Crisis Korea '95

Playings; 2 campaigns, 16 hours (1 Northern win, 1 South)

Will they never learn? SPI had World War 3 scheduled for 1973, with After the Holocaust in '76 (moved back a little with the 2nd edition). GMT have labelled this game with a 3-year shelf life, barring a Korean War in the near future, Crisis Korea will lack believability in 1996.

Crisis Korea contains 2 rule books (basic and advanced) and offers 4 wars in Korea. Thankfully all of these campaigns can be fought with either the basic or advanced rules. The North can invade the South sometime next week, after a surprise build up catching the ROK off guard, allow both sides to build up (including Chinese troops) or wait until the USA has withdrawn from Korea (with an option to come back after the invasion begins). Compared to the choice of options offered by Flashpoint Golan or Central America, this does not make for a Great deal of variety. Shorter scenarios offer the air war alone or parts of the conflict but fail to show enough strategic scope to inspire repeated play. Particularly missed is any discussion of the Chinese question. PLA troops begin the game on map for 1 of the 4 campaigns but are not used in any of the other 3. Provision of say 50 extra bright red PLA infantry units would give the USA player something to think about, even if the chance of their being used was low. Without such an option the USA is free to bomb anything in the North and to follow up any NKPA (Norts to 2000 AD fans) retreats as far as the Chinese border. GMT promise further situations and counters in C31 (how do you pronounce that? I heard a US army source say Cee Cubed - the "I" part must add too many syllables for the military mind) but I've paid my 30 and want those options now, not at a fiver a shot from the house zine.

A 2nd Korean War may not have all the back and forth action of the 1st. The old (38th parallel) border stretched in a nice straight line leaving some parts of the South linked by land to the North but not the to rest of the South. Since 1953 the cease fire line hugs nicely defended terrain halfway up the peninsula, it is heavily fortified on both sides to boot. The ROK army also is now ready for the worst, not like the outfit that fell apart in 1951. Crisis Korea reflects this situation, all units have set up hexes on the counters (no free set up), the NKPA starts at full strength, mostly on or within 1 move of the border. The only Northern reinforcements are militia units that look good on the map but should not be allowed to fight. Combat forces losses to be taken from the best units 1st, then equally amongst participants so you can't use them for soak off attacks. The ROK army covers most of the border but has to use covering forces (low strength, no movement units) to fill in the gaps, the weakest part of the border (near Seoul) is covered by a double line of units, including a few Americans. ROK reinforcements are better than their Northern counterparts and appear deep in the ROK, handy to counter any NKPA breakthroughs. As if the North does not have enough problems, the USA soon begins to arrive with ground troops that outclass everyone and oodles of airpower.

Victory is by victory points gained from capturing territory and eliminating units. The winner is decided by the traditional game end comparison or by 1 side gaining a large differential (the value depends on the scenario) and rolling on an automatic win table. The chance of a win begins at 1 in 10 but increases each turn that the conditions are met up to a 50% maximum success rate. The North knows that his opponent will outclass him in time so he needs to make the most of the period before the USA turns up in strength. A strong attack from the start is encouraged by the NKPA having an odds shift on attack during turn 1 for 3 of the 4 campaigns; he needs this to bite into the ROK border fortifications. The best chance of a NKPA victory is to aim for an automatic win early in the game. The alternative is to gain enough points to be sure of a win, then hold on to them until the game end. Any withdrawal to a better defensive position at this point will give points back to the South and lessen that differential. The NKPA receives far fewer replacements than the south and USA and does not benefit from continuous reinforcements so any attempt to sit it out had better start pretty near the last game turn. All the campaigns have 16 turns but you should have some idea how things look by half time, if the North have not won or are not about to win by turn 12, they are more likely to lose badly than to pull off a draw. At about 1/2 hour per turn on the basic game and 1 hour on the advanced, players should consider if it is worth playing on after turn 12.

The Basic game.

