Operational Design in Wargaming Part 6 - Tackling the Cold War Challenge

Modern wargaming is one of the most difficult to execute effectively.  I think it suffers primarily from the level of detail possible through the incredible complexity of modern full spectrum operations. Games like Harpoon, for example, provided unparalleled simulation at the cost of overwhelming charts and rolls.  

Rather than detail out the myriad of challenges I see in gaming the modern period up front (there is time for that another day…), I decided to go through the thought exercise of developing a ruleset that meets my requirements.  I enjoy modern ground combat games and normally use a set of modified Modern Spearhead rules called “Brigade Combat Team.”  It combined several modifications I found on-line with my own experience in games and life.  I switched from D6 to D10 to eliminate the need for 6+ rules, but still found that games take too long and emphasize the wrong things.  The essential problem is the level of focus in the rule set.  The game is meant to allow you to deploy up to a division on either side, but still goes down into the weeds on all the permutations of various armored vehicles as well modelling vehicles from 1945 to the modern day.

Instead I want to develop a set that allows me to game peer or near-peer level engagements.  My primary area of interest is a Warsaw Pact (WARPAC) thrust into West Germany between 1973-1989.  I have units completed to represent Soviet and other WARPAC Motorized Rifle Regiments and Tank Regiments as well as British, American and West German Mechanized Brigades.  This allows me to run scenarios set across the breadth of the BRD from the Czech border to the North German Plain.  There is still the possible disparity between M1A1 tanks versus T-55s, but I doubt I am going to want to play those games.

So let’s do a little operational design:

Problem Statement:  How do I develop a ruleset for peer level engagements between Brigade sized formations in West Germany (1973-1989) that emphasizes the player's role as the brigade commander, rewards combined arms operations, reflects the armies of the time, and can be played to a suitable conclusion in under two hours?

Evaluation Criteria  
Here is what I am looking for in any game
  1. Minimize Bookkeeping - I don’t want to clutter up the table with counters, nor require extensive notes on unit status and capabilities.
  2. Quick Play - The rules should allow rapid conflict resolution.  Ideally the game should play out in about 2 hours.
  3. Keep players involved.  - Players should be engaged throughout the game, without lengthy periods of inactivity waiting for their opponent to execute his turn.
  4. Make it fit on the table -  Ranges need to be realistic to the scale, but still allow some maneuver on the table.  Since ATGMs reach out to about 3500m, perhaps set that distance at around 24” to 36”.

Here are the things I think are important to gaming this period.  
  1. Emphasize Pre-game planning.   - This is operational level leadership. The player should develop a plan and be incentived to follow it.
  2. Represent organizational and operational differences between armies  -NATO should fight like NATO and the WARPAC act like the WARPAC.  There are no point values as the units will need to be organized as you would see from their parent militaries.  Players will have a Brigade/regiment with doctrinally correct  attachments or detachments
  3. Focus on two levels down (Company)  -The player is assuming the role of a brigade commander and should not be worrying about individual vehicles or even platoons.  The level of detail should not be so refined as too have the player attempting to fight the eaches.
  1. Represents reconnaissance in a meaningful way  -Recon units should actually be able to assist with aware/clearing the fog of war.  They need to be more than just a screening force or expendable tokens.  
  2. Represents artillery and air assets without allowing them to dominate.  Artillery is not a giant “delete” button.  Air assets at this level provide close air support (CAS) for very specific objectives.  Additionally, getting too detailed with either asset can result in an uncontrolled explosion in complexity.   

So with that out of the way, let's start looking at some ideas.  My overall plan is to keep my existing basing scheme with 1 stand representing one platoon or element.  Each player will control a Brigade level formation of 1-4 organic battalions plus attachments.  

Here are some things I think I will need to model
  • Movement - Different movement values to represent types of platoon
  • Anti-Tank (Kinetic and HEAT) weapons - Some weapons are ideally suited for anti-armor use (ATGMs, Sabot rounds), but  minimal effect against lighter targets.  The other issue is whether to separate out the capabilities of Chemical versus Kinetic penetrators.
  • Anti-Infantry - Other weapons are really good and poking holes in the crunchies.
  • Armor/Defense - Represent the ability to resist weapons fire through armor, speed or reduced profile.
  • Initiative - Represent the influence of advantages in target acquisition, range finders, stabilized guns, and relative positions.  
  • Cohesion -Represent the influence of advantages in crew training, communications and platoon tactics.

