Help me fight the Northern Fleet in a wargame :)
March 20, 2018 6:15 PM   Subscribe

Given my recent interest in Cold War-era technothrillers, I'm also interested in games that depict conflicts in the period. One is Northern Fleet, a simulation of a hypothetical war in 1996. The catch is that this map is required for play, and not available in a screen-reader accessible format. It seems to have a bunch of grid squares, but they're apparently laid out in a somewhat unconventional way. How can I get the information I need from this in order to plan effective strategies?

The game only gives grid references, such as "m 22," and occasionally drops a city name, but doesn't otherwise display or explain the map at all. Apparently it was intended to be marked up with grease pencils or an equivalent. My knowledge of the geography is sketchy at best.

As a bonus question, what are people's favorite de-classified resources for US navy information? I feel like I'm at sea, without much information on doctrine and such to depend on.
posted by Alensin to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (25 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Would it help if we describe the map? Is there a standard screen reader accessible format?
posted by zamboni at 8:51 PM on March 20, 2018

Response by poster: Not really, pretty much "anything that isn't a picture," in some form will do. A spreadsheet is one idea i had but the orientation seems off for that. I'm basically going to need to find a way to keep track of unit positions, and hopefully not strain my brain too hard keeping everything in my head :)
posted by Alensin at 8:54 PM on March 20, 2018

Response by poster: To clarify, there is no standard screen reader format for this kind of thing. :) I didn't mean to suggest that describing the map wouldn't help.
posted by Alensin at 9:53 PM on March 20, 2018

I've not played this (yet! Looks interesting) but to flip the question on the head slightly: from your reading so far of the rules, what is the most important thing to know positionally for gameplay?

Basically, I can think of a couple of ways you might be able to describe that map in a structured fashion, but like you say it needs to be a system that compliments the way the game plays so that it sits easily in the head.

Will try and read the rules myself at lunch time.
posted by garius at 1:48 AM on March 21, 2018

The picture is a simplified map showing Greenland, Iceland, the top of the UK, Norway and parts of northern Russia. The land is all shown as brown, with no inland detail. The sea is shown in several colours: yellow for coastal areas, pale blue for sea near land and dark blue for deep ocean.

There are three regions of the sea which are highlighted in yellow, marked "Arctic Ocean Bastion", "Kara Sea Bastion" and "Barents Sea Bastion".

All the islands and land masses are labelled with names. Several seas are labelled. A handful of major cities are labelled.

The map has a grid overlay, with columns 1 to 30 and rows A to U (so 630 squares).

(I imagine it would be very hard to play this game text-only, as I expect there are lots of spatial relationships that are important, but people do manage to play chess blindfolded, so maybe it will be possible if you are determined! Interesting question. I wish you luck.)

I have the same questions as garius: how do you want the map transcribed?
posted by richb at 4:15 AM on March 21, 2018
posted by mikek at 6:54 AM on March 21, 2018

Response by poster: So a few things…

The locations of the bastions are important. The game emphasizes both defending and attacking them, as they are where the Russian missile submarines tend to cluster. I steer taskforces by grid reference, so can order a unit to a 16, or what have you. I don’t think it will allow you to inadvertently order a unit on to land. Airstrikes and so forth are launched both from carriers and from land basis, the coordinates of which are not given, but apparently have a range for air cover which I don’t remember at the moment.

As for Cold Waters, I will definitely give it a look, but I don’t know how likely it is to be accessible for my purposes :-) I hope this is at least a little informative, I’m not quite sure how else the rules really address the map specifically, they refer a lot to specific swears in intelligence reports and so forth, but getting a picture of the relationship between the various areas is very difficult for me at the moment.
posted by Alensin at 7:17 AM on March 21, 2018

Response by poster: The rules can be found here. They include some notes on strategy and so forth, but it doesn’t quite help me figure out the map layout :-)
posted by Alensin at 7:27 AM on March 21, 2018

Best answer: Okay. My initial thoughts.

The map has been described in detail, well, above. But as a game board it can best be summarised by saying:

- There are two large masses. One occupies the top, left (in map terms) the other the bottom right. There are smaller land masses and the bastions around them. Top left is Greenland. Bottom Right is Norway/USSR.
- Both large masses take up roughly the same proportion of the map. They take up roughly 60% of the horizontal space and 45% of the vertical space.
- Row L is the only clear water horizontal row on the map (with the exception of one square of land separating it from the waters of the Kara Sea Bastion, which can only be entered by north or south).

This means that every square can be measured relative to these large land masses in some way, with a short section where it can be measured relative to both Greenland and Norway, and also measured relative to that clear centre line.

So, one option is to give each square an additional relative position using (for thematic effect!) the NATO alphabet.

So lets have our sub start at R6 Golf telling you that it's south of Greenland, but nowhere near either the bastions, or even the space between Norway and Greenland which I assume becomes a bit of a 'hot zone' due to the fact it's a narrower space.

