In designing Red Storm: The Air War Over Central Germany, 1987, I wanted to provide a diverse mix of scenarios in terms of content, balance, and size. To give a sense of my design process, this article will share some insights into the scenario design and testing of “Breakthrough,” one of the larger scenarios in the game. “Breakthrough” features a new rule mechanic as well, so I wanted to put it through its paces to make sure the size and balance felt right, in addition to kicking the tires on the new rules.
This scenario is set at roughly the midpoint of the war I envision as the setting for Red Storm. Before I get down to deciding on the map and other factors, I always start with a scenario description to “set the scene” for the scenario:
After almost two weeks of fighting, the NATO front in central Germany begins to crack. Soviet 2nd echelon forces pour through the gaps in several sectors. In an effort to give ground troops time to retreat and regroup, NATO air forces launch massed strike raids into “kill boxes” where Soviet tanks are running wild. This scenario depicts one such raid in the West German III Corps sector as Soviet 1st Guards Tank Army units stream toward Frankfurt. Soviet air defense troops desperately try to keep up with the advancing forces but there are critical gaps in the SAM and AAA coverage. Can the NATO airmen take advantage?
Scenario Design Considerations
Having created the concept of the scenario, the next step is determining the area of the map in play. While there are numerous “full map” scenarios in Red Storm, most only use part of the map. That is both to avoid players spending excessive time “flying to the war” and to limit the number of ground units (army units and SAMs) in a scenario, which could get overwhelming if they were all represented by counters. Map area also links to the scenario size in terms of the number of aircraft flights on each side, which directly correlates to the time required to plan and play a scenario.
Here, I decide to focus the scenario in the center area of the map where, based on the date, the elements of three Soviet armored divisions are located. That should give the NATO side plenty of target options and provide enough room for a big “Two Raid” scenario involving two separate sets of fighter, bomber, defense suppression (SEAD), and recon flights.
I’m using Vassal to do most of my scenario design, which conveniently allows me to create “templates” for where the ground units and the front line are located at various dates covered in the game. So, I fire up the Vassal module and carve out roughly the following area of the map where the scenario will take place.
As you can see, there are a lot of ground units in this area, which represents the operational areas of the Soviet 6th, 9th, and 11th tank divisions on one side and the West German 5th Panzer Division and part of the US 8th Infantry Division sectors on the NATO side.
The templates I setup also show the divisional SAMs for the divisions on both sides, which gives me an initial idea of the SAM laydown in the scenario.
However, from this initial mass of units I start weeding out only those ground units and SAMs needed for the scenario, with the goal of having as little “ground clutter” as possible. Red Storm is a counter-heavy game for the aircraft units, so keeping the ground units to the minimum needed is important.
The first choice I make is to remove the NATO ground units. There are only fighter “CAP” flights in this scenario for the Soviets, so they don’t need any targets to bomb.
The second decision I make is to trim down the SAM count on both sides. The scenario assumes a “breakthrough” mobile battle situation, which means the SAM coverage won’t be as complete as it would be with a more stable front. Moving, supplying, and operating numerous SAM sites for both sides is an extremely difficult job under benign conditions. A highly mobile battle makes the task that much more difficult. So I cut back the SAM numbers on both sides pretty aggressively. Still, the WP side will still have a daunting array of SAMs for NATO to deal with: 6 x SA-11, 3 x SA-6, 8 x SA-13, 2 x SA-4, and 1 x SA-10. There will also be a lot of Mobile Radar AAA (ZSU-23-4 for the Soviet side) on the map, but most of that is inherent to the ground units rather than being shown as separate counters. There won’t be many “regular” AAA concentrations, except around some airfields.
