Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Gulf Strike - Scenario 5 Thoughts

Over the past weekend, I went ahead and replayed  Scenario 5 ("The Horn of Africa") from Gulf Strike again and I think I'm starting to understand it a little better.  Here are some random thoughts that occurred to me while playing it over:

1.)  The Soviets and USA going to war over Somalia.  Really?  In hindsight, that seems pretty far-fetched.  In 1983, however, it must have seemed like potential flashpoints were everywhere.  I still remember this.

2.)  The Soviet CG tailing the US carrier group:  The Soviet player needs to be careful here.  Firing off at the carrier group right away as part of an interception in the First Action Stage's Initiative player's Movement Phase will certainly result in the US player unleashing B-52s against unprotected Soviet bomber bases in Afghanistan or near the Black Sea.   The Soviet player needs to air ferry his Tu-26 bombers to Yemen or Ethiopia before doing anything else in this scenario.  Remember that the Americans cannot attack the Soviets until they themselves are attacked.  The one big advantage the Russkies have in this scenario is that they can safely get all their pieces into place before making their big move so don't blow it all on one impulsive attack in the first turn.

3)  The Soviets need to spread their bomber and fighter forces out evenly throughout the bases in Yemen and Ethiopia or they will get targeted and hit hard by those B-52s.

4)  The USS Kittyhawk can and should be used as an anti-Soviet naval death-dealing platform and it should stay near Diego Garcia and out of range of Soviet bombers.

5)  US priorities should be:  1.)  Destroy Soviet navy in following order of importance: a) submarines b) surface fleet  2.)  Destroy Soviet bomber bases in region  3.)  Bomb ground targets in Ethiopia attacking Somalia

6)  Soviet priorities should be:  1.)  Keep US surface fleet bottled up near DG  (with air) or destroy it (with submarines) 2.)  Maintain existing forces in region with minimal damage 3.)  Destroy Diego Garcia with Soviet carrier and naval bombardment if possible (probably not possible unless the Soviets get really lucky).

7)  The Soviet CG at the beginning of the game is cannon fodder and the sole Soviet SSGN is the only real remaining threat to the US Kittyhawk outside of the Tu-26 bomber corridor.  The SSGN is better off trying to use hit and run tactics.  The Soviet CVH can provide air cover protection against P-3 Orions and S-3 Vikings.  As the Soviet player, I would do my utmost to try and keep that SSGN alive!  You'll need it to help harass and/or sink the USS Enterprise when it arrives later in the scenario.

8)  The F-15s that come in as reinforcements in turn 2 should probably be put in Somalia.  Once they start working with the US carrier to provide air cover off the coast, they are basically unstoppable.   In the meantime, that base will become a target for Soviet bombers.  Keep your F-15s on Intercept until help arrives from CVN-65.

9)  The Soviet player has so many naval units reinforcing from the east during mid-game that I wonder if it would just be better to keep the Kittyhawk sitting near Diego Garcia to protect it while the Enterprise, the F-15s, and the B-52s go to town in bombing Africa.

10)  The B-52s are the true powerhouse behind the Americans in this scenario.  They have a high bombardment factor and are pretty much guaranteed to get 3 hits on something if they both hit the same target.  What's more, they can fly on and off the board every turn so they aren't vulnerable to Soviet base attacks like the Soviet bombers are.  Having to spread out the bomber forces in the region to avoid targeting by the B-52s ends up slightly diluting Soviet air power in the region.

Thanks again to Mark from The Boardgaming Life for the great advice and for keeping the Gulf Strike flame burning after all these years!

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Gulf Strike - Scenario 5 Redux

If you've read much of my blog before, you'll know that I'm a huge fan of Victory Games' Gulf Strike.  After it sat on my shelf for the better part of a year, I picked it up and got it on the table.  It's a real gem of a game and I unfortunately got distracted by something else before I could seriously delve into it.  One of my first write-ups on Gulf Strike dealt with Scenario 5 - an unfinished report that for some reason still managed to get a lot of love.  I've been feeling a bit red-faced from that, so I've decided to go at it again and do a complete playthrough of the scenario.


