A couple of Saturdays ago I was in Sheffield for another Pennine Megagames’ event, one I had been particularly looking forward to for a long time (in fact since the game first ran down in London) Rob Cooper’s Still Not Over By Christmas.
As you’ll have gathered from my previous post it was that classic scenario of the Cold War going hot with the Soviets invading westwards. I choose to play the Soviet Air Commander (thus fulfilling a wish I’ve had since I started megagaming 6 years today of overseeing the aircraft) I had two players underneath me who would do the actual fighting as well as an assistant on the day. Things had started a few weeks before the game day with an online planning game run through Facebook, various groups were set up for the players to plan their initial attacks and starting dispositions. I had been fortunate enough to attend the pre- game briefing for game control so I had a good understanding of the game mechanics (not that much of an unfair advantage as one of the NATO air players was present too). From this I was acutely aware that the NATO planes had a threefold advantage. Firstly, their best planes such as F15s and F16s were rated highly, the only thing I had that could equal that was the MiG29 and I had fewer of those than NATO had of eagles and Fighting Falcons. Secondly, their repair rating was better meaning that had much more chance to come back from damage, in the rules things were only permanently lost when they failed a repair roll. Thirdly, NATO had abundant stocks of advanced air to air missiles meaning that they fired first in an engagement, again the Warsaw Pact had some but nowhere near as many. Accordingly, my strategy was to hammer the airfields that the aircraft were being staged out of being as it was easier for us to defeat them on the ground rather than in the air. The number of airbases that we took out affect the number of aircraft that could be flown. By doing this I hoped to keep the balance to contested in our favour, not so much to provide CAS to our own troops but to deny the enemy the same, especially as this would protect the bridges that our follow-on Corps and Divisions would be using to get to the front. Not losing in the air meant we could win on the ground.
Photos of the counters taken at the pre- game briefing.
Air combat was fought with a dogfighting stage leading to an assessment of who had air supremacy, superiority or whether it was contested, this then determined the number of aircraft that got through to perform Close Air Support, Recce or Deep Strike missions, the gamble was that you had to commit aircraft to these tasks before the dogfighting took place; assessing your likelihood of victory was key.
My main job in the preplanning game was to decide upon the initial strategic attacks as the air forces were pretty much set into their north and south groupings. My suggestion was to hit hard and first with a two-day Chemical Weapon strike, we were only allowed to use them for two successive days so I figured a devastating strike on the airfields would get us off to a good start. Also by using them at the start it was be seen, hopefully, as less escalatory than going to WMDs mid game. If anything, we could step down and de- escalate… Similarly, the Spetsnaz cards I had to use were targeted on HQs to give us a slight edge.
Jason (CinC) and Adrian (my 2iC) plotting on the mini map.
On the day itself as I had a high command roll I was with the CinC sequestered in an upstairs room a long way from the map the game was being fought on. As such we had to make do with second hand reports and camera phone photos in the guise of recce pics; this was aided by a WhatsApp group set up of all of the pact players for quick messages. We were fairly confident that our initial attacks would go well as we had activated a lot of our reserve forces to get as much possible forward as soon as possible. The down side to this was that the NATO forces facing us would be aware that something was coming.
The first CW strike went disastrously, all 6 SCUDs that were delivering the chemical agents to airfields in the northern half of the map missed their targets, causing significant civilian casualties. The second round were more successful but by then the fallout was not just radioactive. The US President, represented here by control, authorised the firing of a single tactical nuclear weapon as a punishment for and a warning against any further civilian casualties. Accordingly, one of our Corp HQ units got vaporised. In the command room there was a rather hurried discussion on how to respond; to go by the doctrine in the handbook we should have responded with 24 weapons targeting HQs and airbases. This, quite obviously, would be a big escalatory step, so with one eye to the meta game we decide to just ask for permission to respond with a single tactical weapon. This was granted and a NATO HQ went the way of ours.
For the rest of the game however I made sure that a list of potential targets and enough planes to carry out the missions were kept in reserve by my two air commanders, a few SCUDs were kept back for that purpose too.
For the rest of the game my job mostly consisted of deciding when and where to put the reinforcements. This was tied to where Jason as CinC wanted the main effort to be focused. At the highest levels of command in a megagame I find that coming up with a plan then reacting to the enemy and keeping on top of them with good decisions makes for a less stressful and more enjoyable day than the frantic activity at the map. One of the assets I had at my disposal was the Long Range Aviation aircraft, this could be potentially used to attack the UK mainland, the advantage of doing this was that it would hopefully withdraw some aircraft from the main European theater as well as take out some of the very capable F111s too. However, I was only prepared to launch such an attack if I had seen evidence that the RAF aircraft that had been slated for home defence had moved to join the European fight. My two Mig31 Foxhounds would be no match for all the Phantoms and Lightnings I expected to find there and if they then went on to shoot-down the Tu22 Backfire bombers I’d have a lot of explaining to do to someone before a reassignment to Siberia. Instead I just added them in to the normal fights to give a boost, although one Foxhound was given the special mission to try and breakthrough the fighter screen and go after a NATO AWACS aircraft, this would give us a big advantage in the combat. This, against all the odds, worked, medals all round for the pilots. In fact, making medals for the players at the map did seem to have the desired effect, quite what the NATO players made of them is another matter.
On the ground the war went well, Denmark fell to a small, under- resourced but well-handled force and was removed from NATO, there should have been bigger political ramifications from this imo. Also, some VDV had a very short stay in France getting as far as Strasburg. In the best megagame tradition if it had gone on for another turn things would have decisively turned in the Soviets favour, our 2nd wave of ground forces would have entered combat, the anaemic Dutch counter attack would have been defeated and what’s more NATO was running out of all those fancy high tech weapons that were giving them the advantage. In fairness to NATO their deliberate targeting of our Warsaw Pact Allies meant we had political troubles of our own to contend with the resulting dilution of force. Also, a bit more could have been made of the big but narrow salient we created in the NATO centre. One of the differences between an open and closed map is that clever manoeuvres are harder to pull off: everything is visible to the observant player. As such concentration of force and a determination to follow things through often rewards more than an outflanking march that will be spotted.
After the game we had a debrief: this blurry photo is the closest I got to the main map all game.
I really enjoyed SNOBC, very glad I played it and if the rumours of a follow- on game the year after next come to be true I’d love to reprise my role.