Recommend
5 
 Thumb up
 Hide
13 Posts

Tac Air» Forums » Reviews

Subject: I hate TAC AIR! rss

Your Tags: Add tags
Popular Tags: [View All]
Ethan McKinney
United States
El Segundo
California
flag msg tools
badge
Avatar
And here's why.

The movement system in TAC AIR gives every unit the same number of movement points, dealing with differing mobility (infantry vs. mech) by imposing different MP costs. The exception to this is helicopters. Each helicopter unit has 10, rather than 6 movement points, and always pays one point per hex. In all other respects helicopters are treated as ground units, and not very powerful ones at that. A helicopter must move adjacent to an enemy unit to attack it, and remains there after the attack. Furthermore, a helicopter may be attacked by a ground unit just as if it were another ground unit. This would be pretty bad on its own, but remember that a unit which takes two or more disrupt is flipped to its static side and is unable to move. Helicopters have, unfortunately, a static side with no attack strength and a defense strength of only '1'. It is thus fairly easy for a Soviet tank battalion to roll up to an American attack helicopter unit, attack it, pin it, and then automatically finish it off on the next turn. What relationship this has to reality is a mystery to me. Why didn't the TAC AIR system just treat helicopters as artillery if it didn't want to include special rules for them? It worked for SPI's old Central Front series.

The combat system in TAC AIR leaves much to be desired. A simple differential based system, units never retreat. Not only do they not take retreat results from combat, they have a hard time retreating voluntarily because any unit that takes 2 or more disruptions (not an unusual result of combat) is incapable of movement. This leads to rather curious "pin" effects which would be more appropriate to a platoon level game than one at battalion level. So, units that take an initial shock are stuck in place until they either die or recover. Another aspect of the D6 based system is that results tend to be fairly homogenous -- only one side will take losses in a give combat, and often the CRT will only allow the weaker side to take losses! As an example, suppose that a US mech battalion is defending, on its static side (higher defense strength), in clear terrain against an attack by two Soviet tank battalion. It is impossible for the Soviets to take any losses, despite the fact that there are actually more anti-tank missile launchers in the defending formation than there are attacking armored vehicles. This result is patently rediculous. It also points out two further problems: unit strengths and terrain effects.

Unit strengths in TAC AIR do not do NATO justice, to say the least. NATO forces have noticably superior equipment and training, and field larger formations than do Warsaw Pact forces. All of this should add up to makedly higher combat strengths for NATO forces of the same "size" (i.e., battalion). The difference in TAC AIR is not dramatic, and this problem is greatly exacerbated by the differential-based CRT.

Terrain effects in TAC AIR are quite primitive. Whatever its flaws, West End's Air & Armor took into account the terrain in both the attacker's and defender's hexes, and pointed out that forces relying on guided missiles were actually hampered by trying to defend in woods, although those woods also made short-ranged rockets, like the M72 LAW, more effective.

There is, for some reason, an ITV battalion in TAC AIR. I have never seen such a unit on any table of organization, and I would be very interested to know the reason for the unit's inclusion. In any case, it is the only unit in the game allowed to engage in standard combat a a two-hex range, which keeps it safe from taking casualties. This is OK as a simulation of long-range missile fire. However, the rules specifically exempt the ITV from terrain penalties on the CRT due to an intervening stream. Unfortunately, in real life TOWs have trouble operating across bodies of water becuase the guidance wire tends to fall into them and short-circuit, causing the missile to miss. So much for reality.

This was obviously a game designed by Air Force guys. Air units, especially USAF air units, have some special qualities. Let us take, for example the case of a flight of A-10s (that's two real aircraft) attacked by 2 flights of Russian MiG-29s (that's eight real aircraft). In the ensuing 8 on 2 combat, it is impossible, due to the nature of the CRT, for more than one of the A-10s to be shot down. Worse, if a single flight of MiG-29s were so foolish as to attack the Warthogs, there would be a good chance that two of them would be lost, at no cost to the Americans. Now Soviet planes may not be the best, and their missiles may leave something to be desired, and their pilots may not stack up against the USAF, but these kinds of results strain credulity.

