Sunday, 30 July 2017

"1985: Under an Iron Sky" Overview

1985: Under an Iron Sky is the spiritual successor of The Next War by SPI: an operational, highly detailed simulation of a NATO - Warsaw Pact conflict in Central Europe.

1985 is not exactly a beer and pretzel game. 2000 pieces, 3 22"x 35" maps, 65 pages rules booklet including air war, helicopters, electronic warfare, special forces, revolts, nuclear and chemical name it.

Here's a list of the main features:
  • Revised Order of Battle
    The OOB revision alone took 3 months, and differs from the usual "generic" OOB found in most of "Cold-War-Gone-Hot" games. 1985 OOB is set precisely in July, 1985 and is as detailed as possible, thanks to the vast array of disclosed documents now available.
  • Revised Tables of Organization
    Several Central European Armies made radical changes to their organization during the 1975-1985 period. West Germany introduced Heeresstruktur IV,  France moved from the traditional brigade divisions to the "light" divisions without component brigades, UK abandoned the much criticized "Field Forces" concept to return to the traditional divisional structure, and US was trying to find a compromise between the expensive "Army 86" project and the cheaper, more flexible "Army Of Excellence" concept.
  • Revised Equipment
    During the early eighties, both sides fielded a plethora of new weapon systems, represented or integrated into the rules of 1985: Stinger, Roland, Patriot, M1 Abrams, Leopard II,  MLRS, AWACS, Offensive ECM air squadrons, T-80, Mig-27, F-16, Tornado are only a few.
Some sample counters
  • Real and not Perceived Soviet Military Power
    Warsaw Pact disintegrated in February 1991. Soviet Union itself followed a few months later.
    The seeds of this sudden collapse were already there in 1985, maybe skillfully disguised by the Soviets or more probably plainly ignored by Western intelligence. Consequently, Soviet war machine has been toned down to reflect the reality of a country weakened by unsustainable arms race expenses, Afghanistan war and economic stagnation.
  • New Charts and Tables
    All charts and tables have been changed and rebalanced to take into account real combat experience not available in 1976 (Afghanistan, Desert Storm and Falkland are some example). All die rolls now use 1D20 to resolve the various game mechanics.
Combat Result Table Analysis
  • Revised Map
    Map has been updated, and there are more changes than you would expect. For example, in 1976 West Germany completed the Elbe SeitenKanal, a 115 km artificial channel connecting Elbe river to the North and MittellandKanal to the South. One of the reasons for its construction was "to serve as an anti-tank obstacle for enemy forces advancing along an East - West axis". Several airfields have been added, particularly previously undisclosed WP advanced heliports.
Sample map of Fulda gap area
  • Air War
    Air war, the real focus of the game, is no more handled abstractly at the start of a turn, but fully integrated into the Friendly and Enemy Movement Phases. Players execute specific air missions, assign escort to them, and intercept enemy missions. Obtaining Air Superiority over specific map areas allows one side to use air power to its full potential in support of ground operations.
A US F-4E intercepts a Soviet Mig27 Ground Strike mission, escorted by Mig23.
"Mind the Gap" scenario playtest with home-printed counters.
  • Variable Reinforcements
    A real-life commander doesn't have the luxury of knowing exactly when reinforcements will arrive, and in many cases doesn't even know if they will arrive at all. In 1985, most reinforcements' arrival date depends on both players' decisions, air superiority and external events on which players have limited control.
  • Tactical / Operational Doctrine
    Both sides have several tactical choices for influencing Land Combat: Corps Reserves, Airmobile Anti-Tank Battalions, Active Defense and Assault from March are among them.
  • Weapons of Mass Destruction Escalation
    In most games, one side or the other may decide to use Chemical or Nuclear weapons knowing exactly what the consequences will be (usually a Victory Point penalty). In 1985, nobody knows where that path will lead once a side decides to take it.
  • Warsaw Pact Unrest and Revolts
    Warsaw Pact satellite countries are very unstable allies, and Warsaw Pact player must constantly keep an eye on them. Revolts are not handled abstractly, but played on the game map. NATO Player also has the possibility of executing Air Missions to support revolts.
  • Victory Conditions
    1985 has two completely different sets of victory conditions: obtaining a Political victory is the first and paramount objective for both sides, meaning that the enemy political structure has collapsed or will do shortly due to the war events. Failing that, both sides may try to obtain a Military victory, measuring how well they performed on the ground but giving no assurance about how future events will unfold.
  • Two Campaign Games
    1985 will have two Campaign games:
    - Forward, Comrades! covering the classic Warsaw Pact offensive in Central Europe.
    - It Started in the Shipyards, covering a large-scale revolt in one or more Warsaw Pact countries and an air / land intervention by several NATO countries to support the rebels.
  • Four Smaller Scenarios
    - Checkpoint Charlie, covering the assault on West Berlin by 20th Guards Army.
    - Mind the Gap, covering the secondary attack against US V and German III Corps by 8th Guards and 1st Guards Tank Armies.
    - A Damned Nice Thing, covering the main attack against NORTHAG by the bulk of Warsaw Pact forces.
    - Para Bellum, covering Warsaw Pact offensive against Italy following a stalemate in the Central front.


