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Tuesday, August 16, 2016

The World of Team Yankee

Unlike other endeavors from Battlefront which use a historical setting, Team Yankee departs from the norm and uses a fictional setting to immerse the player in the horrors of World War Three.  This poses both a challenge and an aid for the developer; they are free to expand this “what-if” universe in any direction, but have to keep grounded in some sort of reality to make the game both playable and plausible. In the case of Team Yankee, the developers used a widely read book to base their game on and have stayed true to the scope and span of that work.

The topic of the game and book are interesting if not chilling.  For over 45 years we had the two biggest super powers and their allies preparing for a war that nobody wanted to happen.  Nations spent billions of dollars on defense and had large standing armies set in their starting blocks waiting for the balloon to go up.  Everyone called it the potential “World War Three”, a name hard to argue with as far as war nomenclature goes.  In reality there were two schools of thought on how a WWIII would go down; either a massive Soviet attack into Germany or a nuclear exchange that would be over (and destroy the world) in about 30 minutes.   I remember the Cold War (another interesting name) very well; as a member of the Air Force I had to train for it; from donning my chemical suit to practicing my Emergency War Orders for a nuclear strike.  Luckily we never had to find out how terrible an all-out modern war would be.

While a potential showdown between NATO and Warsaw Pact loomed, many writers, movie producers and game developers wanted to show the tragedy that would befall the globe if the Cold War went hot.  Once can see why this was such a good topic for many, since it was fictional the creator could use a real world template to create a great story.

Yankee two-one to Yankee six-six, we have a sh!tload of tanks on the way!

Along with this interest in WWIII,  the 1980’s the literary world was introduced to a new type of fictional book, the techno-thriller in which the reader was given a lot of detail on the events in the book.   The author Tom Clancy really became the first author to master this style and books such as the Hunt for the Red October and Red Storm Rising became best sellers and opened up a market for this new genre.  As the techno-thriller industry took off, in 1987 Harold Coyle released his book set in World War Three called Team Yankee. Coyle then a Major in the US Army wrote his first book on a particular American Army unit that would be in the middle of a Soviet offensive.  I read the book the year in which in came out while on a family vacation and liked both the subject matter and the style or writing.  Being a Soviet Studies major at the time, Team Yankee made WWIII real with characters you liked and was a far departure from most of the Soviet military books I had to read for school.  By no means was Coyle’s book the first popular WWIII novel I read.  That honor would go to Sir John Hackett (Yes, the same guy who was at Arnhem) the former commander of British forces in NATO whose book The Third World War: August 1985 came out in 1978.  I recall reading the book when it came out in mass market paperback and while not as easy of a read (I was 13 when I read it) as Team Yankee, it did leave an impression, especially with its nuclear exchange at the end; the same event which is also used in Team Yankee.  As almost an homage to Hackett, many WWIII books seem to take place around the summer of 1985.  Other than my graduation from High School I cannot figure out why this date appears more than any other in the WWIII genre.

As far as WWIII fiction goes, a few books stand out to me besides the two above.  If you do not mind the odd side stories I would recommend Tom Clancy’s Red Storm Rising.  If the Soviet story is the one you want to read about, then Ralph Peter’s Red Army is the Soviet version of Team Yankee.  One of the best books about the tactical side of a WWIII land battle is First Clash: Combat Close-Up in World War Three by Kenneth Macksey.  This book focuses on a holding battle fought by the Canadian contingent in NATO and not only tells a personal story, it also gives you a great detail on how a modern tactical fight would go down.  Going down the Commonwealth contribution to NATO is of course Chieftains by Bob Forrest-Webb, which focuses on the BAOR fight in Germany.  While there are many more books that cover WWIII in other locations and domains, these books will get you into the environment that Team Yankee covers.  Some of these books are out of print, however finding a used copy on Amazon is not too hard, or you can come and steal them from my house.

Team Yankee vs. Team Yankee vs. Reality
Battlefront contacted Harold Coyle in order to use his book for the back story of their new modern game, before this the book has been the focus of two board games, a video game and a comic book.  As far as staying true to the book, Team Yankee the game uses the book faithfully and even uses the name of the main character Captain Sean Bannon on its army deal box set Bannon’s Boy’s.  Like the book, our Team Yankee force comes with the first variant of the M-1 Abrams tank along with infantry riding in M-113 troop carriers.  For those of us who have read the book, some of the missions/scenarios in Team Yankee should look very familiar as well.

How close is this to reality?  Well the M-1 was being equipped to Army units in NATO to replace the M-60A3 tank, and by 1985 many M-60A3 tanks would still be around.  The fact that Team Yankee is equipped with new M-1 Abrams tanks is not that unusual.  Nor is it unusual for the infantry to still be in those old M-113’s, many of you fellow grey haired guys remember the issues the Bradley had and by 1985 they still were a rare sight in Europe.  What is a bit odd is how many M-1 go boom in the book.  The M-1 is a hard tank to destroy with none being destroyed by enemy tank fire in the 1991 Gulf war and few being knocked out permanently by the Iraqi’s in 2003.  Even in 2003, US Abrams took direct hits from Iraqi T-72’s and none of them led to catastrophic loss.  But remember this is a game and we cannot have things on the table that can’t be killed (other than Early War T-34’s and Matilda's). From the demo we did recently at Historicon, I can tell you that the game is bloody and you may run out of smoke and fire during the game.  So I would say that the book and the game hold up well enough to reality for you to enjoy both.
En Garde!
So where are the M-60A3’s, Bradley’s and Apache for the US?  Probably in the same space that the Soviet T-80’s and T-64’s are; either in development for a future module of the game or outside of the scope of where Battlefront wanted the game to go.  Having no idea what is coming next, I would not be surprised to see units like Soviet Guards, US National Guard, Polish, East German, and US Armored Cavalry appear on shelves if the game takes off.  That is when you may see some of these other weapons make an appearance.

As for Leopard, that is where the game goes off script since the reluctant hosts of WWIII do not appear in the book.  I have been really impressed with the forces in Leopard and perhaps this is because the developer is not handcuffed to a book. 

Speaking of being handcuffed, I do wonder how fixing the date of the game to circa 1985 (all references on the website say mid 1980’s) will affect the future of the game.  If we shift the game 3 years in the future to 1988, we would have M-1A1 tanks vice the M-1, and more capable Soviet T-80’s.  Both of these later variants were significant improvements over their predecessors and would affect the balance of the game.  Even going to 1982 would change thing up, Team Yankee would have M-60A3’s, and you may see some late models of the T-64 in the Soviet force mix.  While I can provide other examples I think you can get my drift.  So the question remains; since the development Team Yankee can’t move much vertically in years, how wide can go horizontally with forces?  For NATO after the British and Canadians you are not looking at much, because I doubt the forces from Luxembourg will be very competitive. Forget the French, while they did have a good military, they were not militarily tied to the NATO command structure and not a full member of NATO for over four decades. 
The T-55
This leaves the former Warsaw Pact.  While I would love to play an East German force, I should recall that the Soviets did not export their best stuff during the Cold War.  In fact planes sold to WP members could not aerial refuel because the fear was that they would be used to bomb Moscow in the event of a revolt.   Even the Team Yankee book has Poles with T-55’s and one would hope that a player would fare better than those guys did, plus with the points structure the Poles would field a battalion vice platoon/company and moving around 75 tanks on a 6’x4’ table would be tiring.

A coat of paint and it will be like brand new
So the fictitious world of Team Yankee can come alive on your gaming table; I just wonder what the future holds for this excellent game.

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