PAXsims

Conflict simulation, peacebuilding, and development

Tag Archives: Iraq

McGill gaming seminar: three projects

This week the students submitted their game projects for my POLI 490 game design seminar, finally bringing the term to an end. One lesson I learned this year is the need to force students into building a prototype earlier, and therefore allowing more time for play-testing. Constant exhortations weren’t enough, and I think all three teams were surprised to discover how long the play-test/revise/play-test/revise cycle can be, and how many bugs there can be to work out.

Still, I was very happy with the results. The conceptual foundations and core game mechanics of all three games were excellent—indeed, there are some potential commercial designs in here. All three teams want to continue to development over the summer and beyond, and possibly show them off at Connections US and/or Connections UK. What’s more, Brian Train has offered to assist with game development—pretty much a dream come true for neophyte political-military game designers.

 

One Belt One Road

One Belt One Road is a semi-cooperative game that examines Chinese grand strategy, focusing on its current efforts to deepen trade and investment ties in Asia, Africa, and onwards to Europe. Players represent the Ministry of Finance and Commerce, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and the People’s Liberation Army.  Using financial, diplomatic, and military resources they seek to improve China’s bilateral relations, develop trade agreements, secure military facilities, and—most important of all—secure trade and investment opportunities. An events deck constantly generates new challenges to be overcome, however. Moreover, the three players have slightly different interests, which can impede cooperation.

 

IMG_9581.jpg

OBOR Game materials.

 

IMG_9582.jpg

Players have a menu of game actions they may take each turn, plus they may also support projects and respond to event cards.

IMG_9583.jpg

A game underway.  Eligible projects can be seen at the bottom, current events in the top right. The country displays show current relations with China. India doesn’t seem to be very happy!

IMG_9584.jpg

Sample event cards. 

 

 

The Logic of Atrocities: The War in Darfur

This is a mixed area/point-to-point wargame with a twist: the game is designed to show how and why governments and insurgent groups might engage in war crimes, and what might constrain them from doing so. In the game, atrocities can aid military operations, or impede rebel recruitment and resource generation through terror and forced displacement. However atrocities can backfire too. Refugees might themselves become a new source of rebel recruits. Moreover, there is a risk that they could provoke international condemnations, sanctions, or worse. Certain event cards, if triggered, are moved to the “Warn” and “Action” boxes, and if these fill up international action becomes possible. The intended audience here is those interested in mass atrocity prevention. the current version of the game is for two players (Sudan and Darfuri rebel groups), but a planned three player variation will introduce a United Nations player too.

IMG_9594.jpg

Game materials for The Logic of Atrocities.

IMG_9595.jpg

Sudanese Army (green) and pro-regime Janjaweed irregulars (white) commit atrocities as they advance towards rebel JEM forces that have just seized the town of el-Geneina.

IMG_9596.jpg

Sudanese war crimes have provoked condemnation from the United States and African Union—but no real international action action (yet).

 

We Are Coming, Nineveh

The third game is a tactical/operational wargame of the battle for West Mosul in February-July 2017, pitting the Iraqi security forces (and coalition support) against the so-called “Islamic State” (ISIS). It too uses a mix of zonal and point-to point movement. Before the game starts, each player invests in capabilities and defensive preparations. On the ISIS side these include such things as tunnel networks, human shields, makeshift drones, primitive chemical weapons, IEDs and VBIEDS, bomb factories, weapons stockpiles, enhanced media capability, spy networks, improved training, human shields, and so forth. Units are depicted by blocks, thus providing for some fog of war, and blocks are rotated to show losses and reduced combat capability. Iraqi headquarters units enable loss recovery, additional movement, or combat bonuses. The terrain is both shaped and coded for urban density, which affects stacking and combat: armoured units, for example, are very effective in open areas, but cannot penetrate the narrow alleyways of the Old City. Major roads provide for faster movement—but only if you’ve cleared the neighbouring areas.

IMG_9585.jpg

Game materials for We Are Coming, Nineveh. The Iraqi government offensive has just begun.

IMG_9587.jpg

ISIS preparations for this game include human shields, tunnels, improved training, and simple chemical weapons.

IMG_9586.jpg

The Iraqi Counter Terrorism Service (Golden Division) advances towards the Old City while elements of the 9th Armoured Division try to clear the major roads and flank ISIS positions to the west.

IMG_9589.jpg

Amnesty International raises concerns that coalition drone strikes are causing excessive civilian casualties.

IMG_9590.jpg

Meanwhile, advancing Iraqi forces are harassed by makeshift ISIS drones.

