Gulf Strke

The Gulf got a lot of gaming coverage (compared to very little about the Falklands) because it was hot news. Amongst the strategic offers are Gulf Strike, ANKW (Arabian Nightmare, Kuwait War), Line in the Sand disqualified because I don't have a copy) arid Mother of Battles from Command that I own but have not played full marks to VG for bringing out Gulf strike 8 years before Saddam thought of it.

So there are just 2 runners left to discuss but to pad things out Aegean Strike should get a mention, it does not deal with the Gulf but does line up with GS arid uses the same game system

Both systems (ANKW and GS/AG) have the same scale although some ANKW aircraft are wings the rest and. all GS planes are squadrons The map scales are close enough to fit the 2 games together, the 3W job wins on quality (prettier and the irk does not peel off if you stick the counters on with blue tac). Otherwise the 2 run so close that GS combat values can be written on the back of (most some are double sided) ANKW counters arid then this game can be played as a GS variant. I feel that 3W may have taken a few shortcuts during the initial design (say no more). GS is one hell of a fun system but the 5 maps do take up a lot of space arid scenario 1 (see below) takes a good 15 hours. The same system- is used for Aegean Strike using just the 1 map, of which more anon.

GS counters are crammed with numbers, so much so that for aircraft and ships the piccie is on the other side, each number represents anti-air, antiship bombs and so forth, roll a D10 arid the less rolled than this number the more harm done. This is modified by various factors including the size of the target (you guessed it printed on the counter). It takes a few hits to kill anything 3 for aircraft 7 for an average infantry unit also everything except ships can be repaired during the game. Air and naval factors are very important, there is a special large scale map so that these elements can zip around at amazing speeds and cover great distances while the PBI plod along. Basically this is an air game plan those missions right arid the enemy just falls apart, air units fly twice per game turn so a lot of time is spent bombing arid intercepting. The Gulf was a pilot's war and GC, is a pilot's game be prepared to spend a lot of time in the air.

If this is not your cup of tea then neither is GS so skip this section and move on to ANKW (do not pass go do not collect 200). Aircraft in GS are best used in 3s, 1 or 2 for the mission and the other(s) to hold off interceptors, every air type has different factors for anti-ship and so forth so it pays to look at what you have got before sending the boys off. Win permanent air superiority and you have cracked it, the other guys navy soon sinks arid his supply dumps blow up. This is not so easy; the enemy has to be found using clumsy detection tables (AWACS units have a 21 hex range but everyone has something) and planes may be on intercept missions to attack incoming planes (planes that bomb are not available for air to air and vice versa).

Ground combat is pretty standard, the stance of a unit (hasty defence, movement to contact etc.) affects the strength of a unit and the amount of supply needed for the battle. No supply arid things look bad, keeping a supply line between supply units and the front is very important little supply counters shuttle from the supply source to the front line by air and land just like the real thing.

The naval side comes last in importance behind the air and ground, America has by far the best navy and any opponent (usually the good old USSR, now known as the CIS) will do well just to keep it away from the Gulf arid whittle it down a bit before all USSR ships are out of action. Ships come in the usual variety submarines (to sink other ships); helicopters (to find arid sink the subs) fast attack craft (cheap and cheerful), aircraft carriers arid a mix of general-purpose types. When not trying to sink each other, ships can bombard adjacent coastal hexes or battleships can fire cruise missiles at farther targets. Ships are very susceptible to air attack, the Russian Backfires can fire antiship missiles from outside the patrol range of naval air power (I spy a bit of a glitch here), if an aircraft carrier goes down it is bad news.

Time for a few words on ANKW, despite the rules booklet this is the simpler game, most of the rules consist of chrome (oil slicks through to stealth raids) bolted onto a simple basic system with a horrific reinforcement chart. Unlike GS there are no step losses so units are much more fragile especially the ground units (judging by the effect of air power in the Gulf this may be the closer recreation). There is little naval action; the US has a few ships to shell the Iraqis. Like GS supply is very important but there are no supply counters supply is traced along roads to supply hexes and aircraft can interdict this link and hopefully cut off supply. Again both games have supply pools for all sides arid all attacks and air missions must be paid for.

In ANKW Saddam can only save 1 in 8 of his LPs (supply points) from turn to turn, this stops him saving up for a rainy day, when the heat is on worrying about saving his IPs is not top priority. In both games supply counting is big business (in ANKW supply points are called LP, AlP. IQP and IQROPs) but they all do the same thing. If the maths goes wrong arid there are no points to fly, attack arid so forth, it is time to put the kettle on. The keen eyed of you may have noticed 3 versions of ANKW, the S&T is cheaper but go for the game as the rules are clearer and you get more maps and counters. Do not buy the DS upgrade without owning the S&T, it is not much use without the owing the game, despite what 3W may say.

Like Gaul ANKW is divided into 3 parts, the Introductory, Military and Political games. The Introductory game is a much simplified version of the Military game but with no LP.'s, all comments about ANKW refer to the latter except this digression about the Political game.

