domingo, 26 de septiembre de 2010

Persian Incursion Jeff Dougherty Q&A

Un extenso reportaje posteado en Comsimworld
A extend report posted in Comsimworld

Before we move on to the operational air part of the game, let's open the mailbag and answer a few miscellaneous questions and issues that have come up.

Q. Where's the naval component of the game?
A. What we're really looking at in PI is an Israeli air campaign against Iran and all the political cans of worms that would be opened around that. As other people on the thread have noted, Israel doesn't really have the capability to project naval power into the Persian Gulf. About the only units they have that could reach that far and hope to survive are their submarines.

Q. Okay, so what about the subs?
A. They're not in the game, for two reasons:

1. Their ability to make it to the Persian Gulf is dependent on Egypt letting them transit the Suez Canal both coming and going. To really simulate that we'd have to add another opinion track to the game, with all the complications that entailed. It didn't seem worth complicating the game to do it, especially since:

2. We did some digging, and it's not at all clear what kind of land attack capability the Israeli submarines have. Popeye Turbo missiles get talked about a lot, but with nuclear warheads. There are rumors of the Israelis modifying Harpoon missiles for land attack work, but again nobody's really sure. It made it really tough for us to determine just what capability to give the submarines, and we didn't want to just make something up.

There's been discussion of doing some H4 scenarios based on Persian Incursion later on. Should that happen, it's possible that we'll revisit the Israeli submarines in more detail and put something in there.

Q. Uh, how about those nukes you mentioned?
A. One of the baseline assumptions for the game is that Israel is not going to engage in a first use of nuclear weapons against Iran. They might be able to get away with a preemptive air campaign against Iran, but the world isn't going to tolerate them using nuclear weapons on a country that hasn't attacked them. We're also assuming for the sake of the scenario that the Iranians do not actually have nuclear weapons yet.

Q. Will the game include SSMs and the weapons to shoot them down?
A. Yes and no. There is an abstract system included in the strategic game for the Iranians to try to block the Strait of Hormuz. Depending on how much in the way of resources (read Military points) they commit to it, the attempt may succeed, it may partially succeed, or it may fail. If it does have some level of success, that may be good for the Iranians (the rest of the world decides that the quickest way to unblock their oil is to lean on the Israelis) or bad for the Iranians (the rest of the world gets angry and decides to stage Operation Praying Mantis II: The Wrath of Khan).

A detailed interplay of SSMs, torpedoes, and other tools of asymmetrical naval warfare is unfortunately beyond the scope of the game. We had to stop somewhere. Sorry if that disappoints anyone.

Q. What's with the F-18s on the cover?
A. As mentioned above. there are opinion tracks covering various regional and world powers in the game. If the Israeli player can manage to get the U.S. track all the way over to his side (not easy to do), the U.S. enters the conflict on the Israeli side. In that case the Israeli strikers may be joined by F/A-18s, F-22s, B-2s, and other fun examples of American tax dollars at work. Needless to say, this is a Really Bad Thing for the Iranian player.

Allright, I'm back. You know deep down you really did miss me.

Okay, when last we left our players the Israelis had decided to officially inaugurate their celebration of "Take Your Air Force To War" week by launching an airstrike against the Iranians. What happens now?

Mission planning is a complex subject, but we've done the best we can to simplify it in Persian Incursion. Each target has 2-3 pages of information listing what buildings are present, how much damage they can take, and how critical each one is to the overall functioning of the target. There's also information about air defenses around the target: air defense sector, which long-range SAMs have the range to fire on aircraft approaching it, and what (if any) shorter ranged systems and AAA cover it. We also have tables listing which Israeli aircraft can reach which target for a given combination of route and ordnance loadout, and how many tankers they will need per squadron to get there. Even with midair refueling the Israelis are at the limit of their range, so we were able to get the planes down to 3-4 ordnance loadouts each. There just aren't that many smart ways to load your plane out once you're carrying that many gasbags.

Based on that information, the Israeli player plans his strike. He has to consider the number of strike aircraft available, which targets he plans to attack and how much boom-boom will be needed to knock them out, how much he'll need in the way of SAM suppression, fighter suppression, close air to air escort, and SEAD, and how many tankers he has available.

Yes, I did mention SAM suppression and SEAD as separate tasks. More about that later.

Meanwhile, the Iranian player is setting up his defenses. A lot of them are fixed and frankly not very good, but Iran does have a small number of modern mobile systems as well as the chance to buy more as upgrades. The Iranian player also sets the alert level of his fighter squadrons- is it better to keep them on the ground and preserve them for a big push later on when the Israelis attack something major? Or do you fly everything, knowing you're going to take losses, hoping that you can score political points by downing an Israeli jet?

As the strike approaches Iranian airspace, we resolve something called a Suter attack. This is a relatively new capability that the Israelis used in their 2007 strike against a mysterious Syrian installation, which apparently allows them to intercept line-of-sight data links and hack into an air defense system. This in turn allows them to eavesdrop on fighter controllers, introduce spurious contacts into the system, delete real ones, and possibly even crash the entire air defense network. It's seriously cool, but we handle it in an abstract way- the Israeli player decides how many of his Shavit special-mission airframes and Eitan UAVs he wants to allocate to the mission, and rolls on the table to see how badly he manages to trash the Iranian air defenses.

