Command Live scenarios usually are rife with noisy things like missiles, bombs, acrobatic jets, burning buildings and exploding ships. Pole Positions takes another approach. The stars of the action are submarines and their branch of the navy isn’t called the “Silent Service” for nothing, as exhibited by this cloak-and-cyber dagger presentation.
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The receding Artic ice pack is opening up new oil and natural gas deposits. Russia, the US, Canada and Norway all want a share of the goodies and Russia is going a step further by constructing the multi-component SHELF system, reminiscent of the NATO SOSUS method of tracking Soviet subs during the Cold War. The scenario posits American attempts to sabotage the project while the Russians continue to activate it. All of this derring-do must be done without overt combat.
The North Pole area is not the most familiar of regions; players may want to check Google Earth to find features such as Spitsbergen, Lomonosov Ridge, Northwind Escarpment. Once these general areas are found on the game’s map, clicking on small squares gives clear labels for patrol zone points. The area is so far north that panning the map when zoomed out rotates the world! Mouse tips show facilities such as the all-important Russian undersea nuclear generator (ATGU), transmission towers and communication centers. Those tips also lay out the names of islands and stations as well as the names, position and speed of ships and planes indicated by NATO NTDS symbols. Colored lines delineate the ice cap and regions claimed by the various nations while detection and weapon ranges can be toggled by choice. Clicking on a ship or aircraft brings up a side panel with a picture of the craft, its status and abilities. More details on the unit can be had via the data base viewer. The sophisticated gameplay mechanics have been described in depth in pieces such as our Command Modern Air Naval Operations review and many others here on Wargamer.com. The PDF manual is very good, but the developers of Command Modern Air and Naval Operations never quit, and players should visit their site at for the most up-to-date instructions and tips. The situation and missions for the scenario is very well documented.
Pole Positions lasts six days of gameplay and every hour is used. Much time is needed to take up position and patrol so players should not be shy about using the fastest time compression –fifteen and thirty minutes – along with the “no pulse” fast option. Three American subs have familiar tasks; they patrol three zones looking for two particular Russian submarines. This task can last three or four days so patience is necessary. Points are awarded for spotting them but not attacking them. Other missions come straight out of the excellent book on Cold War sub ops, “Blind Man’s Bluff”. One sub must sit on the Russian ATGU for four days to gather information while another must insert a SEAL team to plant a mechanism at a transmission center causing a cyber strike to knock out Russian comms. Once the strike happens, yet another sub uses its UUV to damage transmitter problems.
While these events take time to set up, players do more than watch the clock tick down. The Artic is a busy place these days with merchant ships plying the coasts, all countries’ recon aircraft winging overhead and many whales doing whatever whales do. All these contacts should be checked out using the report detailing any emissions. An interesting feature is the hourly weather report with temperature, rain state, cloud cover and sea state. The last piece is important for small boat operations.
As the subs creep near their targets, players need to slow the time down and zoom in because triggering events can require fine motor control. The American sub must sit exactly on the center of the ATGU to start its work. Care also must be taken as to the sub’s depth as some vehicles from them operate only at certain distances from the ice pack. The sub with the SEALs can either launch their Swimmer Delivery Vehicle which can be guided to the beach or enter a debarkation area from which the team is teleported to the beach. The team must then run exactly to the center of the target and stay for two hours to plant their bug. Running to an embarkation area signals the sub to launch a Rigid Hull Inflatable Boat to pluck the heroes from a pickup area and return to the sub. The UUV attack requires the same precision and stealth.
The Russians are in similar straits. Two of their submarines are tasked with preparing two sites ay twelve hours at each site using the mini sub Losharik. . Two more must emplace communication towers for twenty-four hours while yet two more activate other towers. Another sub provides security against the – oh, the horrors – the Greenpeace ship. All these missions must be performed with precision, stealth and timing.
This scenario is quite complicated. Even with multiple saved games, players will be hard put to win it the first time around. Accomplishing missions may gain points but being detected loses then, Replay is still a question. Missions never change but all craft spawn in different positions each time the scenario is started anew. Different subs have different speeds and cavitation levels so each must be coned differently. The enemy craft that appeared after four days the first time around may pop up early. These uncertainties, the scenario’s complexity and unique style should make Pole Positions a favourite in the Command Live stable.