Warsaw Pact is a strategic level game portraying modern conflict in Europe during the Cold War era. This classic wargame featured innovative mechanics and was designed by Stephen V. Cole, a pioneer in the military simulation industry. Warsaw Pact appeared in two versions, one published in 1976 and another produced in 1980.
There are excellent reasons to review a vintage board game that might be owned by a small number of fortunate Geeks. Evaluating older titles allows us to trace the development of the wargame hobby and discover how early concepts were gradually transformed into the systems we know today. Warsaw Pact is also a landmark publication within the board game pantheon. This title deserves analysis based on its ambitious scope and bold ideas. Any discussion of Warsaw Pact will naturally lead to the larger issue of simulating WWIII in Europe. Although the Cold War ended over twenty years ago the military and political implications of this nightmare scenario are still fascinating topics. Victory in Warsaw Pact is determined by the number of casualties inflicted, the number of urban areas captured, and the number of enemy nations that suffer a political collapse.
Sitting down for a session of this game puts me in a sentimental mood. Warsaw Pact was one of the first “Third World” products I purchased. Back in the late 1970s SPI and Avalon Hill were the two superpowers in the wargame hobby. Smaller companies became known as Third World publishers because they had limited budgets. I have fond memories of buying the crude first edition of Warsaw Pact at the local hobby shop and playing the game on the floor at Dad’s cottage near the beach.
Warsaw Pact originally appeared as a supplement to Jagdpanther Magazine in the summer of 1976. This periodical contained numerous wargame variants and also included complete games. Jagdpanther was edited by Mr. Cole, who was an expert on military affairs. Contributors included the talented Philip S. Kosnett and other notable personalities from the wargame hobby during that decade.
The first edition of Warsaw Pact was a low budget production but the game had a certain spontaneous intensity. This was a challenging period in American history. The weak military position of the United States in the late 1970s was reflected in the wargame hobby as designers explored new scenarios, leading to products like Oil War and Invasion: America.
The magazine version of Warsaw Pact had thin but serviceable counters and a few pages of closely-spaced typewritten rules. It contained a drab paper map that was mostly gray and would probably meet all the requirements of Soviet artistic guidelines in the dreary Brezhnev period.
None of that mattered. It was a nasty little game that played like the map was hooked up to a car battery. The innovative design concept provided an interesting “historical” narrative. Warsaw Pact might be regarded as a response to the classic SPI game NATO: Operational Combat in Europe in the 1970's published in 1973. While the games share a common theme Warsaw Pact was a more ambitious design. With its broad strategic sweep and extensive political rules Warsaw Pact moved beyond the operational-level battlefield action of NATO. The scale of this game was five days per turn and each hex represented an area thirty miles across.
There was another, more important element. Mr. Cole decided to portray this hypothetical conflict from the Soviet viewpoint. The system was intended to present the Soviet/Warsaw Pact player with the challenges, advantages, and limitations that were expected to be major factors when the attackers operated under Soviet military doctrine. Warsaw Pact was probably the first commercially produced wargame to simulate a contemporary conflict from the perspective of the “enemy” commander.
One of the hallmarks of a successful wargame design is a clear focus by the development team on one or two crucial aspects of the scenario. By concentrating his attention on Soviet doctrine -- or at least what NATO planners understood Soviet doctrine to be in the 1970s -- Mr. Cole was able to create something special in spite of the primitive graphics and a few issues with the rule booklet. The original edition wasn’t a polished professional product but the scenarios depicted events taken directly from recent newspaper headlines!
The game included conflicts which might have occurred in 1967 and 1973. Mr. Cole also demonstrated his ability as a military prognosticator by predicting the start of his hypothetical third scenario in 1981... the actual Polish crisis began at the end of 1980 and reached a climax in the spring of the following year. It should also be mentioned that the 1976 edition included a scenario depicting a civil war in Yugoslavia.
