AI Art and Wargaming

So I’ve fallen to the dark side and have begun making prompt-generated pieces of AI art. This is a very controversial subject with a lot of undeniably talented artists who I respect being furious about it, and understandably so. If I had to sum up my opinion on the controversy (beyond specific technical issues like how to treat stuff like training images for the sake of copyright and licensing), it’d be condensed to this:

  • AI art is here and isn’t going away. It also has undeniable advantages as well as issues. The economic concerns of traditional artists are real.
  • Many AI artists have done their medium no favors by just spamming out low-effort prompts and/or deliberately copying obscure internet artist styles, either by model-making or just plain image-to-image.
  • The backlash, while understandable, is a Canute-ian endeavor (sorry, had to be a little pretentious). The same thing was said about Photoshop and similar tools. And online self-publishing. And recorded music. And photography. And pipe organs (seriously-the 17th century equivalent of “tech-bros” was applied to the stereotype of organ players back then). Like when free agency became a thing in sports, you have to learn to understand it and see if you can use it to your advantage.
  • There’s more to good AI art than just typing in “anime girl trending on artstation”, even if a lot of people only see that (see point 2 above)

But as a hobby, since I can write much better than I can draw, AI prompt tools have let me explore visual media in a delightful way. Yet what struck me when I really started getting into was how natural it seemed to me. And then it occurred to me: I’d done something similar before. Many, many times before. In wargames and simulators like Command, Nuclear War Simulator, Title Bout Boxing, and WMMA, I’d enjoyed simply creating a situation, allowing the RNG to add the needed element of chance to it, and then witnessing the result. And yes, frequently getting inspired by the result.

AI prompt tools allow me to do something similar with art and pictures. Yes, it can be an end. But a casualty list after a wargame scenario or results screen after a sports simulation can also be the beginning of a very human story.

As for AI writing, which is a thing, I’m strangely unfazed by it. I’m an artisanal sculptor, so seeing the metal casting factory rev up means little to my specific work. If that makes sense. Also, I’ve had the warped perspective of reading so many bad and mediocre books that I’m sincerely convinced that a computer can’t really do much worse.

Weird Wargaming: The Emperor of Bombs

In Nuclear War Simulator, one of my favorite creations to use and drop is something I’ve called the “Huangdi Bomb”. The name, after Chinese for “Emperor”, is a pun on Tsar Bomba. Only this has a bigger boom at 75 megatons. It’s also, in the backstory, a lot more advanced and sophisticated. Unlike the publicity stunt that was the Tsar, the Huangdi is a mass-produced, deployable weapon capable of fitting inside either an H-6 or large ICBM without issue.

It’s also, judging by the maximum payload of the Badger and its yield (the classic yield-weight calculation), the most efficient nuclear weapon ever made. As it has a multi-decade lead on the other megabombs, this isn’t surprising. As for how and why such a beast is used, the theories for the gargantuan warhead are hitting extremely large targets, making accuracy issues irrelevant for simple countervalue operations, improving warhead efficiency in a big design before trying to apply it to smaller ones, and contributing to deterrence by intimidating would-be-opponents with its yield.

In various NWS scenarios, I have about twenty Huangdis made overall, in both air-dropped and missile carried versions.

Simulating the Arc Light Approach

First, a primer on nuclear war terms. Counterforce means military targets, countervalue means civilian ones. That being said, on with the post.

Eric Harry’s novel Arc Light, one of the first reviewed on Fuldapocalypse, has a way to get a large but survivable nuclear exchange. This is to have both sides aiming for an incredibly counterforce-centered approach. Doing such approaches in Nuclear War Simulator (and there are official scenarios that show such focuses being done) generally means something similar to the novel: Around a few million dead on both sides (especially depending on which way the fallout blows), but most “important” stuff still intact, as the damage is concentrated in remote bases.

Besides the obvious “but what if it goes beyond missile silos in the middle of nowhere” objection, there’s also context that the US and Russia/USSR are very big, which makes it more possible to have “remote” areas at all. Have a big fallout wave anywhere near the dense massively populated belt of eastern China and the toll rises dramatically. Do it basically anywhere across India’s generally “spread out” (for lack of a better word) populace or in a smaller country and the result is similar.

