It fell off the back of a lorry…

This article was originally published in the January 1994 edition of Miniature Wargames. I have edited and made minor revisions to the article.

T-90 tank – Vitaly V. Kuzmin / CC BY-SA 

The Introduction

In the early eighties, it was the Cold War at its coldest. The mighty mean bear of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics versus the magnificent fighting eagle of the United States of America. As each tried to outwit the other the end result was an arms race with no apparent end. As the newest weapons came off the factory production lines, they were superseded by new advances in technology. The countries desperately tried to keep military secrets from each other and even their respective populations. The United States Air Force (USAF) for many years denied that they even had a stealth fighter, let alone release a photograph of one of them. The Soviets were just as secretive, the first that the West would see of new tanks would be on the annual May Day parade.

How all that has changed, who in 1985 would believe that today, the Berlin Wall would not exist and there would be only one Germany. The United States would no longer concentrate its infantry training on repulsing the mass tank attack by the Warsaw Pact, but on fighting Third World insurgency. The Union of Soviet Socialist Republics would no longer be a union at all, but had fragmented into a Commonwealth of Independent States. Where once secrets had to be kept, now they are flaunted across frontiers. The USAF now present their new aircraft in the same manner that a car company would show off their latest model. Photographs of the latest Russian hardware is shown at arms fairs across the world, as they attempt to earn hard currency. Even Turkey, a member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO), has bought Russian BTR-60PB vehicles. Though these Russian military vehicles can be bought easily, they are still pretty expensive.

Now if you had the right contacts, and didn’t mind where it came from, you could probably get a reasonably cheap T-90 tank, this ultra-modem tank is just entering service with the Russian Army. You needn’t worry it probably fell off the back of a lorry…

The Background

With the demise of the USSR it would seem that corruption and the rule of the gangster have taken over from communism. A common misconception, as both these were still around when the Kremlin ruled the roost, only because of the censorship you would never see it on the television news. Though it has to be said that now the level of crime is actually rising. Now we see reports of massive fraud and deception, you can read in your newspaper the corruption that pervades itself throughout the system. The result is that factories produce shoddy goods that nobody wants, the distribution infrastructure is non-existent, the rouble is virtually worthless, people are starving, though in Moscow you can still get a hamburger… However, if you are in possession of dollars, then you can shop at the hard currency market, where you can buy anything, including weapons.

Desperate people resort to desperate measures, they break the law. Crime is on the increase, the criminal gangs seem to rule the streets in many cities. Like the Mafia of America in 1920s, they run brothels, gambling dens and protection rackets. You pay them a percentage of your profits, they protect you, you don’t pay them the percentage, they don’t protect you, and you must suffer the consequences of your actions.

Nizhny Tagil, Sverdlovsk in 2014
Nizhny Tagil, Sverdlovsk in 2014 – АлександрВ.И. / CC BY

In the industrial Sverdlovsk region of the Urals, Nizhny Tagil is a large city and has its share of the criminal tendency. The market traders, most of whom come from the Muslim Caucasus mountains, were getting tired of handing over their hard earned profits to the local band of gangsters and it was time they did something about it. Roughly fifty of them grouped together, armed themselves with grenades and a variety of guns. In a scene reminiscent of a Mad Max film, they drove into Nizhny Tagil in a convoy of ten cars. They had had enough, they were going to stop this protection racket once and for all. Those gangsters had had their day, now it was their tum to pay.

The gangsters, though surprised, responded by fighting fire with fire. A firefight started on the streets of Nizhny Tagil and the city became a warzone. As the battle progressed, it could be seen that it was going to be a long hard fight. A small group from the gangsters at this point made a break for it, and headed for the Uralvagonzavod factory on the outskirts of the city.

