Friday, October 14, 2016

Gulf Strike: Scenario 1 - A Jaunt Down the Road

If you've been keeping up with my latest blog posts about Gulf Strike then you'll know that I've been playing scenario 1 and trying to learn the system as best as I can. The first scenario from Mark Herman's sprawling 1983 epic pits the forces of Iran and the Soviet Union against the Americans and the Gulf Council nations. In the first two turns of the game, Iran barged down through Kuwait, hoping to use air power to destroy the Kuwaiti forces while the bulk of the army kept moving south into Saudi Arabia. It was a gamble that didn't really work. Airpower in Gulf Strike can be a finicky thing and even if your air strategy is golden, you might find yourself without any real gains despite spending lots of supply points to send your planes out on missions.

In this article, I'm going to look at the events of turn 3 and 4 with an eye on what I have learned so far. I'm always thumbing through the rules and gaining a better understanding of how the small things in this game work. I'm guessing that, like most games, the real challenge to mastering Gulf Strike is knowing how to bring all of these small details together to create a really special experience. Before you get to the point where you can unleash a coordinated and beautiful symphony of destruction on your opponent, however, you're going to suck very badly at even getting your guys moving from A to B in a timely manner. This is where I am right now with Gulf Strike.

During my first two turns, I felt pretty comfortable with the Gulf Strike rules as I had set out scenario 1 and played the first turn many times before getting distracted and putting it away early. Now that I had conquered Kuwait and was still playing, I had no good clues about what I should be doing next. All I knew was that I needed to get the Iranian army moving and that I was doing a fairly bad job of it. Here's how it went:

Turn 3:

The Situation -

The Kuwaiti army is nearly destroyed as all of its supply points are gone after Iran's capture of Kuwait City. Several Iranian armored divisions are still sitting in Kuwait while the rest of the army is slowly but surely making its way south on the highways of northern Saudi Arabia. Panic spreads among the Gulf Council nations as Iranian troops and tanks pour down the Arabian peninsula unopposed.

The Americans begin to get serious with deploying troops in the region to counter the Iranian threat. C-5 Galaxies airlift all the components for an airbase in Somalia with an AWACS and a pair of F-15 squadrons for protection. 1/82nd Airborne lands in Somalia with a C-130 to help them get around. The rest of the US reinforcements (7MAB, 7th ADA battalion, and a truck unit) are placed in Diego Garcia and will be transported into theater at some other point in time. DC airbase now has an extra F-15 squadron to help shoulder the CAP duties.

In the Unit Assignment Stage, I break down both Iranian infantry divisions into regiments. Now I can transport them via truck and they don't have to march down towards Riyadh on foot.

During the first action stage, the Iranian player puts the 2nd Armored Division with an artillery brigade into Deliberate Assault formation and declares combat against the adjacent reduced Kuwaiti armored brigade. This will be a slaughter.

Turn 3 begins!
I'm trying to get my guys as far south as they can without running them out of supply. I'm also worried about pushing them too hard and having the Saudis use their meager but potent air force to perform interdiction missions and push my guys beyond the 20 MP limit between supply sources/depot and the units I'm moving. On the other hand, I feel the urgent need to get my guys down there as fast as possible before the Americans turn up and rain on my death parade.

I load up the 9th and 10th infantry brigades and get them into 0552, 17 MP away from the supply depot in 0644. The 3rd Mechanized and 4th and 5th Armored Divisions roll into 0950, 0951, and 1051 respectively. One of my trucks heads all the way back to Basra because I will need to buy a supply depot at the end of the turn and transport it down south to extend my supply lines next turn.

I have several units sitting in Kuwait City. The 1st Armored Division with the 11th Armored Brigade and an HQ unit are waiting for the 4th Armored Division to clear the highway of enemy opposition to the south before moving on later in the turn (the 1st Armored has been placed in Reserve mode at the start of the turn).

The Iranian air force and navy tries and badly fails at sinking three Saudi ships (an FF, CO, and DD). An Iranian destroyer takes two SSM hits and a frigate takes the other in combat just north of Bahrain. Throwing a P-3 Orion in there did very little beyond the initial detection of the enemy naval units.

Finally, I use a C-130 to move one of the airbases from Tehran into the Kuwait City hex. Now my airpower extends just a bit farther south to cover my advance. It's not much but it's good to have.

The Qataris attempt to bomb the Iranian navy with their Mirage jets but fail. Another Mirage from the UAE earns a hit on one of the Iranian trucks transporting an infantry brigade in 0552.

Some observations this turn:

  • Wow, you can move entire airbases. Just up and move 'em to wherever there's a friendly airfield. Neat.
  • I don't think the Iranians have anything at all to fear from the enemy air forces except for interdiction missions cutting off ground unit supply. They aren't numerous or high quality enough to cause a great deal of damage against Iranian ground units or airbases. I pretty much just keep Iranian air on offensive missions and let the air defense deal with the occasional ineffective enemy air raid.
  • Still amazed at how vital trucks are in this game. I have a perpetual shortage of trucks and a continual surplus of things that I need them to do for me. At this point if my trucks were gone, I would almost certainly lose the game.
  • Things that look easy are not. Getting my guys down near Riyadh in a timely fashion is difficult. The fact that I've got armor trailing infantry seems really wrong but that's the price I'm paying for going in heavy with armor against Kuwait in the early turns.
  • Where is the best place to put this F-14 EW unit? It can only detect stuff that's 4 operational hexes away. I suppose it would work best over a friendly airbase that's vulnerable to enemy bombardment but I'm feeling pretty secure against attack anyways.
  • None of the units in the game so far are what you would call amazing or even pretty good. Iran has a shortage of support units and its planes can only take 2 hits before they are destroyed. Compared to the other enemy nations like UAE or Saudi Arabia, however, it is a steamroller.
  • I realized way too late that the Saudi base in Al Hufuh needs a supply depot to keep it hooked into the Saudi supply network. I fib a bit with supply points and place the depot just east of Riyadh.
  • Using a deliberate assault by the 2nd Armored Division on the remnants of the Kuwaiti army was a huge waste of supply. A Hasty Assault or even an MC formation attack would have achieved the same results.

