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Dance of the Vampires

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Dance of the Vampires - 5/20/2020 11:56:33 PM   


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A couple weeks ago Kushan and SSN754 recommend that I check out Dance of the Vampires from Wargame Vault. These are Larry Bond’s notes from a series of wargames using his paper based game of Harpoon. There were three games which he ran in 1985 with Tom Clancy and many others to work out the details for a chapter by that name in their novel Red Storm Rising. I picked it up immediately and read through most of it that day, it has an obvious connection to how Joel (Airborne Ranger) and I are writing our Northern Fury series. Unfortunately, one thing led to another and I only finished it off today.

Firstly, I think we all owe Larry Bond a huge debt of gratitude for essentially founding the modern air/naval warfare genre with his board game. Secondly, we should all be very thankful that personal computers exist, and that the genre has evolved to CMO. Reading through how he was calculating submarine and radar detections with a locally scripted program on the one computer they had available made me cringe. Thirdly, our understanding of modern combat and systems has evolved exponentially in the past 35 years.

I made a few notes which I’ll share with you here.

• To put together a game in 1985 involving 2x US and 1x French carrier vs a few Regts of Soviet bombers and a dozen or so subs took a team of 12 players, several days with weeks of planning. They didn’t finish. If we want to do that our biggest problem is figuring out which scenario to play.

• They really didn’t know how some things worked. The Cold War was still very real, and a lot of security revolved around a lot of stuff. They were using the Su-24 as a fighter; using ‘blip enhancers’ which Bond thought existed but added a correction after the game; the use of ECM and detection was what we would consider archaic.

• The players, who had mostly not played or only played one game of Harpoon before, just didn’t know how to do things. We take many basics for granted because we’ve done it a hundred times. Why you should have an air defence cruiser close enough to the carrier to use its air defence. Why you should have radar coverage over a Task group. Why you need ESM up and watching. Why tanker support is important. They were making all the same errors we did when we played our first game of CMANO or CMO. An example: they didn’t use A2A refueling but as a result of this game there is an addendum titled ‘Simpler rules for air to air refueling’ that is 4 pages long!

• Between the three games they built a computer script which was evolving. First it calculated movement over time for ships & aircraft, then evolved into a sonar tool which calculated detection only out to the first CZ, they didn’t include detections any further out because doing it was too hard and would slow down the game.

I don’t want to come off as critical. I think this endeavour was simply amazing! They managed to take paper based rules, a bunch of guys, some rulers, note pads, some vague ideas and a home-grown computer program and ran a very sophisticated game. The fact that it happened on this scale at all is a testament to how good the paper-based Harpoon rules were.

Like Joel and I, and I’m not comparing ourselves to Clancy & Bond, they weren’t basing their story on the scenario, they already knew what had to happen. They were testing concepts and establishing tidbits to make the story come alive. They succeeded.

So, I’ll sum up by saying – we don’t know how good we have it with CMO. There are always minor quibbles, but on the whole, this genre of games has come a long, long way since Bond set pen to paper. I highly recommend this as a great read for anyone interested in CMO.


< Message edited by Gunner98 -- 5/20/2020 11:57:09 PM >


Check out our novel, Northern Fury: H-Hour!:
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RE: Dance of the Vampires - 5/21/2020 2:50:40 AM   


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Thanks for the summary. I've always found it interesting to look back at the assumptions and mechanisms used in historical rules-sets. (Although it's a bit alarming to realize that games of my youth are now becoming 'historical'. ) It's a good reminder that we're probably making questionable assumptions now too, but we just don't realize what they are yet.

Looking further back than Harpoon, there's Fletcher Pratt's naval war game from the 1930s and 1940s. Played with miniatures, it initially focused on gunnery and torpedoes, and then added aircraft in more detail (describing them as "a headache all the way"), although it never got into carrier operations. Ideally it was a refereed team sport, with each player getting a few ships, and eventually they had large groups playing in a rented hall. There were no dice in the final version. The combat system relied heavily on player judgment. Each player had to plot his (or her - they had female players) gunfire, manually estimate the range, and specify the spacing of the salvo, writing it on an arrow tacked to the floor. The referees then did the measuring and assessed hits. Ships were assigned a single numerical value (essentially hit points) using a formula based on a number of factors (armour, weaponry, displacement), and as they were damaged they lost a proportionate amount of performance. If you lost 20% of your ship value, you lost 20% of your speed, 20% of your guns, 20% of your torpedoes, etc. This may seem rather abstract to us, accustomed to detailed damage reports, but apparently it gave results that were reasonably consistent with reality, when you summed it up over an entire battle.