Few turns later that ship moves to. P14 Golf November though and now you know it's skirting into that hot zone. So any other ship / city / plane with a Golf November designation is nearby. It's still south of that map mid-point though (L)

Few more turns and that ship is in L21 November. So still hugging the coast, but west of Greenland now so no threat (or cover) from Greenland to the north. That can only come if Greenland dispatches things on a diagonal.

Next turn...

L22 Uniform! Shhhhh everyone. We're in Soviet waters now, skirting the coast. Greenland is behind us to the diagonal north and we know Norway is east (because L21 was November) and down a tiny bit.

Still undetected, next turn we're in L23 Uniform BASTION, so the Bastion just north of the soviet coast line, but close to Norway.

Time to hunt us some bears...

The same logic applies to the other land masses as well. So the Faroes are Q10 Golf - which tells you that they're pretty far south of Greenland, but also (I'd as imagine you'd start to pick up over time) close to the start of the Golf November gap.

I suppose one test might be if you tell me where you think these three subs are, in relation to the key landmasses/countries if I give you some key facts first:

- The Golf November gap stretches across columns 14 to 19
- The November Uniform border is crossed at column 21/22
- Greenland's lower left edge is at row K, but cuts away upwards so that by the end of the Golf November gap it is at row E
- Norway does the opposite. It starts at row R (at the beginning of the gap) and then levels out at row M.

So tell me where you think these attack subs are, in relation to Greenland, Norway and the USSR (and the game board):

SUB 1: L5 Golf
SUB 2: O16 Golf November
SUB 3: C27 Uniform

That heading in a useful direction descriptive grid wise? If not, I'll have a re-think!
posted by garius at 8:45 AM on March 21, 2018 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Let's see…

Sub 1 seems to be southwest of Greenland, if I'm understanding the layout correctly, near the western edge of the board.

Sub 2 is roughly in the middle of the gap, closer to the Norwegian coast, middle-ish of the board, too.

Sub 3 is way east, up by the northern part of the board and, presumably, northern USSR?

This seems to be helping conceptualize things a bit, if I'm getting my positions right. :)
posted by Alensin at 10:11 AM on March 21, 2018 [1 favorite]

Absolutely spot on!

(Could also use Sierra rather than Uniform for 'Soviet', by the way, if it seemed a more natural signifier)

Some quick tests:

- If you were launching a bombing mission against Kudenstroy airbase (N23 Uniform), would you be better doing it from Norway or Greenland?

- There are entrances to the Kara Sea Bastion from the North (H27 Uniform, H28 Uniform) and the south (L27 Uniform). All other things being equal, which of those three subs from earlier should I try and infiltrate it with?
posted by garius at 10:37 AM on March 21, 2018

As an addendum to all this, by the way, Tom Clancy's the Hunt for Red October is actually a pretty good read, if you treat it as a 'period piece' and a surprisingly good layman's primer on this kind of stuff (both tactics, attitude and terminology).

Right now, I'm actually reading The Deadly Trade about the history of submarines in general. Its stuff on U-Boats in WW1 has been pretty good so far, but I obviously don't know how well it covers the Cold War yet!
posted by garius at 11:03 AM on March 21, 2018 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Awesome. :)

Okay, first question is definitely Norway, since Greenland is much farther away, strategically speaking.

And it looks like sub 3 has a straight shot into the bastion, whereas the others would have to go quite a ways to get into position first.
posted by Alensin at 11:06 AM on March 21, 2018


Full disclosure: the positions of the other Bastions and what you thought was in them would affect which of those subs you'd use strategically in game I suspect. Do you feel like this approach gives enough of a 'gut feel' for positioning though that it allows brain space for strategic thinking on top of positioning?

Also, from my quick read of the rules, it sounds like terrain is important. So one option would be to add LAND/ICE/SEA to the end of each reference.

So B20 November ICE would be top of the map, north of Norway, just off the Greenland coast (the gap ends at 19) ice pack (so Subs only). What do you think?
posted by garius at 11:26 AM on March 21, 2018

Response by poster: That sounds very useful indeed. :)

I will have to do some reading on various ship classes, I feel like that might help me get a handle on the other end of things, so to speak. The game does *seem* to simulate quite a lot about specific hardware, but it's hard to tell what is going on internally.
posted by Alensin at 11:40 AM on March 21, 2018

Best answer: I don't think we've done a full listing of airbases yet, which are labelled by a small AIR in the relevant square, along with an adjacent name. For bases located on islands, I've also given listings of grid references occupied by the island. (More or less.)