The Uralvagonzavod factory is allegedly the world’s largest manufacturer of tanks. They produce over one thousand five hundred tanks a year. Currently they are producing the new T-90 tank for the Russian Army and for possible export. Mechanics look over each tank, checking for possible faults and tuning the engine, before they are handed over to the Army. The small group of gangsters saw such a mechanic and grasped the opportunity. Once the mechanic saw the sawn-off shotgun in his face and the possible threat of a grenade or two, he realised that he had no option but to surrender to the gangsters.

Armed with their new ‘toy·. the gangsters drove back into Nizhny Tagil and started to attack the market traders. In the violent racist assault that followed, where mob bosses demanded the ‘purging’ of the Muslims, at least one trader was killed, and many others were injured.

Before things got totally out of hand and the city was burnt to the ground, the forces for law and order made an appearance. Police in riot gear and troops from the interior ministry deployed. Using riot vehicles, helicopters, roadblocks and smoke they, after a long struggle, finally got the fighting to end. They retrieved the tank, by using gas on the gangsters within it and ‘smoking’ them out.

The Scenario

This interesting episode from the former Soviet Union makes a challenging three-way wargame. Unfortunately, in my research of this incident I was unable to find a street map of Nizhny Tagil and thus have had to make quite a few assumptions about the road layout, but we needn’t worry about this too much as I doubt that if you were going to game the conflict you would actually go to the bother of recreating a scale model of Nizhny Tagil. You would probably use model buildings that you already had in your collection and you would also be constrained by the size of your wargaming table, however try to get the table looking reasonably like the map.

2020 Update

Since I wrote this article in 1993, things have changed we now have easy access to maps through services such as Google Maps. We can now get “current” maps much more easily. Less easy is getting historical maps of places.

We can split the incident into three stages. You could game each stage separately, but I feel that more satisfaction and fun could be had by gaming the entire conflict from start to finish.

The First Stage

The first stage is the initial attack by the market traders on the gangsters. The market traders are armed with grenades, various guns and ten cars. The gangsters would have similar weaponry but would no doubt would be surprised by the attack. If you look at the map, the market traders enter the map at point A at high speed. The gangsters are hanging around the central shopping area of Nizhny Tagil, ensuring that they get their percentage of the traders’ profits and that their own operations continue to run unhindered. The gamer playing the gangsters may place his forces around point B. The gangsters may not respond to the situation until they feel threatened or are fired upon. Using the rules I have written below the gangsters will feel threatened when the street they are on, they are outnumbered by the market traders by three or more elements to one, and will automatically respond. They will draw their weapons and open fire. If the gangsters are only outnumbered two to one they must make a threat check throw a D6, on a score of one of two, they fail and feel threatened. If they fail, they will respond. Otherwise, the gangsters feel safe and will only respond if fired upon by the market traders. The player of the local police should attempt to stop the fight, however, they may not do anything until the firing starts, though they can patrol the streets and stop for coffee and doughnuts. The gangsters will have no qualms about firing or attacking the local police in all three incidents. The market traders on the other hand are reasonable law-abiding citizens and would not normally attack the police. thus they must make a threat check before firing or attacking the police, as above throw a D6, on a roll of one or two they have failed and feel threatened and will fire first upon the police. The market traders will though defend themselves if attacked or fired upon by the police. However, when the police make their appearance in the third incident in their attempt to end the firefight, the market traders will need no threat check to fire or attack the police. They don’t want to be arrested and will be trying to make their escape (as will the gangsters).

The Second Stage

The second stage which follows on from the first is the introduction of the T-90 tank by the gangsters and their counter-attack on the market traders. If playing this wargame as one complete episode, the tank arrives on the sixth tum. and should be placed entering on one of the two roads on the bottom left of the map. But the T-90 tank is not as useful as it could be because it probably contains no ammunition. This would be a safety measure during the transportation of the T-90 tanks from the Uralvagonzavod factory to the armed forces: But, we can use artistic: licence and could assume that the T-90 tank was not only receiving a tuning from the mechanic, but had also returned from the firing range at the factory and still had ammunition aboard. Or you could assume that the safety measures we take for granted in this country do not exist in the USSR and the T-90 tanks are delivered complete with ammunition. Some of the gangsters would no doubt have received some form of military training, but it is unlikely that they know how to accurately use the weapon systems. I have taken this into account in the rules given below. The T-90 tank is similar in appearance to the T-72, but with large square panels of explosive reactive armour covering the turret and the front of the hull. Its main armament is a 125mm smoothbore gun, it is also mounted with two heavy machine-guns.