The recent trend in modern games has been towards complexity, Gulf Strike, Arabian Nightmare or at least being hard to grasp Flashpoint Golan. Crisis Korea deserves praise for having a straightforward if not entirely fault free basic system. Strangest of all there are no air units (except helicopters) (hip, hip ... Hooray...) and no naval combat, leaving us infantry types to get on with the war. Both sides have air points that are used to alter the die roll in combat; the number of air points available being based on the game turn. The North starts with a slight surplus but by the 2nd half of the game will be lucky to have any against the American might. The system assumes that the American air force will sort out the Northern planes in short order. The total points available each turn can be reduced by overrunning enemy airfields, rewarding any advances by the infantry. Similarly, a die roll each turn asserts who will control the 2 seas on each side of Korea. If seas are controlled, movement of ships, naval transport and amphibious actions are effortless, if seas are contested; all these actions involve a degree of failure and risk to the transported units. If you do not control the seas you cannot use them. When the USN gains control of either sea the North Koreans will not regain control, the game does not bother with the petty details of sinking their navy.

Contrasting to these "cut it to the bone" air and sea systems are a rather involved basic turn system. The player with the most victory points gained in the last turn will be the initiative player. The initiative player moves and fights (fine so far), the best of the reaction player's units that are not in an enemy ZOC may now move, hopefully plugging the odd gap. Next all initiative units that are not in an enemy ZOC, plus all initiative light infantry may move and all initiative units may fight again but at a penalty of 2 odds columns (4:1 down to 2:1 and so on). At last the reaction player gets to move and fight. Wait there's more, the initiative player moves then fights again followed by the reaction player moving and fighting. Even with all that moving and fighting it is hard for an initiative NKPA player to quickly break through the fortified hexes south of the DMZ. If a player has gained more than a set number of victory points in a game turn and gained more than his opponent, he becomes the initiative player for the next turn. Usually one player will keep the initiative, if the set total is not reached, the higher scoring player has the initiative but only the last 2 sets of turns are played out. In short if the target is not reached, the next turn will be move, fight, move fight. Unless the victory point totals at the end of that turn are equal, the following turn must follow the full sequence of play with the high scorer gaining the initiative. Two short turns 1 after the other are unlikely. This system entices the reactive player to make some attacks in his 2nd combat phase that he would usually regard as rash, if success will gain him the initiative on the next turn.

The initiative system gives the NKPA an advantage in the early turns. If the South gains and holds the initiative, the NKPA is in trouble. Another Northern advantage is tunnel units, markers that give a -2 to the die roll when attacking across the border. The ROK balances this with quality as well as quantity of units. All units have an effectiveness rating, the highest ratings of the 2 sides in a combat are compared and the difference is applied as a shift in the combat odds. Most NKPA and ROK units are much the same but just look at those yanks. The average Korean weighs in as a 5, all USA units are 7, except 1 that merits an 8. If the USA attacks at 1:1 against a NKPA stack whose best rating is a 5, odds are fought at 3:1. Losses come from the best units 1st 50 the North may be consoled by the loss of a US step in the fighting (reverse step units have a lower rating). Still if he brings in his best units (rated 6) to fight the Americans he risks losing irreplaceable units against USA troops that are often replaceable (US Marines are not replaceable and hence good targets). These same ratings are supposed to be used to determine if a unit has to retreat from cities but the rule appears to have vanished. I play that when a unit has an option not to retreat, Dl 0 is compared to the efficiency rating, if the result is greater, the unit must retreat.

Another problem for the poor NKPA is that of occupying the South. Crisis Korea assumes that all major population centres and military bases are populated with defenders. This prevents any aggressor from walking into an empty city or installation hex. The enemy unit must halt adjacent and next move face a test based on the size and efficiency of the unit to enter, losing all its movement points whether it succeeds or not. If the unit is too wimpy it could lose a step as well as be refused entry (probably not wearing a tie). If a defender is forced out of such a hex in combat, the attacker must pass the test to advance into the hex. There is no restriction on entering hexes of one's own country, even if the enemy has captured these. The NKPA does benefit from this rule if the North is invaded but suffers badly because any breakthrough in the South will grind to a halt outside the 1st installation or city. You can go round but lose out on the victory points for capture and probably have to leave the road, slowing the advance as much as assaulting the place.

