SGS Nato's Nightmare Concepts and Presentation

The game explores the possibility of the Cold War turning into a direct confrontation between NATO and Warsaw Pact, in the NORTHAG (NORTHern Army Group, consisting of the British, Belgian, Dutch, German I Corps and Danish sectors) and CENTAG (CENtral Army Group, consisting of the US, German II & III Corps & French sectors).  Particular focus is placed along what was then known as the ‘Inner-German Border’ (IGB); the separation between the Federal Republic of Germany (West Germany) and the German Democratic Republic (East Germany).

The underlying premise is built around the realistic possibility that Kremlin hardliners ‘remove’ Gorbachev early during his rule of the USSR (historically they waiting until it was too late to have any real chance of success). 

Obsessed with the belief of a surprise attack by NATO against the Eastern Bloc, gripped by a paranoia that caused them to misunderstand or misinterpret even benign actions of the western nations as sinister; the Soviets were unable to comprehend – let alone accept – that their own citizens were increasingly dissatisfied with the Soviet economic system that prioritized ‘guns over butter’.  People understood the need for tanks; but why, they asked, couldn’t they have washing machines as well? Instead of hearing their peoples’ concerns, the Politburo blamed ‘agents provocateurs’ – universally from the CIA – behind the dissent and growing unrest, while pumping more money into producing ever-more guns. 

As it became clear to the Soviets that not only were Western nations able to build better guns than they could, but that Western citizens were relatively satisfied with democracy,  their governments and their standard of living that allowed them the luxuries their Eastern counterparts desired, they realized the Marxist prediction of western decline had been wrong. If they expected to triumph over capitalism, they must strike first – and they must strike now. 

Meanwhile, the United States military was in the midst of a revolution in Doctrine. The Army had ‘AirLand Battle’ – the premise being ‘cut off the tail (logistics) and the head (combat forces) will wither and die’. The US Navy’s even more radical ‘Lehman Doctrine’ for neutralizing the strategic Kola Peninsula – home to the majority of the Soviet Navy, Strategic Naval Aviation, several Early Warning radar sites and most importantly, the ‘bastion’ (an area south of Novaya Zemlya island & west of Murmansk where Soviet SLBMs deployed to in wartime) were of utmost concern. If this area could be neutralized, Soviet Strategic Power would be greatly reduced. On top of this the US was fielding the newest of weapons across the spectrum; Trident SLBM, the B-1, MX, M-1, M-2, Ticonderoga Cruisers… the list went on and on.

SGS NATO's Nightmare

After years of neglect in the 1970s, by 1985, NATO was also well into a modernization of their military equipment. The Bundeswehr finally had a well equipped force of remarkable power, necessary to carry out their modern aufstragstaktik philosophy. The Dutch had modernized their forces such that their Army was now able to meet the previously untenable expectation of occupying their defensive positions along the IGB within 24 hours of alert. New technologies and theories at the operational level made it possible for NATO to consider a fight conventionally instead of ‘immediately going nuclear’ against a numerically superior Pact – an idea previously considered impossible. 
None of this actually meant NATO was interested in striking at the Pact. 

For NATO, such a war represents a nightmare in many ways. It would certainly be a Total War of an unimaginable destructiveness fought conventionally – and mostly on NATO territory – but the bigger concern was the use of tactical nuclear weapons. While NATO may have been increasingly capable of stopping a major offensive in the NORTHAG & CENTAG sectors without resorting to such weapons, the open question was to what extent would the USSR be tempted to ‘go nuclear’ seeing its offensive stalling? Worse, what if a NATO counter-offensive pushed into East German territory? Might that be the catalyst inciting Pact citizens to rebel? Ronald Reagan had openly asked his cabinet if the USA could send troops into Poland to help the ‘Solidarity’ movement gain their freedom…

SGS NATO's Nightmare - US infantry
SGS NATO's Nightmare - US infantry

The title of the game explores this dilemma: the nightmare lies in a terrible choice for NATO. How to stop the offensive of the Pact – which considers itself threatened by the defensive alliance – at the cost of colossal losses and destruction. 

The Warsaw Pact must act quickly or it will no longer be able to do so by the end of the 1980s. Additionally the USSR must make the consequential decision to employ tactical nuclear weapons. The Kremlin will not just sit and wait, but will strike before being struck.

SGS NATO's Nightmare - Russian infantry
SGS NATO's Nightmare - Russian infantry

Scenarios

The game is built in the style of “old-fashioned” wargames, consisting of a basic version and an advanced version. The advanced version includes several new concepts never seen before in an SGS-game; it features significantly more counters (ie units – almost 3,000!) and the gameplay options and mechanisms are significantly more complex compared to the basic version (while remaining playable).
Almost all the proposed scenarios will be designed in both advanced and basic versions.