Turn 4:

For the Iranians, turn 4 is all about getting set up for the big push on Riyadh. That means trying to get my supply depots in place and putting the troops in the right spot to jump off into an offensive. The Saudi army will likely start moving units around in anticipation of the coming flood of troops and tanks. They have not budged from their original position since the start of the game, waiting to see how the Iranians will line up their forces. The Saudis have also refused to come north to fight the Iranians, wary of long vulnerable supply lines and less hospitable terrain for the defender.

Iranian trucks drop off two infantry brigades in 0358. These are the first troops to arrive near the enemy. The 3rd and 4th Armored Divisions are just behind them and to the east with the 3rd Mechanized leading their way. Much farther east towards the coastline, the port of Al Jubayl is seized by the 1st Armored Division. The 2nd Armored Division is trundling straight down south towards Al Hufuh airbase.

The trucks are busy again this turn. One of them has transported a brigade from the 7th Infantry Division into Kuwait City to protect it from any kind of amphibious or airborne invasion. A truck from Basra drops off a Supply Depot in 0947 while a second supply depot is set up in 0755, just to the rear of my vanguard units.

I keep my air units grounded for the turn, hoping to save up enough Supply Points for the next turn's offensive against the Saudi army. The Saudi airforce hasn't really shown up to do much although they manage to get a lucky hit against one of my truck units coming back up north after dropping off the 9th and 10th Brigades.

I briefly debate with myself whether to spend the supply for air strikes to interdict the supply line between Al Hufuh airbase and its supply depot. I could easily knock it out of commission but it doesn't seem to be worth it for what little harm their air force can do to me right now.

Can you spot the great big rookie mistake in this picture?

Oops! I see that the Saudi capital is empty right now. A very poor decision indeed. I take a mulligan and throw in the Saudi HQ unit.

The Saudis start to move their army to meet the Iranian threat. The 2nd Armored Brigade takes up hasty defense formation in 0659. Since the Iranian commander has been so kind as to send some of his forces piecemeal towards Riyadh, the Saudis oblige him by having their elite G (I'm guessing this means "Guard") Mech Brigade drive up to hex 0359, switching to hasty assault formation, and attack the Iranian infantry brigades.

A whole bunch of modifiers come into effect here in the ensuing combat.

The mech brigade has an attack value of 3 and in hasty assault formation doubled to 6. The Iranians have a combined combat value of 4 but the rough terrain offers a double defensive multiplier to 8. 6:8 odds put as rolling on the -2 column on the CRT  - but wait - the Saudi elite unit gets a 3 column shift right versus the Iranian line unit as well as another 2 column shift right for being a mechanized force against infantry. We are now at 2:1 odds and we roll a 9, modified by 2 (to a maximum of 10) for the Saudi artillery.

The result is 1/4 on the CRT. The Iranians retreat two hexes north and shake off the hits while the Saudis pursue one hex and the mech brigade takes its one hit. The battle went amazingly well for the Saudis but it is still not nearly enough to stop the Iranians.

End of Turn 4

Stuff I learned this turn:

  • Doing well in the ground game is mainly a matter of knowing how to gain favorable column shifts through the use of formations, troop quality, terrain, and support. Amazing how one elite Saudi mech brigade beat the crap right out of a force that was twice its size and in good defensive terrain.
  • The Saudis are probably doing the right thing by forcing the Iranians to fight on Saudi terms. There's no question they will lose but they may be able to significantly delay the Iranian forces in a way that tilts the game against Iran from here on out.
  • I should have used the 9th or 10th infantry brigade to cover Kuwait City instead of using a battalion out of a broken-down 7th division. Now I won't be able to build up the 7th division because the individual units are too far away from each other.
  • There's an ebb and flow of supply points that you have to master in this game. There are times when you need to push everything and then right after, you need to do everything you can to just conserve those precious SPs for the next big battle. I spent the Iranian SPs like a drunken sailor in the first two or three turns and now I'm starting to wonder a bit if I'll be hurting when it comes to the big push on Riyadh. 


While turns 1 and 2 were the wargame equivalent of punk rock with tanks and planes going everywhere and attacking everything, turns 3 and 4 was more like a quiet concerto of trying to understand the intricacies of supply lines, movement, transport, and appropriate use of force. As you can probably see, I am just scratching the surface here with what I have learned so far and although I don't think the quality of play can be described as "good", I feel pretty proud that I have gotten this far in scenario 1 and my Iranian units are mostly achieving their objectives. As I read over the lessons I have learned, I realize that most of them can be applied to other games too, which I think is the mark of an extremely well done game.

Friday, October 7, 2016

Gulf Strike: Scenario 1 - Operational Thinking & Lessons Learned

Leaving off from my last post about Iran's strategy in the first scenario of Gulf Strike, I'd like to take a deeper look at how decisions about operations can have a knock-on effect in subsequent turns. In this case, the Iranian player starts off the game by invading Kuwait with the aim of quickly subjugating it before heading down south to face the rest of the Gulf Council states (Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Bahrain, UAE, Oman).

Iranian F-5 Freedom Fighters 

In the first turn of the game, the Iranian player sends a few core units of his army to conquer Kuwait while the rest of his units move on down towards Saudi Arabia. By committing minimal ground forces for the battle of Kuwait, Iran's reliance on air support plays a central role in the battle. Not only does the Iranian Air Force have the thankless job of neutralizing the Kuwaiti Air Force, it must also make up for the lack of attacking ground units by conducting risky and often futile close air support missions.

The errors start to compound in turn 2 as the bulk of the Iranian army heads south in a disorganized mess that leaves it open to air attack from the Gulf Council states. Having failed to deliver a killing blow in the first turn, the Iranian army is forced to spend another turn fighting it out with the Kuwaitis and they are provided with a dilemma that forces the Iranian commander to make a difficult choice between finishing off the Kuwaitis or broadening the air offensive against the other Gulf Council states.

