiment’s main mission is to help defend the area around the Fulda Gap in the case of Soviet invasion, which would be spearheaded here by the 39th Guards Motorized Rifle Division headquartered just over the East German border in Ohrdruf. Consequently, it is likely that the troops stationed here have been trained and equipped to a higher degree than most other units. This is confirmed by your sighting of one of the brand new M1A1 Abrams tanks near the gates of the base as you pass by.


A few minutes later, you arrive at a ring of MPs and military police vehicles. Beyond them is the concrete pavement of a mostly empty parking lot of a single-story PX building with large glass windows in front. Tom stops the van and turns around in his seat. He motions towards the bench at the back of the van. Folding up the top of it, you find several automatic weapons strapped to the underside of the bench seat and pairs of binoculars and other optics in the hollow of the bench below. Tom idles the van and lights a cigarette while he listens to Willy Nelson singing about Blue Eyes Cryin’ in the Rain.

The players decide to get a better idea of who is inside the building and what is happening. In a risky move, they approach the building from the east and west and drill holes in the walls to plant borescope cameras and get a video feed going. I roll to see if they are spotted by the terrorists inside but they fail their alertness rolls.

The players find that the hostages are located near the base of the stairs on the east side of the building.  One terrorist is sitting at the desk in the second floor office, talking on the phone with the negotiator. Two terrorists are in the back warehouse area covering the rear door while another two are in the front of the store, chatting with each other and roaming around the store front nervously.

The players chit-chatted about various ways to enter the building and subdue the terrorists without alerting them. One of them wants to try and use Fentanyl to put everyone inside the PX to sleep but there is no available supply of the gas anywhere.  The team decides to go in loud, putting a breaching charge on the warehouse door at the back and a large explosive charge on the roof just above where the terrorist in the second floor office is sitting. The team will rope down from the roof at the same time as the charges blow and then enter through the front of the store windows (rigged with a strip of C4 to blow the glass), tossing flashbangs. 

Our four brave operatives - Ox, Jet, Pete, and Ruggero Benavidez - are ready in an hour. The breaching charges are planted and everything appears to be according to plan. At the last minute, the team decides to simplify things by stacking up at the southwest corner of the building rather than rope down.  

The team sneaks up to the building and gets into place. Stacking up against the wall along the southwest side of the building, your heart begins to race and adrenaline coarses through your body as the radio chatter over your head set picks up in intensity and then dies off as the go time nears. Last minute checks of equipment are made and Benavidez pulls a flash-bang grenade and yanks the pin. Everyone announces “green” into their microphones and Tom gives the go signal in return.

You can hear the crunch as the rear breach blows at the back of the building. You can hear a single angry shout before there is the sound of a much larger explosion from above. Finally, you hear the tinkle of glass shattering in the front of the building from left to right.

Tom tries to give an indication of roughly where the nearest terrorists are to the team’s stack (4 Combat Action or CA). Benavidez throws a grenade into the building through the window, trying to place the grenade three yards in.



Jet and Pete move forward and get through the window after spending 7 CA each. Pete is very fast so despite actually being behind Jet in the stack, he arrives in the store front room at the same time as him. (I’m guessing Ox is behind them - he is third in line and slower than both Pete and Jet) Both Pete and Jet spot two figures in front of them behind a magazine rack. One figure is on the left, the other is on the right. Both figures are three yards away.

Target Identification during impulse 1 of Phase 2: Jet (roll of 10 vs. SAL of 16 on 4D6) identifies the target on the left as a man. The target is holding a weapon and is facing towards the window.
Pete gets an 18 on target ID (vs SAL of 17). He has not successfully confirmed his target and spends another CA aiming.

Meanwhile, Ox moves east along the southern wall of the store. Bennie spends 1 CA disposing of a grenade pin and 2 CA getting into firing position. 1 more CA is spent orienting his body towards a covering position for the team.

2 CA to get into firing stance for Pete and Jet. 1 CA spent aiming. Jet fires five rounds at his target. 3 rounds hit. 2 shots hit the base of the neck and the other goes into the target’s mouth.

Before Jet has a chance to even fire, Pete has his weapon up and is aiming at his target, still trying to identify it. We roll 3d6 this time and the result is 9, well under his SAL.

Pete identifies his target as a male wearing civilian clothes and carrying a grenade in his hand. He is standing up, fully exposed in the shopping aisle, facing away from Pete and not reacting (he is stunned from the flashbang). An assault rifle is slung over his shoulder. 