The Third Stage

The final stage is the ending of the incident by the police. The local police having been engaged in the firefight will have radioed into their superiors of the situation and would be awaiting reinforcements. Such a firefight could not be allowed to continue and must be stopped. If playing this wargame as one complete episode, the police arrive on turn ten. The player of the police may at this point immediately place four roadblocks anywhere in the city. The initial and subsequent appearance of the police is at point C. Every other turn from then on (therefore turns twelve, then fourteen and so on) the player of the police may roll 2D6 on the following table. Please note on scores of two and twelve the gangsters and the traders respectively receive reinforcements.

Reinforcements Table

Dice Score (2D6) Reinforcements
2 two elements of gangsters arrive at point B
3 an interior ministry armoured vehicle with two elements of interior ministry troops
4 two police cars each containing riot police command elements
5 a riot control vehicle
6 an element of interior ministry troops
7 an element of riot police
8 an element of interior ministry troops
9 an interior ministry armoured vehicle containing an interior ministry command element
10 a helicopter
11 a minibus containing five elements of riot police
12 an element of traders and a car arrive at point A

All the police reinforcements enter the table at point C. The police also on every second turn can place one new roadblock on an exit road in order to block the undesirable elements within the city, where the police can then go in and arrest them for disturbing the peace. At this point the market traders and the gangsters should attempt to leave town and make for the hills. Taking the odd pot-shot at each other (and the police) is of course allowed. The police will not fire upon either the gangsters or the market traders unless fired upon. They will attempt to defeat them in melee combat, whereupon they will be cuffed, arrested and taken down the station for questioning.

The scenario ends when all the market traders and gangsters have been arrested or have fled into the mountains.

The Forces

For this scenario the only numbers I could find were for the market traders, as it is unlikely that they would dare to take on the gangsters unless they outnumbered them, I think we can assume that there are less gangsters than traders. The police on the other hand have at their disposal not only riot police, but interior ministry troops, helicopters and armoured vehicles. The numbers given below are based around the rules given. If you are going to use another set of rules, then adjust the number of elements, or convert into number of figures depending on the set of rules used. Also take into account the figures you have in your collection; you could always transpose the scenario to your favourite wargaming period.

The gangsters have ten elements of ‘infantry ‘ and two command elements, these are all armed with a variety of hand weapons, including handguns, the ubiquitous AK47 and grenades. They also have three cars or vans with which to play with, each can carry two elements of infantry. By the beginning of turn six they have the T-90 tank. Depending on whether you want to give the gangsters ammunition or not, assume that the one element of infantry and is armed with at least two heavy machine-guns. If you decide to give them ammunition, they also have  access to  the 125mm smoothbore gun.

The market traders have fifteen elements of infantry and two command elements, they have similar weapons to the gangsters, hand guns, AK47s and grenades. They have ten cars in which they are driving when the scenario begins, like the gangsters vehicles they can each carry two elements of infantry.

The police start the scenario with the local police patrol, which consists of two police cars, carrying an element of infantry each. These are only armed with handguns, but for simplicity treat them as riot police elements. On turn ten the bulk of the police arrive. These forces consist of ten elements of riot police, one riot police command element, ten elements of interior ministry troops, one interior ministry command element, three armoured vehicles, one riot control vehicle with a water cannon and a tear gas discharger, and one helicopter. On every other tum from then on they receive reinforcements, the player must roll on the police reinforcement table. The riot police are armed with truncheons, handguns, body armour and riot shields. The riot police also have gas masks. The interior ministry troops are better armed with AK47s, but have no body armour, gas masks or riot shields. The interior ministry troops also have smoke grenades. The armoured vehicles can carry four elements of infantry and are armed with one heavy machine-gun. The riot control vehicle has a water cannon and can carry one element of infant ry. The helicopter is used in the main for reconnaissance but will have an effect on the morale of the gangsters and the market traders, see the morale rules below.