A number of other poor decisions by both players comes to light in turn 2. Undoubtedly these will also alter the course of the subsequent turns and potentially the outcome of the entire game. I go into further detail and analysis below so you can gain a better understanding of the decisions I made and the lessons I learned while playing the early game in scenario one. The narration of the first turn shows why I made certain decisions and how they worked out. At this point, I was still thinking in terms of "broad strokes" and general strategy. By turn 2, my thinking patterns had radically shifted towards operational planning and execution, so my description becomes more verbose and methodical in game terms.

Turn 1:

I am trying to take Kuwait on the cheap here. I want to conquer it swiftly and keep my units moving so I advance the Iranian 1st and 2nd Armored and 3rd Mechanized Divisions into Kuwait and get them into a Hasty Assault formation. I could have tripled their firepower by putting them into Deliberate Assault formation but it costs a ton of supplies and lots of MPs to switch out of the formation afterward to move your guys around. The last thing I want to do is to hang out in Kuwait.

I can't very well just let the Kuwaiti Air Force slaughter my attack helicopters on Close Air Support missions so it's time to deal with their planes. Pairs of F-4/F-5s are sent out on air missions to lure the Kuwaiti Air Force out to play. Since I'm playing solitaire, I just roll to see if the Iranians are flying Air Superiority or Strike/Escort missions when the Kuwaitis intercept while I'm flying over their base. As it turned out, all of the Iranian missions were Strike/Escort.

I manage to draw out the Kuwaiti Mirage and A-4 fighters out. The Mirage hits one of my F-5 escorts early on. Airbase defenses are remarkably good and actually destroy the F-4 on a bombing run over the airfield. The Kuwaiti luck runs out quickly though. Two more strike missions manage to get through and one scores a hit on the airbase, which is assigned to the A-4 in Offensive mode. Although there is no knock-out blow, the Kuwaiti Air Force has been taken care of for this turn. Time to get my CAS working.

Only one of my AH-1s actually scores a hit on the defending Kuwaiti brigades. The 1st Armored Brigade is hit while the other AH-1s fail to score anything on the other units. Everyone returns to base safely though so there's always that.

Ground combat is bloody and one-sided with the Kuwait 3rd Mechanized Brigade taking 2 hits but managing to cling on to life despite being out of supply. Kuwait's 1st Armored Brigade is annihilated by Iran's 1st Armored Division. The Kuwaiti 2nd Armored takes 2 hits but shakes them off with a retreat towards Kuwait City.  The Iranian 2nd Armored happily pursues them to the gates of the capital.

At this point, I was looking at the possibility of going into turn 2 with three Kuwait units still active and their capital still far out of my grasp. To pare the problem down a bit, I decide to activate my reserves and the 4th Iranian Armored Division heads east to mop up the remnants of the Kuwaiti 3rd Mechanized Brigade. At 5-1 odds, I decide against giving it any support and manage to roll a 1. Both defender and attacker take a hit. The Kuwaiti Mechanized unit is eliminated.

End of turn 1

I have 44 SPs going into next turn after spending 4 SP on a supply depot in Basra. I doubt I'll need four divisions to take over Kuwait next turn, so I'll pull out half my forces and send them down south with the rest of my units while the other two divisions will mop up next turn.

Turn 2:

Here's where some of those decisions in the first turn start to catch up with me. As I said above, I've broken down my thinking from broad strategic strokes to immediate operational aims. Because of this, I've kept a detailed log of what I was doing throughout the turn and my thought process.

Strategic Stage:

As per the Special Rules, the rest of the Gulf Council states (Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Qatar, Oman, UAE) activate and declare war on Iran.

Global Political Phase: We roll a "1" and nothing happens.

Global Military Phase: The 1/75 Rangers are landed in Somalia by C-5 Galaxy transport. Each country gets supply points.  Here are the current tallies after adding them in:

  • USSR: 100 (+0)
  • Iran: 64 (+ 20)
  • Kuwait: 14 (+0)
  • Saudi Arabia: 30 (+10)
  • Qatar: 12 (+2)
  • UAE: 20 (+5)
  • Oman: 25 (+5)
  • US: 52 (+12)
Unit Assignment Stage: 

  • The Kuwaitis put their A-4 and Mirage back on intercept. Shouldn't really matter anyways since the Kuwaiti airbase is in Iran 1st Armored Division's ZOC. 
  • Iran's F-5 unit in An Nas Riyan airbase takes a break this turn in an effort to get repaired.
  • Iran assigns the rest of its entire air force to offensive missions, hoping to break the back of the Gulf Council's air forces this turn.
  • The Saudis pair up F-15s and F-5s on intercept missions over the Riyadh and Al Hufuh airbases.
  • The Saudi AWACS is kept just south of Riyadh.
  • The rest of the Gulf Council states manage their air forces as best as they can. Most air units are kept on intercept while a few meager air-to-ground attack aircraft are on offense.


Iran already has two full armored divisions knocking around near Kuwait City. I would hate to have to commit a third one. However, it's better safe than sorry and I put the 4th Armored Division in reserve just in case we run into problems.

The Iranian Situation:

We have a bit of a dilemma here when it comes to taking on Kuwait. Here are my options:

1,) Attack Kuwait City directly

Use Iran's 1st Armored Division (with attached 11th Armored Brigade) in a Hasty Assault (combat strength of 9 doubled to 18) vs. Kuwait City.  The Kuwaiti MP brigade's combat strength of 2 is tripled to 6 as per the terrain effects chart. In its Deliberate Defense formation, the MP combat strength is again tripled to 18.  This puts the combat at 18: 18 [or 1:1] odds. I could bring in a ton of air to bombard and inflict 2 hits on the unit so that a modified roll of 5 or more would eliminate it.

Pros: This could quickly and effectively end the battle for Kuwait.