Meanwhile Benavidez spends all 6 of his CA going east and entering the building. By the time the two seconds are up, he has entered the store and finished his slide against the countertop. Ox moves east in through the front doors of the building right near the registers. 

Pete fires his MP5 at the hostile in front of him:

ALM Mods:
AimTime2=-10
Range3=28
SAL=17
Target Standing Exposed=+7
Firer Standing = 0
Lighting Conditions = -2
Total ALM: 40 Roll 79
ROF 7, Min Arc=.4 

2 rounds hit the target. 1 hit in the pelvis. 1 hit in intestines. DC3 PEN 2.5

Both shots pass through the body.
73 Physical Damage on shot 1
35 Physical Damage on shot 2

These shots do some pretty big damage but they are not immediately fatal. Wow, on the knockout incapacitation table, the guy is very lucky and is just disoriented by getting hit with both bullets. He actually doesn’t even get knocked down (PEN p. 52 table). And nope! He doesn’t even drop the grenade after checking the shock effects and rolling again. Incredibly, he won’t be fighting for the next several minutes and he basically just lies down at this point, but he’s still around!

Pete fires off another burst and hits again, this time in the right lung, the pelvis and right leg. The guy collapses and drops the grenade to the floor. Pete notices that the grenade has no pin.

Pete decides to lunge for the grenade, scoop it up and throw it towards the far wall. The only problem is that Jet is now heading straight towards this area as he hugs the west wall and moves south towards the warehouse door. I made a Perception check for Jet to see if he could figure out what is going on, but the roll fails.

Pete hits the deck (1 CA) and takes two impulses to shout out a warning to Jet, who has by now advanced to the end of the aisle. By the time he registers what is happening and decides to actually do something, he can basically spend 1 CA turning towards the wall to shield the front of his body from the blast.

The blast concussion at this range is 38 but modified by some limited cover of the shelves to a 31. Jet takes 31 Physical Damage to his body.

There is also a 75% chance he will get hit by fragmentation at this range. We roll an 85 and Jet narrowly escapes getting sliced and diced by flying shrapnel.

No chance of frags to hit Pete but maybe a slight concussion. At 5 yards, the BC is 8 modified by prone stance to .75 blast modifier. So Pete takes 6 concussive damage from the blast.

So what happens to Jet? His KV is 70. We roll a 91 on the knockout table, which is great. Although Jet’s ears are ringing and he will need to spend some time in a hospital afterwards, he is not immediately effected. Adrenaline compensates for damage right now. Future damage in this fight will begin to compound, however.

Pete is totally fine. The concussion is less than 10 % of his knockout value so he does not even need to make a roll.

Meanwhile, Benavidez approaches the office door in the southeast corner of the building. He finds it nearly burst off its hinges with bullet holes and blood caked on the wall beside it. A corpse lays across the three-step staircase leading up to the small office. It looks like a civilian who has been shot several times with an assault rifle. Likely a victim from this morning’s carnage. We roll for Perception. There appears to be no one inside the office.

As he turns to the north to continue his sweep, Benavidez hears a warning shout of “grenade!” over his radio earpiece. He instinctively hunches towards the ground. A split second later, he hears the unmistakeable slap of a fragmentation grenade go off near the far wall of the PX to his rear left. The phase has ended.

While Benavidez and Ox find the hostages and search for any more tangos in the store front, Jet and Pete move towards the warehouse.

Pete makes it through the doorway before Jet. He is in the back of the PX in the storage area. He immediately notices the breach in the rear wall nearest the door where the golden dusk beams through. It looks like there may be a body laying on the floor in front of where the breach was made. (One terrorist standing near the rear door when the breach went off has been killed).


Pete and Jet make it through the door to the warehouse and scramble behind cover. They both hear the sound of automatic weapon fire very close by. While Pete scans for the source of the incoming fire, Jet inexplicably moves from cover to head east.

Automatic fire hits Jet twice.

SAL5+Range20+stance3+target stance 8-AimTime2(-12).
ROF5/MinArc=0.4

He is hit in the right shin bone.
He is hit with a glancing shot to his torso.

Let’s calculate damage. This thing does DC7 at Pen11.
Shin bone:
The bullet passes into the flesh. There is a chance the bullet could deflect off the tibia but no there is plenty of penetration left and the bullet smashes through it, causing the tibia to break and fragment. The bullet continues going out through the other side of the flesh and continues right into the wall to the right of Jet.

