"I know not with what weapons World War III will be fought,
but World War IV will be fought with sticks and stones."
- Albert Einstein
Musings and thoughts on The Last War
and the technology found therein ...
The following are my own thoughts on the OGRE and GEV universe ... tidbits of insights, short essays, questions I have that I try to answer and a host of other ramblings gathered together from over 30 years of playing this solid little game.
"DOOMSDAY" - Circa 2080 A.D.
I guess being born of the Cold War era (and growing up during the '70's when so much post-apocalypse glitz was out there in the mainstream media) caused me to see (the first time) the scenarios of OGRE as something other than what they have come to be. I always thought of the scenarios included with OGRE to be Doomsday type situations, man vs. machine where the last humans alive (some soldiers and command personnel, the only survivors of an all out nuclear war) faced their greatest and last challenge, a preprogrammed war machine, cybernetic and all powerful, that had survived the exchange as well and was now carrying out its last mission, destroy all enemies.
It didn't matter if the OGRE didn't have a command structure to report back to, it was simply a machine, carrying out its orders in the way that any machine would. Together, the last humans alive face the last enemy robot tank which has found them and is intent on carrying out its programming even if it means that the human race becomes extinct. The idea of a post-nuclear battlefield, glowing craters, no vegetation, people in NBC protected suits, armor and vehicles, all throwing their selves against a merciless robot enemy is a story that is older than OGRE itself. The idea that the scenarios take place a day after a major exchange is easy to imagine. The last surviving elements of one nation's military forces, which can be measured in a command post, some armor and some power suited infantry, are amazed that they are still alive but the amazement turns to deep sobering reality as they come to understand that they may be the last humans on Earth. As these survivors come to grips with their situation, their worst fears come true. The enemy may be dead, but he's left behind one fully intact, fully functional legacy, a cybernetic weapons platform that feels no pain, knows no mercy and is intent on carrying out its last mission directives; destroy all enemy units .. even if this means the destruction of the last examples of the human race.
When the full color version of GEV appeared (my first copy of GEV), I was amazed at the green and blues of the map, the intact cities and the swamps; it was so full of life compared to the desolate OGRE map which looked like Cheez-Whiz and pepperoni spread out on pizza dough. In fact, we used to laughingly refer to the OGRE map as the "pizza" map when we were sorting through all of our maps looking for one to play on.
So, with a little imagination, the scenarios in OGRE can take on a whole new, darker lining. This isn't just another battle in The Last War, this is The Last Battle in The Last War, man vs machine, the last military units of their respective kind left in a world that is now little more than a burnt cinder floating in space. At least that's what I thought when I first played the game nearly three decades ago. It wasn't until GEV appeared on the scene that I understood that the author was fighting the third world war with what amounted to teeny-tiny tactical nukes rather than great big strategic ones.
The OGRE Tower
The OGRE tower is at the same time both unique and intriguing in its simple design. The tower supposedly contains sensors for the giant cybertanks to perceive their world through and to aid them in both in navigation and combat. The tower is a characteristic design inherent to the massive OGREs but I always wondered about the fragile nature of the design. The tower in the artwork on the front of the OGRE Miniatures rulebook looks like it has taken a pretty hard beating and some parts of it look hollow meaning it might be just for decoration. The thin tapering lines of the tower, matched with the mysterious black all-seeing, all-knowing orb-like assembly on top always seemed to give the OGRE a very cyclopean look to an already aggressive stance. The sensor tower, as it stands, looks incredibly fragile and one would assume that the OGRE does not have all of its sensors installed in that one tower alone (don't put all of your eggs in one basket, as the saying goes) but rather that the sensors are spread throughout the body. If not, then the tower is a very tempting target and the ability to blind such a juggernaut completely with one well placed shot would not be an opportunity that the enemy would forego. OGRE hunting might consist of a long range precision sniper shot to destroy the tower then a rapid assault by armor units around a behemoth that, even if it had not been suddenly struck blind, it was at least hampered in its ability to gather info on its environment (and acquire targets).
