Tim's Wargame Marathon

Tim at Camp Clark in Afghanistan

In February Tim returned to the US from his deployment in Afghanistan. He had spent thirteen months there. He was stationed in Khost, a city near the Pakistan border. It is not far from the Khyber Pass, which is the main route between Afghanistan and Pakistan. It has been the primary route of armies moving through the area since the time of Alexander the Great. Currently it is a major supply route for NATO forces in Afghanistan, so the Taliban has made multiple attempts to close the route. Tim served as the executive officer of a company (Apache Troop, 1-33 Cavalry, 3rd Brigade, 101st Airborne Division) tasked with keeping a portion of the highway near Khost clear of insurgents. For most of his time on deployment he was stationed at Camp Clark, which is just outside the city of Khost.

On his return to the US Tim was due a month of leave. He also had some slack time as he had applied for a transfer to Special Forces. Soldiers are accepted for Special Forces only after a rigorous tryout. Tim was scheduled for his tryout in April so he was kind of in limbo. His current command did not want to give him a new assignment till they knew if he was staying or transferring out. This was good as he had some time to unwind and was able to make a visit to Boise. Tim and I had been planning this trip while he was still in Afghanistan. He would come to Boise for about two weeks. He could visit friends and family here in Boise as well as making a side trip to visit a friend in California as well as. And of course he and I expected to get in some serious wargaming sessions.

Labyrinth (Tim vs Nolan) and Washington's War (Frank vs Steve)

One game that we were both looking forward to playing was Labyrinth from GMT Games. It's a strategic level CDG of the Global War On Terror. I had played it a few times, once with Nolan (I got crushed as the US) and four times with Tim Loya (we split 2-2). So Labyrinth was the first game that Tim and I played. On his first day in Boise we got in two games. Tim won them both. I was a little disappointed since I had played before and Tim hadn't but I figured what the heck, he's a pro. It's probably a good thing if he wins! Labyrinth is an interesting game that gives a lot of insight into the War on Terror. Of course the designer has made certain assumptions and decisions for the game but it makes a lot of sense. There are some obvious takeaways when you play the game. One is that it is usually necessary for the US player to invade Afghanistan to make any progress. Otherwise jihadists just spread from there and get out of control very quickly. The other takeaway is that it is really, really dumb for the US player to invade Iraq soon afterwards, before Afghanistan is completely stabilized. In fact one of the historical scenarios in the game that starts right after the US invasion of Iraq has a disclaimer about how unbalanced it is (ie almost impossible for the US player to win). One suspects that Wolfowitz and Rumsfeld would be easy marks if you ever got the chance to play Labyrinth against them. Tim felt the key to the game was Pakistan and control of their nuclear arsenal. That drove his strategy in the games I that I saw him play. It seemed to work for him. I'm not sure if he is right though as I used that approach playing the jihadists at the GMT weekend in April and got clobbered. That could have been tactics though, not strategy. So more plays are necessary. Anyway, it is a fun game that gives some real insight into important current events. It's definitely not a typical wargame though. It's heavily based on Twilight Struggle, so it is very similar to that game.

Battle for Baghdad with three Iraq/Afghanistan vets

One day I organized a "Wargame Marathon" at our house. I invited all of my wargaming friends in Boise over for an all day and night session. The idea was to get lots of people, start early and go late, and get as many games in as possible. Some could start early in the morning. Some couldn't come till evening. We ended up with people coming and going all day with lots of different games played. We started at 9 am with two simultaneous games. Tim played a game of Labyrinth against Nolan Guthrie (Tim won, again) while I fought the American Revolution against Frank Riskey in Washington's War (Frank won as the British). It was interesting to compare and contrast two guerrilla wars from two different centuries. Dave Thiel dropped by to say hi to Tim. He didn't actually play any games but very generously offered his advice to all the other players.

Around dinner time we had a shift change. Nolan and Frank had to head home. But by then we had been joined by Mike Durkin, Colin Robertson, Tim Loya and Dale Mahoney. The whole group played Battle for Baghdad. It is a multiplayer game of the struggle for control of Baghdad by various factions after the US invasion. It is as much about diplomacy (and betrayal) as it is about strategy and tactics. Players represent various factions: the US, Iraqi government, Shiite community, Sunni community, NGO's and Jihadists. The gameboard is a beautiful map of the city of Baghdad made from satellite photos. What made the game more interesting was that we has two Iraq vets (Tim and Tim) and one Afghanistan vet (Mike) playing the game. So both Tim's could show us on the board where they had been in Baghdad.

Is Tim reaching for a piece or trying to punch Colin out?

The games were pretty wild. In the first game, Tim Lieske was the Iraqi government. His victory conditions were to prevent fighting between the Shiites and Sunnis. When both factions took some losses fighting each other, on his turn he attacked both and wiped them out! So he won. They couldn't fight each other if they didn't exist. Not sure how practical that would be in the real world.

The second game was even wilder. Lots of name calling and trash talking. In the end Colin won. Tim came close playing the NGO faction through judicious use of suicide bombers. We all tried to point out to him that the Red Cross does not typically employ terrorism but it fell on deaf ears. Frank commented that there was a reason that they don't let ex military types run NGO's. Obviously Battle for Baghdad isn't a realistic simulation. It is more of an "Iraq War-themed" game of diplomacy. But with our group it was a lot of fun.

After the big marathon Tim and I had an evening playing multiple games of Hannibal: Rome vs Carthage. This may very well be my favorite game and I have probably played it more times than any other wargame. I managed to beat Tim twice quickly as the Romans before he managed to get a win. That made me feel a little better. At least I have one game that I can still pwn him.

Dinner at Angell's - the wine is making Tim sleepy already

After that Tim took a few days to go to LA to visit a friend. When he came back we set up a couple of sessions of Russia Besieged. It's an operational level East Front game with corps-sized units. We played teams - Tim and Frank played the Germans against Levi and I as the Russians. The Russians held up to the German onslaught in 1941 but sadly lost the game in 1942 with a German capture of Moscow. Russia Besieged is a redesign of the old Avalon Hill classic Russian Campaign which Frank, Tim and I had played many times "back in the day". It always was a favorite of ours. It does a good job of modernizing it and is now my default East Front game. I even have a Megagame version of it. More on that in a later post.

That was the extent of our wargaming. We got in a lot of games with some really good sessions. I wish Tim were around more often for wargames, even if he does beat me some (most?) of the time. Hopefully now that he is back in the US we can do some online play using VASSAL.

Just before Tim had to head back to Tennessee Shannon arrived for spring break. They hadn't seen each other since Tim had visited Singapore in May of 2007. We all went out to Angell's for a really good dinner.

After returning to Ft. Campbell Tim went through the Special Forces selection process. After his three week tryout he passed and is now assigned to the Fifth Special Forces group. Looks like he will be doing training for at least the next year now. Congrats from me. Tim is a lot tougher than I am (or ever was).