Red Storm Playtest AAR, Part 1

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The following is an After Action Review of my most recent test game of Red Storm  on a long Friday morning and afternoon with my good friend and playtest team member Chris Baer.  This was a test of one of the bigger scenarios in Red Storm, “Offensive Counter Air”, which features two big NATO deep strike raids going over the front and into southwestern East Germany to hit Warsaw Pact airfields.  I wanted to test one of the bigger scenarios to see how certain rules “scale up” to a very large scenario.  In particular, I wanted to fully work out the SAM and Electronic Warfare rules, areas where the rules for Red Storm make some significant changes from earlier games in the series.  Here in Part 1 of the AAR I’ll go through my pre-game planning from the NATO side of things, with Chris providing some insights into Warsaw Pact planning.  In Part 2 I’ll show some images of the game with a bit of commentary on how things went.

Pre-Game Planning

A major part (and my favorite part) of the Downtown system that Red Storm is based on is “Raid Planning” where players generate the targets for the raid, the flights received, and finally the routes the bombing and recon flights will take to and from the targets.  The planning phase is also where players determine their ground unit setup (SAMs, AAA, and other units).  In this scenario, NATO has very little ground setup and the WP has a ton.  The air side of the setup is reversed, with NATO having two big raids to plan and the WP only having a few combat air patrol (CAP) flights.  I’ll walk through the various pre-game steps to show how it all works.

Weather Phase.  In this phase one of the players rolls for the weather.  This is a “Poor Weather” scenario, so my roll generates a lot of clouds with a dense cloud level between Deck/Low altitude and another between Medium/High.  NATO has more true “all weather” capability in the game, so this isn’t a huge worry for me.

Ground Planning Phase (NATO).  NATO has only a few SAMs to setup here, so I spread those out along my side of the front (a few HAWK batteries and one of Patriots). For now, the SAMs remain hidden from the Warsaw Pact player.

Ground Planning Phase (Warsaw Pact).  In this scenario the Warsaw Pact deploys the following SAMs:

Though I get a handful of aircraft in this scenario, the defense relies almost entirely on the SAMs. Warsaw Pact belt defense doctrine (as described in a previous article, “Break Right!—SAMs and AAA in Red Storm”) is baked into the scenario setup restrictions. In general, my “divisional” SAMs like SA-11s, SA-6s, and SA-15s go near the front line where most ground troops would be, with Army level SAMs further back (such as SA-4s and SA-10s).  I also have some location specific SAMs to allocate, the SA-2s and SA-3s, near a couple of the big airfields.  There’s some leeway in the placements, particularly with the mighty SA-10s and the rather handy SA-15s.  All this information is kept hidden from the NATO side at this point.

SAMs have two natural enemies—Iron Hand flights and Electronic Jamming. Doug has both and in significant quantities. Given the number of SAMs I have, Iron Hand can’t take them all out, so I cluster my divisional mobile SAMs along potential ingress routes, hoping to fill the sky with missiles and force Doug to deal with them rather than the older, shorter-range fixed location SAMs defending the targets.

My two long-range SA-10s set up so that their attack range (20 hexes) covers as many of the ten potential targets as possible. Situated towards the rear, they are relatively immune from Iron Hand attacks, but they will surely draw Spot Jamming from Doug’s electronic jammers. I plan to light them up almost from the start, both to gently remind Doug that flying at High altitude is dangerous and to draw the Spot Jamming markers, which are limited in quantity, again to allow other SAMs to engage.

Every SAM will suffer from the blanket of jamming that Doug’s electronic jammers put out, but the jamming comes in arcs. SAMs placed off of the main ingress routes will force Doug to choose which SAM clusters to focus on. He simply can’t cover everything. I’m relying on the sheer quantity of missiles I can put in the sky every turn to overwhelm his forces. I’ll miss with most of them, but all it takes is one good roll to force a bombing flight to jettison its ordnance and send the aircraft home.

AAA placement, by contrast, is all about the bombing modifiers. Though I place some of my scenario allocated AAA concentrations to try to snare flights sneaking in at Deck altitude, I mostly set up my AAA and my radar-directed Fire Cans right around the targets. Flights that undergo AAA and Fire Can attacks suffer a negative modifier to their bombing attacks, regardless of the success of the AAA attack, so I’m simply trying to stack the odds in my favor.

