Thursday, April 24, 2008

Desert Storm review

Desert Storm: Mother of All Battles is the definitive hex-and-counter wargame on that lopsided, yet incomplete, campaign to Liberate Kuwait in 1991. (At least, no one has subsequently tried to depict the campaign.) It was the issue game in Command No. 13.

Systemically, it’s a variation on the Ty Bomba mechanized warfare system seen in games such as The Tigers are Burning and Blitzkrieg '41, building on common wargame conventions such as NATO-symbolized attack-defense-movement factor units with sequential movement and combat phases in alternating player turns. Each turn represents a day, each hex 12 kilometers and each unit is generally a brigade or division. The presentation is good, with a functional and attractive Mark Simonitch map covering Kuwait and the nearby regions of Iraq and Saudi Arabia. This game was the debut for the larger, 5/8-inch sized counters that graced many subsequent XTR titles. Easier the read and handle than the traditional ½-inch counters, the larger size also meant larger hexes on the map.

The 20-page rulebook hangs various rules on this common system to account for all the bells and whistles of state-of-the-art modern warfare. There is night combat, attack helicopters, supply, deliberate assault and artillery. Battles can be enhanced with engineers, close air support, artillery, attack helicopters, chemical warfare, etc. There are options for divisional integrity, amphibious warfare, naval gunfire support, airmobile tactics, etc., etc. and etc. some more.

So the coalition player, leading a formidable force whose order of battle is depicted in loving detail, has all the tools necessary for full-blown, full-scale mechanized warfare of the most advanced sort. Unfortunately (only in a game sense, of course, it was most fortunate in the actual event) the other side is not much of a challenge. The 12-turn standard scenario is a big “what-if” assuming the Iraqis were a reasonably well-led, competent, trained and motivated army that had an actual combat power resembling what its paper strength and combat experience implied.

As events proved, it had none of those attributes and the Historical scenario is a 4-turn solitaire rampage that the player loses if he manages to suffer even a single step loss.

The game includes some silly variants adding alternate universe Nazis, a Death Ray or Godzilla to the Iraqi army. Command No. 16 added some marginally more likely variants for Russian paratroopers, Iranian intervention and a Japanese contingent. Command No. 14 added the US 10th Mountain Division as an optional reinforcement.

Set up takes about 20 minutes with all unit starting locations printed on the counters. The game can easily be played to a conclusion in an evening,. Victory is based on victory points, with most being awarded for eliminating enemy units and some for territorial objectives.


(Yes) For Wargamers: Hey, it’s a playable, real wargame on the biggest mechanized battle since World War II.

(Yes) For Collectors: As probably the last serious wargame that will ever be published on the historical campaign (there were some other published during the actual run-up to the fighting) it has some collectible interest.

(No) For Euro gamers: As a hard-core hex-and-counter wargames it has a lot of detail and intricate mechanics and in the end, there is no “game” in the game, really. It’s a study.

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