IMG_9593.jpg

Iraqi forces begin to break into the Old City along the southern bank of the Tigris River (right), while the 9th Armoured Division continues its flanking operations to secure the major roads and cut off ISIS supplies (left). ISIS fighters continue to appear in Iraqi rear areas (bottom), where they are engaged by troops and police.

Game design challenges in building a megagame simulation of the Iran-Iraq War

1.jpg

 This discussion of the recent Undeniable Victory megagame is provided by Ben Moores. Ben is a Senior Analyst at IHSMarkit Janes information group responsible for tracking and forecasting military requirements with an expertise in global defence industry, military exports and regional security. He is a sought after defence media commentator and has a BA and MA in War Studies and Defence Analysis respectively.


 

Undeniable Victory was a recently-run 70 player megagame that explored the military, political and international elements of the Iran-Iraq war over the course of a full day. This article will look at the design considerations and challenges of making a game about a relatively obscure, prolonged, multi-theatre conflict driven by domestic political conflicts and dominated by static warfare.

The base game structure was two teams broken into three core functions and three individual factions. The first function was the council game, the players representing the inner circle of the supreme leader. The second was the HQ game in which players would define strategy for each of their areas of operation. The third function was the operational level wargame. The core game design challenge was to ensure that decision at any one level had a meaningful repercussion at another level. This meant linking together a series of different mechanics and player structures.

This article is going to examine the following challenges and design considerations:

  • Relating Council mechanics to a wider game
  • Making a factional system relevant
  • Integrating domestic politics and morale
  • Building a foreign affairs model
  • Scaling a procurement model
  • Scoping out HQ backseat driving
  • Providing operational decisions in a static military environment
  • Restricting intelligence for improved decision making process plausibility
  • Implementing the evolution of military doctrine and capability
  • Connecting an air model to a wider game
  • Building a naval game for any eventuality
  • Sources and material considerations
  • Post game analysis
  • What happened on the day

2.png

 

Supreme Leader’s Henchmen: Relating Council Mechanics to a Wider Game

The first challenge was how to represent an imperfect political system led by a leader whose personal goals don’t always match the team goals. The solution was to implement a “Hitlers henchman” structure. This is a game in which the leader is played by control and the team have a sub game to influence the leader to adopt their particular idea via set agenda tokens. The leader gave top level advice and guidance but was quite happy for the various players to get on with their ministerial roles. Each minister role had a “station”, a mechanic that allowed them to make actual decisions.

3.jpg

Rather than having players  try to convince the control played supreme leader to adopt their ideas the agenda token system allowed some debate backed up with a mechanical structure. Agendas  allowed council players to overrule others, adjust war goals and strategy, replace other players and change the structure of government. This was effectively determined by a bluffing card play mechanic, in which the factions had to figure out how to allocate their hand of cards to which agenda in order to achieve their goals and block others.

Factional Drivers: Making a Factional System Relevant

Another significant challenge was representing the internal politics and the significant changes that occurred during the war. The Tikriti faction replaced the Ba’ath structure in Iraq and the Conservatives pushed  out the other ideological wings in Iran. The solution was to group all players into one of three team factions each representing the various political wings of each team. The factions could attempt to change the type of government, control the government branches and change the players within those elements. Furthermore the military structure was also split between various military types; such as the Regular, Popular and Republican Guard for Iraq. Council and HQ players could try to back their particular military wing and ensure that it got the best reinforcements and wasn’t held responsible for battlefield failings. This created significant pressure on the operational level players throughout the day and led to a series of tensions and imperfect strategic decisions that occasionally led to players or a policy being changed.

15

Image credit: Jim Wallman.

Who Do We Blame This Time? Integrating Domestic Politics and Morale

In both Iran and Iraq there were significant domestic challenges during the era with a number of political groups forming to oppose both sides. Representing this with players or control would have been difficult. Many of these groups would never be able to find common discussion ground with the radical government structures and were too different to fit into the core game structure. The approach I took was to abstract this by having the interior minister choose a major domestic faction (Kurds, political minorities or economic elites) to blame every year, adding resentment chips that could eventually spill over into an incident. Players could reduce the chances of an incident by allocating resources to alleviate the pressure or instead allocate chips to the opposing team to to increase the pressure on them. Each of the domestic factions would have to pass a test at the end of each turn to see if there had been a major incident by rolling a number greater than the resentment chip number. These incidents could either lead to Kurdish forces appearing on the operational level map, Political minorities disrupting various parts of the game by random card draw and economic elites would reduce the long term economic income.

