NATO: The Next War in Europe (Variant)

Variants for Victory Games’ NATO: The Next War in Europe

By James Elkins

NATO: The Next War in Europe Board Game

Let me say, right off the bat, that I’m a big fan of Victory Games’ board game NATO: The Next War in Europe. But there are some aspects of the game that have always bothered me… and I felt it was time to propose some improvements/adjustments.

One of the weaknesses of WW3 games is that there’s no hard historical performance data to substantiate hypothetical combat values. So I base my proposed modifications on various sources, such as TO&Es, likely OOBs, friendly-enemy-neutral intelligence analyses, the professional literature from each side, and how the various new platforms (e.g. ships, aircraft, tanks, etc.) have compared in tangential conflicts (Arab-Israeli, Iran-Iraq, etc,). I could dig up sample sources or write an explanatory brief, but there are no all-encompassing well-balanced sources. Rather, there’s a myriad of little biased sources whose listing or collective conclusions would take up more space than the variants themselves. Of course, If anyone has different opinions, I’d love to hear them.

So, in the interests of making a great game greater, I propose the following variants.

The Italians Are Coming

Your Italian counters will NEVER be used! And if there’s anything I hate, it’s cool counters that don’t get used (like the Soviets units in Victory Games’ “Korean War”).

NATO: The Next War in Europe Board Game

The idea behind the variant is that if Austria’s neutrality is not violated and Italy is under no immediate threat from conventional WP forces, Italy will be under increasing pressure from NATO’s CENTAG forces in Germany to provide aid. If the Soviets trigger any of the events listed in the table below, the NATO player can begin rolling for Italian reinforcements. These would initially consist of the HQ and 1-2 divisions, but could increase based on turn number and continued Soviet gains. Yeah, I know this one’s not overly realistic, but it gets the Italians on the board.

The Variant: At the beginning of each NATO Reinforcement Phase, if any of the Events in the table below have occurred, roll three dice and apply the following modifiers. If the result is less than the current turn number, Italy agrees to send an expeditionay force.

Modifiers (cumulative)
Event Modifier/Effect
Each Major or Key NATO city under WP control -1
Each US division prevented from arriving as a reinforcement due to its REFORGER site being overrun -1
One or more supplied WP divisions in the Netherlands -1
One or more supplied WP divisions in Belgium -2
One or more supplied WP divisions adjacent to or west of the Rhine -2
One or more supplied WP divisions in France NATO automatically declares nuclear war with no first strike bonus (NATO launch in reaction to French unilateral launch). Italian intervention no longer possible

Italian Expeditionary Force: When Italy agrees to send troops to Germany they arrive according to the same schedule used following a WP attack on Austria, with two exceptions:

  • They do not receive the Alpini Brigade (though it immediately becomes available for deployment to Austria if Austria is attacked on a later turn).
  • The units arrive as RR3 or Rd3 reinforcements (NATO player’s discretion).

If the WP attacks Austria after Italy agrees to send troops to Germany:

  • The Italian Alpini Brigade is immediately deployed to Austria.
  • The deployment to Germany continues.

However, once the Alpini Brigade is destroyed or driven from Austria and six or more WP divisions occupy Austria, the Italian Expeditionary Force must redeploy to Italy/Austria and can not return north.

For the first time since Attila the Hun Italian forces have an opportunity to play an important role North of the Alps. Would this have been plausible in a NATO-Warsaw Pact conflict fought in the 1980s? Not really. But it feels slightly blasphemous to have played this game for twenty years and never once used those cool Italian counters.

Divisional Breakdown

NATO: The Next War in Europe Board Game

Any 3-step NATO division (including those reduced to 2 steps) within command range of a valid HQ at the beginning or end of their movement phase may voluntarily break down. In other words, an eligible 3-step division may be flipped to its 2-step side and its 1-step counter added to the hex. These counters need not remain together for movement or combat, but must be stacked together before they can be reconstituted into a single unit.

If the 2-step counter takes a step loss, this is indicated by rotating the 2-step counter 180 degrees. A 3-step division already reduced to 2-steps by combat losses can break down into its 1-step counter and rotated 2-step counter. A rotated 2-step counter has the same combat values as its associated 1-step counter.

While divided, each component counter must trace its supply/command individually. Component counters are recombined using the same process. The purpose of this rule is to allow the NATO player greater flexibility in establishing his defensive line(s).


NATO: The Next War in Europe Board Game

Unoccupied REFORGER (REturn of FORces to GERmany) sites receive the same garrison defense as major and key cities. That is to say, they defend with a strength of 1 (one) and must be defeated before being “overrun”.

REFORGER and Reserve-entry sites may be targeted by WP air attacks (1- Operational Air Point attacks only).

Step losses are applied by the NATO player to reinforcements scheduled to arrive in the targeted hex. Headquarters (HQs) may not be chosen for step loss.

Warsaw Pact Revised OOB

A variant for use the “Tactical Surprise” and “Extended Build-Up” scenarios

Recommended: Use with the “Divisional Breakdowns”“REFORGER Sites” and “The Italians Are Coming” variants.

NATO: The Next War in Europe Board Game

Since NATO (VG) was first released, aficionados of this unhappy topic have been quick to point out the game’s two biggest flaws. First, the Warsaw Pact order-of-battle seems to have been determined largely by the number of counters available to the designers. The WP units present in the game reflect real units that were both based and trained in preparation for a war with NATO. So were several other units not present in the game. Second, the combat values are…what’s the clinical term…oh, “insane.” But it’s just a game, so let’s try and turn lemons into lemonade… after all, you’ve already paid for the damned thing.

Changes to the Warsaw Pact Reinforcement Schedule – Extended Build-up Scenario

  • Warsaw Pact units scheduled to arrive on Game Turns 8 and 9 now arrive on Game Turn 2.

