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.

Review: Armor Attacks

Armor Attacks

John Antal’s Armor Attacks is essentially a choose your own adventure book about a tank platoon. Created as a training tool, it was originally released shortly before the Gulf War. Thus it provides a window into Fuldapocalyptic tank battles.

The premise is that the Krasnovians (or, as they’re called in the book, the “Threat”-essentially a Soviet-style OPFOR) wants to seize the Middle East, and the Americans (and you) must stop them. While it shouldn’t be fair to criticize what’s clearly just a setup for the instructional vignettes he wants, I should still point out the Melville-esque prose clearly leaves something to be desired. Everyone talks in unrealistically robotic, exact terms. It’s understandable, but I still didn’t really like it in that sense.

At least this doesn’t do what Antal did in his first proper novel, Proud Legions, and try to make the reader’s unit the absolute conflict-defining centerpiece. The low, dirty place of the reader is emphasized, and rightfully so. Which is a good thing, as the actual vignettes/choices are well done.

I was “genre-savvy” enough to make some of the right decisions when I tried a run through of one of the scenarios. Tanks are more vulnerable to artillery than you might think, so don’t stay in one spot too long. Taking on a company of T-72s with a platoon of M1s is totally viable, even with 105mm M1s (I have the feeling that this would have been less intuitive pre-Gulf War). And so on.

However, and this may have been the legacy of The Henry Stickmin Collection and its “failure is just as good and entertaining as success” mindset at work, I also attacked up the middle. It didn’t go so well. In fact, I’d have loved for one of the scenarios to be a “Kobayashi Maru” one where you get wiped out no matter what you do.

The newest digital edition of this book does the orginal one better by showing the instructor’s material used. To me at least this was fascinating and interesting. For anyone interested in tanks of the period, I highly recommend this book.