Learning Gulf Strike - Scenario 1: The Invasion of Kuwait (Part 1)

For the past few days, I've been attempting to learn Mark Herman's Gulf Strike (1983, Victory Games) and it's been a real challenge.  One of the biggest challenges of learning the system is not rules complexity but the fact that there are so many things happening in a single turn of Gulf Strike and the options left to each player are so numerous that it can all feel more than a bit overwhelming for a new player.  In my previous post, I went through the early part of an introductory scenario (scenario 5) and after a couple of ill-fated resets, I decided to go ahead and try out scenario 1, which takes place on both the operational and strategic maps.  Rather than give a blow-by-blow account of an entire scenario, I'm going to write about the first few moves of the game just to give you an idea of how it plays (or at least my limited understanding of it by this point!).

The Setup

In the first scenario, the Iran-Iraq war ends in victory for the Iranians in 1984.  Iran spends one year consolidating its gains and preparing for a military campaign against the Gulf Council members (Saudi Arabia, UAE, Kuwait, Oman, Bahrain, etc.).  In June '85, Iran begins its war of revenge and the stage is set for a superpower conflagration as the US and the USSR prepare to become involved in the conflict.  The USSR places its bets on Iran to win while the Americans support the Gulf Council nations.  With an expected play time of 21 hours to completion, the scenario awards victory to the player who controls the Straits of Hormoz and /or occupies certain victory hexes by the end of turn 14.

In the first turn of this scenario, Iran's ground forces are poised to strike across the border into Kuwait - the first victim in Iran's war of revenge in the Middle East.  The other Gulf Council nations are not allowed to attack Iran or participate in the war in the first turn unless they are attacked.  After turn one, however, they are free to fight back against Iran.  A particularly brave Iranian player might choose to take on both the Saudis and the Kuwaitis at the same time in turn one. Not wanting to take too many chances, I decided to focus entirely on defeating the Kuwaitis before attacking Saudi Arabia.

The Kuwaitis are set up in a "Decent Interval" defense position, which is centered around delaying the Iranian ground forces for as long as possible.  There's no doubt that Kuwait will eventually fall but by arranging a tight defense around Kuwait City (a victory hex) and providing the Iranians with limited invasion routes into the country, there's a chance that the tiny country can hold out longer than simply sitting at the border and getting quickly overrun by more powerful forces.  I'm basing the Kuwaiti defense around an excellent article from Mark D. over at the Boardgaming Life.

Iranian plan of attack - start of turn 1

The plan here for the Iranians is to send in three groups.  One group (a mixture of armor and mech. infantry) will head straight south from Basra and strike at the Kuwaiti armored brigade to the north of Kuwait City.  Another group to the west (armor and infantry) will strike east towards the Kuwaiti armored brigade to the west of Kuwait City.  Two divisions will be kept in reserve to follow up with attacks to exploit any gaps in the Kuwaiti lines.  No one will enter the Neutral Zone or Saudi Arabia.  The hope here is for the Iranians to not only defeat Kuwait but also to have an intact army with little to no casualties before facing the next much bigger step - the conquest of Saudi Arabia.

Turn 1 Begins

First off, we roll for Global Political Events to determine if crazy stuff happens and other countries jump into the conflict.  We get a "9" and nothing happens.  Next comes the Unit Assignment stage, where both sides determine what their forces will be doing in the coming turn. The Iranian player puts one group of mechanized and armor units just north of the Kuwaiti border in Reserve mode, which will allow it to move and attack later in the turn.  The rest of the Iranian ground forces are kept in Frontline mode so they'll be entering battle right away.  The Kuwaitis keep all of their forces in Frontline mode, knowing that everyone on their side will be standing and fighting in the very early stages of the turn.

The Kuwaitis have only one airbase and they place a Mirage unit on interception and two A-4 Skyhawks on offense missions. Iranian air strategy is simple.  F-5 units are kept on interception missions at each of Iran's air bases while F-4 Phantoms stationed at the bases nearest the Kuwaiti border are put on offense missions.  The Iranians put up an F-14 Tomcat on an Early Warning mission slightly north of the border with Kuwait just to keep tabs on any potential Kuwaiti air activity.

Next up, we enter the First Action Stage.  The first step is the Naval Movement Determination Phase. Both sides roll to find out how many naval units they are eligible to move and fight with during the first action stage of the game turn. The Iranians get 4 points and the Gulf States get 1 point.

With naval movement determined, it's time for the First Movement Phase.  This consists of the First Initiative Segment, where the initiative player (the Iranians) moves his ground, air, and naval units.   After that, the First Reaction Segment occurs wherein the reacting player (Americans and Gulf Council nations) will do the same.  Finally, the Combat Phase begins and this is where ground combat is resolved (close air support strikes can happen here too).  This entire process (from Naval Movement Determination Phase onwards) is repeated again in the Second Action Stage and then finally the Third Action Stage (where the reaction player gets to go first instead of the initiative player).  In the End Stage, supply points are calculated and units have the chance to repair before the Game Turn marker advances one space.