The only alternative to placing domestic resentment chips was to galvanize the country in a “Grand Offensive”, publically announcing an enemy target that they would take and hold or suffer morale damage.

No One Likes Us And We Don’t Care: Building a Foreign Affairs Model

The challenge for foreign powers with a stake in the war was that there wasn’t enough of a game for players to play the various other countries that were associated with the war without seriously increasing the scope of an already complicated game. It was decided that external countries would be played by dedicated control; we were fortunate in that we had a number of regional and subject matter experts who were available to support this. I had considered running a parallel club level discussion game covering all the other countries to provide material and a decision tree but recent publications had closely examined the international considerations and provided in-depth material to draw from.

Foreign relations were tracked by a chart that showed the relative relations for both Iran and Iraq with each of the nations the game tracked. A significant design decision was selecting the countries. Firstly all the major potential arms suppliers with an international interest in the region were represented and divided into two groups; imperialists (USA, USSR) and colonialists (UK, France, Italy and Germany). Then the immediate regional countries with a direct interest in the conflict were represented and grouped together (Syria, Saudi, UAE, Kuwait, Qatar, and Turkey). Finally, Israel was also included.

4.jpg

The status of each relationship gave a particular benefit or disadvantage. For example; Turkish relations impacted Kurdish stability, USSR could supply equipment and Saudi Arabia could lend money. Furthermore relative relations with each group allowed both Iran and Iraq to claim leadership in opposing Imperialism, Colonialism, Zionism and wider regional support which gave a benefit to domestic morale. The mechanic was that there was a trade-off between morale and various political advantages/disadvantages and arms procurement.

Having control generate each and every country relationship wasn’t possible due to time, player and information pressures. Instead approximately 80 pre-prepared events were introduced into the council game with various optional responses that impacted relations, morale and domestic resentment. Whilst these were resolved by the council teams on an annual basis the plan was that the foreign affairs control would interject as the narrative evolved. So there was a structure from which emerging narratives would emerge that the foreign control could handle in more depth such as the hostage crisis, arms deals with Israel or Lebanon complexities.

 Drinking the Cup of Poison: End Game Considerations

The end game was challenging as planning for the unknown in a particularly mechanical fashion wasn’t possible. Therefore the driver for peace was a collapse in domestic morale. As the game progressed the oil price fell dramatically which creates a guns versus butter decision. Once one team’s morale hit rock bottom they could suffer desertions, reach accommodation with the enemy or appeal for international intervention to end the conflict. Using the metrics we had of morale, international relations and the military situation we were able to use experienced control facilitators to start to place pressure on the teams to bring the conflict to a ceasefire. It wasn’t possible to fully explore a negotiated settlement as it would have included only a  small number of players.

13

Image credit: Jim Wallman.

Arms Dealers Paradise: Scaling a Procurement Model

The challenge for procurement was capturing a level of arms sourcing granularity that interfaced with the operational level game but was simple enough to keep track of with limited control to oversee it. The game had to be able to capture procurement and the impact that foreign policy had on this. Whilst radical foreign policy led to increased domestic morale it increasingly cut players off from advanced arms supplies and, crucially, spare parts. Advanced weapons and specialist capabilities could only be acquired from Europe, USA or the USSR. As relations degraded countries would be reluctant to sell arms and then increasingly spare parts for existing weapons degrading their capability further.  China and North Korea would sell to either country regardless of the political situation and, although their equipment tended to be of very poor quality, this meant that neither team was ever entirely cut off from arms supply.

Another problem I initially had was trying to connect the right amount of money for procurement. To make the council financial game manageable within the time limits I made the cubes USD3 billion a piece but this was a large sum for the procurement system so they broke that money down into units of USD100 million which worked well when buying equipment at a brigade and squadron level.

There were 107 different types of procurement choices in the game ranging from chemical weapons, T-72s, MANPADS, improved shipyards, MiG-19s and hovercraft and this tied in with the squadron/ brigade/ ship level operational level game. Each piece of equipment or capability could only be sourced from a particular country and some elements only in limited numbers. Each piece was tracked for initial purchase cost, a generic spares cost and a specific origin source. This was manageable at a player level and worked well.

5

Image credit: Jim Wallman

The structure meant that the dedicated procurement player arguably had too much power, the council minister who was jointly responsible was often too busy with factional matters. This meant that there was often too little oversight which led to some unexpected but interesting procurements, including some very interesting back room arms deals as the game progressed resulting force structures and arms sources changing in fascinating and plausible ways. Maybe involving the wider HQ player base in the decision making process would have been useful.

