#ThreatTuesday – The 80’s Are Calling and They Want Their Super Etendards Back!

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Courtesy BGG.com

I have written elsewhere that I am a child of the Cold War and had my wargame coming-of-age in the 1980’s. One of the games I got during that time was Harpoon II. H2 is a miniatures game of modern tactical naval combat. The game system would eventually inform an author by the name of Tom Clancy who famously used the game to play out a key battle of his book Red Storm Rising. That game series is explained in Dance of the Vampires available at Wargame Vault. But Red Storm Rising was still five years away. I was interested in Harpoon because of another war, one that had just happened – The Falklands War.

 

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Courtesy dailymail.co.uk

One of the most dramatic events of that war was the attack on HMS Sheffield on May 4, 1982. Using an Exocet anti-ship missile launched from a Super Étendard fighter, the Argentinians sank the Type 42 destroyer. Many times I replayed this scenario as well as the larger naval confrontation. To this day the Falklands War remains my favorite modern naval battles scenario generator.

 

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Courtesy BGG.com

So it was with much interest that I read Argentina intends to buy six Super Étendard fighters. Sorta proves that everything that is old is new again. It also makes we want to bring out Harpoon 4 and see how the Royal Navy’s Type 45 Daring-class destroyer would fare against this new-old threat.

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Courtesy dailymail.co.uk

 

 

I Remember #PowersBoothe and #RedDawn

Actor Powers Boothe died this week. Although he had a long career in Hollywood, the movie I remember him most in is Red Dawn:

In 1984, the year Red Dawn came out, I was just entering my senior year of high school. As a wargamer, I had read many books and played many games about the Cold War. Red Dawn fit right into my world of 1984.

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Courtesy Goodreads

Amongst the many books about the Cold War I had read, General Sir John Hackett’s The Third World War: August 1985 stands out in my memory. I read this one over and over again because I wanted to learn how the Cold War in Europe would go hot! The other book that I remember well is War Day and the Journey Onward (Whitley Streiber & James Kunetka). War Day tells the story of America after the mushroom clouds. It came out the year after the movie The Day After which I had watched in fascination (and with a bit of fear). I kept asking myself, what would I do?

 

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Courtesy BGG

In 1983 and 1984 I also got several wargames that shaped how I viewed the Cold War. Most importantly, I got a copy of Harpoon II. H2 was my first game in the Harpoon-series of modern naval combat and is a system I still enjoy today. This was how the Cold War at Sea was going to be fought! At this same time, I started collecting (and playing) Assault-Tactical Combat in Europe: 1985 which taught me modern combined arms combat. At the operational-level of war, NATO: The Next War in Europe landed on my gaming table. I also played more than a few games of Firefight (the 1984 TSR version) and even built up a collection of Supremacy (nukes and lasersats!).

 

Red Dawn released in August, 1984. This would of been just before my senior year started. I seem to remember going to see it in the first week of release.  It really hit close to home because it took place in Colorado – where I was living. I saw so many of my friends in the movie it became very real in my mind.

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Courtesy RPGGeek

All my Cold War mania culminated at Thanksgiving with the release of the Twilight: 2000 roleplaying game from Game Designer’s Workshop. This game, by the designer’s of my beloved Traveller RPG, put the players as members of a US military unit cut off in Europe after the Cold War Goes Hot. This RPG mixed role-playing and the military together in one package. It also allowed me to use the knowledge I had gained from books and wargames and bring it to life. Eventually, T2K would go so far as to link to wargames like Harpoon 3 for naval combat, Last Battle: Twilight – 2000 for ground combat, and even Air Superiority for the air war.

 

In many ways, Powers Boothe’s character in Red Dawn, Lt Col Andrew ‘Andy’ Tanner, was the T2K character I always wanted to play. For some reason, I drew great character inspiration from this scene:

Col. Andy Tanner: [using a crude diorama, the Wolverines prepare for an assault on the Calumet Drive-In, which is now a Russo-Cuban “Re-education Camp”] All right. Four planes. Cuban bunker, Russian bunker. munitions dump, troop tents. Four machine gun bunkers. Back here by the drive-in screen are your political prisoners. We’ll cause a diversion over here… cut holes in the wire here, fire on all these machine gun positions. The B-Group comes across this area in a flanking maneuver… and when you reach this bunker, you lay down grazing fire on this defilade. I think that’s pretty simple. Anybody got any questions so far?
Aardvark: What’s a “flank?”
Toni: What’s a “defilade?”
Robert: What’s “grazing fire?”
Col. Andy Tanner: [out loud, to himself] I need a drink.

