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Return to the 38th Parallel

Massive Conventional Conflict Plays Out in 'Next War: Korea'

May. 28, 2013 - 11:42AM   |  
By MICHAEL PECK   |   Comments
The 'Next War: Korea' board game uses a paper map to simulate a modern conflict.
The 'Next War: Korea' board game uses a paper map to simulate a modern conflict. (GMT Games)
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The 'Next War: Korea' board game uses a paper map to simulate a modern conflict. / GMT Games

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The thought of war erupting on the Korean Peninsula is scary enough. But what’s really frightening is that no one can be sure what kind of conflict it will be. A battle of ballistics — their missiles against ours? A full-scale North Korean invasion of the South? Or an invasion of the North to secure weapons of mass destruction from a regime starving into collapse?

“Next War: Korea” from GMT Games will not provide all the answers. But if you believe that a second Korean War will be a massive conventional war, this game will provide the opportunity to explore how the conflict might unfold.

“Next War: Korea” is a board game played on a 44-by-34-inch paper map stretching from Pyongyang in the north to Daegu, south of Seoul. The 912 half-inch cardboard pieces include ground forces from North Korea, South Korea, the U.S., the Commonwealth, Japan and China. Units are mostly division- and brigade-level, plus a plethora of fixed-wing, helicopter and naval forces.

There are numerous types of units, including armor, infantry (mech, foot, airmobile and light), marines, paratroopers, artillery, special forces and headquarters. Ground units are rated for attack, defense and movement capabilities, helicopters for range and combat support, and fixed-wing aircraft for pilot skill, air-to-air, combat support, strike and stand-off abilities.

The game is the first of GMT's Next War series of future conflict games (a Chinese invasion of Taiwan is up next). There is a 40-page booklet of common rules for the series, plus a 24-page booklet for the Korea game itself. This sounds complex, but it’s not too hard once you sit down to play it. Each game turn, which simulates three to five days of real time, involves the players taking turns to move and fight, with combat resolved by rolling dice.

There are rules for airmobile, airborne and amphibious movement, logistics, special forces, HQs and chemical warfare, as well as a somewhat elaborate air warfare model involving air superiority and strike missions. Aircraft must survive fire from an abstract air defense network that itself can be attacked and suppressed.

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There are some interesting wrinkles to the system. For urban combat, even if a player drives enemy forces from a city or installation, he must then conduct a special “clearing operation” — with a chance of suffering additional losses — to rid the area of hostiles before he can finally control it.

Detection through air, electronic or special forces recon is important; only a detected HQ or installation can be targeted by aircraft, cruise missiles or special forces strikes. There is also a U.N. resolution rule where dice are rolled to determine whether the U.N. has mandated a cease-fire. Players can ignore it and keep shooting, but are penalized victory points each turn they do.

The Korea-specific rules add North Korean “Scud points” that can disrupt U.S. and ROK installations and supply dumps, or hit Japan. The U.S. can attempt to suppress those points. There are also North Korean light infantry , sniper and artillery brigades, North and South Korean mobilization of reserves, refugees, and some colorful optional rules such as stealth aircraft and North Korea gaining combat advantages from having stolen U.S. and ROK war plans over the last few years. There are several scenarios to choose from, from an all-out North Korean invasion across the Demilitarized Zone to an Inchon-style amphibious landing behind the advancing North Korean army.

Keep in mind that the game was designed in 2012 and, like most games on future wars, has omissions. For example, the game doesn’t reflect the possibility that badly fed North Korean conscripts might not fight to save their Dear Leader. Or, given the effects of sequestration and the war-weariness of the American public, it’s tough for a game to predict exactly what forces and capabilities the U.S. could or would choose to deploy in Korea in the future. But “Next War: Korea” is a well-thought-out simulation of a conflict that perhaps is better left as theoretical. ■

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