Oddly the most historically constraining time period for me to build wargame scenarios in is the Cold War. This is mostly due to the fact that the main protagonists, the US and USSR, were tied down in various proxy wars all over the place leaving little room for hypothetical conflicts to occur without deviating from the course of history too much. There is also the ever looming spectre of WWIII in Europe followed by an apocalyptic nuclear war as well. Finally, most of the key battles in this thematic trope have been done repetitively throughout modern wargaming history particular naval gaming.
This rigidity is definitely a product of my wargaming past but I don’t think I’m alone on this one so I’ve decided to walk through how to break most of the hangups.
First, consider that Cold War history had no scripted AI. It was largely reactive. East and West definitely had larger strategies (rollback, containment, détente, insurgency etc.) but Truman and Stalin never pitched Afghanistan and Vietnam. It was the little things that happened along the way that led Khrushchev and Kennedy/Johnson there. Your scenario themes and narratives should probably work the same way. Don’t think about the endgame think in the chunk of time you’re building in. It will open up options to you.
Next, consider that European colonialism came to an end during this time period replacing many governments which the Cold War protagonists were keen on recruiting as friendly powers. Could you imagine what the to-do lists of the KGB and CIA were like in 1960 when half of Africa suddenly had new governments? You could do a complete Twilight Struggle game on that alone! Not to mention all the old historical antagonisms that bubbled back up. The chances for deviations are significant; exploit that to build great scenarios and narratives.
There is a book called The Global Cold War by Odd Arne Westad that really wraps together Cold War history and strategy into the end of colonialism and birth of nationalism well. You’ll need to stay caffeinated while reading but its brilliance is its focus on what was going on in the rest of the world during the Cold War rather than Europe. You’ll learn a lot and your game will benefit from it.
Next, consider that considerable power projection each side had. The United States had the advantage early on thanks mostly to the logistics needs of WWII, however, the Soviet’s quickly gained in capabilities. The US was able to supply or deploy in strength to Korea, Lebanon, and then Vietnam. The Soviets conducted large airlifts to Angola and then Ethiopia in the 70’s. These lifts could have happened anywhere and both sides had the resources and armaments to spare. Do not let distance be a hang-up as it clearly wasn’t in history.
Now let’s address the elephant in the room, nuclear war. Despite all the conflicts that had gone on during the war the US and USSR never had one. The closest they came was the Cuban Missile Crisis, the Yom Kippur War and a false alarm during the 80’s. It is safe to assume that if these events didn’t lead to an exchange of nukes it likely real life it wouldn’t in your scenarios. Although on second thought what if it did? Does it really matter?
This brings us to our final point.
These are games and they are supposed to be fun. Fun is achieved by making sure the scenario has action, there are problems to solve and there is some narrative for a player to get sucked into or create. These elements should come before everything else including model, order of battle, historical and political accuracy. On the entertainment side of things, it’s an art that is supported by the science. The best scenarios you’ve ever played have these elements. Walk through it and do it. It’ll make it more fun for you and your players.
Anyways this is what I got on this one. I hope it helps!