Jet takes 175 damage points.This is also a disabling injury with potential for permanent disability. Jet may no longer use his right leg for movement for the rest of the scenario. In addition, we must roll for incapacitation.

Jet has a KV of 70. He has a 75 percent chance of incapacitation. We roll an 86 and he is still conscious though he is laying on the ground in great pain at the moment. He is not completely out of the fight…yet!

There is still the glancing shot to the torso.

Jet’s torso is covered with armor of PF4. We roll for glancing effect and the effective armor PF roll is 2, meaning that the effective armor protection in the hit location is 5. This reduces the penetration power of the weapon from 11 to 6. The bullet enters into and through the flesh of the torso. It hits no bones or organs before passing through. Total damage is 11.

Because Jet has been hit again, we need to roll again for KV. Up to this point, he has taken 175+31+11=217 total damage points. That is 3 times his KV. He has a 98% chance of being incapacitated. We roll an 88. He is incapacitated.We roll a 26 on the KV table and he is knocked out for…11 minutes. His injuries are pretty survivable though. Without aid, he will die in approximately 11 hours, however. With hospital treatment, he will almost certainly survive but he has a 9 per cent chance of losing total functionality in his right leg below the knee.

Pete spots the muzzle flash of the shooter.

Ruggero has arrived at the office in the second floor and finds that someone seriously miscalculated the amount of explosives needed to breach the ceiling. A huge chunk of the roof has collapsed downwards directly on to the terrorist at the desk below. The explosive force actually killed the terrorist and his body is underneath a big pile of rubble.

Pete is firing a burst at his target. 

SAL17+Range20+stance3+target stance 3+ Aim Time 3(-8) - ROF 7/MinArc=0.4. Pen2.5, DC3

The target is hit twice. One hit pelvis. One hit knee.

Pelvis: Enters flesh, through intestines, through pelvis and out the back. 73 PD damage.

“Ladies and gentlemen, Pelvis has left the building!”

Knee: in through flesh, smashed hell out of knee joint, passes through that and the bullet gets lodged in the body. Only 33 PD but this is a disabling injury. Good recovery possibility for knee (91% full recovery if attended to at a hospital within one hour).

Pete doesn’t know it but the target is hit twice and incapacitated.

Pete is now aware that Jet has been shot and rushes over to attend to him.  He finds him hurt but rapidly losing consciousness.

He also notices that the shelving unit to the northeast is aflame and black smoke is curling up towards the ceiling. The flames are licking up towards the top shelf and the fire is spreading quickly. Ruggs notices the smoke but not the fire. There are likely many flammable liquids in this warehouse area.

Ox rouses the hostages. One hostage still has his wits still about him and assists Ox by helping one of the German cashiers to slowly stand up. He points to her leg, which is covered in blood. The girl’s crying and winces indicate that she is in great pain. “She’s been shot!” the soldier tells Ox. The other German cashier, only a teenager, seems quite emotionally numbed and mutely obeys Ox’s instructions.

After quickly securing the building, the fire fighters are called in to douse the inside with liquid foam. The team stays behind to ensure security to the site while the firefighters work. The flames are quickly doused and the removal of bodies begins. The MPs also enter the building to scour the area for more information.

But by that time, the team has left the PX and is being driven over to a temporary command post near the site for debriefing. Willy Nelson’s “Blue Skies” plays through the ratty baby blue van. Jet has been airlifted to a nearby hospital by helicopter. He is in critical but stable condition. After surgery on his leg, the doctors announce that he will make a complete recovery but it will take some time.
The team is commended for a job well done. 

The remaining terrorist in the building was also taken to hospital and survived. He is now being held in a prison cell near Munich. So far, interrogation has confirmed that he is a member of the Baader-Meinhoff Gang, which has recently become resurgent in West Germany since the bombing of Libya in April of this year. With support and funding from Tripoli, they are making a new push to free their jailed comrades and to destabilize the economies of western Europe through “political action”. Undoubtedly, Delta Force will be called back into action again some time to deal with this threat.

After some well-deserved R&R, the team is back to its normal training regimen back at Rammstein AFB. As the incident fades from the headlines, the team prepares to take on new challenges as they arise.

