The End of All Things – Cold War Megagame AAR (Part 1)15 Sep 2016 1
Firstly, you’re probably wondering just what the hell this is. Mega-what? Game-whosit? What exactly does the 'mega' bit mean? It’s OK – these are all normal questions.
The best and easiest place to start is here. Megagames have been going on in the UK (and possibly elsewhere) for decades, but it was boardgames website Shut Up & Sit Down that pushed the idea more towards the mainstream consciousness with their report on a megagame called Watch the Skies. Due to this new-found fame WTS returned for 3 more runs, each with hundreds of people in attendance.
Not Over By Christmas is what is known as an ‘Operational’ Megagame: Take a hex/counter wargame, streamline the rules because it could involve 50+ people at the table and then add in the desired scenario/conflict. In NOBC, we were fighting a fictional scenario in 1980’s Germany where the Warsaw Pact went to war with NATO.
I was on the NATO team, part of a three-man unit that abstractly represented the Belgian I Corps forces deployed in a sector of West Germany that stretched from Cologne on the Rhine, to the Weser. I was Chief-of-Staff: with me were the Corps Commander and then our Operations Officer who would do all of the actual map-interactions.
At the same command level were other 3 man teams representing other Army Corps. For example; our neighbours on the line were the I British Corps and the III German Corps. Up the chain of command where operational teams of CENTAG and NORTHAG and above them was AFCENT, who were the ‘supreme’ leaders of all of NATO’s forces in the game. Across from us was a Warsaw Pact team (of a very different command hierarchy) and then Control members that are in parts DM’s and Umpires. They were in charge of enforcing the rules, role-playing various NPC elements (like national governments) and making sure the day ran as smoothly as possible.
As Chief of Staff my role was to make sure our lines of communication were rock solid. Our commander spent most of his time coming up with the turn-to-turn plan and liaising with our upper chain-of-command. My job was to make sure our ops guy got the plans and also liaise with the other corps to coordinate the defence.
The game was deliberately designed to be asymmetrical – the Warsaw Pact had division-sized units while we only had Brigades. NATO were better on defence than on offence, with the WP being more mobile and more aggressive. WP started with more units on the board than NATO did too. This posed some very interesting tactical and logistical challenges but for the most part it worked great, bar a few exceptions we’ll come back to later.
There was a whole hour and half of planning before the game actually started with ‘turn 0’. This mainly involved initial deployments of all available forces, as well as the placement of recon units and then finally the pre-war mobilisation. This was meant to represent whether or not the Warsaw Pact would catch NATO completely with their trousers down, or just a little bit sleepy.
I BE Corps started with 2 mobilisation points and, fearing the worst, we took special cards that allowed us 4 more. In the end only one point was deducted from us by WP shenanigans so we got 5 points. That allowed us to move up our tank brigade and our HQ towards the border, as well as mine all the approaches we could reach. All in all, it was the best we could hope for.
There were still issues facing us though prior to the game's start – 1 BE Corps was the smallest and weakest of all the NATO armies in the field. In fact, out of the 6 combat brigades we had access too only 2 were actually on the map. The other four (along with our third recon battalion) would trickle in over the next 3 turns. We had an artillery brigade on-site as well though, but with these three units we somehow had to watch a frontier of 60km, which was about four hexes. Each hex was 15km across.
We'd decided to anchor our defensive line to that of the German III Corps to our south. They had a unit stationed in Kassel, the major town near us, and we took up positions at the crossing at Gottingen. Our Tanks guarded the left fork, and our two recon units manned the right fork, and then another crossing hex next to Kassel.
To the north our British allies had deployed around Hannover and Brunswick, which was further forward than us. It left the area between us and them pretty open which I was worried could be exploited, but we based our plan on the assumption the Soviets would want to hit the major roads and hit them early, so they'd have to come through us. Oh hindsight, you cruel mistress.
Basically, 'Turn 0' went disastrously for NATO. I was in the AFCENT control room talking to the head of the NATO air assets when one of his deputies stormed into the room. The Soviets had sent all of their planes to the sky and nearly-obliterated NATO's air capacity. Meanwhile, on the ground, the four Soviet 'Fronts' advanced further than anyone could have anticipated – to the far North they crossed the Lubeck estuary with laughable ease, overrunning several deployment zones and cutting the Danish forces off from NATO help. CENTAG & the south was in similar disarray, although I'm a little fuzzy on the details.
Locally, our British neighbours had gotten themselves completely surrounded in Hannover & Brunswick, and the III (GER) Corps below us was squaring off against an entire army across the river from Kassel.
To make matters worse a Soviet column had brushed aside one of our recon units and simply moved around and behind our defensive positions. They'd exploited the gap that I was worried about, and with the British utterly cut off from everyone else our entire Area of Operations was exposed, not to mention their forward elements were 2 hexes away from our Forward HQ. Between this and the WP forces to our south, NATO had a lot of assets in danger of being surrounded.
Now, there was a lot of talk during the day of the BE Corps letting the side down (which I didn't stand for, let me tell you) but really the entirety of NATO was caught with their pants down. As for our own plan, I believe we made a couple of key errors:
- We perhaps made Kassel too strong a defensive position, incentivizing an alternative plan.
- We failed to appreciate how far a WP column could move on roads that weren't Autobahns.
- Our early assumption about WP plans, whilst not wrong, perhaps convinced us to leave bigger gaps than we should have.
Saying this, I feel the end-result would have been similar no matter what we'd done. With only two combat brigades and two recon battalions (which basically count as terrain features and are there as a delaying tactic), if we hadn't anchored our defence on Kassel the Pact would have just surrounded the town and moved past us that way. The only thing we could have done was perhaps made more of an effort to blow the bridges in our zone. Ultimately mines and recon unit didn't prove that effective when a Soviet armoured column wanted to move somewhere.
The entire NATO side was in a mild state of shock at the conclusion of Turn 0. Everything seemed lost and dire and the game hadn't even begun yet! The rest of the game would prove extremely tense, but apart from one gentlemen from CENTAG running into the room screaming that everything was lost, we all kept our calm and carried on.
Come back tomorrow for Part Two of our AAR on the megagame Not Over By Christmas! Images courtesy of Jim Wallman and other megagame attendees!