Review: The Bear Marches West

The Bear Marches West

A short, small, and simple compilation, Russell Phillips’ The Bear Marches West is a list of prospective wargame scenarios made out of the three most iconic 1980s conventional World War III novels: Red Storm Rising, Team Yankee, and Red Army.

The book itself is basic: You get a listing of forces, a listing of the situation, and that’s essentially it. This is so that it doesn’t get tied to any one rules system. For enabling reenactments of scenes in the classics, this book works well enough, although anyone who knows 198X WWIII wargaming (not exactly an underused or underexplored area) should likely be able to do something similar with just a bit of knowledge. Still, it’s an inexpensive novelty, and it would be interesting to see what ruleset generates results closest to what actually transpired in the original novels.

Weird Wargaming: Independent Scotland

The subject of what military an independent Scotland might have has gathered a lot of attention. One of the most serious and definitive reports on the matter comes from the respected Royal United Services Institute, a piece entitled “A’ the Blue Bonnets.

The RUSI piece in short depicts a small and light land force not too dissimilar from Ireland’s, unsurprising in light of their similar geography. However it does assume a more capable air/naval element. The report shows a comparably strong navy and an air force with hand-me-down BAE Hawks as its fixed-wing fighters.

Assuming no political issues, something like the KAI Golden Eagle might also work as a basic air defense fighter, an heir to the F-5 of the past. That’s the only real quibble I have with the report, which is otherwise well worth a read.

As for the possible opponents of this Scottish military, far and away the most realistic is, like Ireland, whoever they’d face on foreign peacekeeping operations. For more out-there ones, you have Russia (especially at sea), and if you want to be really out there, you could do a “Kobayashi Maru” situation where the Scots have to inflict as much damage on the invading English/British invaders as possible.

And of course, this assumes a commitment to plausibility-if you strip-mined Scotland’s entire military age population and had an outsider equip and train it, then you could end up with something completely gigantic. But the “Ireland on land and another North Sea state on sea and air” option is the most logical.

Weird Wargaming: The UN Standing Army

An underappreciated and underutilized force for wargaming (particularly as it can be made with existing surplus equipment), the UN standing army as discussed in books like A UN Legion. Unlike some other entries in Weird Wargaming, the nature of this force makes describing it in any exact detail much harder.

On one end, there’s light peacekeepers with nothing but small arms or vaguer proposals. On the other, there’s the incredibly detailed “Vital Force” proposal. The bigger “world army” proposals also tended to be the most vague in terms of equipment. Yet it’s easy to find analogous historical units. Either the entire force or a large chunk of it could easily be structured like existing high-deployability forces. Airborne and amphibious units provide an excellent, well-documented guide.

For “world armies” with more conventional units, there’s plenty of national and/or theoretical inspiration to be drawn, possibly with some inferences (for instance, a priority may be on allowing smaller units to operate as independently as possible). The heavy divisions in the rapid-response units may get prioritization for upgraded equipment. As for that equipment, it can be anything from purpose-built (especially if it’s intended to be airdroppable/amphibious) to surplus.

The proficiency levels of a “small force” should be high, as creating a handpicked, well-trained force over clunkier ad-hoc formations is the entire point of their existence. Bigger “world armies” are going to be inevitably diluted, but should still err on the side of greater skill.

On Larry Bond

One of my personal in-jokes is how few Larry Bond books I’ve actually read and reviewed on Fuldapocalypse, which is either two or three as of this post. The books are Cauldron, Red Phoenix, and Red Storm Rising if you count it. This combined with the increasing diversification of the blog makes me sometimes go “Boy I’ve reviewed more [insert genre or author that’s nothing like him] books than I have Larry Bond’s”.

Bond, along with Hackett himself, is the most “Icelandic” of the authors I’ve read on Fuldapocalypse. The most tied to wargaming. The most determined to have a “broad-front”, top-to-bottom perspective with a bunch of viewpoint characters.

And well, I have to say he’s not the most impressive, at least judging from the sample size I’ve seen. Not the worst by any means, but you’ll notice how “meh” I sound in my review of Red Phoenix. I’ll be fair and say that I think a big part of it isn’t his fault. In short, I know too much about the subject matter to be impressed the way a “normal” reader might be.

And yet, from the broader perspective I’ve experienced, my respect for him has actually grown. For Bond’s work remains distinct. There are lots and lots and lots of more “normal” cheap thrillers, and it’s, to be frank, not the hardest genre to succeed in. There are much fewer “big-war thrillers”, and it is a harder genre to do right.

Larry Bond can’t be faulted for trying. And there’s certainly room in the literary sphere for books in his style alongside the spacesuit commandos and terrorist-shooters.

