My final exercise in the exploration of the Suez Crisis was to be a scenario in CMANO imagining an escalation of the Egypt situation into a global conflict between the superpowers, not an entirely implausible scenario given the events.
The actual scenario, titled Caribbean Clinch, is a user-made scenario that is one of the archetypes of CMANO situations. The player is given a mixed bag of assets with which he is expected to locate and dispatch a mix of enemy surface and subsurface vessels. I’m pretty sure I’ve played a similar setup before. Moving the same basic scenario to different frames allows exploration of the technology available at that time.
My complaint here is a variation of one I’ve made before. I lost the scenario, having failed to find any of the enemy units. The situation is that the Carribean Basin has a number of commercial vessels which I ended up chasing (often having to re-identify the same ones), and I never located any hostile vessels. Why? I don’t know. Perhaps I was supposed to use more active radar searches than I did? Perhaps my search patterns were poorly conceived?
The point is – I don’t know. For the advanced CMANO gamer, the answer is probably obvious.
In working on my previous article, I was reading about why the disparity between the historical results and the playing experience in the Steel Panthers scenario. Someone suggested that the last thing a scenario builder wants to hear, having put a lot of time into creating a masterpiece of a scenario, is that it is too easy and not worth playing.
By contrast, I play for insight into the historical conditions of the situation represented. If, historically, my side had an overwhelming win, I want to see that happen (or at least have that potential, assuming I do the historically right thing). It is frustrating for me, a casual gamer, to completely fail in the mission and, in doing so, also completely fail to have learned anything about the situation, equipment, or tactics.
To compare and contrast; this scenario also, for me at least, is fiendishly difficult. In that earlier article, I discussed the problems of trying to operate B-47s against the evolved Soviet threat, and those problems are evident here as well. It was a failure of doctrine to keep pace with technology. Unlike that other scenario, at the scale here I don’t think it is appropriate to “pilot” planes using the CMANO interface, so I have to assume there is another, more operational, solution.
But by contrast, the situation portrayed in the user-made scenario Peeling the Onion is both fascinating and unique. So much that even a complete failure is a learning experience. As the player, you are the commander of the “Reflex” operations in Morocco, as well as the supporting air wings in the States. With mid-air refueling, the bases in Morocco allow the bombing of Soviet targets with the B-47s. Furthermore, these jet bombers were expected to fly higher and faster than the Soviet defenses were capable of achieving, and thus can strike their targets without the necessity of escort fighters or other support. Thus, the game even in complete loss is instructional allowing the player to imagine how a commander at that time might have been taken completely by surprise by the latest in Russian technology.
What makes the difference is that the impossible situation here is one, potentially, faced by a commander in this place and time. The doctrine and forces assumed that the U.S. nuclear strike was invulnerable to defense. By the late 50s, this was no longer the case. So if the commander got the go to launch, what was he to do? He had no counter to the Soviet air defenses, which (perhaps unbeknownst to him) had become effective.
As with the previous scenarios in the era, I have to wonder if the capabilities of the Soviet forces aren’t a bit on the optimistic side. <Spoiler Alert – from here I talk scenario details> In my initial strike, using all the bombers that I had stationed in Morocco, the Russians had no problem shooting down every one. The Yak 25 fighter moves faster and flies higher than my B-47s, so all I can hope for is a lucky tail gunner shot. Since I’m also outnumbered, I probably need half-a-dozen lucky tail gunner shots in a row to get the bomb through.
I also ran into some frustrating interface issues. At the point I realized none of my guys were getting out alive, it seemed pointless to worry about refueling issues. Yes I had insufficient refueling planes in the theater but, after all my bombers were shot down, I had unused refueling planes. Point being, once a bombing run began, I wanted it completed, whether or not the pilot thinks he could get his plane home again. At one point, I even had a bomber get pretty close to the target, at which point he turned around and began heading for a refueling station. Try as I might, I couldn’t seem to override that behavior (although I know I’ve crashed planes in previous scenarios by accidentally running them out of fuel). It was really upsetting to, several times, finally get the bomber headed in the right direction to then, once again, have it turn around and head for a tanker rendezvous. Finally, I had to give up at let him egress, at which point he was promptly shot down by the planes he had just avoided on the inbound leg. My sole consolation was that I didn’t really believe he was going to make to the target anyway.
One more learning experience. The frustration of being unable to get through the Soviet defenses does provoke emotional reactions. Eventually, I did manage to light off 10 megatons near a Ukrainian city, and boy did that feel good. All of this without context; the scenario deliberately gives no background for the war or the green light to bomb. The Russians goal is only to prevent me from wiping out all their cities, whereas mine is to maximize innocent body count – and yet I feel personally offended when they prevent me from doing so. It makes you think about what happens, psychologically, in a real war.