The Rules

For this incident you can of course use any set of rules that you have already and are happy with. The following set of rules given are adapted from a set of Second World War Rules that I am currently working on for use with scenarios based on Operation Sealion. My personal preference is for simple yet effective rules. These do not need to be, as is often assumed, unrealistic. On the contrary, a simple fast play set of rules often leads to players concentrating on tactics which does seem to me to be realistic as opposed to players trying to interpret a set of complicated and complex rules which attempt to be realistic. It certainly makes for a happier and more fun game. Evidence for this can be seen with the popularity of WRG’s rules Hordes of The Things and DBA.

Back to the rules, each figure, tank, vehicle represents one person or one vehicle. The basic unit is the element. For cars, vans, armoured cars, tanks, etc each vehicle counts as one element. Infantry are based on (three centimetre for 15mm and four centimetre for 20mm) square bases, with each base counting as one ele ment. For infantry armed with rifles, handguns or assault rifles, there are three figures to each base. For mortar and heavy machine-gun crews there are two figures (and the ordnance) on each base. For those gamers out there who want to add civilians to their game, there are five figures to each civilian element.

Each element has five statistics: a movement value, a firing value, an attack value, a defence value and a morale dice. The movement value gives us the base move for each element, this will change according to the terrain in which the element is moving. The firing value is for calculating shooting. The attack value is used in hand-to-hand combat (melee). The defence value is used to determine whether an element is destroyed/gassed in a firefight or hand-to-hand combat. Each element is assigned a dice type for its morale. For this you will need access to the different types of dice, the sort that are used by roleplayers. You will need a D4, D6, DB, D10 and a D12. If you are unsure what these are (because you normally only use the ubiquitous D6) check out your local independent games shop where they should be able to supply you with the required dice.

In each game turn players take alternate turns, but you will see that all players do take part in their opponents turns. Because this is a three way wargame, each of the player turns follow on from each other. Each player turn is then divided into three phases. The movement phase, the firing phase and the melee phase.


Morale is probably the most important part of each phase. It seems too often in many sets of rules, considerable reliance is placed on the hardware with no thought given to the motivations and morale of the participants. In these rules each element is given a dice with which they test morale with. For example, Interior Ministry Troops would roll a D8 for morale, whilst the traders would use a D6.

Elements must test for morale when one of the following happens:

  • the element comes under fire for the first time
  • the element is attacked with tear gas
  • the element is in cover/buildings and wishes to advance having been fired upon in the last player turn
  • the element is in cover/buildings and wishes to fire having been fired upon in the last player turn
  • the element is defeated in close combat and pushed back
  • another element within 20cm routs from close combat
  • the element is attacked by the T-90tank for the first time

Additional morale checks must also be taken as stated in the rules, and if and when the umpire sees fit. The score of the dice is modified using the following modifiers:

Morale Modifier Table

Description Modifier
the element is within a tear gas cloud -2
the element is in cover/smoke -1
the element is within buildings -2
the element is within 20cm of a police helicopter (does not apply to police elements) -2
the element is a command element +1
the element is supported by two or more other elements* +2

* an element is considered to be supported when there are two or more friendly elements, for the police these can include helicopters, both within 15cm)

You then consult the following table to check the element’s reaction.

