Stromata    |     home
previous     next          up
Vae Victis   |   Strategy & Tactics   |   Against the Odds   |   Fire & Movement   |   Panzerschreck
Strategy & Tactics
Strategy & Tactics. Joseph Miranda, ed. Published by Decision Games, P.O. Box 21598, Bakersfield, California 93390. Web site: Bimonthly. $21.99/issue; $99.97/year.
Strategy & Tactics is, by a wide margin, the oldest continuously published wargaming magazine. Far back in issue number 18, it pioneered the practice of enclosing a full-sized game with each issue. Originally the house organ of Simulations Publications, Inc., its quality languished for several years after SPI's collapse, until Joseph Miranda took over the editorial reins and tossed out "tried and true" design formulas in favor of imagination and experiment. Except for the current game and information about those planned for the future, the magazine's content is almost entirely historical, comparable to what one finds in periodicals like Military History Quarterly. Article quality is widely variable. The games are almost always interesting, even when not fully successful.
Number 216 (May/June 2003)
This issue presents The Great Game, designed by Joseph Miranda and developed by Brian Train. That's a crack team for the tough assignment of recreating the prolonged diplomatic and proxy military conflict between Britain and Russia in 19th Century Central Asia. The map, divided unconventionally into 50-mile squares and rendered in a not particularly attractive faux-naive style, stretches from northern India to the Caspian Sea. Turns are five years long, subdivided into five operations phases. The players control armies of various sizes and individual explorers and diplomats, which they deploy to win control of the the native powers through either negotiations or force. Behind these advance guards follow trading posts, colonies and railroads, which are the real keys to winning the game. As with any Miranda design, there are numerous random events, ranging from the Indian Mutiny (which limits the British to a single operations phase on the turn when it occurs) to European wars, Chinese intervention and the lesser perils of bandits, corruption, uprisings and famine. In a major respect, of course, the game falls short of being a simulation, since the "Great Game" was in reality a many-sided contest, in which the local kingdoms had their own motives and interests. To reduce it to Red vs. Green (though the Russian pieces are oddly colored blue rather than the traditional imperial color) isn't really true to history, though it need not be fatal to gaming.
An accompanying article, "The Great Game: 19th Century Cold War" by John Brown, with sidebars by Mike Cunningham, ambitiously summarizes the course of Anglo-Russian rivalry from 1801 to 1905. (One sidebar glances back as far as Muscovy and the Golden Horde.) It is quite a good effort and will tell neophytes all that they need to know in order to see what is going on in the game. A bibliography would have been a nice addition.
The other articles are "The Red River Campaign" by Jonas Goldstein and "A Short History of Biological Warfare" by David Tschanz. The former traces the unsuccessful Union drive into western Arkansas in the first months of 1864. The author conventionally criticizes General Nathaniel Banks' overestimation of the enemy and overall timidity. There are a couple of obvious shortcomings, such as confusion about directions and a map of the Battle of Sabine Crossroads that doesn't illustrate the points made in the description of the battle.
The biological warfare piece is mostly about experimentation and diplomatic initiatives to ban bio-weapon production and research. The author's reassuring conclusion is that, while massive biological attacks are imaginable, the probability of their occurrence is very low, not because all combatants are too saintly to use them but owing to practical difficulties, limited immediate effectiveness and fears of retaliation.
The always interesting FYI section carries a critique of Athenian strategy in the Peloponnesian War (apparently influenced by, but not identical to, Donald Kagan's), along with succinct articles about solutions to the problem of guarding WWII bombers against attack from below, the possible use of bubonic plague as a weapon and the sizes of barbarian armies (a rehash of Lot and Delbruck but always worth repeating), plus the usual tidbits. (You probably didn't know that Adolf Hitler bestowed his last military decoration on a Frenchman.)
Number 215 (March/April 2003)
Matthew Arnold's famous line "Where ignorant armies clash by night" was just waiting for the Iran-Iraq War and furnishes the title of this issue's game, a strategic-operational treatment of that eight-year-long conflict. The quip that the two sides fought with World War III weapons and World War I tactics seems to be the view of designer Philip Sharp. With low movement allowances, four-month turns and combat preceding movement, the game forces the players into methodical, step-by-step advances. The rules have a great deal of flavor ("chrome" to those who don't like such things): Revolutionary Guards, chemical warfare, human wave attacks, SCUD missiles, outside aid and U.N. efforts to end the conflict. But it doesn't look like either side will be able to improve greatly on the real war's stalemate unless the other is even more inept militarily than the Ayatollah Khomeini or Saddam Hussein.
The issue's lead article, by Gary Romano, is a workmanlike history of the the same conflict. The information on equipment and orders of battle is good, the narrative adequate, the photographs interesting and lone map attractive but short of vital detail. A sidebar by Philip Sharp describes the "soft" aspects of the opposing armies - doctrine, leadership and morale - quite capably, making clear the rationale for some of his game design ideas.
The three other long articles are successively excellent, fair and poor. Sami Männistö's "The Russo-Swedish War of 1808-1809" recounts one of the more obscure episodes of the Napoleonic Wars, when Russia, temporarily allied with France, went to war to compel Swedish adherence to the Continental System and, incidentally, add Finland to the Russian Empire. Contrary to what one would naturally assume, the Russian victory was due not to superiority of numbers. The armies on the field were about equal, but the Swedish war effort was "plagued by a lack of overall strategy and half-hearted resolution", aggravated by obsolete military thinking and failure "to exploit the vulnerability of Russian communications and . . . take advantage of the support of the local population".
"Japanese Strategy and the Opening Moves of the Pacific War, 1941-43" by Timothy J. Kutta would be a fine introduction for someone who had never read a word on the topic. Its themes are well-handled but extremely familiar, and the author has no fresh insights.
Internal evidence indicates that "A Brief History of Computers & Wargaming" by D. Ezra Sidran was written over a decade ago. Harpoon, The Perfect General and the writer's own Universal Military Simulator (a memorably overambitious failure) are described as the "latest generation of computer wargames". The article is a very superficial overview of the histories of military wargaming, computers, civilian wargaming and, finally, wargaming on  what were then called "microcomputers".
More successful is the "FYI" section, a series of short, tightly written pieces on nooks and crannies of military history. This issue's topics are British SOE plans to assassinate Adolf Hitler; an astonishing Vietnam War riverine action in which a pair of American patrol boats destroyed 65 NVA vessels and killed over a thousand enemy troops at the cost of two minor wounds; the Red Chinese invasion of Yikiangshan Island in January 1955, against the which the 720 man Nationalist garrison fought literally to the last man; and the Freikorps suppression of the Berlin revolution of 1919. These four items are better reading than most of the longer ones.
[To comment, click here.]
<Return to Top of Page>