Sunday, 13 November 2016

Quick Looks: Next War Taiwan

If there is a series for hex and counter hipsters at the moment it is Next War games by Mitch Land and Gene Billingsley. Kev Sharp's been blogging it 1, 3MA have been talking about it 2, these drunken reprobates have been playing it 3, two of my friends have picked up Next War India Pakistan 4, one of whom as his first hex and counter game. When I first saw the GMT Next War series with Next War Korea a few years back, I passed on it because it was pricey and I thought future wars were boring. I thought these things because I was a fool. I'm not entirely sure why the series has become popular, as speculative future wars seems like a hard sell but the continued releases (now three soon four) and the quality of the product seem to have carried it into the wargamer consciousness if not the popular.
Initial Taiwanese deployment around Taichung, not as well defended as it first looked.


Next War Taiwan depicts an invasion of Taiwan by mainland China sometime in the near future. I say sometime because the game has no fluff text paragraphs, opting instead to insert a few choice quotes from diplomats here and there, stylish but if you want your background narrative to the internet with you.

The PRC have a lot of planes


This is an AIR,SEA LAND battle to use the unimaginative military jargon terms and it might be the only recent game of its kind. Mechanically the game has a quasi Igougo sequence of play with a clever initiative system driven by victory point acquisition that allows players to first send in their special forces, then fight for air superiority, then cruise missile and air strike, then move and attack with ground and naval units. All this is followed by a few book keeping phases, and in between the initiative player gets a few bonus moves/strikes. It all sounds very complex, and it sort of is in the advanced game at least.

Detection begets airstrikes on the PRC navy. Stealth fighters are good..

Most aspects of the game are fairly traditional and simple of themselves, special forces equate to assigning each token to a mission and rolling on a chart, air superiority combat is three rounds of dicing off on a CRT with modifiers, the land game is move and attack with column shifts and a ton of modifiers on the CRT. What makes the game especially interesting, where most of the complexity lies is in how all the different elements interact.

Perhaps you want to chopper in the 45th Chinese Airborne in the flat ground near Jhongli city with your four airborne transport points. Well unless you have used your special forces and cruise missiles to whittle down the Taiwanese air detection and SAM tracks you are probably just going to get shot down or aborted, unless you have dominated the sea and forced the allied navies out of the Taiwanese straights you wont be able to get supply to any ports you might capture and unless you have air superiority and escort fighters you might get intercepted. Then once you have landed you can consider the Tai army. Next War Taiwan forces you to think through your combined operations and spend your limited fighter jets, transport points and cruise missiles wisely. In this sense it is a fantastic operational game and a vivid picture of modern warfare.

Foggy camera over foggy battle, Taichung has fallen.


Being an invasion game Next War Taiwan offers early strategic choices followed by a developing narrative. Initially the Chinese have to choose an invasion site, or sites, and then hit as hard as they can hoping to secure a beach head, then a port (preferably a big one) and city hexes. In addition to this they need to consider whether snatching either the Penghu or Ryukyu islands is worth the victory points. The Taiwanese must cling on defending as many critical assets as they can whilst trying to exploit any Chinese weakness, most of all however they must hope help arrives sooner rather than later. When the international posture matrix allows, the US and perhaps Japan or even Vietnam may intervene. For the US it is largely a question of strategic push your luck. If they hold on at range until they are sure of air and naval supremacy there's a good chance the Chinese will have already forced a victory. The US can use their superior pilots at range for a while but sooner or alter they will have to go all in and try seize the Straits of Taiwan. I suspect many games will be decided on this dicey moment.


5 turns in, the PRC still have air superiority.



I've spent some ten hours with this game and it has been a really immersive fulfilling experience and for me, on this play, totally worth it despite a lot of flipping between the two rule books and frequent miscounting of combat factors. It educated me on the terrible effectiveness of SAM systems and the importance of special forces as a counter to them, its given me great stories on the fall of Taichung and the battle of the Straits but I've had to work for it. Not that the game bit by bit is complex but an inevitable consequence of detailed Air Sea Land battle is the whole is more sophisticated than the parts. If I was to play opposed, I'd be inclined to stick to the basic rules (which are actually fairly accessible) and almost certainly drop the advanced air rules. This is a good game, and a good series but it is juggling a lot of balls and keeping them all in the air is rather tricky.





1 http://bigboardgaming.com/next-war-india-pakistan-nwip-lose-nukes-1/
2 https://www.idlethumbs.net/3ma/episodes/modern-warfare
3 https://boardgamegeek.com/guild/1660
4 https://twitter.com/ConsimsSheffied/status/752133901909458944

3 comments:

  1. Am looking forward to playing it. Would like to acquire the Korean one for myself.

    Cheers,

    Pete.

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  2. I loved it (India-Pak) and the build up of rules complexity through the basic scenarios makes it seems not all that complex for a 40 page rulebook with a two page SOP.

    Can't wait for the Poland edition.

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  3. The surging popularity of these games is a total mystery to me - the game systems themselves seem like a mess. The advanced air rules are an insane time-sink as they require ludicrous amounts of die-rolling for small effects, but if you want the advanced game rules which make many of the game systems non-trivial (there isn't a ton to the basic game), you have to use them because the optional rule blending basic air rules with the other advanced systems is clearly more of an idea than an actually developed game system. There are other elements of the game that are a bit messy, but the air system is just a total back-breaker.

    I've played Korea and Taiwan, and both of them were only borderline playable, with air rules that were a disaster and the remaining rules only barely hung together. I've heard India-Pakistan is better just because the air footprint is much smaller and so that element of the game is less of an egregious time waste. But I wasn't compelled to try it.

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