Weird Wargaming: Draka

Draka

Ah, the snakies that took up so many internet arguments about alternate history. I’ll be talking about the Eurasian War Draka here.

Equipment/Organization

The relevant military appendix describing the organization of the Drakian military is here

The Hond III tank has been a little exaggerated based on its 120mm gun and general advanced technology compared to its opponents. It’s gotten compared to a Chieftain or even Abrams, but the actual descriptions make it more like an upgunned Centurion or armor-slimmed IS-3/T29 – but available en masse in 1942. It has a gyro-stabilizer for the main gun. The most anachronistic part is actually its 1200 horsepower engine, which resembles that of a T-80U (!).

The “Hoplite” APC used by the Citizens is vague in the actual books, but I can draw a conclusion from it being based on the-if the Hond is a Centurion, the Hoplite is the equivalent of the Nagmashot Centurion-APC.

Even the Janissaries outclass World War II armies. There’s reference to BTR-style “Peltast” wheeled APCs, and them being motorized at all already puts them at the level of American World War II divisions in terms of equipment.

The Jannissary organization is more vague. If in doubt, use the classic “triangular division with an attached tank battalion/regiment” or follow 1950s Soviet motor rifle divisions (being referred to as “motorized rifle” is unlikely to be a coincidence). Their exact equipment is more vague besides the APCs and lots of towed guns, but my hunch would be using World War II equipment that’s both outdated compared to the early postwar equivalent and more geared for infantry support.

(My personal fanon is something like the Nahuel tank-something you could kitbash with older equipment and keep the plants running without getting in the way of the citizens).

Proficiency

The Citizens rank among the best in the world, their training a combination of Sp-, oh wait. They’re still really good, and even the Janissaries seem “only” as good as the Soviets at their best. Yes, it’s like having Kawhi Leonard and Shaquille O’Neal on your basketball teams.

Citizens should be high-proficiency across the board. Janissaries should either be slightly lower or just played more stiffly. If in doubt, play the Citizens as a top-line Western-style army and the Janissaries as a top-line Soviet-style one.

Other Notes

-There’s been a lot of attempts by other people to make the Draka more “realistic”. I’ve come to dislike this. What does making the Honds upgunned T-26s instead of upgunned Centurions really add? You want your supervillain empire moving across World War II, you should get it in all its glory. If putting this against an actual WWII army is the wargame equivalent of a fighting game final boss, so be it.

-For a more “fair” fight, put them against a 1950s Cold War army. But still…

A Thousand Words: Command And Conquer Generals

Command And Conquer: Generals

EA’s 2003 real-time-strategy game Command And Conquer Generals was a fixture of my childhood. Along with Advance Wars, it was one of the two “bottom rungs” on the complexity ladder of getting me into wargaming. (From there came Fleet Command and Steel Panthers: Main Battle Tank, then came Command: Modern Air/Naval Operations and the rest is history).

In gameplay terms, it has the same benefits and flaws all RTSes do (A “turtle/murderblob” singleplayer, a “chess boxing” multiplayer that’s utterly different from single-player) and the specific issue all C&C-style RTSes have (infantry are weaker than they should be because vehicles can run them over). And, through no fault of its own, it has the awkward turn of the millennium “the graphics are 3D models, but they’re not the best 3D models” effect. It arrived at kind of the tail end of that, but still.

But what I think is most interesting is the tone. Beyond just the stereotypes and the “it’s ripped from the headlines, honest” parts, there’s some “iffy” parts. China has double-barreled megatanks but its infantry don’t even have AKs. F-117s are stealthier than F-22s because they’re stealth fighters, duh. It’s very much a “pop culture war” from the early 2000s.

Review: The High Frontier

The High Frontier

highfrontiercover

The High Frontier is the de facto ending to the The Big One series. The end of the Easy Mode Cold War is, for most intents and purposes, the end of the main published series. And, like The Sum Of All Fears, it’s a good stopping point.

This entire franchise has the slight misfortune of bad context for me. You can see why and what in the entry for the main series. That being said, while The High Frontier may not be the worst book ever, it still stands out only for its plot “novelties”. What plot novelties?

Well, for this individual book, there’s, among other things…

  • A very cheap shot at the Space Shuttle program right off the bat, where the Columbia disaster occurs right after the Challenger disaster. It’s actually semi-realistic in a rivet-counting way. The second post-Challenger mission had foam hit the heat-shield and barely survived, and the Space Shuttle program’s many, many issues are well-known. But the narrative intent is obvious.
  • Exposition where the Chipanese [yes] antagonists lament the inferiority of their military compared to the (awesome) Americans.
  •  The Chipanese campaign in Vietnam, featuring the equivalent of the Soviet general secretary personally running into Afghanistan to command forces there and then getting killed.
  • In said campaign, there are so many names of historical Vietnam War figures that I couldn’t tell if it was just bad naming or the real people (who’d be much older, and in some cases, dead.)