The version of Warsaw Pact published by Task Force Games appeared in 1980. This boxed edition featured an expanded set of unit counters, a full color map, and a few rules changes. The original 1967 and 1973 campaigns remained intact, but the updated version referred to the most modern conflict as a generic 1980s scenario.
Since the boxed TFG edition is the game most likely to be available and represents the artistic development of the design from 1976 to 1980 this review will focus on that version. My article will follow two pathways. The standard nuts-and-bolts review will be supplemented by an extensive discussion of Mr. Cole’s attempt to model the game on Soviet military doctrine. This evaluation will include historical analysis and a dose of personal opinion.
An avalanche of new information about Soviet military planning and capabilities became available after the collapse of the USSR. With our 30 years of hindsight it would be easy to criticize Mr. Cole’s portrayal of a hypothetical situation in the 1980s. We must resist that temptation. Our motto should be what did he know, and when did he know it!
Soviet disinformation efforts were prodigious. It wasn’t until 1988 that we learned maps of the USSR released to the outside world had been deliberately falsified to create confusion during a potential conflict. Even with his professional sources Mr. Cole can’t be expected to have formed a complete picture of the Soviet war machine in the middle of the Cold War. He got quite a few things right, though. I read a book about the Soviet military written in the 1980s by David C. Isby, another outstanding wargame designer. Mr. Isby explained that with army transports and commandeered Aeroflot planes the Soviets could lift three airborne divisions… exactly the number the Warsaw Pact player can airlift during a turn.
1989 brought the end of the Cold War but for many older Geeks the memories are still fresh. If you drove a tank in the 8th Guards Army or patrolled the border in the Bundeswehr or proudly served in Europe with the US military your fellow citizens owe you a debt of gratitude. The topics mentioned in this article might be controversial. Please don’t turn this review into an internet flame war. If you want to protect the reputation of President Carter or criticize the actions of Comrade Brezhnev, please be extremely courteous… or take it to RSP. Thank you.
This might be the proper time to address one of the big political questions thrust upon us by Warsaw Pact and other wargames depicting WWIII in Europe:
How likely was a Soviet attack on NATO?
Older Russian leaders from the WWII generation probably dreamed of a campaign to force German reunification under the banner of Communism and neutralize the rest of Europe. However, direct military conquest was not consistent with Soviet doctrine or methods.
According to one common interpretation of Marxist-Leninist theory workers and students living in nations on the other side of the Iron Curtain would eventually turn against their capitalist overlords. When the inevitable response by reactionary forces threatened these new socialist regimes the Soviet Army would advance to defend the proletarian masses. After the Brezhnev Doctrine was announced it essentially reinforced this basic principle, although his decree primarily referred to nations already under Communist domination.
Soviet military doctrine stressed the power of the offensive, even if the larger strategy of the USSR was in a defensive phase. There is little doubt that a Soviet attack on NATO could have occurred if the leadership of the USSR anticipated a strike by America and the European powers. Of course, a spark of conflict in another region might have flashed into a European inferno during a period of international crisis. This appears to be the background for Mr. Cole’s choice of 1967 and 1973 for the earlier scenarios depicting a clash with NATO.
The performance of the Soviet army during the 1968 invasion of Czechoslovakia might be a useful indicator. Following the completion of the maneuvers known as Exercise Sumava that summer the Soviet forces had been withdrawn. Weeks of careful planning followed while the Soviet motor rifle divisions were hidden in the Ukrainian forests, protected from US satellite surveillance. Soviet officers dressed like tourists rode the bus into Prague to familiarize themselves with the approach march to the capital.
After false pleas for Soviet intervention from regime loyalists in Prague over 250000 troops from at least two dozen divisions entered Czechoslovakia. Soldiers from Poland, East Germany, Hungary and Bulgaria were involved to give the invasion a Warsaw Pact flavor. Most of the resistance came from Czech patriots throwing stones at Soviet tanks or attempting to deprive the Soviet troops of adequate drinking water. There were numerous logistical breakdowns but the invading armies remained under tight operational control, stopping precisely 5 kilometers away from the West German border to avoid international incidents.