A factor that favours neither side is the weather, 50% of the time this will be clear and not affect the game. An overcast result reduces Northern air points more than Southern and reduces the number of helicopter flights per turn from I to 2. Helicopters are used to modify the die roll in combat like air points, because the South have far more choppers this is good news for the North. Storms are rare but bad news. No Northern air points can be used and only 114 of Southern. Units cannot move by helicopters and presumably attack copters cannot fly (the rules do not confirm this). The big problem is that all movement distances are halved and roads are degraded by 1 level. Any major advances are put on hold during storms and new US troops are held back (in Japan). Motorised and mechanised units can only enter mountains (of which there are plenty in Korea) by road and with small roads washed away by storms, some of these units will be unable to move. A storm early in the game can cripple the NKPA advance; a late game storm may turn defeat to narrow victory.

The Advanced Game

The advanced game ought to be called the air game; most of the rules are concerned with these beasts. Most important omission of the basic rules is that of supply. The NKPA can break through ROK lines along the coasts of the ROK but leave a significant number of Southern troops holding the central mountains. In the basic rules these troops will slowly retreat back to the new front line unless the NKPA diverts troops that are badly needed elsewhere to remove them. In the advanced rules supply is handled by tracing a line to stationary supply depots and urban areas or a shorter line to slowly moving supply units. When the supply units get to a suitable spot they can be converted to supply depots. No surprises here, it is pretty easy to keep supply lines open as long as not many depots and units are lost to air and special forces attack. More important are their isolation rules, if a unit cannot trace a line free of enemy ZOCs of any length to an urban area, it is isolated. Isolated units stand a chance of being eliminated at the end of every turn. Alas there is no record of how this is done but a D1O roll of greater than the unit's efficiency seems to do the job. These isolation rules are the only part of the advanced rules that deserve to be used with the basic rules.

Other advanced rules are special forces that attack behind the lines. They are a side-show although the North has a far greater number available so will tend to do best in this area. Good targets are airfields that if hit may damage air units and helicopters. By destroying certain airfields the NKPA can clear various areas of helicopters, the East coast is a good spot to target. The USA can fire cruise missiles at sites in the North which outweighs the NKPA advantage in special forces, supply dumps and airfields are key targets.

Having cleared up the minor stuff, the air rules have to be considered. I must admit to knowing next to nothing about air warfare except from playing the odd computer simulation. Crisis Korea provides an air display to avoid the air units (except helicopters) cluttering up the map; boy do they clutter up the air display. The Northern air force is quite respectable and should do well against the ROK but lacks many planes equipped to bomb and strafe so is limited in its ability to exploit this advantage. When the USA starts to turn up the Northern planes start to vanish. The USA will have plenty of planes to cut up the Northern fighters and to attack NKPA ground forces.

Air superiority is decided by putting planes into a central box, pairing them off and fighting it out. The number of planes surviving on each side decides who will have superiority and to what degree. Oddly this result has no great impact on the game system. True it restricts the ability to move by air transport or airmobile actions. Air units have their ability to detect units for bombing restricted by air superiority but even a side with no superiority is able to bomb some targets adjacent to its own troops. except for a few units like B52s with colossal bombing ratings, bombing will not do a lot of damage. Each target can only be struck once per bombing phase, which limits piling it on. You can hit a target with special forces and bomb it in both strike phases, this ought to take out a supply depot at a cost of a lot of resources, targeting 3 or 4 this way would give a good chance of destroying 1 in a turn. Most planes not committed to the air superiority battle will be used for combat support; the attacker can use 2 and the defender 1 in each combat. The USA has a clear advantage in this field, his aircraft, notably the Al 0 having a far higher die modifier. By use of high efficiency US units supported by ground support aircraft and possibly (near the sea) ships, the USA can build up a hefty odds shift and die roll modifier that can blunt any advance. Air units can only be used once per turn so the NKPA will make a killing if the USA flies all its planes too early in the turn.