Saturday, April 30, 2016

Delta Force - The Roleplaying Game

Try to imagine what things were like thirty years ago. America had only recently been through the Iran hostage crisis (and the failed rescue attempt). The Marine barracks in Beirut had been bombed in 1983 with horrific loss of life (305 fatalities). American medical students were taken hostage on the island of Grenada in the same year. The Achille Lauro and TWA Flight 847 were hijacked in 1985 and in April of '86, three people (2 of whom were US servicemen) were killed in a bombing that would later be traced back to Libyan agents who were likely acting under the direct orders of Libyan intelligence or perhaps even Ghaddafi himself. 

Even though the horrors of terrorism were not to hit directly upon the homeland until a full 15 years later, it seemed back then that Americans abroad were ripe targets for terrorists of every sort. One could argue that the bombing of Libya on April 15, 1986 (Operation El Dorado Canyon) was as much a response to America's frustration with international terrorism over the course of the decade as it was a specific retaliatory strike for the Berlin Discotheque bombing. 



Popular culture at the time reflected growing anxiety about this threat and countless movies of the time featured a plot where Americans exacted revenge upon terrorists for their misdeeds. Chuck Norris was a Hollywood favorite at the time to star in these kinds of movies and he appeared in two train-wrecks that I absolutely love - Invasion USA (1985) and The Delta Force (1986). In light of the renewed patriotism of the Reagan era, it's no surprise that these movies were big hits with audiences and this in turn helped create a subgenre of action movies that revolved around highly trained badasses that would take down a swath of tangos on the screen before even having to reload.



This theme also found its way into roleplaying games during the 1980s. In 1986, a small company called Task Force Games released "Delta Force: America Strikes Back!" and suddenly we had a game that you could play based on headlines from the same day as your gaming group gathered together. Opening the book up, it was clear from the very first paragraphs that this game was going to be about one thing and one thing only - kicking terrorist ass!


"The world is at war. It is a war waged by a new and vicious breed of barbarian - a global war directed against innocent civilians, backed by governments and cynical instrumentalities dedicated to the overthrow of democracy...For years the west has been helpless before this bloody-handed foe - the international terrorist...At last America has the capability to strike back hard...Now America has...Delta Force!"


And that was pretty much the tone you get throughout the rest of the game's rulesbook, which is just fine because anyone who bought this thing was buying it for one reason - they wanted to kick terrorist ass together with their friends. And you know what? Delta Force delivered that in spades while still delivering a pretty decent set of rules and referee resources to flesh out the gaming world and get your group started on its epic journey to ass kicking-dom. 

The rulebook took you through character creation where you rolled up 4 primary characteristics (strength, agility, dexterity, intelligence) and 4 secondary characteristics (training, endurance, experience, reason, and stamina). You chose your skills based on your character background in a way that's a bit like Twilight:2000-lite. Some skills are "Native Skills", which are skills that you get before you joined the military. 

The rest of your skills are chosen based on which branch of the military you joined and which anti-terrorism force your character is a member of. Skills are purchased at varying costs and you purchase them one "level" at a time.  Some skills are related to others (e.g. Climbing is related to Mountain Climbing) and allow you to purchase those related skills at lower point price to reflect this. For its time, this was a clever system that allowed you to quickly create characters and choose skill packages with a character concept already in mind. 

One thing that always really bugged me about this game was that you pretty much were forced into picking a Delta Force background because it gave you all sorts of additional skill packages and points. If you wanted to play any other anti-terrorist forces member, including GSG-9 or Navy SEALs, you had far fewer skill points. Luckily, you could easily fix this with some homebrew character creation rules.

Delta Force had some light "wargamey" elements to it too. Movement was broken down into Strategic and Tactical type movement with a host of modifiers and multipliers depending on terrain, weather, and other factors. Sighting was also dealt with in a manner that was more complex than most roleplaying games. Combat is an uncomplicated affair that is broken into tactical rounds, which each player can use to perform one or more actions. There's some room for more than the usual "aim at bad guy and shoot" tactics as the system allows for Suppression Fire. Weapons also have a penetration factor (PEN) and cover effectiveness is dealt with by comparing PEN, armor value, and range. The rules also deal neatly with things like demolitions, hand-to-hand-combat, and morale in a way that is easy and quick to resolve.

