Next War: Poland Progress Update

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I think that I’ve mentioned this before, but I was a little surprised by just how quickly Next War: Poland (NWP) vaulted up the P500 ladder. I had a rough Operational Map and a Strategic Display, and I had made a start on the Game Specific Rules. Based on the performance of the prior games in the Next War Series, GMT put the game on the list while I was still in the middle of working on Silver Bayonet. Now that the latter game is off to the printer, I’ve had some time to focus on NWP, and I thought I’d give a quick update on where we’re at.

First, I’d like to share that Ralph Shelton will be the developer for the game. You may know Ralph’s work from other GMT titles such as Operation Dauntless, Blood & Roses, Infidel, and the soon-to-be-published Arquebus. I met Ralph through the Advance After Combat Guild on Boardgamegeek, and we’ve since become friends. As you may have read in Ralph’s article on Silver Bayonet, he helped with the playtesting and editing there. It seemed like a natural fit to continue our partnership on this game.

threatening_suwalkiAs I mentioned earlier, we had roughed out an Operational Map and a Strategic Display. To the left you can see a portion of the Operational Map centered around the “Suwalki Gap”. The majority of the terrain in Poland is fairly well represented in this sample, so players will get a different feel from some of the other games. The map is relatively dense with towns, cities, and Urban hexes. The most noticeable aspect of the map, compared to others in the series, is that there are no Highland, Highland Woods, or Mountain hexes on the map. Indeed, there are very few rough hexes as well with most of the map being Flat or Flat Woods.

Although this is playtest art, players will also note that the style of the counters isn’t changing. One of the biggest changes, from a gameplay standpoint, will be that, in this game, players will be fighting across fairly open terrain with two modern armies chock full of high tech equipment.

Here, you can seecapturing_estonia you can see a portion of the Strategic Display. Like the Operational Map, this will be a full-size map which contains the Strategic Display as well as several items which, in other games, were either printed directly on the maps or their own play aids such as the Air Superiority Display (including Basing Boxes), Air Superiority Table, Air Defense Tracks, etc. The Strategic Display will be similar to the one in Next War: Taiwan, and it is used to as an area movement map covering the Baltic countries, Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania, as well as the Baltic Sea and other neighboring countries.

Here you can see the Russians trying to take the Tallinn Land Area from the Estonians who have been reinforced by the 1/82 Airborne brigade. As mentioned elsewhere, we’ve chosen to depict the Baltic States as areas on the Strategic Display for a variety of reasons basically boiling down to Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania having such a large land mass, at the 7.5 miles per hex scale of the game, relative to the tiny size of their armies. Between the three of them, they muster ten active battalions. So, our primary assumption is that while attempting to eliminate resistance in the Baltics once open warfare commences, the Russians, along with their Belorussian allies, also invade Poland to close off land access to the Baltics through the now all-important “Suwalki Gap”.

The Order of Battle work is ongoing but nearing its final state (pending playtesting). I’m using the Military Balance from the International Institute of Strategic Studies in combination with various publicly accessible sources. Speaking of playtesting, we’re busy getting the VASSAL module ready with the help of the extraordinay Kevin Davidson. Here, you can see the Game Information Display window.gameinformationdisplay

The thing to notice is, as Kevin put it, the incredible number of Special Operations Forces markers. As most of the nations involved in the scenarios have heavily invested in special forces troops of one kind or another, the result is a large number of such markers which should make the SOF Phases interesting.

Ralph and I are busy putting the final touches on the first iteration of the Game Specific Rules in anticipation of having the VASSAL module ready. The last major items to complete are the various scenarios. As of right now, I’m leaning towards three Standard Game scenarios (working titles):

  • Suwalki Gap – a short, small scenario on the Operational Map centered on a mixed bag of Polish and US forces attempting to defend the Gap from encroaching Russian and Belorussian forces
  • Baltic Invasion – a short scenario on the Strategic Display covering the Russian invasion of the Baltics
  • Defense of the Baltics – the Campaign Game using both the Operational Map and Strategic Display

In addition, we’ll likely return to the Advanced Game scenario model seen in Next War: Korea and Next War: Taiwan with Strategic Surprise, Tactical Surprise, and Extended Buildup scenarios. One thing which will more than likely be absent from this game is the International Posture Matrix. While the speed of response may vary, there is no doubt that the various NATO nations will honor their Article 5 commitments to the Balticss and/or Poland. Also, tactical nukes will be in the game, however, so will this rule:

7.8 Lighter Fluid Rule (aka, Would You Like to Play a Game?; aka Game Over, Man, Game Over) Whenever a player places a Nuclear Attack marker, before rolling to resolve it [GSR 7.3.2], that player rolls a die. If the die roll is less than or equal to the number of Nuclear Attack markers currently on the map, the game immediately ends in Global Thermonuclear War. Technically, the player placing the marker loses the game.

