Monday, November 7, 2016

Gulf Strike: Scenario 1 - Battle for Riyadh

In the first five turns of Gulf Strike's first scenario, I've led the Iranian military on a bumbling mess of a military adventure through Kuwait and down into Saudi Arabia. As the major powers gear up to join the war, I've got to admit that the Iranians have probably already lost it. Lack of planning has led to supply shortages and almost no air cover for my advancing troops. It's only because the Gulf Council states are poorly-armed that I have been able to get this far. This turn we see if things can come together again for Iran as it tries to take on the Saudi military for control of Riyadh.

F-1 Mirage of Qatar's Air Force


Turn 6:

We start off the turn with no political events. The Global Military Phase begins and the US military uses a C-5 to transport in an airbase, 5th Special Forces Group, and the RDF HQ. The Americans also get 3 x F-4 Phantom units.

I wasn't exactly sure what to do with all this new stuff. If I put the airbase up in Oman, it's very vulnerable to Soviet air strikes from their surrounding bases in the region. Seems like I should be putting this base in Somalia with the other US airbase I placed there in turn 3. Since that base already has a pair of F-15s on Intercept, I can just have the three F-4 Phantoms on Offensive mode. I can use these guys as offense to hit at the Soviet navy surface ships if they get near the coast of Africa. They can also hit out at any foolish attempts by the Soviet player to plunk down a base or two in Yemen.

Time to update our Supply Points:

Iran: 53
Saudi Arabia: 43
Qatar: 19
Bahrain: 5
UAE: 32
Oman: 43
US: 100

As the Iranian player, I absolutely positively need to do the following this turn:

1. Get a supply depot down into Saudi Arabia to support my left flank.
2. Capture an airfield so I can get an airbase down there and get some attack choppers in range of enemy units
3. Break the back of the Saudi defense around Riyadh.

So let's go through this step-by-step then shall we?

Objective One: Get a supply depot down into Saudi Arabia. 1354 seems like the best spot for this. The weakest link in my supply chain right now is the 18 or a 20 MP distance between the supply depot in 0947 and the one down south in 0755. It is literally two interdiction missions away from cutting off the entire Iranian army sitting in Saudi Arabia (hitting 0754 and 0753 would do it).



By the way, this is what I find to be the biggest challenge of Gulf Strike. The easy part is the fighting. The most difficult part is establishing supply lines that are long enough to keep your forces on the offense but short enough so they aren't vulnerable. Trying to protect your supply lines without adequate air basing is a fool's errand.

If I had a second supply source sitting in 1354, I would be able to push my units near the coast down towards the Saudi airbase at Al Hufuh. I would also have a backup supply source just in case I lose the supply depot at 0755. I would even be able to maintain some sort of offensive with the majority of my units near Riyadh.

18 MPs from the supply depot near the Kuwait border, a supply depot in 1354 would have decent range (in blue).

Now as luck would have it, there's a CH-47 all fueled up in Ahvaz with a supply depot loaded on. The only problem is that it's bound to get detected on the way down by Saudi AWACS aircraft and if it's intercepted, I could lose the plane and the depot, which would be a very serious setback for the Iranians. You may say that I should just send an escort with it and you would be right -- except that I've got no planes on Offensive mode assigned to that base.

So it looks like I'll need to clear the air of Saudi interceptors or AWACS before I can send my bird down. Here we go:

The Iranians send down an F-4 Phantom from Basra. Miraculously, it gets within six hexes of the Saudi AWACS before it is detected. The F-15 from Riyadh scrambles and intercepts, scoring one hit on the Phantom, which RTBs.

Al Hufuh scrambles an F-15 with 2 hits to intercept a second F-4 unit from Basra. This time, no one scores a hit.

Now the Saudis have a single plane left in Riyadh on Offensive mode. It's a measly little Lightning (anti-air strength of 3) so it probably couldn't even manage a shootdown of a CH-47. But there is no sense taking chances.