The Political system can be played on its own as an exercise in dice rolling but I cannot imagine anyone wanting to do so. Its real purpose is to force a framework of non-military restrictions on play of the Military game. A single game turn consists of 2 military phases with a political phase sandwiched between them, thankfully the political game can be ignored for a no holds barred bash. To win Saddam needs a high number of victory points but a low number of political points, naturally those juicy military targets bring a hefty political cost. To make matters worse there is a chance of a coup removing Sadddam as pp totals rise, at 70+ pp's a check is made every turn. This is wishful thinking by 3W. Saddam could pull off a draw by not invading Kuwait at all but lets assume he goes for gold and watch that pp's rise. Saddam starts with 0 pp's, invades Kuwait (+30 pp's), then goes into Saudi (+30 60pps). Meanwhile the USA is building up a coalition to fight back, as each new state signs up the pp total increases usually by 1pp except for a rather odd 12 for Egypt. The USA can try to influence states until turn 6 and is unlikely to fail often, lets assume he earns 15 pp's as Iraq storms into Saudi, a total of 75 with a coup check every turn. Points can be gained and lost in other ways but only in small units so Saddam is in trouble, a die is rolled on & 1 or 2 it is rolled again arid on a 1 to 4 it is all over. So much for using the Political and Military games together. This entire system seems to be aimed at the non-gaming history nut market, it allows just about anything that happened. in the war to occur, from oil slicks to Bush playing golf (honest). It is a brave attempt to tie real world restrictions into the gaming medium forcing the Iraqi to act as Saddam, invade Kuwait tight and just sit there. An interesting exercise in design but no sane gamer should go near it, thankfully it is completely separate to the main game arid can be safely ignored.

Some of you may remember from the news that old Saddam didn' t do very well in Kuwait, still he didn't take it to heart and will probably try again later. Anyway we have all these counters arid rules but no fair fight, enter the alternative scenario. All Gulf games allow one to play out the real conflict, the trick is to get to Basra before the politicos pull the plug. The gamer wants balanced sides, not to have to retreat all the time and both GS and ANKW provide the goods. The 2 games allow Saddam to go straight for the Saudi oil, fighting against retreating Arabs as the USA rushes to the rescue. This a pretty fluid situation, in GS you can use Iraqis or (Scenario 1) Iranians which is a bit simpler to handle with much the same gameplay. In ANKW I got to the outskirts of Riyadh before the political rules pulled me back (see above).

What else is there? ANKW maps cover northern Saudi and run from Bahrain to Israel, which you can invade (this scenario is simpler arid has no LPs), Iraq can also have a go at Turkey or the Allies can invade Kuwait before the build up is finished (I got slaughtered when I tried).

GS maps stretch to the north covering all Iran as far as the USSR the big scenario is a rather unlikely attack by the Russians on Iran with the US helping Iran, it needs a good 40 hours that I have not got. Also we have an air and naval only tanker war arid an (anonymous) offensive in the Iran Iraq war. Well at the end of the 1st round things are pretty equal ANKW is cheaper and does most of what GS can do (except the naval side) but GS is a joy to play with a feel of air, land and sea combat (to be honest the Iranians are way overrated in GS) but why is it so damn big? No way will all the counters fit in the box arid the maps fill an entire wall, what good is a fun game if it takes all week to play it? (This is not the same as playing a good game all week). Aegean Strike saves the show, the contents are less hefty (1 map) but the system remains the same. Alas the subject is less slick, Russia invades Turkey and Greece with Bulgarian help and no customs control at the Russian border. This stuff may have been credible in cold war days but is a joke now. The most playable scenario has USSR vs Turkey with everyone else watching on, improbable but fun (can the spetsnas and airborne wallas take the Bosphorous arid hold on until the tanks make it?

AS has a scenario that covers a possible war, Greece Vs Turkey, alas neither side has much airmobile or amphibious capacity (and this stuff makes for top priority targets) so most of the (in) action is on land. Cyprus (22 hexes) sees most of the fighting with a frontline on the narrow land border the 2 sides share. Eventually someone will breakthrough and win but it is a long slow scenario. Oddly the last big showdown in the area was when Turkey moved into Cyprus, a massive air arid naval operation. Victory have not taken into account the vast amount of civil shipping in this area that could be pressed into service to land troops in a crisis. Interestingly the Turkish line up in AS is very similar to that in ANKW (as it should be) but the 2 maps do riot quite meet up (I estimate by about 3 hexes. A chance for inventing further mahem is lost.

To be honest there is not a lot between the 2 games, the Gulf subject means sales to historian non-gaming types, or so the companies hope. We gamers get modern warfare systems and with the end of the cold war these are not so common now, next war games used to be a big period. Of the 2 systems GS is the easier to understand because its rules are more clearly written, the ANNW rules are a real mess, a straightforward system drowned in chrome. As an example Arab ally aircraft don't pay LP.'s to fly over Saudi but do pay to fly into Iraq or conquered Kuwait but I had to read the (closely typed) errata to find this out. It is not clear when the USN aircraft turn up but the reinforcement schedule lists seven carriers, I cribbed off GS to invent a suitable mix as the carriers arrived. In short GS is the easy option and costs more; it is for experienced gamers unless you stick to the introductory game. I had owned it for a while but only after playing GS did I feel up to punching ANKW (which I got dirt-cheap on subscription). Playing it was no problem having got an idea of what was supposed to happen from GS, if you don't know a bit about modern gaming stick to GS.