NATO: The Next War in Europe – Air Point Variability (Variant)

Air Point Variability – Variant for NATO: The Next War in Europe

By James Elkins

NATO: The Next War in Europe Board Game


A common criticism of NATO: The Next War in Europe (VG) is the need for more color or variation in its undeniably bland simulation of the air war in WW3 Europe. If there’s a way to fix this without overly complicating a game whose greatest strength is simplicity, it eludes me. However, until someone finds a real solution to the problem, here’s a variant that spices up the air war a little without slowing down the game…too much, I hope. The idea comes from the air system used in Mark Herman’s FLASHPOINT: GOLAN (VG).

Air Point Variability

After allocating air points to a mission, but before resolving that mission, roll one die for each assigned air point on the appropriate table (Tactical or Operational) to determine the type of aircraft performing the mission. The random determination of aircraft type reflects the chaos of the air campaign (combat losses, enemy strikes on friendly airfields and ground crews, ad hoc mission groupings, etc.) denying each player the ability to consistently send the types and numbers of aircraft they might prefer. Once the aircraft type is determined, the point is committed to performing the intended mission (i.e. the player can not keep allocating an air point to a mission, cancel the mission, then re-allocate the point in hopes of receiving a preferable aircraft type). The player can, however, determine the aircraft type of an assigned air point before deciding whether or not to allocate a second point.

NATO: The Next War in Europe Board Game

The type of aircraft performing a given mission can result in a positive or negative modifier to mission outcome. For example, air units with a +1 modifier add one to the die roll (in addition to standard modifiers) determining the mission’s results. For missions with two assigned air points, these air type modifiers are cumulative: a +1 and -1 nets a 0 modifier, two +1 units nets a +2, etc.

Tactical Air Point Types

Die Roll Aircraft Type (NATO/WP) Modifier
1-2 A-10/Su-25 +1
3-4 F-4 or Mirage III / Su-20 0
5-6 Jaguar / MiG-21 -1

Operational Air Point Types

Die Roll Aircraft Type (NATO/WP) Modifier
1-2 F-111 / Su-24 +1
3-4 Tornado / MiG-27 0
5-6 F-16 / Su-17 -1

I already know what’s going to happen. Every NATO: The Next War in Europe player has their favorite planes. Maybe the regular NATO player in your game was an F-16 pilot. Maybe your regular WP player is a stockholder in Mikoyan-Gurevich (and already has a chip on his shoulder). One way or another, I anticipate that most of the folks reading this variant will take issue with one or more of the ratings I have assigned to each aircraft type. Chill. The ratings were determined by a couple of factors:

  • These are 1985-86 aircraft using 1985-86 weapons. F-16s, for example, are effective as strike aircraft when using guided weapons. But in 1985-86 NATO had a very limited stockpile of “smart” weapons (relative to a decade later), which would likely have been exhausted within a week or two of NATO-WP fighting. The light, single-engine F-16 would have a much-diminished strike ability if restricted to “dumb weapons” (even more true for the MiG-21).
  • Numbers. Sticking with the F-16 example, only a limited number of the aircraft could be diverted to strike missions (the remainder being needed in the campaign for air superiority).

Still not satisfied? Then change the modifiers. The simple truth is that each aircraft design excelled in some ways and failed in others. There’s simply no way to accurately divide every design into one of just three categories without giving some designs too much credit and others too little. That’s the price of keeping things simple. Your favorite plane isn’t on the list? Add it.

New Air Mission – Operational Air Points Only (Optional)

Runway Cratering

Beginning with Game Turn 4, each side may allocate Operational Air Points to Runway Cratering missions, 1 point per mission. After the declaration of each cratering mission, the opposing player (a.k.a. “the victim”) has the option of preventing (i.e. intercepting) the strike by expending one of his own air points (Tactical or Operational, if either is available). Each player’s point is expended for the turn. Each cratering mission that is not intercepted is resolved as if it were a strike mission against an enemy ground unit. Each result of “1” subtracts two from “the victim’s” Tactical Air Point allotment received in the next turn. Each result of “2” subtracts three Tactical Air Points. If the “Air Point Variability” option is being used, NATO’s Tornado aircraft have a “+1” modifier on cratering missions (e.g. cratering missions ONLY). Tornados, at the time represented in the game, were fairly new and still had a lot of bugs to work out, but were designed from the beginning with an eye toward anti-runway operations.

