Lessons from Wargame: Airland Battle

Fishbreath and I are big fans of Wargame: Airland battle (which I will abbreviate as WALB, for I am a lazy typist). Now, I won’t pretend that it’s a perfect simulation, but it’s a solid one which should be relatively consistent in it’s assumptions/errors. So I thought it would be a good place to test some ideas, at least until I finally buy Steel Beasts (which also doesn’t do airpower). I have rather less time in Red Dragon, but I’ll add notes where appropriate.

I tend to roll with tank-heavy decks, with a good amount of airpower. So I’m usually rolling with America for NATO (because USAF) or USSR for Pact (because duh). Some observations and conclusions, in no particular order:

Observation:
If we’re talking tanks alone, the T-80U is tops, followed by the Leopard 2A4 and then the M1A1. The T-80U has a marginally better gun, and gun-launched ATGMs, which gives it a bunch more range. Flank armor is weak, so hit it there. The Leopard 2A4 and M1A1 are pretty similar, and both are noticeably less good than the T-80U. Though numbers even things up.

Conclusion:
Gun launched ATGMs are cool, because they give you more range. Puts the priority on seeing the other guy first of course. Though, that’s really important all the time, as we’ll see. Note that tank optics are a little nerfed in the game, to make you use recon units. Which is fine, but does deprive the Abrams of things that the US Army got right before everyone else, namely high end thermals. Otherwise, this one’s all about the gun. As for the numbers game, Uncle Joe said it best.

Observation:
Of course, this isn’t a straight-up tank sim (like Steel Beasts). So when playing NATO, I’ll go with America. The M1A1 is almost as good as the Leopard 2A4, with the biggest deficiency being that you have to gas it up more frequently. This happens to me a lot. But playing America gets you a much, much better air force, better attack helicopters, and Bradleys.

Conclusion:
It’s all about the combined arms, shock. No big surprise here. Games like this tend to strongly encourage playing as the bigger powers who give you more options. This was one of the few things improved in Wargame: Red Dragon–they allowed you to group lesser powers to get a well-rounded unit set.

Observation:
I love Bradleys. One of my favorite combos is the M3(A1) recon vehicles with some M1(A1) Abramses. This gives me a long range sight with the good recon optics, plus a long range missile punch from the Bradley TOW-2 missiles. It does take a little micro to keep the Bradleys alive. I probably don’t have to remind you to put the big tanks with the heavy armor out in front.

Conclusion:
ATGMs are useful on IFVs, who knew? It’s more that this armament set of smallish autocannon with lots of ammo + ATGMs on IFVs is useful for just about any target I encounter. I try to bypass towns, personally. Other loadout decisions might also work for your intended use case. I will say that the Bradleys are also quite formidable on the defensive, again, as long as you can keep them from being hit too much. The 25 mm gun with large ammo reserves and good fire control is pretty good against aircraft. Not much to be done about IFV survivability except go heavier. That seems familiar…

Observation:
In that same vein, I’m big on American-style aggressive reconnaissance. Recon vehicles alone seem to have a nasty habit of dying. As part of an armored spearhead, they live longer.

Conclusion:
There are two schools of thought on recon: recon by stealth and recon by force. I like the latter. It fits with my tactical conceptions. I don’t think there’s a wrong way to do recon, but understand your role and the vehicles. Bradley’s ain’t stealthy. Something like the SPz 11-2 Kurz doesn’t bring a ton of firepower to a fight. And the American school fits me better, so I like it more. Glad to see it can actually work too.

Observation:
The Soviets have some great SHORAD in Tunguska. That thing is amazing. Interestingly, my favorite from the NATO perspective it the cheap and cheerful M1097 Avenger, which was a surprise to me. It is not as obviously amazing, and I probably wouldn’t have picked it if I didn’t desperately need to make do while I wait for Eagles to swat things out of the air.

