Gaming World War III: War at Sea Part II


The first edition of Harpoon was a general-purpose air, surface, and sub-surface naval simulation. It was a playable game based around graspable rules, and comprehensive information on ships, aircraft, sensors, and weapons systems of the era. The game found acceptance in the commercial wargaming community, and the professional naval community in general. Harpoon also helped to launch the writing career of Tom Clancy. It was the primary source of information for his blockbuster novel The Hunt for Red October. Clancy and Bond became friends, and eventually the two co-authored Red Storm Rising. For RSR, the pair used Harpoon to fight a hypothetical battle for control of the North Atlantic. Harpoon was not the only commercial game to focus on a naval clash in the North Atlantic. Other game designers were envisioning titanic clashes between NATO and Soviet navies in the frigid waters of the North Atlantic, and Norwegian Sea.

In 1975 Jim Dunnigan and David Isby released Sixth Fleet, an operational simulation of naval warfare in the Mediterranean during a US-Soviet war. It was a noble attempt to portray contemporary naval warfare, however, the game system left much to be desired. It was basically a land warfare system adapted to fit a naval warfare game. This made Sixth Fleet clunky, to say the least, and it never gained the same following that many Dunnigan games have. The game hung around for a few years and then disappeared into obscurity.

A new version of the game was released by Victory Games in 1985. The updated Sixth Fleet fixed many of the problems that hobbled the 70s version, streamlined the game system, and turned out to be a very successful naval wargame as a result. Like Harpoon, it was geared towards both the casual, and the more experienced wargamer. The game system reflected this design philosophy, and the Mediterranean provided a game area rife with potential flash points for the player to experiment with. Also like Harpoon, Sixth Fleet provided the player with abundant amounts of information on ships, submarines, weapons systems, aircraft, and the strategies and tactics that might be employed by the United States, Soviet Union, and their respective allies.

Victory Games (VG) moved quick to expand on the commercial success of Sixth Fleet. In 1986 2nd Fleet was released. This game, as the title reveals, is focused on a hypothetical naval conflict between NATO and the Soviet Union in the North Atlantic, and Norwegian Sea. If the Cold War had ever gone hot this area would’ve been the centerpiece of the war at sea. NATO would’ve needed to keep the North Atlantic open in a time of war to ensure the reinforcement of Europe by sea. Soviet strategy, on the other hand, centered on its ability to close the Atlantic and cut Western Europe off from reinforcement. 2nd Fleet offers gamers a plausible look at what naval warfare would’ve looked like in the North Atlantic and Norwegian Sea in the ‘80s. The rule set is not complicated, but the game has depth. It captures and highlights the strengths and weaknesses of individual platforms, tactics, and doctrines.

VG was not finished with the late ‘80s and early ‘90s era naval warfare. Sixth Fleet and 2nd Fleet would be the first two titles in what would eventually become known as the Fleet Series. As was the case with the first two, the remaining games were all titled for the respective US fleet located in the geographic theater covered in the game. 7th Fleet, covering the Western Pacific, was released in 1987. 5th Fleet covered the volatile Persian Gulf, and Indian Ocean, and was released in 1989. 3rd Fleet came out in 1990 and was different from its predecessors in that it covered three different areas; The Baltic Sea region, Caribbean, and North Pacific. This was also the final release in the Fleet Series. By 1990 the Cold War was drawing to a close, and games simulating hypothetical Cold War era clashes between the Superpowers were losing their luster. Fortunately, as the ‘80s were drawing to a close, technology would toss naval wargaming a lifeline.

Personal Computer use blossomed in the 1980s. More families were using home computers for educational purposes, work, and for games. Wargaming titles became some of the most popular PC games released during that time. Naval wargaming in particular, was a genre well-represented. North Atlantic ’86 was probably the first PC game to cover a contemporary war at sea in depth. It was a solid, and innovative title, but it would pale in comparison to the monster game released in 1989: the computer game version of Harpoon.



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