The map used in Warsaw Pact stretches from Denmark to Istanbul. By including the Balkans and Turkey in his scenarios Mr. Cole boldly expanded the arena of conflict while adding a wide variety of fascinating political considerations to the game. This design choice took Warsaw Pact beyond the boundaries of the typical wargame published in that era, which tended to focus on a combination of hardware and maneuver.
The graphic presentation is uninspired but generally functional. The primary terrain features shown on the map are appropriate for a strategic level game at this scale: city hexes, mountain hexes, and the East-West border. Cities tend to disappear under a stack of counters but since the names of the urban areas are printed in red the locations remain slightly more visible. The mountains are brown blobs and entirely adequate in artistic terms. The lengthy East-West border is crucial for implementing the innovative supply rules but the boundary is a visual disaster that is difficult to decipher. The line should have been outlined in red so it would be easy to see, and since red ink was already used on the map there is no excuse.
Two specific elements of the map bothered me.
Yugoslavia is depicted as a massive and mountainous expanse of hexes but the nation is also portrayed as a unified whole. I would have preferred to see the individual regions outlined within Yugoslavia. The political and ethnic tensions in these provinces would be extremely important, particularly in the civil war scenario. At any rate, the rules for partisans in Yugoslavia make military operations in that place a nightmare… which is accurate.
Denmark is another problem, but we’ll discuss that later.
After a quick glance at the map a casual observer might question the distribution of city hexes. It is important to remember that while urban areas do offer a defensive advantage one of the primary functions of a city hex in Warsaw Pact is connected to political collapse. This might be the reason Mr. Cole sprinkled volatile northern Italy with urban areas while repressively stable regions like East Germany get just one city hex.
There isn't anything attractive about the board and even the symbols used to indicate the US and UK deployment areas are ugly. Nobody bought this game for map anyway.
The counters are hideous and repulsive. The color choices are weak and graphics like the silhouette used for the airborne infantry unit are ridiculous. The national identity designations (important for supply considerations and political events) are tiny and difficult to read. I hand-crafted my own set of 162 counters so I could enjoy the game.
Any designer attempting to simulate at least 14 years of modern military developments (remember, the scenarios run from 1967 to the 1980s) with a single set of counters has my sincere admiration. A careful selection of unit types has permitted Mr. Cole to interpret different deployment schemes with essentially the same markers.
He has also assigned characteristics to certain formations that closely match the expected performance of these units. Soviet tank armies can be powerful during an attack but have a low defense strength. Tank armies are logistically fragile and a strong 20-10-4 unit is reduced to a weak 6-3-2 after heavy combat attrition or an interruption in supply. Reorganizing a depleted tank army requires an extra supply point, reflecting the logistical challenges faced by the Soviets.
Mr. Cole employed a similar design technique to illustrate how the parachute formations of the 1960s evolved into the helicopter assault formations of the 1980s. Once again, this is a clever use of the existing counter assortment.
Certain large formations are allowed to split into smaller components. For example, a West German corps with a strength of 15-6 can divide and become two 7-6 divisions. Since the weaker units can cover more of the front but offer less resistance the decision to separate a corps or to reunite scattered divisions can be crucial. I had a minor problem with these rules because the use of a few generic NATO breakdown units adds to the unpleasant bookkeeping burden placed on the players, but we’ll discuss the details of this later in the review.
Perhaps the most creative aspect of the unit counter design revolves around the decision to indicate the political reliability of an army with its military symbol. For example, among the Romanian formations a tank army is considered to be more loyal to the regime than an infantry army. This gimmick helps to streamline the complex political rules since it avoids putting extra information on the already overcrowded 1/2 inch counters.
The rules for movement and combat will appear familiar to most experienced wargame players. Like many designs from this period, Warsaw Pact uses a sequence of movement-battle-movement to recreate the tempo of armored warfare. The tight zones of control lock units into position, and attacks are required in almost every situation. In a few special circumstances the presence of a friendly unit reduces the effectiveness of an enemy zone of control.