My own thoughts on the OGRE tower were that the tower itself was retractable and when I found a copy of the original Mark V OGRE blueprints (the original run from long, long ago), I was rewarded with the fact that Steve Jackson apparently had the same idea though not much has ever been discussed about this in the many years that followed. Fully extended, the OGRE tower is fine for high speed cruising, fording deep water and looking for targets of opportunity but once the battle begins, the tower would retract, like an old car radio power antenna, back into the body of the OGRE thus presenting a much smaller target and giving the OGRE not only a lower profile, but also a "head down" appearance, like a charging bull.
Here are some rather quick and simple diagrams showing how the tower might retract when the OGRE gets into an offensive / defensive situation... I claim no great artistic talent and these renderings were done in MS Paint as a matter of convenience and with an eye towards time conservation.
Frontal, head-on view of OGRE Mark III and higher tower retraction
Side view of OGRE tower retraction
OGRE tower retraction in action, from cruise and search mode to full combat mode.
The inherent weakness of MI (Mobile Infantry) in both OGRE and GEV
One thing that I enjoy about OGRE and GEV is watching how other players handle their allotted infantry units. Infantry are the cannon fodder of most OGRE and GEV games, you get a bunch of "free" points of them at the beginning and what can you do with the infantry points that you're given but use them? You can't trade infantry points for armor units or vice-versa so you're left with a situation where you can either make what you are allotted work or you just do the best that you can. One of the hallmarks of a veteran OGRE and GEV player (more so with OGRE due to terrain constraints) is how that player uses their infantry. Most players use their infantry like a handful of sand in a brawl; a quick throw to the eyes of your opponent might distract them long enough for you to use your hands and feet (their GEVs and heavy armor) to deliver a telling blow. But what becomes of the sand that you threw? Such is the way with most players and how they handle their infantry in the game.
Steve Jackson, in an article where he talked about the differences between the first edition of OGRE and the second edition once said that he made a mistake in designing a unit (aka the infamous "GEV problem"). It was a simple mistake but one which had a vast impact on the game. The gist of the mistake was that he made the GEV far more powerful than a heavy tank through a simple cost basis error (where you picked your initial units based on armor attack strength instead of the now traditional one armor point for a heavy tank or GEV, two armor points for a howitzer, etc.). The end result was that the Heavy Tank cost twice as much as the GEV and yet it was only about half as effective. The same could be said for the Mobile Infantry units as provided in the game; for their cost, the description of MI renders them not very cost effective and not much better than a standard squad of non-powered 20th century infantry.
How can this be? A power suit should turn a soldier into a one-person tank, maybe not a heavy tank but at least equal to a light tank, but as the MI units are described, as the way that the rules and fiction are written, one squad of MI, equaling about ten soldiers in power suits, is one fourth as powerful as a heavy tank and half as powerful as a lighter unit like a GEV. If you were to stack enough power suited soldiers in one area to equal the firepower of a heavy tank, you'd have about forty (give or take) power suit equipped soldiers to equal the firepower of a single heavy tank and twenty MI, give or take, to equal the firepower of a single GEV. I think this is worse than the GEV problem in that it dilutes a power suit equipped soldier down to 1/40th of the effectiveness of a heavy tank. Today, a single infantryman with an anti-tank weapon is a serious threat to a single MBT. So why doesn't this vast discrepancy in strength show up in the game? I think for the same reason that the GEV problem never really showed up at first; the story is good, the fiction supports the game play and most people don't know how to handle infantry very well ... that and most players don't worry about the math or how to deconstruct the game along is few fault lines.