 

Finally there’s the climax, the biggest missed opportunity in the whole book. Having read The Sum Of All Fears makes it look even worse than it did when I first read it. Here’s an opportunity to foil the plot by showing restraint in the face of apocalyptic provocation-and instead it’s the equivalent of having the protagonists stop the nuke from going off in the first place.

Then the book ends with Ronald Reagan asking about the Seer and one final infodump about the nature of the unaging mutants with catlike eyes who serve as combination plot devices, Mary Sues, and ways to not have to create more characters. Of course they happen to stop aging at convenient times, have an ability to sense other long-lifers, are disease-resistant but not immune, and it took as long as it did for one person to find them out. Hmmm….

The book itself is par for the course for the TBO series, which is to say, it’s substantially below-average. Yes, a lot of its negative reputation comes from the gauntlet-throwing and internet drama accompanying its initial release. Yes, it doesn’t look quite as bad in context when compared to the worst of either internet alternate history or post-1991 technothrillers. Yes, a lot of its flaws aren’t unique to it.

But it’s still clunky, hopping around characters and events. It’s still flat, with characters being either Mary Sues, placeholders, or strawmen.  The worldbuilding is still ridiculously stacked in favor of the Americans. The action is still either bland and one-sided or extra-bland. The stiff dialogue in this book (and in the whole series) is distinctly bad, even by the standards of low-end fiction. It’s still just not good.

Snippet Reviews: January 2020

New year, new set of snippet reviews.

Return of the Ottomans

Return Of The Ottomans is a clunky “Big war thriller” only distinguished by its premise. Turkey invading Bulgaria is more conceptually interesting and the action isn’t the worst in a nuts and bolts way, but jumping viewpoints and Steel Panthers Characterization at its worst bring it down.

The Fires Of Midnight

The Fires of Midnight is the last of the classic Blaine McCrackens, before Dead Simple knocked the series off course. While I now knew the formula in great detail, it doesn’t change that the formula is a good one-and that it includes an excellent finale in an excellent place.

Sword Point

I wanted Sword Point, Harold Coyle’s second novel, to be good, and it still ultimately is. Yet it has this awkward feeling of a one-hit wonder musician trying to make lightning strike twice. The same formula and theme is there, and it’s not bad. But it just doesn’t have the kick the initial installment has.

It’s still tanks going boom in a solid, flowing way. And the Middle Eastern setting is distinct. But it’s just missing something.

Review: Rage of Angels

Rage of Angels

rageofangelscover

Sidney Sheldon’s parade of “gilded cheap thrillers” continues in Rage of Angels. This is the tale of lawyer Jennifer Parker and her twists and turns as she tangles with (and beds) powerful politicians and more powerful mobsters.

Now, it’s still a sleazy sow of a cheap thriller that smothers its face in just enough designer cosmetics to appear slightly respectable for those bookshelves. But for all its cliches, it’s considerably less sleazy and considerably more genuine than The Other Side of Midnight ever was.

This helps it a lot, as there’s more focus on the actual substance and less on forced pretentiousness. What this leads to is a virtuous cycle. Being able to dial back on some of the pseudo-splendor means the characters are more interesting, which in turn means that there’s less need for “look at this wonderful exotic place” filler…

The opening act is Fuldapocalypse’s first dip into that lucrative genre-the legal thriller. I know very little about law, but even I know that the cases move way too fast and that certain ones that I’m 99.999999999999999999999999999999% sure would result in a settlement end up in front of a jury so that Parker can win. Yes, I’m utterly and horribly shocked that a book reviewed on Fuldapocalypse is unrealistic. And I’m even more shocked that a lot of the later plot turns out to be contrived.

The later parts, although told in the faux-flowery style I’d come to know from Sheldon’s previous book, actually work better. The ending is rushed, but it’s actually less so than some of the outright pulp I’ve read. Sheldon knew his audience and knew his style, and by those standards, Rage of Angels works.

 

Review: The Sword of the Templars

The Sword of the Templars

swordtemplarscovers

A work in the genre of “Templar Catholic Secret History” thrillers that followed in the wake of The Da Vinci Code, Christopher Hyde’s (under the pen name “Paul Christopher”) The Sword of the Templars manages to be somehow fun. Even though by all “normal means” it shouldn’t be.

First, it manages to check every single box one could imagine in a thriller like this. Everything from the academic hero to the unreformed Nazi descendant villain to the general shenanigans to the nature of “the secret” did not exactly surprise me when it was revealed. Second, I’ll just say it sticks to the thriller norms in terms of plot, pacing and action. Third, there’s lavish descriptions of every place that seem different. Fourth, the research ranges from too precise (knowing what color a box of commercial Prvi Partizan ammunition comes in) to too obviously wrong (calling a “point guard” a football position and, worse, describing the details on a submachine gun in terms dubious at best and wrong at worst). Fifth and finally, there’s a lot of blatant direction mentions of other popular books, the very definition of throwing stones from a glass house.