Changes to the Warsaw Pact Reinforcement Schedule – Tactical Surprise Scenario

  • Warsaw Pact units scheduled to arrive on Game Turn 9 now arrive on Game Turn 2.
  • Warsaw Pact units scheduled to arrive on Game Turn 10 now arrive on Game Turn 3.
  • Warsaw Pact units scheduled to arrive on Game Turn 11 now arrive on Game Turn 4.
  • Warsaw Pact units scheduled to arrive on Game Turn 12 now arrive on Game Turn 5.
  • Warsaw Pact units scheduled to arrive on Game Turns 13 and 14 now arrive on Game Turn 2.

NOTE: This applies to combat units only! Transport points, air points and chemical warfare points remain unchanged.

The Turn 13 reinforcements are reserve Czech divisions for the Boleslav and Olomouc armies, while the Turn 14 units are reserve Polish divisions for the Silesian and Pomeranian Military Districts. The other units of all four armies are either initial forces or Turn 1 reinforcements. Technically, bringing the Turn 13/14 units in on Turn 2 right behind their HQs is, to me, just a logical way of beefing up the underrepresented WP first echelon.Unofficially, I’ve got a problem with the units coming in that late. I can’t imagine that reserve Polish and Czech divisions, never the most ardent WP members, who had managed to ignore Soviet “prodding” and avoid the front for a month (ie. Turn 14) would be in a hurry to catch up to their comrades… unless they were trying to defect.

What does this accomplish? The new reinforcement schedule makes the Warsaw Pact first echelon a little more accurate (in terms of numbers if not actual unit designations). Granted, it eliminates the entire second echelon, but how many times have you played and the game wasn’t already decided before the second echelon weighed in?

A final piece of advice for those weirdos (like me) who prefer monster “simulations” to “games,” and want more accurate combat values for their NATO (VG) units. On a 600-mile drive in holiday traffic several years ago, I developed a formula for converting the given combat values to something more reasonable. When I tried to think of the easiest way to implement the change, only one solution came to mind: buy a copy of The Next War (SPI).

Why do I think the assigned combat values for many units are “insane”?Example: a US armored division was nearly twice the size of a Soviet armored division and trained and equipped for defensive operations. While the Soviet division was heavily armored with a higher “tooth-to-tail” ratio, it had far fewer combat support units and virtually no training in defensive operations. The game gives them identical combat values.And I can only assume that each West German armored division is equipped with its own Ark of the Covenant… both smaller and less equipped with heavy weapons than US divisions, but with the game’s highest attack values. I can accept the “defense of the Fatherland” argument giving them defensive values equal to the US divisions, but a reasonable explanation for the attack values eludes me.

Soviet Operational Maneuver Groups (OMG)

A variant for use the “Tactical Surprise” and “Extended Build-Up” scenarios

Recommended: Use with the “Divisional Breakdowns”“REFORGER Sites”“Warsaw Pact Revised OOB” and “The Italians Are Coming” variants.

NATO: The Next War in Europe Board Game

By the mid-1980s Soviet doctrine for a European conflict called for the employment of Operational Maneuver Groups (OMG). These were roughly corps-sized formations (3-4 divisions, compared to an army’s 5-6 divisions) under the direct control of the Front Command. Their sole purpose was to exploit any breakthroughs in the NATO front line. As such, they were stripped of any support formations/equipment which might slow their movement and were expected to operate solely on organic supply for a minimum of 48 hours.

In game terms: The Soviet 5th Guards Tank Army enters the game as a scheduled reinforcement and “potential” OMG (indicated by keeping the three divisions stacked together and removing their HQ unit from the board). If they are ever involved in ground combat or fall within a NATO ZOC prior to being activated as an OMG, they lose their eligibility to do so for the remainder of the game. They become regular units and place their HQ with or adjacent to any of its constituent divisions.

To activate the OMG: If the 5GT units/stack moved 2 movement points or less during that turn’s movement phase, and is still eligible for activation following the combat phase, it may then be activated as an OMG and immediately receives a special exploitation movement with its full 5 movement points (MP). Place its HQ on the turn record track to arrive three turns later. During this exploitation movement the OMG pays only the normal mp cost to enter a hex (no ZoC/ZoD penalties), can not enter enemy-controlled Key or Major cities, ignores Zones of Delay (ZoD), ignores Zones of Control (ZoC) in hexes occupied by friendly units or unoccupied hexes adjacent to 3-6 enemy steps. The OMG pays an additional one mp penalty to leave a ZoC hex adjacent to 7-12 enemy steps and must stop in a ZoC hex adjacent to more than 12 enemy steps.

Exception: Each division may attack once during its exploitation move, without Offensive Support and not in conjunction with non-OMG units, except for airborne/airmobile units which did not attack in the regular combat phase. If such an attack reduces the number of adjacent enemy steps to a lower level (e.g. 13 to 12 or 7 to 6) any of the OMG units not damaged in or not participating in the attack may continue their move with the lesser restriction.

The OMG may make this exploitation move only once per game. Following its exploitation move, the OMG units are treated as regular units, but operate on organic supply and may not benefit from Offensive Support markers until their HQ enters the game (placed directly on the board in a Warsaw Pact-controlled hex within command range of one or more OMG units. If no OMG units survive, the HQ does not enter.

While adding to the realism of the game, the OMG does not overly disrupt game-balance. Once the NATO player has experienced the exploitation move once or twice, it will become obvious how to counter its threat with a few interdiction and attack air strikes and a small operational reserve. Even without countermeasures, the OMG is mainly a threat to unprotected HQs and its greatest impact, when used properly, will be to force the NATO player to disengage and reform his defensive line farther west.

Got some feedback for us? Email your opinions and comments to James Elkins.