Balkan Gambit… the rest of it


Yesterday I got both my subscriber copy and my designer’s copies of Strategy and Tactics magazine #298, containing Balkan Gambit, my game on the Mediterranean invasions of 1943-45 that weren’t.

Unlike the previous three projects with Decision Games (Greek Civil War, redux Next War in Lebanon, redux S&T 296 (Korean War Battles) is here…), this one came out relatively unscathed. A couple or three points, though:

  1. The Designer’s Notes, which explained many of the assumptions about how units were shown in the game, were cut for reasons of length (S&T magazine games have a maximum rules length of 16 pages, and there seems to be an unwritten rule that there be some unrelated photographic illustrations included in those pages to make the layout look nicer). If anyone’s interested, I post them below.
  2. A few fairly minor bits of errata, save for some important clarification about game length and dispersed mode partisans. Also below.
  3. I also wrote the lead article in the magazine on Allied deception operations in the Mediterranean in World War Two. Articles in the magazine do not have a maximum page length, but they are supposed to top out at around 5,000 words (except when they’re longer). A 1,700 word sidebar on Allied deception in the Mediterranean that gave a lot of background information on the formations cited in the rest of the article did not run. Here it is: train_balkangambit unitsidebar_s&t
  4. A final bonus item: an alt-alt-hist scenario that takes place in 1950 where forces of the USSR and Soviet-allied countries invade Yugoslavia to spank Tito’s deviationist bottom. Apparently actual plans were made to do this but were shelved when the Greek Civil War ended and the Korean War broke out, diverting everyone’s attention for a while… long enough until Stalin could shuffle off. This wasn’t meant to run in the magazine but I put it together anyway. Get it here: Balkan Gambit 1950 scenario

Thanks and I hope you enjoy the game.


Designers’ Notes

One of the great what-ifs of World War II in the Mediterranean theatre was the possibility of an Allied invasion of Greece and/or Yugoslavia after clearing the German and Italian armies from North Africa. Winston Churchill was famous for his advocacy of attacking the “soft underbelly” of Europe in this way. In history, the logistical and political difficulties were rife and the Allies did nothing of the kind until Operation MANNA, the liberation of Greece in October 1944, after the German garrison was already withdrawing into Yugoslavia.

But to Hitler and the German High Command, it was always a possibility and made them vulnerable to several Allied deception plans, which have been used as the basis for the 1943 and 1944 scenarios in this game (The book and movie” The Man Who Never Was” concern themselves with Operation MINCEMEAT, one of the deception plans for the invasion of Sicily). In response to these plans, the Germans held several critical troop formations in northern Italy and Yugoslavia in readiness for invasions that never came, when they would have been much more useful somewhere else. In a sense, the scenarios in the game reflect the fantasies of both sides.

Order of Battle Notes

One of the problems in designing a wargame on a campaign that never happened, and in some sense was never meant to happen, is to construct a plausible Order of Battle (OOB) of the troops who could have fought in it. This is even worse when that campaign is set in the Balkans, a theatre of war that saw a bewildering variety of small, exotic and often improvised units. The approach taken in this game was to discount the presence of many of these “ant” units, due to counter mix limits and their negligible effect on the overall campaign.

Many “divisions” are shown in the game as brigades instead because of the Victory in Normandy game system used – an understrength division has to be shown as a non-divisional unit as it gets only one “shot” in combat, as opposed to a full division which gets two (and has two steps of strength).

Western Allies: Because the 1943 and 1944 scenarios are rooted in deception plans, using formations that either never existed or had their roles played by much smaller organizations, much of the Allied OOB consists of fictitious units. The only real divisions in the British OOB are the 5th and 50th Infantry Divisions. The American and Canadian units shown in the game all existed and served in Italy (even the 10th Mountain Division, which did not arrive in Italy until the end of 1944) and the Soviet units are all actual formations that remained in Yugoslavia after the battle for Beograd in October 1944.

Bulgarians: All of the eight units shown in the Bulgarian OOB carried the title of “division” but the five numbered 22 and above were units that were raised later in the war and were not as well equipped or trained as the lower-numbered units. Hence they are shown as brigades.