In this scenario, Soviet-backed Ethiopians are launching a major offensive against Somalia from hexes C-16 and D-17 against D-15 and D-18.   Each game turn, the Ethiopians will inflict 1 hit against these objective hexes, which will fall after incurring 4 hits.  The Americans can prevent hits from accumulating by inflicting 3 hits on the Ethiopian hexes C-16 and D-17 each turn.  To win, the Americans must also inflict 3 or more hits on three Soviet bases in the area (B-13, C-14 and H-14).  The scenario is over when turn 7 ends.

Ethiopians launch offensives vs. Somalia. Soviet bases that need to be hit are starred.
Initial Thoughts:

Okay, so there's a lot of Soviet airpower in the region.  The USSR has 3 MiG-23 squadrons parked in D-16 along with a Tu-126 for EWDA.  Just to the north of that in Yemen, there are two MiG-23 squadrons and a Tu-20 bomber squadron. Way up north of that, the Soviets still have toys - a Tu-26 squadron near the Black Sea and three Tu-26 squadrons in Afghanistan.  The Soviets have a carrier force with an ASW helo and some Yak-36 fighters.

The Americans don't have the numbers to match at the start.  They have a carrier group (CV-63 - USS Kittyhawk) with the standard stuff:  A-6 Intruders, A-7, 2 x F-14s, S-3 Viking, and an E-2 Hawkeye for early warning and detection.  Diego Garcia houses an F-15 squadron and some P3 Orions.  Each turn the US player gets two B-52s that come on board for an air strike.

So what to do here?  I suppose the CV could move up towards the coast of Africa and take care of the Soviet base in D-16 so the B-52s will be able to attack the Ethiopians without worrying about getting shot down. The only thing that's really going to suck for the American carrier group is that the Soviets have a CG tailing behind it that can fire on it right at the beginning of the game.  The American sub can be used to try and hit the Soviet carrier but I'm not overly concerned about it either way.

I haven't played much of this scenario before and it's been a long time since I've played Gulf Strike.  A lot of this playthrough will be me pushing cardboard around, just trying to get the hang of the game again.

Turn 1

The first move of the scenario results in a serious problem for the Americans.  As soon as the Kittyhawk moves towards the African coast, the Soviet CG fires at it.  The carrier takes 2 hits and fires back at the Soviet cruiser, destroying it.  As it continues its trek towards the Somali coast, the USS Kittyhawk is intercepted by a nearby Soviet SSGN.  It fires its anti-ship missiles from 1 hex away and hits the carrier for 1 damage.  Gravely damaged, the American carrier now has its sortie rate reduced from 3 to 2.  Three of the air units on the carrier have taken a hit of damage as well.

This is a poor start for the Americans but they're still in the game.  Together, the US destroyer and carrier move into the same hex as the Soviet submarine.  The destroyer detects it and fires at it without any luck.  The Soviet sub, however, fires back and hits the destroyer for one damage point.

Huge battle between Soviet sub and US surface fleet near Somali coast.

A nearby US submarine is sent into the same hex as the Soviet sub to hunt it down.  It manages a hit on the Soviet sub but gets taken for 2 hits in return.  This is a brutal start for the Americans!

The tide begins to turn near the end of the first action stage when a P-3 Orion is sent out from Diego Garcia and lands 3 hits on the Soviet sub, sinking it.

P-3 Orion finally sinks Soviet submarine in hex F-18.

The US carrier launches a strike package against the enemy ground forces in D-17, failing to score any hits.

Hoping to keep the Soviets from using Socotra as a base for replenishment or repair, the Americans decide to bomb it from the air.  The B-52s are dispatched to take care of it and score 2 hits.

The Soviets respond by moving their carrier and destroyer out from Straits of Hormuz towards the Horn of Africa.  Two Tu-26 squadrons are sent on an air ferry mission to rebase from Afghanistan to Yemen in base 904.