This is not an authentic simulation of mechanized warfare in the 20th century. The zone of control exerted by a single US armored cavalry regiment covers 75 miles of the front. Two airborne brigades can represent the stacking capacity of a hex 25 miles wide. This abstraction allows the designer to focus on other elements of the conflict.
There will be opportunities for rapid advances and sweeping maneuvers. A special ability called administrative movement (known as strategic movement in some other games) allows a formation to move rapidly in the initial maneuver phase if the unit avoids approaching enemy forces. Since formations can exploit any gaps in the front using normal movement during the second maneuver phase a breakthrough can be achieved by maintaining a reserve of uncommitted units.
Bitter slugfests are common, particularly when a force is defending a city hex. Typical outcomes on the CRT include numerous exchanges and step losses so units melt away quickly if attrition is heavy. Counter density is low in most sections of the map and the stacking limit is normally just two units high. This prevents huge clumps of counters from clogging up the board.
I liked the idea of “No Effect” results on the battle chart. While many experts predicted rapid advances and equally decisive responses I’ve always had a suspicion that the first battle of WWIII in Europe could have become a cluster-fornication of epic proportions. A combination of inexperienced soldiers with new weapons and untried commanders with untested doctrine could result in the actions of a few superbly trained units exerting a disproportionate influence on the opening phase of the campaign. The majority of troops would certainly fight bravely when they get into action, but the friction described by Clausewitz might dominate the battlefield.
For additional discussion of this topic, please take a glance at this BGG article: NATO vs. Warsaw Pact in the 1970s -- A clash of titans or a fog of war fizzle?
To reflect the rigid command structure of the Soviet and Warsaw Pact armies it is possible that two victorious units from these nations would be required to advance into a hex following a NATO retreat regardless of the broader strategic situation. Recent scholarship has confirmed that initiative was discouraged in the lower echelons but there was an unexpected operational flexibility at the army level. A rule change might be in order, requiring just one unit to advance... or would that be an example of 20/20 hindsight?
Marine, airborne, and helicopter formations can have a major impact on combat so we’ll discuss the deployment of these units and then explain the supply rules.
Most of the “chrome” in the combat rules is provided by the airborne units and helicopter formations. The excellent background information contained in the instruction booklet clearly states that large-scale parachute drops would probably not take place during WWIII. Mr. Cole explains that the airborne units in Warsaw Pact abstractly (there is that word again) represent numerous smaller actions.
This may sound like a bit of salesmanship but in the larger scope of a European conflict the rules are quite appropriate. Soviet doctrine emphasized the aggressive use of VDV (Vozdushno-Desantnyye Voyska or airborne forces) and Spetsnaz operations as part of a broad spectrum of force projection. Soviet military theory assumed that a battalion of paratroops at the decisive point now is better than a division of mechanized infantry later, when the enemy has taken up prepared positions.
The strategic implications of this system are fascinating. While the Soviets planned to use glubokaya operatsiya or deep operation methods to penetrate the enemy line NATO was developing an aggressive forward defense strategy called the AirLand Battle concept. If both sides had followed these plans the world might have observed the spectacle of two gigantic war machines grappling and twisting like wrestlers in a death match.
In a typical Warsaw Pact session airborne units and helicopter formations belonging to both players can perform according to the doctrine formulated by the two superpowers. These specialized formations can wiggle through an enemy zone of control if they are stacked with another friendly unit. For example, if the elite 103rd Guards Airborne Division is stacked with the powerful 3rd Shock Army and drives a wedge into the NATO line the airborne unit can move out of the NATO formation’s zone of control in the second movement phase and advance into the rear echelon. Excellent.
Airborne units can also make parachute drops behind enemy lines. There are several restrictions but the most important rule -- and the most interesting in terms of the play experience -- requires the airborne drop to occur at the end of the player’s second movement phase. This forces the player to plan one turn ahead in order to prepare an offensive that will allow his mechanized units to link up with the airborne troops before they are destroyed. Another superb rule.