The battlesuit (or power armor or power suit) is an interesting staple of military science fiction (E. E. "Doc" Smith's "Lensmen" and Heinlein's own forerunner MI Mobile Infantry from his "Starship Troopers" novel are the most notable and familiar examples). I always thought that one power suit equipped soldier should at least approach somewhat the combat power of, say, a GEV, maybe not a heavy tank, but a GEV isn't too much to ask for now is it? OGRE and GEV take place on tactical nuclear battlefields where even the infantry carry and use tactical nuclear weapons yet in the stories like Smith's and Heinlein's, each individual MI is a small one-person army, one soldier can cover a lot of ground and dish out a lot of damage in short order. In OGRE and GEV, one soldier is about a 1/40th as effective, strength wise, as a heavy tank and 1/20th as effective as a GEV. The power suit, as it stands in OGRE and GEV, is simply window dressing; just so much more fiction with little effect other than giving an excuse as to why individual human beings would be able to survive for even short periods of time on the battlefield of The Last War. That, I believe, is what makes it so hard to incorporate the game down to the level of individual soldiers, the lines between trying to play a game with a group of individually moved and operated soldiers at the scales used by OGRE and GEV become logistically prohibitive. The "other" game to come out of the OGRE universe was "BATTLESUIT" which tried to give players a taste of soldier to soldier combat during the Last War while at the same time being completely incompatible with either OGRE or GEV (a design philosophy that alienated the game from the other two and relegated it to an interesting diversion at best among fans of the genre). SJG's "Battlesuit" should have been the wake-up call that something in the fiction and the game mechanics was ... wrong ... in regards to how the infantry were described and handled.
I think the inherent problem with OGRE and GEV, in regard to the MI is that the player is trying to deal with an entire squad of MI rather than one single soldier at a time. Power armor will make an individual soldier stronger, increasing their ability to fight and move. Each soldier will become as strong or stronger than a squad of regular, non-power armor equipped infantry. A single soldier will be able to range far and wide, using the enhanced abilities of the power armor to traverse and control larger amounts of territory on the battlefield. Putting ten power armored soldiers together in an area about a kilometer and a half wide brings the strength of the individual soldier down in scale. This severely dilutes the strength of each soldier in the squad and leads to interesting problems with trying to bring the game down to an individual soldier level (where a single mobile infantry unit could engage any other MI unit as well as armor and OGREs and do it all on a OGRE / GEV scale map). The key to correcting one of the problems with MI is simply to change the description of MI in OGRE and GEV to represent not a squad of soldiers in power armor but rather each strength point of infantry would instead represent one single power suited soldier, thus making a soldier in a battlesuit half as powerful as a GEV and one quarter as powerful as a heavy tank. This starts to fit in line with the more traditional role of a battlesuit as a man amplifier system, turning the soldier into a one man army of one. Of course, there are certain tweaks which must be propagated throughout the game, namely the advent of the GEV-PC (which we will deal with next) and combining infantry units to form larger groups (squads to platoons) but again, the fiction and the story support this change as well and they do so rather nicely.
In closing this bit of rambling, if you (the player) start to think of your strength points of infantry not as "squads" but rather as "individual soldiers" then the alternate fiction begins to fall into place nicely. Now when you start a game and you get twelve strength points of infantry, don't think of that as having 12 squads (or 120 soldiers) in power suits, think of it as having twelve individual soldiers in power suits. Grouping three such equipped soldiers together should be the limit for terrain and tactical common sense, especially in a tactical nuclear battlefield, thus the largest group of infantry in a game might be a squad of three soldiers, in power suits, operating as a 3/1 strength unit. Other non-MI units such as militia would still be considered as groups of unarmored personnel. One power armor equipped soldier should easily be equal to ten regular, non-power armor equipped soldiers (and may cost just as much!).
The advent of the more advanced "heavy power suit" may not make the MI stronger in combat, but it makes them harder to kill (especially in close combat and when facing the decidedly insidious nature of OGRE AP weaponry) which is just as important.
Why is it called a "Cybertank" if it has no integral cybernetic parts?
Good question. I've never quite figured this bit out either. The OGREs are listed as "cybertanks" but there is very little if any cybernetics about them. A cybernetic organism is a fusion of mechanical and organic parts, the latter of which the OGREs do not have. In order to be a true "cybertank," the OGREs would have to, logically, have one or more organic components and the most logical organic component would be a living brain. Even trying to take in the scope of "artificial intelligence" and the fact that during the Last War that many generations of OGREs became sentient, I doubt you could call the OGREs "cyborgs" or cybernetic organisms. They may very well be Artifints, but they are not cyborgs. Perhaps the definition is "stretched" somewhat in the game to mean that when the OGREs truly become self-aware that the act of machines imitating organic thinking requires a new branch of science and psychology to understand. Perhaps the "cybernetics" in OGRE and GEV are not the traditional study of human and machine parts but rather the study of human behavior in machines.
