Sunday, March 9, 2008

Gulf Strike 25 years later

Gulf Strike is one of the more remarkable simulations to come out of Victory Games. It ended up coming far more true than nearly any other "what-if" game ever published.
When first published, in 1983, the game concentrated on the potential for a Soviet invasion of Iran and the reaction of the U.S. Rapid Deployment force.
No Soviet invasion of Iran ever came, but there was an Iraqi invasion of Iran, which resulted in a long and bloody war, as well as a low-level "Tanker War" in the Persian Gulf. These ended up being the topic of a 1988 second edition of Gulf Strike with a new scenario and more counters.
No sooner had that war ended than Saddam Hussein's legions invaded Kuwait. Avalon Hill/Victory Games rushed out another updated edition of Gulf Strike that added a new scenario covering the new war, more counters and more maps.
Finally, in The Avalon Hill General, literally has the first bombs started to fall, a final updated expansion with still more counters and a map were published.
I solitaired that "scenario" in real time and the game quite accurately predicted the fact that the Iraqis would be kicked out of Kuwait decisively.
The game itself is highly involved in the style of your typical hard-core simulation wargame. It involves multiple phases, a lot of procedures and quite a few die rolls and charts.
Each game turn, which represents two days of combat, starts with a "Strategic Stage." This quick phases involves resolving any political random events and adding reinforcements.
The second part of the turn is a "Unit Assignment Stage." During this part of the turn units are assigned various "modes" which can affect their ability to perform actions later in the turn. For example, air units can be assigned either "offensive" or "interception" mode.
There's a short Initiative Determination Stage" which determines who will be the "Initiative Player" for the balance of the turn.
There are then three "Action Stages." During the first two the initiative player moves units and conducts combat while the reaction player can make limited counter moves. In the third action stage the reaction player takes the lead and the initiative player reacts.
To say that the game and procedures are involved is to engage in considerable understatement. The game insert includes 28 examples and tables and other times. Each action stage comprises three phases, each with two or three "segments." Each land combat unit can be in one of seven different formations. There are eight different air missions that aircraft can be given. There are eight or nine
different ratings and values on a naval or air unit counter.
Command control and logistics constrain all operations, there are rules for the detection of targets and countermeasures. There are rules for mines, Patriot missiles, stealth aircraft and just about every imaginable other aspect of modern warfare.
It's really a pity that more so-called military experts and pundits who blithely urged military strikes against Iran recently didn't take the time to play through a game or two of Gulf Strike in order to develop a better appreciation for what was possible.
One reason I was very wary of seeing military action against Iran is because playing Gulf Strike had given me an appreciation for how difficult such a campaign could be. While I never tried playing a U.S. invasion of Iran, I have played out the old Soviet invasion of Iran, and their much larger army was still insufficient for a "cake walk" through Iran. It's a very large and rugged country and the logistics alone so daunting that it's obvious only a major military involvement could possibly succeed. An investment in military resources far beyond anything proposed or politically possible.
Unfortunately Victory Games and the old Avalon Hill is gone, otherwise we may have seen a further updated edition for the second war with Iraq and the potential war with Iran, but interested players can probably adjust the game with the counters and information already provided. The U.S. military forces committed to the latest war were substantially smaller than the forces in the earlier war. It would be an interesting exercise.

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