Friday, September 16, 2016

Central America - The SS-20 Incident (Redux)

My recent playthrough of the first scenario from VG's 1987 classic, Central America, was tons of fun. I really love how insurgents work in this game and how they can pop in and out of existence anywhere on the map. But one of my absolute favorite scenarios from this game (and maybe almost any other game) is Scenario 4, "The SS-20 Incident". looks like a hot dog on wheels but you won't be laughing when it visits your city!

Only one turn long, this scenario pits the US Navy and Air Force against the Nicaraguans in an effort to destroy an intermediate range nuclear weapon that the Soviets have so helpfully provided to a hostile regime in the Western hemisphere. The Americans only get one turn to dismantle the Nicaraguan Air Force and then pave the way for Special Forces guys to parachute out of a C-130 and destroy the missile launcher, Eat your heart out, Michael Bay.

The US gets a huge number of aircraft to start with but so do the Nicaraguans.

The Americans start with:

Pacific Holding Box:
2 x aircraft carrier complements of aircraft (2 x F-14, 2 x F-18, 1 x A-6E, 1 x E2 AWACS)

Honduras airbases:
4 x B-52 bombers
5 x F-15C Eagles
5 x F-16 Falcons
1 x EF-111
3 x O-2 (EW)
1 x E-3 AWACS
3 x C-130  w/ 3  Ranger battalions

Costa Rica:
1 x C-130
1 x 3/7 Special Forces battalion

The Nicaraguans get:

2 x Y-28c
2 x Y-28
5 x MiG-19
5 x MiG-21
1 x IL-76 (this can actually be used to transfer the SS-20 missile and launcher to another airbase in Nicaragua)
2 x AN-12

Cuba has helpfully supplied 5 x MiG-23s and an An-12 while the Soviets have 6 x MiG-27s based in Nicaragua.

These aircraft are based among the three airbases in hex 1919, 2218, and 2219.

The SS-20 is in 2218 along with a fixed SAM site and an infantry brigade in a fortification. This should be a very tough nut to crack.

There are also non-mobile AA units and infantry brigades with MANPADS in the other hexes.

To make matters more difficult for the US, the Nicaraguans have a powerful radar system at Masaya. Built with the help of Soviet and Cuban engineers, Masaya has a 10-hex detection radius. If Masaya is operational, it can vector joint Nicaraguan air missions to intercept incoming American planes. It also negates a +2 bonus to air-to-air combat rolls the US player's planes get for having an AWACS in theater. So clearly Masaya needs to go and the sooner the better.

Strike Package 1:
Mission: Wild Weasel
Target: Masaya Radar Facility

One carrier wing launches with 2xF-14, 2xF-18, 1xA-6 and heads towards the west coast of Nicaragua. The F-14s have standoff air-to-air missiles while the F-18s and A-6s are armed with standoff air-to-ground missiles meant to hit Masaya.

Wild Weasel aircrew logo patch: "YGBSM" stands for "You Gotta Be Shittin' Me". The common response when told that their assignment is to approach enemy air defense sites and turn on their radar in hopes of exposing the enemy's position.

4 Cuban MiG-23s attempt to intercept the American planes. The F-14 Tomcats launch AIM-54 Phoenix missiles at their targets and splash two MiGs. The rest of the Cuban pilots return to base.

US air mission adjacent to Masaya hex. Air group 2 is actually one hex north. I fixed this a bit later and it didn't change any outcomes.

The air mission reaches 2121 and launches its smart weapons. The US player rolls a 6 (modified to 8 due to the effectiveness of smart weapons against Masaya). Masaya is damaged. The Nicaraguans no longer get the +2 die roll modifier for air-air combat and they are no longer able to detect incoming planes at long range. However, they aren't completely blind thanks to their An-12 EW aircraft orbiting around their airfields.

Strike Package 2:
Mission: Air Facility Denial
Target: Punta Huete Airbase 

Let's try and damage Punta Huete airbase. Maybe the Nicaraguans will transfer the SS-20 to a less secure location if the airbase shuts down. Right now, the hex is protected by SAMs, MANPADS, and everything is heavily fortified. This is not an easy place for our Spec Ops guys to get into, if you ask me.

The second carrier sends up its strike package (same as the first one). It gives a wide berth to Puerto Sandino airbase on the coast by flying far to the north of it. The flight turns south after traveling east for a bit and then gets detected three hexes from Punta Huete by the Nicaraguans in 2218.

Two Cuban MiG-27s and an An-12 scramble to intercept. The standoff missiles inflict a step loss and the AN-12 is eliminated. A MiG-27 unit takes a step loss to continue the interception.  The F-14s tangle with the enemy planes at close range. One communist plane takes a step loss and the others return to base. The US loses nothing.

F-14 Tomcat fires an AIM-54 Phoenix missile.

The strike package arrives over Punta Huete airbase and comes under SAM attack. Rolling a 1, the attack fails and a roll of 3 means the Nicaraguan ground unit misses with its shoulder-launched surface-to-air missiles. The US player rolls for his attack and gets a 1. Even with the +2 bonus for using cluster bombs, the attack fails to damage the airbase. Oh boy.

I don't care what they say. That's a beautiful aircraft.

Strike Package 3:
Mission: SEAD (Suppression of Enemy Air Defenses)
Target: SAM site in 2218

Well, that wasn't good. I wonder if it would be better to suppress or destroy that SAM before going for the airbase and then hit the ground troops and finally the missile. I have four B-52s just itching to go. Let's send up a flight with a pair of F-15s to cover a B-52 strike. Each B-52 has an impressive 9 bombardment value, which means that two of them working together could damage the fixed SAM with a roll of 4, 5, or 6.

The AN-12 orbiting around Punta Huete detects the incoming airstrike and vectors three Soviet MiG-27s and a Cuban MiG-23 to intercept. Because the Americans have an AWACS advantage and the Nicaraguans have lost Masaya, there are a couple of interesting things happening here. First the US player can choose whether or not to be considered the attacker or the defender. The big deal here is that the combat table's odds always get rounded off in favor of the defender.

In this case, the F-15s have a combined anti-air value of 16 while the Communists have only 13 (3 x MiG-27s w/ 3 anti-air and a MiG-23 with 4). The result is that the ratio of 16:13 with a US defender is considered a 1:2 odds attack for the Communists. The attacker now rolls a six-sided die to resolve air combat. The AWACS helps to modify the die roll by -2 and this lower die roll result will skew towards the attacker taking losses. The Communists aren't completely helpless here. The An-12 that is 3 hexes or less away from where the interception occurs helps to modify the attacker's die roll by +1 in their favor.

The F-15 Eagle design motto - "Not a pound for air to ground!"

Adding up the number of combat air units involved here, we have 8 total units, which puts us at medium intensity level. We look up the 1 to 2 column on the corresponding chart and roll a 3, modified to 2. The result is 2r/0. The number on the left of the slash shows that the attacker (Communists) take 2 step losses and must return to base. The number to the right of the slash indicates how many losses (in this case, none) the defender takes. The Communist player chooses to have two of his MiG-27s take a step loss.