In response to my musing, Michael Scott Beck sent me his interesting interpretation of the term:
"In science fiction, "cybernetics" refers to man-machine integration. But in science fact, cybernetics is that study of all forms of communication and control, especially those involving feedback. (origin is kybernetes, Greek for pilot or steersman). One example of a cybernetic system is the human body, the brain does the controlling and the senses provide feedback, which is probably how science-fiction came to adopt the term, but in the real world cybernetics applies to organisms, mechanisms, and even organizations. For example, a plane's autopilot is a cybernetic device -- it controls the plane in response to feedback from sensors. And it certainly contains no organic parts. This is probably the context in which cybertank is meant in ORGE and in GEV."
Good call. I hadn't thought of it that way. Thanks, Michael.
Infantry battlesuits operating in different environments and the fallacy of so called "Marine" battlesuits
I am constantly amazed at the different "types" of mobile infantry that people suggest should be included in the game (as well as some of the rules that are official for the use of the standard MI units). Lately, it seems that you have a specialized version of mobile infantry for everything. Suggestions from gamers have included new types of MI used for close assaults only, another type of MI that could carry and fire a single missile tank type missile and a load of other very specialized (and totally unnecessary) infantry. Having different suit types is not the same as having different infantry types. Different types of suits might include a light scout version, a standard combat version, an upgraded combat version, and a command version (which would really be little more than a standard combat version with additional / upgraded communications gear). I think the desire to introduce additional MI variants into the rules hinges on the fact that while the other units in the games have been fleshed out, the MI have always just kind of been pushed to the side and forgotten. Part of the history and story of OGRE and GEV is a future conflict devoid of unnecessary designs. If armored units are kept few by the nature of military thought in the future, then I would also think that the types of mobile infantry would also be kept to a minimum. The more types of suits you have in your theater of operations, the wider range of spare parts you're going to need to keep on hand at the repair depots. Logistics becomes a nightmare fairly quickly.
One of the most humorous (and illogical) rules of the whole game series is rule 6.137 of the GEV handbook. Rule 6.137 states that "An overrun between GEVs and 'swimming' infantry destroys the infantry (they cannot fire back). Hostile infantry units and OGRES may occupy the same water hex without combat."
Power suits used by MI are multi-purpose, easily configurable for different roles. I see the weapons and electronics as being modular, network capable with easy plug and play type interfaces. The Combine and the Paneuropean forces didn't make one suit for the forest ops, one for snow ops, one for the desert ops, and one for underwater ops. That would be way too expensive! The very nature of the power suit makes it a jack of all trades type of personal armor unit able to carry and protect the user while operating in a wide variety of environmental conditions and I think that this single fact is what people miss the most about the whole MI concept. The battlesuit, power suit, battle armor, power armor, battledress, powerdress or whatever you choose to call it, the armored combat ready exoskeleton unit is a very incredible piece of hardware and it most likely evolved from deep sea diving suits or haz-mat construction and labor ops units to begin with. As such, if a suit of power armor was designed to operate in a pressurized state in a NBC environment with its own dedicated air supply then I think that a suit of armor like that can operate on the bottom of the river bed or in the hot sand or the ice cold snow drifts with equal ease. Since it is powered by a small nuclear reactor and groups of rechargeable batteries, that should provide ample power for life support (heating and cooling) as well as the myriad electronics onboard and any power required to operate the weapons systems. SCBA type air provision would be part of the design and since the power systems don't require air to operate, the suit could operate underwater as equally as it could in a vacuum.