Collaborators: These are shown in the game as a collection of poor quality infantry brigades, in rough proportion to the numbers that were raised. The Croatian Army was substantially reorganized several times but this did not change its overall effectiveness much (at least, not against people with guns) and this detail has been left out of the game.

Germans: The occupation of the Balkans absorbed a large number of German divisions, but the few that were of good quality stayed only for a short time before being called away. An example is the elite 1st Panzer Division, which historically was sent to Greece from June to September of 1943, in response to Operation MINCEMEAT! The 1st Mountain Division was also deployed for brief periods on anti-partisan duties. Another high quality unit, the 22nd Infantry Division, appears in the 1945 scenario – this is the Luftlande or Air Landing Division, which had been garrisoning Crete and was withdrawn to the mainland in late 1944. At this time it was one of the strongest (or at any rate least damaged) divisions left in the region, and still had most of its transport.

Besides a collection of fortress infantry and several light infantry or motorized units, Brandenburger commandos, and a Luftwaffe field division of repurposed airmen, the German OOB also includes a number of generic infantry brigades – these represent amalgamations of the many security, police, replacement and training units the Germans maintained for rear area security, garrisons and guarding lines of communication.

A note on the Waffen-SS units, placed here under the German section though many of the formations were composed of “ethnic Germans” or collaborators. The 13th “Handschar” (Croatian), 14th “Galicia” (Ukrainian), 18th “Horst Wessel”, 21st “Skanderbeg” (Albanian), and 24th “Karstjager” were nominally divisions but are shown in the game as motorized or light infantry brigades. They did not operate as complete divisions – components were sent off prematurely to form battlegroups in other areas or they never reached sufficient levels of men, motivation or equipment. The 4th and 7th SS divisions did perform as such, though – the 4th was a “Polizei Panzer-Grenadier” division specializing in anti-partisan operations, and the 7th “Prinz Eugen” was a quality mountain infantry unit. The 18th SS light infantry regiment is an SS Police Mountain regiment, which was an effective anti-partisan unit.

Italians: With the exception of the 1st “Taurinense” mountain division, the Italian divisions garrisoning the Balkans were two-regiment units stripped of artillery, transport and quality recruits. Hence they are all shown in game terms as brigades, though they carry the matching division numbers.

Polish: The 7th Infantry Division was a deception unit. When it, along with the (real) 2nd Armoured Division were included in the OOB for Operation ZEPPELIN, there was a diplomatic incident when Marshal Tito learned of their planned mission to land at Durres and drive inland to Tirane. He objected very strongly to Slavic troops landing in the Balkans, and unfortunately could not be told that this was all a deception, since his headquarters was full of spies. So while the Allied planners deceived him that the Poles had been removed from the operation, they also continued to deceive the Germans that they were still in. The actual invasion of Southern France happened before anyone got to compare notes.

Yugoslavs: For simplicity, the Partisan light infantry units are not numbered and are rated identically as brigades – again, they carried the honourifics of “Proletarian” or “Assault” divisions, but they did not have enough supporting arms or training in large unit operations to function as divisions in game terms.

Errata and clarifications


4.0 All scenarios are 20 turns long (this was in the rules I sent to DG, but instead they put in language about “last turn”, implying they have variable lengths.).

6.3: Dispersed mode partisans may co-exist with enemy units. This is explicit in 10.3 (c) and implied in 12.1.

9.4 Axis supply sources: should also specify Austrian territory for map edge exit hexes. (In my original map, Austria did not appear but the S&T map artist added 8 hex rows of territory to the north of the original map, so it’s there now.)

12.15: The combat example paragraph should be deleted as it refers to a superseded combat method. Clarification: Croatian, Chetnik, German light infantry and SS units count DOUBLE their CF whenever firing on dispersed mode partisan type units. (German infantry divisions 369, 373 and 392 are treated as Croatian for this purpose only, but are otherwise treated as if they were German Army units.)