The rules come in a box set with a Companion Book that gives a surprisingly large number of weapons and stats (about 21 pages worth) for players to choose from. There are also several pages dealing with terrorist groups that existed around that time, which would have been a goldmine for any referee back in the pre-Internet days.  Weapons, vehicle, and equipment are state-of-the-art for the 1980s and there are specific rules listed for many of them. Because of this (and obviously the whole setting and time period and overall world situation, of course) the game has really not aged well. When I do run Delta Force these days, which is rare, I have to set the scenarios exactly where they originally belong in the mid-1980s - or the game falls apart pretty quickly. 

The real gem of the box set is the Scenarios book, which is 32 pages and has 3 really good scenarios, one of which is heavily based on the events surrounding the hijacking of TWA 847. The scenarios get straight to the meat of the matter - they provide a briefing, a map of the target area, and usually give the referee a few optional curveballs to throw at the players if things get too easy. 

Three more products were released for the Delta Force RPG. The Delta Force Companion was a great resource for players and GMs alike because it allowed you to flesh out the game beyond the scenario level and actually give your players the chance to do some roleplaying with their characters if you wanted it. Stats like Perception, Appearance, Speech, and Attitude helped to make your PCs a little more than just killbots mindlessly going through each adventure. There were also large-scale combat rules so you could run some big battles if you wanted.



A section on diplomacy and working with governments is in there and this was supposed to open up adventures a bit and deal with how various governments would deal with terrorist attacks and how open they would be to having American forces like Delta Force on their soil. One scenario in the book actually takes place in Vienna and the characters must convince the government to allow Delta Force to participate in an assault to rescue hostages. This is a pretty solid companion book at 100 pages and shows an attempt to develop the system into something a bit more complex than just "go here, kill terrorists, get medal".

The next Delta Force book is a huge 52-page adventure, Terror at Sea, where the players must rescue hostages aboard a hijacked cruise ship. Terror at Sea is almost certainly inspired and very loosely based on the events surrounding the Achille Lauro hijacking in October, 1985.  The incident is actually mentioned on page 3 of the adventure book. The amount of detail in the book is impressive. It provides extensive maps of the cruise liner, insertion options (players can choose to HALO on the boat, SCUBA dive and climb up the sides, use a helicopter, etc.).  There are lots of options for the referee to adjust the difficulty of the adventure. You could decide, for instance, that the terrorists have hidden explosives with remote detonators aboard the ship.



Finally, we have, as far as I'm concerned, the real jewel in the crown of the Delta Force RPG - Desert Sun.  This is a 60-page adventure that sends the players' characters on a mission to destroy Libya's nuclear weapons program and destroy its nuclear weapons stockpile. This mission is so emblematic of the fears of the 1980s and so prescient as to unintentionally foreshadow the fears of a nascent WMD program in another country many years after this adventure was published. The adventure is so thorough that it provides several options for alternate adventure hooks if you don't like the nuclear weapons background.  This thing is so '80s, you can almost hear the strains of Van Halen's "Jump" playing softly in the background when you crack it open.

Despite all that, this is a game that I have recently played and enjoyed - in an unironic fashion. I put on my old referee hat and, with four old buddies of mine, went through the first scenario of the main rulebook together.  In my next blog post, I'll go over how things went and you can draw your own conclusions about whether this thing is still worth playing.



Tuesday, April 26, 2016

One Battle, Two Tanks, Three Systems: Design, Complexity and Outcomes

A while back, I wrote a post about Phoenix Command, detailing a squad-level firefight and talking a little bit about how the rules were extremely detailed. A good friend of mine mentioned in a comment that for all its complexity, the system was actually no more realistic than simpler rules systems.

I suspect that's probably right and it got me thinking about writing a blog post that shows the results of three combat systems and looking at how they work across the same battle. Just to make things interesting, I'll be using armoured vehicles and just looking at how things go in a fictional battle between an M1 Abrams and a T-72. Because I want to look a bit at how vehicle movement influences combat, I'll have the tanks start off at 500 meters distance from each other traversing an open field.

My main interest in doing this is to answer a few questions such as: How are these games different or similar in terms of mechanics (meaning what factors influence timing, accuracy of fire, penetration, and damage)? Do the games with added rule complexity "feel" more realistic and does the end result have a more meaningful or interesting impact on the game versus simpler designs? I'm not trying to start a debate about tanks.




1. Fire Team




For a game that is supposed to represent WW3 in Central Europe in the late 80s, it is surprising to find that there are no T-72s here for the Russians in the counter mix. Instead, we have T-80s and T-62s for our MBTs. I'm going to use a T-62 versus an M1A1 Abrams tank in this situation.

