Friday, 1 December 2017

1985: Under an Iron Sky - Designer's Notes, Part 1

As the date of publication is getting near, I want to share a draft of the Designer's Notes. This first part focuses on the global international situation and on each side's efforts to gain the military edge over the other.

Of course, you'll find the final, complete and polished version in the Scenarios and Designer's Notes Booklet. An overview of the game can be found here.


A Changing World

In 1985 world was beginning to change. Nobody really noticed it until four years later, when Berlin Wall suddenly became nothing more than a sad, ugly remain of a failed regime. After that first step had been taken, the whole Communist bloc practically disappeared in a matter of months.

The chain of events leading to this dramatic dissolution has been debated by people more qualified than me, but I wish to highlight some points that influenced the game development and our evaluation of the balance of power in 1985.

Afghanistan

In 1979, Soviet Union embarked itself in the ill-conceived invasion of Afghanistan, a nominally allied and communist country.

After six years of war, 30,000 killed or wounded and 200,000 hospitalized for serious diseases, perception of the Red Army as a force capable of crushing dissent under any condition had been mortally eroded.

The cost of war also put an unbearable pressure over an already struggling economy and wore down Soviet capacity to maintain and support an army of three million men, fifty thousand tanks and seven thousand aircrafts.

This is represented in game by the relatively low combat values of Soviet category II and III divisions, by their mobilization time and by the less than optimal readiness of Warsaw Pact’s supply infrastructure.

Solidarnosc and the Growing Unrest

On December 17th, 1980 the first independent trade union not controlled by the Communist Party emerged in Poland, reaching 10 million members in 1981. Unfavorable domestic situation, Afghan war and Pope John Paul II’s open support to Solidarnosc forced Soviet Union to discard the possibility of a direct military intervention, despite secret requests for help by Polish First Secretary General Jaruzelski.

In the end, declaration of Martial Law partially restored Communist Party’s control over the country, but despite that, a fact had emerged: Soviet Union was no longer able to force obedience by military means. The end of the so-called Brezhnev’s Doctrine strengthened dissention in Eastern Europe and weakened the Communist governments of Warsaw Pact, no longer able to count on Soviet intervention should internal problems arise.

In the game, the concrete possibility of some Warsaw Pact’s countries not fully joining the “War of Liberation” and the related Unrest and Revolt rules are based on these events.

Ronald Reagan and the “Evil Empire”

In 1981, Ronald Reagan became President of the United States. Despite being considered by someone as little more than a bad actor with the political knowledge of a cowboy, Reagan had a vision and the inner strength to pursue it.

During his two Presidency terms, he abandoned the so-called Détente policy, labeled Soviet Union as an “Evil Empire” , increased US military spending and forced an already weakened Soviet Union to enter an economically unsustainable arms race.

Reagan’s approach to international policy and increase of military budget has several effects in the game: US reinforcements to European Central Front arrive rather quickly, and their number may easily prove decisive in the conflict. Moreover, US ground and air units are definitely stronger than 10 years before (more on this later).

The End of Gerontocracy and Gorbachev

In 1982, Leonid Brezhnev died, after an eighteen-years term as General Secretary of the Communist Party of Soviet Union. Both his successors, Yuri Andropov and Konstantin Chernenko, being of the same age as Brezhnev, died in the following three years.

Possibly out of plausible candidates, the Central Committee elected the reformer Mikhail Gorbachev as General Secretary on March, 11th 1985.

Gorbachev made immediately clear that something had to be changed in Soviet Union, and pushed forward ideas like Perestroika and Glasnost in the sincere attempt to reform the Communist state from within. Unfortunately for him, the sequence of events he put in motion ended with the dissolution of Soviet Union, six years later.

Gorbachev and his announced, and at that time radical, reforms provide the starting point for the game. The real military coup to destitute Gorbachev in August, 1991 has been anticipated to June, 1985 and the result changed from a failure to a successful return to power of Kremlin’s military wing. The events that could have followed this only slightly hypothetical situation are not hard to imagine.

NATO Armed Forces in 1985

Thanks to increased military spending, new technologies and a more aggressive approach to confrontation with the East Bloc, most NATO Armed Forces were quickly recovering from their lowest point of the ‘70s years.

United States

With the beginning of Reagan Presidency in 1981, military expenses increased by 40% and a whole array of new weapon systems started to be fielded. In 1985, US Armed Forces were in a much better shape than only 5 years before.

M1 Abrams MBT and M2 Bradley AFV were gradually replacing the old M60 and M113, giving an impressive boost in offensive and defensive capabilities to Armored and Mechanized Brigades. Stinger missiles offered a better air defense to field troops, and the first Patriot batteries were becoming operational in CENTAG area. M270 MRLS artillery was being introduced, even though not in sufficient number to have a real impact in game.