I send an F-5 down from Kuwait and the Lightning gets sent up to attack the incoming enemy plane. Wow, the Lightning scores 2 hits on the Iranian F-5 and takes no hits in return! The F-5 unit is destroyed.

However, the way is now clear for the CH-47 to make it down to its destination hex with exactly two MPs to spare. It's just enough to unload the supply depot. The one drawback to this is that the helo must stay there until next turn.

The 11th Armored Brigade captures the airfield at 1758. The base at An Nas Riyan is packed up and moved south by transport truck.  The 1st Armored Division goes into Reconstitution formation. I'm hoping to freshen it up by the time I roll east towards the UAE.

Around Riyadh, the 4th and 5th Armored Divisions go for an attack on 2nd Saudi Armored Brigade. It's probably overkill but hey, it should punch a nice hole right in the middle of the Saudi lines. I shift a couple of infantry brigades over on the right flank just to protect my supply lines in case the Saudis use their Mechanized Guards Brigade to do anything sneaky.

End of First Action Stage Initiative Player Movement Segment

Iranian supply lines are still vulnerable at this point but nowhere near as badly as last turn. Having the Al Hufuh airbase in my ZOC means that neither of the two F-5s stationed there can launch. However, Riyadh airbase has a single F-5 unit and Qatar has a Mirage on Offense mode that could ruin my day by conducting deep strike interdiction missions near Kuwait to put large sections of my army out of supply. I throw several F-4s at Riyadh and manage one very successful mission that ends up destroying the airbase (it already had a single hit from last turn).

Just for the heck of it, I try for the Qatari airbase and end up scoring a hit but the rest of air missions return without having had any luck. Oh well. I'll take it.

That bit of excess with the Qataris has cost me my close air support.

In the assault phase, the Saudi 2nd Armored Brigade takes 1 hit but doesn't opt to retreat because this would leave the door wide open to Riyadh.

Over near Al Hufuh, the paratroopers at the base are out of supply, halving their combat strength to 1. Luckily, they are defending in a town so their strength is doubled to 2. The Iranian armored division would normally be attacking at 6 to 1 (combat strength six doubled to twelve due to hasty assault). However, these are elite paratroopers that we are facing so we're looking at the 3 to 1 column instead. The Iranians score a single hit and, like their brethren to the west, the Saudis refuse to budge an inch backwards so they bravely suffer the combat hit.

In the Second Action Stage, the 3rd Mechanized Infantry Division is brought out of reserve by the Iranian player. It marches directly south and goes to Hasty Assault formation to attack the Saudi 4th Mechanized Brigade. Both units take a hit in the ensuing combat.

The rest of the turn continues without much fanfare. The Qataris and UAE send their Mirage jets to try and hit my supply depot at 0947. The Qatari jet manages a nice bombing run, scoring two hits but the UAE Mirage fails to score any hits. It is probably time for the Iranians to get an air defense unit back up there.

The Saudis move their truck unit to the Supply Depot in 0964 but it will probably be too late to do much to help Al Hufuh next turn. The Saudis get nailed for another 4 Supply Points loss in the End Turn Stage because of the border conflict with the Yemenis. The elite Saudi paratroopers protecting Al Hufuh are out of supply, suffer a hit and are flipped to their reduced side.



Lessons learned:

  • For goodness sake, have an escort aircraft ready to fly when you need to send a C-130 anywhere.
  • Put an air defense unit on any supply depots in vulnerable terrain such as clear hexes. That's a good place for the Iranian F-14 too, incidentally.
  • Using the Iranian air force in the early turns to destroy Qatar or UAE or Saudi Air Force instead of sending them on close air support would have made my job here much much easier. 
  • It may have been worth it to put a unit out of supply intentionally just to capture an airbase and get some air units down there to protect my ground units and supply lines.


Next turn is turn 7 and the Americans activate. Hoo boy!