Any plane used for combat support or bombing risks a chance of detection. If the target is within the enemy home country, national air detection values decide if a plane can be intercepted or shot at by SAMs or AAA, these are unlikely to down the plane but may cause it to abort or reduce its effect in combat support or bombing. Yes you can bomb the enemy detection rating to reduce the chance of detection and bomb SAMs and AAA to reduce the effects of ground fire. Naturally a hefty superiority of planes is needed to be able to spare enough for missions against enemy detection ratings, SAMs and leave some for bombing combat troops.

Up to this point every thing hangs together, if more planes are put to bomb the enemy defence infrastructure there will be less available for front line duty but hopefully those planes will have an easier time of it. Attacks into a friendly country and all combat support missions do not use this system. The game assumes that they will only be detected by local radar and fired by AAA at a constant value. This local AAA cannot be reduced but can be affected by the presence of Wild Weasel planes and the presence of HQs to direct fire. We assume that these attacks take place over friendly soil and avoid the clutches of enemy detection or, for combat support, the planes hug the ground too well to be picked up. I can visualise this for the VTOL type mission where everything occurs close to the front line. Park the Harrier in the garage, take off from the front drive, bomb next door's should then fly home for tea. Even A10s need a run up and the NKPA planes have quite a way to fly to the front (if things are going well), so why are these planes not detected on take off and bounced en-route? The system may be right although the Gulf War gave the impression of the USA being able to tell how many sugars the Iraqi pilots put in their tea, this again could be pure propaganda rather than hi-tec detection.

This is the very fulcrum on which Crisis Korea's air system balances between success and failure. If a game must have an air system, Flashpoint Golan does not, then it must either appear to be believable or explain to the gamer why its view of reality is valid. Consider Gulf Strike, we assign a stack of planes and place them on the map tracing a route to the target, keep an eye on the range but try to stay out of enemy AWACs, mind that infantry unit, don't want to pick up too much AAA. Detected, lucky there's a fighter in the stack to protect the strike force, a good die roll and were through, hit the target, hopefully avoiding local detection and AAA then off home hoping to outrun any more interceptors. This is all fairly easy to comprehend alas it has to be carried out for every mission and USA planes can fly 3 missions each turn. The air system in Crisis Korea is considerably more abstract, planes do not trace a path along the map but it still differentiates all air units by type and rates them differently for air combat, bombing and combat support. We neither have the hands on "fly every mission" approach nor an abstract, "leave it to the fly boys" system. This middle approach is much better handled by Arabian Nightmare, which also succeeds far better in relating air superiority to the ability to fly missions.

Back at the Ranch

The advanced rules are really too much trouble considering the extended playing time, thankfully they are optional. Considering Crisis Korea on it's basic rules it scores well for simplicity but falls down on game length and lack of scenario choice. A solid attack across the same ground by the NKPA is the basic gameplay in all the game scenarios. of the 2 maps, all the crucial action will take place over a folio sized area, much of which is sea. Amphibious attacks can open things up but the North will be diverting its very best troops from the main front and will have difficulty reinforcing them when he loses control of the seas. An ROK assault on the North by sea is quite feasible but if the USA can spare the troops for this he is probably doing rather well anyway. Modern game fans will probably want Crisis Korea but should not expect to play it often. There is still a gap in the market for a simple fast modern game on a believable major war.

Andy Daglish

Andy Daglish

Crisis Korea '95, amazed you bought it, unless you have a special interest. Counterattack 4 is on the same subject . Sands of War + exp., well I'd like to play it. The maps look nice. Using amphibious units is of interest. I see that the other games in this series are less popular (Stand and Die, Battlefield Europe) than I would have expected, especially with Armenia/Georgia/Yugoslavia in the news all the time. Of course these are not really gameable because too little happens (sieges are boring).