US Army was in the process of moving to the new “Army of Excellence” organization, a compromise between the old Vietnam structure and the already half-in-place, expensive “Army 86” one. With heavier Armored Divisions and lighter, more transportable Infantry Divisions, the Army of Excellence surely had a positive impact on US capabilities in Central Europe.

The creation of three new POMCUS site in NORTHAG area and the assignment of US III Corps to REFORGER brought to six the total number of US division earmarked for Europe. Several large scale REFORGER exercises allowed a better and more realistic logistical planning.

In the air, F-16 and EF-111 reinforced the already strong US Air Force, and the new AirLand Battle doctrine allowed an approach more tailored to an European conflict. Moreover, strategic airlift capacity was improved by acquiring several dozens of C-5B Galaxy air transport.

US Navy acquired 8 Fast Sealift Ships with Roll-On/Roll-Off capability, giving the capacity to transport an Armored or Mechanized Division to Europe in only 5 days.

United Kingdom

Despite Margaret Thatcher and a renewed Imperial proud resulting from the successful Falkland War, 1985’s British Army Of The Rhine was still struggling with personnel and equipment reductions.

The ill-conceived idea of “Field Forces” had been abandoned three years before, and Armored Divisions were back to the old three brigades structure; this resulted in stronger divisions, but budget constraints forced the relocation of some brigades in the UK.

With only eight armored brigades in Germany, BAOR was barely up to the task of defending the central area of NORTHAG; scarcity of attack helicopters and air defense assets didn’t help to improve the situation.

On the plus side, Falkland war showed once again that training and motivation of British soldiers were above average. Equipment was being updated too, with Challenger MBT and Javelin SAM slowly replacing Chieftain and Blowpipe.

Royal Air Force was in better shape, thanks to the introduction of Tornado GR1 and F-4M Phantom FGR.2 strike squadrons, and ready to challenge Warsaw Pact SAM defenses in the AirLand Battle.

West Germany

During the last two centuries German Army has always been among the most efficient war machines in the world, and 1985 was no exception. With good equipment, realistic training, strongly motivated soldiers and twelve Divisions, Bundeswehr was one the major problems for any Warsaw Pact invasion plan.

The Heer (Army) was reorganized in 1980 and adopted HeerStrutktur IV. Corps Artillery units were disbanded, and the resulting batteries reassigned as independent units to each Division; Brigades structure was also changed from 3 to 4 smaller battalions, in order to gain flexibility and mobility. On the equipment front, Leopard I was being replaced by Leopard II, with approximately half of the Panzer and PanzerGrenadier brigades already equipped.

Mobilization was also revised and strengthened, giving West Germany a notable force of 28 additional reserve Brigades / Regiments within D+8 (Four Game Turns).

Luftwaffe (Air Force) equipped four of its squadrons with Tornado IDS (Interdictor / Strike) aircrafts, a quantum leap from the F-104 and Alphajet previously used in this role.

France

In 1977 French Army moved from old-style 3 brigades Divisions to “light” Divisions, each having more or less the size of a heavily reinforced Brigade.

Despite the obvious loss in firepower at single unit level, the increased number of available Divisions allowed the constitution of the III Corps, based at Lille (FR) and unofficially earmarked as reinforcement for NORTHAG. This also has a positive in-game effect for NATO: plenty of French ground forces, with each Division able to defend a section of the front better than a Brigade.

Equipment didn’t have really significant upgrades, with the notable exception of the all-weather SAM Roland II.

Warsaw Pact Armed Forces in 1985

Generally speaking, technology gap with the West was increasing and overall Armed Forces quality was decreasing. Despite introducing several new weapon systems in the decade before 1985, Soviet Union failed to field a real game changer comparable to the Mig21, T-64 or BMP-1.

The Armies

T-80 MBT should have replaced T-64 as the backbone of Soviet Tank Divisions, but excessive cost not justified by better performance limited its production. In the end, Soviet Union reverted to the cheaper T-72 or the upgraded T-64B.

On the positive side, Mi24 attack helicopter became an integral part of Warsaw Pact Army structure, giving a powerful boost to offensive capabilities.

The Soviet arsenal was beginning to feel the effects of economic stagnation, as several Category II and III Division didn’t have any significant equipment upgrade since the ‘70s. The mobilization system was also under strain: the initial invasion of Afghanistan was conducted primarily by reservists divisions, but their poor performance forced Soviet Union to send conscripts troops, consequently stripping Cat II and III divisions of their best recruits.