Friday, October 28, 2016

Gulf Strike - Scenario 1: Operation Sharp Stick

The first four turns of Gulf Strike scenario 1 were marked by poor planning, bad luck, and lots of hard lessons learned. Using the few remaining brain cells in my head, I had barely managed to get the Iranian army close enough to within striking distance of Riyadh. Turn 5 would be the time for the Iranian Air Force to serve as a beacon of light - the mighty protector of the army as it trundled down the peninsula fueled by dreams of fanatics. This would be the turn for:




At this point, my guys were already looking worn out just from the effort required to travel south in any semblance of organized fashion and within reach of my supply depots. Thankfully, the Gulf Council states were generous enough not to pound the heck out of the Saudi highways with interdiction missions so the supply chain managed to stay intact.  On the other hand, the Iranians were unable to pull off any dazzling air victories of note. Even the navy was having trouble hitting enemy ships.

Turn 5:

We roll a "10" at the start of the turn and we get a random political event. A "4" is rolled on the table. "Democratic Yemen guerrillas become active on the Saudi border." Oh no! That is absolutely the worst thing that could happen for the Saudis right now.

The fallout of this is that the Saudis need to send a brigade assault unit to the border for the remainder of the game turn or they lose 4 supply points per turn that they don't do it.

Looking over my options, I don't think the Saudis could send any of the defenders from around Riyadh. They are stretched thin enough as it is. I could send the elite paratroopers based at Al Hufuh airbase and try to transport the remains of the airbase towards Riyadh. However, I would be leaving the road completely open to UAE and Qatar by doing so. I think I need those paratroopers to be a speed bump so I'll leave them there. With 42 SP for the Saudis this turn, I'll probably be okay with losing the 4 extra SP for a turn or two.

Al Hufuh paratroops guard the east coast area


Supply Points are added and we get:

  • Iran: 52
  • Saudi Arabia: 42
  • Qatar: 17
  • Bahrain: 5
  • UAE: 29
  • Oman: 38
  • USA: 88
During the Unit Assignment Stage, it all comes crashing down on me. I should have foreseen the problem with Iranian air not being able to effectively arrive over Saudi targets so far south.  All of those ground combats will be out of range of everything except my F-4 Phantoms. I should have been shuffling my bases around earlier in anticipation of all this. I can see three airfields where I could have plunked down an airbase and kept my AH-1s sitting there ready to help out in the coming battle. I should also be hitting the hell out of the Saudi airbases because those F-15s are really nasty when they want to intercept my air cover.

I can get a couple of armored and mech divisions in movement to contact formation to near a couple of Saudi ground units this turn. I just can't support them in any way whatsoever. I'll have to spend turn 5 shuffling guys as best as I can to get them prepared to fight at their full capability next turn. My divisions trundling along on the east coast highway can pretty much steamroll over whatever they want and they should be able to capture the airfield near Al Kubar this turn, which should help.

Or maybe not. As it turns out, lack of airbases is not my only problem. I simply don't have the supply range available to push my units that far down the coast. Not only that but I have failed to purchase a supply depot that could be transported down into Saudi Arabia and connected into the network. It looks like my sweeping vision for Iranian supremacy of the Middle East is turning into a great big joke. I'm can almost hear those guys over at the Pentagon laughing.  I send my C-130 up to Ahvaz where I'll spend 4 SP at the end of the turn creating a supply depot. In the meantime, I've tried to sort out the airbase range problem by sending up a truck from Kuwait City to An Nas Riyan. Next turn, it will be loaded up and sent down south.

The 1st Armored Division on the coast will have to move to 1755, switch to MC and prepare to take Al Kubar next turn after plunking down a Supply Depot in 1452. Having an airbase there would be very helpful in taking on Qatar, Bahrain, and UAE after Riyadh falls. The only problem is that the airbase would be right on the coast and the navies of three countries are within easy access of bombarding it.

By the middle of the First Action Stage Initiative Movement Phase, I have moved my divisions quickly down towards their jumping off points for the coming attack next turn. The only problem is that my left flank on the Saudi coast is stretching its supply lines to the maximum 20 MPs and this will no doubt become a liability, a prime target for the enemy airplanes.