Location (Grid references for island)
Grid reference of base: BASETYPE (Base Name)

NATO has four air bases, Keflavik, Faroes, Shetlands and Orkneys.
Iceland (L7,M7:M9,N7:N9)
N7: AIR (Keflavik)

Faroes (Q10)
Q10: AIR (Faroes)

Shetlands (R11)
R11: AIR (Shetlands)

Orkneys (S10)
S10: AIR (Orkneys)

I think the USSR has eight:
Four grouped together in the Kola Peninsula. The annotations for the first three are a little vague. At first I thought it was an icon for a radar installation. There's a box labelled AIR in N22, with a line pointing to a zigzag that's mostly in M22, but M22 makes sense from a geographical perspective.
M22: AIR (Pechenga, Polarnyy, Murmansk)
N23: AIR (Kildenstroy)

Two down in the White Sea
Q24: AIR (Arkhalgel'sk, Severodvinsk)

and two on islands to the north:
Svalbard (G22:G23,H22:H23)
H22: AIR (Svalbard)

Novaya Zemlya (G26,H26,I26,J26)
I26: AIR (Novaya Zemlya)

The computer controlled Norway has two:
Q16: AIR (Trondheim)
O17: AIR (Bodo)

The rules claim that naval bases are marked. My guess is that it's any base that's located in a non-land square.
J21: (Bear Is.)
L14: (Jan Meyen)
are labelled, but lack the AIR marker, so I guess they could be naval bases.

N23 (Kildenstroy), H22 (Svalbard) and I26 (Novaya Zemlya) are located on yellow land squares - everything else has a partially blue square, and thus is likely a naval base.
posted by zamboni at 4:11 PM on March 21, 2018 [1 favorite]

Thanks Zamboni - I've been pulling together a spreadsheet and that's perfect for crosschecking airbases!
posted by garius at 4:16 PM on March 21, 2018

Best answer: Right. Here's my first stab at a spreadsheet covering the whole map. Cell references correspond to their grid square (even though the map axes and standard spreadsheet axes are actually the opposite way round).

So, basically, if you want to know what grid square H8 is like, you just go to cell H8 in the spreadsheet.

Would be grateful if someone can sanity check it. It's gone midnight here and my brain is starting to fail!
posted by garius at 4:58 PM on March 21, 2018 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: garius, thanks so much for all your help with this. The spreadsheet looks on first blush like it's going to help me a great deal, if I can remember to mentally twist the orientation around :) Of course, I can't see the original to sanity check more completely.

As an unrelated follow-up, sadly Cold Waters is about as inaccessible as i expected. It looks like it would be a lot of fun, but my programs can't pick up anything useful from it without the aid of OCR, and that's not a great way to play a game.
posted by Alensin at 7:10 PM on March 21, 2018

Would be grateful if someone can sanity check it.

Here's a first pass at sanity checking. Working on the assumption that unless it's yellow, it's not LAND, and bases in SEA squares are naval - not sure if that second assumption is supported.

G29: ICE
G19, H18, J15, K2:K13, L27 are >50% ice, with some sea. Curious how these are handled in game.
H23: ICE
N7: Golf SEA AIR NAVAL Keflavik
O17, Q16, Q24, Q10, R11, S10 may need NAVAL
posted by zamboni at 5:57 AM on March 22, 2018

G19, H18, J15, K2:K13, L27 are >50% ice, with some sea. Curious how these are handled in game.

Yeah, I was unsure what this means - i.e. whether they're ICE or SEA. Alensin - what do the rules say/suggest?

Will fix the others now. Cheers! Will see if i can make dynamic "terrain only" and "political only" tabs as well.
posted by garius at 7:08 AM on March 22, 2018

Best answer: Right. This spreadsheet is now updated and has more options/tabs.

The worksheets/tabs are:

Full Grid - the original version, with grid references matching cell references (so flipped on its side, so to speak). Includes zamboni's corrections.
Terrain Only - Same as above, but only shows Terrain (and bases)
Country Only - Same as Full Grid, but only shows Country relativity (and bases)
Flipped N/S - This flips the axes, so you get a full version of the map, in the same orientation as the printed sheet, but obviously the cell references now don't map. Should give you a better feel for the gameboard though.
Flipped Terrain Only - Self explanatory
Flipped Country Only - Self explanatory

All of the additional worksheets are dynamically built, so if we spot an error we just need to change it in the Full Grid sheet and it'll change everywhere else, automatically.
posted by garius at 8:00 AM on March 22, 2018 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Okay! :)

The rules don't really say much, other than suggesting that ice-covered sectors are limited to subs only. Some hands-on experimentation has found that none of the named squares are a valid destination for surface taskforces, so that suggests the game is inclined to treat these as ice.

I will look over the sheets and see how well the flipped NS view, in particular, works out. This might inspire me to get over my long-standing dislike for Google Sheets :)
posted by Alensin at 9:21 AM on March 22, 2018

Response by poster: This looks like it should be pretty great, thank you both for helping with something so tedious! I'm looking forward to trying i and seeing how well I do, or not.
posted by Alensin at 10:19 AM on March 22, 2018 [1 favorite]

No worries. Was a fun think.

Just memail me if you need changes to the spreadsheet and let me know how it plays!
posted by garius at 10:59 AM on March 22, 2018 [1 favorite]

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