Amphibious operations play a secondary role, primarily because the most interesting part of Denmark is missing from the board. Denmark is truncated with the strategic northern section located just off the edge of the map. This decision removes the elite Soviet naval infantry and most of the amphibious operations against Denmark from the game. In his extensive designer’s notes Mr. Cole explains the decision. In this case I disagree with the choice. An extension of Denmark (and there is plenty of room on the map) would have added depth to the play experience. By removing a few extraneous units from the existing countersheet -- or better yet, adding a few more counters -- the Soviet/Warsaw Pact amphibious assaults plus the response by the USMC and the marine formations from NATO could have been included.
Amphibious landings in the Baltic, the North Sea, or the Aegean add another unnecessary bookkeeping chore for the players, and I’ll cover that aspect of the game soon.
The innovative supply rules are the heart and soul of the Warsaw Pact play experience.
I should clarify that slightly because the logistics rules for the NATO player are standard stuff with units tracing supply to a friendly city or a designated map edge. NATO formations without supply have their combat strength and movement allowance reduced. The NATO player receives replacement points during the game, and the replacements can be used to rebuild shattered formations. Like I said, these are typical wargame rules.
The supply rules for Soviet units and Warsaw Pact formations are a logistical tour-de-force seldom seen in games from that era.
A fixed number of supply points are added to the player’s stash at the start of every turn. Each unit on the map must receive a supply point to remain at full strength. If there is a shortage of ammunition and fuel the counter is immediately flipped to its much weaker reduced side. Supply points can also be used to bring depleted formations up to full strength during this phase of a turn.
Supply points play a crucial role in combat. A formation’s attack strength might be doubled, tripled, or even quadrupled by expending supply points. According to the designer’s notes this represents artillery support, chemical weapons, electronic warfare, tactical airpower, and even nuclear weapons. Supply points are also required for parachute drops or deep airborne operations.
Wait… it gets even better. The number of supply points expended for each action increases dramatically as the Soviets and their Warsaw Pact allies move deeper into enemy territory. This is intended to reflect the limitations of the Soviet logistical network. Since the distance from the East-West border is calculated in movement points (not hexes) deep operations in rugged terrain burn up supply at a frightening rate.
It might sound fiddly but under actual game conditions most of the heavy fighting occurs near the border anyway. This reduces the bothersome determination of estimated movement points to a minimum. In fact, a savvy Soviet/Warsaw Pact commander will attempt to lock the NATO forces into position near the border so he can fight them near his supply depots and truck convoys. Only the most aggressive Soviet penetrations require serious calculations, but these lengthy supply lines can be a pain in the posterior.
There is another, more insidious problem with the supply rules. It is the classic annoyance of factor counting. Since the Soviet/Warsaw Pact player has the ability to multiply the attack strength of his formations almost every battle turns into a math puzzle as the player juggles attack factors and supply points to get exactly the right odds on the CRT. I hate this kind of thing, and the process is boring for the NATO player.
The emphasis on Soviet logistics established Warsaw Pact as one of the most innovative designs of the 1970s. These rules have the right feel… I remember reading a story about a Soviet tank crew who decided to trade their armored behemoth for a case of vodka. Soviet soldiers were often hungry and history provides many examples of famished troops halting an advance to loot enemy supplies. I wonder if a luxury shopping mall in West Germany might have had a better chance of delaying a Soviet tank division than a West German territorial infantry brigade!
Let’s take a minute to discuss the instruction booklet. The rules are poorly organized and full of holes. There is no table of contents or index. Crucial information is scattered throughout the manual. There are ambiguous passages, glaring omissions, and confusing contradictions.
I have two suggestions for Geeks willing to try the game.
First, create a photocopy of the instruction booklet for research purposes. You’ll be flipping back and forth in search of so many answers that the ink on the pages of original rules will probably rub off. Save the booklet and use the copy… plus you can add handwritten notes without destroying the original rules.
