I am always on Facebook, and more specifically the Wargamers group, and Ty Bomba always posts about the most interesting looking projects that he has under design. Last month, I came across some info about a new game he has on pre-order with Compass Games called Stalin’s World War III: A Sweeping Two-Front War in 1953. The game is a two volume monster that includes Volume One: Operation Sandown in the Mid-East and Volume Two: Operation Pincher in Europe. This game is a hypothetical What If style wargame that looks at Stalin’s final push for control of the world over a two front war in 1953.
Grant: I know that recently you have done quite a few games on the Soviets and their various What If opportunities. Why do you feel so drawn to them as a design focus?
Ty: The many aborted scenarios for World War III that lie within the overall historical framework of the Cold War era are, if not infinite, certainly huge, with many of them still relatively unexplored via wargames. I’m particularly drawn to the early part of that period – let’s say 1945 through about 1956 – because those years represent the last time mass armies, such as those that fought in the two historic World Wars, could’ve engaged against each other without being immediately annihilated by one or another kind of weapon of mass destruction.
Grant: How is this game different from your other recent game with One Small Step Stalin’s Final War? Did one spawn the concept for the other?
Ty: By 1949, the CIA had identified four possible Soviet theaters of operation across which they could’ve launched a new World War: Western and Central Europe, the Balkans and Southern Europe, the Caucasus and Mid-East, and the Far East. My own further analysis is that they didn’t have the manpower or logistical or command-control wherewithal to light up more than two of those simultaneously. So, Stalin had (and would’ve had to have made) choices in that regard. In my two-map min-monster for One Small Step, Stalin’s Final War, I covered a combined Western European (Germany) and Far East (Korean) double-thrust scenario at 10 miles per hex. Here, on a total of four maps at 20 miles per hex, I’m covering a Western and Southern Europe option combinable with an over-the-Caucasus and into the Mid-East option.
Grant: Did you use similar mechanics in this design as Stalin’s Final War?
Ty: The mechanics are similar, but with plenty of game-specific chrome, OB and terrain differentiations.
Grant: What historical assumptions did you use as a basis for this What If style look at a possible World War III?
Ty: Historical hindsight allows us to see that the Soviets of the late 1940s and early 1950s weren’t as strong as Stalin wanted to believe they were. At the same time, though, the US, and the democratic West generally, had demobilized – behind the presumably invincible shield provided them by the atomic bomb – to a ridiculous extent. So the two sides are stretched to their respective operational limits right from the start of the war. That overarch puts in place a lot of tense decision-making and prioritizing for both players.
Grant: Also why have you designed 2 separate volumes of the game inside the game? What was your thought behind this decision?
Ty: The two volumes were originally contracted as two entirely separate designs but, once the powers-that-be at Compass saw them both, they felt the only logical way to go was to present them together in one package, but while still preserving their easy individual play. I agreed.
Grant: In your opinion, why would Stalin have had this grand design? What was his end goal?
Ty: Stalin’s psychology as a communist leader was set in place by the crisis that surrounded his coming to power within the USSR in the mid-1920s. That crisis was due to the charges against his character offered in Lenin’s “final testament” concerning him. Whatever legitimacy you care to give those documents (and the historians’ debate goes on), Stalin was thereafter always concerned he was going to be looked back on as someone who hadn’t really deserved the mantle of supreme leader, and as a man who’d basically only tricked or bureaucratically maneuvered his way into that role. The way to overcome that was to make himself into the final pillar of the communist holy trinity: Marx had brought communism from the formless void into the realm of ideas and theory; Lenin moved it from there to the level of actual state governance in the material world. Stalin would secure his position by being the man who carried the revolution to its ‘inevitable’ historical conclusion: worldwide communism.
Grant: I noticed the cover was a huge source of discussion on many Facebook threads. What was the concern and how did you address it?
Ty: The complaint was there was too much Stalin and not enough tanks and planes. So we added more tanks and planes.
Grant: What is the scale of the game? What are the force structures? What was your historical basis for your OOB?
Ty: Each large-hex map is set at 20 miles per hex. The orders of battle for both sides are primarily divisional, along with some separate brigades and ad hoc “brigade groups” and “regimental combat teams” on the Allied side. Within that framework, the OOB are entirely historic for 1953.
Grant: How do you handle the inclusion of Warsaw Pact satellite nations troops? Are all Soviet units homogenous?
Ty: Those countries didn’t get to organize their militaries into administratively semi-independent national armies until after Stalin’s death and the large demobilization Khrushchev put the Soviet Army through in the late 1950s. That was when it became necessary to use more manpower from the East European satellite nations in order to make up for the Soviet/Russian partial stand down. During the time modeled in the game, those East European forces existed only as divisions that were fully integrated in all ways directly into the Soviet Army. So that’s how they appear in the game.
Grant: Looks like the maps are large and require some assembly. Why did you make this decision?
