Review: How To Make War

How To Make War

Written by acclaimed and prolific wargame designer James Dunnigan, How To Make War is an impressive one-volume entry on both the basics of military operations and wargaming them. It’s not an easy feat to stuff so much into one book, but he manages it. Every facet of post-WW2 warfare is covered inside, along with simple but generally effective formulas for determining a unit’s “combat power” and stuff like average attrition in personnel and equipment.

Some of the “flaws” are clearly not his fault. For instance, it’s not his fault that (like most aficionados, to say nothing of actual veterans) I already knew most of what he was saying in his basic description of various unit types. It’s also not his fault that some of the book is dated (the latest edition was made in 2003). I’ll even excuse its frequent yet understandable bias, which is exactly what you’d expect from an old western Cold Warrior.

The biggest drawback that I’m not so willing to let slide is how its two central parts don’t really gel. It’s trying to both teach someone to walk (ie, the intro to all parts of the military) and run a marathon (do calculations for exact combat power). It just feels a little awkward to have “here’s the basic differences between infantry-heavy and tank-heavy formations” and “here’s how to calculate the combat power of a Syrian armored division” close to each other in the same book.

Still, this is a very good and very convenient resource for people wanting to learn more about missile-age warfare and/or wargaming. For fictional country simulations/story concepts, I’m already finding his formulas very useful for translating an order of battle into a general feel of its relative strength (which is the most important part). While some specialists may already know its material, you still can’t go wrong with getting this book.

Weird Wargaming: The “Pharaonic” Division

One of the gems in the Micromark Army List order of battle sets is the “WW2.5” hypothetical set. In an alternate victorious Germany, it’s kind of a way to do a battle with all sorts of never-were prototypes and units from Allies and Axis. However, the organizational structure remains largely the same as historically-with one strange exception.

This is the “Pharaonic” Division, adopted by Egypt as part of returning to its ancient roots (yes, this is an excuse plot). And it’s interesting. At division level, it’s very conventional (three brigades, one armored and two infantry), and at brigade level mostly so (two “hosts”/subunits of either tanks or infantry).

However, the regimental (or “host“, as it’s called) level is extremely different. Like the infamous pentomic formations, it has five companies and skips the battalion level. Line platoons consist of five ten-man squads. Artillery battalions consist of five batteries of five guns each.

Tanks do not follow the rule-of-five and instead use a more conventional 4-3 model (4 tanks in a platoon/troop and 3 of those in a company/squadron). However, tank squadrons have an organic pentomic mechanized infantry troop. Although they’re not in the OOB document, I can see hypothetical independent armored formations intended for attachment to infantry units being organized in the “5 subunits” way to make attachment and organization easier. It’s worth nothing that the self-propelled guns used primarily for infantry support/defense are arranged this way.

The original pharaonic division was only covered in mechanized form, but its principles mean it can easily be adopted to other types of units. For instance, I can easily make a triangular pharaonic division with either three or six infantry hosts (depending on if you want a brigade level or not) and the usual support elements.

Weird Wargaming: The Victorious Third Reich

One of the most interesting gaps in alternate history fiction is the seeming lack of a Larry Bond-style serious look at a conflict involving a victorious Nazi Germany. Now, nearly all of this is because most scenarios involving it are “soft” AH made by and for people with less knowledge or concern about rivet-counting plausibility. This isn’t a critique of their quality, it’s just pointing out what’s involved. A semi-hard look at what this would entail can be interesting, and I have some thoughts.

First, the formations are almost certainly going to be outgrowths of early-war organizations. It’s basically impossible for the Germans to win with too late a point of divergence, and there’ll be the “why fix what isn’t broken” mindset. This means things like no gimmick units like the Volksgrenadiers, and large divisions with lots of equipment at full paper strength. It does mean a weird parallel with historical postwar divisions, but then again-that’s how it goes.

Second, it will be dominated by the Wehrmacht. Historically, the SS gained comparative prominence because of the Wehrmacht/Heer supposedly being to blame for losing the war and the plots (ie July 20) that originated within the regular army. This would not be the case here. The most likely fate for the SS is to get purged in Long Knives Part 2 and possibly get supplanted by yet another edgelord alphabet soup organization.

But for the sake of weird wargaming, I’ve warmed to the idea of them using captured/foreign designs and factories to equip their army, potentially rearming them with German calibers-or not. This happened in Marching Through Georgia of all books, with clunkily upgunned KV tanks. While there it was to provide a punching bag for the Mary Sues, it’s still an interesting possibility. And it fits with the theme. Historically, the reason for all the infamous “Foreign Legions” was to get access to a manpower source the main army couldn’t touch, and ramshackle improvisations are closer to what the bulk of the SS truly was than the stereotype of hundreds of shiny cat-tanks. (This stereotype is reinforced by the fact that the western allies largely fought only the legitimately capable and well-equipped SS units, not the Dirlewanger-style garbage ones better at massacres than fighting opponents who shot back)

Third, factionalism was built into the system. The Heer, the SS, the Luftwaffe paratrooper and “field divisions”, the Volkssturm being in large part Martin Bormann’s attempt to get an “army” for himself, and no doubt more examples all speaks to this. One effect of this will be a lot of duplicative units, as everyone wants their share of the pie.