More importantly, just play Warsaw Pact like you were a teenager. Most of the issues in the rule booklet can be sorted out with a little flexibility, some basic wargame knowledge, and a casual attitude. Remember how you feverishly devoured a new game back in high school and got several rules wrong the first few times you sat down for a session? Well, you’re going to get a few rules wrong in Warsaw Pact but simply play through the mistake and enjoy the experience.
The design places an unnecessary bookkeeping burden on the players. Earlier in the review I mentioned that the NATO player will be required to record the distribution of generic division counters when certain formations are split into smaller units. The hex number of every amphibious landing needs to be written down and remembered for supply purposes. The arrival/departure hexes of each NATO airborne unit must be discovered in the rule booklet. Since there is no order of appearance chart both players will fumble with the instructions at the start of each turn to determine which formations are available. Much of this inconvenience could have been avoided with a few additional counters and a Redmond Simonsen approach to the presentation of the required information.
Warsaw Pact is a game designed by Grognards and published by Grognards for an audience of Grognards. Only a dedicated wargame enthusiast would struggle with a rulebook structured like this one. I wouldn’t recommend the game for a player who is new to the hobby, but since we’re talking about a rare collector’s item that probably isn’t a major issue.
The political rules used in Warsaw Pact add elements like national collapse, revolts, a negotiated cease fire in the southern theater, declared neutrality, Chinese intervention, or a civil war in Yugoslavia. Most of these events are portrayed in the game from the perspective of the Soviet Union, so it might be said that the Soviet/Warsaw Pact player was actually taking on the role of Comrade Brezhnev.
Most of the minor countries will collapse if the enemy captures some or all of that nation’s city hexes. For example, the nation of Belgium will collapse if Brussels is taken by the Soviet army. In most cases the military units of a nation will dissolve after a collapse, and all future reinforcements are ignored.
In the basic version revolts can occur when a Warsaw Pact satellite regime collapses. A successful revolt can result in the country declaring neutrality or entering a period of domestic crisis. After a nation revolts the military formations of that country might undergo loyalty checks, with the most reliable units demonstrating their continued allegiance to the regime. This process can get messy with units changing sides and to be honest revolts tend to bog down the flow of play.
Using an optional rule both players can attempt to incite a revolt in an enemy nation. I have no doubt that this rule could be applied to certain NATO countries because Soviet doctrine emphasized this kind of political action. However, when we look at the historical narrative it seems that the timing of the uprisings behind the Iron Curtain was bizarre. In 1956 the Hungarians revolted while the world’s attention was diverted by the Suez Crisis. In 1961 the Berlin Wall was erected to halt the Republikflucht exodus from East Germany while JFK was dealing with the political fallout from the Bay of Pigs disaster. In 1968 events in Prague approached a climax while the USA, already entangled in Vietnam, was experiencing social turmoil and LBJ was on vacation at his Texas ranch. In 1980-81 the Polish situation reached a boiling point while the outgoing Jimmy Carter dealt with Iranian hostage crisis… President Reagan was shot at the end of March, just when the Soviets were about to intervene. I don’t think the NATO player should have much influence over the timing of a Warsaw Pact revolt.
Yugoslavia begins the game as a neutral country but might join the Soviets if the war is progressing favorably. Chinese intervention could divert Soviet reinforcements to the Far East. The fascinating cease fire rules can end the war in the Balkans if Turkey collapses and the Greeks are in a hopeless position… or the cease fire can catch the Soviet/Warsaw Pact player in an awkward position if Bulgaria folds and the drive on Istanbul is stalled. I really like the cease fire rules. The majority of the conflicts in the second half of the 20th century ended with a cease fire, often under politically ambiguous circumstances.
The political rules throw dirt into the machinery of the Warsaw Pact play experience. If one or two events occur the extra workload is manageable. If things get crazy and several nations are in different phases of civil disorder the system becomes cluttered. Too much of a good thing, in my opinion.
