Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Team Yankee

Novelty games are somewhat unusual in wargame circles, but an example of the type is GDW's Team Yankee which was published in 1987.

The game was timed to coincide with the appearance of Harold Coyle's novel of the same name narrating the adventures of a company team led by a Capt. Bannon during the first month of fighting during a Soviet invasion of West Germany circa 1987.

Unlike Tom Clancy's epic-scale novels from around the same time, Coyle's story was very much focused on the point of view of one character and events directly affecting him and his men, with minimal attention to the larger picture or outside events.

Likewise, Team Yankee, the game, is ruthlessly focused on Bannon's war, with just the first, introductory, scenario not explicitly linked to a fight from the book. The other seven scenarios are very faithful reproductions of firefights from various pages of the book, complete with page references.

The game includes most of the elements one might expect to see in a mid-1980s tactical armor wargame such as hexes, ranged fire, attack and defense factors, movement and combat phases, and an odds-based CRT.

Unlike many similar games Team Yankee didn't attempt to cover all the bases, contenting itself with sticking to the novel. It was, however, the inaugural game in GDW's "First Battle" series which eventually became GDW's standard for 20th Century tactical armored combat, replacing its more complicated Assault series games. Team Yankee's rulebook included illustrations of sample counters for many NATO and Warsaw Pact vesicles and weapons that didn't appear in the game.

Because the game hews so closely to the novel, however, it may now be of very limited interest to most wargamers. The novel was set during a very limited time frame for the U.S. Army, the middle of its transformation from the M-60/M-113 force of the 60s, 70s and 80s to the M-1/M-2/M-3 AirLand Battle force of the 90s and 21st Century. In the novel/game the tanks and cavalry scout vehicles have upgraded to the M-1/M-3 but the infantry is still riding around in M-113s. Even in 1987 this was becoming rare.

There was also a doctrinal shift under way. The term "team" in "Team Yankee" reflected the common doctrinal practice of cross-attaching tank and mech infantry units. Tank and mech battalions would trade one or two companies to form mixed battalion-sized "task forces." This task forces would likewise exchange tank and mech platoons between some of their companies to create mixed "teams." In the novel Bannon commands a tank company cross-attached into a mech battalion. One of his platoons is exchanged for a mech platoon creating the "tank heavy" Team Yankee (two tank platoons, one mech) and the "mech heavy" Team Bravo (two mech, one tank). The other two mech companies remain pure as Charley and Delta companies.

This entire practice was largely driven by the inadequacies of the M-113-equipped infantry and as the M-2 Bradley came online this started to fall into disuse because Bradley-equipped units were powerful enough to stand on their own. By the 1991 Gulf War it was already becoming common for tank and mech battalions to fight as complete units without cross-attaching.
As an aside, combining the two has come back into vogue in a more formal sense, with the new Combined Arms Battalions having two companies of each.

All-in-all the game succeeds in its goal of bringing the novel to life as a wargame, although with some notable flaws. First among those are the sloppy rules. For a game obviously meant to appeal to military enthusiasts who might not have wargame experience it leaves a lot of holes and prompted me to write a two-page letter with rules questions. For example, the game doesn't explicitly say whether a line of sight that passes exactly along a hexside shared between a blocking and non-blocking hex is blocked or not. There isn't a consensus in wargame rules on this, so even prior wargame experience doesn't help. (The answer was it is blocked).
This sort of sloppiness was endemic to GDW rules, but a serious flaw for a game that appeared in mass-market bookstores.

For players today the game is more of a curiosity than anything else -- a novelty game. If you're interested in the general topic of World War III NATO v. WP armored combat there are any number of better games on the topic. Better First Battle titles include Test of Arms and Sands of War. As the entire genre of World War III novels and games has fallen into obscurity with the end of the Cold War both Team Yankee the game and the novel it's based on have become artifacts of a bygone era.

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