Thursday, April 24, 2008

3rd Fleet musings

Back in the "old days" I was quite the "Cold Warrior" insofar as wargaming interests went.
I was eager consumer of NATO v. Warsaw Pact games from the get-go. Most of the miniatures gaming, for example, involved "modern" stuff and I had an extensive collection of modern 1:285 scale GHQ/CinC armor as well as a lot of 1:2400 modern naval. I've been playing Harpoon since the very first Adventure Games edition.

A lot of this was professional interest. I was a company-grade field artillery officer in the 1980s with a tour of duty in Germany and even stateside my National Guard unit's training was always geared towards the NATO contingency.

And one of my favorite game systems for naval warfare was the Fleet series from Victory Games. At one point I had all of them and unlike many of my collections these actually got played a lot. I played campaigns of all the Fleet games and I have to say that it was both enjoyable and informative. Enjoyable because the game was very good from a player's standpoint. While intricate, it wasn't too complicated and it was very skill-based. Informative because it did an excellent job of illustrating the factors affecting naval combat and showing how much technology and geography worked against the Soviets. It was hard for the USSR side to win many campaign games, although many of the non-campaign scenarios were pretty balanced. Once a campaign got going, though, geography worked inexorably against the Soviets. While they might score an occasional success, the Allied forces had both numbers and location on their side. Typically the Soviet subs were hunted down, their surface forces driven back on their bases and their bombers forces attrited.

The end of the Cold War was, of course, a very positive development, but it did pull the rug out from the modern warfare simulation market. This has its ironies. For example, while the U.S. military trained hard for force-on-force heavy combat all through the 50s, 60s, 70s and 80s, almost all its actual fighting was contingency-style light infantry combat. Since the Cold War ended, on the other hand, the U.S. has fought two armor-heavy wars. Yet there's relatively less interest.

3rd Fleet was the last and most sophisticated of the Fleet series, and it actually didn't see print until after the Berlin Wall came down. In a very short time much of the naval hardware depicted in the game was scrapped. Up until the 1990s numbers were considered critical, so all navies regularly kept ships in service long after their design life. There were some World War II veteran warships still serving in many navies. In 3rd Fleet the U.S. battleship New Jersey and Brazilian destroyer Marcilio Dias were built for World War II, and the older games in the series had many more. Nowadays the U.S. Navy has scrapped and mothballed a large number of relatively new ships. As a matter of fact, some ships that were almost new in 1990 such as the Spruance-class destroyers are already gone as cost-cutting takes priority now.

I kept 3rd Fleet as the best representative of the series and one I might, possibly get to play someday. It has a fair number of smaller scenarios and even its biggest battles are much less ambitious than its sister games. I ended up selling off the rest. Still, I wouldn't be surprised if I never do play it again. While its a good game, time really has passed it by and I don't know anyone I'd even suggest playing it with. It's a relic.

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