2021 Holiday Tournament: Round 2 Central Front Operational

Central Front Operational

#1 Third World War: Battle for Germany vs #3 1985: Under an Iron Sky

Monster wargames are not for the faint of heart. Monster NATO-Warsaw Pact Central Front wargames are especially not for casual gamers. Both of these titles qualify as monsters from different eras and this is apparent in their design, game mechanics and presentation. Battle for Germany (BfG) is widely regarded as the Godfather of operational level Central Front games. Published in 1984 as the first title of the Third World War series, BfG simulates a NATO-Pact conflict on the Central Front in the early 1990s. As a result, BfG’s design team needed to include a healthy dose of guestimates in determining the strength of many land formations and air squadrons. Iron Skies, on the other hand, simulates the same conflict in July, 1985. There are rules available to change the date but the game was designed around July, 1985. Orders of battle, weather, quality of troops and dozens of other variables revolve around this time period. This really makes it more of a hypothetical model than a wargame, since there’s little left to the player’s imagination.

Both titles have in-depth, ultra-realistic and playable air systems. Iron Sky benefits from having decades of real-world historical information available on the performance of NATO and Pact aircraft in actual combat settings. BfG had to wing it and hope its estimates would turn out to be close to the mark. The major difference between the two air systems is that the Iron Sky air system can be turned into a separate game entirely. It is that detailed. BfG’s air system, on the other hand, feels like it is a component of the larger game system and would not stand up on its own.

There are a number of other areas where these two games can be and have been rated. At the end of the day, however, it came down to playability. BfG presents as a game that can be enjoyed multiple times over a period of years while Iron Sky comes across as a historical model that can only offer maximum enjoyment for holders of PhDs in military history.

Winner: Third World War: Battle for Germany

#2 NATO: The Next War in Europe vs #5 Iron Curtain: Central Europe, 1945-1989

Another clash between old and new design philosophies. NATO was released in 1983 when the Cold War was becoming noticeably hot, and the prospect of a military confrontation was quite plausible. Iron Curtain, on the other hand, came out in 2020, long after the Cold War ended. Like Iron Sky, it had the benefit of history in its game design whereas NATO had to make a number of educated guesses especially about Warsaw Pact capabilities. Overall, the NATO orders of battle have not aged well despite being part of a system that has withstood the test of time. Iron Curtain, like a number of more recent NATO-Pact games are laid out more like historical models rather than straight up war games. If Iron Skies can be considered a 900 level course, Iron Curtain is more of a survey course in hypothetical Central Front conflicts during the Cold War Era.

The game mechanics of NATO are good enough. Realistic gameplay powered by realistic strategic and tactical depth. A tad simpler to learn and master compared to Iron Curtain. NATO’s biggest weakness is the air system, which is overly abstract. But to be fair, this is largely a ground war game. When it comes to maps, Iron Curtain has the advantage. The NATO map is bland, to put it mildly. It shows major cities, terrain, rivers and borders, but not quite in a way that appeals to the eye.

Yet somehow, despite the negative traits, NATO has managed to remain popular for almost forty years. It’s widely considered a classic and has even spawned a second edition. Iron Curtain is a solid wargame that has the potential to offer countless hours of enjoyment. But it’s not a classic….. yet. 😊

Winner: NATO: The Next War in Europe

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