The First Air Strike

The Iranian player's opening move in the First Movement Phase is to take out the Kuwaiti Air Force.   This is vital to the Iranian war effort because the Kuwaiti player has two full squadrons of A-4 Skyhawks assigned to offense missions, presumably close air support for the coming ground war.  The Iranians have three strike packages of F-4 Phantoms ready at the air bases nearest the Iraqi-Kuwait border. The Iranian plan is to neutralize Kuwaiti air by either bombing the sole Kuwaiti air base in hex 1046 (3 hits on an airbase eliminate it) or luring out the Kuwaiti planes and destroying them in the air.  Complicating matters slightly is the fact that a Kuwaiti mechanized brigade is stationed in the same hex as the air base and although its air defense capability is limited, it could still pose a threat towards Iranian strike packages.

The Iranian player sends out a strike package consisting of two Phantom units (one configured for strike, the other for escort) from Ahvaz air base.  The Iranian Phantoms enter Kuwait undetected and arrive at hex 1046.  For the Kuwaiti air base and mechanized infantry unit in the hex, detecting enemy planes in the same operational hex requires rolling a "7" or less on a 10-sided die.  The Kuwaiti player rolls and gets a "9" and "10" so the Phantoms enter hex 1046 completely undetected.

Without fear of interception, the Iranian escorts take a break and enjoy the scenery while the other F-4s attempts to bomb the airbase.  Hits are scored by rolling equal to or less than the Phantom's Bombardment rating of "5".  The Iranian player rolls a "2", which results in a hit on the base.  The base is hit and the Kuwaiti player must also assign a hit to one of the air units at the base.  Hoping to preserve offensive air capability for close air support later in the turn, the Kuwaiti player assigns the hit to the Mirage unit.  The air base defenses and the mechanized infantry brigade, fully alerted now, take parting shots at the F-4s.  The Kuwaiti ground units' anti-air defense ratings are both a measly "2" so there's not much chance for them to score a hit.  The rolls are a "5" and a "7" so the Phantoms escape unscathed.

Iranian F-4s bomb the Kuwaiti airbase in 1046. 
The Second Air Strike

But we're not done yet with our strikes on the base.  Another pair of F-4s is dispatched, this time from Basra, to hit at the Kuwaitis.  Threading the needle between the other Kuwaiti ground units and the Saudi border once more, the Phantoms nearly make their way to the base hex undetected but when they arrive in the airbase hex, the Kuwaiti defenses are ready for them.

What's left of the Mirage fighters are sent up to intercept the Iranian F-4 Phantoms.  The Iranian player rolls to see if the F-4 units detect the intercepting Mirage fighters.  To do so, we check the Air Range Detection chart and find that an F-4 detects an enemy air unit in the same operational hex at a "5" or less on a d10.  The Iranian player rolls two dice (one for each Phantom unit in the strike package) and gets a "9" and a "1" so one of the units fails the detection roll but is alerted about the Mirage fighters by the unit that succeeds. The Phantom escorts get ready to take on the Kuwaiti Mirage fighters in air-to-air combat.

Kuwaiti Mirage fighters take off to intercept incoming Iranian F-4 Phantoms

Because both sides have detected each other prior to combat, the resolution here is simultaneous.  Let's roll for the escorting Phantom's first.  We check the Phantom anti-air rating, which is a "6".   The Iranian player needs to roll either equal or less than this rating to hit the Mirage.  The Iranian player rolls a "6" and this means that we have potential hits on the Mirage fighter.  There is zero difference between the roll and the anti-air rating, so we put the combat marker in the "zero" box on the far left of the air/naval combat resolution track.

Air Naval/ Combat Track:  Attack Rating minus Die Roll determines potential hits (air hits are top, naval hits are bottom).

The next step is to determine whether the Mirage unit is able to evade the hit.  So we roll a single d10 against the Mirage's ECM rating.  In this case, it has an ECM rating of "4" but because it has already taken a hit from the bombing raid earlier in the turn, all of the Mirage's ratings (except movement) are reduced by one.  The Kuwaiti player rolls a d10 and gets a result of "6" on the die.  The Mirage fails to cancel out the hit and must abort its mission and return to base.

Since both sides detected each other going into this fight, however, combat is simultaneous. Consequently, we still have to check if the Mirage units actually did any damage to the F-4 Phantom escorts.  We roll a d10 against the Mirage fighters anti-air rating of "5" (reduced by one from "6" due to the bombing hit).  We roll yet another "6" on the die and since this is above the Mirage's anti-air rating, no possible hits are scored on the Iranian Phantoms.