In the GEV game, it is stated that MI "swim" in rivers and water, somehow giving the image that the MI are on top of the water, or swimming just under the surface in a snorkeling fashion. That statement couldn't be further from the truth. MI don't 'swim' or 'dog paddle', their suits are too heavy! They don't use special blow out flotation balloons on their armor (like kids use arm "floaties" in the pool). They don't cut down trees and hollow out canoes and they don't use big inner tubes and go tubin'. MI enter the water via river banks or deltas or deep creeks and simply walk along the bottom (if they don't just light up the fans and fly over to the other bank to begin with). They don't swim, they walk, following the contours of the river or creek bed. Their progress isn't that much slower than normal, water provides some resistance, but it's the myomers, hydraulics, and actuators that are doing the actual work, not the wearer. The MI sensors and scanners work just as well underwater as they do on dry land (remember, the suit is sealed...). The images they see in their holorgraphic tanks are just as crisp and detailed underwater as they are on land. I see drones working underwater as well, as the drones that I see operating in OGRE and GEV are ducted fan models and a fan is just a type of propeller. I'm sure that a scientific base that can build power suits can build ducted fans that will move air as well as water. To enter the water, all a drone has to do is soft land on the water and sink to the proper depth. You can feed water through the ducted fan just as well as you can air. Adjust the angle of attack and the pitch, and you can control to some degree the noise and cavitation created. The same goes for the MI thrusters that allow them to jump and bounce all over the battlefield like big armored fleas... Instead of hot air, underwater they would flow water through their fans, creating thrust when needed to propel them along.
The rules state that MI underwater cannot attack other units but that they can be attacked by GEVs on the surface and by OGREs underwater. That doesn't seem very fair (or logical). The rules don't mention if other MI moving underwater can attack underwater MI, so I'm going to clear all of that up right now. The rules state that line of sight (LOS) doesn't really matter for the weapons used in OGRE and GEV since all vehicles and units are capable of both direct and indirect fire. Since weapons in OGRE and GEV are supposedly mass drivers and railguns, these types of weapons would operate underwater as equally as on land.
So, can MI, regular MI, suits fight and move underwater? Yes. MI may attack and may be attacked by any unit or weapon in the rules while the MI unit is moving in a water hex. MI moving underwater may attack any other units in range normally. MI may engage in overrun combat only with other MI moving underwater or against OGREs moving underwater (and vice versa). Any unit may fire on infantry moving underwater and infantry moving underwater may fire on any unit in range, regardless or not of if that unit is moving underwater or not. All weapons (including OGRE AP and all missiles) work equally well in water or on land.
Marine battlesuits? Yes, the Marines have battlesuits, but they are pretty much the same as the Army battlesuits... As for nautical or specialized underwater fighting battlesuits, you better go ask the Navy, another branch for which I have no canon or tech base to go on. I don't see a lot of need for a battlesuit designed just for fighting underwater, not given the myriad impressive capabilities of the traditional battlesuit which is fielded by each side. The "marine" as opposed to "Marine" battlesuit is just a strange bit of unnecessary fluff. Lose them and simply adopt the so-called "marine" battlesuit advantages to your regular battlesuit units at no additional cost. Trust me, it won't upset the game in the least and you're doing away with a bit of unnecessary game fat in the bargain.
"The GEV-PC (aka the "Magic Bus") or "It can carry how many strength points of infantry?!"
The one thing I didn't understand in SHOCKWAVE was the GEV-PC. It was capable of carrying three squads or 30 heavily power armored infantry! That seems a bit illogical. To carry 30 full armored MI and their equipment and their drones would require a huge hovercraft, one not really set up to survive for long on the battlefield. It would be big, hard to maneuver (with 30 MI on board!), and an easy target. Since in the 20th century, most infantry squads were 8 soldiers assigned to a APC or IFV, I'm basing my logic on that approach. Now, imagine the typical battle kit for today's soldier, his / her gear, and how much space this takes up. Have you ever been inside a Bradley fighting vehicle? Its huge on the outside, but cramped on the inside. Designing a hovercraft or even a heavy track layer to carry 30 MI would require a vehicle three times or more the size of the average 18 wheeler truck, easy! If each powersuit, according to official canon is 7 feet tall (a little over 2m) and weighs 1500 pounds without the soldier inside or any spare equipment, then we are in trouble! Let's look at the Paneuropean GEV-PC. It carries 30 MI soldiers, each at 1500 pounds and 7 feet tall. 1500 x 30 is 45,000 pounds worth of MI infantry onboard! See where I'm going with this? GEVs are light, you would need a huge hovercraft with a lot of lift to carry 30 Paneuropean MI into battle quickly, and that hovercraft would be so big, it would be an easy target. The enemy would brew it up before the infantry could ever get out...