If Soviet Union had difficulties in keeping NATO pace, its Eastern allies were having even bigger problems. With the (partial) exception of East Germany, Warsaw Pact countries’ economy was unable to sustain further modernization of the armed forces. Several Motorized regiments were using Gaz-66 trucks for troops transport, and most Tank Regiments were still equipped with T-54 and T-55. Polish air force still fielded Su7, Mig17 and old Mig21 versions.

As usual, deficiencies in quality were at least partially filled by quantity, with a significant increase in the total number of artillery and ADA weapons available.

One last consideration derives from several studies on US POMCUS sites. Giving the immense parked arsenal for category II and III divisions and the problems US Army encountered in maintaining a much smaller quantity of equipment in controlled-humidity sites in West Germany, it is improbable that Soviet Union did better in keeping efficient tens of thousands of parked vehicles in areas with inclement weather like Byelorussia. Soviet Category II and III division have been penalized accordingly in game.

The Airborne Forces

Airborne Divisions have been another surprise emerged from previously classified documents.
Of the four divisions usually considered available for an offensive against NATO, two did not exist (31st Guards and 102nd Guards), and one (103rd Guards) had been committed to Afghanistan.

This leaves Group of Soviet Forces in Germany with 106th Guards Airborne Division, plus 35th Guards and 37th Air Assault Brigades. This force could be increased with 76th Guards Division and 36th Air Assault Brigade by forfeiting any offensive operation against Norway.

The Air Forces

Modernization of Air Forces encountered several problems too.

Introduction of Su24 was probably the best result obtained, giving Soviet Union a good strike aircraft that could also be used as interceptor.

Mig23 proved itself a valid replacement to Mig21 and became the new backbone of several Warsaw Pact air forces, but failed to reduce the technological gap with newest NATO aircrafts like F-15, F-16 and Mirage.

Mig29, another breakthrough in Soviet aircraft design, was being fielded but in limited numbers. Mig25, after an initial hype and waves of panic in the West, had been relegated to reconnaissance role.

Another unresolved problem was the shorter operational range of Soviet aircraft compared to NATO ones. This is reflected in game by different penalties on the Interception attempts.

Monday, 6 November 2017

1985: Under an Iron Sky - "Forward, Comrades!" Campaign Playtest (T3)

Another quick update on the playtest of "Forward, Comrades!" campaign game.
The combat rules are doing a very good job at simulating the Soviet attack doctrine, with powerful armored columns attacking NATO weak points and penetrating the main defense line. 

Warsaw Pact main thrust is against NORTHAG, with a Front composed by 2nd Guards Tank Army, 3rd Shock Army, 11th Guards Army and East Germany V Military District.

Denmark surrendered after a combined landing by Soviet Paratroops and Polish Marines near Copenhagen, greatly facilitating WP advance North of Hamburg.

20th Guards Army has liberated (ahem) West Berlin and will soon move toward Hamburg to dispatch 3 West German Brigades now fortifying in the city center.

NORTHAG Situation, D+3 (Turn 3)
In the Central Front, 8th Guards Army and a stripped 1st Guards Tank Army have the task to keep US V Corps and WG III Corps busy. The plan has not been particularly successful, giving US V Corps the possibility to constitute a powerful reserve that could be used in near future for a counterattack, supported by French I and II Corps now assembling behind US VII Corps.

In the South Front, Central and South Group of Forces are pressing toward Munich, helped by Czech 1st Army and the just arrived Hungarian Army. West German II Corps is trying to districate itself from encirclement, a problem caused mainly by the "Forward Defense" policy imposed by the political leadership.

South Front Situation, D+3 (Turn 3)

Warsaw Pact losses are quite high, particularly in Mi-24 attack helicopters and Sukhoi bombers. With this attrition rate, the current level of advance may continue for 6 more days (3 Turns), before running out of gas. Therefore, a strategic breakthrough must be achieved quickly.

NATO is executing Tornado and F-111 deep strike missions against  WP airfields, rail bridges and SAM sites, with good results. Air losses seem sustainable until now, as Warsaw Pact amassed most of its air defenses on the front line to protect the advancing divisions from NATO attack helicopters. The imminent arrival of 10+ US air squadrons from CONUS should allow NATO to raise the air war stake even more during the next days.

An overview of the battlefield at D+3


Friday, 27 October 2017

1985: Under an Iron Sky - "Forward, Comrades!" Campaign Playtest

A quick update on the second run of playtest for "Forward, Comrades!" campaign game. 

The first run stopped at turn 3 and brought the introduction of "Interception Areas": mega-hexes of 61 regular hexes each used to determine the probability of intercepting an enemy Air Mission and to evade enemy interceptors.