13.1 If it is the end of the 20th turn of the scenario, yada yada… (again, all scenarios are 20 turns long – this was in the rules I sent to DG, yada yada)

13.6: Not errata, but the “Force 10 From Navarone” rule was not my idea… a bit of supra-fictional whimsy added in development.

1943 Scenario:

The restrictions on Greek guerrillas noted in the 1944 scenario should also be applied in the 1943 scenario.

1944 Scenario:

The German 104th light infantry division (3-4) should set up in Greece, not Serbia.

German optional reinforcements: There should be only one 3-6 motorized infantry regiment, the 15th.


The British 12th Corps Support Unit should be numbered the 3rd. Not important to play of the game, and the 3rd Corps never actually existed anyway .

The 18th SS motorized infantry (3-6) should be a brigade, not a division (as noted above, this is the “Horst Wessel” Panzer-Grenadier Division; at this time it was about half strength and was still lacking equipment). This is the only counter erratum that matters, and then not even that much; the unit counter has only one step of strength.

The German 375th infantry division (4-3) appearing in the 1944 scenario should be the 367th. (In history, the 367th was formed in late 1943 from elements of the 330th Division (destroyed earlier) and other units, and was kept in Croatia until it was sent to the Eastern Front in the spring of 1944. In the game, the division is instead held in Croatia, awaiting developments. Again, not important to play of the game.)

S&T 296 (Korean War Battles) is here…


Korean War Battles is a game I designed in late 2013. It is a game that features three scenarios of battles that took place in 1950: Pusan Perimeter, Second Battle for Seoul, and Changjin (aka Chosin) Reservoir. The game was designed for Strategy and Tactics magazine, published by Decision Games, and uses a variation on the simple “Fire and Movement” rules used in DG’s modern period folio games, of which there are at least two dozen.

Got my subscriber copy (#296) today.

Of the last three games I have published with Decision Games, all three have had major changes made to them, to the point where they ignored, cancelled or even reversed the major points I was trying to make in the original designs… without my input or knowledge.

I turned the files for this game in in January 2014. The last time I heard from DG about it was early March 2014, 19 months ago.

What follows is a description of the changes that have been made between what I turned in and what has been published, with comparisons to what was in the original and the import of these changes. They are entered in the same cases as they are encountered in the rules sections. This would be better presented as a comparative table, but WordPress blogs don’t seem to be able to show these well (if you have some tips about how to do this, I’d like to hear them).

As I have done before with Greek Civil War ( and Next War in Lebanon (, here are the original rules and charts I turned in, freely available, along with a PDF of the counter sheet. As they have made fundamental changes to the counter mix, you will have to make your own counters. You can still use the maps, once you straighten out the terrain costs which they got wrong on each map, and ignore some terrain features that were not in my submitted version, like the three bridges across the Han and the five hill hexes between “Ascom City” (Taejong-ni, actually) and Yongdungp’o in the Seoul scenario. I’d put my original maps up but they are pretty schematic and have no colour to them.

Korea3 FM ctrs alt1


[edited to add: Michael Kirk has made a really nice-looking, well laid out and illustrated set of rules! PDF file.]

KWB charts F&M


[edited to add: “Ken” from Japan has translated the rules into Japanese;  here they are!]

4.0 Mobile Movement Phase: In the original version, US and Commonwealth infantry units were permitted to move again in this Phase, but only on roads/trails and they could not attack in the ensuing Mobile Combat Phase. This was important to show the truckborne mobility of the American troops and how they were able to shift their forces rapidly to meet threats, especially in the Pusan Perimeter scenario. Also, North Korean supply units were permitted to move in this movement phase only, showing how their logistical  tail could only follow advances. The DG version drops all this; both US/CW infantry and NK supply units move once only. This is a major change.

5.1.2 Infiltration: In the original version, only non-divisional leg units were allowed to infiltrate through enemy ZOCs. This was important, especially in the Pusan Perimeter scenario, as the NK player had to break his divisions down to infiltrate the UN lines, and because he could not build back up into divisions later this was a crucial choice for him. The DG version does not have this, and instead allows entire divisions to work their way forward through the UN lines. This is a moderately important change.