Infantry riding tanks
This is a really, really bad idea and how it ever made it past play-testing would be a very good question to ask, especially since this one rule seems to completely defeat the fiction that supports the rest of the story. I understand the premise of the rule (to get infantry moved around quicker, another inherent weakness of the MI concept in the original game) but the execution makes no logical sense.
Infantry, even with their power suits, are still the slowest units in the game (short of perhaps a mobile howitzer or a mobile command post). Now, how you get infantry to ride tanks while they are in full MI dress, I have no idea, but the official game rules allow for it. Tanks are low today and as compact as they can be for good reason; increased survival. If you break up a tank outline with ten full geared MI scattered all over the surface hanging on (not to mention their drones and weapon packs) and the tank won't be able to fight very effectively. Add in the fact that in an age of electronic warfare and detection a heavy tank with ten MI suits on the exterior is going to show up pretty well on an enemy sensor.
Put ten infantry on a tank today and go into battle!
What happens when the tank has to traverse its main gun or swing its turret around? The infantry get in the way! I'm sure the problem would be compounded in the future if the tank is loaded down with 15,000 pounds worth of additional baggage onboard riding on the outside and on the top. Infantry riding a tank is just not a good idea by any stretch of the imagination. Even if they could hold on they would be quick meat for nearby high explosive hits and the meat grinder that we call "shrapnel." One explosive hit to the exterior of the tank might not damage the tank very much, but its going to completely scrub off any infantry foolish enough to be riding the tank. And if tanks, or any other armored vehicle operating on the 21CB, as I have postulated, use some form of point defense system, then that system is not going to work very well with ten infantry hitching a ride on top... now is it?
Imagine infantry today trying to hitch a ride on a MBT outfitted with reactive armor! How long are you going to have a squad on top of your tank? Not very long, just until the first shell is fired at your tank at which point your own reactive armor will take care of the friendly squad up top rather messily!
Infantry riding tanks (or any armored vehicle) just doesn't make sense.
Disabling OGRE components
OGREs seem to have one huge advantage (no pun intended) over their opponents in that their opponents can be disabled while OGREs (and their components) cannot. I don't think that makes a lot of sense and with a pair of optional rules (and a little bit of extra bookkeeping), the game can get a lot more interesting (especially for the OGRE player). Two optional rules which I came up with allow for the OGRE to suffer from both disabled components and disabled treads. Disabled components (weapon systems) will temporarily lower the total firepower of an OGRE while disabling the treads may temporarily lower the movement point allowance of an OGRE.
These temporary handicaps can add a lot of interesting situations to even the basic game.
The highly improbably named Combine "Ninja" Cybertank
Why does the Combine have a class of cybertank called "Ninja?" The term "Ninja" comes from feudal Japan and using the term makes little sense if the Combine is fighting the Nihon Empire (and probably causes a great deal of confusion on both sides). The truth is that the Combine would never create and deploy a Western cybertank with the class name of "Ninja" any more than the Nihon Empire would deploy an Oriental cybertank with the class name of "Minuteman." What we have here is a mixing of two different cultures (and cultures at war) and for no really good reason other than the term "Ninja" possibly (and probably) "sounded cool."
If there ever is something like a stealth capable Combine cybertank, it won't be called a "Ninja." Not if it is built in the West and in North America. In Datapulse, the Combine "Ninja" has been replaced with the more Western sounding class name of "Black Horse."