Ty: I’ve always wanted to work in the arena of full-blown monster games, and the people at Compass Games were willing to look at such a design. The four maps come together – two for each theater – to make a relatively easily played monster game, yet those who don’t have that kind of room or time can still play separately the two mini-monster games within the larger game.
Grant: What do the counters look like? I enjoyed your joke in the rules about Samurai like determination and discipline in regards to cleaning up counters. Do you clip your counters?
Ty: I’ve always been a counter-clipper and, decades back, I was amazed the first time I came across a hobbyist who didn’t clip. The counters are 9/16” mediums, and they’re pretty much NATO-symbols except for the airpower and other markers. Here is a look at one of the sheets:
Grant: How are Yugoslavia and Switzerland handled at the outset? Are there penalties for either side occupying these two countries?
Ty: The Swiss are in their standard 20th century neutral posture, which the Soviets can decide to violate if they think the victory points to be gotten there are worthwhile, or if widening their drive across the Alps seems attractive to them. In regard to Yugoslavia, though it’s not well known, it actually became an unofficial NATO member country in 1951, when Tito struck a deal with Montgomery (who was then NATO ground commander) to move a corps to cover the Ljubljana Gap if the Soviets seemed to be headed that way in order to invade Italy. By 1953 the Stalin-Tito split was full-blown, with the former looking to obliterate the latter from the communist movement’s history (thereby further solidifying Stalin’s place as the sole legitimate heir to the Marx/Lenin legacy). So though the Soviets can win without taking Belgrade, victory is harder to achieve if the Yugoslavs are let be; so it’s operatively best for the Soviets to immediately plow into Yugoslavia and seek to end that political problem ASAP.
Grant: What strength do the various Berlin and Austrian occupation units have? Are they designed only as speed bumps for the Soviets?
Ty: Those were relatively weak US, British and French brigades at the time. In Berlin their commands hadn’t even come together to set up a common citywide defense plan; each was just going to hunker down in its own occupation area and hold out there as long as possible. So, yes, they’re pretty much just speed bumps for the Soviets.
Grant: The communists can hold units off map in a reserve pool. Why did you allow this? What advantage does this offer?
Ty: The Soviet empire has a territorial depth that goes well beyond the area shown on the maps and, further, it occupies a position central to the theaters of operation on both maps. At the same time, the Soviet side holds the strategic initiative at the start of play. Those considerations came together to allow the Soviet player to build a certain amount of flexibility into his initial planning by creating a strategic reserve that can later be deployed into action based on that player’s appreciation of the overall developing situation.
Grant: What is the difference in play style for the Communist player versus the Allied player? How does this effect strategy?
Ty: The Communist player needs to use his initial conventional superiority to seize his victory objectives as fast as possible. The Allied player is tempted to run wild at that time with his atomic superiority, but he’s got to watch he doesn’t win on the battlefield by nuking everything that moves, only to then lose the game via global ecological or political collapse. That can be a delicate balancing act. At the same time, he needs to try to muster Allied reinforcements so he can run a late-game counteroffensive that will be sufficient to drive down the Soviet VP count into its lose-the-game range without having to, again, reach too far into the atomic bomb stockpile.
Grant: How does combat work?
Ty: Nothing radical: standard odds computation, and attacking is always voluntary kind of stuff. Here’s the CRT:
|Die Roll||1:2||1:1||2:1||3:1||4:1||5:1||6:1||Die Roll|
Final odds less than 1:2 have automatic AL1 results. Final odds greater than 6:1 have automatic DE results.
Grant: I notice players must declare each round whether they will Move/Fight or Fight/Move. Why is this important in the design?
Ty: In reality, armies no more move and then fight – the traditional phase sequence since old-Avalon-Hill Tactics II first appeared – than they do fight and then move. So I use that choice variability as an abstract way of modeling all kinds of logistical and command-control factors that would otherwise each require a lot of specific-situational rules. Invariably, there will be places on the maps where you really wish you could attack and then move your forces through the resultant holes you’ve just made in your opponent’s line. At other places, though, you’ll want to first move forward or redeploy your attack elements, but if you do that you’ll sacrifice the chance for immediate follow-on exploitation.
Grant: Why do players who have declared a Fight/Move action get a bonus? What is your reasoning for this?
Ty: The idea is, if you attack first, you’re able to do that because you previously took the time and trouble to optimally position, supply, and/or otherwise support your attack force: a “prepared assault.” The sudden initial release of that compressed spring brings with it benefits to your combat power. Alternatively, you may have forces that are in a tight spot, surrounded by the enemy, and you need to use the Fight/Move sequence in order to give them the best chance to punch their way out and escape.
Grant: I notice that multinational attacks result in a Column shift for the Soviets. What is the reasoning for this disadvantage?
Ty: NATO wasn’t yet in functional existence. The “Allies” simply hadn’t integrated their logistics or planning or doctrine or tactics to the extent they would later do so. So there’s an inescapable loss of combat power if you try to do things internationally in that kind of unorganized environment.