Cons: Ground and Air Losses could be high not to mentio SP costs for strike missions.

2.) Dismantle the Kuwaiti Army outside of Kuwait City

Use Iran's 1st and 2nd Armored Divisions (with supporting armored and artillery brigades) to attack Kuwaiti 2nd Armored Division west of Kuwait City. With both attacking divisions in a Hasty Assault, we would be attacking with a total combat strength of 30. The Kuwaiti 2nd Armored Brigade is in Movement to Contact Formation (since it retreated last turn to avoid hits) so this would put its combat strength at 3. At 10:1 odds, I could easily reduce or eliminate it without using much, if any air power. Given that the Kuwaiti unit can easily retreat south from where it is, it could shake off 2 hits of damage. This mean that I would need a roll of 7 or more to inflict the 5 hits necessary to ensure its destruction.

Pros: Relatively risk-free attack. Almost no chance of failure. Very little supply expenditure required. Can focus air assets against rest of Gulf Council airbases.

Cons: Ties up the 1st and 2nd Armored Divisions for another turn as they fight the Kuwaiti MP brigade for control of Kuwait City. Delays invasion of Saudi Arabia for at least one more turn.

The way I see it, the issue right now is one of supply versus time. The other Gulf Council countries are not really a credible threat to Iran at the moment though they may be able to get a few lucky hits against Iranian airbases here or there. The bigger problem is that of getting the bulk of the Iranian army moving towards its objectives further south. The Saudi player has generously placed his forces in a defensive posture around Riyadh, which means that Iran can afford to keep its focus on knocking Kuwait out of the war right now.

Add to this, the fact that even if Iran's armored divisions completely wipe out the Kuwaiti 2nd Armored Brigade this turn,they will still be facing a 30: 18 odds fight when it comes to Kuwait. This is not all that much better than the 1:1 odds I would be facing this turn with a direct attack by Iran's 1st Armored Division against Kuwait City. It would be under the +2 differential column instead of the 0 column of the CRT, which is probably not worth waiting an entire turn for.

Although the second option is more cautious and sure to succeed, I don't think the Iranian player can afford to play this way and win the scenario. I think this calls for boldness so here we go.

Initiative Determination Stage

Obviously, Iran retains the initiative for this turn. Since the Gulf Council states have activated, now is a good time to start tracking hits.

First Action Stage

Naval Movement Determination Phase:

Iran/Soviets gets 4 NMP and the Gulf Council/US gets 1 NMP.

First Movement Phase:

I start off by putting the 1st Armored Division into Hasty Assault mode and declaring combat against the MP units holed up in Kuwait City. Meanwhile the 2nd Armored Division, in Deliberate Assault formation, will hit the Kuwaiti 2nd Armored Brigade.

Meanwhile, the rest of the Iranian army gets sent south into Saudi Arabia.

  • The 3rd Mechanized goes from Hasty Assault to Travel mode and moves to 0947.
  • The 7th and 8th Infantry Divisions use MC to travel south. One is in 0546 and the other is in 0645. I should really break these divisions down and get some trucks to transport them. This is ridiculous.
  • The 9th and 10th Infantry Brigades are transported by trucks down to 0549.
  • A truck unit in Basra loads up the Supply Depot and transports it down to 0644 where it unloads it.
  • Another truck unit in Basra loads on the 1st Air Defense Brigade and carried it down to 0644 and unloads it.
  • To help out the poor infantry divisions sitting in 0549, I send over a truck from Abadan into 0645. Next turn, they'll load them up and start transporting them south.
  • The 5th Armored Division in 0640 switches from MC to Travel mode and travels south along the highways to 0945 until I realize that it is dangerously close to the Kuwait 2nd Armored Brigade and place it in hex 0744 instead. The roads are getting really jammed up with men and tanks! 
  • The 3rd Artillery Brigade and 1st HQ go into the same hex as the 5th Armored Division. 

Some things to think about:
  • It's now pretty clear to me that having the 4th Armored Division in reserve mode where it is accomplishes pretty much nothing. It can't help out with any battles or follow up on any retreats by enemy forces where it is. 
  • Iran's troop movement down south into Saudi Arabia was/is a great big mess. It will take some time to get that sorted out. I think I had the right idea with the supply depot and the ADA. It's too bad I clued in too late with the trucks and the infantry divisions.
  • The Saudi AWACS is too far south to help the Kuwaitis. 
  • The Kuwaiti 2nd Armored Brigade is going to get hit and it won't be pretty but it will probably survive the turn. If will have to move east into 1245 to maintain its supply line so it will only be able to shake off 1 hit. It might be worth a close air mission to help seal its fate.
  • If the Kuwaitis had put the 2nd Armored Brigade into Reserve during the Unit Assignment Stage, would they have just been able to slip the unit into Kuwait City during the First Reaction Phase? That would have left the attacking Iranian 1st Armored Division facing odds of 18: 24 [1:2] against both the MPs and the Armored Brigade in Kuwait City while the Iranian 2nd Armored Division would have no one to attack! I am pretty sure they could have done this too if I had thought more carefully about Kuwaiti strategy in the Unit Assignment Stage.

I sent my three ships (FF, CO, and DD) from 1640 into the hex adjacent to Kuwait City and bombarded the city without success.

The Iranians would love to hurt the Saudi Air Force here but we can't go all out because I need to conserve some forces for close air support against the Kuwaiti MP brigade. We'll see what happens.

Saudi F-15s and F-5s scramble from Al Hufuh after the Saudi AWACS detects an Iranian air mission coming from the east.  The dogfight happens in the skies over Bahrain. The Iranian F-4 and F-5 take 1 hit each while the Saudi F-15 gets hit once and their F-5 is hit twice.

An Air Strike on the Al Hufuh base fails. Another strike on the base in Oman fails but the intercepting enemy aircraft takes a hit.  I want to conserve the rest of my air force and supply points so I stop here. However, I can't shake the feeling that I'm not being aggressive enough.