As you can see, we’re well on our way to whipping this game into shape. Stay tuned for more updates as we progress!

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13 thoughts on “Next War: Poland Progress Update

  1. Does the game cover Russia’s hybrid warfare that could effectively avoid having a unified NATO response for the Baltics only? Hybrid warfare as a preparation for war is a key aspect here and, in addition, could largely determine the level of response from NATO member countries – based on the “is this enough to trigger article 5?”. NATO has a definition of “hybrid warfare” that in theory would ensure a cohesive response, but reality is it’s so general and vague that some countries would debate it fiercely before being forced to act (especially some Western European ones). This is currently debated in NATO circles as a potential issue and could divide the response. Maybe Article 5 will be activated, but the level of response could be different. Why? There’s no provision on minimum level of support for Article 5 and some countries will be hesitant (due to public opinion restraints) to “send their men to die for Riga” just to name a possible slogan. I agree this could make the game too complex however – but another potential scenario (and a very real risk) is that Russia tests the Baltics and Poland (Baltics more likely, but whatever) thinking NATO wouldn’t act exactly because of the above evaluations and NATO instead acts.
    Lorenzo Nannetti, wargamer and analyst/researcher for the Italian Atlantic Council.

    • Lorenzo,

      You bring up excellent points. However, I envision the game as starting at the point open warfare has begun. In other words, so-called “hybrid warfare” or “measures short of war” are considered baked in to the surprise condition of the scenarios which will impact the speed of a NATO response.

      The ‘Wales Declaration’ (from the 2014 Summit) confirmed that ‘Russia’s aggressive actions against Ukraine have fundamentally challenged our vision of a Europe whole, free, and at peace.’ In response to that, NATO is implementing the RAP (Readiness Action Plan) which is specifically meant to reassure the Baltics and Poland as well as solidify the commitment to Article 5’s collective defense parameters. There is still debate about what, exactly, constitutes a trigger for Article 5 (as you point out).

      The game assumes that those activities have not produced the outcome Russia desires which leads them to decide that invasion by conventional forces is the only path left open to them. As I discussed on the Three Moves Ahead podcast, a game covering those kinds of “measures short of war” would be an interesting one to play, but it is not this game.

      • Hi Mitchell,

        Can you tell us a little more about how the rules for “speed of a NATO response” will work? Will response times be randomized, will NATO always deploy the same forces and so on?

        Disclaimer: I haven’t played the earlier games in the series – the answer may be obvious to those who have.

        I realize that the game first and foremost has to function as an entertaining experience, but a “random/limited NATO response” would at the very least be an interesting extra downloadable scenario (And it certainly hasn’t become more unlikely over the past six months).

        Looking forward to the game.

        Regards
        Alexander

        • Alexander,

          Sure. The speed of response is governed by a die roll made in the Reinforcement and Replacement Phase. The Allied player will modify this roll for various things: scenario specific DRM, losses incurred, non-Allied Control of areas, as well as an “Article 5 Entry DRM” determined (randomly or by choice) during setup. If the roll exceeds the target value, then NATO reinforcements begin arriving. The forces which arrive will be randomly drawn from “cups” created during setup.

          • Cool. Sounds like you’ll have a reasonable opportunity to model the success of Russian information/hybrid warfare and the inherent will-they-won’t-they (or at least when and how much will they) nature of today’s NATO.

  2. Everything sounds fine. I agree “Hybrid warfare” shouldn’t be factored in.
    Special care should be devoted to the OoB. In that regard I’m a bit puzzled by the pictures.
    1/ If TQ is primarily a matter of training, fighting spirit, doctrine and factors like EW, C2, etc then I find the Poles underrated though they would probably be inferior to the Russians.
    2/ 6 and 1 Tk are brigades and not regiments.
    3/ 33 MRB is located deep in the South in the Caucasus and described as Mountain. Unlikely to be Recce.
    4/ Two things to take into consideration: appearance of reinforcements which might be all in all slow on NATO side and only a fraction of theoretic Ground troop levels vs committment of CMD and a part of SMD/EMD at some point (possibly even NatGard troops for rear security) ; undergoing changes with the relocation of troops on both sides and the creation of 3 div.
    NOT TO BE PUBLISHED

  3. Why on Earth would GMT produce a game on a hypothetical, non-real-world scenario of Russian aggression in Poland when Russian aggression in the Baltic States is a clear and present real-world threat? At least RAND is paying attention to real-world developments: http://www.rand.org/pubs/research_reports/RR1253.html
    And yes, of course, ‘hybrid warfare’ would be a dominant factor shaping the outbreak and course of any such campaign.