The B-52s arrive over target and the fixed SAM site fires away followed by the air-defense capabilities of the ground units in the hex. Rolling a 1 for the SAM, we get a miss after checking the Air Defense Chart. Rolling a 3 for the ground unit also means a miss. The B-52s drop their payload on the fixed SAM site and we get a 5. The site is now damaged.

Add Hex 2218. L to R: Fortifcation counter, SAM Site damaged marker, ground unit w/ air defense capability, the SS-20, Communist Air group marker and US Air mission marker. Good thing I'm using Vassal here!

Looking at the situation now, things seem pretty good so far for the Americans. The Masaya complex is down, seriously reducing detection ranges for our airstrikes. The fixed SAM site at Punta Hueta is damaged so it's pretty hard for them to shoot down our bombers. The two major annoyances left are:

1.) The An-12 orbiting near Punta Huete is still active, able to detect our air missions from 3 hexes away and also able to scramble joint air missions to intercept US planes.

2.) The infantry in 2218 with the SS-20 is in a fortification. This makes it very hard to score the hits I need for my Special Forces and Rangers to get in there and destroy the missile.

I can get rid of the An-12 problem by simply damaging its airbase and forcing it to transfer to another air facility (where it will remain useless for the rest of the turn). The only problem with doing that is that the SS-20 can immediately transfer to another airbase that has An-12 protection (in this case, Puerto Sandino. The benefit of doing this is that it solves problem number 2, as the infantry in the other airbase hex is not fortified.

The problem here is that the ground unit sitting in the hex has anti-air capability which will make hitting the airfield much harder for my planes. If I can eliminate this infantry unit and then get my spec ops guys to capture the airfield and the SS-20, most of my problems will be solved entirely.

Strike Package 4:
Mission: Tactical Bombardment
Target: Nicaraguan 313th Infantry Battalion in 2218

This mission will consist of one of the two remaining B-52s teamed up with the EF-111 with an escort package of F-15s and F-16s.

Two Nicaraguan MiG-21s and a Soviet MiG-27 intercept the US strike package directly over Punta Huete. Both sides suffer a step loss in the ensuing furball. A MiG-21 is reduced and an F-16 is also reduced. The Nicaraguan ground-air defenses miss.The US player rolls a 4 for the attack and it is enough to cause a step loss to the Nicaraguan infantry in the hex. It's a good start. Just one more successful bombardment mission and Punta Huete is done for.

Strike Package 5:
Mission: Tactical Bombardment
Target: Nicaraguan 313th Infantry Battalion in 2218

We have one B-52 and 3 A-10s left right now for strike aircraft. I can send in one package with a B-52 and an A-10 together, put incendiaries on the B-52 and hit the infantry in 2218 as hard as possible and hope that it eliminates them.  The Nicaraguan Air Force has been ripped to shreds with very little left to go up in the air so I don't need double coverage anymore with the F-15s. I put an F-15 with an F-16 as escort and throw in an O-2 for EW support.

The Nicaraguans intercept in hex 2218 with 2 MiG-19s and 2 MiG-21s. They can inflict a step loss on the US units if the Communist player rolls a 6. We get a 5 and a MiG-19 takes a step loss.

Enemy air defenses fire at the incoming Americans and fail to score a hit (rolled a "1" here). The B-52s drop their bombs while the A-10s lazily circle a safe distance away from the target area. Once the bombs hit, the A-10s go in and take out anything that's left over. We get a "5" on the to-hit die, After the modifiers are tallied (-1 for the fortification and +2 for the incendiaries) we get a "6" and the ground unit is destroyed for a total of 4 VP.

Strike Package 6:
Mission: Ground Unit Insertion
Target: Punta Huete Airfield

It is time to secure a scenario victory by taking out the SS-20. The 2/75 Rangers are chosen to paradrop into hex 2218, seize Punta Huete Airbase and destroy the SS-20. I'm still hoping to use the rest of my air units to hit the other Nicaraguan airbases to help rack up more VPs so I'm trying to perform this drop on the cheap. I'll send a single F-15 escort with an O-2 for EW support along with the C-130.

The Nicaraguans send up three MiG-19s and a Yak to intercept the mission. In the ensuing dogfight over the airbase, the Yak is destroyed and the other MiGs scatter. The Rangers parachute down into the night and although they run the risk of running into big trouble by being in an enemy ZOC, we roll low ("1") on the Paradrop table. The 2/75 Rangers take the airfield, secure the missile, and destroy the launcher.  That's pretty ninja.

2/75 Rangers capture the Punta Huete Airfield and secure the SS-20 missile.

Strike Package 7:
Mission: SEAD
Target: Puerto Sandino AAA Battalion

I want to try something a bit risky here. I'd like to try and seize Puerto Sandino airfield for bonus VPs. If I can manage to hit the AAA site, I'll get 4 VPs and then follow that up with an air attack on the infantry in the hex (step loss gains 2VP) with a final paradrop into the hex by Special Forces (capture/damage of airbase is 2 VP), I'll have an additional 8 VP by the end of the game. I doubt this will work but it's worth a shot.

The only remaining air unit at Puerto Sandino is a lowly Yak fighter, which scrambles to intercept the incoming F-16, O-2, and A-10. Amazingly, we roll a 6 for the Communists and they manage to inflict a step loss on the F-16 before being shot down in a blaze of glory. AAA fire at the airfield misses the raid. We roll a 4 for the attack and the AAA site is damaged.

O-2 Skymaster

Strike Package 8:
Mission: Tactical Bombardment
Target: Nicaraguan DGSE infantry battalion

With the Nicaraguan Air Force badly mauled before even the end of the first turn, the Americans throw some Air to Ground ordnance on a pair of F-16s and send them up with an A-10 to hit Puerto Sandino.  We simply roll to hit the hapless infantry guarding the mostly empty airbase on the ground and score a hit after getting a "5". The Nicaraguan infantry battalion is now flipped over to its reduced side.

Strike Package 9 & 10:
Mission: Air Transport
Target: Puerto Sandino Airbase

With all our tactical aircraft sitting in the Used portion of the Allied Air Display, it's time to paradrop our remaining ground troops into Puerto Sandino in an effort to seize the airfield. Three C-130s load up with Rangers and Special Forces troops.

The 1/75 and 3/75 Rangers parachute into a bad position and end up taking step losses. The 3/7 Special Forces, however, makes it into the hex without a scratch. Now they'll have to fight it out with the DGSE battalion for control of the airbase.

Allied Ground Combat Phase:

The American ground troops attack the DGSE battalion at odds of 2-1 in clear terrain. The Spec Ops and Rangers have no CAS to help them out (oops!). Still, they get a column shift in their favor because these are elite troops. We roll a 2 for the attackers, modified to a 1 due to the port in the hex. The DGSE battalion is eliminated and the 3/7 takes a step loss. The Americans seize the airfield and it is marked with a damage marker as per rule 4.3.

Game over - Puerto Sandino is captured after heavy losses by both sides.