Another is that a nation with all the factionalism but without the existential threat might very well see its qualitative edge wane dramatically. It could be reminiscent of the South Vietnamese military. A politically charged, scheming, cutthroat army whose units are wildly, willdy uneven, ranging from ultra-competent to utterly ineffectual. Everything from case studies of such armies to anecdotal evidence from both Vietnam and contemporary Afghanistan points to this being the defining feature of over-politicized armies more than complete ineptitude, along with a good or bad high-level commander having more of an effect on low-level performance than they likely would in a less politicized one.

The result would be something distinct from both real postwar and real wartime armies. Its opponents would range from the Western Allies shielded by water, the remnants of the USSR shielded by the Urals, the occupants of territory it’d further expand into-or Japan after a likely falling out and power struggle over spheres of influence.

Weird Wargaming: The Ambitious Special Operations of WWIII

This Weird Wargaming has the original intent of Fuldapocalypse meeting what the blog has gained a focus on-largely conventional World War IIIs mixed with elite small unit actions. I got the inspiration for this from a question of “what would the Army Rangers be doing in a conventional WW3?” Whatever the skill, level, troops like them are just far too light for the Centfront and would get bulldozed and/or bypassed. My initial thought was that they’d just get sent over to Norway with all of the other light infantry.

This was a very timid use of them (and other special forces), and the responses got my eyes lighting up. One was “Delta hunting the rail-mobile command center of GSFG, with the Rangers adding extra muscle.” To me it would be a ultra high-risk operation with an iffy reward, but hey, what else would you use them for?

Something like that would be a blast to sim, even if it’d have to use a different ruleset than the usual large-unit Fuldapocalyptic reenactments. While I have the same apprehension that it would turn into another Kidnapped with a scenario the mechanics aren’t meant to handle if you used a “hard” system, good design on either end would make it excellent. And if you used a “soft” system, well, stuff like this is what action heroes are made for.

New Command Scenario For Testing

It’s been a while, but I have a new Command: Modern Operations scenario up for testing, 2KW Sub Strike.

I’ve wanted to do a scenario set in a mid-70s Second Korean War where the north smells an opportunity in the immediate aftermath of Vietnam. After much thought, I settled on “do a submarine scenario”, which also plays to one of my favorite strengths of having the player be objectively outmatched and having to manage the best they can.

With a few diesel subs, you have to take on an aircraft carrier shielded by, among others, a hypothetical guided missile battleship and a brand-new Spruance destroyer. Are you up for it?

Review: Dance of the Vampires

Dance of the Vampires

The ebook Dance of the Vampires is a behind-the-scenes look at the wargaming Larry Bond used for what would become Red Storm Rising. It’s fascinating to see how this battle was conducted. For someone who’s worked on Command, seeing this comparably ancient system is like looking at one of Naismith’s original basketball games.

Most of the book is composed of after action reports and figures detailing the games. Besides the ones that play out similarly to the actual book, there’s a short summary of the “Keflavik Turkey Shoot”, a scenario where the Soviets attempted to force the GIUK Gap with heavy bombers and got crushed (despite legitimately clever play on their side). This was what required them to take Iceland in Red Storm Rising proper. The smaller-than-I-thought presence of that country in World War III fiction started here.

This is in many ways a book about struggles, because they were on unfamiliar ground, and not just about rivet-counting specifics. When something like this hadn’t been done in this way before, there’s bound to be issues. And there were. But the results were still impressive, and so is this chronicle of the wargames. For those interested in this kind of history, I can recommend this book.

Weird Wargaming: OPFOR as “Actors”

In some of my Command scenarios, I’ve depicted exercises. Many similar scenarios use the “characters”, the foreign platforms they’re simulating. Therefore there would be a lot of Soviet origin fighters. And there’s no problem with that. But I’ve decided to do things a little differently in my own.

I’ve decided to frequently use the “actors”, the western units painted up as “aggressors” to play the enemy during the operations. Part of this is just for the sake of distinct novelty, and part of it is to provide a non-contrived way for advanced western platforms to fight each other.

A general substitution rule I’ve used is this.

MiG-29F-20, F-16

There are of course even more variants, but those are the general ones.

The next part is setting the side proficiency of the OPFOR to “Ace”, the highest one. It’s there to simulate both highly trained crews (hi Jester and Viper) and give the player more of a challenge.

That’s my small personal guideline for exercise scenarios.

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.