The Iranian escorts have successfully done their job and the strike package goes in and now faces air defense fire from the air base.  The air base has an anti-air rating of "2" so we roll a d10 against this number and get a "5" on the die.  The mechanized infantry unit in the hex also gets a shot against the Phantoms.  The Kuwaiti player rolls a "9" and it's another miss.

Clear of the enemy fighters and air defenses, the F-4 Phantoms attempt to bomb the Kuwaiti air base.  The Iranian player rolls against the Phantom's Bombardment rating, which is a "5".  The Iranian player rolls a "9" on the d10 and the bombs miss completely.  The strike package and the escorts return to base.

Air Strike #3

Despite the unsuccessful raid on the Kuwaiti air base, the Iranians try once more and send out two F-4 squadrons from An Nas Ryan.  They arrive at the Kuwaiti air base and we need to roll for detection.  The Kuwaiti player rolls a dreadful "8" and a "10" for detection and the Kuwaiti units in 1046 are unaware of the incoming Iranian planes.  No interceptors can be sent up so the Iranian escorts do nothing while the other Phantom unit attacks the Kuwaiti air base.  The Iranian player rolls against the Phantom's Bombardment rating of "5" and gets a result of "1" on the die.  This die result is 4 less than the Phantom's Bombardment rating, so the air base takes 2 hits this time.

The Kuwaiti air base has now suffered a total of 3 hits and has reached its hit capacity so it is completely destroyed along with all the air units (the Skyhawks and the Mirage) stationed there.  Since they have used their Bombardment capability, the Phantoms are now automatically detected.  The Kuwaiti Mechanized Infantry brigade in hex 1046 fires at the Phantoms as they escape and the Kuwaiti player rolls a "10", which is a miss. The Iranian pilots triumphantly return to base.

Next: the ground invasion of Kuwait begins.


  1. Brad, Glad you found some useful stuff in my article, and glad that you're continuing to play Gulf Strike! This game never gets old... - Mark D. (www.grognard.com/www.theboardgaminglife.com)

  2. Thanks Mark! Your excellent article certainly gave me the spark I needed to get the game out on the table after it sat on my shelf unpunched and unplayed for a year. Now I'm finally finding out about all the goodness I was missing out on. I really hope you write more about it - mainly because I have no idea what I'm doing! haha

  3. Congratulations Brad! Great way to explain the air mechanics of GS and tell a story from dice, which is the best wargaming pleasure ;-)
    Were dice rolled freely for this AAR, or just 'artistically selected' to make a story more didactic ? because the result as it is - obliterating the Kuwaiti base with just 3 squadrons bombing - is quite unlikely.

    Iranian tactics here seem quite much suboptimal within the mechanics of GS. (Excepting 3rd edition special rules of single squadron less detectable) GS rewards using the maximum block of 3 squadrons in a mission, since it takes same losses from fighters and AA and more firepower remains useful against ground or air targets. I would put 2xF4 and 1xF-5 on each airbase, 2 together on each airfield. Usually the F-5 escorts (5 air, 3 ground rating) and 2xF-4 bomb (6 air, 5 ground) by the economic principle of Comparative Advantage but these multirole planes have maximum flexibility between a pure fighter sweep and pure bombing to keep the enemy command guessing.
    - Ignore putting any on interception for now - GCC countries don't have enough offensive air and supply for it to be a major threat. One AA unit of 5 rating (Hawks were pretty new at the time) is more than plenty deterrence. These AA would also be needed for deeper advancing supply depots without redundance, since taking one out could cripple a whole war effort.
    So with these adjustments, Iranians could send 3 missions of (2xF-4 bombing + 1xF-5 escort). With 6 squadrons worth of bombing at rating 5 (average 0.6 hits each, not counting AA) the overall result here of wiping out the Kuwaiti airbase with 3 hits would be typical, but not even then assured.

    1. Hi Mircea! Glad you liked the AAR. I seem to remember reporting the actual rolls in this one so I think the Kuwaiti base fell victim to some very lucky die...or some misapplication of the rules. It's hard to remember since it's been a while from when I wrote that up. Thanks for the air strategy tips. I got the sense after playing this that Iran needs to just go totally offensive for as long as it possibly can so your recommendation of 3 squadrons on offense and minimal intercept makes a lot of sense! I'm wondering if I spent too much supply as the Iranians on the first turn. That was a ton of air and I went big on the ground too. I may have gotten a little too paranoid about that one measly Kuwaiti airbase, which as you pointed out in your next comment, might not have actually been such a big deal anyway. Thanks again for your comments!

  4. Hmm... and at greater strategic level, Iran may not even need to attack the Kuwaiti airbase, just support better the ground forces and overrun it. It's not too much help defensively to Kuwaitis as it is, and not a major threat. Not clear how Kuwait can move its base back to Saudi with planes following. Probably not allowed, but don't remember the lawyery detail.


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