Grant: What restrictions are there for Soviet artillery attacks? What is the reason for this choice in the design?
Ty: The Soviet artillery arm of 1953 was improved over what it had been in 1945; however, their coordination with the infantry and tanks still wasn’t as smooth as it should’ve been. They didn’t have the communications equipment needed for optimal performance in that regard. Further, whenever such cannon-heavy units attack, they quickly use up stocks of on-hand ammunition. In game terms that means you can’t have more artillery factors in an attack than there are friendly non-artillery factors, and out of supply artillery can’t attack at all while in that state.
Grant: How does air superiority effect gameplay? Also why does the Communist player add one to their air superiority die roll during Turn 1?
Ty: I model airpower into the game as it would be viewed by the ground force commanders of both sides. Accordingly, it functions simply as a way to interdict (slow) enemy movement, negate the ability for friendly airborne troops to make paradrops within enemy airpower’s range, and provide a combat enhancement for your attacks and defenses when you’ve got local air superiority. The Communist gets a Turn 1 bonus in order to model the relative “jump” their initial air attacks would’ve had due to them having the initiative.
Grant: What is special about the Communist airborne reinforcements?
Ty: The Soviet airborne divisions are the super-elite of the game. Though not numerous, their reach is long, and they can often make a decisive difference in some crucial battle of victory point seizure operation.
Grant: Did you factor postwar negotiations for the Bundeswehr into the game? How did you handle this?
Ty: The Bundeswehr wasn’t officially in existence in 1953. In aggregate, though, the West Germans were already fielding the equivalent of one elite panzer grenadier division in their border guard organization. (I evaluate them as “elite” because most of their personnel were World War II veterans.) There’s also the provision for emergency unit formations within West Germany once the war begins. Those units have “untried” and “tried” sides, and they may “break” (have combat factors of zero) when first sent into combat and revealed. I believe the post-World-War-I Freikorps movement provides ample justification for that rule.
Grant: Why are no amphibious landings included in the design? How does this effect the NATO ability to counterattack?
Ty: Amphibious operations are the most complicated of all military operations. Though that expertise existed within the larger US/Allied framework in the Pacific Theater (Korea), there was no preparation for it in Europe. So there’s only a limited capacity for USMC entry using it in the Mid-East game. The timeframe of the games is too short to allow for more than that.
Grant: Why did you include restrictions on entry for the NATO airborne units arrivals?
Ty: In 1945 the Anglo-Allies had an entire airborne army in their order of battle. In the budget cutting after that, however, those paratroopers took severe hits. In Korea, they were revitalized to a small extent, but the terrain there was generally too rough to allow for large-scale airborne operations. So it’s the Soviets who have the airborne advantage, since in their army that arm was well maintained after 1945. In the game, Allied airborne operations are small and pretty much can only be run on an opportunistic basis, whenever the random reinforcement process brings forward one or more of those units from the off-map pool.
Grant: How do atomic attacks work? How can they effect US Prestige?
Ty: They can be highly destructive, but each time one is used the US player must check for a loss of “Prestige points,” which is a combined measure of global political influence and ecological degradation. A US player who tries to solve all his problems with a-bombs with lose the game. The Soviet player doesn’t have to worry about the politics or the environment, but he’s only allowed one atomic attack per turn, which reflects the still small size of Soviet bomb stockpiles at the time, combined with their much more underdeveloped delivery methods and doctrine.
Grant: How is victory determined?
Ty: The Communist player needs to have gained a lot of territory, counted as victory points for the capture of enemy cities, at the end of the game. Alternatively, he can win a sudden death victory by seizing the capital cities of all the Allied nations on the maps or via a US Prestige collapse. In general, the Communist player goes for an end-of-game victory based on overall territorial seizures, but he can also keep his eye on the sudden death win via taking all those capitals. (That’s where those paratroopers can really come in handy.)
Grant: What is your favorite part of the design? What has players response been?
Ty: I’ve really come to enjoy working in this whole era, across its entire available geography and timeline. I feel as if I’ve come across the “undiscovered country” of our hobby. There seems to be a lot of people happily anticipating the arrival of these designs. I’ve recommended to Compass Games that, if they can time it, they should release these games at the Monster Game convention in Tempe. Those hardcore mega-monster game players will eat this up, and they could sell a truckload of them right there.
Grant: Speaking of release, what is the timeline for the release of the game?
Ty: At this point, I don’t have any solid data on that beyond “sometime in mid-2018.”
Thanks for your great thoughts on the design for Stalin’s World War III Ty. The game looks very interesting and I also love that there are two games in one box, always a good value.
If you are interested in pre-ordering a copy of Stalin’s World War III: A Sweeping Two-Front War in 1953, you can do so at the following link on the Compass Games website for the cost of $65.00: https://www.compassgames.com/preorders/stalin-s-world-war-iii.html