Damage Masaya: 5 pts
Damage fixed SAM: 4pts
Damage AAA site: 4pts
Damage Punta Huete: 5pts
Damage Puerto Sandino: 2pts
Per step loss to FLSN infantry battalion (x4): 8 pts

VP loss:
1 US F-16 step loss x 2: -2 pts

Victory Level:

According to the victory levels, the US player wins an Allied Decisive Victory at 26 points. The scenario VP conditions are a little ambiguous in some places (and downright erroneous in others - for example, there is no AA battalion at Punta Huete - it is at Masaya). Does capturing a base lead to damage or are we counting damage results from airstrikes only? I think the IL-76 had the chance to transfer to another facility after paradropping troops into Punta Huete. On the other hand, I managed to secure a second airbase so I think the SS-20 would have no doubt been destroyed anyway - just at the end of the game instead of in the middle. Even with this error, the end results didn't change very much.

If we decide to be radically honest with the VP conditions, we could remove VPs from damage to Puerto Sandino and Punta Huete. The results would be an Allied Tactical Victory at 19 points.

How can the Nicaraguans win this one? Well, it's all just a matter of juggling your interceptions and hoping for the best. Count on losing Masaya early on in the game and falling back on your An-12s for short-range interception and detection.

Always intercept over your airfield hex because that gives you a +1 on the die roll. Send up the minimum required planes to get the best odds column on the CRT. Remember that the lowest odds on the low intensity air combat table are 1 to 2 no matter how badly you are outgunned. Conserve as many air units as possible and use joint missions among your three bases to make sure that everyone can defend themselves if attacked.

Having no air units to intercept the US ground troops transporting in on C-130s sealed the fate of Puerto Sandino airbase at the end. Even a single plane would have forced the US player to shift one of his planes from air-to-ground to air-to-air.

Friday, September 9, 2016

MBT: First Clash

In 1989, Avalon Hill released MBT , a design by James M. Day.  Like its title heavily suggests, MBT was all about modern tank warfare. Set in Germany in the late Cold War period, MBT let players slug it out on a tactical level (100 meter hex, individual tanks and infantry squads) with the latest weaponry of the day. Fast forward 27 years later, and MBT is once again on our shelves - this time around published by GMT.

2016 GMT's MBT
1987: Avalon Hill's MBT

With updated maps, counters, and scenarios, MBT has been loving revived and streamlined for today's gamers. I have never played the original MBT so I'm not sure what the exact differences are between the two versions, but if you're interested in a comparison, I suggest reading up on this thread over at BGG.

The first scenario from the new MBT is called First Clash. This is a good introductory scenario for new players because it's vehicles-only. You can play this with just the basic rules set. The advanced rules introduce all sorts of neat bells and whistles like infantry, ATGMs, artillery, air support, and well...just about anything you can imagine.  I'll try those out in a future report but for now, I'm new to this game and system so I'll just stick with the basic rules this time.


It is September 27, 1987. The Soviet 48th Motor Rifle Division and the 15th Guards Tank Division are fighting against US VII Corps. We're using Maps 2, 4, and 7 here. The US player has 15 M60A3 TTS tanks fending off the advance of 13 T-72AVs from the 210th Motor Rifle Regiment.

We're using maps 2, 4, and 7. This scenario is 15 turns long.

The required victory margin is 310 VPs. Controlling the ford at 2D8 yields 250 VP. Another 250 VP goes to controlling 2DD4 and 2CC5. The side that controls both bridges at 2I5 and 2V7, earns 375 VPs. Neither side controls any objectives at the start.

Rolling for setup, the Soviet player ends up rolling lower than the NATO player. He chooses the north side of the board to set up on. The NATO player will set up second on the southern side of the map. Both sides set up within 3 hexes of their respective map edges.


Although it seems like the Soviets have enough tanks here to do whatever they want, it would be wise to keep our ambitions modest and just take the main objective (375 VPs) and just one of the smaller objectives (250VPs).

The Soviet player sees there is a lot of open ground to defend near the two ford objectives on the west side of the map so it may be easier to leave that for NATO and just take the ford in D8 along with the the two bridges.

This would give the Soviets a margin of 375 points at the end of the game, plus or minus the VPs they gain or lose from eliminating tanks from the other side.

The Soviet player will split his force into three components. One platoon will take the bridge in V7, another will take the bridge in I5 and the third platoon will take and hold the ford at D8.

Each platoon will use column formation to get to the objectives as quickly as possible, using road movement where ever possible. Once the objectives are reached, the platoons will be further split with two tanks serving as static defenders on overwatch and the other two tanks used for movement and counterattack against any NATO attempts to reach the objectives.

Although the NATO forces will have the high ground with three big hills near their start area, it would be an extremely bad idea to just rush up our M60s on to the hillsides and try to blast away at the oncoming Soviet tanks. There is plenty of time for the Soviets to get their T-72s into overwatch before the M60s get to the top of the hills and they will be easy targets for the Red Army gunners.

The NATO player decides to focus on seizing the two bridges and any other objectives of opportunity. The rest of his VPs will be gained by destroying Soviet tanks. One team of two platoons will go for the objectives. The other two platoons will be used to maneuver and destroy targets of opportunity. The aim is to use cover, concealment, and quick maneuver between his platoons to keep the Soviets off-balance.  The cluster of woods hexes on the south side of the river on the left side of the map look like very good cover. The town on the south side of the river also looks like a good place to fire at Soviets from close range.

Force Comparison

NATO gets 15 x M-60 tanks while the Soviets have 13x T-72AV tanks. Both sides are pretty evenly matched but it still bears a good look at the differences between the actual tanks themselves.

The most important thing for the NATO player to remember is that M60s should definitely not be treated like M1 Abrams tanks! The M60s have several disadvantages. They are slower than the T-72 tanks (5 offroad MPs versus the T-72's 7 OR MPs). They have a weaker gun (105mm vs. 125mm) and less armor (48 Front Armor vs. T-72's 85 Front Armor). Point for point, the M60 is inferior to the T-72AV on an individual level but working as a team and under good command, the M60s should be a very good match against the Soviet tanks.

Before I get into the replay, I should mention how the game plays for those who have never tried it before. Each turn has several distinct phases. The first phase is the Spotting Phase. Basically, players figure out which units begin the turn spotted. After that is the Command Phase where both players secretly allocate orders to all of their units on the map. In the Initiative Phase, both players roll for initiative for the turn and then the Direct Fire phase begins. The first player fires all of his units that have a Fire (or Short Halt) command and then the Second player does so with all his tanks. After that, units on Overwatch can fire at spotted enemy units that have fired. Next is the Movement Phase and the First player moves units with a Move or Short Halt order followed by the Second player who does the same. Finally, in the Adjustment Phase, we do all of our book keeping by removing and adjusting counters, etc. It's all shockingly simple and it works really well.


The Soviets set up on two roads on the north side of the map. Team Red-1 will seize I5 while Red-2 will grab V7. Red-3 will take the ford at D8.