The purpose of the game is to explore different situations, ranging from small engagements in limited sectors of the front to full campaigns over large parts of the map or, for the grand campaign, the entire map.

The complete campaign : played on the entire map (the NORTHAG and CENTAG sectors, from the Franco-Belgian borders in the west to far into Poland in the east), with most of the counters (not all at the same time!).

• This campaign is available in two variants: NATO prepared and Warsaw Pact surprise. In the first, NATO is ready, a majority of its forces are mobilized but the level of preparation of the Pact is also at its maximum from tensions which have been growing steadily since 1983. The WP Surprise is a variant where in order to achieve maximum surprise, the Pact marches straight from their barracks with no preparation, and the NATO armies are absolutely unprepared.

SGS NATO’s Nightmare
Main screen

NORTHAG-BAOR 85 : an intermediate campaign in the NORTHAG sector which sees the confrontation of West German, British, Dutch, Belgians, Danes – and over time, American REFORGER units as well as a French Army Corps and even the French Rapid Action Corps strategic reserve; opposed by the Soviets, Poles and East Germans. As intermediate as it is, the scenario represents around forty hours of play!

• This intermediate campaign is available in two variants: NATO prepared and Warsaw Pact surprise. In the first, NATO is ready, a majority of its forces are mobilized but the level of preparation of the Pact is almost at its maximum from tensions which have been growing steadily since 1983. Truly a titanic battle. The WP Surprise is a variant where in order to achieve maximum surprise, the Pact marches straight from their barracks with no preparation, and the NATO armies are absolutely unprepared.

CENTAG 85 : an intermediate campaign in NATOs central sector, from the NORTHAG zone  South to the Austria / Switzerland borders.  It sees American troops, West German and Canadians on one side (with the gradual arrival of French reinforcements: 1st and 2nd Corps and possibly the Rapid Action Force if not committed to NORTHAG), while for the Warsaw Pact, the Soviets, Czechoslovaks and the Hungarians.  Options allow the Pact player to invade Austria in an attempt to flank the NATO front. In doing so, Austrian forces can enter the fray despite the country not being in NATO.  Additionally, the invasion of Austria causes the arrival of Italian reinforcements in the south.

• This campaign is available in two variants: NATO prepared and Warsaw Pact surprise. In the first, NATO is ready, a majority of its forces are mobilized but the level of preparation of the Pact is almost at its maximum from tensions which have been growing steadily since 1983. The WP Surprise is a variant where in order to achieve maximum surprise, the Pact marches straight from their barracks with no preparation, and the NATO armies are absolutely unprepared.

SGS NATO’s Nightmare
Loading screen

Österreich hält fest! (Austria Holds On!) : A medium scenario that focuses specifically on the invasion of Austria. The Austrian forces appear weak at first glance, but they have surprising defensive capabilities and the Pact can quickly get bogged down. At the same time, Italian reinforcements arrive, many of them of excellent quality, such as the Alpini mountain troops. Some West German forces like the Gebirgsjaeger, may also intervene.

FAR 85 : a short scenario freely inspired by the game FAR 90 published in the magazine Casus Belli n°40 of October 1987; the action takes place around Munich, with the hypothesis of an engagement of the French Rapid Action Force (in contrast to expectations that it would likely enter in the NORTHAG sector).

Schleswig-Holstein : a short scenario where the action focuses in the southern AFNORTH sector of Denmark and Germany above the Elbe, with the particular presence of the formidable Panzergrenadierdivision-6. 
While geographically small, the battle encompasses considerable forces, the equivalent of an army-corps with over 30,000 men per side.

Baltic Fleet : a short scenario which only exists in an advanced version (no naval in the basic version of the game) and which presents the naval air mechanics developed for NATO’s Nightmare (finely distinguishing ship types, detailed battle phases, with simple but effective means of translating electronic warfare to an operational scale).

Gameplay

One player plays the Warsaw Pact, i.e. the USSR, East Germany, Poland, Czechoslovakia and Hungary.

The other player embodies NATO, i.e. the United States, West Germany, Great Britain, Netherlands, Belgium and Denmark. France is also present, even though it was not integrated into NATO’s command, because France would be committed to the war automatically by its troops occupying Berlin. Italy is likely to come into play in the event of an invasion of Austria or from Warsaw Pact forces transiting Yugoslavia. Additionally, in the main campaign and intermediate CENTAG campaign where NATO is prepared, there may even be a Spanish army corps that comes into play after transiting across France.

Austria becomes a belligerent nation, with its order of battle played by the NATO player if the Warsaw Pact decides to invade Austria in the grand campaign and/or CENTAG campaign. If the DLC mentioned above materializes, Switzerland will operate on the same model as Austria – under NATO.