There are two basic problems with the air combat system. First, bombers use their 'B' rating, that is, their bombing strength, when they defend in air-to-air combat. This makes fully loaded F-111s virtually undefeatable. Second, all aircraft use their 'B' ratings to defend against SAMs and AAA. Unfortunately, the mighty F-15 Eagle only has a 'B' rating of 1, which makes it dogmeat for even the oldest Soviet SAMs. Once again, the F-111 is the most difficult target of all. Huh?!?

A related problem with SAMs and AAA is that their chance of running out of ammunition is directly related to how effective they are. So a Patriot battery with 32 ready rounds has a 5/6 chance of running out of ammo after engaging a single flight of Su-17s (4 real aircraft), while a Vulcan ADG can blaze away all day, despite its notoriously high ammunition consumption. The result of this is that is enough aircraft come within range, there is statistically no difference between a '1' rated system and a '5' rated system. (It takes about 6 aircraft to produce a difference of less than .001.)

Assuming that the aircraft get through the AA unharmed, they can then wreak havoc on the ground. It is entirely possible for four attacks by flights of A-10s to destroy a Soviet armored battalion. That is a total of eight sorties to wipe out a force with, at full strength, over thirty armored vehicles. If each A-10 caries four Mavericks, that means only 2 misses in all these shots. This isn't Iraq, guys. These tanks aren't dug into the sand, immobile, and inadequately defended against air attack. These tanks are in the middle of Central Europe, where finding anything on the ground is a challenge, with air defenses everywhere, and with a fluid ground situation. Think there would have been more friendly fire air-to-ground kills in the Gulf if the Iraqis hadn't been sitting still well away from our forces?Anyhow, when you realize that a Soviet armored battalion could be wiped out by only two raid (four sorties) this really becomes doubtful.

My then-roommate and I once spent an amusing afternoon simply listing the fatal flaws in the game--the minor ones would have taken up too much time. This piece resulted from that. Too bad--the maps are beautiful and the counters are just so nice. I'd really like to play the game, if only it were any good either as a game or as a simulation.

Ethan McKinney

TAC AIR: Almost, but not quite, totally unrelated to modern warfare.
4 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
Leo Zappa
United States
Aliquippa
Pennsylvania
flag msg tools
badge
Avatar
mbmbmbmbmb
I just find it, well, kinda odd that out of nowhere, you've decided to come in and in true "bolt out of the blue" fashion, blast an obscure wargame that's almost twenty years old!

FWIW - As a former Army officer I would agree that the wingnut types who designed the game did come up with some less-than-accurate modelings of ground combat capabilities and anti-air operations, as your review so well pointed out. However, my friends and I always had a good time playing the game - I'm the only one in my group with military experience and I was willing to overlook these flaws, while the other guys weren't really aware of the issues. In general, while I agree that the SIMULATION aspects of Tac-Air were suspect in several key areas, I do not entirely agree with the notion it wasn't a good GAME - we had fun with it. To each his own!!!
2 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
A S
United States
Unspecified
California
flag msg tools
designer
Avatar
mbmbmbmbmb
Actually, I thought this was a pretty interesting, detailed summary of why the gentleman dislikes the game. He identifies a bunch of specific points and explains his issues with them, rather than, say, making a bunch of bombastic ad hominems against the game creators. Seems fine to me.
5 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
Leo Zappa
United States
Aliquippa
Pennsylvania
flag msg tools
badge
Avatar
mbmbmbmbmb
Alexander - don't get me wrong - I'm not necessarily being critical of Ethan's well documented review. I was being earnest when I said it was just odd (or perhaps simply interesting would have been a better word) that a game that no one has talked about in years, and has all of 17 personal comments in the BGG database, actually generated such a long and detailed review. Frankly, I think it's great that some of the older wargames can get some attention around here. And again, as for the review itself, I agreed with the reviewer's belief that Tac Air is in some ways weak as a simulation. I just don't agree it's not a good game, realizing that simulation and game are two separate concepts. I noted that everyone is entitled to their opinion ("to each his own"), and simply stated my opinion.