 Implementing The Unimplementable: Scoping out HQ Backseat Driving

The HQ game challenge was not having them as back seat drivers for the operational level game but as strategic goal setters. I addressed this by having them unable to visit the operational maps for most of the game and issuing geographic maps without the movement areas on them. This meant that the orders they gave and the information they received were not always perfect. This was compounded as air support worked through a slightly different HQ channel. The downside was that the HQ players were reliant on the operational players providing them with information and if that information was not provided they had a limited game.

If I were to run it again then I would need to look at involving the HQ players in the procurement game or having a simple logistics game that they could resolve between themselves that impacted the operational level and perhaps the opposing HQ.  This could impact the operational level players in such a way that the players were keen to come to the HQ. Although part of the problem was the success of the factional system, operational players were very reluctant to share any bad news for fear of being demoted or removed by the council as part of a factional dispute.

7.jpg

Image credit: Jim Wallman

16

Image credit: Jim Wallman

Delusions of Manoeuvre: Providing Operational Decisions in a Static Military Environment

There were a number of challenges in creating an operational level wargame that was dominated by static warfare, with imperfect, evolving military capabilities over an extended time frame.

I decided very early on that I would not capture exact formation nomenclature as over the course of the war there was a huge amount of change and the effort required to capture the exact nature of each formation nomenclature wouldn’t provide any increase in plausibility (the audience not being experts) or realism (due to the protracted nature of the conflict).

In regards to time relative to action I had to consider that there multiple game domains in each team including; a council game (seven players representing the inner trusted circle), a joint military headquarters game (seven players representing the various theatre commanders, procurement team) and the joint chief of staff. The three military games (land, sea and air) had to be on a similar timeline but the HQ game and the Council game could run on looser timelines that coincided at certain points.

14.jpg

Image credit: Jim Wallman

It is neither realistic nor engaging that military stalemate and lack of operational manoeuvre options in a game design mean there is nothing for players to do or plan for. This is a particular challenge in a strategic trench warfare environment. So when it came to handling time I wanted to create a design that kept players engaged in a decision making process even when there were no options for manoeuvre or attack.

For the military games I initially decided that I didn’t want fixed turns I wanted activations determined by logistics driven at an HQ level. The concept being that the various front players would be at various stages of “readiness” and that the long periods of historic inaction could be skipped through until a particular front was able to activate because the logistic resources were in place to enable them to do so. The problem was I couldn’t mesh that idea with the opening stages of the conflict or with the air game. It also meant that I still had to have some sort of turn system at an HQ level to determine when logistics became available. This still left me with the time challenge so I reverted to a proven process of drawing random player activation chits. This worked very well on the day because it provides definitive clarity on who can act and when but I will continue to investigate the initial idea.

12.jpg

Image credit: Jim Wallman

Dancing In the Dark: Restricting Intelligence for Improved Decision-making Process Plausibility

When it came to the operational design in a static trench warfare situation it was important that intelligence was very limited. Traditional closed map games create a much more realistic military intelligence challenge but they also tend to require lots of control, can be slow and can create confusion for player options. So the challenge was to capture imperfect intelligence information that could be managed by the players in an easy manner.

The solution was to hide force structures. Each operational player controlled a small corps, with divisions represented on the table but with the brigades (the smallest game element captured) within stacked on player’s individual command sheet. These were hidden behind a foam board that was on the map table. This allowed control and players to quickly reveal information when requested, resolve missions in short order and worked enormously well on the day with lots of imperfect decisions being made.

8.jpg

Image credit: Jim Wallman

Learning Lessons The Hard Way: Implementing the Evolution of Military Doctrine and Capability

Addressing evolving military doctrinal capabilities, as opposed to technical or force capabilities, over an extended conflict was another challenge. The solution I adopted was to implement a learning curve system called combat lessons. Combat lessons were effectively rules exceptions that were awarded primarily for failing in a combat. To avoid unnecessary complexity the control would give out a sticker that that would adhere to the command sheet. Combat lessons didn’t give bonuses but evolved the rules giving players new capabilities; changing how the various types of forces performed in different periods of the game. Players were only aware of the type of lessons as they learnt them, creating an evolving dynamic.

6.jpg

Image credit: Jim Wallman

Finally, ensuring that players had actions even when they couldn’t manoeuvre was critically important to both realism and player enjoyment. Doing nothing couldn’t be an option. So each player had a list of various missions and postures that they could adopt on a divisional basis that would give them combat and intelligence advantages relative to the opposition in the short and long term.