  1. One of the interesting things we've learned since the end of the Cold War was that the WP was planning to go nuclear immediately on the start of hostilities. (See the "Seven Days to the River Rhine" WP war plan.) Will that be reflected in Under An Iron Sky's campaigns (or in at least one campaign variant), or does the game stick to the Western conventional wisdom of the time that the war would start conventional-only?

  2. In Under an Iron Sky a player must be "authorized by the political level" (I.e., roll on a table) before being able to use nuclear weapons. Chances of the release being granted are quite high for WP, and becomes almost 100% if the military situation is not good or NATO already used chem or nuclear weapons.
    That said, I'm more inclined to believe that nuclear weapons would have not been used since the start of hostilities, and probably never.

  3. If it had started conventional I feel it likely would have devolved into a nuclear conflict once one side felt that they were going to lose.

  4. Great idea. I'd love to hear more. Likely date of publication? Cost? Time scale?

    1. Thanks Moonfall!
      The scale is 48 hours per game turn, 14km per hex.
      If everything goes well it should be out at the end of the year, for a price around 200$

    2. When can we preorder. I just don't want to miss out.

    3. Sorry PMgeuze, no preorder.
      The game will be printed in 400 copies at the end of the year (hopefully). You'll have to wait and order when it's out :-)

    4. Is there an email list you can sign up to for notifications about when the game is printed? Who is publishing it?

    5. No email list, but I'll post all the relevant news here and in several wargames groups on Facebook.
      Three publishers showed their interest in the game, but frankly the game developer's fee they offered was way too low, particularly considering the effort and time needed by a game of this size. So, we decided to go big and publish the game ourselves by founding a new company. More on this soon :)

    6. We figured out that, being a brand new publishing company, pre-order didn't have too many chances of success. As an old (and politically incorrect) joke here in Italy says, "you show me camel before".

    7. Thanks. Looking forward to it. Is this website the best way to stay informed as to the production status?

    8. It is, until the official "Thin Red Line Games" website will be ready.

  5. Just discovered your project....I cant wait till your game is out. I am a big fan of The Next War, and it sounds like you are making all the changes (and more) that I as a former Army Intelligence Analyst only dreamed of when I bought the game in the 80's.

    1. Thank you! We will start the Proof Printing in a couple of weeks, so the publication is getting near.
      BTW, I would be VERY interested to hear about the changes you had in mind during your Service. Maybe it's too late for this version of the game, but we'll start working on the first expansion soon.....

  6. Will the gane be sold from the US or from Europe? I so hate paying customs charges when i order a game from the US, and then the usually 15 euro handling fee here in Ireland.

    1. Brendan,
      the game will be shipped from Italy, so Irish grognards should be able to avoid custom charges and excessive shipment costs :)

  7. That is excellent news, thank you! For once it pays off to be a gamer in Europe.


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