DLCs for Command Modern Air and Naval Operations (CMANO) come in two varieties: small packages featuring just one or two scenarios (like Kuril Sunrise) and much bigger campaign packs that include multiple scenarios centred on a common theme. The new Desert Storm expansion is one of the later and includes fifteen scenarios that look at various aspects of air and naval conflict in the First Gulf War.
When I first heard that a campaign pack on this conflict was being produced, I was a bit doubtful. The real campaign was so one sided that only a masochist would want to play the Iraqi side. Even as the coalition player, I wondered whether there would be enough to do in air and naval actions that, after the early stages, mainly involved blowing things up virtually unopposed. The designer of the pack, Wayne Stiles, has avoided one problem by not allowing the player to play the Iraqi side but has also done a great job in putting together a group of scenarios that mix ‘historical’ and plausible hypothetical events that hold the player’s interest.
Here’s a brief rundown of what’s included:
Scenario 1: Invasion
This turns out to be much less exciting that it sounds as the invasion in question is the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait. As the coalition player (the only side possible) the game involves setting up ferry missions to get assets into the theatre. This sounds quite boring and, to be honest, it is! However the scenario designer has included events that spawn news reports that generate a real sense of tension as the game plays out. There’s also an option early on to increase the level of hostile activity.
Scenario 2: The Thin Red Line
This models a hypothetical pre-emptive Iraqi invasion of Saudi Arabia. This is a lot of fun with secret missions to intercept planes and Special Forces insertions. Again events trigger reports that really ratchet up the tension as the invasion progresses.
Scenario 3: First Night
This models the initial coalition airstrikes against Iraq. It is huge, with multiple airbases and 4 carriers to manage.
Scenario 4: Gates of Hell
This historical scenario covers an action where the coalition tries to prevent WMD attacks into Saudi Arabia.
Scenario 5: Scud Hunt
A historical mission modelling of the coalition attempts to find the Iraqi SCUD TELs. In CMANO this seems to be pretty easy, so you wonder what all the fuss was about in real life!
Scenario 6: Reviving a Giant
A hypothetical scenario involving a modernised BBG Kentucky. Battleships with missiles – what’s not to like?
Scenario 7: Israel Stands up
At the time of writing, this scenario is potentially broken – see notes below. Looking via the editor shows that there doesn’t seem to be any Israeli combat units, so perhaps a patch is in order.
Scenario 8: Buffed up
As the name suggests this is focused on B-52 strikes against airfields, with a cast of supporting characters and some interesting surprises.
Scenario 9: Alliances
This scenario poses the ridiculous proposition that Russia would intervene in Syria – I mean Iraq. Iran also could get involved and things might go downhill fast. It’s up to you to decide! This is actually a fun alternative history scenario.
Scenario 10: Reprisals
Hypothetical scenario with Iran getting irritating. This is a coalition naval and air action against Iranian installations in reprisal. Interesting set of units and a whole bunch of event driven surprises.
Scenario 11: Extreme Prejudice
Can you find and kill Sadam Hussein and end the war at a stroke? Hypothetical scenario with Special Forces and lots of event driven fun.
Scenario 12: Bubiyan
In this hypothetical battle the UK (Yeah!) has to deal with a swarm of Iraqi missile boats. This is one of the smallest scenarios in the package but is an interesting study of the problem that modern high-tech navies all fear in coastal waters – cheap speedboats with missiles on board. To add to the problems in this one the enemies begin as friendlies – you can’t simply shoot first and ask questions afterwards.
Scenario 13: Shooting Gallery
Rather than allow the Iraqi’s to evacuate their air force, as they did historically, this scenario looks at the operations that might have been required to destroy them in place. This involves using Marines and other forces in an airborne assault. Again, events are used to great effect in this scenario.
Scenario 14: Liberation
This is one for when you are feeling angry at the world – it lets you blow up everything in sight. It’s representative of the coalition operations around the ‘Highway of death’.
Scenario 15: Israeli Counterpunch
This isn’t anything to do with the Gulf War but is a bonus scenario that is concerned with an Iranian sponsored nuclear attack on Israel. There are all sorts of secret Special Operations shenanigans that let you take part in your own Tom Clancy novel.
CMANO includes a full featured event editor and even a built in programming language (Lua) and I’ve been critical in the past of scenarios that didn’t make use of this. This criticism absolutely does not apply to the scenarios included in this campaign pack. Every mission makes extensive use of events to adjust alliances, provide surprises and generate reports that build tension. The designer has taken a story telling approach to putting these scenarios together, but these are interactive stories where decisions you take alter the progress of events.
One innovative feature that the designer has included is to use events to provide orders and objectives. When playing CMANO I’m used to the side briefing telling me at the start what I’m supposed to do and who I’m supposed to kill. This doesn’t happen in these scenarios. Instead the scenario briefing gives you a vague intent for action, and initially I found myself sitting at the start of a game wondering what the hell I was supposed to do. Seconds, or minutes, into the scenario the first specific orders start to appear in event driven messages, but you really have to have pre-empt these by doing basic things like setting up CAPs, AEWs, etc which is just like real life, I guess. The advantage of this approach is that orders change as things happen and this provides a real sense of your actions having an influence beyond simply destroying things.
Not everything is perfect however. One scenario (Scenario 7) just doesn’t work, but I imagine that’s easily fixed. A big problem I found is that it is impossible to select enemy bases. This means that getting intelligence about parked aircraft requires a round-about method involving pretend Shift-F1 attacks. I thought that there was something wrong with CMANO on my computer when I first saw this, but I can select enemy bases outside of the Desert Storm scenarios and so it seems to be related to this pack specifically. In many scenarios no-navigation zones are set up that actually exclude nothing. Presumably this is done to colour code particular areas, but it’s a pain if you don’t realise this and find your aircraft happily flying into air defences you thought they would avoid. A real annoyance is that aircraft often appear in tiny little groups of two or three. I mean who would base three F-15s at an airfield? This happens on aircraft carriers too, meaning you have what seems like a hundred (I haven’t counted them!) groups on the ready display. On some scenarios I’ve found Iranian aircraft happily flying through Iraq over Kuwait and out towards the coalition fleets in the Persian Gulf – did this really happen?
Another disappointment is that the new(ish) cargo mission capability isn’t used in the scenarios. This is especially surprising as many of the missions involve the transport of cargo or troops as a significant element of the operations. Desert Storm launched with a free platform update that added in a few new features, like a dynamic ORBAT, which makes some of the larger scenarios easier to navigate and organise forces.
Despite some disappointing elements, however, the negatives in this DLC are far outweighed by the positives. There are some really original scenario design ideas included in this pack and the scenarios themselves model fairly realistic and interesting situations from one of the most high-profile post-cold war conflicts. This is definitely one you should buy.