Wednesday, 5 September 2012

Cold War Gone Hot - review

Cold War Gone Hot is an expansion for Force on Force, the wildly popular set of modern miniatures wargames rules. I played FoF recently, and you can find a more detailed Iraq batrep here. CWGH, however, is a slightly different beast from some of the other fare Osprey Publishing has put out for FoF, like Road to Baghdad and Enduring Freedom in that it describes a hypothetical conflict, namely the possibility of a NATO vs Warsaw Pact clash in the 1980s.

I'm going to get all nostalgic on you now, as I grew up during this period, and never expected to reach the age of 20, let alone 30, such seemed the imminent possibility of nuclear holocaust. These days we worry more about global warming and the acidification of the oceans, but back then it looked like a real possibility that we'd have Soviet SS20s raining down on our heads.

It seems silly now, I know. But it all seemed very real back then. I clearly remember visiting West Germany in 1980, where my uncle was teaching at a British army base near Celle, and it was quite evident that there was an enormous amount of military hardware in the vicinity, and that it was ready to rock at a moment's notice. An hour would not go by without jets streaking overhead or tanks rumbling around. It made a very definite impression on me. Heck, I was looking forward to getting back to the relative peace and security of the Middle East!

CWGH is an excellent little book, as it postulates three very different takes on the Cold War in Europe (those interested in the other conflicts of the period, for example in Vietnam or Africa will need to look at the other expansions Osprey has published on these).

The Cold War as we expected it

The first set of scenarios in the book stem from what the CIA would have had you believe the reality was like on the ground (and in the air for that matter). I clearly recall the hideous numbers the military was putting out in the early 1980s about how heavily outnumbered NATO was, that we only had 72 hours' worth of ammo, that the British Army of the Rhine (BAOR) was going to be pushed into the sea inside a week - all nightmare stuff. I half expected to see Soviet paratroops arriving on our school playing fields...

Chieftain tank, BAOR
At it happens, the real strength of the Soviet military was being consistently over-rated (some would say deliberately so), but this first series of scenarios assumes the traditional military fantasy of a massive Soviet invasion of West Germany with all the toys, the one we were all told to expect, and which Tom Clancy chronicled in Red Storm Rising. FoF is flexible enough to manage tank and infantry battles as well as more interesting scenarios, like a confrontation between the East German army and West Berlin cops, or a raid by left wing German terrorists on a US army base. These look like very interesting scenarios. Although many of them feature US units as the default, it would be very easy to swap in the NATO units of your choice - drop the M1 Abrams and bring in Chieftains, for example.

The Cold War in reality

The second series of scenarios tackles the reality of Warsaw Pact preparedness. As in the West, Soviet military planners were assuming that NATO would attack first, not the other way round. Yes, there were exponents of the pre-emptive invasion, but many generals clearly thought NATO was intended as an aggressive instrument. These battles assume a less competent and poorly equipped Warsaw Pact, with many Soviet allies not keen on putting up a fight for their masters in Moscow.

This is an interesting series of scenarios, as most of them deal with NATO operations on the offensive, for example in Poland, where the 82nd airborne division seeks to seize a radio station. There's also an excellent scenario with Russian sailors raiding an American coastal town for spare parts, to help them fix their broken down submarine!

Hollywood's War

My favourite part of the book is Hollywood's vision of the Cold War. It includes several scenarios that are clearly inspired by films that appeared during the 1980s. One has American resistance fighters raiding a Soviet-held Midwestern town for supplies (Red Dawn), another features a special forces attack on an Arctic research station (Ice Station Zebra), while my favourite is an aerial attack on Leningrad, mentioned in passing in the film Escape From New York ("You flew the Gullfire over Leningrad. You know how to get in quiet. You're all I got.")

"When I get back, I'm going to kill you."
There's also the obligatory information on various formations for both NATO and the Warsaw Pact, as well as stats for armoured vehicles. Again, as with most FoF scenario packs, the book concentrates on small unit battles, while the intervention of air power, which can be a game breaker in a kinetic battle of this kind, is less important. A couple of Apaches or an A10 into the mix can make a BIG difference at this level.

The other aspect of CWGH which inspires is its hypothetical nature. I know some war gamers resist playing FoF because they don't like the idea of gaming current conflicts like Iraq or Afghanistan, but in this case we have a hypothetical conflict - much of the technology available on today's battlefield was simply not readily available 25 years ago. No UAVs here, soldier. Plus, many of the scenarios are less conventional battles and more like spec ops missions. If I had the time, I'd take a couple of these on the road and demo them at cons, because I feel there is much to say for this system, and perhaps the period it covers is putting some people off. But put someone in the cockpit of a Gullfire over Leningrad in 1987, and they may see things differently.

Overall, I like this product. It is one of the best publications to date for FoF and deals with a period of history I lived through and am much relieved is now over!

1 comment:

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