Mr. Cole has structured Warsaw Pact to play like a game about the Battle of the Bulge. As in the Ardennes campaign, one player begins the game on the offensive and drives the enemy until combat attrition and supply issues grind his advance to a halt. Meanwhile, the other player slowly withdraws while he builds up his forces in preparation for a massive counterattack. This successful formula has also been used in strategic games about North Africa or the Russian Front in WWII, plus other battles like Kasserine Pass and even a few Cold War titles!
In some of these other games there is a temptation for the attacking player to go for “the small solution” and just grab enough objectives to secure a marginal victory. Mr. Cole has given both players -- but especially the Soviet/Warsaw Pact commander -- extra incentive to be aggressive with the rules for political collapse. Once an opposing nation has been driven to the point of collapse those victory points are permanent, unlike the points scored for a captured city which may be retaken by the enemy. The fact that the Soviet/Warsaw Pact is required to conduct divergent offensives in two different theaters separated by a potentially hostile neutral power adds spice to the Bulge-style scenario.
Wargame connoisseurs frequently describe a game as “balanced” because each player has a relatively equal chance of winning. In my opinion a balanced play experience is just as important. If one player is having most of the fun while the other player is stuck in a dreary cycle of dull options the play experience is unbalanced. Warsaw Pact offers the Soviet player a rollercoaster ride as he launches powerful attacks, juggles supply priorities, conducts airborne operations, and generally raises hell all over Europe. During the first phase of the game the NATO player faces a different sort of challenge; a cerebral puzzle to be sure, but without much excitement.
This kind of play experience might not suit everybody’s mood even though NATO has a good chance of turning the tables on the Commies later in the game. I'll offer a quick example of the kind of rule that could add depth to the NATO commander's play experience. There are no air units in Warsaw Pact. Give NATO two airstrikes each turn which can be used to shift the odds one column on attack or defense. This offers the NATO player a couple of simple decisions to make while the Rooskies are pounding his MLR into a pulp.
Once we get beyond the unbalanced play experience dilemma Warsaw Pact offers a level of replayability equal to any wargame I’ve ever owned. The rules include those three basic scenarios (1967, 1973, 1980s) with three different levels of Soviet supply plus five different starting conditions for the conflict such as surprise attack, limited war, and developing tension. Steve Cole was the king of wargame variants in the late 1970s and the back pages of the Warsaw Pact instruction manual are packed with optional rules and victory point adjustments. It is enough to make your eyes go blurry!
If you’re at a convention and have a chance to play Warsaw Pact sit down and enjoy a session. If one of your buddies owns a copy, ask him to play it. This vintage game truly is a milestone in the wargame hobby, and it deserves our attention in spite of the flaws.
Excellent review, as always.
I still enjoy gaming the world war that never happened, either on a strategic level (VG's NATO, GDW's Third World War), operational (SPI's Central Front Series, West End's Air and Armor), or tactical (West End's Fire Team, Lock 'n' Load's Heroes of the Gap). I prefer the conflict set in the 1980s though.
This is one of the more obscure titles and I don't recall ever seeing it before. Graphically it certainly hasn't aged well.
"L'état, c'est moi."
Roger's Reviews: check out my reviews page, right here on BGG!
Caution: May contain wargame like substance
I stand in awe of you. The amount of time and effort that went into this review is staggering. This might be the single best review/article that I have ever read on BGG, and that is very high praise indeed. I salute you, sir, and regret that I have but one thumb to give for your outstanding work.
On another note, Mr. Cole is perhaps best known for his Star Fleet Battles system in all its many permutations. It's good to see his other work get recognition. Well done!
An excellent review! It lays out both the strengths and weaknesses of the game very well.
I used to have this game. It was OK, but superceded by GDW's Third World War. It would be nice though to have an update on this game with nicer map and counters, and perhaps some new scenarios taking in up to date information.
john f stup
one of the more fun war games i have ever played even though generally i don't care much playing those that didn't or haven't happened.
