Destination: South Atlantic

Some weeks ago, I mentioned that I had added the game “Where There Is Discord” to my small array of solitaire wargames. I even managed a follow-up post concerning the 1982 conflict between the UK and Argentina in the South Atlantic.

D-Day at Omaha Beach is off into the Game Closet, and the Big Table has been cleared for action in the misty southern waters.

When I write “cleared”, I really mean it. WTID is a physically big game, with a large footprint on the tabletop. The two-piece hard-mounted game board is big enough on its own, but you also have to make space to keep almost all of the game components within easy reach at all times. And you’ve got to have room enough somewhere to make a copious number of die rolls without whanging the dice into all of the counters, markers and cards.

That’s not a knock on the game, mind you. WTID’s graphic design is very impressive. The rulebook is a bit blah-blah-blah, but all of the other components are very snappy indeed.

Also please note that I’m choosing to refer to it as a “game board”, rather than a map. The geographical illustration of the Argentine coastline serves simply as a base layer for all of the boxes where your cardboard forces deploy and where various markers and cards are laid out. “Movement” and “location” in WTID are both abstracted in the game’s mechanisms.

If you’re looking for a detailed historical simulation of the British Task Force’s actions in the Falklands, well, this ain’t it. As the designer, Dan Hodges, points out, such attempts are best left to detailed naval warfare sims like the Harpoon game system. Rather, Where There Is Discord is more what I would characterize as ‘historical impressionism’. As the player, you face a series of decisions and situations that are broadly analogous to those encountered by various historical actors during the brief conflict in the South Atlantic. The goal of the design, then, is to give some insights into the difficulties of conducting such a remote and politically-complex campaign.

Throughout the game, the player is cast in a number of different roles. Most often you are the Task Force commander, concerned with the campaign’s thorny military planning and execution. However, a large number of the cards in the angry little Events deck will force you into the perspective of a more distant political leader or diplomat. Do you accept a 24-hour ceasefire or hazard a decline in world opinion? Intercept a clandestine shipment of Exocets bound for Argentina at the risk of international outrage if your operation is uncovered?

It’s a complex mix of decisions which, fortuitously, lead every game in a different direction. Many solitaire games risk falling into some sort of broad script. WTID seems to avoid that through a combination of numerous operational variables and difficult ‘higher level’ decision points.

The sequence of play has more steps than does the assembly of a nuclear weapon, but at its core the game is not complex. Most detection and combat actions succeed – simply – on a die roll of ’1′, with the variable being the die type used for the activity. The game includes d4, d6, d8, d10 and d12 – plus some actions that require a sum of 2d6. A few activities require a d10 roll against a set target number. Anti-air combat uses the dice a bit differently, but that’s not complicated either.

I will, however, offer the opinion that in creating the game’s statistical model the designer either had a strokeĀ of genius or a moment of insanity.

Personally, I enjoy games that model systems like radar, sonar and missile weaponry with something less than their ‘proving ground’ efficiency. Things go FUBAR in this game a lot. Most detection attempts and most attacks fail miserably. There’s a lot of tension and anticipation in the buildup, the launch officer pushes the button and … the fire control computer starts singing “Daisy”. Welcome to the age of remote-control warfare, circa 1982.

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