Example: On Turn 6 the NATO player spends one Operational Air Point on a cratering mission. The WP player spends one Tactical Air Point to cancel (intercept) the cratering mission. The NATO player then chooses to spend another Operational Air Point on a cratering mission. The WP player needs all of his remaining Air Points this turn to support ground attacks, so the NATO player’s cratering mission gets through. The NATO player rolls a die to determine the type of aircraft performing the mission, and rolls a “3” (Tornados!). Next, the NATO player rolls a “3” on the Air Strike Results Table, modified to a “4” by the Tornado’s “+1” cratering bonus, for a result of one hit. When the WP player receives air points on Turn 7 (only), he immediately subtracts two Tactical Air Points.

What’s going on? Theoretically, cratering missions are already factored into the Air Point allotment-reinforcement schedule; especially in the early turns. This rule gives each player the option to augment that abstracted “cratering campaign” by diverting their precious Operational Air assets. Only Operational Air Points are used because the target bases are, generally, out of range for Tactical Air Points to strike them. Only Tactical Air Points are lost because Operational Air Points are assumed to be based even farther from the front (e.g. F-111s based in Britain).

Politics, Surrender and Air Point Availability (Very Optional)

Three NATO nations represented in the game can be forced to surrender: Denmark, the Netherlands and Belgium (“BeNeDen”).

*** Belgium and the Netherlands keep the same surrender conditions explained in the Rules Manual, with one new consequence: when either surrenders, the NATO player loses one Tactical Air Point per turn (starting with the turn following the surrender) for the remainder of the game. If both countries surrender, the NATO player loses two Tactical Air Points per turn for the remainder of the game and Denmark surrenders (see next paragraph).

Denmark uses the same surrender conditions explained in the Rules Manual, but with three additions and one new consequence. A Soviet or East German (only) armor/mech DIVISION in Denmark and able to trace a LOS (by land) back to WP territory at the end of the Game Turn counts as one captured Danish minor city (for surrender purposes only) as long as it remains in supply and in Denmark. A Soviet or East German armor/mech DIVISION on Zeeland (the island containing Copenhagen) and able to trace a LOS (by land) at the end of the Game Turn counts as a second captured minor city, thereby triggering Denmark’s surrender. If both Belgium and the Netherlands have surrendered, Denmark surrenders. NOTE: none of these new conditions can result in Danish surrender so long as there are any US, Brit, French or West German units in Denmark. When any such allied units are no longer in Denmark, it becomes susceptible to the new surrender conditions once again. Yes, these new conditions complicate what was a very simple rule, but they are, IMHO, a little more realistic, and, once learned, shouldn’t complicate game play… except that the NATO player may be forced to re-familiarize himself with the rules for Sea Ferry.

So, what have I got against Denmark? Nothing. Someone remind me, how many hours did they hold out before surrendering to the Nazis? Four or fourteen? Let’s face it, prolonging their war in 1940 would have served no good purpose and, in fact, caused a lot of needless destruction. Thing is, wouldn’t that be equally or more true of a war against the Soviets? And if, by virtue of divine intervention or a WP player both forgetful and unfortunate, Denmark should outlast both Belgium and the Netherlands, finding herself alone and far behind enemy lines, what could she possibly gain from continued participation in the conflict?

*** When Denmark surrenders the NATO player does not lose any air points, but the WP player gains one Tactical Air Point per turn for the remainder of the game. This reflects the Soviet Air Force and Naval Aviation assets made available to the WP player when the Baltic Sea is effectively closed (and provides an added short-term incentive for taking out Denmark).

*** When France becomes a full participant in the conflict (i.e., the NATO player gains full control of regular units in France), the NATO player receives one additional Operational Air Point per turn for the remainder of the game.


NATO: The Next War in Europe is a beautifully simple board game that still plays with the “feel” of a simulation. By adding a few tweaks here and there, realism can be added without perceptibly adding excessive length or complexity to the game. I’m currently working on more advanced air combat rules that will add even more depth to the air game, but I feel that the “Air Variability” described in this article is sufficient to provide just the right amount of “edge” for fans of the game without tacking on inappropriate levels of complexity.

Please let me know if you’d like to see additional variants for NATO: The Next War in Europe. If you’ve devised some of your own, I’d enjoy hearing about those as well.

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

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