The Americans also set up on the roads and split into two teams of two tank platoons each. One team (Team Blue-A) is on the east side of the map and one team (Team Blue-B) is the west side. Blue-A will attempt to take I5 while Blue-B is a tank-killer force that will use the woods and town to conceal their movement in an attempt to surprise any nearby Soviets and kill them.

You'll note I've marked the locations of Command Vehicles. I'm playing the Basic rules here where command rules are not used. I have no idea really what to do with these guys so I've decided that they will just sort of hang back from the fighting and try to spot enemy units. If things start going badly enough, they'll jump in the fray.

Turn 1:

Initiative: NATO
First Player: Soviets
Second Player: NATO

The Soviets move their tanks out towards their objectives while NATO jockeys its forces into position. Team Blue-A advances down the road and hooks left behind the cover of the woods to the north. Two M60 Pattons remain in hex 7L5 to shoot next turn at the Soviet tanks from Red-1 moving west down the road in 2S7.  Team Blue-B advances north towards the string of woods from W1 to Z1.

Turn 2:

The T-72s from Red 1 and Red 2 are spotted by the M60s from Team Blue-A in 7L5 and 7I2. Everyone else is still hidden.

Red 1 splits its commands between Move and Fire while Red 2 does the same. Red 3 will just move up and grab control of the ford in D8.

The M60 tanks from Team Blue-A in 2L5 and 7I2  will perform a Short Halt Fire while the other 3 tanks in H2 will move up and get into position to fire for next turn.  Meanwhile Team Blue-B will move straight towards the Woods to the north.

Soviets roll initiative and decide to be the First Player for the turn.

Direct Fire Phase: 

Both T-72s from Red 1 use their Fire markers to shoot at one of the M60s in 2L5.

Just to demonstrate how AP combat works here, I'll work out the first shot here for you:

At 15 hex range, we check the vehicle chart for the T-72AV and find that we are firing at Medium range. On our player aid, the AP Hit chart shows that the base to-hit chance for this range is 50 per cent.  We look at the modifiers on the table to the right and find that the large size of the M60 pulls the to-hit chances up one column on the chart to 55 per cent.

The M60 is considered moving due to its Short Halt command and the T-72's hit chance goes down two columns for a final chance of 45%.

We roll a 28 and the M60 is hit! The penetration for the APFSDS round is 86 at this range, which we compare to the front armor of the M60.  The American tank has a front armor of 48 so the shot penetrates. Since the penetration value is more than 10 points beyond the armor value, we find that the M60 brews up, creating lots of cool and explosions and plenty of smoke to annoy the other T-72 gunner shooting at the other M60 in the same hex (a -2 column shift).

The next T-72AV fires at the other M60 in the hex and misses.

The next two T-72AVs now fire at the two M60 tanks in I2. The Soviets destroy one American tank and miss the other.

Now the M60s from Team Blue A fire back and they both manage a miss. So far, this is not going well for the US.

Movement Phase:

Red 1 and Red 2 both send two tanks to seize their objective bridge hexes and move towards cover after crossing the river. Red 3 takes the ford intact and moves towards the line of woods in 2C6 and 2D6.

Team Blue A tries to pick up the pieces. It sends three tanks to take the bridge at DD4 while the two surviving tanks that were fired at and missed move down the road. Team Blue B moves up three tanks into the woods for cover and the other half of the team moves up on the right flank into the open.

Turn 3:

During the Orders Phase, the Soviet player commands two tanks in Red 1 to fire at the three M60s that are on the bridge in DD4. Those same M60s are ordered to Short Halt (which means they fire and then move in the same turn). Hopefully, the NATO player can take care of those two T-72s and take the Ford to the north for some VPs.

On the east side of the map, Team Blue B is carefully maneuvering into position. Three M-60s are poised to head towards the town to the north where a pair of T-72s have been spotted. One M60 will fire while the other provides overwatch while another will move one hex west to get a wider field of fire.  The Soviets are advancing Red 3 south into the woods and two T-72s from Red 2 are ordered to short halt fire at two M60 tanks from Team Blue B.

The Soviets roll 38 initiative while NATO rolls a measly 11. The Soviets will take First Player for the turn.

In the Direct Fire phase, the two T-72s from Red 1 fire at two of the M60 tanks on the bridge in DD4. Both are hit and brew up.

One of the Soviet tanks from Red 2 fires from 11 hex range at the M60 on overwatch in the woods at 7Y1 and manages a hit after rolling 28. The tank brews up. The other T-72 misses.

During the Second Player phase, one M60 in the woods at 7Y1 fires back at the T-72 that just killed his buddy. The roll is 88 and a miss.

The sole M60 occupying the bridge in DD4 also aims for revenge after the pair of tanks he was with was blown up. We roll a 93 and it is also a miss.

In the Movement Phase, Red 3 leisurely pulls into the cover of the nearby woods and glances to the south in glee at the sight of burning M60s belching thick black smoke into the air.

Red 2 moves its pair of tanks one hex south into the nearby building hex. Meanwhile Red 1 maneuvers around the woods to see if it can squeeze the two American tanks to the west.

The American M60 in DD4 thinks better of being in the sights of two T-72s at short range and reverses back down the road and pivots to face a hulking T-72 only 4 hexes away!  The other remnants of Team Blue-A turn towards a lone T-72 from 200 meters away in the light woods hex.   Team Blue-B has pulled off a miracle and put three M60s in the town to the north without suffering any fire. The tanks are now stalking a pair of T-72s in a building hex very close by.

The command tanks for Team Blue-A and Blue-B are now on the northern slope of the hill and looking over the battlefield.

Oops - I broke the road movement rule by changing the facing of my M60 in hex CC3. Ah well.

Turn 4:

NATO finally gains initiative this turn and takes First Player.

In the Direct Fire Phase, all hell breaks loose.  A pair of M60s open fire at point blank range at the T-72AV sitting in the  woods hex in 2W1 and score a hit.

The lead tank in Team Blue A fires at a mere 400 meters away from a T-72 in 2Y4 but misses.

The commander of Team Blue A fires at 9 hex range at one of the T-72s in 2S7 and knocks it out.

One of the two Soviet tanks sitting in the town hex in 2I3 is destroyed.

Despite firing at point blank range from two positions, the Soviets fail to hit the American tanks (rolls of 88 and 89 - Yuck!).

The Americans try to reorganize the remnants of Team Blue A by pulling the lead tank back towards the two tanks to the south. The M60s in the town creep to the northwest edge for a firing position on the two Soviet tanks from Red 2 on the road to the north.

Meanwhile Red 3 splits its forces and sends two tanks to maneuver behind the M60s from Team Blue B that entered the town just last turn! One T-72 gets fired upon by an M60 on overwatch but it misses.

The two T-72AVs from Red 2 decide not to approach the town after all and instead veer off the road and pull their tanks into the cover of the woods, hoping to gain a better defensive firing position for next turn.

I felt the Americans really pulled ahead in the Direct Fire Phase this turn but the Soviet tanks appear to be in better position by the end of this turn.

Turn 5:

The Soviet player gains initiative and takes First Player. Things could be very bad for NATO this turn as the Soviets have placed a ton of fire commands.