 The Air Blame Game: Connecting an Air Model to a Wider Game

The air war had to be fairly abstract considering the duration of the conflict. I wanted to capture strategic operations, ground support, air defence, air superiority and maritime operations. As the turns (called seasons) were effectively six months each this meant that the air war had to represent a series of engagements and support missions.

Representing air fields in the game was difficult, there were many of them and it added a level of detail and complexity to the maps that related to range. The problem with range is that it’s not a fixed amount; it’s relative to the mission and load out. However, air field attacks did play a notable element during the war so eventually I introduced them as a holding box in which air defences could be placed.

I also made the air force responsible for air defence in all rear areas for two reasons. Firstly, whilst not entirely accurate it did mean that the game had someone who was responsible for allocating air and ground based assets to defend infrastructure. This also meant that players were largely distracted by the operational air war and repeated the historic errors of the conflict in failing to allocate resources to strategic assets.

9

Image credit: Jim Wallman

10

Image credit: John Mizon

Carrier Death Ride: Building a Naval game for any Eventuality

The naval game challenge was to capture operations over an extended period that meshed with air power and created interesting decisions. In addition it had to capture the internationalization of the war if one side were to start successfully blockading the enemy and disrupting regional trade. Finally the system had to be detailed enough to represent combat between individual missile boats, evolving maritime air power and a potential death ride against modern carrier groups. It also had to represent hidden movement and imperfect force structures.

I resolved the imperfect force structure requirement by having a refit system that meant that a certain fraction of the previously deployed ships had to be put aside at the end of each season. Furthermore deploying forces into an area didn’t always guarantee that they were able to enter combat, they had to roll to enter combat reflecting what forces might have been available in a particular battle.

11.jpg

The naval part of the game arguably failed to be engaging enough, whilst it functioned and provided a very realistic result it didn’t provide enough player decisions, rather just a lot of dice rolling. Fundamentally the map needed to be bigger to allow more areas for manoeuvre.

Books and Games: Sources and Material Considerations

The Iran-Iraq war has been relatively well covered by a number of books in recent years after an absence of much published material over the past twenty years. We now have a much better understanding of the internal dynamics of the Iraqi military command (thanks to Kevin Woods) and the Iranian political infighting (thanks to Pierre Razoux). However, there are only two commercially available games on the era; Ignorant Armies, an old school hex game and the very recent Bloody Dawns, a more modern abstracted card driven game written by Pierre Razoux. Neither game was suitable for adaption or inspiration for a megagame. This game was a culmination of a twenty year interest in the war and trips to the region to understand more. Unfortunately political tensions and sensitivities continue to make it challenging to access and understand the conflict in more depth.

Post Game Analysis

The game was largely successful with players being engaged enough to be arguing about who had won two days later and what if things had been done differently. The game was run with 68 people who didn’t know anything about the conflict but the war but the briefing materials and the game chrome (provided by control roleplaying and the events) meant that the participants made era appropriate decisions and considerations. Many of the players were megagmers, not war gamers, and some of them, including me, don’t enjoy traditional wargames. So part of the game consideration and design process was to figure out how to make a wargame interesting to someone who isn’t interested in traditional wargames. Part of that was relatively easy as we cast people according to their interest as we knew it but providing interesting, stressful, time pressurized dilemmas is harder.

Over the past decade I’ve increasingly drifted away from most commercial wargames because I don’t believe that actually resemble or simulate conflict in any meaningful manner. In part the design of this game incorporated the core ingredients that I believe are missing from games that claim to be about war, primarily imperfect intelligence and strategic directives that conflict with operational necessities.

I’ve been ribbed for observing that both sides made major strategic errors but in reflection I’m now very pleased about this because the game was designed to induce imperfect strategic decision making and in that I clearly succeeded without forcing poor decisions making upon players.

The History Of A Ball? What Happened on the Day

The game followed a plausibly historical pattern with Iraq striking out to take the Southern Iranian oil infrastructure and central and northern border regions. Caution left the Iraqi’s fairly short of their objectives but failing to guard the Iraqi Al Faw area almost trapped the navy and led to a series of extremely costly counter attack to regain it from Revolutionary Guard forces. By 1983 Iran had gone on the offensive in the Northern and central regions and a series of battle of attrition slowly pushed back Iraqi forces. Meanwhile in the South, after the initial confusion and repeated leadership changes, Iraqi forces had captured the key border cities of Khorramshahr and Abadan and even briefly took the key oil hub city of Ahwaz.