Morale Reaction Table

Score Result
-5 to -2 The element surrenders and is out of the game.
-1 to 1 The element routs away from the conflict, if unable to run away, because of buildings or are surrounded they will surrender. The element may not fire.
2 to 3 The element retreats a full move away immediately. If the element is within buildings or behind cover they will remain so. The element may not fire in its next firing phase.
4 to 5 The element stays put, also it may not fire in its next firing phase.
6 to 7 The element may not move.
8 to 11 The element may continue as per normal.
12+ The element is really confident and may add one to all its dice throws in its next turn.

 You may have noticed that elements within buildings or behind cover will have their morale score reduced. The reasoning for this is simple, when a unit is safe behind brick walls, it will take quite a bit of fighting spirit for them to extricate themselves from them.

To show an example, an element of riot police are behind a wall, in the last player turn they were fired upon and now wish to advance. Their morale dice is a D10, they roll it and score a six. They are in cover, so minus one, so this takes them down to five. However within 15cm is another element of riot police and a police helicopter is directly overhead, so they add two giving them a total of seven. Checking the table, we can see that they may not move, however they can return fire.


The first phase is the movement phase, after any relevant morale checks have been taken, the player may move his elements.

Command Points

In order to add something extra you could steal an idea from HOTT of the player throwing a dice (or two) and only allowed to move that number of elements. If you want to do this optional rule, the player whose turn it is throws 2D6 to give a number of command points and may move a number of elements equal to the number of command points. Command points may also be used instead to push troops, the player may

use command points to move elements a further 5cm, or can be added ‘to morale checks, these command points must be stated that they are being used before throwing the dice for the morale check.

Following on from our example shown above, the player of the riot police wishes to add two command points to his morale check. He throws the D10 and scores a nine, he adds the two for the command points giving him eleven, the cover reduces this back to ten, whilst the support plus two gives him twelve. Not only can the element of the riot police move, but they can add to any dice throws they make that turn.

As stated each element has a movement value, the element may move this number in centimetres if you are using 20mm figures, adjust if you are using other scales. Elements move half move in buildings or crossing obstacles.


Shooting is relatively simple, the firer rolls a D6 adds his firing value, whilst the player whose element is being shot at also rolls a D6, but adds his elements defence value.

The firer, only, applies the following modifiers.

Shooting Modifier Table

Description Modifier
target element is behind cover/smoke -1
firing element is in tear gas cloud -3
target element is in buildings -3
target element is helicopter -4
firing element is stationary +1
target element is stationary in open +1
large target element (eg a vehicle) +1
firing element passed 12+ on morale check +1

After applying modifiers, if the target player scores more than the firing player than no effect. If the scores are equal than the target’s element must make an immediate morale check. If the firing player’s score is higher than the target player’s score, than the target element is destroyed. Well in real terms, they are not actually destroyed, but have either actually been shot, surrendered, or have run away really really fast.

Command elements have the advantage that they can combine several elements firing at one target, up to a maximum of four elements. In this case the firing player still only rolls once dice, but can add all the firing values of the supporting elements to his score. Elements may not fire more than once per turn. To keep things simple, if you are optionally using the T-90 125mm smoothbore gun than use an eight centimetre diameter blast template and using the defence value of one of the target elements, count the final result against all the elements within the blast template. When using the water cannon, a successful hit will not destroy the target element but push them back 10cm, and they must make a morale check. The 125mm gun has a low score because the gangsters would not be familiar with it.

Close Combat

Close combat is determined in a similar fashion, the attacker rolls a D6 adds his attack value, whilst the player whose element is being attacked also rolls a D6 but adds his element’s defence value. The attacker, only, applies the following modifiers.

Close Combat Modifier Table

Description Modifier
defending element is behind cover -1
flanking enemy elements -1 each (up to a maximum of two)
attacking element is a vehicle -1
target element was pushed back +1
flanking friendly elements +1 each (up to a maximum of two)
attacking element passed 12+ on morale check +1
defending element is a vehicle +1

After applying modifiers, if the defending player scores more than the attacking player than no effect. If the scores are equal than the defending element must make an immediate morale check. If the attacker’s score is higher, but not by more than three than the defending element must make an immediate morale check and will be pushed back I 0cm. If the attacker’s score exceeds the defender’s score by more than three, then the defender is defeated. Infantry elements can be considered to be beaten up, whilst vehicle elements can be considered to be immobilised, tyres punctured for example.