Sure enough, NATO has to cope with the loss of four of its tanks in the Direct Fire Phase. The lead tank from Team Blue A is killed while two of the tanks from Team Blue B that are in the town on map 2 brew up. The third tank from Team Blue B is destroyed in the woods hex in 7X1.

The Soviets only lose one tank sitting in 2I3.

Not really much to do here in the Movement phase. The Soviets rush two tanks from Red 3 into town, trapping the one remaining M60 there. The Americans move up a command tank near the center of the map. The M60 in the town pulls back towards the south. It seems the Soviets are very firmly in control of things and are just mopping up now.

Turn 6:

I'm not sure if the game is going faster because I'm learning the rules or if it's because everyone on the map is dead...

Anyway, the Soviets sit nice and tight where they are and issue fire orders on most of their guys with the exception of the T-72 in 2Y5, which is on overwatch covering the eastern road.

NATO tanks are all firing at the nearest Soviets. It looks like this turn will be yet another bloodbath.

Soviets get initiative and the T-72 in 2AA8 fires at the M60 in 7H1. We roll a 04 on the AP hit table and the M60 brews up. Team Blue A is down to a single tank.

The T-72 sitting in the town hex in H4 gets an 89 to hit the M60 in the adjacent hex, which mercifully misses due to the AP Hit column shifts due to cover and smoke. No matter. The other T-72 in the same hex fires and kills the M60 with a roll of 11.

The T-72 in 2C1 rolls a 34 to hit the M60 sitting in the woods hex in 7Z1 and manages a kill.

The turn ends with the US player managing a lucky middle-distance kill on the T-72 in 2K9.

Down to three M60 tanks versus the seven Soviet T-72s. This looks pretty hopeless for the Americans.

Turn 7:

Fire commands again all around for the US player. None of the shots hit. None of the Soviets score a hit.  The Soviet player shuffles some tanks around to mop up the US tanks on the map board.

Turn 8:

The three remaining American tanks are assigned Short Halt orders. It's do or die here and they don't really stand a chance if they can't win initiative. There are too many guns focused on too few tanks.

Sure enough, the Soviets win init and claim First Player and then go to work firing with every tank at the Americans. The T-72s on the southeast hill eliminate Team Blue B commander. The tanks in the treeline on map 2 make a medium-distance kill on the M60 south of the forest on map 2. The Soviet tank in 7AA2 hits the final American tank in 7R2. All the US units are gone and the scenario is over well before the 15 turn limit.


So what went do disastrously wrong for the US player? I think it had A LOT to do with not taking good advantage of the terrain and using overwatch effectively. It may have actually worked much better by keeping the M60s behind the hills and sneaking them out behind cover to fire at the T-72s from long range.  There are some very decent fire avenues available from the bottom of map 7 which could have been used to cover the approach to 2I5. It also could have been used as a lane of advance for other US tanks to get them forward into a flanking position to hit at Soviet tanks holding the positions on the east side of the board.

My tactics were pretty abysmal from the start with both teams but the Soviets at least had a more concrete plan than the US player. I'd be very interested in playing this scenario again with some of the advanced rules and seeing how different the outcome might be.

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Central America: Bloody March

"Our commitment to a Western hemisphere safe from aggression...began with the Monroe Doctrine in 1823...Some in this Congress may choose to depart from this historic commitment but I will not...Nicaraguan freedom fighters have never asked us to wage their battle, but I will fight any effort to shut off their lifeblood and consign them to death, defeat, or a life without freedom. There must be no Soviet beachhead in Central America." - Ronald Reagan, 1987 State of the Union Address

That quote basically sums up the entire reason for the existence of Victory Games' Central America (1987). This game is a giant exploration of the logic of the Reagan doctrine as seen from the late Cold War period. The first three scenarios in the game are historical scenarios that set the stage for the later hypothetical scenarios that feature large-scale American military interventions and World War III situations.

Before we get to all that stuff though, let's look at the very first scenario in the game, which is based around an historical* battle that took place in late March 1986 between the Contras and Sandinistas with a little bit of the CIA thrown in for good measure.

Here's the background:

March 20, 1986: Cuban General Nestor Lopez launches a daring raid on Contras at a basecamp located in Honduras near the border with Nicaragua.

Nicaraguan Mi-24 Hind

Emboldened by the decision of the Democratic-controlled US Congress to cut off aid to the Contras earlier in the month, the Cuban-led Nicaraguan army sends several divisions of infantry, tanks, and helicopters to try and destroy Contra-held Basecamp "Las Vegas", which has been used as a base to launch attacks into Nicaragua. The CIA, meanwhile, uses planes and helicopters from bases in Honduras to support the defense of "Las Vegas".

CIA-owned and operated aircraft based in Honduras (1980s)


CIA base w/ helo in the north. Las Vegas in 2410. Honduran infantry out of supply. Commies are red. Contra insurgents are green with white stripe through them in 2612.

The setup of this five-turn scenario is quite simple. The Hondurans have a single step-reduced infantry battalion in Mandasta, which is out of supply until turn 4. At a mere 0-1-4 (0 attack strength, 1 defense, 4 movement points), this unit is basically a couple of angry guys with a baseball bat and a Doberman.

The CIA helo is based in hex 2107 (Silca) with an entrenchment marker. The CIA helicopters are the only units in the game that can be used both as transport and for air support. I suppose this is to reflect the hodgepodge collection of transport and attack aircraft typically used by the agency in these kinds of operations. But I prefer to think of it as the CIA having super-helicopters like Airwolf or something.

The Contras are setup with two regular infantry battalions in Basecamp Las Vegas in 2410. They have an entrenchment marker, which gives them a bonus to defense (actually, it gives the attacker a minus die modifier to attack rolls) and also allows them to ignore retreat results after suffering a such a result on the CRT.  Three Contra insurgent battalions are placed in 2612. They are returning to Honduras from operations inside Nicaragua .

As an aside, insurgents are interesting units in Central America. They can basically ignore terrain movement costs and enemy ZOCs by using insurgent movement. These units can also be disbanded by the owning player and then totally recreated by spending insurgency command points. In this scenario, the Communists get 2 Insurgency Command Points while the Allies get 4. Insurgents are powerful units in the game and I have never seen a game that handles these types of units with such simple but appropriate rules.

The Communists have three regular infantry brigades knocking at the door of Basecamp Las Vegas. They are not allowed to enter towns or cities in Honduras. The Nicaraguans also have three insurgency infantry battalions (Estr, Uman, and Pom). Estr and Pom are set up in 2411 with a Nicaraguan regular infantry brigade while Uman is set up in 2511 with Gen. Lopez' infantry battalion.

A close up of the action around basecamp Las Vegas.

Victory Conditions

Whoever controls Las Vegas at the end of the game gets 4 VPs. For each enemy ground unit that is eliminated, the "eliminator" side gains 1 VP. At the end of 5 turns, Victory Points are tallied up and compared to a Political Effects chart (the likes of which I have never ever seen before in any game) that tells you how the resulting political effect of the battle plays out in terms of US Congressional approval of military and humanitarian aid for the Contras.  Well, there's certainly something to get excited about! If you blow this one, poor Ollie North is gonna have to sell way more TOW missiles to Iran. Daniel Inouye is going to be super pissed, guys!