First Reaction Segment

The Saudis send up an F-5 from Al Hufuh to strike the truck transports in 0549. The F-5 gets a +4 bonus to its bombardment roll (Travel formation and Clear terrain) so the roll of 7 is a hit. One of the truck units takes a hit. I'm guessing the units being transported in the trucks don't get a roll to hit the offending aircraft so the F-5 escapes back to Al Hufuh unharmed.

A UAE Mirage tries for a bombardment strike on the Iranian ships adjacent to Kuwait City but it is detected and hit by ship anti-air weapons. The Mirage aborts its attack and returns to base.

First Initiative CAS Segment:

After 10 SP spent on CAS missions, I manage two hits on the MP unit (one with an AH-1 and the other with an F-4 Phantom), flipping it over to its 1-1-4 side. Amazingly, the Iranian air force has taken no hits.  Now the Iranian 1st Armored will be attacking at 2-1.

First Assault Segment:

Iranian 1st Armored vs. Kuwaiti MP Brigade: 

Roll: 8
Modified Roll: 10
Result: 1/4

The Kuwaiti MP unit is destroyed. The 1st Armored Division rolls into Kuwait City. Kuwait's sole supply source is occupied and all of its Supply Points are lost.

Iranian 2nd Armored Division vs. Kuwaiti 2nd Armored Brigade.

Roll: 4
Modified Roll: 6
Result: 0/4

The Kuwait Armored Brigade retreats 2 hexes to 1147. It absorbs two hits and is flipped over to its reduced side.

Second Action Stage

Second NMP

Iran: 4
Gulf Council: 3

Second Movement Phase:

Iran converts the 4th Armored Division in reserves from Hasty Assault to Travel mode and sends it across the border into Saudi Arabia at hex 0946.

Second Reaction Segment:

A Jaguar unit from Oman bombs the Iranian airbase on Qeys Island successfully. A Chinook helicopter units is assigned the hit.

Second Combat Phase: 

No declared combats.

Third Action Stage

Third NMP:
Iran: 4
Gulf Council: 3

Third Reaction Segment:

I could get the Saudi army into defensive position but it seems a bit premature. Everyone stays put. Let the Iranians extend their supply lines as far as possible.

Third Initiative Segment:

No Iranian units in reserve mode.

Third Combat Phase:

No declared combat.

End Stage

Saudi, Bahrain, UAE, and Oman ships in port are changed to underway status.

End of Turn 2

Final Thoughts

The Iranian player is now a bit deeper into trouble even though Kuwait has been successfully taken at this point. The Gulf Council navies and air forces are largely untouched and are actually conducting limited but somewhat effective operations against Iranian ground forces in turn 2. The Iranian Air Force has suffered quite a few losses at this point, all for the sake of getting a few extra infantry units into Saudi Arabia. This probably isn't a complete disaster for Iran and could be recovered in the subsequent turn by getting the Iranian army moving effectively towards Riyadh and carrying out aggressive air and naval campaigns against enemy air and naval assets.

I think it's pretty clear though that going into Kuwait on the cheap with ground forces is not really feasible because it places too much reliance on air power to make up for it. This is airpower that should instead be tightly focused on eliminating Gulf Council air and naval power before it becomes any sort of threat to Iran.

The good bits here were deciding to go for Kuwait's throat instead of slowly but surely dismantling its army. Now the real powerhouses of the Iranian military (1st and 2nd Armored Divisions) can get down to the real fight. As I said before, I think scenario one goes to whomever takes the smartest gambles with a bit of luck thrown in here and there. In this case, it's obvious that attacking into Kuwait City was the right decision after all.

Friday, September 30, 2016

Gulf Strike - Scenario 1: Iran Strategy & Thinking

In an alternate 1984, Iran emerges victorious from the bloody conflict with Iraq begun only three years earlier. After consolidating its gains and finally harnessing its professional army to the whims the Revolutionary Council, Iran is ready to strike again. This time, the stakes are the future of the entire Middle East. In a bold plan to destroy its enemies in the Gulf Council states and spread the fervor of the revolution beyond its borders, Iran will seize the Straits of Hormuz and come to its rightful place as a world power with control over the production and transport of oil from the region.

After the Soviets perform a number of brilliant political maneuvers accompanied by a series of American foreign policy missteps, relations between the Soviet Union and Iran have grown closer. In the Iranian plan, the Soviets see their chance to become the dominant superpower in the Middle East by supporting Iranian military adventure in the Gulf. The Iranians are currently the strongest military power in the entire Middle East. The American allies have grown soft and complacent over the years. If the Americans can be delayed from interfering in the conflict, the Iranian plan might just stand a chance in succeeding.

Trying to take over the Gulf Council states is not an easy thing to do. As a novice Gulf Strike player, making the plan work is even harder because stuff you never thought about suddenly crops up after you think things are finally nailed down in your favor. In my previous plays of GS, I learned these doozies after several turns:

1. Truck units are super-duper important in this game. They do everything from carry supply depots to carry troops. If you don't have your trucks in the right spot, your infantry is going to have to march through Saudi Arabia on foot like in those old Cecil B. DeMille Bible epics. That's cool if you're living in the 3rd century...not so cool if you're fighting a war in the 1980s.

2. There is no such thing as overplanning in Gulf Strike. Time is of the essence for both sides so there isn't a turn to lose by shuffling your units around or mopping up in a country that should have already been taken. On the other hand, you should use just enough force to achieve your immediate objectives while getting the rest of your forces in position and ready for the next big fight.

3. Supply lines are crucial and the most vulnerable part of any army in the field. Putting your defense away from the capital is smart but victory can mean a one or two hex difference when you've got a lonely mechanized division sitting on a crucial highway north of Riyadh. All it takes is a successful interdiction mission or two and the unit is completely useless.

So here we are again sitting at the border of Kuwait and ready to invade. What am I thinking here?

