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Posted on Feb 24, 2015 in Boardgames, Front Page Features

Next War: Taiwan – Boardgame Review

Next War: Taiwan – Boardgame Review

By Sean Stevenson

1C-cover-artNext War: Taiwan. Boardgame review. Published by GMT Games. Designed by Mitchell Land, based on an original design by Gene Billingsley. 85.00

Passed Inspection: Advanced Game does a great job portraying air and naval combat; initiative system based on victory points realistically portrays momentum of combat.

Failed Basic: Some rules sections are overly complicated; given scenarios have China too much in control of the game; high retail price will keep away many players

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In 1993 GMT Games released a wargame titled Crisis: Korea 1995, simulating a resumption of the Korean War using current weapons and tactics. Then 1995 came and went, the Korean War did not resume, and so Crisis: Korea 1995 became immediately dated. Twenty years later, someone at GMT realized they had a little gem in their backstock catalog. Dusting it off, the game was re-worked and re-issued as Next War: Korea. Now they’ve made a sequel, Next War: Taiwan.

Next War: Taiwan is a stand-alone game, you don’t need Next War: Korea to play this. (If you do have the first game, there are a few rules on how to combine both games into one theater-wide conflict, the main effects being to force both the US and China to split their combat assets between both games.) In the very near future, the Chinese (People’s Republic Of China, PRC in the game) have decided to take Taiwan, setting up a regional conflict between the PRC and the US, although as the game shows the Taiwanese military is no rug to be walked over.

So what does the tabletop commander get? Two rulesbooks, the Standard Rules (good for the entire Next War series) and the Game Specific Rules. You get one 22 x 34 inch map of Taiwan; the map also includes a variety of important game displays such as the China and Japan Holding Boxes (for placing units in those off-map nations). Seven 8.5 x 11 inch player aid cards in full color help you navigate the complex rules with detailed Sequences Of Play, Game Charts, Terrain Card, etc. Two smaller maps, 11 x 17 inches, are used, one for naval movement, one for air operations. There are three counter sheets containing a total of 864 counters, a d10, and about a dozen small zip-lock bags for counter storage.

As with any game simulating a combined arms aspect (land, sea, and air) of modern warfare, Next War: Taiwan has a steep learning curve. There is so much to do and so many ways to do it. The Standard (basic) Game has nine Phases with as many as half a dozen Steps each, while the Advanced Game has seventeen Phases. The rules seem to fight you sometimes, e.g. move into an urban area and consult rules section 8.4.1 Clearing Operations; rules section tells you the DRM (that’s Die Roll Modifiers) to be applied, and tells you to roll a die. Rules section is one sentence about moving new units into a Clearing Operation hex (you can).

Once you start playing the game and grasping the rules, you’ll understand why GMT reached back for a two-decade old title to base a series of modern warfare games around. Because it’s a great system. Movement is hex-to-hex with terrain costing different amounts, units exert Zones Of Control into most adjacent hexes, and units have a Size given in Stacking Points. A hex can safely accommodate only four Stacking Points; you can overstack, but your units suffer from the crowding (negative combat modifiers and movement penalties). Little touches add to the complexity of the system, yet those little touches do so well at modeling modern combat. So when moving light infantry troops (movement rate on the counter is in yellow), remember that they can ignore most of the effects of enemy zones of control except when using road movement. That’s just one example from dozens of great ways the game differentiates between various troop types and capabilities.

The air rules of the Standard Game are fairly basic, Air Points being allocated by both sides for combat support of ground attacks and escort missions (to destroy enemy Air Points). A few rolls on some charts and the Air Phase is over. The Advanced Game replaces this with aircraft rules that is almost a game in itself, with detailed weather effects, anti-air sites, detection rules, pilot skill, and multiple steps for each airstrike and dogfight. In Next War: Korea the naval warfare rules were abstracted. Next War: Taiwan expands a little on this in the Standard Rules. Although naval combat is still abstracted into a series of Sea Control die rolls, there are plenty of amphibious assaults, aircraft carriers, submarines, and minelaying going on. The Advanced Game again really amps up the naval rules, especially in combination with the advanced air combat rules, and allows for things such as cruise missile strikes.