Generally :

– The Pact has numerous land and air forces available at the start of the scenarios. However, it lacked the ability to sustain the invasion over time.  As time passes, the risk increases of seeing a collapse of its allies (Poland, Czechoslovakia and Hungary) and with it the need to opt for an extremely costly strategy of repression to maintain the WP and likely cost victory points,  while reducing ever more the threshold regarding nuclear release. The same goes for the logistics system which, as time passes, is likely to collapse with catastrophic consequences for the units in the field.

The resources available to the Warsaw Pact are deliberately misleading and what initially appears to be extraordinary power can quickly turn into… Warsaw Pact’s Nightmare!

– NATO is in more or less constant difficulty depending on the variant played (NATO prepared / WP surprise). It is not a question of a cliché “the Red hordes of the Pact faced by the valiant NATO forces which only defeat the “mujiks” thanks to their heroism and their tactical ingenuity. More prosaically (and in terms of realism), it is necessary for NATO to absorb a terrible initial shock, made up of tens of divisions & thousands of planes. Even if prepared, NATO will be hard pressed to hold – but if they can manage, the tide may turn.

German territorial defense will play an important role, buying time for NATO, but it will not be able to turn the tide on its own. The fine management of the aerial tool, of the ground forces which can block the breakthroughs of the pact and maybe even crush them, is then crucial. But beware : even a successful start to the game does not mean that the Pact will not regain the initiative. Blocked early on, the Pact can still come back during the game: by inflicting far too much attrition on NATO; or costly NATO counter-attacks that burn-out western forces; or creating so many breakthroughs in the front that NATO cannot plug them all; or even destroying POMCUS sites so that there is no real strategic reserve. As you see, in a span of two or three turns, the situation can be reversed!

To allow players to define their strategy in their command area (NORTHAG, CENTAG, etc), many starting options are available. For example, in the prepared grand campaign variant the Pact player can, in addition to being 100% ready, decide that the general mobilization has been triggered for several weeks already… The NATO player can decide to not to receive reinforcement from the 4th Marine Amphibious Brigade in Denmark in order to send it to Norway instead. Each option will have a requisite VP cost or gain, and there are many, many options.

Replayability is considerable: starting options allow the NATO player to adopt alternative deployments, to secretly mobilize various Territorial forces, begin defensive positions, etc. The pact player can launch an amphibious operation against Denmark or on the shores of Schleswig-Holstein, and even reinforce it at a relatively high cost (lack of landing means), etc.

If the battle takes place within the NORTHAG or CENTAG sector, world events are taken into consideration through dozens of random events that a player must weigh the pros and cons of invoking in the pre battle phase. Will the Pact invade Finland & Sweden? Will a surprise operation against the Bosphorus & Dardanelles straits be launched? The gain in VP from each choice is substantial, but it will have a monetary cost reflected in diverted men & material that would otherwise reinforce the players’ on-map forces. In other words, success in these ‘outside’ areas may cost you victory in your on-map battle.

NATO Victory in the battle for the Atlantic will very likely increase the flow of reinforcements and replacements. In the Middle East, Moscow’s allies are being torn to pieces – will a raid by Soviet special forces to cut the Suez Canal (with a resulting high cost in victory points) provide much needed relief?… What if China, always a wild card, attacks the USSR, which quickly escalates to a nuclear exchange; forcing the Soviets to peace negotiations, thus ending the scenario right then? There will be situations that are out of the players control that affect the battle. 

SGS NATO’s Nightmare takes place in Europe, but events outside your control and the consequences of the war also develop in the rest of the world. The player witnesses it, receives the positive effects, suffers the negative consequences and continues on with his orders…

SGS NATO’s Nightmare
French Paratrooper RPIMa
SGS NATO’s Nightmare
US Air Assault
SGS NATO’s Nightmare
Soviet Paratrooper.

Scale

The scale of play is most often at the division or brigade level. Groupings of smaller units also exist. A few rare land units are at battalion scale, in particular “abstract” unit counters that represent defensive positions (i.e. ATGMs barrages). Not very effective, but nevertheless likely to block vital progress for several crucial hours… The air units are, depending on the side played, squadrons, regiments divisions & wings.