Intelligence/Surveillance/Reconnaissance (ISR) Phase.  This phase is a new addition to the Downtown series.  It simulates the numerous airborne and ground-based sensors that both sides would use to try to figure out the locations of enemy SAMs and AAA prior to a raid.  There are a few mods for the date of the scenario and the weather.  I get a middling roll, so the scenario will be under “Average” ISR conditions for NATO that require Chris to reveal the location of 45% of his SAMs, 30% of his Radar AAA, and 20% of his regular AAA concentrations.  In this scenario both sides roll on this table and Chris also gets a “Average” ISR condition on me.  Here is the current playtest ISR Table:

Ground Deployment Phase.  In this phase both sides setup located SAM and AAA as required by the ISR Phase results.  Chris places about 14 SAMs and 3 of his Radar AAA (Fire Cans) on the map, with the rest hidden.  He chooses to place a mix of “high end” and “low end” SAMs, so I can see a few nasty SA-11s and several of his less capable SA-4s.  It appears he’s keeping all his short-range SA-13s and long-range SA-10s hidden for now.  I place 2 of my 4 SAMs on the map.

Ground Deployment Phase (Warsaw Pact Thoughts). Anything Doug can see via ISR, he can damage or destroy in a forthcoming pre-game phase. So the SA-10s stay hidden for now, even though I plan on revealing them very early in the game. But SAMs I reveal will also influence how Doug plans his raids. A few long-range SAMs on the map could encourage him to plot his raids exactly where I want them to go.

Raid Planning Phase.  At this point I have to generate my raid targets (4 out of 10 different possible ones), roll up my raid flights on the order of battle tables, and do my route planning.  I roll on the target table for the scenario and get 4 targets: map-printed WP airfields at Nordhausen and Haina and two temporary WP airfields that are a bit further east.  I then generate my flights, determining nationality and aircraft type, receiving the following:

CAP flights: 2 x {4} US F-4E, 1 x {2} US F-15C (with the {x} being the number of aircraft in the flight).  These are good rolls as the US has the most capable air-to-air radars and missiles on the NATO side.  More F-15s would have been nice, but those F-4Es are still pretty powerful with big missile loads, lots of fuel, and decent high altitude performance in air-to-air combat.


Raid #1: For Raids the players have to roll for each task in the raid (Escort Jamming, SEAD, Bombing, Escort, and Recon for NATO Deep Strike raids):

  • Escort Jamming is limited to US EF-111A “Raven” jammer aircraft, so I get two solo flights of them.
  • Next I roll for the SEAD mission, getting 1 x {2} US F-4G Wild Weasel and a supporting 1 x {2} US F-16C flight.  Again, not a bad roll since the US F-4Gs are the game’s premier SEAD platforms.  I load him up with HARM anti-radiation missiles.  I load AGM-65 missiles on the F-16C, which I hope can kill (as opposed to just suppressing) some key SAM sites.
  • For the bombing task, I get four flights of 4 West German Tornado IDS strike fighter-bombers.  These are highly capable strike aircraft with a big bomb load and advanced avionics that allow them to do all-weather strikes.  I allocate 2 to each of this raid’s 2 targets and load them all up with regular bombs (such as Mk82 500lb bombs), intending to do “radar bombing” attacks from low altitude to somewhat reduce their exposure to enemy SAMs and AAA in and around the target airfields.  A super low level (“on the deck”) bomb run would be more accurate, but also much more risky given the extensive AAA I expect to encounter.
  • For the Escort task I roll up a pair of 4-ship F-15C flights.  That will provide some serious cover for the strikers.
  • Finally, for the after-raid Recon task I roll up a US RF-4C.  This flight will have to trail along after the bombers.

For my other raid I get two more EF-111A escort jammers, a pair of UK Tornado GR1 flights for SEAD, four US F-111E flights for bombing, two UK F-4M flights for Escort, and another US RF-4C recon flight.  I load up the F-111Es with regular bombs as well, planning to do a “toss” delivery on the targets in order to avoid flying directly over the airfields.  I’ll take an accuracy hit, but the big bomb loads on the F-111s should allow me to still do a good amount of damage with decent attack rolls.

