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The Gift of Villainy, Part I

When I was in high school, my greatest adversary was a fellow student named Scott. I and my friends played a starship combat game called Star Fleet Battles, created by Stephen V. Cole. Star Fleet Battles was set during Star Trek: The Original Series, with some add-ons the creator made up or bolted on, such as the Kzinti. Playing SFB was some of the best times I had back then. Scott played a Klingon and played his role well. He was forever trash talking the Federation about our weakness and incompetence and how the Klingons would enslave Humanity, etc., etc., etc.. Scott taught us tactics the way Napoleon instructed his enemies, by beating our heads in repeatedly. From simple sound tactics and pre-planning to vicious, clever traps, he made us better combatants because we strove to make ourselves better in order to beat him. And eventually, I did. I won’t say I got the win-loss ratio anywhere to even but I did manage some victories. I even won one fight with a trap so clever, they changed the rules of the game.

But that’s all back story.

Years later, after I had evacuated New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina and made my way from Hendersonville, North Carolina to Decatur, Georgia to Mobile, Alabama, I discovered a game store in nearby Pensacola called Bobe’s Hobby House. A gentleman at Bobe’s decided to run a Cold War military campaign. This would be a “What if?” scenario involving NATO and Warsaw Pact force fighting in the fifties.

The background given by the gamemaster was as follows:

The time is December 1956 and the Soviets have just put down the uprising in Budapest, Hungary. Massive amounts of Hungarian refugees make their way toward the Austrian border. Border clashes erupt between Austrian border guard units and pro-Communist Hungarian motorized units as refugees attempt to cross over into Austria. As violence escalates, NATO Forces, West Germany are put on alert and are mobilized. In response, Warsaw Pact and Soviet Ground Forces, East Germany are mobilized in response to the NATO mobilization. In response to further border incursions by pro-Communist units, the Austrian government (not a member of NATO) calls on NATO countries to intervene to ‘prevent communist violation of a neutral nation.’ French and American troops are sent into reinforce Austrian border units. In response, Czech and Hungarian units move to confront NATO forces at the Hungarian border where units exchange fire with NATO forces. In response, on December 25th, 1956 Czech armoured units invade the American Occupation Zone and cross their through the Bayerischer forest on the Czech / West German border and make their way to occupy the small city of Spiegelau:

As a result of the Czech Forces committed invasion, a de facto state of war exists between NATO and the WARSAW PACT countries and World War 3 has begun.

I decided to play the Warsaw Pact forces. I wanted to give the players of Pensacola, Florida the wonderful gaming experience that Scott had given me. I wanted to give them an implacable foe that threatened all they held dear, against whom they could strive to battle with all their hearts. I wanted to share the exhilaration of both victory and defeat and provide them an entertainment experience they would remember fondly for the rest of their lives, as Scott had done for me.

I failed.

I failed miserably.

I made one crucial mistake, a critical miscalculation. I underestimated, even after the Cold War was over and the Berlin Wall a memory, just how much conservatives hate even the idea of Communism.

I thought they would just see me as playing the bad guys and if they lost, they’d work harder, read up on their military history, talk tactics over lunch with each other, and eventually, figure out a way to beat me.

They didn’t.

They were so consumed with their hatred of communism, a hatred I’d never seen anyone, right or left politically leaning, ever demonstrate against the Nazis in a World War II game, of which there are many. Prior to the modern age, in which Games Workshop’s Warhammer and Warhammer 40K are the dominant table-top miniatures combat games, World War Two was the strongest era for wargaming. I’d seen players of every stripe cheerfully fight the Nazis in one game and then play them in the next. Guys would put on their best (i.e., cheesiest) German accents and talk about how the Fatherland’s victory was inevitable and how the poor Amerikaners would be ground into the dust.

Nothing had prepared me for the anger I would see in these guys’ eyes at the thought of runaway Communist victories. And a string of runaway Warsaw Pact triumphs is what I gave them.

The rules set the game master chose for the campaign involved a “Fog of War” system: movement of units occurred on paper maps in secret until the GM decided that opposing units could see each other. If you got close enough to hear the enemy, he would say so. If you travelled out in the open where it could be reasonably assumed scouts or civilians could see you, your units were put on the open board. Otherwise, units went on the board when they first saw each other.

The American players didn’t take to the secrecy factor. That’s putting it mildly. They drove their tanks down major thoroughfares, single file, like they were heading for a Sunday picnic or a Christmas parade. My tanks kept to woods, to the outskirts of towns, moving into position unseen until it was time to strike. Time and again, I would flank the Americans before they even knew my forces were there; they would roll out in a long column, allowing me to close the trap as easily as clapping my hands shut.

They expected to win. I didn’t foresee that. I was trampling on this key American conceit, that the good cowboy only needed to stand his ground at high noon and face down the bad guy and he would triumph, that the West would always win against evil Communist aggression because they had John Wayne on their side. And after they lost, they got angry.

I’d been angry in my defeats by the Klingon Menace to be sure. But I focused that anger. I read naval history books. I even started reading Soviet military tactics to learn how they would have faced the US Navy during the Cold War. I learned and became a better combatant.

By comparison, my opponents in the Cold War campaign became more and more desperate and more willing to break the rules of warfare. They began by attacking a civilian train. I should point out that this campaign centred around a Czechoslovakian invasion of West Germany. So almost all the civilians and civilian property in the campaign were West German in origin. It was a West German train that NATO had derailed in the hopes of preventing its escape, I suppose.

The first game ended in a successful Warsaw Pact invasion. My medium tanks were racing across the West German countryside seeking to exploit the breach in NATO’s line.

The GM made the following post regarding the outcome:

The last game saw the invasion of the town of Spiegelau in the American Occupation Zone by the 2nd Czech Army’s 1st Armoured Division, the ‘Czech Legion’ which took the town with light casualties. Several American M-48s were recovered and sent back to the USSR for evaluation.

The advance did not stop there, however. The rest of the Czech Army, using combined operations, continued to advance behind the armoured spearhead of the 2nd Czech Army’s front capturing the cities of Deggendorf and Passau, crucial junctions in the dual spearhead to capture the German cities of Nuremburg and Munich. The NATO forces sent to stem the tide of the Warsaw Pact advance have taken their toll on the invading Communist armies. Despite moderate losses, however, the Warsaw Pact claims tens of kilometres of territory every couple of days as they push into the heart of the West.

While the Warsaw Pact Forces in Central Europe are lead by the Czech Forces, NATO units have reported no attacks by Soviet Forces in the North, Central or Southern Europe. It seems the bulk of the Soviet Forces have remained mobilized and are at Red Alert status. Lack of overt aggressive activity on behalf of the Soviets has led to a perplexing political situation at the United Nations Security Council, which is working around the clock to end the conflict. In the meantime, US NATO Forces have been redirected to Central Germany in an attempt to reinforce Nuremburg and Munich.

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Fantasy, science fiction and steampunk author Brandon Black is the editor of New Orleans By Gaslight, a first of its kind anthology of steampunk and gaslamp fantasy poetry and fiction set in Victorian-era New Orleans. Brandon is also the web content manager for the Week in Geek, New Orleans’ favourite fantasy and science fiction themed radio talk show, every Saturday at 1 pm CST on WGSO 990 AM. Click here to check out Brandon’s ever-expanding list of published works.

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