In both cases, there are many “abstractions”. For example, in land forces, units that are considered to be detached from larger units and grouped together for greater efficiency. They reflect what frequently occurs in modern conflicts, with the mixing of various units, which means that the theoretical, formal orders of battle, known before the conflicts, are quickly transformed into an incredible mess of units intermingled, formed, dissolved and reintegrated or attached to other larger units, reconstituted, etc.  We will thus find Battlegroups of a mix of infantry, armor, engineers, artillery, reconnaissance units… They are not always simply smaller combat forces: they may play a role in specific phases of battle (i.e. EW jamming in prebattle or during battle with specific EW counters), or they may only provide a bonus – or even a penalty – to the combat units they are fighting alongside.  For example, the logistics units of the pact bring bonuses in attack and movement but a penalty to morale, knowing that they bring above all ammunition and fuel at the expense of food, medicine & mail for the soldiers…

For air forces, these are most often “mission-specific counters”. They represent a particular type of mission with an impact on operations at the operational scale.  For example, US F-4G mission counters used in conjunction with electronic warfare mission counters of EF-111s (also mission counters). The latter will “take” the losses of abstract Pact anti-aircraft units (or formed units with intrinsic anti-aircraft capabilities) while the former will target anti-aircraft defenses during combat rounds which correspond to the suppression of enemy defenses in the battle phase (SEAD).

A region corresponds to more or less about thirty kilometers from one side to the other and a game turn corresponds to about two days of real time.

 

Players and camps

In summary, players will not only engage in detailed military operations and battles (on land and in the air) in the central sector of Europe, but also experience some of the military, political, and diplomatic aspects of the war elsewhere (the Balkans, Scandinavia, the Middle East, the Far East), most of these aspects being handled by the game in the form of cards or by the occurrence of events. However, the player can sometimes influence the situation. Like sending Marines to Norway rather than Denmark makes it near impossible for the Pact to win on NATO’s northern flank; fighting can drag on, and clashes still be ongoing as the game ends, but the Pact will likely not win…

In the military field, you must manage the movements and maneuvers of troops, the organization of aviation, HQ and all kinds of support, breakthroughs, exploitations, establishment of logistics networks (with fixed sites, railway counters which provide replacements, supplies – all of which can be destroyed by enemy ‘deep strike’ bombers) or defensive positions.

Many other gameplay aspects – such as special forces, chemical warfare, tactical nuclear strikes, as well as popular resistance, troop training, force replenishment, unit rotation management, or war behind enemy lines – are also represented, usually managed by cards (but also counters : tactical nuclear strikes, chemical strikes…).

With more than 500 cards in the main campaign – several hundred of which are unique – the resulting gameplay will consist of random events, alternate deployments, etc so that no single play-through will be like another, even against the AI.

And the game is undeniably a “monster game”, with almost 3,000 counters.

SGS NATO’s Nightmare
Refugees
SGS NATO’s Nightmare
NATO symbols

Basic and advanced scenarios

As mentioned above, some of the campaigns and scenarios will be available in two versions: basic and advanced.

In the basic scenarios, the number of units will be limited to the main units (divisions and brigades, some supporting resources as well as  air-wings or air-divisions) and gameplay will be facilitated by a lower density. This will help players who want to experience the game and its environment without going into too much complexity.

In advanced builds, dozens of units are added to give all the necessary chrome and flavor to veteran players, who want to see how all the details of modern warfare (resources, electronic warfare, doctrines) are covered. It should be noted that if the complexity is higher, the concepts are intended to be coherent and therefore, ultimately, simple to understand and learn, but on the other hand much more difficult to attain synergy in implementation “in the field”.

Visual aspect

Each unit has its own look, with beautifully drawn and accurate original images of soldiers, vehicles, planes or ships.

For players who are veteran wargamers and for those who would like a more “professional” appearance or simply to have an overview of the theater of operations during the game with the zoom out function, units can appear on the map in NATO STANAG symbols. Changing is simple : the player just has to go to the options, activate the display of NATO symbols, return to the game and… the map will be covered with units with the NATO symbol. No need to load folders, zip original files or save/quit game.

Duration

Variable according to the scenarios – from a few hours for the shortest battles, to 100+ hours for the complete campaign in the advanced version. For example, NORTHAG-BAOR (NATO / Pact ready for war variant) can run over forty hours of play in the advanced version.

SGS NATO’s Nightmare
Soviet SAM

Balance

Neither side has a specific advantage overall; the balance of power alternates in the main and intermediate campaigns (advantage to the Pact at the start, then swings to NATO later, but the Pact can make a comeback towards the end…).

Both sides are playable and offer a variety of strategic and operational options throughout the game. However, a game that runs well does not mean a landslide victory in the end, even against the AI !

Detailed scenario specific information is available by clicking the lowercase letter “i” in the scenario briefing section, to help you get started in the game.

SGS NATO’s Nightmare
US F-4
SGS NATO’s Nightmare

Many thanks to Marc Bellizzi for his invaluable help in the evolution of the project, for his many tests with his wise eyes and for his comments on the tests in question and finally, for his proofreading and for improving this text at the origin in French.