The final thing one has to do in Raid Planning is pre-designating the routes for the strike and recon aircraft.  In Downtown and Elusive Victory, each raid had one flight path that all the bombing flights had to follow.  In Red Storm I’m opening that up a bit and allowing each bombing flight to break off to separate paths to separate targets part of the way into the raid.  They then have to come back to a common “rejoin” point before heading back home.  Here is my hand-drawn raid plan for this scenario:

Raid 1 goes in the northern (top) part of the map, ingressing and moving to its “release” point (the blue R waypoint) where two of the Tornadoes will break off to hit Nordhausen airfield (the blue dash line with the highlight) while the other two flights proceed all the way back to a temporary WP airfield (near the “A” entry arrow).  Both pairs of Tornadoes then have to head back to their “rejoin” point before heading for the playing area edge (the “E” near the blue arrow tip pointing to the left).

Raid 2 comes in further south (orange line) and proceeds over the front to their release point where two of the F-111s break off and follow the yellow highlighted path to hit Haina airfield with a toss-bombing attack from two hexes away.  The other two 111s have to go deeper into East Germany to hit a temporary WP airfield.  All four flights head back to the rejoin point (red “R” on the left of the image) before egressing off the play area.

For both raids, the recon flights will follow a similar path that gets them close enough to both targets to get recon photos post-strike.  The US RF-4Cs have Synthetic Aperture Radars (SARs), so they will be able to do this through the clouds at high altitude, which should help them get in and out quickly and stay out of AAA range.

In Red Storm, only the bombing and recon flights have to follow set paths.  Escort, jammer, and SEAD aircraft aren’t restricted as to where they can go (although escorts have to stay somewhat close to the strike aircraft early in the raid).  However, players have some flexibility near the various “waypoints” on the route and can move freely close to the target in order to conduct the bomb run as planned.


Raid Planning Phase (Warsaw Pact). In comparison to Doug’s air armada, I receive two Combat Air Patrol (CAP) flights of four aircraft each that will start in the air and two Quick Reaction Alert (QRA) flights with two aircraft that either start in the air or on the ground depending on the level of warning I get about Doug’s raids.

I’ve always been fascinated by the older aircraft in the Warsaw Pact arsenal, and a good thing, too. While Doug gets his shiny F-15s and Tornados, my rolls provide a mix of old and new. On QRA I have two East German flights, one with MiG-21MFs and one with MiG-23MLAs. The MiG-23 has radar missiles, at least, so they have to be respected; the MiG-21MF, not so much. Flying CAP, I have another East German MiG-21, the 21bis variant with a short-range radar missile, and then a much more potent flight of Soviet MiG-29s with the long-range R-27 radar missile.

Not the most powerful mix, but part of the beauty of the Raid Planning Phase is seeing what you get and working with it. Doug can’t ignore these fighters, and if I can bait his CAP and Escort aircraft into SAM range, all the better.

SEAD Phase.  Short for Suppression of Enemy Air Defenses, this is another new phase I’ve added to the rules.  This simulates long-range artillery or supporting air strikes before the scenario starts intended to suppress enemy air defenses.  I roll on the SEAD table and get 2 attacks against enemy SAMs and 2 against his Radar AAA.  The dice heat up for me and I destroy an SA-4 while suppressing, for 10 turns, an SA-11.  I also roll well against a couple of Fire Can sites near my targets, suppressing them for 8 and 10 turns.  So, a great pre-game SEAD result.  Here is what the SEAD table looks like right now:

Early Warning Phase.  One or both players roll for “Early Warning” to see how much information they get about enemy flights.  This roll also determine which flights start detected or undetected based on their altitude.  Here, on the WP rolls.  Chris rolls an ugly “5” result (2d10) which means “Surprise Attack” conditions are in effect.  In addition to all the NATO flights starting undetected this also means his two QRA flights will start on the ground at his airfields instead of in the air like his CAP flights.

Radar Phase.  This is the last pre-game phase where players can turn on any radars (SAMs, Early Warning Radars, and Radar AAA) they want to.  Chris turns on several of his previously hidden SAM radars.  At this point they get “SAM Warning” markers to show I don’t have their type or locations pinpointed, just a general idea of where they are.  Nailing down these locations will be a critical task for my SEAD flights early in the game.

Once the Radar Phase is done it’s time to start the game!

[To be continued…]

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