Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Across Suez -- Strategy, well not really

Like many low-unit density wargames with a significant luck element it's hard to have a real strategy in Across Suez, Decision Games' reprint of a classic SPI wargame about the fighting around the so-called "Chinese Farm" during the 1973 Arab-Israeli War.

Neither side has a lot of units, just 14 for the Egyptians at the start of the game and just a dozen Israelis. The Egyptians get just eight more pieces during the game while the Israelis get another 10 plus a bridge.

But for the element of luck the game would definitely favor the Israelis heavily. Besides having more pieces they also have, unsurprisingly, a significant edge in combat power and mobility. The 22 total Egyptian battalions have 60 combat factors while the Israeli force has 78 in its 22 combat battalions (plus 1 for the bridge). They do have some fairly demanding victory conditions, having to get the bridge emplaced, send six battalions across the canal and maintain a clear road back to the map edge.

But given good luck, these goals aren't hard to achieve and it's not uncommon to see the Israelis dominate the Egyptians so thoroughly that they get wiped out.

The problem for the Israelis is that the dice aren't always kind, and a spate of bad rolls, especially in the first three turns, can fatally compromise their chances. These bad rolls tend to come from two sources: Successful Egyptian bombardments and exchange results during Israeli attacks. There's a 1/6 chance of an Egyptian bombardment killing an Israeli unit. With typical luck the Israelis should lose one piece in a game and often won't lose any in the critical first three turns. Likewise every high-odds Israeli attack has a 1/6 chance of an exchange. When possible it's good to knock off Egyptian units with surrounded attacks that can't be retreated from, of course, but the Egyptian player won't cooperate and in order to guarantee a retreat result the attack has to be at least +4 which brings a chance for an exchange.

Cautious Israeli play probably won't do enough damage to the Egyptians to win. If there's still a substantial number of Egyptians on the map in the last couple of turns the Israelis probably won't be able to get six units across the canal and keep the LOC clear.

Because entire positions can depend on the survival of one unit and an unlucky series of die rolls can cause so much damage, it's very hard to come up with a consistent strategy for either side. Instead of a plan, the player may have policies, tactics and preferences, but everything must be conditional and subject to immediate change. The game rewards opportunistic play rather than long-term strategy.

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