Friday, 22 December 2017

1985: Under an Iron Sky - Designer's Notes, Part 2

How the Game Was Made

SPI’s “The Next War” has obviously been a font of inspiration regarding the scale and general approach used to represent a NATO – Warsaw Pact conflict in Central Europe. 

Using this solid starting point, we wanted to develop something representing how the conflict could really have been, and not how we imagined it during the Cold War years.

The Order of Battle

The first decision was to avoid an order of battle covering a generic time frame like “mid ‘80s”; instead, we wanted to define a precise reference date for the scenario. It had to be after Gorbachev election, in order to allow the creation of a rationale for the game events (See “The End of Gerontocracy and Gorbachev”), but before the very final years of Communism, when in our opinion Warsaw Pact didn’t have any chances of victory. July, 1985 was the final choice.

OOBs research took several months. It was relatively easy for NATO countries, but quite difficult for Warsaw Pact despite the huge mass of disclosed documents. In particular, details on the exact date of equipment upgrade were not easy to find, and in some cases we had to extrapolate a generic “trend” using the available data.

The Map

We used “The Next War” as starting point, but after analyzing its map in detail it became clear that practically every single terrain feature had to be verified.

To name just a few, Poland was a flat, featureless plain, missing Vistula river and a few railroads; West Germany built an impressive number of new autobahns and channels in the 1977-1985 period, including a 120 km highway from Hamburg to West Berlin; a Dutch project to create new land North East of Amsterdam was never completed; urban areas in West Germany expanded; many new airfields became operative,and several presumed ones in Eastern Bloc were wrong or non-existant.

Regarding the map graphics,we wanted to have a “satellite view” style, similar to Google Earth. To obtain this effect, the basic terrain features have been created using a 3D landscape application, with cities, roads and more added with a more traditional 2D graphic application.

The Reinforcements

Determining which units would have been sent to Central Europe in case of war resembles more fortune telling than military science.

Even for the ultra-documented US Forces, things are not easy. Would National Guard roundup brigades have been mobilized? It may sound like a good idea, but during Gulf War they were not considered combat-ready until D+100. A little too late for a conflict against Warsaw Pact. Would 101st Airborne have been kept in reserve for emergencies? How many air squadrons, and which ones?

In the end, US and Soviet reinforcements have been determined by the events that our global 1985 scenario considers as most probable:
  • A half-hearted Soviet offensive in Middle East, using troops from the Asian and Caucasian Military Districts.
  • A strong Soviet attack against Norway, using troops from Leningrad and Moscow Districts.
  • An air / naval pressure against Turkey and East Mediterranean
This scenario ruled out most of US reinforcements earmarked for CENTCOM, and left a question mark on the possible arrival of 2nd Marine Division, depending on the outcome of the Battle for North Atlantic.

REFORGER reinforcements were easier to determine based on their official earmarking and their participation to specific exercises during the years preceding 1985.

CONUS reinforcement arrival schedule is based on official evaluations, but can be influenced by the Battle of North Atlantic. We ran several simulations using “Command: Modern Air / Naval Operations” to determine the possible delay caused by a Soviet occupation of Norway and Iceland, and by a NATO partial or total failure in detecting / sinking Soviet attack submarines transiting the GIUK Gap. In no case the Soviets were able to completely stop the North Atlantic routes, but they could have succeeded in causing a serious delay to the reinforcement flow by forcing NATO to use more Southern routes.

Soviet reinforcements are based on a very fast and far from optimal emergency mobilization, dictated by the contingency situation of the “1985” scenario:
  • Category I divisions ready for combat in 36 – 60 hours
  • Category II divisions mobilized in 2 - 4 days and used immediately, with no additional training.
  • Category III divisions mobilized in 4 - 9 days, plus a quick-and-dirty 10 days training period (with an impact on their combat capabilities).
  • Mobilization divisions mobilized in 5 - 10 days, plus a short 30 days training period (with an impact on their combat capabilities).

The Ground War

Ground combat mechanics are not particularly ground-breaking, but even during the execution of a standard assault modifiers and enemy actions may heavily interfere with attacker’s plan and create unpredictable results. Will enemy try to intercept friendly ground support? Will he use the last flak ammo available to fire at attack helicopters? Will airmobile antitank battalions intervene?

The much criticized Combat Result Table from The Next War was among the first things completely scrapped and rebuilt from scratch. We wanted a linear CRT, but with very little room for certain results.

The “ideal” combat ratio for the attacker has been set at 5 to 1 or more, as Soviet operational manuals and commanders with combat experience consider the traditional 3 to 1 force ratio obsolete in a modern, mechanized war.

As in any combat situation in history, quality and force multipliers make a difference, no matter what the combat ratio is. To reflect this, combat modifiers have been incorporated in the CRT as a separate axis with the same level of importance of force ratio: a 2-1 assault with 4 favorable modifiers has more success chances than a 5-1 assault with 1 unfavorable modifier. As Players will quickly discover, combat modifiers are the real key for winning a Ground Combat.

Specific tactics have been implemented in the rules, giving the defender additional possibilities to influence combat during its resolution. Some examples are Active Defense, based on John Boyd’s “Counter-Blitz”, and German / British Airmobile Antitank Battalions.

Assault from March, probably the most dangerous type of attack available to Warsaw Pact, was indicated on Soviet manuals as the preferred assault method, but its execution needed well trained officers and troops and a fully mechanized (i.e., not simply motorized but mounted on BMPs) division. Hence, its usage has been limited to Soviet category I divisions only.

The Air War

Aircrafts capabilities and performance in combat were initially extrapolated by technical data on speed, maneuverability, on-board equipment and possible loadouts. The resulting values were tested using the air combat model of the game, and combat outcomes confronted with simulations made using “Command: Modern Air / Naval Operations” by Matrix Games and adjusted accordingly.

Simulations with Command also helped us to define that, with the 1985 available technology, it was extremely difficult to identify the exact type of aircrafts composing a flight, unless the enemy was stupid enough to fly within a 2 mile distance from an active radar emitter. Therefore, the only information available for deciding whether or not to intercept an enemy mission are the number of Escort and Strike squadrons, as their roles may be deduced from the behavior during the approach flight.

Pilots skill are mostly extrapolated by the number of yearly flight hours in each country.

The Air Superiority and Strike - Escort - Intercept mechanisms give a detailed representation of the air war, in my opinion the real core of the game. No matter how many tanks you put on the field, sky is where the conflict will be probably decided.
Air Areas were added after the first playtest to avoid unwanted results and gamey tactics during the Air Superiority Phase. Their introduction also allowed including a previously missing element, the Intercept probability modifier: intercepting an enemy mission flying over friendly territory is of course easier than intercepting one that never gets closer than 200 km to your nearest airfield.

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