Given the area of fighting and the militaries involved, there are a lot of airmobile and amphibious units, along with attack helicopters, all of which get treated quite well. The Advanced Game adds rules on supply and formations / headquarters in addition to the already-mentioned air and naval options. The Game Specific rulesbook is mostly small adjustments to the Standard and Advanced Game rules. As an example, the PRC can build a supply depot in Taiwan by combining two Mobile Supply Units, while the US can build a Mobile Supply Unit in any beachhead hex. It’s a good way of introducing concepts and rules unique to the game without crowding up the “core” rules used in the rest of the Next War series.

My favorite part of the game is the Initiative concept. At the start of the scenarios, one side—always the PRC in Next War: Taiwan , since they are the aggressor—has Initiative for a set number of game turns. After that, initiative is gained by whoever scores a certain number of Victory points (VPs) in the prior turn. If neither player gains the required number of VPs, or if both players do, then the following game turn is a Contested turn and neither player has initiative. Initiative is far more than just being allowed to move first, though. If a player has Initiative, he gains an extra movement and combat phase with all of his units; the opposing player gains an extra “reaction” phase of movement and combat only with his elite units (units with an Efficiency Rating of 6 or higher printed on the counter). In the Advanced Game, the Initiative player also can use Special Forces to perform missions, and both sides gain a bonus Air Strike phase. Holding initiative, or denying it to your opponent, can become a big part of your strategy.

The designers hold that warfare today, contrary to what the US displayed in Iraq and Afghanistan, will involve massive casualties on both sides, especially in built-up areas such as those that cover Taiwan. Accordingly, the combat results table is a bloody one, with units suffering step losses (each unit possesses at most two steps). Compare the attacker’s combat strength to the combat strength of the defender and adjust it into a ratio such as 2:1 , rounded down in favor of the defender. There are a number of modifiers to the combat die roll for air strikes, light infantry involvement, multi-formation and multi-national stacks—it is usually a bad idea to mix together units of different armies —and the terrain in which the battle takes place shifts the odds column left or right. Roll one d10 and apply the modifiers. Attacker wants high rolls, defender does well on low rolls, with combat results given in step losses (as many as four at once) and possible retreats. Very often, both sides will take losses in battle.

The game tries to simulate the politics of war with items such as the Intervention Level rules. Taiwan can be left to fend for itself against the Red Dragon, they can get some supplies and a few Special Forces teams, or the 101st Airborne will land with Japanese naval and air assets covering them. But the Intervention rules themselves show the unfortunate tendency of the game design to over-complicate matters. Make up to twelve (12!) rolls on the International Posture Matrix Table, giving you DRM (that’s Die Roll Modifiers, remember) of -1 (Dove) to +1 (Hawk). Then add all the modifiers together, determine the result on the Posture Sum Chart, and cross-reference the Posture with the Scenario Surprise Level to determine the Intervention Level. Man, that’s a lot of rolling and charts. Couldn’t we just have been given a Surprise modifier to an Intervention Die Roll and see how much help Taiwan’s allies can provide?

Warfare today is a complex animal, and Next War: Taiwan gives us a “crunchy” game system that does an excellent job of simulating it. Lots of charts and die rolls—a few too many, in this reviewer’s opinion (which is the point of a game review)—but providing a very satisfying wargame of combat on and around the island of Taiwan. By giving China so many Initiative rounds, the shorter scenarios are little more than sparring matches for the PRC military, but Taiwan’s armed forces are resilient and quite effective; I found that giving China the Initiative for the first Game Turn, maybe two, and the remaining Game Turns allowing VPs to determine initiative, really balances the game. Not realistic, I know, since any Chinese effort against Taiwan would pretty much be equivalent to a mugging, but it’s more enjoyable because it gives the Taiwan player a fighting chance.

The Advanced Game rules on naval and air units really turn this into a fantastic current-day wargame, and leaving players the option to focus on ground combat with abstracted naval and air rules (the Standard Game) was a great decision by GMT. There’s something for all styles of play; for me, give me those cruise missile strikes and pilot skill ratings! Don’t be put off by the rules—jump into the game and start playing it. Yes, you’ll probably mess up a few rules the first couple of times you play the game. But you’ll master the game by playing it, and as you do you’re going to enjoy the hours of another Grade A wargame produced by GMT.

I’m looking forward to the next in the Next War series, hoping it moves to Central Europe and features a resurgent Russia moving into Poland or the Baltics. This game system can definitely handle that.

Armchair General Rating: 88%

Solitaire Suitability (1 is low, 5 is high):  3; all units are known to both players

About the Author
Sean Michael Stevenson has been gaming since the days of SPI in the late 1970s.  When not working in Pittsburgh retail, he can be found reading books on the American Revolution. 

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