A Confession About TDGs

I have a possibly unpopular confession about tactical decision games. I’m not the biggest fan of them. Now, don’t get me wrong, I have no problem with them existing and I can definitely see their use. It’s ironically not in spite of, but because of my armchair enthusiast status that I’m somewhat wary of them. From the perspective of someone who isn’t potentially doing them in real life, it feels like couch coaching. You’re sitting on the couch telling the sportsball player to sports the ball in the right way, when you have past school experience at best.

And that of course assumes there is one right way. One thing I like about John Antal’s Choose Your Own COA-Adventure books is that doing counterintuitive things like charging up the middle can sometimes work.

That being said, it’s less a “down with TDGs” and more “I should like them more than I do”. Plus I’ll admit that I have a soft spot for converting fictional battles/actions into TDGs with just the right amount of modification. While it’d be outside the scope of a “TDG” per se, my dream is to do a simulated reenactment of Iron Eagle (imprisoned pilot, generic Middle Eastern OPFOR) using realistic mechanics and seeing what assets are needed to save Col. Masters.

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.


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.


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.


-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.

A Thousand Words: Iron Eagle

Iron Eagle

Time for a nostalgia piece from my past. I watched Iron Eagle a lot on DVD when I was younger. It is an amazingly stupid and stupidly amazing action aviation movie that is incredibly 1980s.

So, a fighter pilot is shot down over “Libya” and his son, with the aid of a fellow pilot, “acquires” a pair of F-16s to rescue him, causing a massive number of explosions in the process. Because the actual US Air Force was not exactly keen on sponsoring a movie where kids can steal F-16s, the filming was in Israel, with Kfirs playing the role of “MiG-23s.”

The movie’s gotten a lot of understandable comparisons to Top Gun which I think are off-base, and not just because Iron Eagle was actually released before it. Top Gun is a very “Tom Clancy” movie, an idealized story that still has a fig leaf of grounding. Iron Eagle is a very “Mack Maloney” movie, something that just goes “Prepare film for ludicrous speed” and never looks back.

So yeah, there’s a lot of explosions, an F-16 that never runs out of ammunition, an F-16 that lands on a convenient runway in the film’s climax, a water treatment plant that stands in for an oil refinery, the politics you’d expect from an 80s action film, buildings exploding after getting hit with individual Vulcan rounds, a convenient in-universe excuse to play the (excellent) soundtrack at every opportunity, and so much more.

There’s a reason why I watched it so much, and it’s not because the acting was Oscar-worthy. This movie is classic ridiculous 80s fun.