Gaming World War III: The Conflict Model Part I


When I first started giving serious consideration to the idea of creating a hypothetical World War III I understood what I was getting into. It was not going to be as simple as breaking out The Third World War one weekend, playing it, then posting a brief after-action report online afterward. If I was going to do this, I had to make certain it was done right. Modeling a hypothetical conflict is not a painless experiment by any stretch of the imagination whether done professionally, or for more leisurely purposes.

The conflict, and time period was decided and locked in first: World War III in the year 1987. The prime focus was to be a NATO-Warsaw Pact clash in Central Europe, the northern and southern flanks, and the North Atlantic. This would be bolstered by US-Soviet clashes in peripheral areas such as the Persian Gulf, Western Pacific, and Central America. Endless hours of research, interviews, and gameplaying were going to be needed in order to bring this hypothetical war to life. The process would be comparable to putting together a doctoral dissertation. Given that I had already completed one of those, I assumed myself to be seasoned enough to breeze through this more casual venture and enjoy it immensely.

Well, I’ve enjoyed it more than I ever thought possible. It has not been a breeze, however. Not by any stretch of the imagination. 😊

Research material on the respective forces, doctrines, potential battlefields, and other essential factors of the time was not terribly hard to come by. There are reams of data available from online sources, and from the libraries of institutions dedicated to the study of war such as the US Naval War College. The data proved to be invaluable. Unfortunately, it was not enough by itself to create an accurate conflict model to determine how the war might’ve conceivably played out. For that, I needed wargames.

The first problem I had to contend with was significant. There was no commercial wargame available which could project a NATO-Warsaw Pact conflict in every theater, and on every level concurrently. An operational level game can produce a broad view of how the conflict might play out. However, it lacks the ability to project in detail land battles at the corps, division, and brigade levels. The broad strokes provided by operational level wargames are valuable, but they do not tell the entire story. For example, each hex on the map for Third World War-Battle for Germany represents an area of approximately 45 kilometers. The activity taking place in the hex once NATO and Pact division counters meet leaves countless questions to be answered by the imagination: Where did a breakthrough happen? If one did not occur, what were the circumstances? What brigades held the line and why? Who controlled the skies above the battlefield? How do events in Area A influence the battle taking place in Area B?

The solution was to design a layered approach to building a conflict model with commercial wargames as the primary tool. The majority of wargamers likely already understand where I’m going with this. Not all wargames are created equal and wind up falling into anywhere between four and seven levels. For my purposes I took five levels and relabeled and redefined them to fit my needs: Operational Level, Corps/Army Group Level, Division Level, Brigade Level, and Battalion/Company Level.

For air and sea combat, I experimented heavily and came up with an approach that was somewhat unorthodox, but nevertheless effective. PC-based games were especially useful when it came to constructing and playing out the air and sea aspects of the conflict model. Command: Modern Air & Naval Operations proved to be the golden ticket in this regard. I’ve been a huge fan of the game since it first came out in 2013. I’ll talk more about CMANO in Part II, but I highly recommend it to any gamer looking for a modern naval wargame. In short, it is like Harpoon on steroids.

I will post Part II on Monday and then likely a third part by Wednesday. Hope everyone has a good weekend!

8 Replies to “Gaming World War III: The Conflict Model Part I”

    1. Thanks!

      You’re right. Great game but it takes forever to learn it and be able to play it well. And then there is scenario creation, which is an entirely different animal.

      Liked by 1 person

  1. Never forget the admonition from GDW – and I swear I am not making this up – in the wargame called “NATO”, “If you wish to simulate the effects of nuclear weapons in your game, soak the map and counters with lighter fluid and apply a match.” They then go on to less cheekily suggest ways to “simulate” nuclear war: roll a d6, on a 1-3, the conflict escalates out of control and the world effectively ends, on a 4-6, a series of handicaps have to be put in place (no reinforcements after a certain # of turns, no replenishment of depleted units, movement becomes very difficult due to destruction of roads and railroads, no air operations, and so on).

    Liked by 1 person

      1. I once setup the game of NATO (Victory Games version) with a friend and started playing. Rules state that on turn 1 (each turn is 2 days) no one can declare use of nukes. On turn 2, my friend (playing the NATO side) declares use of nukes, rolls a “1” and game is over. A “win” for me as Warsaw Pact but fastest game ever!

        Liked by 1 person

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