I have to repeat that the Arc Light approach is something I find a lot more acceptable (not plausible, I use acceptable as a better term) than the Hackett’s WW3 approach. The strategic exchange is aimed purely at military targets? All right, I can believe that. Tac nukes are used but nothing more? I can also accept that. But just a small number of countervalue targets (ie the infamous Birmingham and Minsk?) That’s harder for me to accept.

Nuclear War Simulator is Out

Nuclear War Simulator, a detailed simulation of nuclear war (obviously 😀 ) on any scale from “one missile” to “one destroyed world”, of any type from “meticulously placed real units and real locations” to “hypothetical custom clashes between two countries that never historically developed nukes at all” is now out.

It can be gotten here.

Weird Wargaming: Conventional Bush War

The Rhodesian Bush War passed without a decisive 1975-style conventional campaign. Of the two main guerilla organizations, it was the Ndebele, Soviet-favored ZIPRA that placed more of an emphasis on conventional operations, compared to the majority Shona, China-favored ZANLA’s “people’s war”. A combination of largely successful preemptive strikes by the Rhodesian military and a (smart) focus on inherent strengths than weaknesses by the opposition meant that the large battle never came.

The common wisdom about such an operation “Zero Hour” (as one code name for it was) is that it would be stopped with ease (although it does not help that most surviving prominent sources are either from the ZANLA-veteran regime or former Rhodesians, neither of which has an incentive to talk up their opponent). But even if the first such offensive was stopped with ease, the rebels definitely had the people and enough hand-me-down aid to try multiple times.

Such an offensive would feature the fairly light Rhodesian military against an opposition that would have at least T-34/85s, BTR-152s, appropriate artillery, and even rumors of fighter aircraft. (If said fighter aircraft could disrupt the deployment of the infamous Fire Forces, it would not be good for the Rhodesians). It can obviously be played with any kind of wargaming ruleset that can handle early/mid Cold War equipment and formations.

Weird Wargaming: Missile Iowas

The Command database now has many more hypothetical proposed missile upgrades of the Iowa-class battleships, including adding a ramp for fixed-wing aircraft in one entry (!). These ships bring a very strange feeling to me. Because they inspire equal parts awe, horror, and disgust.

See, the problem is that missile launchers intended for long-distance operations render the 16 inch guns nothing but a heavy explosive risk. This has been known in real life too. There was a serious consideration during the reactivation of the Iowas (primarily to have tons of box launchers for Tomahawks) of just leaving the guns closed up and inoperable. They’d be unlikely to fire in a fleet action, and if they did fire, it couldn’t be good for any sensitive machinery in the rest of the ship.

So my head regards the Missile Iowas with derision. But my heart adores them. Simply because of how crazy and audacious they are. Do I really need to explain this?

Anyway, for the boring details, they’d likely be used in a way similar to how the real 1980s reactivated Iowas were. As the centerpiece of surface action groups. If you wanted to be cold-hearted, you could treat them as expendable sunk costs. But you can also revel in the absurdity.


The analysts who swung and missed regarding the (initial phase of the) Ukraine War and the Russian performance in it still made reasonable assumptions.

  • It was reasonable to assume that Russia’s modernization was deep and genuine.
  • It was reasonable to assume that, having spent a year moving the forces, that Russia would also spend a year planning.
  • It was reasonable to assume that modern weapons on the Ukrainian side (like the few Georgia had in 2008) and/or any degree of qualitative superiority would just increase Russian casualties slightly without changing the outcome.
  • Finally, it was reasonable to assume that Russia would follow its paper doctrine, like it did in Chechnya, Georgia, and in 2014.

Of course, it was also reasonable to assume that even a smashed-by-the-fire-strike Ukraine would still fight ferociously, and that a conventional “victory” would just mean occupying a large country that loathed them. Yet few expected something that would have a Voroshilov instructor saying this:

Yet the most baffling part is how the Russians struggled with the very areas where they had a reputation for being good: Operational planning, concentration of force, and air defense. It would be like the U.S. going to war, and not just struggling, but struggling with logistics and air power. Goes to show that even the best model or most well-thought out analysis is only as good as its inputs.