Courtesy IMDB

Rest in Peace, Mr. Boothe.

#SciFiFriday – Agent of the Imperium: A Story of the Traveller Universe (Marc Miller, 2015)

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Cover courtesy GoodReads

Within the Traveller RPG community, there is an acronym known as IMTU, or “In My Traveller Universe.” This usually denotes a setting that may draw from, or be different, from the OTU or “Official Traveller Universe.” When Marc Miller, the creator of the Traveller RPG writes, one would think that anything he publishes should be canon and part of the OTU. It was with this bias that I started reading Agent of the Imperium (AoI). By the time I was finished, I am not so sure that what I read is OTU, or Mr. Miller’s version of his own IMTU.

**WARNING – MINOR SPOILERS POSSIBLE**

To me, Traveller has always been about the little guy; average joes who did their time in the service and now are out wandering the spacelanes for adventure. As much as I played around in the Third Imperium setting, it really is the far frontiers adventure of the 1977-edition Little Black Books which had no real setting other than to travel. So when I started reading AoI I expected a character much like Captain Jamison, the Merchant Captain used in every character generation example since Classic Traveller.

Instead, we get Jonathan Bland, a Decider agent of the Quarantine Agency. He is brought to life for 30 days at  time with a wafer chip. He is not a lowly adventurer – he is/was a member of a powerful bureaucracy and now an agent of the Emperors themselves. This was one of many events that challenged my vision of the OTU; I had never really considered cyberpunk elements in the setting nor adventure at these higher levels of government. Indeed, if one looks at the starship computer rules with their immense size (measured in displacement Tons of 13.5 cubic meters) the idea of advanced brain chips seemed so foreign to the game!

It is through Jonathan Bland that we see the Third Imperium develop. Surprising me again, this story does not take place in the Golden Age of the Traveller RPG setting (around game year 1105) but rather starts in year 350, or almost 800 years before OTU adventures. More interesting was to see Mr. Miller’s view of the Third Imperium in this time. In this he used several tropes that I was familiar with – and expected – in a Traveller book but introduced others that I had not consciously associated with the Third Imperium. In this respect the book is highly successful; it challenged my pre-conceived notions and made me imagine more. But at the same time AoI made me think about what the Third Imperium setting means to me.

When trying to fit Agent of the Imperium into my view of the Traveller RPG universe, I have to designate this one as the “Marc Miller IMTU of the OTU.” It’s not that I don’t like the book (I do) but the story is loftier than I imagined the OTU to be. I find nothing wrong with the story of AoI, but as a game inspiration it is more an example of the awe and wonder of the Third Imperium rather than adventure seeds.

 

 

#BookFinder – March 2017

fullsizerenderFebruary was another good month for book purchases. In keeping with my recent interests in George Washington and the American Revolution, I picked up Fatal Sunday: George Washington, the Monmouth Campaign, and the Politics of Battle. This book is a 2017 George Washington Prize Finalist that I heard about thru the Fred W. Smith National Library for the Study of George Washington at Mount Vernon (on Twitter @GWBooks).

The second book is 1812: The Navy’s War. This book has appeared before on the Chief of Naval Operations Reading List.

The third book is Civil War Northern Virginia 1861 from The History Press Civil War Sesquicentennial Series. I picked this one up at Costco for cheap because it looks at my neighborhood. Skimming through it my boys and I were surprised at the smaller battles of 1861 the took place practically in our yard. We were especially surprised at the Battle of Dranesville. We are using this book as a sort of “staycation” guide for weekends around town.

I am going to have to spend some more serious reading time if I am to get through all my new books this year (seen here and here). I really am short of time; this is only my “serious” reading and not my gaming or other guilty pleasure books!

Book Finder – February 2017

Visited the Friendly Local Model Shop today. They are (unfortunately) going out of business following the death of the owner. As part of their end-of-days, they put all their items up on a great fire sale.

img_1351Among the many models were more than a few books. I picked up a few. As you can see, they were mostly Osprey and cover some eras I really love, like the Falklands War, and aircraft I admire (Tomcats Forever!).