However, it all works somehow. The ability of the villains to throw one goon after another with just the “right” amount of capability against the heroes, the secret history that’s somehow both ridiculous and bland at the same time, and the actually sound literary fundamentals made this readable. In fact, I might say I liked it in part because it hit each and every cliche-it felt like it was to action hero thrillers what Thunder of Erebus was to technothrillers.

Review: The Dragons of Dunkirk

The Dragons of Dunkirk

dragonsdunkirkcover

Damon Alan’s The Dragons Of Dunkirk grabbed me the moment I looked at the cover. Naturally, I thought of Harry Turtledove’s Worldwar series, only with fantasy invaders instead of sci-fi ones. I also thought of an early Fuldapocalypse review, Dark War Revelation, only set forty years earlier.

So, the German supernatural unlocking goes horrifically wrong, leaving the world exposed to a classical fantasy realm ruled by an ancient wizard (but not a zombie sorceress, sadly). Multiple characters of both sides take in the conflict as it ensues.

There’s a lot this book hasn’t done well. The dialogue is a little stiff, and the action not the best. The worldbuilding on the fantasy side isn’t the most truly distinctive.The characters, while adequate, aren’t more than that.

But what it does do well outweighs that. Alan manages to keep the conflict between a magical and technologically advanced side balanced in a way that doesn’t seem too contrived. (I’ll just say that bullets are something they can withstand to a big degree, but artillery shells are something else).

It has a great concept and an execution that, though imperfect, doesn’t squander it in any way. What’s not to like?

 

Blog Updates

So I’ve made a few updates to this blog in light of it becoming my sole focus after halting new posts on the Creative Corner.

First and biggest is: Fuldapocalypse now has a proper domain.

Second and considerably smaller is that I’ve enlarged the tag cloud yet again. Hey, I’m reviewing a lot of authors and branching out into ever-more genres, so I felt it appropriate at this time. I might be making a few more changes, so don’t be surprised if the blog looks different.

Review: The Circle War

The Circle War

circlewarcover

The second entry in Mack Maloney’s Wingman series, The Circle War remains every bit as ridiculous, if not more so, than the first. If one desires accurate depictions of military hardware, any kind of deep plot, or moral ambiguity, this book is not for you.

However, if you desire a tale of a man named after a fighter aircraft flying his super- F-16 from everywhere from Hawaii to Yankee Stadium, fighting everything from “air pirates” to Mongolian horsemen, and periodically recharging by bedding a beautiful woman jumping right into his lap, this book is for you.

What I like is that there’s absolutely no attempt at making this “realistic”, “plausible”, or “grounded” apart from sometimes getting the equipment names right (but only sometimes). It’s just a continent-spanning parade of goofiness, and that’s not a bad thing at all.

Weird Wargaming: Iron Eagle

Weird Wargaming: Iron Eagle

One may not expect a cheesy 80s action movie to produce a viable wargaming setting. Yet Iron Eagle offers a strange example of this.

The antagonist country in Iron Eagle is basically “close to Libya without saying Libya”. Several years before the Gulf War, the Middle Eastern antagonist du joir was Libya and not Iraq, and a hint at the end about Chappie being picked up by an “Egyptian trawler” gives another hint.

Equipment/Organization

First, the obvious issue. As Iron Eagle was filmed in Israel, we got Kfirs as “MiG-23s” and AH-1 Cobras as the enemy helicopters. Now the Mirage (which the Kfir is a variant of) is a hugely prolific fighter series serving in many air forces, including Iraq’s and Libya’s. The Cobra, not so much, but some other medium “attack helicopter on a transport platform” could stand-in.

It depends on the degree of “actor” vs. “character” the player wants.

For organization, Libya serves as an obvious inspiration, along with many other Middle Eastern countries. Having looked at various scenes of aircraft lined up, 5 to 6 appear on one side of a runaway, and six are depicted in one flight formation, for exact detail.

Proficiency

Considering that the antagonist nation failed to stop a pair of F-16s, including one which landed and took off again , that they’re based on Libya, a nation with a bad track record in conventional war even by the standards of 20th-century Arab armies, and they have incredibly poor munitions discipline (what else can explain every building going up in giant flames?), it’s safe to give them specifically a low overall proficiency in settings that allow it.

Other Notes

There’s two specific things I’ve considered for Iron Eagle. The first is to go “what realistic force would you need, against a pseudo-Libyan OPFOR, to have even a slight chance of rescuing the colonel”.

The second is how it leads into one of my pet projects, designing a generic Middle Eastern OPFOR country for wargaming purposes, with the working title “Seleucia” (after the Seleucid Empire), since a nameless, vague country fits that.

Conclusion

-Low proficiency in settings that allow it, for equipment use either Libya or whatever you’d expect a country of that nature to reasonably have, and have them be guarding a prisoner if you want to “realistically” (to the degree that such a thing is even possible) reenact the movie.