Preoccupied With '85: Close and Destroy Rules Review | Print |  E-mail
Monday, 26 November 2007
Timeline Games' Close and Destroy and Close and Destroy II are for wargamers who can immerse themselves in Cold War era weaponry and don't mind a few charts

Growing up in the 1980s, it was hard to escape the specter of all-out global war between West and East. Generally speaking, that meant NATO, led by the United States, vs. the Warsaw Pact, led by the Soviet Union, or "Russia." Books, movies and the news media presented various scenarios. Some, like Hackett's The Third World War, Clancy's Red Storm Rising or Coyle's Team Yankee, were generally positive. Others were grim, notably the made-for-TV docudramas Threads and The Day After and CBS News Presents: The Defense of the United States, a whole-cloth damnation of the US military as woefully unprepared for any confrontation, nuclear or otherwise, with the Soviet Union. (Editor's Note: CBS News just finds the U.S. Army unfit. Doesn't matter what the topic at hand is.)

With these grim realities, of course, came gamesmen and the inevitable "What if?" discussions. Say the Red Army, spearheading Warsaw Pact formations, came crashing into Northern Central Germany, likely through the Fulda Gap. Would the "space for time" defense-in-depth strategy coupled with the relatively high-tech (for 1985) gadgetry of NATO, plus the flexible response of Division 86 prevail? Or would the sheer overwhelming tide of steel and men, thrown headlong into frontal assaults with the aim of retaking of all the territory from the Urals to the Elbe, overwhelm even the ghastly might of the Abrams, the Leopard II and the Challenger?

Thankfully we'll never know for sure, but that hasn't stopped game makers from developing rule systems based on these questions. In this review we'll look at the Close and Destroy dyad from TimeLine Ltd. (www.timelineltd.com), which also publishes the somewhat more whimsical Morrow Project games and modules.

Close and Destroy and Close and Destroy II are two 8.5"x11" booklets, staple bound in heavy stock covers. They list for $10.90 each from TimeLine. The core rulebook is Close and Destroy; Close and Destroy II covers air operations and additional supplements only. It's not a standalone sequel to Close and Destroy; we can see how the title could create confusion with potential buyers.

Artwork in the books varies in terms of usefulness. Some drawings are only template outlines, lacking any "filled in" detail, while others appear to be photocopies of 3-view plane-forms (profiles only; frontal views are never shown). A Jane's Armored Vehicles handbook would come in handy.

Red Dawn

Starring Patrick Swayze, Charlie Sheen, C. Thomas Howell, Lea Thompson Dir. John Milius In 1984 tensions were running high and, as noted in the parent review of Close and Destroy, it seemed like a foregone conclusion that the United States and the Soviet Union would go to war. While much of the focus of popular media was that the result would be emptying missile silos followed by an agonizing death of civilization, John Milius' 1984 production Red Dawn tackled the what-if scenario a different way.

A series of limited nuclear strikes one fall day blinds and disables the United States. Soviet troops pour in from "Red Canada" and through an allied or neutral Mexico to seize key strategic points in the United States. The importance of Colorado as a strategic planning location isn't overlooked by the Russians, and as divisions from the Canadian and Mexican borders try to pincer through the U.S. and link up and divide the country, they attack small towns throughout the state, including Calumet City. It's here that a resistance is formed by the "redneck" high-school students (ably played for the most part by Sheen, Howell, Swayze and Thompson) who, although initially seeking to simply survive in the Rocky Mountains and avoid the destruction around them, take up arms and fight the Soviet invaders in a Vietnam War style battle of insurgent attacks and ambushes. Using these tactics they attrit the Russian and Cuban forces to the point that Spetznaz forces are brought in to deal with the "Wolverines," the name the characters have given to their group of rebels, after the local football team.

The movie is an interesting crossroads: In places it is as poignant a war drama as All's Quiet on the Western Front or Stalingrad, in others it flounders in teenage rebellion and Wal-Mart style patriotic bluster. One of the most effective moments in the movie comes when the group has captured a young Soviet soldier and is preparing to executing him, as they have neither the means nor desire to take prisoners. The terrified Russian asks, in broken English, why the group is doing what they're doing. Swayze's angry response is "Because we live here!"