Well, I should be thinking about how I can decisively defeat the Kuwaitis in the minimum amount of time. As soon as the first Iranian tank tread crosses the border, the clock is ticking down until the Americans intervene and there is only so much the Soviets are going to be able to do before the Marines are ashore and suddenly we're another lyric in the Battle Hymn of the Republic. It will be much better for the Iranians to have all the hard fighting finished and simply hand the US a fait accompli when the first CVN pops up off the Straits of Hormuz.

So my plan is basically to overwhelm Kuwait with three big divisions on turn 1 and send the rest of my guys south towards Saudi Arabia. I don't actually want to enter SA on the first turn as that would trigger their activation immediately. I just want to get my guys on the roads. I'm guessing that I'll need to keep an armored division in Kuwait just to mop up the MP battalion in Kuwait City on turn 2. That's fine. By that time the rest of my guys will be knee-deep in the sand down in Saudi Arabia.

There are basically two ways to go through Saudi Arabia - the coastal route and the interior route. Having to split my forces up between the routes will make for some supply headaches but luckily, the Saudis have set up too conservatively. They have put all their ground troops near Riyadh to defend the capital. This means that I'll be able to march through the interior and simply move down towards the capital without having to worry about my flank on the coast. The extra defenders around Riyadh might make the fight for the Saudi capital a bit tougher but I should be able to easily overwhelm them if I send enough tanks to take them on and unleash enough Iranian airpower to help with the job.

The two-pronged approach down through Saudi Arabia

The eastern coastal route will be used for the rest of my army so they can keep the advance going into the UAE and Oman. Qatar and Bahrain can be taken at some later point by amphibious forces and airmobile/paratroop assets if I need them. The real prize here is the tip of the Strait of Hormuz (control of the Strait depends partially on controlling hexes 4555, 3557, 4458, 4062, and 3664). With control of the Strait, the Iranians have some kind of shot at a Decisive Victory.

Hexes required for control of the Strait

That's about it for the Iran plan. I know this is not even a skeleton of a plan but I haven't played this game enough to really see the big obstacles waiting for me down the road. I'll update later and let you know how it's going.

Friday, September 16, 2016

Central America - The SS-20 Incident (Redux)

My recent playthrough of the first scenario from VG's 1987 classic, Central America, was tons of fun. I really love how insurgents work in this game and how they can pop in and out of existence anywhere on the map. But one of my absolute favorite scenarios from this game (and maybe almost any other game) is Scenario 4, "The SS-20 Incident". looks like a hot dog on wheels but you won't be laughing when it visits your city!

Only one turn long, this scenario pits the US Navy and Air Force against the Nicaraguans in an effort to destroy an intermediate range nuclear weapon that the Soviets have so helpfully provided to a hostile regime in the Western hemisphere. The Americans only get one turn to dismantle the Nicaraguan Air Force and then pave the way for Special Forces guys to parachute out of a C-130 and destroy the missile launcher, Eat your heart out, Michael Bay.

The US gets a huge number of aircraft to start with but so do the Nicaraguans.

The Americans start with:

Pacific Holding Box:
2 x aircraft carrier complements of aircraft (2 x F-14, 2 x F-18, 1 x A-6E, 1 x E2 AWACS)

Honduras airbases:
4 x B-52 bombers
5 x F-15C Eagles
5 x F-16 Falcons
1 x EF-111
3 x O-2 (EW)
1 x E-3 AWACS
3 x C-130  w/ 3  Ranger battalions

Costa Rica:
1 x C-130
1 x 3/7 Special Forces battalion

The Nicaraguans get:

2 x Y-28c
2 x Y-28
5 x MiG-19
5 x MiG-21
1 x IL-76 (this can actually be used to transfer the SS-20 missile and launcher to another airbase in Nicaragua)
2 x AN-12

Cuba has helpfully supplied 5 x MiG-23s and an An-12 while the Soviets have 6 x MiG-27s based in Nicaragua.

These aircraft are based among the three airbases in hex 1919, 2218, and 2219.

The SS-20 is in 2218 along with a fixed SAM site and an infantry brigade in a fortification. This should be a very tough nut to crack.

There are also non-mobile AA units and infantry brigades with MANPADS in the other hexes.

To make matters more difficult for the US, the Nicaraguans have a powerful radar system at Masaya. Built with the help of Soviet and Cuban engineers, Masaya has a 10-hex detection radius. If Masaya is operational, it can vector joint Nicaraguan air missions to intercept incoming American planes. It also negates a +2 bonus to air-to-air combat rolls the US player's planes get for having an AWACS in theater. So clearly Masaya needs to go and the sooner the better.

Strike Package 1:
Mission: Wild Weasel
Target: Masaya Radar Facility

One carrier wing launches with 2xF-14, 2xF-18, 1xA-6 and heads towards the west coast of Nicaragua. The F-14s have standoff air-to-air missiles while the F-18s and A-6s are armed with standoff air-to-ground missiles meant to hit Masaya.

Wild Weasel aircrew logo patch: "YGBSM" stands for "You Gotta Be Shittin' Me". The common response when told that their assignment is to approach enemy air defense sites and turn on their radar in hopes of exposing the enemy's position.

4 Cuban MiG-23s attempt to intercept the American planes. The F-14 Tomcats launch AIM-54 Phoenix missiles at their targets and splash two MiGs. The rest of the Cuban pilots return to base.

US air mission adjacent to Masaya hex. Air group 2 is actually one hex north. I fixed this a bit later and it didn't change any outcomes.

The air mission reaches 2121 and launches its smart weapons. The US player rolls a 6 (modified to 8 due to the effectiveness of smart weapons against Masaya). Masaya is damaged. The Nicaraguans no longer get the +2 die roll modifier for air-air combat and they are no longer able to detect incoming planes at long range. However, they aren't completely blind thanks to their An-12 EW aircraft orbiting around their airfields.

Strike Package 2:
Mission: Air Facility Denial
Target: Punta Huete Airbase 

Let's try and damage Punta Huete airbase. Maybe the Nicaraguans will transfer the SS-20 to a less secure location if the airbase shuts down. Right now, the hex is protected by SAMs, MANPADS, and everything is heavily fortified. This is not an easy place for our Spec Ops guys to get into, if you ask me.