Flow of Turn - The Phase Track

In case you've never played Central America, I'll give a brief rundown of how each game turn works. Game Turns are split into the two stages - the Communist stage and the Allied stage. The Communists run through a series of phases that basically involve supply checks, regular infantry movement, insurgency movement, and sending out air missions.

Both players have reaction phases in the other players' stage where they can also send out air missions or go on counterinsurgency missions. You'll notice that the phase track has white and colored squares on it. Central America has two rules sets - conventional rules (involving localized conflicts between similar types of forces) and intervention rules (for full-scale superpower intervention in the region). The colored squares are are the phases that are used in the conventional game and the white squares are used in the intervention game along with the phases in the colored squares. Since we're playing with the conventional rules, we are only using the phases denoted by the colored squares.

Central America's Phase Track

Turn 1

The Communist Ground and Air Stage:

Both sides are always in supply during the first turn. We skip over to Regular Ground Unit Movement. I advance the Lopez brigade north over the border into Honduras. I wanted to create a bit of space between my regular infantry and the Contra insurgency battalions to the south. During the Insurgency Movement phase, I decide to keep the insurgents where they are to support the attack on Las Vegas. However, I place Insurgency Reserve markers on them, which allows them to move one or two hexes after ground combat.

The three regular Sandinista ground units will combine their attack strength with two of the insurgent battalions for a total ground unit attack strength of 8. The Contras in Las Vegas have a defense strength of 2 each for a total of 4. So it looks like we'll be attacking at 2-1 odds in rough terrain. At first glance, things don't look good for the forces of freedom.

But wait! The Allied player gets to send out an Air Mission and the CIA attack helicopters fly over to Las Vegas, adding the unit's ground combat value (2) and giving a column shift in favor of the basecamp's defenders. This brings the odds to 1-1 with a single column shift left. The Commies get a +1 to their die roll due to attacking with an insurgent unit and a -2 for attacking units in an entrenchment so we are rolling at a total die modifier of 1.  It looks like we will need either a 5 or a 6 to do any damage to the defenders in Las Vegas. We roll a 6 (modified to a 5) and one of the Contra infantry units is reduced by a step. Basecamp Las Vegas is already in a bit of trouble!

CIA air support swoops in to help out Contras at Basecamp Las Vegas.

The insurgents use their reserve movement now to go south and run interference on the Contras coming north.

Communist insurgency battalions use insurgency reserve movement post-combat.

Allied Ground and Air Stage:

My basic plan was to start to wear down the Communist player's number of insurgents while trying to make myself as much of a pain in the ass as possible for the regular infantry units attacking Las Vegas.  To that end, I send two infantry units around the flank of the Sandinista insurgent battalions and attack the one furthest to the west. Unfortunately, I am out of range for the CIA attack helicopter so I need to do this without air support.

At 3 to 1 odds in rough terrain with a +1 attack modifier, the die roll comes out as a 5. The Communist insurgent battalion takes a step loss and is forced to retreat. I use my insurgent reserve movement to send one of units into the fray near Las Vegas. Because all enemy units adjacent to attacking units must be attacked in the Ground Combat Phase, this means that next turn I may be forced to choose between using Veng regular infantry to turn its attention to the Sag unit to its south or attack it at even odds with the Estr unit in 2512.

FDN insurgents cause Nicaraguan insurgency btn (Pom) a step loss and retreat. Contra unit (Sag) cozies up to Nicaraguan regular infantry brigade (Veng) just south of Basecamp Las Vegas. Two Contra units are stacked together in 2413.

With double the amount of insurgency command points, the Allied player can sort of afford to lose insurgent forces here more than the Communist player. So I'm playing a bit fast and loose with the Contras and hoping they come out on top of things.

Turn 2:

The Communist Ground and Air Stage:

Everyone appears to be in supply so we go straight to regular ground unit movment. I have a bit of a problem here because a single unit of Contras in 2413 will force my Veng infantry brigade to split its attack factors. To make up for this, I could just move the unit one hex east but I want to keep the Contras as far away from Las Vegas as possible so I keep the unit there.

During the insurgency movement phase, I move Uman insurgent battalion northwest to 2511. The Estr brigade is brought north to attack the Sag unit so that Veng can focus its firepower on Basecamp Las Vegas. The Uman unit will join in on this attack so as to provide its +1 die roll modifier on the attack roll for being an insurgent unit.

Communist insurgent battalions move into position.

I have the option of disbanding insurgents now, which I decide to go ahead and do. The Pom battalion in 2313 is at half strength and has no attack factor. So I pull up the charts and roll to see if I can disband the unit (which means I can bring it in later again at full strength). Since the unit is in its home country, we get a +1 modifier on the insurgency disbandment table. Rolling a 3 modified to 4, the disbandment succeeds and we take the Pom insurgency battalion off the map.

A roll of 3 + 1 disbands insurgencies in rough terrain.

During the Air Mission phase, the CIA player opts again to use his helicopters for defensive ground support in Las Vegas. This time, the defenders have a total defensive strength of 7. The three Nicaraguan regular infantry brigades and the Uman insurgency battalion have an attack strength of 6, which brings us again to a 1-1 odds attack with a column shift left due to enemy air support. Total die modifiers are -1 again.  We are rolling HOT again! With another roll of 6 (modified to 5), the enemy defenders in Las Vegas need to take a step loss. I opt to take the loss on the remaining full strength unit in the hex. Now the ground unit defenders have only a combined defense strength of 2. Yikes!

Now for the attack on the FDN Sag insurgency battalion. We have  the Estr insurgency unit versus the Sag's defensive strength of 1. This gives us a 1-1 odds with the die modifiers for defending and attacking insurgency cancelled out. We roll yet another 6 and the Contra unit takes a step loss and retreats two hexes. Happily, they can ignore enemy ZOC during a retreat and we pull them into the border hex between Nicaragua and Honduras. I couldn't find anything specific in the rules about which country the unit is considered to be in for disbandment purposes later on, but it seems to make sense to let the owning player can just choose which side of the border the unit is on (kind of like in VG's Vietnam 1965-1975).

FDN insurgent unit Sag retreats across the border to Honduras.

Allied Ground and Air Stage

I need to start making dents in the communist insurgency so I decide to move both my Contra units to the northeast for an attack on the Uman insurgency group. Before combat, I manage to disband the Pom insurgency group during the disbandment phase. As the enemy unit is within 6 hexes of the CIA airbase, I can use the helicopter support here to rain down hellfire on the Communists. This gives me a 4-1 odds attack with a column shift to the right.

CIA air assets help Contras out with their attack vs Nicaraguan insurgent battalion in 2511. Note reduced regular FDN infantry in Basecamp Las Vegas 2411.

I roll a 5 and the Uman insurgents take two step losses, eliminating them. Since insurgents cannot pursue into vacated hexes on their own, the two insurgent units stay put (they cannot use insurgency reserve movement since they moved more than 2 hexes in the Insurgency Movement Phase).