No need to jump to Ethan's defense, as I was not attacking him or his work, just stating an opinion!
1 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
MacGilleEathain
United States
Clinton
Washington
flag msg tools
badge
Avatar
mbmbmbmbmb
I apologise for having deleted my previous response (FYI: Leo, I believe Alexander's rebuttal was directed at that message), but it came across as too "flamey" possibly requiring aplogies for that. I took the path of least resistance. That said, however, I must question the author's true motives in posting a review written (and posted to another venue: web-grognards) over a decade ago (27 SEP 1994).

How I wish that I had a convenient backlog of reviews I'd written long before BGG existed which I could then post verbatim for some quick and easy Geek Gold. But I was too busy playing games, and writing my own house rules to address whatever I perceived as "broken" about them.

That may be presumptuous of me, but on the face of it, it's the only valid reason I can see. The review is years old, and its scathing (verging on disrespectful) tone would indicate that Tac Air is probably no longer a relevant issue to the author.

If he had pursued the matters he raised 13 years ago, contacted the designer (Craig Taylor is still around) and/or the developers. If he had in the meantime worked up a set of variant or "house rules" which address the points he raised (the game is not ENTIRELY broken, after all), then the posting of this article here might have a bit more relevance to the here and now.

At the very least, a caveat informing the reader that the article is over a decade old and contains no new insights or changes of opinion would have been appropriate.

[Och! Three edits to address the same spelling error blush]
1 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
M St
Australia
Unspecified
flag msg tools
designer
Well, I know Ethan's review since it's been on Web-Grognards for a long time (in fact there's a link to it here that probably can now be removed). Funnily enough, I agree with most individual criticisms. And yet, in the end, I found none of them fatal. A couple of the most egregious ones (air combat defense and AA depletion) are trivially fixed simply by using the same rating (e.g., 3) for all units. And, despite all the rest, the game overall works. It's not a game about ground combat, it's not a game about dogfights, it's a game about air/ground interaction. And it does the job beautifully. The differential combat system is weird but again the effects do sort of even out over multiple player turns. I actually once tested a different CRT someone had come up with, with more realistic loss distributions; in the end we decided to stick with the original. Ultimately, it's a refined version of a game that was good enough for the professionals. It's not perfect, but there are some things that it does very well.
3 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
Christopher Lawrence
United States
Los Angeles
California
flag msg tools
designer
Hey! That tickles!
Avatar
mbmbmbmbmb
miyazakigrognard wrote:

If he had pursued the matters he raised 13 years ago, contacted the designer (Craig Taylor is still around) and/or the developers. If he had in the meantime worked up a set of variant or "house rules" which address the points he raised (the game is not ENTIRELY broken, after all), then the posting of this article here might have a bit more relevance to the here and now.


Wow, I didn't know people had to do all that just to earn the right to post a review.

How many reviews of "War of the Ring" or "Monopoly" are there on BGG but the hits just keep on coming? There were ZERO reviews of this game prior to this one, so this is just filling in a gap in the database. The reason I even saw this thread is because I was considering buying a copy of "Tac Air" on ebay, so yeah, I think it's good that he posted it, even if it's years after the game came out.

BGG is a source of information for more than just recent releases, as your own uploading of a file for "Russian Civil War" attests. If I'm not mistaken, RCW was released in 1976.

6 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
Fanta Stick
Finland
Kymenlaakso
flag msg tools
badge
Avatar
mbmbmbmbmb
zebulon1 wrote:
Lots of good ideas in the box.


I like the idea of taking the air power on the board and into some action, very much. Original post does a good job in pointing out some of the weak spots. Still, I like TAC AIR as a game.
2 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
Matt Rice
Spain
Madrid
Madrid
flag msg tools
mbmbmbmbmb
Re: I hate TAC AIR!- A response
Having recently come across the TAC AIR review by Ethan McKinney entitled ‘I hate TAC AIR!’ and being an avid TAC AIR fan, I believe a response is in order.