The second carrier sends up its strike package (same as the first one). It gives a wide berth to Puerto Sandino airbase on the coast by flying far to the north of it. The flight turns south after traveling east for a bit and then gets detected three hexes from Punta Huete by the Nicaraguans in 2218.

Two Cuban MiG-27s and an An-12 scramble to intercept. The standoff missiles inflict a step loss and the AN-12 is eliminated. A MiG-27 unit takes a step loss to continue the interception.  The F-14s tangle with the enemy planes at close range. One communist plane takes a step loss and the others return to base. The US loses nothing.

F-14 Tomcat fires an AIM-54 Phoenix missile.

The strike package arrives over Punta Huete airbase and comes under SAM attack. Rolling a 1, the attack fails and a roll of 3 means the Nicaraguan ground unit misses with its shoulder-launched surface-to-air missiles. The US player rolls for his attack and gets a 1. Even with the +2 bonus for using cluster bombs, the attack fails to damage the airbase. Oh boy.

I don't care what they say. That's a beautiful aircraft.

Strike Package 3:
Mission: SEAD (Suppression of Enemy Air Defenses)
Target: SAM site in 2218

Well, that wasn't good. I wonder if it would be better to suppress or destroy that SAM before going for the airbase and then hit the ground troops and finally the missile. I have four B-52s just itching to go. Let's send up a flight with a pair of F-15s to cover a B-52 strike. Each B-52 has an impressive 9 bombardment value, which means that two of them working together could damage the fixed SAM with a roll of 4, 5, or 6.

The AN-12 orbiting around Punta Huete detects the incoming airstrike and vectors three Soviet MiG-27s and a Cuban MiG-23 to intercept. Because the Americans have an AWACS advantage and the Nicaraguans have lost Masaya, there are a couple of interesting things happening here. First the US player can choose whether or not to be considered the attacker or the defender. The big deal here is that the combat table's odds always get rounded off in favor of the defender.

In this case, the F-15s have a combined anti-air value of 16 while the Communists have only 13 (3 x MiG-27s w/ 3 anti-air and a MiG-23 with 4). The result is that the ratio of 16:13 with a US defender is considered a 1:2 odds attack for the Communists. The attacker now rolls a six-sided die to resolve air combat. The AWACS helps to modify the die roll by -2 and this lower die roll result will skew towards the attacker taking losses. The Communists aren't completely helpless here. The An-12 that is 3 hexes or less away from where the interception occurs helps to modify the attacker's die roll by +1 in their favor.

The F-15 Eagle design motto - "Not a pound for air to ground!"

Adding up the number of combat air units involved here, we have 8 total units, which puts us at medium intensity level. We look up the 1 to 2 column on the corresponding chart and roll a 3, modified to 2. The result is 2r/0. The number on the left of the slash shows that the attacker (Communists) take 2 step losses and must return to base. The number to the right of the slash indicates how many losses (in this case, none) the defender takes. The Communist player chooses to have two of his MiG-27s take a step loss.

The B-52s arrive over target and the fixed SAM site fires away followed by the air-defense capabilities of the ground units in the hex. Rolling a 1 for the SAM, we get a miss after checking the Air Defense Chart. Rolling a 3 for the ground unit also means a miss. The B-52s drop their payload on the fixed SAM site and we get a 5. The site is now damaged.

Add Hex 2218. L to R: Fortifcation counter, SAM Site damaged marker, ground unit w/ air defense capability, the SS-20, Communist Air group marker and US Air mission marker. Good thing I'm using Vassal here!

Looking at the situation now, things seem pretty good so far for the Americans. The Masaya complex is down, seriously reducing detection ranges for our airstrikes. The fixed SAM site at Punta Hueta is damaged so it's pretty hard for them to shoot down our bombers. The two major annoyances left are:

1.) The An-12 orbiting near Punta Huete is still active, able to detect our air missions from 3 hexes away and also able to scramble joint air missions to intercept US planes.

2.) The infantry in 2218 with the SS-20 is in a fortification. This makes it very hard to score the hits I need for my Special Forces and Rangers to get in there and destroy the missile.

I can get rid of the An-12 problem by simply damaging its airbase and forcing it to transfer to another air facility (where it will remain useless for the rest of the turn). The only problem with doing that is that the SS-20 can immediately transfer to another airbase that has An-12 protection (in this case, Puerto Sandino. The benefit of doing this is that it solves problem number 2, as the infantry in the other airbase hex is not fortified.

The problem here is that the ground unit sitting in the hex has anti-air capability which will make hitting the airfield much harder for my planes. If I can eliminate this infantry unit and then get my spec ops guys to capture the airfield and the SS-20, most of my problems will be solved entirely.

Strike Package 4:
Mission: Tactical Bombardment
Target: Nicaraguan 313th Infantry Battalion in 2218

This mission will consist of one of the two remaining B-52s teamed up with the EF-111 with an escort package of F-15s and F-16s.

Two Nicaraguan MiG-21s and a Soviet MiG-27 intercept the US strike package directly over Punta Huete. Both sides suffer a step loss in the ensuing furball. A MiG-21 is reduced and an F-16 is also reduced. The Nicaraguan ground-air defenses miss.The US player rolls a 4 for the attack and it is enough to cause a step loss to the Nicaraguan infantry in the hex. It's a good start. Just one more successful bombardment mission and Punta Huete is done for.

Strike Package 5:
Mission: Tactical Bombardment
Target: Nicaraguan 313th Infantry Battalion in 2218

We have one B-52 and 3 A-10s left right now for strike aircraft. I can send in one package with a B-52 and an A-10 together, put incendiaries on the B-52 and hit the infantry in 2218 as hard as possible and hope that it eliminates them.  The Nicaraguan Air Force has been ripped to shreds with very little left to go up in the air so I don't need double coverage anymore with the F-15s. I put an F-15 with an F-16 as escort and throw in an O-2 for EW support.