The turn ends as the CIA helicopter returns to its base in Silca.

Turn 3:

The Communist Ground and Air Stage:

Starting the turn off with a supply check for both sides, we find that the Lopez brigade in 2510 is out of supply. In this game, regular units need to be able to trace a supply line four hexes to a path or trail that is connected to a supply source. Unfortunately, the ZOC projected by the two Contra units in 2611 prevents a successful supply trace and so the Lopez brigade has its defense and movement values halved and cannot attack.

Start of turn 3 - Lopez is out of supply.

I should mention that the two regular FDN units at Las Vegas are always in supply because they are in an entrenchment. The two insurgency FDN units in 2611 are able to trace supply through enemy ZOCs, so they find a supply line by going through 2511 and then into the Las Vegas hex.

I need to get the Lopez brigade back in supply so I pull it back south across the Nicaraguan border. It is now adjacent to the FDN insurgents. During the insurgency placement phase, I decide to try and place an insurgency unit in the same hex to protect the Lopez unit. Spending an Insurgency Command Point (I now have 3 after disbanding a unit earlier in the game), I roll a 3 (modified by 1 due to home country advantage) and cross-reference the terrain and die roll on the Placement chart to find that the insurgent unit is successfully placed.

The Pom insurgency battalion is placed in 2511. 

At this point, I should probably mention that when the Communists place an insurgent unit on the map, the Allied player has a chance to immediately launch Aerial Counterinsurgency missions to try and eliminate it. To do this, the Allied player simply declares an air mission and hits the offending enemy hex with 3 bombardment points and WHAMMO - the insurgent counter is removed from the map. However, my CIA helo only has a bombardment value of 2 for these kinds of missions so I keep it held back for ground support missions instead.

During the Ground Combat phase, I am left with no choice but to attack Las Vegas basecamp with two regular infantry units (50-04 brigade in 2311 and the Veng brigade in 2411) and the Estr insurgent battalion in 2411. This gives me a total attack strength of 5 with a +1 die roll modifier due to attacking with an insurgent unit. The American send their CIA attack helicopter down to Las Vegas. At 5 attack strength to 4 defensive strength, we're dealing with 1 to 1 odds here and the obligatory left column shift for fighting against units with air support. The roll comes out a 5 and one of the FDN regular units in Las Vegas is eliminated. Wow! It looks like the Communists might be able to capture the basecamp if they can keep this up.

Insurgency unit Estr uses its insurgency reserve movement to advance two hexes east in a bid to stop the two FDN insurgency units from reinforcing Las Vegas.

Estr uses insurgency reserve movement to go 2 hexes east and block FDN insurgents from reinforcing Las Vegas.

Allied Ground and Air Stage:

All units are in supply now so Lopez' OOS marker is removed. We need to get some help to basecamp Las Vegas ASAP or it will almost certainly fall before the end of turn 5.

During the Insurgent Movement phase, I move the two Contra units a couple of hexes northeast to hex 2710. I'm trying to hit the Nicaraguans on their flank and hopefully make my way towards Las Vegas to help out as things are getting dire up there.

Contras move 2 hexes to 2710

In the Insurgency Placement phase, I get increasingly angry as I end up having to spend all of my Insurgency Command Points in placing a disbanded Contra unit into Las Vegas. After three rerolls (each costing an Insurgency Command Point), I finally get the Sag unit in the hex and now the defense value of the basecamp is back at 2. Not great but good enough for now, hopefully.

I end up spending ALL of my insurgency command points to get the Sag FDN insurgent unit into hex 2410 to reinforce Las Vegas.

The two FDN Contra units in 2710 declare an attack on the Estr brigade and call in CIA air support to help out. At 4 to 1 and a right column shift, this should be a shoe-in but a roll of 2 (modified to 3) results in a step loss rather than an elimination for the communist insurgency unit. In this game, disbanded units are available again to the enemy player in the next turn while eliminated units are only available after two turns. So that's why I am a bit disappointed with the result.

The FDN units use their insurgent movement to swing back west behind the Nicaraguan enemy units in 2411 and 2511. I'm hoping that this will force the Nicaraguans to split their attacks on Las Vegas and thereby dilute their attack strength. I doubt this will work but it's worth a shot.

Now might be a good time just to chalk up our VPs. The Communists have eliminated one regular infantry unit so they are currently at 1 VP. The Allies still occupy Las Vegas basecamp so they have 4 VPs and they have eliminated one enemy unit for an additional VP to make a total of 5 VPs.

Turn 4:

The Communist Ground and Air Stage:

Everyone starts off in supply, including the Honduran CES battalion over to the west. Things don't look very good for Basecamp Las Vegas. With the Communist regular units where they are now, they'll have to split their attacks in order to deal with both Las Vegas and the Contra insurgency units. During the Regular Ground Movement Phase, I adapt by simply rotating the position of my forces around the basecamp. Now I can focus the firepower on the basecamp.

Regular Nicaraguan infantry move to 2310, 2311, and 2411.

Communist insurgents move into position around Las Vegas.

At 7 attack strength to 4 defense, I'm again rolling at 1 to 1 odds with a column shift left. This time, the Communist luck runs out and we roll a "2". This forces a step loss and all the attackers to retreat two hexes. They return closer to their supply sources in Nicaragua. During the reinforcement phase, the Uman insurgency group, eliminated two turns ago, is made available for a placement attempt in the next turn.

Pom insurgency battalion takes a step loss and everyone retreats.

Allied Ground and Air Stage:

With that bit of luck, I decide to just do what I can to keep the Communists at bay for next turn. I advance the Honduran CES infantry unit east to 2110 and then bring SJac insurgency group into hex 2311 with insurgency movement. Salz insurgency group moves into 2411. I'm basically hoping to put as many defenders and ZOCs in the likely path of incoming Nicaraguan forces next turn.

End of turn 4.

Turn 5:

Well, here we go. Everyone is in supply and now we have a big problem on our hands. Most notably, how in the heck am I going to fulfill the victory conditions for the Communists. The FDN has put enough insurgents around Basecamp Las Vegas that I don't have the MPs to flank them. I need to go for a good old fashioned hail mary and hope for the best. 

I slide 50-02 and Veng into 2311 while Lopez will move to 2312 and go for the Salz insurgents in 2411.  The Communist insurgents just sort of try their best to stay out of the way of things since they have no attack factors left. During the Insurgency Placement phase, I roll a 5 and place the Uman insurgent group stacked in 2311 with Veng and 50-02. 

Regular infantry move up to positions around Las Vegas for a final push.

Uman insurgent infantry battalion is placed in 2311 with Veng and 50-02 regular infantry.

Since all enemy units adjacent to my attackers must be attacked, I end up doing some strategic contortions here to make it all work out. Veng and Uman will attack the SJac insurgent group at 3-1. 50-02 will attack Las Vegas at what will certainly be 1 to 2 odds (and a column shift left). Lopez will attack Salz at 1 to 1 odds.