Here are the big things I am willing to abstract
  • Air Missions - Combat air power has numerous mission types, but most are above the level of the game.  Things like interdiction, suppression of air defenses (SEAD), and air superiority are not going to happen on the table.  Both aircraft and helos have limited loiter time, so they do not need to stay on the table.  This will also allow me to abstract the effects of air defense systems on the table.    
  • Unit mortars - Battalion mortar platoons do not necessarily need to be modeled on the table.  Machine gun and grenade launcher squads could be similarly abstracted.  Instead, maybe I could use them to enhance the offensive (HE) or defensive (Smoke) capability of a supported element.
  • Artillery Support - With the average artillery piece firing well over the length of my table at this scale, actual artillery batteries do not need to be represented.  I can have the effects be abstracted rather than trying to model numerous types of fire missions.  
  • Equipment differences - The smallest element will be a platoon.  I can use gross differences in capabilities, rather than focus on small technical improvements.  
  • Unit Degradation - Rather than focus on the destruction of individual vehicles, use a system similar to spearhead with suppression and destroyed status.  I am initially leaning towards three stages:  Disrupted, Degraded and Dispersed.  

Here are the basics types of units I will want to model
  • Headquarters Elements
  • Reconnaissance/Cavalry: Elements
    • Heavy (Tanks, IFVs)
    • Motorized (Luchs, M1025, BRDM)
    • Light (Leg)
  • Fighting Platoons
  • Armor - Tanks to destroy the enemy through speed, firepower and shock effect
  • Anti-Tank - Primarily ATGM armed platoons either vehicle mounted (ITV, BRDM-3) or ground mounts (Milan, Sagger).  May also include recoilless rifles (SPG-9), towed AT guns (T-12) and SP guns (JP Kanone, ASU-85).  Smaller ATGMs (RPG, Dragon) could be rolled up into the Infantry Units.
  • Infantry: Light (leg, airborne, air assault), APC (M113/BTR), or IFV (BMP, Marder, Bradley), the key question is whether or not to combine IFVs with dismounts on one stand.
  • Possible secondary Units -Not sure if I want to use these.
    • Combat Engineers
    • Bridging Units
    • Observation Helos
    • Air Assault Helos
    • Attack Helos

Well, there is the opening salvo.  Now that I have my opening criteria, I need to start thinking of some mechanics for modelling it.  That will have to wait for the next installment.  


  1. Very interesting start to developing a wargame doctrine. Listing what you want and don't want helps restrict the scope and maintain focus. I look forward to watching these rules develop.

    1. By the way, that is a cool photo.

    2. Thanks. I am currently looking at 2 different combat resolution models: single d10 vs fist full of d6. Setting out my objectives first makes it easier to figure out how to model it without depending on a mountain of modifiers. I am trying to keep it to a laminated half-sheet like you risorgemento

  2. Replies
    1. Thanks, hopefully I can maintain a compelling narrative.

  3. Will love to see how this plays out and what rules you end up with. I'm on a similar quest, having started with some massively modified WRG rules, then more recently Cold War Commander, but still not quite what I want - my last Bde sized game lasted way too long. Losing intermediate HQs and merging support elements like AGS-17 would be a start, and more abstract AA. My AAR here if you're interested - https://newconverj.blogspot.co.uk/2017/06/the-battle-for-grosse-mahner-gap-endex.html

    1. Interesting stuff. I just read the first link and your review of CWC. I agree with some of the challenges, especially when it comes to artillery. I am basing my rules on the "three outcomes" of fire support planning: suppress (prevent effective fire from target), neutralize (prevent target from interfering with operation; 10% damage) and destroy (target is combat ineffective; 30% damage). I think controlling the outcomes, and limiting the overall effect may lead to more compelling games.


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