June 17, 2024

#TBT / ThrowbackThursday ~ Task Force: Naval Tactics and Operations in the 1980’s

RockyMountainNavy, 9 November 2023

It’s one thing to remember an old mailer from a wargame of yore, but what does it mean when you still have that game on your shelf? Regimental Commander Brant passed me an old SPI mailer and asked if I wanted to do a TBT entry. I had to laugh—and say yes—because Task Force: Naval Tactics and Operations in the 1980’s by Joseph Balkoski from SPI (1981) is a part of my wargame collection.

In the early 1980’s my go-to modern tactical naval warfare game was Harpoon by Larry Bond. I started with the Adventure Games edition of Harpoon II published in 1983. I remember seeing Task Force on the shelf, but I also remember that, at $18, it was too costly for this then-middle school aspiring Grognard who saved allowance for months and begged Dad to drive 25 or so miles into town on a Saturday in order to buy just one wargame.


So recognizable it didn’t need the publisher’s name shown 

(click on image to enlarge)

I dimly recall standing in my first game store, Fascination Corner on the upper level of Southglenn Mall in Aurora, Colorado, and looking longingly at the orange box of Task Force. The color scheme was such you couldn’t NOT see it! What is barely readable on the ad copy but found on the box cover is the second extended subtitle: “An exciting, authentic combat operations game that accurately simulates the air, surface, and subsurface duel of modern naval combat.” In my mind Task Force was not a game but Harpoon exercised at the operational-level of war. I mean, look at that formation screen display! More importantly it even included F-14 Tomcats!

Looking back, here are a few things that I should have realized from the ad copy for Task Force but didn’t at the time:

  • “…contains two identical 22″ x 34″ maps…” – the ad copy doesn’t tell you this game is played double blind; part of the reason solitaire suitability is rated as “Low.”
  • The ad sheet above is nearly identical to a sheet that was placed on the bottom of the box inside the shrink wrap; SPI in the early 1980’s apparently only used box wraps for the cover and not the box bottom necessitating the “back of the box” information be placed on a separate sheet of paper.
  • The Tournament scenario made it sound like this game could be played at conventions; with a supposed “Average Playing Time: 2 hours” I wondered why this was necessary given in those days we all understood that a Tournament scenario was often a cut-down scenario with balanced forces designed to create an even match playable in few hours…which sounded like a regular game…

Designer Joseph Balkoski would go on to design the Fleet-series of wargames for Victory Games in the mid to late-1980’s. I think many wargamers share my opinion that the Fleet-series are some of the best “Cold War Gone Hot at Sea” wargames printed. I can’t wait for the long promised but still yet-to-appear Compass Games reprint.

“The complete Fleet Series” courtesy BGG use @PzVIE


I acquired my copy of Task Force in the mid-1990’s from Campaign HQ in Norfolk, Virginia for a bit more than the original $18 list price (though I didn’t pay the sticker price either as I remember they were clearing out older product and there was a discount).

IMG 5072
Kiev of the 1980’s…long removed from Kyiv of 2023 (photo by RMN)


Task Force is not a bad game but certainly a product of its time. Today there are wargame historical conflict simulation divas critics who condescendingly hold their noses high when looking at the great Redmond Simonsen’s muted color palette and the almost desktop publishing layout of the rule book. They almost certainly have no kinds words to say about that orange and blue box art. In 1981, however, Task Force was a publicly available “state of the art” manual military simulation that Grognards sought out and, contrary to the expectations of those today who despise wargames with hexes, actually enjoyed. This young RockyMountainNavy gamer wanted to buy Task Force back then, and I don’t regret adding to my collection years later.


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4 thoughts on “#TBT / ThrowbackThursday ~ Task Force: Naval Tactics and Operations in the 1980’s

  1. I do not have this but played many naval and tank games at that store until I was transferred to the west coast. Love it’s WWII cousin Fast Carriers

  2. I had this back in the day and had a bunch of fun playing it! The tactical display was a nice touch. Also the only game of that period where I managed to sink a US Carrier as the Soviets. But it took a LOT of missiles 🙂

  3. RMN, I just purchased this game, and since you seem to have played it, can I ask for your input on a rules question? When you played this, did you perform actions (eg active search, SSM attack, move) in any order, or did you perform them in a certain prescribed order? Can a task force attack and then move, or must it move and then attack? The reason for my uncertainty is that the rules talk about “choosing” from possible actions, but also talk about an action “sequence.” Any light you can throw would be appreciated!!!

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