In this second run, Warsaw Pact started hostilities at game turn 2; the main thrust is in the NORTHAG area, with 3 Armies attacking between Braunschweig and Hamburg.

NATO decided to follow the official "Forward Defense" policy and to avoid any tactical retreat whenever possible. 

Warsaw Pact's Attack Axis during Game Turn 2 (first turn of war)

NORTHAG area situation at the end of Game Turn 2

View from Group of Soviet Forces in Germany, end of Game Turn 2




Saturday, 21 October 2017

1985: Under an Iron Sky - Some countersheets

Someone asked me a preview of the countersheets.....here you will find:

  • Countersheet 2 (some US, Belgium, Canada, France, Denmark and Netherlands counters)
  • Countersheet 6 (some USSR and Poland counters)
For better viewing, click on the image and then save it on you local disk.
Enjoy!

Countersheet 2 


Countersheet 6

Monday, 9 October 2017

1985: Under an Iron Sky - Box Art

Here's the probable final version of the box art.....It also includes the logo of our newborn publishing company, "Thin Red Line Games".


Wednesday, 4 October 2017

1985: "Forward, Comrades!" Campaign Game Playtest

We are now beginning the playtest for the main "1985: Under an Iron Sky" campaign, titled "Forward, Comrades!". 

The campaign depicts the "classical" Warsaw Pact offensive in Central Europe, with a variable preparation period decided by Warsaw Pact.

As Warsaw Pact Commander I've decided to follow the good ol' John Hackett's plan: a strong attack against NORTHAG, along a Braunschweig - Hannover - Osnabrück  - Arnhem axis, followed by a conversion South in order to envelope the Ruhr area. Nothing less ambitious would be accepted by the State Committee of the State of Emergency in Moscow (My God, how did they choose such a definition?).

I'll keep preparation and build-up at a minimum (48 hours, 1 turn) and declare war on Turn 2, in order to take NATO still off-balance. Starting from turn 3, reinforcements from US and other NATO countries start arriving in Europe too fast, and for that time I want the Soviet fleet already at war and keeping NATO busy with GIUK Gap and North Atlantic lanes defense; with a bit of luck, it will slow down REFORGER long enough.

Regarding Warsaw Pact allies Mobilization, I'll see how many of them are happy about the People's War of Liberation from the Capitalist Oppression before deciding. The last thing I need is a revolt in East Germany or Poland.

I have no clue on NATO Commander's plan at the moment, but I presume he will follow the "Forward Defense" political diktat in CENTAG area, and maybe a more fluid approach in NORTHAG.

Here's some snapshots of the complete setup:

Overview - three 95x65cm maps, more or less 2000 pieces.

NORTHAG area

CENTAG area

So, it begins.

Group of Soviet Forces in Germany, ready to liberate West German Workers from their slavery.


Monday, 2 October 2017

1985: "Checkpoint Charlie" Scenario Playtest

Campaign Game playtest for "1985: Under an Iron Sky" has been slowed down by unexpected map problems, now finally fixed.

In the meantime, we've decided to playtest the quick and dirty "Checkpoint Charlie" scenario using the first printed draft of the map and the usual home-printed counters.


Scenario Introduction

Time: July 24, 1985, 0400 Zulu Time
Playing Area: Berlin and surrouding area
Length: 1 1/2 Game Turns (72 hours)

The symbolic significance of West Berlin and its strategic position along the supply routes used by the main thrust against NORTHAG does not allow Warsaw Pact planners to ignore the city, despite the considerable effort presumably needed for conquering it.

20th Guards Army is therefore ordered to dispatch the West Berlin Garrison within 72 hours, secure the area and subsequently move toward Hamburg to help the advance into the city.

NATO Garrison in Berlin has a very limited array of tactical choices. Without air support and no hope for reinforcements, the only real option is to hold fast and hope for the best.

The Battlefield

Pre-War Movements

Warsaw Pact can move all his units quite liberally, and of course 20th Guards Army surrounds West Berlin with its four Divisions and an attached East German Motorized Division. Three heavy artillery Brigades, three Mi-24 attack helicopters squadrons and four fighter-bombers squadrons are ready to support the assault.

NATO can only decide if his three Brigades will fight a mobile battle (Tactical Mode) or entrench and fight in place (Hedgehog Mode). NATO decides to entrench the UK Brigade, leaving French and US troops the option to retreat toward the central British position after fighting a delay battle.

Situation at July 24 1985, 0200 Zulu Time

Game Turn 1

At 0400 Zulu Time, 20th Guards Army begins its assault on West Berlin.
Soviet 35th Motorized Division, with Mi24 and Artillery support, attacks the French Sector; following NATO plan, the French Brigade retreats in good order into the British Sector.