Sjac insurgent battalion is eliminated and the Communist player gains 1 VP. Veng and Uman advance into the vacated hex in 2310. 50-02 attacks Las Vegas but suffers a step loss and a retreat. Lopez' attack on the Salz insurgent battalion results in a step loss for the Contras. The reduced Estr insurgent unit uses its remaining reserve movement to enter the hex occupied by Lopez' regular infantry to prevent any last minute VP farming by the Allied player.

Positions at end of Communist stage and game end.

Allied Ground and Air Stage:

The Contras have held on to Base Camp Las Vegas so that's worth 4 VPs and a sigh of relief. Having taking two serious losses and out of insurgency placement points, they are too weak to follow up with any harassing attacks on the Nicaraguans.  We finish up the turn and count up our VPs in the game.

VP Tally:

Allies - 
Las Vegas: 4 VPs
Eliminating enemy unit 1 VP
Total: 5 VPs

Communists -
Eliminating 2 enemy units: 2 VPs
Total: 2 VPs

Result:  Allied Marginal Victory

"Congress votes down aid for the Contras but private sources continue to assist them."

Historical note: As the Sandinistas crossed the border, they were caught unawares by Contras returning from engagements in Nicaragua. The communists were forced to withdraw back south without having achieved any of their objectives.The historical result was an Allied decisive victory in game terms.


What a game! I have played this scenario many times. I think this is actually the closest I have seen the Communist player come to nearly taking out Basecamp Las Vegas. Of course to do this successfully, you need to keep the Allied player from reinforcing the basecamp with his insurgents, which is nearly impossible given how easy it is for insurgents to move, disappear, and suddenly reappear in this game.

I wonder if it would have made more sense to just focus on eliminating enemy Contra units rather than directly attacking the basecamp. This may have been a little better strategy because the Allied player actually ran out of insurgency command points and would have probably had troubles replacing his losses. Instead, I just went for the gold and kept hammering away at the basecamp.

As the Allied player, the trick is to just focus on whittling down the enemy as much as possible. Luring enemy units into positions where you can use the CIA helicopters for offensive ground support is key here. Failing that, try to snuggle your insurgent units up to the attackers just outside of Las Vegas and force them to split their attacks. Even reducing the enemy attacks by a single attack factor can completely change the outcome of a battle.

* I'm not 100 per cent sure about the accuracy of the scenario OOB - keep in mind that what actually happened in this conflict is still not really understood and much of it remains classified information. You can take the veracity of the scenario details with a grain of salt or as the truth. In any case, it makes for a short fun evening of gaming.

Thursday, August 11, 2016

The Hunt for Red October - North Atlantic Convoy

The third scenario from Hunt for Red October is pretty straightforward but I really like it. The NATO player is trying to get a merchant convoy from New York to Le Havre to help keep the supplies going to fend off a Soviet invasion of western Europe. The Soviets use their submarines to try and sink as many of the merchant ships as possible.

Alfa class submarine - a deadly ocean predator

The scenario lasts 5 turns.  Short and sweet!

The NATO convoy is protected by Task Force Bravo, which consists of':
  • 4 Perry class frigates
  • 4 Knox class frigates
  • 2 Spruance class destroyers
All of these ships have decent detection capabilities (rating of 4) and ASW helos to help take on subs. On top of this, NATO has 4 Los Angeles class submarines to help whittle down the Soviet submarine threat.

The Soviets get:
  • 4 Victor class submarines
  • 2 Alfa class submarines
  • 3 November class submarines
  • 1 Akula class submarine
NATO gets points for sinking Soviet subs while the Soviet player gets 2 points for sinking a NATO merchant ship (one of which can be sunk with only a single hit) and NATO warships (which will take 2 hits to sink).

This is a nicely-designed scenario. I played it several times and got different results with it - everything from a stalemate to a substantial victory for each side. Here's one of the plays that I documented.

The Soviet player sets up first, putting four subs in the deep waters just east of New York harbor where the NATO task force will be leaving. He then places two more lines of 3 submarines each to the east in the mid-Atlantic and closer to the coast of Spain.

NATO puts two Los Angeles class subs near the first line of Soviet subs closest to New York and another pair of subs in the mid-Atlantic. The idea is to use the LA class subs aggressively and sink as many Soviet subs as the task force moves towards Europe.

Turn 1

The Soviets roll 3 for initiative while NATO gets 1. NATO is given the first move and Task Force Bravo moves out of New York harbor. During the move phase, the Soviet subs rush into the TF space and get ready to attack. In the ensuing battle, a Knox class frigate is damaged and 2 merchant ships are sunk by Victor class submarines. NATO ASW efforts are great and the destroyers manage to sink a November. 

TF Bravo moves gingerly out of New York and into unfriendly seas during NATO move, turn 1

Turn 2

NATO rolls for initiative and gets a 3 while the Soviets get 4. NATO is again given the first move and Task Force Bravo nears the mid-Atlantic. 2 Victors and and Akula move into the task force hex. All the Soviet submarines get detected. The Akula damages another Knox frigate while one of the Victors get sunk.  The Soviet player decides to switch tactics and stop going for the escorts as this tactic is proving fruitless.

TF Bravo in the mid-Atlantic as Soviet and American subs nearby

Turn 3

The Soviet player once again wins initiative this turn and the NATO subs come into play finally. A pair of Los Angeles submarines move into the same space as a November and Alfa and easily sink both of them. However, the Soviets have moved their second line of submarines into attack position on the NATO convoy and score a hit on one of the merchant ships for 2 VPs. 

Turn 4

NATO finally gets its crap together and wins initiative with 7 Detection markers while the Soviets only gain 1. The Soviets move first and form a ring around Bravo with their submarines, trying to anticipate where it will go next. Bravo reaches the Spanish coast. The Los Angeles submarines go on the prowl and start picking off the Soviet subs. Two Victor class submarines are sunk but at the price of one Los Angeles class submarine. I doubt that is a fair exchange for the Americans.

Task Force Bravo nears the Spanish coastline
Turn 5

Final turn and the NATO convoy is reaching towards its objective. NATO wins initiative by rolling 6 while the Soviet player has a measly 1.  The Soviets are given first move and they park their November, Alfa, and Akula in Le Havre. This is shallow water so everyone gets detected. During the ensuing battle, the Akula and Alfa go down. The November survives the first round of combat and shoots at a merchant ship but misses. The NATO convoy has arrived more or less intact at Le Havre and troops and supplies are sent off to the front to try and halt the advance of the Warsaw Pact.

TF Bravo reaches Le Havre but has 3 Soviet subs trailing behind it.


Our final tally is Soviets 13 VP and NATO 25. This substantial victory for NATO is due mostly to poor Soviet tactics in the early turns. As the Soviet player, my idea was to take down a few escorts to make the job of going after the merchants easier in the end game. Unfortunately, there is just so much firepower in the NATO convoy that taking out one or two escorts is not really going to help here. The Soviets need to go for the throat early on and keep up the attacks in order to counter the damage they are definitely going to suffer at the hands of the enemy task force and submarine ASW.