After playing Wing Leader: Victories and Wing Leader: Supremacy, I realized I don’t know as much about Japanese fighters as I thought I did. The Japanese Army Air Force Aces 1937-45 book is the usual Osprey-fare with many pictures and plates and just enough depth to make it interesting. The Japanese War Machine is a 1976 publication and is what I call “coffee-table history;” i.e. an oversize book with many pictures and maps and not too in-depth text.

Air War in the Falklands 1982 looks to be an updated version of an earlier Osprey publication. Glancing through it I noticed many more Argentinian pictures and related text. It is good to see “the other side” of this war.

Iranian F-14 Units in Combat is another “forgotten war” book. As much as the US flew the F-14, it was Iran who flew the Tomcat in combat during the 1980’s. There are many little snippets in here that make good scenario fodder for Flight Leader or Air Superiority or Birds of Prey.

I am also very blessed in that my boys are interested in history and are voracious readers.  They too will read these books and we will likely have several long discussions about them. Although I didn’t pay much for these book, the real payoff is in the talks with my boys which are priceless.

 

Holiday Books for the 2017 Reading List

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2017 Reading List – So Far

I am trying to be a better learner and spread my (little) spare time around to pursuits other than the internet. Not that it has been all bad. On CONSIM World Forum, “God Damn Doug Dery Man” is the best discussion of military books I have run across in a very long time. So good that I broke down and took more than a few recommendations this holiday season.

The above is a good reflection of my interests these days. I am reading more on the American Revolution and gaining a deeper respect for what our founding fathers accomplished. I also continue to feed my interest in the Pacific theater of World War II. I also continue to follow modern naval combat, but most of that reading is from sources available online (think tanks, RAND, etc.).

#WargameWednesday “The Great Pacific War”

The Great Pacific War 1940-1944 by Don Baumgartner (Self Published, ISBN 9781493580569); Middletown, DE; Printed 15 May 2016.

As a long-time fan of the Admiralty Trilogy series of naval wargames, I religiously read The Naval SITREP. Issue #50 (April 2016) included a small half-page review of The Great Pacific War 1940-1944. Though not very well marketed as such, this is definitely an alternate history book. For a naval wargamer, it can be a sourcebook for scenarios or campaign inspiration.

The major historical point of departure is the death of Hitler during the Munich Crisis of 1939. Upon his death, the path towards war in Europe halts, allowing the author to explore a “what if” situation where the British Empire and Japan instead clash in the Far East. The story of these titanic naval battles are laid out in the book and each battle can easily be converted into a tactical scenario and gamed out.

Style-wise, the book could use a good editor and I encourage the author to get help laying the book out properly. Font selection should be reviewed because in my copy, all the 10’s digits are rendered as the letter “I” meaning we get “I4” guns. The maps could also use some work for they lack consistency in appearance or even orientation. Finally, tables and photos could use layout help.

Alternate history is hard. It is very easy to take historical reality, file off some serial numbers, rearrange letters, and say you have an alternate history (I’m looking at you, Mr. Turtledove. Naming the tank commander Morrel instead of Rommel? Really!) The problem in this book is that not enough changes. The author takes historical battles, moves them to to a different location (though often not that far from the original) and drops in a different set of combatants. Without needing to look too close between the lines, one can find the battles of Coral Sea, Midway, and night actions around The Slot off Guadalcanal. The result are battles not unlike what historically happened, but with the British generally substituted for the Americans.

It is easy to find a copy of Royal Navy Strategy in the Far East 1919-1939: Preparing for War Against Japan by Andrew Field (I used my public library privileges to search online databases and get my copy). Field lays out how the British thought they were going to fight, not how the Americans and Japanese eventually duked it out. There is enough difference between Field and Baumgartner that I (reluctantly) have to say that The Great Pacific War missed a golden opportunity. The British view of naval airpower was different than the US or Japan (for instance, see Geoffrey Till, “Adopting the aircraft carrier: The British, American, and Japanese case studies” in Military Innovation in the Interwar Period). Exploring those differences are what I find really intriguing and the stuff that makes for interesting games. Unfortunately, Baumgartner’s  The Great Pacific War does not delve down into this form of “what if.”

Is The Great Pacific War worth purchasing? For a serious naval wargamer its probably worth it, if for no other reason than scenario inspiration. The background and orders of battle would make good material for a convention game. But if one really wants to explore the “what if” of the British and Japanese fighting it out at sea, it may be better to look elsewhere.