Re: This innovative game provided a glimpse behind the Iron Curtain in the 1970s
i am going to look for this one, i love cold war games
Excellent as always Pete
I still play Warsaw Pact every year. For some reason I sort of prefer the orignal Jagdpanther version over the boxed Task Force Games with the better graphics.Maybe it's the charm the original held when I first got it.
I thought the use of supply for the Pact player was very novel showing them burning up there stocks to try and gin a fast win.and if that failed trying to hang on during the Nato counterattack.
This game looks like a lot of fun. Thanks for the interesting read.
pete belli wrote:
Definitely agree with this.
I don’t think the NATO player should have much influence over the timing of a Warsaw Pact revolt.
pete belli wrote:
There are no air units in Warsaw Pact.That seems like quite an oversimplification. I don't know what the balance of power in the air was historically in a NATO vs. Warsaw Pact match-up, but I have to think one side or the other would have had the upper hand. Especially for the 1980s scenario, air power could be well be decisive. In addition to column shifts the NATO player could have the opportunity to interdict supplies or even attempt to prevent WP units from moving. Ah, possibilities...
pete belli wrote:
After false pleas for Soviet intervention from regime loyalists in Prague over 250000 troops from at least two dozen divisions entered Czechoslovakia. Soldiers from Poland, East Germany, Hungary and Bulgaria were involved to give the invasion a Warsaw Pact flavor. Most of the resistance came from Czech patriots throwing stones at Soviet tanks or attempting to deprive the Soviet troops of adequate drinking water.
Hm, a moment in history that Poland can't be proud of. Obviously we didn't have much to say about this (Soviets were in complete charge), but seeing at least some kind of resistance in polish army would have been nice. Unfortunately general Florian Sawicki (commander of the Polish 2nd Army) was a true communist.
To get some measure of justice, Sawicki was forced to retire in 1990 and then tried for the introduction of the martial law in Poland in 1981. Unfortunately due to his bad health he was excluded from the trial and has not been sentenced (very recently Czesław Kiszczak - head of Department of the Interior - was sentenced to 2 years in prison for introduction of the martial law).
Also, in 2008 Hungary officially apologized for taking part in the intervention; I've no idea if Poland ever did.
I was checking out this game last night here on BBG but didn´t found much info. Thanks Pete, very good review.
I'm not crazy. My mother had me tested.
ADB is beginning to release PDF's of Jagdpanther magazine on Steve Jackson's e23 Warehouse. I don't know if the magazine version of the game will be included.
Never play block wargames with a dentist, they have those little mirrors to peek behind the block.
I had a a copy in my hands at one time, my late friend Jim had a copy of the game which I sold for his estate. NATO/Warsaw Pact games didn't interest me, did not know till now it was a well done game. Outstanding review Pete.
Excellent and very thorough review Pete, thank you!
Ashwin in Dorset
Moved to AWOL...
Nicely done. I feel like I got a review and a history lesson--all in one.
In the early 1980's I created variant for this which consolidated all the poltical possibilities on to individual cards. Each player would play a card from the hand which enact some variant and possibly change the tension level. War would breakout if tension got high enough.
If no war broke out by 1990, NATO won. Prophetic.
Truly excellent review. Kudos.
"In the Red Army it takes a brave man not be a hero." - J.V. Stalin
From someone old enough to remember the height of the Cold War, I salute this excellent review of the game and the situation. I'd long gotten rid of my copy of Warsaw Pact but in a bout of nostalgia acquired another copy.
It needs an air rules variant. NATO as Air Points that can either be used to shift columns on the Combat Results Table in their favor, or reduce the number of supply points.
It would be a simple die versus die contest.
The Warsaw Pact can generate 1 Air Force Die for One Supply Point. NATO Gets them automatically, Starting with 1, and increasing 1 Per turn.
Just a few thoughts.
Read & Watch at www.bigboardgaming.com
Love your work.
The Fire and Movement crew wrote a nice review of this game back in the day in issue 6 I think?