Since the NATO flights in this scenario will be going after the front line ground units of the Soviet side, the WP fighter cover needs to be able to go across the front to try to intercept the NATO bombers before they get in range to attack. As a result, I need to give the NATO side SAMs as well. Again, I start with what’s in the ground template and trim down about ⅓ from there: 1 x HAWK, 2 x Patriot, 3 x Roland 2, and 4 x Chaparral. Because NATO ground units aren’t on the map, their Mobile Radar AAA (the potent West German “Gepard” and less-capable US “Vulcans”) are instead represented by a “zone,” established via Special Scenario Rule (SSR), where any Warsaw Pact flight at medium or lower altitude is automatically attacked.
After all the trimming down, I end up with a map that is much less cluttered, but still full of Soviet ground units to bomb. After a lot of other work defining and writing the scenario, I run a solo test setup of the scenario to try things out. The ground setup test I did for both sides looks like this:
The Soviet ground units are all still there, which use up almost the entire counter mix for them. The NATO units are gone but the SAMs are present.
Once the main part of the map is locked in, I expand it to the east and west to provide both sides enough room to operate their aircraft. Then the rest of the standard information for the scenario gets filled in: weather, detection levels, flight control levels, geographic restrictions, and the like.
The “Breakthrough” scenario is focused one of the NATO side’s most important tasks in the late-1980s war in which it is set: finding and killing Soviet tanks. Accomplishing that when the Soviets are in close contact with NATO ground forces would not be an easy task. As a result, NATO air forces would have had to devote some of their valuable fighter aircraft to “Fast Forward Air Control” or “Fast FAC”. The mission of these Fast FAC flights is to both survive near the front line at low altitude (tricky by itself) and also confirm target locations for inbound close air support (CAS) flights.
To simulate this mechanic, I added a new “Fast FAC” task to the game. Like the excellent previous games in the series (Downtown and Elusive Victory) flights are assigned a “task” that governs their actions, such as bombing, combat air patrol, or reconnaissance. The Fast FAC mission places a premium on aircraft with two crewmembers. The extra set of eyes and extra pair of hands would help a lot with finding the targets, operating the radios, and avoiding hitting the ground! However, two-seaters won’t always be available. For my test play I generate two such flights for NATO, each of which is responsible for finding targets for 3 inbound bombing flights: a two-ship of US F-4E Phantom IIs and a two-ship of UK Jaguar GR1As. Out of the counter mix, I select “Buick” (an F-4) and “Strike” (a Jaguar).
These flights will be armed with their air-to-air weapons for self defense, but otherwise plan to avoid enemy fighters at all cost. They will do their job by “searching” for Soviet ground units in the Admin Phase each turn via a die roll mechanic with some modifiers for terrain, number of aircrew, range, clouds, etc. Once identified, the Soviet ground units are subject to attack by NATO bombing flights.
The use of the Fast FAC flights this way also leads me to a SSR for the NATO bombing flights. Normally, bombing raid flights have to follow a relatively fixed path to known targets. Here, since the targets are unknown and will be identified by the Fast FAC flights as the scenario progresses, I free the bombing flights to move as needed to make the attacks as the Fast FAC flights find the targets. Right now in the design process, the bombers are held back around orbit points until “called in” by the FAC flights as they find suitable targets.
Scenario Test Play Results
Even though this is a solo test play, I use all the rules (including hidden SAMs and other fog-of-war mechanics) to make sure everything is covered. The only normal gameplay element I leave out are the “dummy” flights on both sides. I go through the pre-game sequence for both sides, generate flights, setup ground units, and work through all the other planning tasks that need to be done. For targets, rather than specific hexes, the NATO player in this scenario rolls to see which “kill box” each raid is assigned to, with the boxes corresponding roughly to the Soviet divisional areas. There are two raids, so only two of the four kill boxes will be attacked, but the WP doesn’t know which ones. After all the ground and air setup for both sides is complete, things look like this:
The NATO Fast FAC, CAP, and SEAD flights are all back near their orbit points. The four WP CAP flights are in the rear of the Soviet lines. The NATO side got some good CAP and SEAD flights, including a pair of F-4G Wild Weasel flights and some Tornado GR1 SEAD flights armed with ALARM anti-radiation missiles. The NATO CAP flights are at best even in quality with the WP ones, with the less-capable F-4Fs balanced a bit by the decent UK F-4Ms. No F-15s though. The WP side gets a pair of MiG-23s, a MiG-29, and a rare Su-27, so a pretty potent force.