However, before I begin, I wish to make it clear I am not attacking Ethan’s personal points of view (of which he is clearly entitled). My reason for writing this response is that I simply feel that someone should make a stand and defend this, albeit slightly dated yet highly enjoyable game.

My post will follow Ethan’s points, step by step, and will conclude by underlining that, in my opinion, Ethan has failed to grasp two important factors of TAC AIR; the scale of the game and how the game should be played.

Ethan begins his post by exploring the difference between ground units and helicopter units, making a reasonable suggestion that a lone helicopter unit can be easily destroyed by an attacking tank battalion. However, if played with a supporting role in mind, a helicopter unit, if placed alongside supporting ground units (for example, with its flanks protected by mechanized units) becomes quite deadly. The helicopter units in TAC AIR are not designed for solo attack missions. As in reality, they should be used in support of, or supported by, other units.

Ethan’s second point examines the combat system and he focuses his arguments on two factors; the game’s lack of an apparent CRT ‘retreat’ result and the ‘pinning’ of disrupted units.

For those unfamiliar with the game, unit damage is marked by 1 to 4 levels of disruption (with level 1 disruption removing the unit’s ability to attack, levels 2 and 3 knocking out the unit’s ability to attack and to move and level 4 eliminating the unit). It is also important to note what the rules book has to say about disruptions;

““Disruption” simulates losses, disorganisation, demoralisation, loss of command and control, and/or being pinned down.” (1)

It is clear, therefore, that the disruption level of any particular unit is not simply a matter of how many tanks have been destroyed, but also other important combat factors.

(Additionally, disruption levels can actually be removed through judicious use of HQ command units and supply units, the placement of which being an important part of the game).

Ethan continues to underline his problem with the CRT by using the example of a NATO mechanized unit defending, in the open, against a joint attack from two Soviet armoured battalions. As he points out, there is no chance that the Soviet forces will be disrupted, even if the Soviet player makes a low role (in the case of TAC AIR, a ‘6’) on the CRT.

In this example, a low role of ‘6’ (i.e. the Soviet commander makes the worst attack of his career!) would result in a level 1 disruption on the defending NATO mechanized unit, yet who is to say how many Soviet tanks were actually destroyed by the defenders? Perhaps tanks were lost and that is why the attack didn’t go as planned. Either way, the answer is irrelevant due, once again, to the scale of the game. Individual vehicle losses are not marked.

Ethan then turns his attention to what he believes is the imbalance between NATO and Warsaw Pact unit strength factors, rightly sighting NATO’s superior equipment and training, whilst at the same time being under the mistaken belief that NATO fielded larger formations than the Warsaw Pact. In general, a US Army division would have more infantry troops but fewer armoured vehicles and artillery pieces than Russian forces (2). With this in mind, I believe the game shows quite effectively this balance between ‘Quality versus Quantity’, especially when comparing the strength of NATO armour units with that of Warsaw Pact armour units (for example, a T72 battalion has an attack/defence of 5/4 whilst a NATO M1 has 6/5) and definitely when comparing the power of air units.

Which brings me to Ethan’s next point. He writes of what he believes are the inconsistencies of the Air Combat system. Unfortunately, for his first example, that of a fight between two flights of Mig 29s and a flight of A10s, he seems to have misread the Air to Air CRT. There is actually a 1 in 3 chance of the A10s being eliminated (this increasing, incidentally, with an attack from the rear).

His argument against the F111 and F15 air units hold a little more weight, although we must remember the game is based on a 70s, 80s European Conflict where the F111 was one of the kings of the battlefield. Additionally, the F15 portrayed in the game represents the air superiority version of the F15 Eagle (and not the later F15E Strike Eagle which first saw service in 1989).

