An Alien Era

Today is my 27th birthday. And I think my date of birth might explain why I have a sudden fascination with Cold War fiction.

Because it’s after my time. I was born the year the USSR fell, so the world I entered is a lot different. Looking back on it is like looking back at something different, something that has changed so quickly. And fiction tends to reflect fact. From a literary perspective, it feels interesting to study a genre, even one as “fluffy” as the technothriller, to see its ups and downs.

It’s very fascinating.



Another Issue of Scale

It’s very easy to be “spoiled” by World War II sizes, where even second-stringers could handily field large formations (by the standards of later armies), and where the 90 division US Army was not unreasonably criticized as being too small.

Even Cold War armies appear small compared to those[1], something that I need to keep in mind when making my guilty pleasure OOB lists.

[1]In terms of number of divisions, of course. In capability, they’re far superior.

Twilight 2000

Twilight 2000, the classic semi-postapocalyptic tabletop RPG, is a very contradictory game, one of the most so I’ve ever seen.

See, the plot is good enough. It’s more realistic than many WWIIIs in that the nukes fly, but manages to stay intact enough so that all the cool toys aren’t taken away. And whatever the many plausibility issues, it works for the sake of setting up an adventure.

The problem is in the dichotomy. The mechanics have a detailed, often-realistic unglamorous focus on the dirty work-logistics, disease, and the like. Characters are quite vulnerable. This mixed with the shattered, post-nuclear war-bandit setting means it should be poised for a low-tier, somber look, right?

Wrong. Sharing equally with the dirty-work mechanics are detailed stats of individual guns, tanks, and artillery pieces, starting dubious already but taken to excess in supplements. The post-apocalyptic setting is there to provoke challenges, but it’s also clearly there to take away the command post and those pesky orders. The target audience and themes are for the “bored soldier and military enthusiast” crowd, not exactly something somber. It’s like This War of Mine was jumbled together with Medal of Honor Warfighter and printed, to use later video games as analogies.

And then some of the later supplements got-weird. I’m talking “save Arkansas from evil airships” weird.

It’s still fascinating, both as a product of its time and for the “excesses” and contradictions it has.


Command Fiction: Cold Patrols


This Command Fiction vignette is based on my scenario Yellow Sea Patrol. The scenario itself is one I’ve found largely unsatisfying due its luck based component. I still like the concept, it’s just hard to model right in an operational level sim.

So, this is a Cold War story-no, it’s-a story of luck.

_ _ _ _ _ _

The destroyers Morgan and Winters had just fired the first shots of the Cold War, and just taken the first hits. Whatever encouraged the ChiComs to go out with their Mustang and torpedo boats remained a mystery.

-What wasn’t a mystery was the outcome. A destroyer beat up by air-launched rockets and the torpedo boats all on the bottom of the ocean.

-What wasn’t a mystery was the outcome. A destroyer getting purely cosmetic damage from air-launched rockets that missed it.

-What wasn’t a mystery was the outcome. A destroyer sunk by a lucky torpedo hit, the first postwar loss of a ship that size.

Was the outcome indeed a mystery? Not what it was that particular day, but what it could have been?


The War That Never Was

More than a few Command scenarios have been based on a book entitled The War That Never Was by Michael Palmer. When I read the book myself, I developed the following opinions about it:

-The War That Never Was is very good as a “foundation” for Command scenarios, thanks to its extreme detail.

-However, the same details make it very bad as an actual novel.

Want long, encyclopedic details of various military units attacking each other? Then it has that. Want specific details of every ship? The book has that. But want that story told with any degree of personal immediacy, any amount of emotional, as opposed to mechanical detail? The book doesn’t have that. Want characterization-as in any characterization? Nope.

The book has a similar setup as Operation Sealion by Richard Cox, another¬† novelization of a wargame depicting the titular never-was “plan” by Germany to invade the British Isles in World War II.¬† (Spoilers: Germans lose big). Third-person omniscient, figures are given in extreme detail, but personalities aren’t.

It is just the published version of a dull, overly literal Let’s Play/After Action Report. Using it as a scenario reference can work, and many players have made good scenarios out of it. But as a book-it’s not very good at all.