Conclusion:
You knew the Tunguska was great. Guns, missiles, mobile like a tank. Love it. It is sometimes advisable to order it to shut down its autocannons so that it doesn’t announce its presence to enemy armor. The success of the M1097 was a surprise to me. It’s a HMMWV with a big rack of stingers on the back in a turret. But Stingers are excellent MANPADS, and it’s a great thing to hide and use to ambush marauding aircraft and helicopters. And then move to a new hiding spot before the inevitable counterstrike. It’s the kind of SHORAD you could really load up on. Maybe load some WVRAAMs to for a bit more range.

Observation:
My Soviet decks, and especially my American decks tend to lack a lot of infantry. Especially the well armed ‘shock infantry’ that a lot of the other European powers have. A bunch of this is because I prefer armored thrusts and ripostes to slugging it out. This basically means I’m gonna have a hard time dealing with built-up areas. That’s the price I pay for my builds. Also, Fishbreath likes the infantry-defensive type fight (maybe he’s got a British character to his tactics?), and so I usually leave that to him. Instead, I’ll take the deep Thunder Run any day of the week.

Conclusion:
Specialization is good. Urban combat sucks. Bring infantry if you’re stuck there. Or avoid it entirely. You can get a lot of success with deep thrusts. Especially if you’ve used some probing moves and skirmisher-type engagements to figure out where the enemy isn’t. Protip: that’s where you should be striking.

Observation:
I’ve got some good rounds with a German armored deck that comes with their excellent Panzergrenadier shock infantry. If you’re gonna storm a town, go heavy. In Red Dragon, Panzergrenadiers ’90 are awesome.

Conclusion:
If I’m gonna go infantry, I’m going with infantry that bring stuff. All the stuff. The bigger rocket launchers the better. Oh, and that buzzsaw that is the MG3. Cue the Panzerlied. Maybe I should build a Castle Iter Rules deck. It’s also in Red Dragon that you can get Marder 2s, a formidable IFV with staying power. You still don’t quite have the Death From Above air support that is the USAF though.

Observation:
Okay, let’s get to it. The USAF is the best AF, hands down. Want air superiority? They’ll get it. Want something to die? You got it.

Conclusion:
Airpower rocks, news at 11. Von Rundstedt’s ghost is yelling “Duh!” over my shoulder as I type this, I’m sure. If you can see it, you can bomb it. And if you can bomb it, it’s gonna die. The USAF even has plenty of SEAD to take out those pesky Soviet SAMs. Or you can use the F-117A. I’m pretty sure it was never intended to be used like some kind of stealth stuka, but I don’t care. It’s my go to if I want to get rid of some pesky command vehicle. Also, can I say napalm and cluster weapons rock? Because they totally do. I love you, Dow Chemical.

Observation:
The Soviets have the best overall air defenses around with the aforementioned Tunguska and the excellent medium-range Buk. They really need it given the mighty USAF, plus several other NATO members that have decent air forces that are good at bringing pain. Beware Tornadoes.

Conclusion:
Nothing new here. The Russians invested heavily in SAMs, and it shows. Also, cluster bombs are super effective. Shocker. Defense in depth is helpful. Tornadoes and similar are especially problematic because they come in low and fast, giving minimal time to react. The big vulnerabilities are against fighters, and against widely-deployed AAA, but I’ve usually spent my points on other things by then.

Observation:
The F-14 Tomcat/Phoenix combo is stupid awesome. It’s my go-to American fighter, despite the availability of the F-15C.

Conclusion:
This is an interesting function of some in-game limitations. Given the smallish size of the battlefield and lack of early warning from ground based radar or AWACS (and thus no early interception opportunities), my options are to have fighters loiter over the battlefield on patrol, or scramble to intercept. I’ve found loitering to lead to a bunch of annoying ambushes from enemy fighters or medium range SAMs, and it almost always means I don’t have air cover when I need it because of fuel concerns. If I’m intercepting, then the long range of the Phoenix missile makes up for all other shortcomings of it and the Tomcat. The Tomcat was built as an interceptor and it’s quite good at this. Being able to launch first even gives it a good shot against Flankers. So even though the F-15 is the better air superiority fighter, the F-14 is better in Wargame. Although its much less famous, similar conclusions apply to the MiG-31 Foxhound for the USSR (which is much more of a pure interceptor design than the Tomcat).

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