And one of those inputs, and one of the hardest to actually measure, is personnel quality. It came to me as an armchair theory that “professionalizing” the military without creating more incentives for the middle class to join meant that its recruit base, centered around the rural poor, would actually be of lower quality. Then I saw a piece from the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project that seemed to reinforce this, containing the explicit quote “‘Contract soldiers are getting worse and worse‘” amidst describing training woes. This would seemingly lead to the worst of both worlds-personnel who are more expensive but not more capable than the previous mass-mobilization system.

Life Imitates Art

The Kirov novel Eagle Rising, previously reviewed on Fuldapocalypse, has a wargamed out (mostly via the excellent The Operational Art of War) Russian all-out invasion of Ukraine in 2021 with largely realistic OOBs-that ends after a few weeks with the Russians grabbing a chunk of the country but falling short of their objectives and descending into a grinding stalemate. There are of course differences, often erring on the side of spectacle like a brigade-sized air assault into Dnipro at the beginning and, most bizarrely, a counteroffensive crossing the border to hit Belgorod.

It’s described in the book itself after the initial big battles as “All Tyrenkov [the time-traveling Russian leader] has done is buy himself a long war there, and for a lot of blood and steel.”

Like Hector Bywater’s The Great Pacific War, this was strangely prescient in many ways. Even in small details like Ukrainian light infantry succeeding with hit and run strikes. Of course, the background is vastly different, involving a time traveler from the past (Tyrenkov) going forward , seizing control of contemporary Russia, and mistaking a potential future victory for a certain one. But the nuts and bolts are a tribute to both the TOAW simulation and the power of well-designed wargames in general.

Weird Wargaming: The Soviet-Romanian War

If you want to use small-unit wargames in my never-was draft percolating of a futuristic USSR deciding to finish off a surviving Ceausescu, some basic guidelines. Obviously, it’ll depend on the exact ruleset, but here’s the basics:

Union of Soviet Sovereign Republics

The USSR, under a Sovereign Union that in real life got scuttled by the August Coup, follows the 1990s GENFORCE “Mobile Forces” concept. Which is to say a multi-tier force. The “Basic Forces” divisions resemble slightly better late Cold War ones. The Mobile Forces ones have more futuristic equipment, better body armor/night vision, and substantially better training.

Mobile Forces battalions are organically combined arms mixed. APCs/IFVs are three to a platoon with each squad having a magazine LMG and rocket launcher. Company weapons platoons have lighter ATGMs and belt/tripod GPMGs. All Mobile Forces mechanized battalions have a large number of organic 2S31s (or Nonas for less-equipped formations).

Given the terrain, mountain formations have been plucked and sent in. GENFORCE mountain brigades are a four-infantry-one-tank battalion setup with supporting equipment suited for high altitudes (ie, lighter and higher-angle artillery). They also have a separate APC battalion that can be used to motorize if the terrain is appropriate. The one historical Soviet mountain brigade was inherited by Kyrgyzstan and consisted of two BMP and two soft-skin battalions with some attached cavalry and pack animal units.

Soviet Allies

The main contributors to the Soviet effort are Bulgaria and the stabilized Afghanistan. The former mobilizes to its full ability, which means it runs the gauntlet from “1980s NSWP” to “T-34s and World War I heavy artillery” (hey, if it can shoot and make a big explosion, it’s still worth something). The latter contribute a fairly standard BTR-equipped motor rifle division and numerous commando units.


Romania has a regular army with a degree of military modernization that it lacked. While select units have SRBMs based on foreign civilian sounding rockets, bespoke grenade launchers, and more (comparably) advanced tanks like the bizarrely shaped TAA, others are bottom of the barrel. All units should be mostly low quality, but some (particularly Securitat irregulars) will have better morale than others if applicable.

Organizationally, most should resemble lower-tier eastern forces.