  4. Tim Smith, it’s because Rand makes and runs professional wargames while GMT makes commercial wargames. They don’t have the same target and don’t have the same requirements and objectives. GMT aims to entertain and produce playable wargames that would be sellable mainly to the commercial wargame community. Rand and others who do professional wargames look for something else – which isn’t fulfilled with this game (but, as said above, is also not this game’s target). For more info on this difference see https://boardgamegeek.com/thread/1499970/revitalizing-manual-wargaming-military

  5. I’m a fan of NW series with very fine mechanics and am impatient to discover this new opus.
    I’ve just seen the sample map and it looks great. The emphasis is placed on the Suwalki gap, which is ok, but in the future another perspective might be interesting, which is the Russian one, centered on the fate of Kaliningrad, which would require another map.
    Now a few remarks based on the sample counters I saw:
    – OoB and ratings are a tricky thing. It ought to be streamlined btw games: it sounds strange that Pakistanis would be rated the same as Italians or Poles in terms of TQ. Besides the US is systematically over the edge in terms of ratings (TQ 7 and sometimes 8). That can be supported if the brigade underwent a tour to the NTC, but otherwise I would find it surprising to have a better rating than a German, French or UK brigade for example. In any case, the 8 rating for Marine-R battalions only is strange (why not UK Royal Marines, etc.).
    – But now to the point: a serious work on the OoB of non-US armies and especially the Russians is still needed. As regards the Russians: if S-400 around St Petersbourg, then the same should be done for Kaliningrad. Note please that Russian AD capabilities exceed by far everything else (2 AD Bns in each Cbt brigade for example) and they are supplemented by other capabilities (EW, etc.) which would make them very resilient to Air power. While the reverse is absolutely not true for Western armies. As far as the Air units is concerned, the rating of Su-35 is a bit strange; it is a truly formidable Air superiority aircraft, by no means inferior to the F15C or the Su-30SM (multirole) which should be granted a long distance shooting capability just like the MiG31 (probably underrated as well and being modernized to the standard BM) and should have lesser CS and Interdiction capabilities. No Su 34s are shown; they are yet increasingly the working horse for deep strikes, replacing slowly the Su-24s, themselves being modernized to the standard M. Mi 24s are replaced by Ka52, Mi28 and Mi35 (modernized Mi-24). As regards pilot skill, -1/0 would be ok in terms of combat experience and training, but some Tu-22M, Tu160 and Tu95 could be granted -1 status and not systematically 0.
    – The OoB for Russian ground forces is far from ok: 41 Army doesn’t belong to SMD but to CMD. Its subordinate units are slightly different (35,74, 55 and maybe 32 if not disbanded). There is a 201 MilBase, but in Tadjikistan, unlikely to be committed with its few units. If there is indeed a division belonging to CMD it is the new 90 Gds Tk Div (3 Tk regiments and not Bdes, 1 MotRifle regiment, 1 Arty Rgt, 1 AD Rgt ,etc.). There is a 138 MotRifle Bde for 6 Army not 238, a 9Gds for 20Gds Army but not 9 for 20Gds Army, 7 GdsTk Bde has probably been disbanded (to create 90 Gds Tk instead). See :Russian Military Capability in a
    Ten-Year Perspective – 2016 from the Swedish Think tank FOI. Very good study unfortunately not up to date now as they missed the newly created divisions.
    – As regards UK and French pilots, due to their flying hrs, type of training, cbt exprience, -2/-1 should be the norm and not -1/0. 4 in air superiority seems odd for rafale and Typhoons. 5 would be more appropriate.

    • I continue. About the ratings: we would have a BCT of the 82 Abn on par with a Russian MRB. True same number of InfBn but though less inf on the Russian side, much more firepower (some BMPs, 1 TkBn and 2-3 ArtBns).

      • The two preceeding comments seem very relevant. The rules are really fine, but OOB and unit stats in the serie are often debatable. US forces seem often overrated compared to the other ones.

        Another example: it seems odd that the french CVN carries only 1 unit of Rafale M whereas the French CVN is now carrying 24-26 aircrafts while US CVN carries 3 F/A-18 counters to represent 40-48 aircrafts. Rafale should also be better strike aircrafts than F-16 (at least on par with Su-30). Rafale and Typhoon should have long range stand-off AA capabilities (**) with their AESA radar and Meteor missiles. On the other hand, F-22 are to good at CAS and strike (in the real life, they have really minimal AtG capabilities).

        That being said, thanks for the huge and high-quality work done on the serie.

  6. A question: will there be terrain effects on the strategic display (i.e. the Baltic countries)?

    I’m asking because large parts (something like 40 percent, I think) of Estonia is marsh and/or woodland (not sure about Latvia and Lithuania). It seems to me that it should matter in a scenario where predominantly lighter forces are defending against armoured formations (as in the example above). It might also make the game slightly more interesting for the Russian side.

    As a side note, the Estonian Scouts battalion is (somewhat confusingly, given it’s name) actually mechanised infantry, not light infantry.

    Cheers
    Alexander