On October 5, the Ottawa Megagames group took advantage of the presence of Ben Moores at a nearby NATO operations research and analysis conference to run his game of the Iran-Iraq War (1980-88), Undeniable Victory. Ben has previously discussed the design of the game back in 2017 here at PAXsims. This time, two PAXsims editors—myself and Tom Fisher—would assume the roles of Ayatollah Khomeini and Saddam Hussein respectively. About three dozen people participated in the event. How did it all go?
Ben Moores (right) briefs Saddam/Tom Fisher (left).
Well, from the Iranian point of view, very well indeed.
In Undeniable Victory, the role of a Supreme Leader is as much a Control team function as a player role—you are there to keep your team informed and engaged, and make sure everyone is participating effectively in the game. Undeniable Victory has internal factionalism built into it (in the Iranian case, we were subdivided into radical, conservatives, and moderates), and that certainly played a role. However, in Tehran we generally agreed that defence of the Islamic Revolution and victory over Iraq was more important than factional infighting, so it tended to be rather muted —with the exception of one notable plot within military ranks that resulted in a few executions.
Saddam Hussein strikes a defiant pose.
Our strategy was a two pronged one: an offensive in the south (designed to hamper Iraqi oil exports and try to safeguard our own), a simultaneous offensive in the north (aimed at interrupting Iraqi oil production and exports from its northern oilfields), while simply holding and delaying in the centre. In support of our southern strategy our navy was to maintain a tight blockade against Iraqi shipping in the Gulf. In support of the northern campaign, we provided support to the restive Iraqi Kurds, and focused diplomatic efforts on Syria in an effort to block Iraqi oil exports via that country.
Fighting is intense on the Southern front.
In the south, the fighting was intense—we made only limited headway, and suffered heavy losses, but it was enough. Our navy generally did very well, although it did sink a Saudi tanker by mistake. A bigger failure came when Iraqi forces were able to launch a daring amphibious raid against Iran’s Kharg Island export facilities. The cabinet had warned the General Staff of this possibility, and ordered that appropriate precautions be taken. When it was clear they had not, heads had to roll: there was a shake-up of both the cabinet and the upper ranks of the military.
The Central Sector early in the game.
In the Central sector, Iraqi forces made substantial progress, and might eventually threaten key infrastructure and Tehran itself. We were confident, however, that a combination of Revolutionary Guard militia and strategic depth could blunt their attack.
The Iranian cabinet at work.
In the north, our Kurdish strategy and military campaign went far better than expected, in part due to impressive military performance by the Kurdish peshmerga. (The Kurds would later get a little too ambitious and start making demands of us too, but nothing we felt we couldn’t handle.) When General James Devine, commander of the northern front (and an Iran expert in real life), reported that he had captured Mosul and “there is nothing between me and Baghdad” we were first incredulous. Surely it was a trap? But he assured us it wasn’t, and we authorized a major thrust towards the Iraqi capital.
Iranian commanders (left), Chief of Staff (centre), and Minister of Defence (right) discuss strategy. The latter two would later be demoted and sent to the front.
Meanwhile, cities on both sides had suffered from missile and air attacks, and our economy and oil sector was beginning to suffer serious attrition too. Things were far worse for the Iraq, however, since we had cut off almost all their oil export routes. War is indeed the conduct of political economy by other means.
General Devine (left) chortles as he sees an open road to Baghdad.
With the Kurds in full revolt, Iranian troops bearing down on Baghdad, and the Iraqi budget in shambles, elements with the Iraqi cabinet secretly asked our price to end hostilities. We were clear: a full withdrawal from Iranian territory and substantial war reparations. Not long after, a coup took place, Saddam Hussein was executed, and Iraq sued for peace.
The Iraqi cabinet discusses the deteriorating situation.
There would be no “drinking poison” this time around (the phrase Khomeini used to describe the stalemated end of the actual war, in which up a million people may have died). Instead, the Revolution had achieved a historic, if costly, victory.
More Iranian cabinet discussions.
As for the game itself, it was extremely well organized by Ottawa megagames. With the exception of some hiccups in the military procurement and foreign loan procedures, everything flowed smoothly. Only a few of the participants were experienced wargamers, yet Undeniable Victory successfully delivered a realistic strategic replay of the conflict.
The next Ottawa megagame will be Apocalypse North on 7 March 2020:
The United States is descending into chaos as it is overrun by mindless undead abominations. Can Canada survive the murderous zombie menace from the south? Can municipal, provincial and federal governments overcome their differences in time?
Approximately fifty participants will assume the roles of federal and provincial politicians, military commanders, local mayors, police and fire chiefs, public health officials, scientists, community leaders, the media, and even local franchisees of a national doughnut chain in this MegaGame of zombie armageddon and Canadian politics.
APOCALYPSE NORTH is a non-profit activity organized by PAXsims in conjuction with Ottawa MegaGames and the Diefenbunker, Canada’s Cold War Museum.
Tickets are available from Eventbrite.
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