Gas, smoke grenades and explosive grenades are all treated in a similar fashion. An element may not fire aimed weapons in the same turn as throwing grenades. The exception to this is the riot control vehicle which can use its gas dischargers as well as its water cannon.

Explosive grenades have a range of 15cm and have a 5cm burst diameter. Treat as thought it was shooting, the grenades have a firing value of 6. You cannot combine the effects of grenades (as you could with aimed weapons ).

Smoke grenades also have a range of 15cm, but produce a 10cm diameter smoke cloud, apart from obscuring visibility, they have no other effect. The tear gas discharger has a range of 25cm and produces a 10cm tear gas cloud, elements covered by the cloud must make an immediate morale chec k. Tear gas can be fired into buildings, but the firing element must score a six on a D6 otherwise it misses windows and the tear gas cartridge falls to the ground outside the building.

It might be wise to restrict the number of grenades to one per element because of the scarcity of them and the detrimental effect they could have on the playability of the scenario.

The following are the statistics for the elements within in the game. If you are not happy with these, feel free to change them to a more satisfactory figure. The firing value also includes the range of the aimed weapons. These are much shorter than you could achieve on a firing range because of the numerous buildings in Nizhny Tagil.

Move Firing Value* Attack Value Defence Value Morale Value
15cm 6/30cm 4 6 D6

* also has explosive grenades

Move Firing Value* Attack Value Defence Value Morale Value
15cm 6/30cm 5 6 D8

* also has explosive grenades

Riot Police
Move Firing Value Attack Value Defence Value Morale Value
15cm 4/20cm 8 8 D10
Interior Ministry Troops
Move Firing Value* Attack Value Defence Value Morale Value
15cm 7/30cm 5 6 D8

* also has smoke grenades

Cars and Vans
Move Firing Value Attack Value Defence Value Morale Value
40cm 0 0 4 Crew
T-90 Tank
Move Firing Value Attack Value Defence Value Morale Value
20cm Special 2 15 Crew
Weapon Firing Value Range
Heavy Machine Gun 10 50cm
125mm Smoothbore 15 100cm
Armoured Car
Move Firing Value Attack Value Defence Value Morale Value
30cm 10/50cm 2 12 Crew D8
Riot Control Vehicle
Move Firing Value* Attack Value Defence Value Morale Value
30cm 8/15cm 3 10 Crew D10

* also has gas discharger

Move Firing Value* Attack Value Defence Value Morale Value
50cm 0 0 10 Crew D10

The Figures

Because of the hotch-potch of troop types you could well use any figures you already have in your collection. However, just a few suggestions for those gamers who wish to use 20mm figures. If you can find them the Hotspur Riot Police are ideal, whilst Platoon 20 can supply you with suitable interior ministry troops and ‘resistance fighters’ for use as the traders and gangsters.  Check out Figures, Armour and Artillery range for some really stunning gangster types.

Raid your little brother or sister’s toy box to use their Corgi and Matchbox cars to provide the transportation, and convert one of the vans into the riot control vehicle.

Skytrex have a variety of whitemetal kits of modern Russian armoured cars, which could also be used as the riot control vehicle. For the helicopter, you could use a card counter or a 1/144thscale model, rather than trying to find a suitable 1/72ndmodel kit.

For the terrain, old Soviet architecture was grey and boring; so cardboard boxes could suffice, and these could be placed on a grey cloth.

The Conclusion

So the modern gamer can no longer seriously justify the Warsaw Pact mass tank attack as a historically accurate scenario, but this doesn’t mean that the gamer can’t play such scenarios even if we would have to define it as fantasy. There are still opportunities for historically accurate, interesting and challenging wargames within the former Soviet Union.