Issue 74 (Spring 2014)


Empire Made Simple: A Review of Struggle for New France
by Jim Werbaneth

Designer’s Response to “The Forgotten Triumph: A Review of Defeat Into Victory, From Against the Odds Magazine”
by Paul Rohrbaugh

Plan Colombia: Counterinsurgency in GMT’s Andean Abyss
by Jim Werbaneth

Imagining the Modern: The Birth of Hypothetical Modern Tactics, in SPI’s Red Star/White Star
by Jim Werbaneth

Mission Capable: The Understated Problems of the Ambush in Firepower
by Jim Werbaneth


Coming Attractions: Developer’s Notes For The Battle of Hastings, for Turning Point Simulations
by Jim Werbaneth


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The Bully Pulpit

Issue 74 (Spring 2014)

by Jim Werbaneth

Here it is, the newest Line of Departure.  This comes close to being a modern war theme issue, with the main obstacle being the lead review of Struggle for New France.  One can actually find trends in here regarding how we have looked at contemporary combat over the years.

Red Star/White Star was the first major modern hypothetical tactical game, going back over forty years.  It might seem a little quaint to think of T-62’s and M60’s as state of the art armored fighting vehicles.  Yet that is part of the educational value of the game, to remind us that the world was not always one of composite armor, turbine engines and sophisticated command and control systems.  In 1972, tank combat was closer to the world of Sergeant Elvis Presley, or World War II for that matter, than it was to today’s battlefield.

Then we step forward to Andean Abyss.  Gone is the high-intensity mechanized warfare of West Germany in the early seventies, and instead we see a much more incremental form of guerrilla war.  Panzers dashing across the fields are largely irrelevant; the Colombian civil war was essentially a struggle for control of people as much as territory.  This is not always a matter of appealing to the “hearts and minds” of the populous though, as it often was based at least on coercion and terrorism.  However, that should not be much of a surprise, as this is a recurring theme of irregular warfare.  For all the recurring talk of civic action and the people being the sea in which the fish called guerrillas swim, revolutions involve the stick along with the carrot.

Firepower occupies a place somewhere in the middle.  It is a micro tactical game publish about halfway between Red Star/White Star, and at that scale the greater context of the conflict means a lot less than the immediate goal of winning, or just surviving, an engagement lasting minutes.  The larger context is a lot less important to private, specialist, corporal or sergeant in a Firepower battle than the immediate situation.  It is close to irrelevant, as the character of the overall conflict is determined at a level way above his pay grade.  If this does become relevant to him, it is because it helps determine what his enemy looks like; political considerations can be pivotal in determining whether his foe is a lightly-armed guerrilla, or comes at him in a tank.

Plus, there is no inevitable progress from conventional to unconventional conflict, or vice versa.  During the 1960’s, during era of the Vietnam War, counterinsurgency [COIN] was a dominant thread in American military thought.  Then with the end of the conflict, attention shifted back to Europe, and the prospect of fighting mechanized battles against a Soviet conventional enemy; this is the subject of Red Star/White Star.  This emphasis continued through the decade, and into the next, until the end of the Cold War offered the prospect that the United States would be a superpower without rival, and even the possibility of an end to history itself.

Such projections proved false.  The United States experienced the conventional wars of Panama, Desert Storm and Operation Iraqi Freedom, as the Soviet Union fell, and afterward.  There was also the intervention in the former Yugoslavia and the air war against Serbia.

Still, insurgency did not go away.  Just as the Second Boer War went from a conventional war of maneuver to a guerrilla war against the British, Operation Iraqi Freedom went from a conventional mechanized war, easily won by the United States and its allies, to an insurgency in Iraq’s cities.  Then the terror attacks of 9/11 led to the counterinsurgency in Afghanistan, the site of the Soviet Union’s final conflict.  History did not end so much as repeat itself.

Likewise, there were other conflicts that did not quite fit in with the old superpower versus superpower paradigm, or the new one of terrorism versus civilization.  Colombia was such a war.  There was a state fighting a Marxist guerrilla insurgency, but there were other parties too, especially drug cartels.  There are other examples too that take this pattern even further, in which the main combatants against the state are narcotraficantes, with the familiar Marxist guerrillas in a secondary role at best.  One such war occurs even now in Mexico, between the government and an assortment of cartels.  There are politically motivated guerrillas, such as the Zapatistas in Chiapas state.  This is the world of Andean Abyss.

Yet the threat of a high-intensity, mechanized conventional war cannot be wished away.  While it may not involve a United States, at least not immediately, at this writing Russian aggression toward Ukraine threatens Europe with a new conventional war.  After years of disarmament and wishful thinking by the West, old threats become new menaces.  It is not that Putin represents a new threat, so much as the latest reincarnation of many old ones.

In the coming months, readers can expect more features on modern warfare of all sorts.  They have always been an important part of the magazine, and are not about to go away.  If anything, a more dangerous world gives them extra currency.

While modern games will be a covered consistently in Line of Departure, others will see their profile raised.  As noted in the last issue, science fiction and fantasy games are making a comeback within the magazine’s pages.  Recently, I invested in this in a big way, and I mean big, as in a game whose box is as big as some or my furniture.  This is the deluxe edition of Ogre, from Steve Jackson Games.  It is almost certain that it will be profiled.  Plus, the chances are very good that Line of Departure will present new scenarios.

There will be some other trends in the magazine’s coverage.  I’ve noticed that in the last few years, features on Civil War titles have become less frequent.  That will change, with both classic and newer games to be addressed.  Likewise, computer games will be coming back, though not in a dominant role.  The print edition especially will always be an overwhelmingly boardgame-oriented venture, and there is neither need nor desire to change that.  Still, there are some newer computer games, and a lot of older ones, that are suitable subjects for Line of Departure.

All of this will be easier as my living space and computer infrastructure is much better than it was a year ago, or even last summer.  The game room is set up, and really is devoted chiefly to games.  Well, games, along with my big screen television and stereo.  Plus, I purchased a new Windows 8 computer, now running Windows 8.1, in September, for my office.  I know that this generation of Windows is among the most aggravating, and quite possibly the worst since Windows ME, or “Mistake Edition.”  But it runs my games well.  For those that are too old for the latest but not necessarily greatest iteration of Windows, I’ve done some experimenting lately with virtual machines, and found a really good way to run Windows XP that way.  Then too, there is always DOSBox, for the really old titles.



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