NATO bombing forces are a little old fashion, but can hopefully get the job done (A-7Ds for the US raid and Jaguar GR1s for the UK raid). I get a US RF-4C and a Belgian Mirage 5BR for the recon flights. The main raid CAP flights include more West German F-4Fs and UK F-4Ms – so Phantoms are all over the place!
What follows is a summary of how things went, with some images showing key moments in the scenario as it played out.
Early on I hold back my WP CAP flights. I want to save them to go after the bombers rather than burn up their weapons, fuel, and morale tangling with the SEAD flights that I’m hoping my SAMs can do some damage to, or at least ride out in good shape. The Turn 3 image shows the WP flights staying back and the SEAD flights starting to move toward the front at Low or Deck altitude with the CAP flights right with them or a bit out in front. The two critical Fast FAC flights are staying back and hugging the deck until the SEAD teams can do some work. The two F-4Fs down toward the bottom both picked up full acquisitions quickly and had to use anti-radar tactics to dive and shake them off. The NATO EF-111 is back there blasting away with jamming on a few of the more deadly SA-11 SAMs. Of note was the lucky pre-game hit NATO got on the lone WP SA-10 SAM, which has crazy long range. Until turn 10, it’s suppressed and offline.
A lot happened over the past 8 turns. NATO has done well in the SEAD fight, with five SAMs out of the fight (damaged) including one SA-11, two SA-13s, one SA-6, and the deadly SA-10 that came back online but took an effective HARM shot from the American F-4Gs. One MiG-23 was shot down in a dogfight with West German F-4Fs. All that came at a heavy price though. The Su-27 flight lived up to billing, taking down two UK F-4Ms with BVR missile shots. Elsewhere, an F-4F flight down on the deck trying to dodge SAMs fell to a small arms AAA barrage. Both crewmen ejected safely but were quickly captured.
In the image for turn 11 you can see the multiple damaged SAMs, a sign of good work from the SEAD flights using both ARMs and cluster bombs. Up in the corner one of the Patriot batteries came close to avenging the RAF Phantoms, but only got a “SAM Avoid” result on the Flankers, which were able to dodge out of the way. The two FAC flights, flying right along the front at Deck altitude have identified a total of four target units. The UK FAC has some more work to do. And finally to the left you can see the bombing flights closing in on the front.
Skipping ahead to Turn 16, the action has been pretty intense. The CAP flights have continued to tangle, with two more MiG-23s going down in dogfights with the RAF and Luftwaffe Phantoms. However, another two F-4Fs were lost to AAA and the MiG-23s.
The American bombing flights, two of which were fortunate to be armed with AGM-65 “Maverick” missile loads, were able to nail a pair of Soviet armor units from a couple hexes away, avoiding a lot of the ZSU-23-4 and other AAA fire. The other A-7 had a load of regular Mark 82 bombs, so it had to get a bit closer. It carried out an effective dive bombing run, scoring a decent “2” damage result. However, right after bomb release it was bounced by a MiG-29 flight that was able to blow past the CAP flights. Predictably, one of the A-7s went down to an R-73 (AA-11) IR missile from one of the Fulcrums. In the Turn 16 image you can see where the MiG-29 ended up on the NATO side of the Front after the dogfight.
A zoomed in view of the American raid area here shows the action, with the A-7s leaving a trail of good attack results. However, after the A-7D went down, one of the banged up UK F-4M flights was able, just barely, to intercept the Su-27 flight that was also trying to bounce the A-7s as they egress the target area. The A-7s were saved, but another F-4M went down to the deadly Flanker in the process. That’s three F-4Ms, so tough day for the Brits.