5.2 Effects of terrain: The original version had only one terrain effects chart, with terrain types and movement costs that were common to all three scenarios. The DG version has three slightly different sets of terrain, with differing interpretations and costs for each. To make a long story short, they got the terrain types reversed so that clear hexes (of which there are only a small number on the maps because Korea is a very lumpy place) are harder to move through and more defensible than hilly, unroaded hexes (the “default” terrain in that country). This is a major change.

6.0 Zones of Control: In the original version ZOC did not extend into Rough (called Mountain in the published version), or City hexes, or across river hexsides. This was an important consideration as Communist units could infiltrate through closed terrain close to the road-bound UN units. In the DG version ZOC penetrates all, except Mountain, but this is only mentioned in the Terrain Keys printed on the map, not the rules. This is a major change.

7.5 Fortifications: In my last communication with DG, I thought we had agreed not to include Strongpoints in the Chosin scenario. But there they are on the map, but there is no indication whether they are fortifications for purposes of this rule, or what they are for – there are no references to them in the rules at all. So this could be an important addition, maybe not – I never put it in, and argued to have it left out.

8.4 Bombardment Support Fire: In the original version, Communist units could not Bombard an enemy unit unless they had a unit adjacent to it, because they did not have spotter aircraft or radios to direct remote fire. This is dropped in the DG version. Moderate change because of scarcity of their fire support markers but quite ahistorical.

8.4.1 Counter-battery fire: In the original version, the Communist player could not do this for the same reasons as above. This is dropped in the DG version.

10.0 Lines of Supply: In the original version, the Communist units had to trace a 3-hex line back to a supply unit, which had to trace any length back to a supply source hex on the edge of the map. UN units traced a 3-hex line back to a Road/Trail, and from there along roads/trails back to a supply source. This kept the Communists near their supply heads, and showed the road dependency of the UN troops. This is dropped in the DG version; each side just traces a line of any length to supply units or ultimate sources, though the UN is not allowed to run his supply convoys along mountain tops. This is an important change.

10.3 Supply Depot units: These had a number of uses in the original version; besides being normal conduits of supply, they could also be “burned” to feed intensive (“human wave”) attacks or emergency supply or replacements for cut-off Communist units. None of this is in the DG version; instead the Communist support fire marker allotment drops by 1 when a supply unit is eliminated. I had the latter apply to both sides only when an HQ unit was eliminated. Moderate change.

11.0 Breakdown units: Here are some major changes. In the original version, breakdown regiments for the North Korean, Chinese and South Korean divisions were chosen randomly, said regiments being made up on a curve – so NKPA regiments, for example, were valued from 3-2-4 to 4-4-4, but on a curve so most of them were 3-3-4s. I weighted it so the “average” NKPA regiment had an attack factor of 3.3 and a defence of 3.0, a Chinese regiment an attack of 3.75 and a defence of 3.25, and a South Korean regiment an attack of 2.2 and a defence of 2.87. This made the decision to break down divisions one to give the player pause, but emphasized the power vs. dispersion tradeoff.

In the DG version, when divisions break down they are replaced by three regiments of identical strength, depending on the original division factors. The NKPA regiments have been “tuned down” to an average attack of 3.0 and a defence of 2.85, the Chinese regiments are all identical at 3.0 and 3.0, and South Korean regiments are “tuned up” to  an average attack of 2.6 and a defence of 3.4. But the values of the divisions are the same as in the original version, and in fact in the DG version it makes sense to split up, because this increases the defensive strength of the overall unit!

More importantly, the depth of units has been changed. In the original version, all divisions had four steps and all regiments had two. In the DG version, all divisions now only have two steps, all North Korean and Chinese regiments now have only one, and US Marine Corps regiments now have four. So the power and durability of one side in all three scenarios has been halved. This is a huge change, especially in a game system like this with a Combat Results Table that is dominated by “Exchange” results in which both sides are depleted.


You know what?

Life’s too short.