Okay, back to the air strike and why SAM Suppression and SEAD are two different things. The air strike system in Persian Incursion is nodal, and in some ways very similar to the system used in High Tide to game out strikes against the Kola Peninsula. Aircraft allocated to SAM and fighter suppression could be doing a number of things- they could be launching decoys, making diversionary runs with ECM pods, knocking out communications centers, or blowing up Iranian air defense sector headquarters. Regardless, they're allocated to tankers and then just disappear- the Israeli player rolls some dice and determines whether or not a given site is suppressed. Something similar happens with fighter suppression, with an Israeli roll on a table generating negative modifiers for a GCI intercept.

SEAD and escort aircraft, by contrast, are tracked individually and travel with the main strike package. Their job is to engage anything that makes it through the suppressors and prevent it from hitting the strikers.

As the strike nears its target, it passes through nodes for long-range SAMs (strategic-range stuff, like the S-200/SA-5 and S-300/SA-20 systems), Iranian GCI fighters, and medium and short range SAMs. At each node, the Israelis check to see how effective they have been in suppressing the defenses in it, then resolve any SAM shots or fighter intercepts that take place. If Iranian SAMs or fighters do come up, SEAD or escort aircraft can engage them and attempt to destroy them. Note that this is the only way to actually wear down the Iranian air defense assets- if a system is "suppressed" it comes back up the next time you encounter it, but if the Israelis try to destroy it they have to deal with the unsuppressed system. Decisions, decisions.

After making it through the Iranian defenses, the Israeli strike approaches its' target. Rather than having to make a ton of to-hit rolls and add up lots of DP, there are tables to handle, say, 8 bombs launched at a given size target, and the damage system has been reduced to boxes- each building has around 2-5 hits, and each bomb does a certain number of hits. After dropping their ordnance, the Israelis make their way back out through the Iranian defenses. Both sides roll to see if any aircraft are "down" due to unrepaired damage, and the campaign goes on.

As you can probably tell, the operational air system was more Larry and Chris' creation- I was responsible for designing the strategic game- and so I haven't been able to provide as many details about it as for the other part of the game. Hope this still helps, and please post any questions you have. I'll be answering a couple more in my next post.

Couple of answers to questions before I head offline for a bit:

Q. Do I need Harpoon 4.1 to play Persian Incursion?
A. No. At one point that was the plan, and there are still some old/inaccurate pieces of information floating around to that effect. To be clear: Persian Incursion is a completely self-contained game. Its combat system is based on Harpoon, but the game *does not* require any additional products or supplements to play. It is completely self-contained and has all rules needed to play through the game.

Q. So what's this about "hits"? Where's my DP?
A. PI runs on what I'd call a streamlined version of Harpoon, with a number of changes made to speed play with a lot of aircraft and pieces of ordnance whizzing around. With very few exceptions, the Israelis are hitting unhardened building and exposed machinery type targets of fairly uniform construction, and only using a few types of ordnance to do so. Since we were dealing with such a restricted set of weapons and targets, we were able to simplify the DP system without doing major violence to reality. That in turn eliminated a lot of bookkeeping the Israelis had previously needed to do after each strike, adding up the hits from 3-4 bombs per building and seeing what was still standing and what wasn't.

Q. Will there be solitaire as well as multiplayer support?
A. Unfortunately, no. Both sides have too many decisions to make in the political, strategic and operational arenas for us to come up with a robust solitaire system. One of the goals of Persian Incursion is to allow players to test various assumptions about how Israel and Iran will react in various situations. Designing a solitaire system would have required us to decide in advance how one side or the other would react, and then impose that on the players. It would also have added a lot of complexity and length to what's already a pretty big product.

Q. How about scenarios?
A. The basic scenario for each play of PI is the same- Israel is bombing Iran for one week. The game does have a number of political scenarios that affect the starting position of the opinion tracks (which has a major effect on what the two players can do at the start of the game, and how difficult it is to change those tracks), as well as an upgrade system that lets the participants play around with the many rumors that have swirled around this confrontation. Has Israel been secretly purchasing enhanced bunker busters or converting extra tankers? How many IRBM launchers do the Iranians have that can reach Israel? What if the Iranians have secretly been buying advanced SAM systems or GPS jammers on the black market? The intent is to let players experiment with different circumstances through multiple plays of the game, in order to figure out who the real key players are and what centers of gravity exist in the conflict between Israel and Iran.

Or for those whose eyes glazed over at that paragraph: yes, there are multiple scenarios. Sorry, I went to a liberal arts college...

Q. How long does the game take to play?
A. That depends on how quickly the Israelis are able to achieve- or not achieve- their objectives. The best answer I can give is that you can probably get through a play of PI in two evenings, or one long weekend marathon session. The Israeli strikes slow the game down a lot, but otherwise the turns go by pretty fast- nobody really has the points to take a ton of actions unless they're pretty close to winning anyway. The players can also save time by talking beforehand about what scenario they'll play, deciding on their list of upgrades, and possibly even planning out their air defense dispositions and initial strikes ahead of time.

I'm not going to lie- this is a long game. But it's not impossibly so.

EDIT: Question added from the Harpoon forum.

Q. Besides the F-22, what other types of planes does the U.S. get?
A. The following aircraft show up in the game:

Israel- F-15I, F-16I
Iran- MiG-29A, F-14A, F-4E, F-5E, F-7M (derivative of Chinese J-7 Fishbed)
U.S. (possible Israeli ally)- F/A-18E/F, EA-18G, F-22A, B-2
Russia (possible Iranian ally)- MiG-29, MiG-31, Su-27, A-50 Mainstay AWACS
China (possible Iranian ally)- J-10, J-11 (Chinese-produced Su-27), AWACS aircraft. (Can't remember the designation offhand and don't have my PI notes here at work)