Then we could step back even further, to Fred T. Jane's naval wargame. (Yes, that Jane.) First published in the late 1890s, it was the reason for those detailed diagrams of ship armour layout and gun classifications in the early editions of Jane's Fighting Ships. This game didn't use dice either. Instead, armour diagrams were drawn out, and then the players were given a sort of paddle with a pin attached somewhere off-center on one side. The player would strike at the diagram with the paddle, and the pattern of pin-holes in the paper would show where the individual shells had struck. Because the paddle hid much or all of the diagram, and the player wasn't sure exactly where the pin was, there was a lot dispersion in the shots, until trial and error let the player gradually home in the target. There's an interesting paper from 1899 here in which Fred Jane describes his game to members of the navy, and discusses his conclusions from it. Some of these are quite at odds with actual experience ("Line abreast is the best formation in which to go into action. Line ahead means the destruction of a fleet in detail.").

What bad conclusions are we drawing today?

(in reply to Gunner98)
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RE: Dance of the Vampires - 5/21/2020 12:06:38 PM   

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What bad conclusions are we drawing today?

That satellites can see everything?

(in reply to AndrewJ)
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RE: Dance of the Vampires - 5/21/2020 1:39:46 PM   

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For those of us who design scenarios, the question is can you make a scenario that mimics "Dance of the Vampires"? The battle as laid out in Red Storm Rising has a lot of deception by the Soviets with the NATO side trying to put together a picture of what is happening with only bits and pieces of information. Assumptions were made that proved to be wrong. Weapons systems WAD but also failed at critical moments.

So as scenario designers can we create a moment in time where the player has to make a choice that truly makes the difference between winning and losing? Can we manipulate the AI to truly be a worthy foe like the Soviets were in the book? That to me has always been the advantage of two player games as opposed to player vs AI games. It is very hard to simulate the craftiness of the human intellect into the AI side. I think this is why a lot of people want a multiplayer version of CMO.

Many CMO/CMANO scenarios are very hard to get that elusive "decisive victory" but many of them have built in "cheats" for the AI like

* Extreme penalties for losing units (Shamaal in the original set comes to mind)
* Built in ambush events allowing the AI to get its units in place while the player cannot respond (they can shoot at you but you cannot shoot at them)
* Restrictive ROE for the player
* Overwhelming numbers arrayed against the player (Rork's Drift redux battles)

Now don't get me wrong, some of these types of scenarios are quite entertaining. I especially like the first few Northern Fury scenarios where the premise is you are going to lose but try not to lose too badly. My point is that in a true peer to peer set-up the player will always have the advantage over the AI because the AI can only do what was pre-programmed by the scenario designer. So in my mind that is the real challenge as far as human vs AI games: make the computer side crafty without giving it unfair advantages



"We have met the enemy and they are ours" - Commodore O.H. Perry

(in reply to Struan76)
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RE: Dance of the Vampires - 5/21/2020 3:27:15 PM   


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That to me has always been the advantage of two player games as opposed to player vs AI games. It is very hard to simulate the craftiness of the human intellect into the AI side. I think this is why a lot of people want a multiplayer version of CMO.

I am starting to come around to this view but see a lot of pitfalls. Your point is the #1 reason why it would be beneficial however.


Check out our novel, Northern Fury: H-Hour!:
And our blog:
Twitter: @NorthernFury94 or Facebook

(in reply to vettim89)
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RE: Dance of the Vampires - 5/21/2020 3:46:22 PM   


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Great find!

Reminds me of, and this might be a weird analogy, the early days of sports (like how the first basketball game devolved into a fistfight or how in early baseball no one knew how to field by later standards).


(in reply to Gunner98)
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RE: Dance of the Vampires - 5/30/2020 7:09:47 PM   


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A fascinating find...thanks for the summary! It really reminds me of how fortunate we are to have modern computers and an amazing program like Command!

(in reply to Coiler12)
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RE: Dance of the Vampires - 5/30/2020 8:02:06 PM   


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Adding this to my reading list, sounds spectacular.

(in reply to stww2)
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RE: Dance of the Vampires - 5/31/2020 3:15:38 PM   


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Just read it.

It's a great historical reference for the earlier days of wargaming, even if a lot of it was either familiar (just the basics of doctrine) or inaccurate in hindsight (like the A2A Su-24s).


(in reply to Aaabcwea)
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RE: Dance of the Vampires - 6/1/2020 11:57:23 PM   

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RED STORM RISING is something I go back and read over and over and over again! And Gunner, you are so correct with your comment about how fortunate we are to have CMO to enjoy and create our own scenarios to have fun with...even if we don't submit them for community use and just "play" them for our own information gathering or analysis of the military hardware


USS Dwight D. Eisenhower (CVN-69) 1990-1994.

(in reply to Coiler12)
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