In the American raid area, once the MiG-29 and Flanker got disordered in Air-to-Air, they had to leave the area, so the rest of the A-7s and the now “winchester” SEAD flights were able to egress in good order. Down in the UK bombing raid area, events took a bit longer to develop due to the FAC flight taking longer to find the target units in the rough terrain (also, with only one crew member in the Jaguar FAC, the search rolls are penalized). As a result, the inbound Jaguars had to circle for a few turns while the targets were identified. They stayed at Deck altitude over rough terrain to avoid the remaining Soviet SAMs finding them.
The Random Event table also decided to intervene in important ways. First, a random event dropped the broken cloud deck down to Deck/Low, which is going to require the recon flights to pass over the target hexes at Deck to get pictures. Second, another random event brings down a crippled MiG-23 that was trying to limp home. The pilot is able to eject, but NATO scores another kill. Finally, the table generates an additional MiG-23 quick reaction alert (QRA) flight, this time an East German one. It takes off and kicks on the afterburners to try to get to the action before it’s over.
The Turn 22 image is zoomed in on the UK raid area. As you can see, the Jaguars did good work once the targets were spotted, with three “4” damage results and a “3”. The Jaguars all carried regular bombs, but definitely get the job done with some hot dice on the dive bombing runs. However, one of the Jaguars went down to a ZSU-23-4 near the target hex. You can also see the Belgian Mirage 5BR moving in for its recon run, which, due to the cloud cover, will have to be at Deck altitude right over the target hexes, making for a bumpy ride for sure. Finally, you can see the East German MiG-23 flight trying to get past the F-4F escort flights and engage the rapidly egressing Jaguars. Luckily for the RAF, the Luftwaffe phantoms were able to intercept it the following turn, allowing the Jaguars to get away.
Overall, the test went very well. As expected, the new “Fast FAC” rule required some tweaking, with the wording refined to handle situations with clouds and other clarifications. However, the basic mechanic worked pretty well here. I liked not having the bombing flights on pre-set paths, which was both less planning for the NATO side and more fun since I had to figure out the bombing runs on the fly. The SEAD flights really rocked it here, taking down five SAMs entirely and suppressing several others while the bombers were in the target area. One of the Tornado SEAD flights even got to do a strafing run with its 27mm cannon on an SA-13 site.
The air-to-air combat was, as usual with Red Storm testing so far, deadly. The quality of the missiles, in particular, in the late 1980s was so high that both BVR and dogfight combat can be very dangerous. In this scenario, NATO had eight CAP/Escort flights against five Soviet flights. They were able, with one exception, to protect the vulnerable bombers and SEAD flights, but at a high cost. Also, the WP flights all went down over friendly lines, so all four MiG-23 pilots were rescued. Not so for the NATO side, which had to fight over the hostile side of the front and had six air crew captured.
Both sides also lost a crippled aircraft trying to get home (one F-16C and one Su-27). The SAMs did not score a kill in the scenario, but there were a lot of near misses and the SAMs forced both sides to operate at Low and Deck altitude, which increased the AAA damage, especially against NATO that lost three aircraft to AAA. However, the NATO losses in the air were balanced out by very effective bombing work by the A-7D Corsairs and the Jaguar GR1s, and effective recon by the US RF-4Cs and Belgian Mirage 5BRs, so NATO still came out on top.
Here was the final VP situation:
The final difference was +24VP to the NATO side, so a “decisive victory” based on the standard VP table.
So, while NATO won in the end, had a few air-to-air combats, ground attacks, and recon efforts come out just slightly differently the result would have been a WP win due to the impressive 10 aircraft they brought down. Overall, I’m feeling good about this scenario currently. It will definitely need a two-player test play to wring out the final kinks, but it provides a ton of action for both sides and has replay value since the performance of the FAC flights and what kind of bombing and SEAD aircraft NATO receives can make a big difference.