|American cargo plane landing at Templehof |
airport during the Berlin Airlift
|Fulda Gap terrain features|
The Soviets, confronted with a strong and stable military alliance between Western Europe and the United States, reacted in kind; on 14 May 1955, the eight Communist Countries of the Eastern Bloc formed a military alliance of their own, known — because of the site chosen for the treaty’s formal signing — as the Warsaw Pact. Two great hostile military alliances now faced each other, one on each side of the “Iron Curtain.” Given the ongoing belligerence of the Communist leadership in the Kremlin; their ruthless suppression of the peoples of Eastern Europe, and their aggressive political adventurism in Africa and Latin America, the possibility of a Warsaw Pact invasion of Western Europe became, by the late 1950’s, a key feature of NATO planning as the Cold War continued.
The two most likely routes for a Soviet mechanized offensive into West Germany were obvious: the North German Plain, and the Fulda Gap. The British Army of the Rhine (BAOR) was entrusted with covering the North German Plain; while the US Vth Corps was assigned the initial defense of the Fulda Gap. If the Soviets attacked without warning, these British and American formations would have to halt the Warsaw Pact offensive long enough for reinforcements from the other NATO countries to move up to the front. Permanently arrayed against these British and American trip-wire units were mechanized divisions from the Soviet, East German, and Polish Armies. The other Warsaw Pact countries, like the supporting NATO members, would be expected to send their own additional front line and reserve units into the battle area, once hostilities actually began.
|Soviet tanks supress the "Prague Spring"|
uprising in Czechoslovakia, 1968
One unusual design feature of THE NEXT WAR — at least for its time — is that combat is treated as a function of movement, and occurs in a series of engagements during the course of the movement phase, as individual units move into contact with the enemy. In the basic “fast game” versions of the design’s shorter scenarios, air and naval operations can be dispensed with completely. However, despite the game’s emphasis on the ground war, the air and naval campaigns have not been short-changed. The elaborate subroutines for air and naval combat operations are so richly detailed, that they both can almost stand alone as independent games outside of the larger integrated simulation. The Air Game involves allocating hundreds of units to specific airfields and sectors along the front. From these airbases, the air units of the two combatants conduct a variety of different air missions, such as (but not limited to): air supremacy, CAP, air-to air, air-to-ground, air-to-naval, ground support, and air reconnaissance. The Naval Game, on the other hand, focuses only on naval operations in the Baltic Sea and Denmark Straits, and offers, in terms of maneuver tempo and combat, a completely different gaming experience from that of the air or land games.
A PERSONAL OBSERVATION
Among the many monster game players who, after giving Dunnigan's take on continent-wide modern warfare a try, decided that they didn't like his game design, three criticisms tended to recur with surprising consistency: first, they pointed out that the ground combat CRT was both asymmetrical and counter intuitive (it sometimes made sense, for example, to attack at lower rather than at higher odds); second, the rules integrating air-ground operations were cumbersome, while those for naval operations were downright unworkable; and third, whatever its other virtues, the basic architecture of the game — once the fighting actually started in earnest — quickly tended to be swamped by a "tidal wave" of different (and confusing) die-roll modifiers.
One interesting idea to emerge — at least in some gaming circles — during the years that followed the initial release of THE NEXT WAR, was for (truly ambitious) players to graft key elements from the rules package of Mark Herman's excellent, if highly derivative, GULF STRIKE (1983, 1988, and 1990) onto the basic platform of the older Dunnigan design. Because of the obvious connection between the two games, I thought at the time that this might well be a workable idea; however, for my own part, such a project seemed then (and still does, three decades later) like it would probably be more trouble than it would actually be worth.
Visually, THE NEXT WAR, when it is laid out and set up for play, is an awesome game to behold. The maps are — thanks to the indefatigable Redmond Simonsen — both chock full of information and yet still attractive to the eye. The game charts and tables are easy-to-use, if a bit utilitarian. And the two thousand plus counters, although back-printed in the typical SPI matte-finish style, are both readable and colorful enough to be interesting. The rule book, at over thirty pages of relatively small print, is admittedly a slog the first couple of times through; nonetheless, it is generally well-organized, and, with a bit of practice, players can usually find a "sought after" rules case comparatively quickly. One particularly nice feature of the game package is the extensive Order of Battle information for both NATO and the Warsaw Pact forces that has been included. In the opinion of at least one of my gaming friends back when the game first appeared, the research incorporated into the OoB work, alone, was worth the price of the game.