Since we're looking at a turn-based combat system here, it's not as easy to represent a situation where the tanks are moving and shooting at each other simultaneously. To make up for this, we'll be playing a bit fast and loose with section 6.6 of the rules for Moving Fire and Opportunity Fire.

The tanks spot each other from 6 hexes distance. The T-62 is moving towards the M-1 tank, which was also moving in the previous impulse. The American player declares Opp Fire and plunks down his command points to activate the M1A1.

The M1A1 will be using its HV of 16 as the type of main gun ammunition. We compare this HV value of 16 to the T-62's front armor value vs. HV, which is 8.

We consult the HV differential table of 8 to see which row of the kill table to use and find that we are using the bottom-most row.  The range is 0-7 hexes so we are using the left-most column of the kill-table, which means we will kill the T-62 on a roll of "9" or less on a d10 roll.

However, to reflect the idea that the American tank is moving, I'll be assessing a 2-column shift penalty to the right for the M1A1 tank (it would be 3 columns but we are using the advanced rule for Superior Fire Control - 18.1).  This means the Abrams kills the T-62 on a "7" or less die roll.

We roll a 6 and the T-62 is destroyed. If we had rolled over a 7, the M1A1 would have missed and there would have been no effect.

Just for fun, we'll see what happens if the T-62 gets off a last split-second round at the M1A1.

The T-62 has an HV value of 14 while the M1A1 has an HV front armor value of 12. The differential is 2 and that means we are rolling on the 4th row of the kill table. At 6-7 hexes of range, we are rolling on the 2nd column from the left on the kill table. This gets shifted over three columns for moving fire. The kill number is 3 or less.  We roll a 9 and the T-62 misses the M1A1.

Result: M1 destroys T-62 tank. T-62 misses M1.
Time taken to determine result: less than 10 minutes
Table lookups: 3 (Column Shift table, Range table, Kill table)
Number of relevant pages of rules: 2 pages


2. Twilight: 2000 (ver 2.2)



Okay, I'm cheating here a bit by using a roleplaying combat system but it fits neatly in the middle of the complexity range between Fire Team and Phoenix Command.

We need to have crew skill ratings. I will make all crew members completely average with attributes of 5 and skill levels of 5 dealing with their respective position in the tank (ie. drivers of both tanks get Ground Vehicle: Tracked at 5 and have an Agility of 5, etc.).

Twilight: 2000 uses combat turns that are five seconds long. Characters have an initiative number that determines the order and number of actions they can take. Characters with high initiative ratings may be able to do more than one action in a turn but generally, most will only be able to perform one action. I am working with averages here so I'll set all character initiatives to 3 in this battle.

Here we go:

The M1 and T-72 are driving towards each other from 500 meters away.  They are both moving on-road at 35 meters per turn, which is their safe combat movement speed.

It is initiative step 3. Both tank gunners spend the turn aiming. Five seconds pass. Initiative step 2 comes up. Both gunners fire at each others' tank.  Since both gunners have the same initiative number, the shots are simultaneous.  The M1 has a weapon stabilization rating of "Good", so it could actually be going up to twice its safe combat movement speed (70 meters per turn) and still conduct aimed fire if the gunner wished. The T-72 has a stabilization rating of "Basic" so it can only conduct aimed fire at the safe combat movement speed (35 meters per turn).

Let's check the M1's shot first. We look up the T-72's size rating, which is 1 (this is because it takes up a single grid-square of 10 meters).  There is no hit modifier due to vehicle size.

Next, we check the Fire Control stat for the M1 and it is rated +2. That means we can ignore 2 non-range difficulty modifiers to this shot. Great, that means we can ignore the usual +1 difficulty increase for the T-72's speed.

Now we roll to hit.  After the first turn, the tanks were 430 meters apart from each other. That puts us at short range, rated an Average skill shot.   For the M1 gunner, we will be rolling for a hit on a 16 or less with a d20. We get a 5 and the APFSDS round slams into the T-72 tank.

Before we do damage, let's do the same for the T-72 tank.  It has only a +1 for fire control but in this situation it doesn't really negatively impact the to-hit rating.  Again, we are rolling for a 5 or less on a d20 to hit.  We get a 4 and the APFSDS round hits the M1.  Both tanks are hit simultaneously. Michael Bay would be proud.