The Americans end off the turn by launching another air attack on the Soviet ground forces in hex D-17 but find no joy in their efforts.

The turn ends with the Soviet-backed Ethiopians scoring a hit each against their target hexes in Somalia.

Positions at end of turn 1

Turn 2

The American fiasco continues here as 3 F-15s enter by C-5.  I set up the US airbase in D-18, within arm's reach of the enemy ground forces approaching Somalia.  I put them up here to give the US carrier some much needed air cover.  I also pop the reinforcement AWACS over the base to boost detection capabilities against enemy aircraft.

US airbase reinforcements enter map.  F-15s station in Somalia hex D-18.

The USS Kittyhawk pulls up tight to the Somali coastline and a strike package is sent out to hit the Soviet airbase in D-16.  The drama begins when the Soviet Tu-126 detects the incoming F-14s, A-6 Intruders and the EA-6 Prowlers.  Three MiG-23 squadrons scramble and manage to score 2 hits on the incoming American aircraft.  The Tomcat fires back and scores 2 hits.  The American player assigns the hits to the Intruders and Prowlers, which aborts the strike mission.

The Soviets respond by moving their aircraft carrier and destroyer into the Indian Ocean.

Soviet DDG and carrier in K-15.

In the following action stage, the second strike package is sent out to hit the Soviet airbase.  A MiG trades hits with the Tomcat and the rest of the strike package gets through.  Unfortunately, the American planes fail to score a hit on the Soviet airbase.  On the bright side, the MiG-23s have now maxed out their interceptions and the base is wide open to attack.  The B-52s mercilessly pound the Soviet airbase, destroying it completely with 3 hits.

Although this is a considerable victory for the Americans, the Soviet-backed Ethiopians score a second hit against both the D-18 and C-15 hexes.

End of turn 2.

Turn 3

The Americans get some heavy hitters coming in this turn with the USS Enterprise (CVN-65) entering the theater.  The Soviets put a CG on the east side of the map.

With only 2 Naval Movement Points each, this turn will be heavy on the air and light on the sea.

The US finally gets its act together, hitting D-17 for 3 points of damage with a carrier strike package.  The B-52s smash C-16 for 3 points.  The Soviets start to get their air game happening by launching strikes and sinking the American destroyer near the Kittyhawk.

I probably could and should have done more with each side this turn but I think I got pretty tired at this point and lost focus on which units had already done what.  Looking at my notes, it seems much more should have happened in this turn but just didn't for some reason.

Turn 4

I corrected an earlier mistake I made with the naval reinforcements from last turn and had to move them back a bit.  It didn't make any difference in play, luckily.

The US gets 0 naval movement points for the first action stage while the Soviets get 5.  I somehow forgot that NMPs are determined for each action stage and not just the turn.  This probably explains why not much seems to be happening for US naval movement this turn.

The air war continues over the Horn of Africa and a carrier-launched strike mission of A-6 Intruders and EA-6 Prowlers against hex D-17 ends in disaster.  The Prowlers take a hit and are eliminated by enemy air defense.  The A-6 Intruders fail to score any hits whatsoever.  The B-52s are called in to do the job instead and manage to inflict 3 hits.

The Soviets go hog wild and start moving their naval units closer in towards the US carrier force parked off the coast of Somalia.  The Americans respond by sending out P-3 Orions to detect the Soviet subs but they fail to find them.

Lots of Soviet naval forces on board at this point.

Hex C-15 takes 1 hit and it looks like the US player is in real trouble now.

Turn 5

I got pretty aggressive as the Soviets this turn.  Lots happened here.

First off, the US gets 0 naval movement points again in the first action stage while the USSR gets 3.  The B-52s and A-6 Intruders both try to hit C-16 but fail to inflict only 2 points of damage.

I had shifted the F-15s in the Somali base to offensive mode and one of them hits C-16 for the much needed extra hit.

