This is a Part 2 of a two part post. Start with Part 1 here, if interested. In the previous installment, I focused on a 1955 World War III scenario in Germany. This second part moves elsewhere in the world.
As a rule, I don’t like to play a strategy game as I would a First Person Shooter. Running into a “gotcha,” then reloading and trying again and again may work for some types of games, it ruins the mood for me in a historical strategy game.
Part of the historical flavor is that, while we may study the situation in detail, the commanders at the time had none of that hindsight. So any surprise that they faced at the time, to the extent that the game can model it, will be a surprise for we players only the first time through. Add to that the unpleasantness of playing the same thing over-and-over again, trying to get it right… it would seem more satisfying were we to expect a scenario to be a once-through affair.
One could make the counter argument that, as a virtual military person, your real life counterpart has undergone training well beyond even the most dedicated gamer. He knows his own people and platforms inside and out and has also studied the enemy. He may well have spent more time in preparation for an operation than you’re going to spend on the entire game (both in real and simulated time). In that way, playing and replaying a given scenario can be seen as an equivalent to the years of training and experience that precedes any battle.
Wherein I Completely Spoil The Surprise
At this point, I’m going to completely spoil the scenario Waller Takes Charge, from CMANO.
If not obvious from the intro, this one took me a few times to come close to getting right. And right from the get-go, I ran into a gotcha from the scenario maker (it’s a community-made scenario).
Briefly, the scenario places us in command of the Destroyer USS Waller, near Crete at the outbreak of World War III. Quite a bit of nastiness has preceded, leaving us in command of the air wings of the USS Intrepid. We are given the base at Souda Bay, on the northern coast of Crete, and tasked with finding the remaining Soviet ships in the Mediterranean, which are estimated to include a cruiser and at least two submarines.
The opening gotcha is that, while I am concentrating on figuring out what assets I’ve got and what I’m going to be able to do with them, unbeknownst to us all (well, if you haven’t been reading this, that is), the Soviets have a flight of four Tu-4 Bulls armed with nukes headed towards the airbase.
My first time through, I sent all my planes back to base, except for a mix of fighters and surveillance, which I sent to provide cover over the Waller and her sister ship DDE Cony. It wasn’t at all clear to me how much fuel I had, and I didn’t want to risk any losses through stupidly stranding my planes too far from my new base. It didn’t help that the planes were constantly complaining that I didn’t seem to know what I was doing, given that they’d already been given the “Return To Base” order at game start.
Is there a commander alive that, at the outset of hostilities, not only fail to provide a defensive fighter patrol over his own base, but ensure that all his available aircraft are unavailable, due to refueling and rearming? That’s essentially what I was doing, and the scenario is designed to punish the player for focusing on the goal but ignoring defense. With no defense, those Tu-4s are going to mean is an instant loss, even before the player gets started hunting for the ships.
Doing It Right
Having failed so obviously, it didn’t feel wrong at all to load up the game from the beginning and take the appropriate precautions.
Having done so (and having stopped the threat at the cost of a few fighters), it struck me that this was another easy scenario to throw together in IL-2.
As always, it surprises me when I achieve essentially the same result in IL-2 as I’ve just seen in CMANO. In this case, I was generally able to take out the incoming bombers, although generally losing 1 or 2 fighters in the process. It took me a couple play-throughs, but ultimately I managed to take out the incoming bombers and land my plane back on Crete.
The maps for the vicinity of Crete, complete with airbases, are all available in the IL-2 content available on line. A little searching can spruce up the basic models for the aircraft with nice paint jobs. However, the one piece of the CMANO scenario I could not bring over to IL-2: in the larger battle, I was using a mix of FJ-3 Furies and F2H-2 Banshees to defend the base. The latter, unfortunately, is not available in the jets package that I’m using. So my defense was all three defenders being FJ-3s.
As far as I can tell, my fighter losses in CMANO to the Tu-4 attack were all from the Bulls’ defensive gunnery. That was also true in IL-2; Approach the bombers too slowly, especially from the lower rear, and I’d find myself riddled with bullet. However, in every attempt I also lost either my plane or my wingman’s to the nuclear blast of the bomber discharging its ordnance before crashing. It makes me wonder if that was actually doctrine, either from the Soviets or the U.S.? Particularly during the 1950s when the fallout fear was less than later decades. In this particular scenario, I guess it is smart. A bomb detonated over open sea has little effect except to take out one or two enemy planes.
But I Digress
Having successfully defended my base, I tried again to focus on the mission and find the Russian subs. Once again, I was caught in another stupid mistake due to lack of attention. While I was focused on directing my air units, the Waller and the Russian counterpart drifted into range of each other and began firing. While initially panicked, I realized that I was, by far, getting the better of the situation. Unfortunately, what I didn’t watch for is that the enemy cruiser, while farther away, had a longer range on her guns, which were also considerably more deadly than the destroyer gunnery.
That prompted another reload. This time through, I concentrated on making sure I could bring everything to bear simultaneously against the Kuybyshev. I held my ships out of range until I had all my aircraft rearmed, and then moved in closer to hopefully support the results of my air attack. That’s when I found out several other pieces of information, (which a responsible commander would have known up front) the hard way.
Regular bombs (unless they are coming from enemy planes against your own ships, apparently) are fairly ineffective against moving ships. The only damage I seemed to do was with my final attack run where I used rockets. Also, the Soviet ships have a speed advantage. Keeping just out of range when the Russians want to close is not an option. Finally, the Egyptians, neutral at the start of the scenario, have an unexpected way of negating our air superiority.
Time for another reload.
At this point, I’m going to give this scenario a break. This reminded me how difficult many of the CMANO scenarios could be – in some cases puzzle-like in their solution. From the orders, one would assume a superiority in forces would be required to accomplish them. However, without some clever planning, the superiority may actually be with the enemy. It may be that only careful application of your available weapons, in just the right time and place, will allow you to overcome the otherwise impossible mission. Yes, this is an interesting problem for the commander. But it is less interesting if the nature of the threats, and the thus the combination of tactics to defeat them, is only known through multiple playthroughs.
As I started out, I find that frustrating in a strategy game.
Other Armies, Other Fronts
Just so I’m not left with no accomplishments, I also took on a another Steel Panthers scenario. This one, titled “Assault Gun Support,” imagines that World War III has spread in the opposite direction, to the north. The scenario is a counter attack with Swedish infantry support by assault guns against the Soviet aggressors (also supported by assault guns).
As always, fairly enjoyable gameplay. Also, as usually happens, I make my share of dumb mistakes. This time, I lost nearly all of my assault guns in the opening minutes. But the difference is I don’t feel the need to reload and restart just to make it through the scenario. I can live and learn, and maybe accept that I coulda/shoulda/woulda done better than that draw, without having to whittle away at the scenario until I “beat” it.