Here's a look at the supply situation after moving Iranian ground forces in the First Action Stage. The distance from supply depot to target units is marked. Note how thinly stretched the Iranian units are near the coast. Any more than 20 MP from a supply depot and my units are out of supply. Simply interdicting 0955 and 0855, for example, will take two Iranian combat units (11th Armored Brigade in 1557 and 1st Armored Division in 1755) out of the supply network. Interdicting 0856 on top of this will put the 2nd Iranian Armored Division in 1457 out of supply as well.




Since the Gulf Council states have four aircraft on Offensive standby that could launch interdiction missions, this threat is very real and cannot be ignored. Three of these aircraft are Saudi F-5s (two at Al Hufuh and one at Riyadh airbase) and one UAE Mirage.

In order to keep my ground units safe and in supply, I'll need to conduct air operations this turn with the goal of grounding as many enemy strike aircraft as possible.

To that end, the Iranians begin Operation Sharp Stick. The Iranian air force will launch planes in an attempt to:

1) lure out the Saudi interceptors (clears the way for interdiction missions in objective 2)
2) use interdiction to knock Al Hufuh out of supply (halves the number of enemy strike aircraft that can fly this turn)
3) destroy Riyadh airbase (doing so would remove another interdiction mission that the GC could fly and thereby secure my supply lines)

Supply network from depot to Al Hufuh airbase


I decide to send out a pair of fighters on Air Superiority missions from the airbase at Basra.They head straight south and are almost immediately detected by the Saudi AWACS after takeoff. An F-15 from Al Hufuh is scrambled to intercept. There is a short but remarkable air battle over 0554 where the F-15 takes two hits while the Iranian F-5 and F-4 are unscathed.

Another air mission is sent out on air superiority to lure the Saudi planes at Riyadh. This time another F-4 from Basra gets to within 6 operational hexes of the Saudi AWACS plane before it is detected. An F-15 from Riyadh intercepts. Neither plane manages a hit in the ensuing air melee. The Saudis still have a Lightning on Intercept at Riyadh.

I spend 4 SP to conduct two interdiction missions on the highway between Al Hufuh airbase and its supply depot. Neither of the F-5s on Offensive mode at the airbase may launch their missions. I need to take care of one more enemy plane to keep my guys secure from enemy interdiction missions. I decide to try and hit Riyadh airbase with my 3 remaining Phantoms. One flight leaves from Bushehr airbase and is intercepted by a Lightning, which fails to score any hits. The Phantom arrives over Riyadh airbase but the bombing mission fails. The second bombing mission from Ganeveh also fails to hits the base.  The third run scores a hit and damages the F-5 fighter in Offensive mode based in Riyadh. It won't be enough.

During the First Reaction Segment, the Saudis tuck in the 4th Mech Infantry Brigade so it will have the advantage of defending in rough terrain instead of desert terrain. The Gulf Council states launch their air against the Iranian supply lines. 0855 and 0955 are interdicted, knocking the 1st Iranian Armored Division and 11th Armored Brigade out of supply.

The end of the turn sees the Iranian 4th Armored Division use its Reserve movement to sweep southwest to link up with an infantry brigade in 0558. The Iranian right flank near Riyadh should now be powerful enough to take on the Saudi Mechanized Guards Brigade or the Saudi 2nd Armored Brigade in 0659. Despite the Iranian setbacks this turn, the Saudis are in real trouble right now and facing a very dangerous situation.

A look at the situation near Riyadh. Saudi Mech Guards in 0358. Saudi 2nd Mech Brig in 0659 and 4th Mech Brig in 0761.
The end of the turn rolls around and the Iranian division and brigade both suffer a hit from being out of supply. The Saudis lose four supply points for their failure to squelch the border violence with Yemen. We now look ahead to turn 6 where the Iranians will have hopefully learned enough lessons to be able to bring its force to bear on the Saudis. Meanwhile, the Americans gear up to intervene in the conflict. Somewhere in the Indian Ocean, a Soviet cruiser trails an American carrier group...

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. 

Conclusion:

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: 

Air:
  • 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.

Ground:

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.