The Nicaraguans intercept in hex 2218 with 2 MiG-19s and 2 MiG-21s. They can inflict a step loss on the US units if the Communist player rolls a 6. We get a 5 and a MiG-19 takes a step loss.

Enemy air defenses fire at the incoming Americans and fail to score a hit (rolled a "1" here). The B-52s drop their bombs while the A-10s lazily circle a safe distance away from the target area. Once the bombs hit, the A-10s go in and take out anything that's left over. We get a "5" on the to-hit die, After the modifiers are tallied (-1 for the fortification and +2 for the incendiaries) we get a "6" and the ground unit is destroyed for a total of 4 VP.

Strike Package 6:
Mission: Ground Unit Insertion
Target: Punta Huete Airfield

It is time to secure a scenario victory by taking out the SS-20. The 2/75 Rangers are chosen to paradrop into hex 2218, seize Punta Huete Airbase and destroy the SS-20. I'm still hoping to use the rest of my air units to hit the other Nicaraguan airbases to help rack up more VPs so I'm trying to perform this drop on the cheap. I'll send a single F-15 escort with an O-2 for EW support along with the C-130.

The Nicaraguans send up three MiG-19s and a Yak to intercept the mission. In the ensuing dogfight over the airbase, the Yak is destroyed and the other MiGs scatter. The Rangers parachute down into the night and although they run the risk of running into big trouble by being in an enemy ZOC, we roll low ("1") on the Paradrop table. The 2/75 Rangers take the airfield, secure the missile, and destroy the launcher.  That's pretty ninja.

2/75 Rangers capture the Punta Huete Airfield and secure the SS-20 missile.

Strike Package 7:
Mission: SEAD
Target: Puerto Sandino AAA Battalion

I want to try something a bit risky here. I'd like to try and seize Puerto Sandino airfield for bonus VPs. If I can manage to hit the AAA site, I'll get 4 VPs and then follow that up with an air attack on the infantry in the hex (step loss gains 2VP) with a final paradrop into the hex by Special Forces (capture/damage of airbase is 2 VP), I'll have an additional 8 VP by the end of the game. I doubt this will work but it's worth a shot.

The only remaining air unit at Puerto Sandino is a lowly Yak fighter, which scrambles to intercept the incoming F-16, O-2, and A-10. Amazingly, we roll a 6 for the Communists and they manage to inflict a step loss on the F-16 before being shot down in a blaze of glory. AAA fire at the airfield misses the raid. We roll a 4 for the attack and the AAA site is damaged.

O-2 Skymaster

Strike Package 8:
Mission: Tactical Bombardment
Target: Nicaraguan DGSE infantry battalion

With the Nicaraguan Air Force badly mauled before even the end of the first turn, the Americans throw some Air to Ground ordnance on a pair of F-16s and send them up with an A-10 to hit Puerto Sandino.  We simply roll to hit the hapless infantry guarding the mostly empty airbase on the ground and score a hit after getting a "5". The Nicaraguan infantry battalion is now flipped over to its reduced side.

Strike Package 9 & 10:
Mission: Air Transport
Target: Puerto Sandino Airbase

With all our tactical aircraft sitting in the Used portion of the Allied Air Display, it's time to paradrop our remaining ground troops into Puerto Sandino in an effort to seize the airfield. Three C-130s load up with Rangers and Special Forces troops.

The 1/75 and 3/75 Rangers parachute into a bad position and end up taking step losses. The 3/7 Special Forces, however, makes it into the hex without a scratch. Now they'll have to fight it out with the DGSE battalion for control of the airbase.

Allied Ground Combat Phase:

The American ground troops attack the DGSE battalion at odds of 2-1 in clear terrain. The Spec Ops and Rangers have no CAS to help them out (oops!). Still, they get a column shift in their favor because these are elite troops. We roll a 2 for the attackers, modified to a 1 due to the port in the hex. The DGSE battalion is eliminated and the 3/7 takes a step loss. The Americans seize the airfield and it is marked with a damage marker as per rule 4.3.

Game over - Puerto Sandino is captured after heavy losses by both sides.


Damage Masaya: 5 pts
Damage fixed SAM: 4pts
Damage AAA site: 4pts
Damage Punta Huete: 5pts
Damage Puerto Sandino: 2pts
Per step loss to FLSN infantry battalion (x4): 8 pts

VP loss:
1 US F-16 step loss x 2: -2 pts

Victory Level:

According to the victory levels, the US player wins an Allied Decisive Victory at 26 points. The scenario VP conditions are a little ambiguous in some places (and downright erroneous in others - for example, there is no AA battalion at Punta Huete - it is at Masaya). Does capturing a base lead to damage or are we counting damage results from airstrikes only? I think the IL-76 had the chance to transfer to another facility after paradropping troops into Punta Huete. On the other hand, I managed to secure a second airbase so I think the SS-20 would have no doubt been destroyed anyway - just at the end of the game instead of in the middle. Even with this error, the end results didn't change very much.

If we decide to be radically honest with the VP conditions, we could remove VPs from damage to Puerto Sandino and Punta Huete. The results would be an Allied Tactical Victory at 19 points.

How can the Nicaraguans win this one? Well, it's all just a matter of juggling your interceptions and hoping for the best. Count on losing Masaya early on in the game and falling back on your An-12s for short-range interception and detection.

Always intercept over your airfield hex because that gives you a +1 on the die roll. Send up the minimum required planes to get the best odds column on the CRT. Remember that the lowest odds on the low intensity air combat table are 1 to 2 no matter how badly you are outgunned. Conserve as many air units as possible and use joint missions among your three bases to make sure that everyone can defend themselves if attacked.

Having no air units to intercept the US ground troops transporting in on C-130s sealed the fate of Puerto Sandino airbase at the end. Even a single plane would have forced the US player to shift one of his planes from air-to-ground to air-to-air.