Visual appeal and size, of course, will only take a design so far when it comes to its value, both as a game and as a simulation. The graphic presentation, and the sheer scale of the game, however, are not the only elements that — to my mind, at least — make this title a "winner". In addition, the texture and historical richness of the overall game system also make this ground-breaking design a worthwhile title for any player interested in modern (post-World War II) combat operations.
The optional rules included with THE NEXT WAR are so numerous and detailed that it would take an additional page, just to catalog them. Suffice to say that if SPI could glean, from unclassified sources, the characteristics of a new weapons system, operational doctrine, or special combat capability, then those militarily-relevant factors probably found their way into the rules for THE NEXT WAR. It goes without saying that, for many gamers, all this information and the operational detail that it inevitably adds to the design's basic rules architecture means that actually mastering the game system — with its many phases and subroutines — is a bit of a chore. But, I submit that, for those who are genuinely interested in modern military affairs, it is a chore that is well worth undertaking. THE NEXT WAR may not be the perfect simulation of large-scale conventional (and possibly tactical nuclear) European warfare in the late 20th century, but — in my view, at least — it still does a surprisingly good job of "delivering the goods", both as a simulation and as a game. And considering that this SPI monster was first published thirty-four years ago, that is pretty impressive, in and of itself.
Clearly, given the sheer volume of simulation detail that it contains and its complexity, this Dunnigan opus is most definitely not a game for the novice or, for that matter, even for the casual player. However, I can think of no better, more comprehensive simulation of large-scale, 1970’s combat operations in Europe than THE NEXT WAR. For this reason, if for no other, (and it should be noted that it is actually a "blast" to play) I consider it to be a must own for those gamers with a serious interest in recent contemporary history, or for those with an abiding curiosity about what a conflict between the Warsaw Pact and NATO might have looked like, had it actually occurred.
- Time Scale: 2 days per game turn (land game); 4 hours per game turn (naval game)
- Map Scale: 14 kilometers per hex
- Unit Size: battalion/regiment/brigade/division, air squadron, individual ships, naval flotillas
- Unit Types: army/corps headquarters, division base, mechanized infantry, armor, airborne infantry, air mobile infantry, alpine (mountain) infantry, marines, armored cavalry, special forces, assault engineers, field force, artillery, surface-to-surface missile, fixed ADA (SAM), mobile ADA (SAM), electronic warfare, railroad regiment, front supply head, fighter aircraft, bomber, reconnaissance aircraft, transport, attack helicopter, transport helicopter, PT boats, mine layers, minesweepers, submarines, destroyers, guided missile cruisers, naval air, and information markers
- Number of Players: two (teams highly recommended)
- Complexity: above average/high
- Solitaire Suitability: low
- Average Playing Time: 6-200 + hours (depending on scenario, and assuming experienced players)
- Three 22” x 34” hexagonal grid Map Sheets (with Turn Record Track, Terrain Key, Die Modification Record, Movement Point Expenditure Track, NATO Airbase Holding Boxes, NATO Task Force Boxes, Port Boxes, Warsaw Pact Airbase Holding Boxes, and Warsaw Pact Task Force Boxes incorporated)
- One 8½” x 11” hexagonal grid Map Extension (with Naval Turn Record Track incorporated)
- One 8¼” x 10½” hexagonal grid Map Extension (with Off Map Movement Tracks incorporated)
- 2400 back-printed ½” cardboard Counters
- One 8½” x 11” Rules Booklet
- One 8½” x 11” Scenario and Situation Briefing Booklet (with Scenario Instructions, Different National OoB’s, Movement Point Costs Charts, Land Combat Results Tables, Weather Tables, Positive Air-to-Air Combat Results Tables, Zero Air-to-Air Combat Results Tables, Negative Air-to-Air Combat Results Tables, Nuclear Combat Results Tables, Nuclear Contamination Tables, FLAK Combat Results Tables, FLAK Suppression Tables, Naval Movement Costs Charts, Naval Combat Results Tables, Air-to-Ground Combat Results Tables, Sweep Results Tables, Special Forces Vertical Assault Tables, Special Forces Assault Tables, Mine Results Tables, and Air Superiority Level Tables incorporated)
- One 17” x 22” perforated (for separation) NATO and Warsaw Pact Air Allocation Display
- One 8½” x 11” Errata Sheet (August 7, 1978)
- Two small six-sided Dice
- Two 8¾” x 11½” flat 20 compartment plastic storage Trays with clear plastic covers
- One SPI 9” x 11¾” x 4” soapbox style cardboard Game Box