Weird Wargaming: Beat Em Ups

Ah, the “beat ’em up”, a type of video game that achieved its first popularity with Double Dragon, and may be known best from Final Fight and Streets of Rage. Should one wish to simulate it using tabletop rules, the following should be adhered to:

  • Given the genre, the system must have robust melee rules. This is an obvious requirement that needs no further explanation.
  • The enemies will resemble, by and large, stereotypical 1980s “punks”. Bosses will be bigger and stronger versions of them and/or exotic in some way.
  • If they have weapons, it will be stuff like pipes, bricks, and knives. Because…
  • The amount of guns used, especially any bigger than a pistol, can be counted on one hand. Double Dragon set the precedent that only the final boss is allowed to have a gun. While the degree to which this adhered to varies, it’s still generally enforced.
  • The final stage will be this opulent area that contrasts massively with the tone and theme of the rest of the game. Double Dragon had an ancient temple complete with mechanical traps. Final Fight and the first two Streets of Rage games have giant mansions. The latest Streets of Rage has an island supervillains lair complete with a castle.

 

Weird Wargaming: Payday

Payday: The Heist

The focus of this Weird Wargaming is the game series that started off as an obvious homage to classic heist movies and became a struggle against a world-controlling super-conspiracy that ended with confronting an evil dentist in a cave underneath the White House.

The Payday Gang themselves are more customizable, and their opponents shouldn’t be too much of a problem to come up with. Bulldozers have heavier armor, cloakers are stealth and possibly melee-based, tasers use electricity, and shields should be obvious. Not all of the specials are suitable for all kinds of rules, so use common sense.

The big issue is choosing between “hard” and “soft”. In “hard” mode, there’s at least a pretense of grounding, everything has to be stealthed if possible, and even loud heists are, by definition, short. In soft mode, closer to the game, the gang massively outclasses its opponents individually and can take on gigantic waves of people. All this depends on the rules and the theme, but Payday certainly offers a lot of chances.

 

Review: Howling Wilderness

Howling Wilderness

The sourcebook Howling Wilderness sets the basis for the remaining North American setting in Twilight 2000.

I feel that in an isolated spherical cow world, the North American modules of Twilight 2000 should have been a different setting, something like “Apocalypse 2000”. It would probably be a good idea to alter the rules so that the out-there adventures can be a lot more viable. But theme alone would be enough to make the switch.

There’s two literary problems with actually keeping it and the original European setting part of the same universe. The first is the creative regression. The European setting is a clever way to square the circle of “Ok, we want you to be in the army but we also want you to be able to run free. We’ll make this post-apocalyptic, but not too post-apocalyptic, since we still want there to be tons of those tanks around.” There are still flaws, and not just the impossibility to balance dark struggles for survival, rivet-counting crunchy gaming, and traditional RPG adventure that all appear in the rules.

Enter this, where the setting is more of a traditional post-apocalyptic one. North America has been crushed by a mega-drought and everyone has withered down. This leads to the second problem, which is how this led to gimmicks. It feels like the setting should be doubling down on the “grim survival” element, but then an individual sourcebook has a submarine plot right out of Jerry Ahern’s Survivalist, making things more muddled than ever.

I don’t blame GDW for releasing new content out of business necessity. I also think that, given the flexibility GMs have for actually running games, the negative effects of any official supplement are inherently limited. But I still feel that, like how the Survivalist jumped the shark post-timeskip, Twilight 2000 also jumped post Atlantic crossing.

The Second Soviet-Finnish War

Based on various general doctrine goals and precedents in similar regional conflicts, I’ve put together a hypothetical Second Soviet-Finnish War. No direct external intervention on behalf of the Finns, no other conflict it’s in the middle of to distract them.

I haven’t done any formal wargaming, but still came up with this outcome:

  1. The Soviets overrunning all of Finland in around a week, maybe a little more. I’m using their best-case on-paper rates of advance against China, which, though not a perfect analogy, was also underequipped, had lighter infantry and a doctrine focused around them, and had rough terrain in the border regions.
  2. Low/mid single-digit thousands killed (assuming a gigantic invasion force, the Finns standing and fighting, and the Soviets willing to press the attack, all of which are reasonable).
  3. Tank losses in the mid-high hundreds, with a similar amount of other AFVs. How many aren’t repairable is an open question.
  4. I want to say around mid-double digits for aircraft. That’s the biggest question mark.

The Finnish armed forces are, of course, wiped out, at least conventionally.

I’m sure this can and will be disputed. For instance, using a 30 km/day advance rate (rough terrain, NATO opponent) means it’ll take almost three weeks to reach the western coast from the eastern border. Of course, the Soviets can withstand three weeks of vicious attrition a lot better than the Finns can. They also likely wouldn’t need to overrun the entire country to accomplish their political goals, but this is a spherical cow scenario.

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…