APFSDS vs. T-72:

The penetration (PEN) value of the APFSDS round at 430 meters from a 105mm gun is 100 +2d6, for a final penetration value of 110. We roll for hit location and get a hull front hit on the T-72 and compare the penetration value of the round to the armor rating of the target in the hit location. The T-72 has a hull front rating of 100.

110 > 100 so the round penetrates the T-72 and we get to roll a minor damage result on a table. We roll a 1 on a 1d6 and a random crewmember is wounded. The driver takes 1d6 hits of 1d6 damage each. We get a 5 for our first roll. The five rolls result in 21 points of damage, including two hits to the head for double damage.  The driver is seriously wounded and the T-72 stops in its tracks.

Since the tank armor has been penetrated, we have to roll to check if the crew bails out. We do this by rolling 1d6 and comparing the result to each crewmembers' Initiative rating. If the die result is over the rating, the crewmember bails. We get 3 for the commander, who is okay, and a 5 for the gunner, who decides enough is enough and gets out of the tank.

APFSDS vs. M1 Abrams:

The PEN of a APFSDS round from a 125mm gun is 100 + 2d6 (we get a 10 for a 110 total) at short range. We roll for hit location on a d6 and get a 1. The M1 Abrams is hit in the hull front.  The M1 has a hull front armor value of 160 so the T-72's round does nothing but scratch the paint up.

Result: T-72's round fails to penetrate M1 hull front. T-72 crew injured/abandons tank.
Time taken to determine result: 15 minutes
Table lookups: 5 (vehicle card, firing chart, vehicle hit location, vehicle damage resolution, human hit location)
Number of relevant pages of rules: ~11 pages


3. Phoenix Command - Mechanized Combat System



This is a big step up from well, pretty much anything, in terms of rules detail. For each tank, we have four pages of stats and charts. Compared to Twilight:2000's nice friendly half-page vehicle card, this thing looks like a Russian novel.

In this system, we have 8 second turns broken up into four 2-second phases. Distance and speed are measured in mechanized hexes that are 20 yards each, compared to Twilight:2000's 10 meter square grid.  To be fair to PC, it has a set of basic rules -- but we're going with the full bells and whistles here and using the advanced rules to resolve this battle.  We'll also be using an M1A1 and the T-72M1 in this battle, as these are listed in the vehicle compendium at the back of the book.

As per our Twilight:2000 battle, the vehicles are starting out moving at a distance of 500 meters (547 yards or about 27.5 hexes away from each other).

For movement, we need to first determine the gradient or slope that the tanks are traversing as well as the kind of surface upon which they are traveling. For the sake of ease, we'll say that both tanks are approaching each other at 0 degree slope traveling on hard ground.

The M1A1 moves 6.5 hexes (130 yards) per turn while the T-72M1 travels 8.6 hexes (172 yards). At the end of our 8 second turn, the tanks will be 12.4 hexes (248 yards or 226 meters) away from each other. The M1A1 has a 1 per cent chance each turn of stalling over this kind of ground.  We roll a 23 and it does not stall. The T-72 tank has no chance of stalling so we don't need to roll for it.

The gunners in each tank will spend 4 phases (the entire turn) aiming. We look up the aim time modifiers for each tank on their status sheet. The M1A1 gunner gets a +14 to his ALM while the T-72M1 gunner gets a +8 modifier.

To find out our hit chances,we start off by determining the total of all modifiers that result from time spent aiming, environmental conditions, range, and crew skill.  This is called the ALM Sum.

M1A1
Range 12: ALM -1
Crew Skill - Line: ALM +10
Aim Time 4: ALM +14
ALM Sum: 23

T-72M1
Range 12: ALM-1
Crew Skill - Line: ALM +10
Aim Time 4: +8
ALM Sum: 17

The movement of each tank will affect the chances to hit. We need to determine the modifiers here by doing a few quick calculations.

To determine the effect on the accuracy of firing at the moving T-72M1, we consult table 5C and cross reference the type of ammunition being used (APFSDS) with the speed of the target in mph or hexes. We get a modifier of 0. This is added to the M1A1's Moving Target Accuracy Modifier (back to the status sheet) and we get a +12.  This final number is called the Moving Target Stability Index.

To determine the effect on accuracy of firing from a moving M1A1, we consult Table 6 and cross-reference the terrain type, velocity of the shooter, and the range to target. The result is -19 and we add this to the Moving Shooter Accuracy Modifier, which is +20. The total Moving Shooter Stability Index is +1.

