The End of All Things - Cold War Megagame AAR (Part 3)

By Joe Robinson 19 Sep 2016 1

This is the third & final part of our after action report on the mega(war)game Not Over By Christmas. For more information on megagames and for the rest of the story, read Parts One & Two

The End of All Things

We were reaching the climax – we'd heard that the WP had broken the entire southern defensive line and were heading towards the French border. The northern frontier had stabilised but was further back then High Command would have liked, and Denmark had surrendered completely. In our personal war, we'd prevented soviet troops from reaching the Rhine and were slowly herding our wayward foes south and out of our Area of Operation. We were then able to move units forward to support the flanks of the British and the German III Corps and basically ended up back where we started. Yay us.

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I was updating our tactical map when I heard the news – the French had launched a nuke.

To be fair, it was a small PLUTON warhead that was detonated in mid-air in front of the soviet army and any major population centres (although there were civilian casualties), but a nuke HAD been fired. We were told it was a 'warning shot'. Standing orders on the French team were to nuke anything that got near the French border, but with Russian troops marching in that general direction they felt a warning shot was necessary.

My heart sunk – to me it signalled we had lost. It doesn't matter who was actually winning on the operational map, the fact we resorted to nuclear tactics meant that it was over. There were only two outcomes now – either NATO would capitulate or everyone would get annihilated. I didn't doubt for a second the Warsaw Pact would respond with anything other than the threat of nuclear fire.

Apparently firing off an air-burst explosion in front of advancing soviet forces was actual doctrine at the time. It's easy for me to criticise, not being from that era, but it sounds like a massively silly idea.

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If you establish the idea that it's OK to use nuclear weapons, then those weapons WILL be used and everybody loses in that scenario.

I heard after the fact that the suggestion for this action actually came from AFCENT itself, which just made me feel disappointed. French overreactions I could understand, but AFCENT? Made me wonder just what the hell I'd been doing all day, and why.

Things went a bit crazy after that – the German's were understandably outraged that some of their civilians had been killed because of a 'warning shot' and wanted to pull out of NATO. The Warsaw Pact began handing Nuke Cards out with the morning rations and emergency talks were being held by Soviet High Command and AFCENT itself. I overheard a snippet – someone on the WP side suggested that perhaps THEY should fire a warning shot too. See what I mean?

Not long after that we got given a general cease-fire order – all NATO forces were to stop combat operations. We weren't even allowed to defend ourselves if the Soviets kept on attacking, we simply had to “report it, and fall back”. I don't think this would have actually worked – the way the game was designed meant that combat is automatic; if they attack us, we attack them back as part of the resolution of that action. I suppose we could have asked for a separate Control ruling to do a retreat without firing back but thankfully we didn't have to try and put those orders into practice.

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As quick as the flash of a nuclear detonation, the game had ended.

Debrief & Reflection

The best bit about a megagame (other than playing in one) is the aftermath. By design, your roles and your levels of interaction are very limited, very focused. It’s not like a traditional wargame or similar videogames where you inhabit a quasi-omnipotent role and see/hear everything.

In a megagame, you have to rely on the information of others and use that to formulate a plan, which is wonderful because people generally tend to exaggerate the situation (like I did a couple of times). For example, despite a member of one of the CENTAG corps rushing into the planning room screaming that everything was going to hell, when I went to look at the map everything seemed fine (although I probably missed a lot of the finer details). The objective truth doesn’t really come out until afterwards. People relax, people shed their personas and start talking about how their day went. Hearing the stories and thoughts of my fellow players is always a fascinating experience.

Fun fact: A member of the US VII Corps team completely ignored the commands coming from higher up his CoC and got an entire division's worth of units surrounded and obliterated. His story has since been fleshed out on Facebook, and it's a cracking read.

For my part, there were a few key takeaways:

  • We hadn't lost a single unit (bar one recon battalion right at the start of the game).
  • We hadn't let Soviet forces reach the Rhine.
  • We ended the game with no WP units within our AO.

Given our situation at Turn 0, I was extremely proud of how we ended up. We even got a mention from the NORTHAG players during their debrief.

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As for the game itself, overall it was a superb experience. I'd maintain, even after talking to Rob about a couple of design things, there was still a slight balance issue to be sorted out. In his defence and to paraphrase an old adage: No Megagame survives contact with the players. Apparently NATO were winning towards the end according to him, so maybe not? It's a small miracle that we kept soviet forces east of the Rhine, given all the stories we heard afterwards.

If you have yet to experience a Megagame for yourself, I highly recommend that you do. There is a growing scene in the US, and EU megagames are still going strong. As wargamers you'll probably be more interested in the operational ones. Sadly there's no fixed schedule, these things just get planned as and when by people who feel like running them. Purely wargame-like megagames are a minority, but most of the large-scale events usually feature an operational element. For example in Watch the Skies, someone would have been in control of the military and done any fighting that needed doing. The units in WTS represented whole armies, as opposed to divisions or brigades.

Before we go, some words from Rob Cooper himself on how he viewed events on the day:

Like all megagames it is as much an experience in management anc command and control as it is in the technicalities of the rules. In fact traditional wargamers with a min-max approach will likely be very frustrated by the time pressures and the lack of omniscience - both of which are a key part of any megagame. Where teams worked best they avoided micromanaging and "playing the rules" but planned ahead in broad hand fuls and took a zen like approach to short term problems.

This was not a balanced scenario but was deigned to be one in which NATO could at least stabilise the ground.  Had I made NATO units Divisions, or tweaked the rules to make Brigade attacks on Divisions less costly the game would have been imbalanced the wrong way.  An Operational Counterattack was a remote possibility but depended on a certain set of circumstances and the correct available force mix.  The fact that players mostly recovered from the initial shocks and learned lessons about the way the war was to be fought and won was actually something I am quite happy with.

As you can probably imagine, our account here is only a narrow view of events – If you head on over to the official Facebook page, you'll see more stories from the day cropping up. I highly suggest you go read them. We hope you enjoyed this AAR. Do leave comments and feedback below! Images courtesy of Jim Wallman and other megagame attendees!



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