The little word counter in the edit window says I’ve been going on for over 1,300 words here so far, and I am not even halfway through the list of things that have been changed. There are at least 25 more changes that I noted, some more significant than others (such as, it now appears impossible for the UN player to win the Battle for Seoul scenario) but also not counting the many minor changes to the counter mix.

I really have better things to do with my time than this – like making new games.

I’m tired of writing posts like this; this is three for three now, and the pattern of non-communication and basic lack of respect for my work is disappointing and frustrating.

As I said above, if you want to play the game that I originally designed, developed and tested, download the rules, charts and counter sheet PDF. You will have to make your own counters, unlike the Greek Civil War debacle but like the Next War in Lebanon debacle, but as with the other games you can still use the map – once you correct the terrain costs in the Terrain Key and ignore a few added map features.

Or you can play the game that they published. Either way I hope you have fun. Life’s too short for this sort of thing.

Korean War Battles and Balkan Gambit coming in S&T

ST296-3TST296-4T The lastish of Strategy & Tactics magazine notified us all that two games of mine, Korean War Battles and Balkan Gambit, would appear in issues #296 and #298 respectively (fall-winter 2015, roughly). Artwork above is for Korean War Battles, which is a three-fer of operational scale games from battles in 1950: the Pusan Perimeter (August – September), the second battle for Seoul (September) and Changjin Reservoir (December). System used is a modification (don’t yet know how modified beyond what I did) of the familiar “Fire and Movement” system DG uses in its modern-era folio games.


Meanwhile, I redesigned Balkan Gambit from its diceless-combat, chit-pull system as used in Autumn Mist and Summer Lightning to use a modification of the action-point-allowance, step-reduction, shootin’-dice system first used by Ben Knight in his Victory in Normandy game, and which XTR and DG have used several times since in other games. Also, the 1950 hypothetical Soviet invasion scenario was dropped. Crossing my fingers… but I can see the map is slightly different, and website copy says game has 176 counters, but I sent in one with 240…. (Edit: I spoke with the developer-wrangler as CSW Expo in June 2015 and he said that was a typo, in fact it has a full 280 counters! (?))

Modern War magazine – change in lineup

(Originally published 2 April 2013, bumped up to here for news.)

Referring to my post of November 23:

I have been informed that my game in issue #9, “Next War in Lebanon”, has been replaced by the publisher in the lineup with  “Target: Iran”, a game by another designer that was originally for issue #17. Whether future military US/Israeli action against Iran is more likely than Israeli action against Hezbollah, I really can’t say. But I’m not the publisher either.

The more worrying thing is that Lebanon has been bumped back to #13, the issue slotted for Kandahar, and no word for now how far back that one will be bumped – perhaps to #17, which must now be vacant? Anyway, there will be an extra wait of 8 or 9 months for everything, but the good part of the news is that as far as I know all of the games will be published eventually. I’ll let you know more when I do, should be in a few weeks.

16 April – Edited to add: Okay, here is the lineup as she is goodly spocken now:

  • Andartes (Greek Civil War) – #11, May-June 2014
  • Next War in Lebanon (IDF in Lebanon 201?) – #13, Sep-Oct 2014
  • Kandahar (Afghanistan 2009-10) – #17, May-June 2015
  • Green Beret (Vietnam 1962-4) – #18, Jul-Aug 2015

So, another year to wait, but getting published is better than not.

20 June – edited to add: Today I was unofficially informed that Kandahar and Green Beret will not be published in Modern War, and these slots will be filled by other games by other designers. So it goes. Considering my options. Suggestions?

Soldiers: Decision in the Trenches 1918 variant

Soldiers: Decision in the Trenches 1918 is the game in issue #280 of Strategy and Tactics magazine. It’s a fairly simple and easy to play game on an American infantry division going “over the top” into a German defensive position manned by a reinforced infantry regiment.
I posted a variant for the game over at

Made up some new counters, and some added rules: American command control limitations, German hidden units, artillery bombardment patterns and drift.

All quite simple, all very optional, use or not use as you wish.