Ethan’s argument against the rules for AAA ammunition expenditure does not take into account that it is far easier to stock up on Vulcan Gun rounds than it is on expensive Hawk Anti-Air missiles, thereby allowing the almost continuous, yet short-ranged, spray of Vulcan rounds over ‘single shot’ Hawks. (In this case, the higher the tech, the better the chance of enemy disruption, but the fewer the shots. Additionally, this gives a reasonable balance in game terms...)

Ethan’s final point, which covers some of his views concerning the effectiveness of the A10 when used in eliminating a Soviet tank battalion, seems to overlook the simple fact that this is what flights of A10s were originally designed to do; to knock out waves of T72s as they rumbled their way across the plains of West Germany, the game making a perfect simulation of this form of close air support. (The fact that the A10 was even used in the first Gulf War is mere timely intervention, the aircraft having been destined for the scrap heap the moment the Soviet Union, and the threat of those waves of T72s, had disappeared).

While I agree TAC AIR does have its weak points (helicopter units should perhaps have a longer range attack, for example), what game doesn’t? Throughout his post, Ethan seems to have misread the scale of the game, most importantly when reading the CRT and in misunderstanding what a ‘disruption’ actually represents.

This, coupled with a misuse of helicopter units (they should attack with support) and ground forces in general (again, attacking and defending while supported (i.e. flanked or backed with reserves) by other ground forces, i.e. not stuck out on their own waiting to be over-run) has, understandably perhaps, soured his view of, what I believe to be, a highly playable and enjoyable game.

(1) TAC AIR Basic Rules, page 3
(2) Wikipedia, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Division_%28military%29#USSR.2F...

9 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
Ethan McKinney
United States
El Segundo
California
flag msg tools
badge
Avatar
Wow, that detailed rebuttal almost motivates me to respond ...

No, no, it's passed.

I will simply say that Matt seriously missed my point.

mattriceten wrote:
Ethan’s final point, which covers some of his views concerning the effectiveness of the A10 when used in eliminating a Soviet tank battalion, seems to overlook the simple fact that this is what flights of A10s were originally designed to do; to knock out waves of T72s as they rumbled their way across the plains of West Germany, the game making a perfect simulation of this form of close air support. (The fact that the A10 was even used in the first Gulf War is mere timely intervention, the aircraft having been destined for the scrap heap the moment the Soviet Union, and the threat of those waves of T72s, had disappeared).


I leave the errors in the above paragraph as an exercise for the reader.

PS--I hadn't poked my head in here since I (re-)posted the review. I wish I hadn't. I can tell that I got stupider by being exposed to some of these response.
3 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
Paul Symoens
Belgium
Grimbergen
flag msg tools
mbmbmbmbmb
What errors ? Can someone help me with this ? I think the response of Matt was OK. So Ethan, up to you to reply with real arguments and not "I leave the errors in the above paragraph as an exercise for the reader". That's to easy .... .like saying "it is what it is". whistle
 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
Matt Rice
Spain
Madrid
Madrid
flag msg tools
mbmbmbmbmb
Paul,

Many thanks for that!

I'd forgotten about this old chestnut... as has Ethan, apparently!

Saludos!

Matt
 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
Thomas Lund
Sweden
flag msg tools
Avatar
mbmbmbmbmb
I actually just dusted off my old copy of Tac Air. I'm a computer game developer, and loved these old hex games. Too few of them around these days - especially computer based ones.

I then stumbled upon this thread while trying to research whom to contact to port the board game to computer. And thus I've started to become somewhat disheartened by this thread :-D

So - does anyone one know who now owns the rights for Tac Air and the other old Avalon Hill games?

And if not Tac Air - what other games would you suggest me to look into reviving on a computer? :-)

/Thomas
 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
Front Page | Welcome | Contact | Privacy Policy | Terms of Service | Advertise | Support BGG | Feeds RSS
Geekdo, BoardGameGeek, the Geekdo logo, and the BoardGameGeek logo are trademarks of BoardGameGeek, LLC.