Narrative Driven Wargaming
In the world of digital combat simulations, where strategy meets storytelling and camaraderie reigns supreme, this cooperative DCS campaign unfolds like an epic tale on the virtual battlefield. Gone are the days of just flying solo, or an endless dogfight without purpose, these campaigns are more like a modern RPG but instead of being set on the tabletop with dice it’s set in DCS with actual players flying the aircraft, being Air Battle Managers, Air Traffic Controllers, and even legal counsel. This isn’t your grandpa’s hex and counter.
First off, why?
Flight simulators, or even wargames, are only as good as the AI or campaigns. And even then, there’s a special sort of joy from collaborating with a group of like minded individuals to pursue a goal. Note, it’s not conquer a goal, or win, or beat the game, but to pursue a goal. Only on a sports field are things as clear cut as win, or lose. In these games failure to complete a mission simply drives narrative.
Each of these events has had up to 40 participants. Not all have been pilots, and even among the pilots not all are combat roles. One of the latest big campaigns involved an Israeli-Arab conflict set in 1990. Since we are limited to aircraft available in DCS, there’s definitely some military irregularities that allow us to bring folks in to fly cool aircraft. Though, as much as possible, we try to stick to realistic loadouts.
The limitations are part of what makes this fun and interesting. You can’t just go out and do an endless dogfight. Nor, usually, is it uncontested space. You have to peel the onion of SAM’s, SHORAD, and aircraft. Plus we always, always, have political concerns or concessions to deal with.
Above is a stand in for the Israeli Kfir, the Mirage 2000.
In this campaign my role was the Aluf, or overall Israeli campaign commander. Not once did I actually fly an airplane. My job was to post on the forums, talk with flight leads, work with Legal, and coordinate with the Mission Coordinator. (Think Dungeon Master) Come game day I worked as the Ground Battle Manager or assisted the Air Battle Manager.
DCS is a great simulation or air combat, not so much for ground combat. So we had to set up a detailed map and then use our progress with airstrikes to determine what exactly changed.
One of the most challenging aspect of this campaign was sanitizing the airspace of SAM threats. Syria had a very sizable contingent of SAM’s that made every operation an absolute bear. Want to bomb a tank? Kill SAM’s first. Want to strike a depot? Kill SAM’s first. The IADS script was devilish and would absolutely lure you in and kill you.
Which led to flight plans to skirt some borders and avoid the bulk of the SAM systems.
This is about what the opening strike path followed, the goal here was a major OCA strike. All airbases took some damage, but Marj Ruhayyl proved extra difficult and was a thorn in our side for the whole campaign.
The above photos are from CombatFlite, a mission planning tool for DCS. It allowed us to share info, look at flight paths, and fairly well plot out radar plots. Recently we’ve run into issues where it seems to be getting minimal updates so our latest South Atlantic campaign is not using a supported map. So if this looks cool, and it is, do you diligence before purchase.
I’m also a big fan of running these through Command : Modern Operations. (CMO) In the above picture we were testing flight paths and determining exactly where our forces would be detected by the Syrian EWR system. It can also give a sanity check about the mission difficulty.
Come mission days it’s on. Each flight lead breaks into it’s own radio channel while also monitoring the package comms. If we’re lucky we’ve got an Air Traffic Controller who gets everyone off the ground without a traffic jam. They then transit to travel comms, and finally are handed off to the Air Battle Manager.
Now we have all of our pilots in the game, and the “Command” staff operates in LotATC. This is tied directly to the game server and shows only what we actually know. If a plane is lost off radar, we can’t see it in LotATC. If it’s not detected and sneaks in… we’re as surprised as everyone else. On the downside we can totally see a bogey, walk on the fighters, but if they can’t see it then things can get very dangerous very fast.
We also spend a lot of time giving BRAA’s. Bearing-Range-Altitude-Aspect. This is a huge force multiplier. DCS can be challenging when it comes to visual detection of hostiles. If you can walk someone onto a target then it greatly reduces the workload for the pilot and the ABM.
One great thing about LotATC’ing (Yes, I made that a verb) is we use a server license so you can spend $0 and direct planes like it’s real life CMO.
In the Israeli campaign the Americans were allies, but not full partners. The Israeli players couldn’t ask for a full on Hornet strike, so instead we had to satisfy the US Commander and make sure he met his mission requirements (which we didn’t know). This made for an interesting partnership where they would agree to strike one target, but maybe not the one we really wanted.
Most coordination is done via Discord in a separate chat room just for the operation. The latest was a “No Fun” op with straight up Nine Lines and realistic loadouts as verified from someone who participated in Operation Inherent Resolve.
This campaign was focused on technique and function. Flights would go in, drop on maybe one target, and RTB. If the JTAC couldn’t get them onto the target, then they wouldn’t drop. Frustrating? Not really, the intensity was in execution, not in the hectic smash-em-crash-em of dropping a full rack of JDAM’s.
A Redditor teffflon called a game like this a multi-modal modular multi-scale ad hoc war game but that makes for a terrible blog post title. I’m happy with Computer Aided Wargaming.
Our most recent campaign is set in South America, 20 MAR 2010 at the kick off of World War 3. Falklands is a new map and a gorgeous one at that. This will be my first campaign as an actual pilot (F-16C with the Chilean Air Force). This campaign will have some interesting elements in regards to procurement and air frame availability. Our first mission is just about escorting spare parts to enable some AI patrols of CAS aircraft.
So you’ve read this far, you must be interested. Would you like to join us?
But Yooper, I’m not a pilot! Not to worry my enthusiastic friend. You can help.
Want to be this person? You, for $0, can run LotATC and SRS on a potato computer. We flew to the moon with more processing capacity than LotATC requires.
You can fly too if being an over stressed ABM isn’t your thing. DCS is free, and we’ll have free aircraft in the campaign (the exceptional A-4 mod). The only downside if you need to have the Falklands map which is $40-$60. Though you can totally jump in on our servers and get your feet wet on the free Caucauses map.
Should you not want to ABM, or Fly, but still want to participate, we need folks of all walks. Want to deal with the politics of a coalition of South American nations? Yes, we have a spot for you. Want to argue about the logistics of a C-130 and how many left handed missile wrenches it can carry? Yup, we got you. Want to aggressively grade carrier landings? Hoo boy, have we got a spot for you!
Discord Invite : https://discord.gg/airgoons
Airgoons Hype Page : https://www.airgoons.com/hype/TheLongAfternoonWar.html
Airgoons Wiki : https://www.airgoons.com/w/Main_Page
1990 Campaign : https://forums.somethingawful.com/showthread.php?threadid=3993395
2008 Campaign : https://forums.somethingawful.com/showthread.php?threadid=3989829
2010 Campaign (Current) : https://forums.somethingawful.com/showthread.php?threadid=4042524
The group is open, inclusive, and a great place to get excited about planes and operations.