From a military strategy standpoint the whole affair is somewhat silly. However, clever prop construction provided the film with frighteningly realistic looking mockups of T72s, Mi-24 'Hind' helicopters and other hardware. Not to be missed is a close-air support strike by an F111 (still in use at the time of the film's release) and a long-range tank duel between the aforementioned T72s and a lone M1 Abrams.

Three out of five stars

Close and Destroy outlines the simple rule mechanics required for determining to-hit and damage/effect on units. The flow of combat is simple: Initial Fire Phase, First Movement Phase, Mid-Fire Phase, Second Movement Phase and Final Fire Phase. Once a target has been struck, you check the appropriate charts to ascertain where the vehicle or unit was hit and the percentage chance of penetration by a given weapon. The game is geared to large-scale battles; there's very little unit degradation�it's either struck and destroyed, struck and mobility killed, struck to no effect, or missed entirely. The scope of the game will generally encompass so many units that determining whether or not a given tank has lost use of its thermal sights or has a damaged fuel pump, or whether infantryman #120 is in shock or can carry on, is far too granular.

Still, Close and Destroy manages to capture the visceral feel of the modern combat arena. Most weapons up to 1990 are represented. Note that more modern systems are lacking, and there's no indication that TimeLine intends to support the product beyond Cold War-era systems. Still, combat is lethal enough and accurate, based on what we've observed in Iraq for the last sixteen years. Warsaw Pact armored vehicles hit hard, but inaccurately, and are not as well-protected as NATO units. Conversely, the rules suggest a standard 3-to-1 to 5-to-1 numerical advantage for Warsaw Pact units; go with the higher ratio if Category B and Category C units, typically equipped with Korean War to Vietnam-era equipment, are being thrown in to the fray.

Systemically, the game is tight, though if you dislike charts, be prepared to make copious flash cards. The game is essentially chart-based, with all fire effects requiring grid lookups to determine resolution. This wargamer has never had a problem with such systems, but appreciates that others may disagree.

The rules�and consequently the game�have a few quirks.

First and foremost, you really need to play with full consideration for artillery and other factors. Having a quick bash of company versus battalion in a meeting engagement without artillery preparation, or at least having the big guns on-call, is simply out of the question.: The rules assume artillery is being fired, and in simple tank vs. tank engagements units are destroyed so quickly that even large-scale battles fall apart rather quickly � in minutes, as I discovered during one playtest.

As noted above, the Close and Destroy II rules introduce aircraft as well as air-launched guided munitions. The rules supplement covers both fixed- and rotary-wing aircraft. One of the most spectacular displays of firepower in history has been the precision-guided munitions launched from myriad fixed-wing aircraft during various military operations undertaken by the United States and its allies; NATO during Operation Allied Force over Kosovo is a prime example. Yet even though the cover of Close and Destroy II features an A10A in attack, draped with AGM-65 Maverick missiles, Close and Destroy II not only does not model the use of these weapons, it explicitly forbids the use of any guided weapons on fixed wing platforms even though some guided munitions were approved for this use in the timeframe in question. This was a shortcoming that absolutely should have never crept into the game, ever. Even pre-Operation Desert Storm, the use of PGMs from the A10, A6, F4, F111 and other fixed wing assets was never in question. There is not even a note that "for playability reasons" this was disregarded. Without having the exact algorithms on hand to determine hit probabilities and engagement envelopes that the designers used for weapon systems in the game it is impossible to reverse-engineer with a guarantee of one hundred percent success.

The last hitch with the rules simply concerns modern systems: Timeline has never published a supplement covering the spate of new vehicles that have seen development and use in the last twenty years. Timeline noted at the end of C&D that they were always on the look out for newer, better information on new weapon systems, but seems to lack followthrough. Want to know what a platoon of Stryker Armored Gun Systems could do up against a company of T64UMs? You're out of luck, unless you're willing to brew it yourself.

Close and Destroy II, as opposed to Close and Destroy, is not without its high points, though: Play examples and sample scenarios are offered, making a careful study of how battles unfold as easy as cracking the book and reading through.

Overall, if you have the space (assuming you desire accurate scale) and if you can stand a "primitive" modern high-tech battlefield where expensive jets drop dumb bombs and you have the large amounts of miniatures required to cover battalion-scale engagements, Close and Destroy and Close and Destroy II may be what you're looking for. But for true beer and pretzels armored wargaming, Tankwreck! or possibly A Fist Full of TOWs are better suited.

Two out of five stars

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