In the Reaction Phase, the Soviet DDG and carrier move west to G-19 near the USS Kittyhawk.  They are easily detected by the carrier's E-2 Sentry and the carrier launches F-14s on CAP to intercept the Russians.  As they speed towards the enemy carrier, the Soviet CVH launches its own CAP to intercept the US airplanes (I think I did this right - it seems to make sense).

Carrier air war!  The Kiev and the Kittyhawk go toe to toe.

Each side scores 2 hits on the other one and the air battle is a draw as both sides abort.  The Soviet DDG launches anti-ship missiles against the Kittyhawk and the roll is a "1" for the attack with the carrier's ECM roll failing completely.  The Kittyhawk takes 3 hits, which is more than enough to sink it.

During the Second Action Stage, the P-3 Orion from Diego Garcia manages a hit against a detected Soviet SSGN.

Turn 5 ends with a Soviet hit on ground hex D-18.

Turn 6

The US stops fooling around here and gets the B-52s on a bombing run immediately.  They score 3 hits on hex C-15.  An American SSN gets near the Soviet carrier but fails completely to damage it with anti-ship missiles.  A second ASM attack from another US sub hits the mark nicely and sinks the Soviet's CVH.

F-15s from the Somali base hit hex D-17 for 3 hits.

Before the American player can celebrate the string of recent victories, it seems that the US airbase in Africa has been left with only a single squadron of F-15s on interception while the other 2 are on offensive missions. Three Tu-26 bombers from Yemen attack the American airbase and two of them manage to get through with one of them scoring two hits.  In the third action stage, the Soviet player follows this up with another attack by the bombers.  Only one gets through the F-15's defenses this time but it scores a hit and destroys the US airbase completely.

Tu-26 bombers eliminate US airbase in D-18.

Turn 6 ends and things look really bad for the US player...yet again.

Turn 7

Final turn here.  The USS Enterprise takes up the Kittyhawk's former place near the Somali coastline and launches airstrikes but fails to score the much needed 3 hits against D-17.  The Soviets try another air attack, this time on the US carrier - but fail to score any hits against it.  The Americans launch a fruitless P-3 anti-sub mission against a Soviet submarine.

The whole scenario just sort of ends at this point.  Neither side can really get what they want at this point despite the massive number of planes and ships in the area.  The Soviets have managed to score a marginal victory by capturing hex D-18.

Parting Thoughts

Well, I really played this one poorly by both sides, I think.  The Soviets did very little with their navy until very late in the game and the air force barely showed up until turn 5.  On the other hand, the Americans made big mistakes by pulling their CV out of air cover of Diego Garcia very early in the game.  It may have made more sense to keep it back for a turn or two while launching air missions to detect Soviet submarines.  I'm not sure placing the US reinforcements in turn 2 where I did was a good idea.  The US airbase was just too vulnerable to Soviet air - and for no discernible reason.

I don't think using the carrier to launch air strikes against ground targets was a good idea either.  Carriers seem much better suited towards anti-ship and anti-submarine duty while the B-52s should be used to alternate between hitting the two enemy ground force hexes and the Soviet airbases in the region.  I'm going to set up this scenario again and try to see if I can do better!

I have a feeling that Mark over on The Boardgaming Life has the correct approach down.  I'm going to try to follow some of the applicable advice in his article and see how it goes.

I made quite a few mistakes in my play here.  I missed a few rules and forgot that I could move certain units in other stages.  However, this is about the closest I have come to getting it right.  I find that if rule questions or concerns come up, you can usually resolve them with common sense and you'll probably be right when you check the rulebook later and finally dig up that rule that you missed.  Having said that, I'm pretty sure I started and restarted this scenario about 6 times to get it this close to a play that resembled what was going on in the rulebook.

I'm going to stick with Gulf Strike for a bit now and see if I can get together some kind of coherent strategy that results in better play for both sides.  I'll post another article about it here when that happens.