Next, we find the Ballistic Accuracy of the gun and round. The M1A1 gets a BA of 16 at this range with the APFSDS.

Now the smallest of the four values (ALM Sum, Moving Target Modifier Stability Index, Moving Shooter Modifier Stability Index, and Ballistic Accuracy) is added to the target size modifier and the total is used to determine the final Effective Accuracy Level (EAL), which determines the to-hit chance. So the smallest value is +1 (Moving Shooter Modifier Stability Index), which we add to the T-72's target size modifier (it is 0 degrees facing turret and hull), which is +18. The EAL is 19 and so the to-hit chance is 60%.  We roll a 37 on a percentile and the round hits.

Before we calculate the damage (if any) to the T-72, let's see what happens with the T-72's simultaneous shot.  It's already apparent from our previous tallies for the M1 that the biggest factor for hitting will be the Moving Shooter Modifier Stability Index so we'll only calculate it. This time we get -21 on Table 5C and add this to the T-72's modifier, which is +12, for a total of -9.

The M1A1 is a bigger target with a size of 19 so the total EAL is 10 and the chance to hit is 12%. We get a 52 and the T-72M1 misses its target.

Now to calculate the effects of the M1A1's shot:

First, we find out where the round hit. We get a 92 on the basic hit location table and the result reads Hull Face. We roll again on the advanced hit location table and find that the round strikes the Lower Glacis. The round has hit dead on, so there is no Glance Modifier to calculate. Effective penetration at this range with the APFSDS is 31H and the lower glacis has an Armor PF of 17H. The round penetrates the hull front armor and goes through to the fuel compartment.

We roll for explosion and fire chance and nothing happens. The round continues to penetrate into the ammunition compartment and again we roll on the explosion and fire table with no result. Finally, the round goes through into the engine/fuel compartment. There is no explosion but a roll of 03 on the fire table means that a fire has broken out in the T-72M1 and the crew has 4 phases (8 seconds) to abandon the vehicle. The round passes out the rear of the T-72M1, still with penetrative power left.


Result: T-72 shot misses M1A1. T-72 crew abandons tank.
Time taken to determine result: 1 hour
Table lookups: ~18 (too numerous to relate)
Number of relevant pages of rules: ~31 pages



Conclusion:

Okay, we've looked at three different systems simulating pretty similar battles. It's fairly clear to see that all three systems favored the American MBT quite heavily. All three systems produced startlingly similar results. All of them took in pretty much the same factors (movement, firepower, weapon stabilization) to arrive at these conclusions. Although Fire Team didn't explicitly take crew quality into account, it is heavily implied in the designer's notes that this was "hard-factored" into unit abilities instead of put into a table or chart.

The main advantage of having a very complex rules system like Phoenix Command is that it is actually kind of interesting to see exactly what the M1's round is doing as it enters the tank and penetrates each system. Was it a realistic outcome? I have no idea. I thought it strange that the APFSDS went through the fuel and ammunition compartment without any result before starting a fire in the engine. But hey, I'm not a professional tanker so I dunno if that is likely or not. In any case, the payoff in detail for all that work didn't really seem worth it in the end as I crunched numbers and flipped back and forth through tables and rules.

Of course, the rules systems are all meant to work for different games and different gamers. Fire Team represents squad and platoon-level combat so it would be impossible to go into great depth or detail to represent combat on a detailed level like Phoenix Command. On the other hand, Twilight: 2000 is a roleplaying game that centers around characters and the players need to know what is happening to their guys on an individual level in combat. This level of detail is still pretty good for a roleplaying game although the system can get unwieldy if there is a large battle with tanks and infantry (which is why the Last Battle system was created).  On the other hand, I think I would get much more quickly overwhelmed with anything more than just two tanks moving and shooting at each other using the Phoenix Command system. That being said, I at least admire it for what it is trying to do and there are actually times when I crave that level of detail.

In the end, I suppose it comes down less to realism than to how you get your gaming fix. If you are a sucker for detail and challenging rules systems that try to account for everything, there is simply no better system than Phoenix Command. On the other hand, if you like your combat quick and greasy and with just enough bells and whistles, Fire Team lets you keep moving and focused on the overall tactical battle on the board rather than mired in the minutiae. For something in between, Twilight: 2000 managed to capture vehicle combat on an individual level that was tense and meaningful for the players and kept your game group entertained.  Take your pick but be careful about confusing added levels of detail with more realism.