All things considered, air warfare is an entirely different species of animal than its land, and sea counterparts when it comes to wargaming. This is especially true when dealing with NATO-Warsaw Pact games set in the ‘80s. The air war that was to be unleashed on the Central Front, and other theaters when the balloon went up would’ve been like nothing the world had seen before. Or has seen since, for that matter. There were no pure ‘World War III air war’ games released commercially in the ‘80s. As a rule, the NATO-Pact operational level games of the period covered air warfare through abstract air systems, and special rules.
Some designers were more successful incorporating the air element into their games than others. Third World War Battle for Germany had an unexpectedly effective air system, detailed enough to keep players from losing interest but not overly complex. Airfields are not on the map. Air unit counters are kept in the Air Theater box until their time comes to be used. NATO: The Next War in Europe, on the other hand, had an air system consisting of confusing rules, and no real integration. The airspace rules were especially nonsensical given the fact they were significant to practically every type of operation in the game.
Non-digital air combat games from the time period were limited in what they offered. There was no title available which depicted a Central Front air war at an operational level. To my pleasant surprise a title has emerged more recently that makes an effort to portray this hypothetical conflict with a high degree of realism. The game is called Red Storm: The Air War Over Central Germany, 1987 and is available from GMT Games. I came across the game after this blog was well underway and from what I’ve seen, it could very well be a title worth owning in the near future.
To create my own air war over the Central Front I turned once again to PC games and selected Command (CMANO: Command Modern Air & Naval Operations) as the primary tool. Command’s engine and databases are practically tailor-made for massive scenarios including hundreds of aircraft, and targets, while spanning days or weeks. It’s a big, shiny, brand-new jeep begging its owner to take it four-wheeling. So, I obliged and took her for a spin….through the Grand Canyon after a monsoon.
Command’s databases include every combat and civil aircraft, air-to-air and air-to-ground weapon, ground based radar, SAM, and SSM that’s come into service somewhere in the world between 1945 and the current day. It contains the usual suspects necessary for a Central Front air war set in 1987. The MiG-29 Fulcrum, A-10 Warthog, F-16, Tornado, Su-24 Fencer, and of course the preeminent air-to-air champion of our lifetime the F-15C Eagle. I created the air picture as would’ve during a period of heightened tension in early July, 1987 on both sides of the Iron Curtain. Airbases were created with great care and placed accurately, as were forward airfields. Squadrons were assigned to the same bases they were in real life. The SAM belts and NADGE, went up next, as well as the many POMCUS sites set across West Germany and the Low Countries.
Unsurprisingly, the most arduous part of the preparation process turned out to be setting up missions, doctrine, and events for the both sides. This wasn’t fun. Command is very big on Lua. I’m not a computer programmer, or IT professional by any stretch of the imagination so it’s safe to say I was out of my element learning how to program special events into the scenario using Lua. With a lot of help from friends, and some co-workers I managed to learn enough about Lua to make it worthwhile and balance out the scenario.
Then I started the play testing, and ultimately playing the finished product. That’s another story for another time but I promise I will address it in the future.