A defending NATO Berlin Brigade can usually count on 8 to 11 combat modifiers in its favor: 5 for troop quality, 3 for defending in a city hex, 2 for hedgehog mode, 1 for "Festung Berlin" special rule (the lack of alternatives make more determined fighters). On the opposite side, Warsaw Pact only has 4 or 5 combat modifiers given by troop quality, unless attacking an already worn out defender.

With a net combat modifier from 3 to 7 in NATO favor, any attack has only a slim chance to succeed.
To solve this problem, Warsaw Pact must attack at overwhelming odds, as each force ratio more than 7:1 is translated into additional combat modifier for the attacker. So, attacking at 12:1 ratio would give an additional 5 combat modifiers to Warsaw Pact.

To obtain such a force ratio, Warsaw Pact player must use precious assets such as artillery, attack helicopters and Close Air Support. Another option is the Single Echelon Assault, an all-out attack where all the regiments of a Division are used on the front line, giving a 50% increase to attack strength but more losses should the attack fail.

After advancing into West Berlin, 35th Motorized Division faces the combined forces of two NATO brigades, with the Britons entrenched in a strong defensive position. The order to secure the city within 72 hours leaves no choice to the Soviet Army Commander: defender's positions must be assaulted immediately, with everything at hand.

35th Motorized Division launches a Single-Echelon Assault, with all its Regiments in the first line, supported by three artillery Brigades, one Mi24 Helicopter and three Su17 squadrons. Unfortunately for the Soviets, that's not enough: after 8 hours of house fighting, the Soviets have lost more than 80 T-72 and 120 BMP vehicles, effectively destroying the Division's offensive value.

7:1 attack, 0 combat modifier. Die roll 19, result A1: 1 step loss on attacker, +1 step loss for City combat ,+1 step loss for Single-Echelon Assault. Attacking Division is replaced by its Division Base.

It's now 90th Guards Tank Division turn to assault the British Sector, assisted once again by three Artillery Brigades and one Mi24 helicopter squadron. The attack succeeds, inflicting heavy losses to the defenders and allowing Soviet troops to advance a couple of blocks into city center.

Two 7:1 attacks with 0 combat modifiers inflict two step losses on each NATO brigade, leaving the defenders on the verge of elimination but still alive.

With no more artillery or helicopter available for support, Soviet Army Commander requests permission to stop the attack until artillery ammunition stocks are replenished and helicopters readied for another sortie. Explicit threats of removal and trial by 20th Guards Army Political Officer quickly convince him that a continuation of the assault is the only way to avoid personal execution.

90th Guards Tank Division is therefore ordered to attack with all its regiments and without any support. At 1900 Zulu Time, after the third attempt to dislodge British defenders from the Opera House failed, Soviet Division Commander reports that "90th Guards Tank Division is wrecked" and shoots himself.

Soviet commanders, impervious to failure and losses, order 32nd Guards Tank Division to renew the Assault against the Opera House. The exhausted French and British survivors are forced to surrender at 2317 Zulu Time.

Warsaw Pact is finally forced to stop by lack of fresh divisions, artillery and helicopter support.
US Berlin Brigade, now with no available retreat routes, entrenches in the Southern part of West Berlin.

Situation at July, 25 0400 Zulu Time

Game Turn 2

20th Guards Army only has 72 hours to take control of West Berlin. As a game turn covers 48 hours, Soviet movement during game turn 2 is limited to a maximum of 20 Movement Points. 

At the first lights of dawn, 32nd Guards Tank Division starts pounding US position in South West Berlin, with the support of three artillery brigades, 90 Mi24 attack helicopters and 60 Su17 attack aircrafts. 

By 1900 Zulu Time, all West Berlin is under Soviet control and the first 212 American POWs begin their journey toward newly prepared prisoner camps located near strategic installations in USSR. 

With no time for parades, the remnants of 20th Guards Tank Army quickly moves West to join the battle near Hamburg.
Situation at 1900 Zulu Time, July 2 1985

Aftermath

Warsaw Pact Victory Points:
  • NATO ground steps eliminated: 9 x5 = 45 VPs
  • West Berlin City hexes controlled: 4 x5 = 20 VPs
  • Intact Bridges captured: 0 x1 = 0 VPs
NATO Victory Points:
  • WP ground steps eliminated: 6 x2 = 12 VPs
  • WP helicopter steps eliminated: 4 x2 = 8 VPs
Net result is 65 WP  - 20 NATO = 45 Victory Points: Warsaw Pact Marginal Victory.