Next War: Korea – Boardgame Review
Next War: Korea. Boardgame Review. Publisher: GMT Games Designer: Mitchell Land System Design: Gene Billingsley Price $85
Passed Inspection: Fascinating look at the modern battlefield. Great components. Solid basic and advanced rules. Wonderful value for the price.
Failed Basic: Needs some extra charts for ease of play. No master list of units. Needs an index.
With the recent change in the leadership of North Korea, idealists hoped for a change in their self-destructive public policy, but no such changes seem immediately visible. The country is still strangling its citizens through famine, disease and state-sponsored brainwashing. Some sixty years after the Korean War, tensions on the peninsula are still high. Since the war ended by armistice in 1953, and since there has never been a peace treaty signed, South Korean and American troops, tanks and air assets stand at the ready to react against further aggressions from North Korea. Next War: Korea, the new release from GMT Games, simulates the nightmare scenario of a new Korean War fought in the 21st century.
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Next War: Korea actually includes three games in one box. The first is the Standard Game. This is your basic strategic-level wargame. Each unit is from battalion to army in size or, in the case of attack helicopters or ships, a platoon to a battle group. Air and sea power are abstractly factored in to provide either transport, escort or attack bonuses to the ground combat. Most of the units can sustain two steps worth of damage before being destroyed. When a unit is hit for one step of damage, flip over the chit to reveal its weakened side. When a unit takes either two steps of damage or has nothing on its backside, the unit is removed from play and effectively destroyed as a combat unit.
A 10-sided die is included, as well as ziplock bags for organizing and storing the counters. The counters are 9/16" full-color, die-cut counters (many are double sided). They are easy on the eyes—informative regarding the unit without being cluttered.
Each ground unit’s counter shows its Stacking Factor, Attack, Defense and Movement points, Set Up Hex, and Efficiency Rating. Helicopters and ships are rated for Combat Support, Range, and other factors. Units move based upon the terrain they are entering, which is modified for roads and highways and weather conditions.
Attacks are based upon a ratio of attack and defense strength with a unit’s Efficiency Rating factored in. Combat results range from no effect to 4-step reductions and retreats. Any air units that survive anti-aircraft attacks can add to the combat rolls. Ships with orders to bombard can also help the attacker.
North Korea can take advantage of tunnels for surprise attacks.
The Standard Game turns run as follows: Weather, Initiative/Air/Naval, Initiative Movement and Combat, Basic Movement and Combat, Reorganization, Reinforcements and Replacements, and Victory Determination. A basic, 4-turn Standard Game can be played in an hour and is great fun and very satisfying in its own right! While the Standard Game is very basic, it can be modified with optional supply rules. Included in the Standard Game are abstract rules for Air Superiority, Sea Control from Surface Action Groups, Amphibious Groups and Carrier Groups. Rules are also provided for "clearing cities" of enemy snipers and other threats and simple rules for paradrops, airmobile movement and sea transport.
The seven Standard Game Scenarios run from "Seoul Train" which represents the DPRK (North Korean) drive south from Kaesong to Seoul. It and most of the other Standard Scenarios use just one of the maps and concentrate on less than 50 units. In my play-throughs of the first two scenarios, the South Koreans and the Americans managed to hold up the initial North Korean thrust but were ground down after a few days. The North Koreans managed to use a flanking attack through the DMZ by the use of strategically placed tunnel systems and the North Korean 11th Division managed to take Seoul. The Americans and the South Koreans recaptured some strategically important towns and airfields, but on week three they were unable to dislodge and liberate Seoul from the communists. In the weeks to come, America would have to deploy more units but time would tell whether the Chinese military or the Japanese Self Defense Forces would become involved and widen the conflict.
The final few Standard Game Scenarios use both maps in an epic conflict that covers the entire Korean peninsula.
Both sides can use helicopters for mobility and ground support.
The second game included is the Advanced Game; it has four scenarios and is a much different animal than the Standard Game.
This version of the rules in part adds onto the rules of the Standard Game, and in part, supersedes them. The optional supply rules from the Standard Game are greatly expanded and even includes the option of packing up a supply depot and making it into a mobile supply convoy. Headquarters units are given much more importance, with options that allow them to influence their subordinate units. Special Operation Forces are no longer abstracted, as in the Standard Game, and they are given much more to do including raids, reconnaissance and targeting for air strikes.
The real heart of the Advanced Game lies within the much-expanded air rules. Instead of abstracted air points dished out per turn, the military now has highly detailed air squadrons broken down by airplane model. Some of the squadrons include AWACS planes, B-52s, A-10s, F-22s, F-15s, F-4s, J-11Bs, MiG-29s, MiG-23s, cruise missiles, wild weasels and even drones.
Each type of plane is rated for all-weather flying, stealth, range, average pilot skill, air-to-air combat performance, combat support performance, strike performance, stand-off capabilities, and more. And the rules sometimes contradict themselves as to whether a unit’s ability to perform a mission is based on a 1 or higher or a 1 or lower. (Rule 22.5 states, "Air units may not fly a mission for which they do not have a rating of 1 or more." But 188.8.131.52 says, "Units which are obviously incapable of flying any mission, i.e., all ratings are 1s or less …" I think GMT meant to say, "All ratings are zero or less;" that’s how I played it.)
The air rules are very complete without being daunting to the player. There are extensive examples of an air-to-air combat, as well as ground strikes—but strangely, one of the South Korean planes shown in the example, the F5 E/F, is nowhere to be found in the counter mix.
Other rules in the advanced game cover the involvement of other powers such as the United Nations, Russia, Japan and China, the use of nuclear and chemical weapons, SCUD missiles, espionage—even U.S. National Defense budget cuts!
Each ground unit’s counter shows its Stacking Factor, Attack, Defense and Movement points, Set Up Hex, and Efficiency Rating.
The third game included is an all air-power game, which utilizes some of the Advanced Game Rules but focuses exclusively on the air war, including ground strikes and other missions.
While interesting and pertinent designer notes are included, if Next War: Korea is missing anything, it would be a comprehensive guide to the units involved including a detailed master unit chart. This could be a two- to four-page handout and would greatly educate the players as to the assets used in the battles. In addition, a chart to help keep track of victory points would be helpful.
Next War: Korea has tons of positives in its favor whether you want to play it as a standard or advanced game or just focus on the air war aspects. As a simulation of modern combat on the strategic level, this game is a huge success and its payload delivers tons of value for the money spent. There is a VASSAL version of the game already available but the game screams out for a full computer version (hint, hint).
This game is another feather in the cap of GMT Games!
Armchair General Rating: 95 %
Solitaire Rating: 4 of 5 (5 is completely suitable for solitaire play)
About the Author
A college film instructor and small business owner, Richard Martin has also worked in the legal and real estate professions, is involved in video production, film criticism, sports shooting and is an avid World War I and II gamer who can remember war games which came in plastic bags and cost $2.99 (he’s really that old)!