The Iranians initially got the better of things at sea damaging Iraqi off shore terminals but Iraqi procurements of Airborne ASuW assets in the form of Mirage’s, Super Frelons and Exocets wreaked havoc amongst Iranian platforms. An unapproved Iranian blockade of the Hormuz Straits dramatically escalated the international presence in the region drawing in large US naval forces that formed a critical end game component. Iran naval forces were building “kamikaze” speed boat forces by the end whilst the Iraqi navy had effectively ceased to exist as a fighting force.

By 1982 the Iranians had largely established air superiority and began to attack prestige targets in Iraq including Saddam’s Dam in Mosul and Saddam’s Palace which caused political chaos as an increasingly enraged Saddam lashed out at his council who in turn sought scape goats in the form of the air ministry which increasingly resembled a revolving door. However, large scale procurements in an extremely wide range of air platforms meant the air war continued unabated right until the end when a large successful Iraqi raid on the main Iranian exporting terminal at Kharg was a decisive moment in pushing the Iranians to consider a cease fire.

Both sides had focused on high end procurements over social subsidies which by 1986 began to draw both sides into a morale end game. Furthermore Kurdish forces were able to establish themselves on the Turkish border and around Mosul and caused significant disruption to Iraqi forces and oil fields.

By 1987 the Iranians had been able to break out of the mountains to the outskirts of the Northern Iraqi oil towns of Kirkuk and Mosul, had an armoured division within a season of Baghdad and had stabilized, but not recaptured the Southern border areas. (although they had no immediate chance of retaking them). However, by this point the Iraqi council had realized that they were not able to stabilize the front or domestic morale and had made major political concessions in exchange for US political patronage and around USD21 billion to keep them in the war.

A successful US strike on Kharg followed by the dramatic second Iraqi air strike and a general decline in Iranian morale led to Iran reluctantly accepting the unacceptable in a ceasefire at the end of 1987. Immediate stabbed in-the-back theories began to circulate amongst front line commanders.

17.jpg

Slightly stunned Iranian players hear that Iraq has taken US patronage. Image credit: Becky Ladley

Ben Moores

Updated ISIS Crisis materials

ISIL matrix game AAR

Iraq_ISIS_Abu_Wahe_2941936b
Matrix games are a type of free-form game in which each player, in turn, makes an argument about a particular course of action and the effects they expect that action would have if successful. Additional arguments for and against this are then made by other players. The success of the proposed action is then either adjudicated by the umpire, or resolved by a dice roll and a series of modifiers reflecting the arguments for and against. The next player then takes his/her action on the basis of this new situation, and the game thus continues. Game play may take place around a map and pieces/counters/units as game aids, or may be entirely abstract. Because events unfold according to a series of successful actions, arguments, and effects, it unfolds very much as a narrative of the scenario being explored.

Main MapYesterday I had an opportunity to play a game a matrix game of the situation in northern Iraq, ably facilitated by Tom Mouat. Our ten players assumed the roles of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL, also known as ISIS, Da’ish, or the “Islamic State”), the Iraqi central government led by Prime Minister-designate Haider al-Abidi, the Sunni opposition, the Kurdish Regional Government, Iran, and the United States. In addition I played the “spirit of inshallah,” who each turn could argue for a likely action or effect that other players had not proposed.

We used a pair of dice for adjudication, with 7+ required for success, with the dice modified by +/-1 for every plausible argument or counter-argument generated by players.

Each team was provided with a one page briefing that outlined their situation and major goals. One of the innovations in the game was that each also started with an “initial condition” that affected their play. Thus the Iraqi central government suffered penalties to its dice rolls to reflect the poor performance of its military forces as well as the absence of an agreed government/cabinet; the Kurds suffered a penalty to reflect PUK-KDP political rivalries; ISIL was able to take the occasional bonus move to reflect its political momentum; and so forth.

The game was intended solely for the purposes of giving players an opportunity to experience the methodology, not for any official or policy purposes. Nevertheless it was conducted under Chatham House rules. The players included a couple of scholars of Middle East politics, a foreign ministry official, some current or former intelligence or defence analysts, and quite a few experienced wargamers—an opportunity group of friends and colleagues, but a quite skilled and well-informed one. Gameplay itself took a little over two hours. The game map and generic pieces used in the game are reproduced at left and below (click images to expand).

The ISIL (or ISIS) Crisis

The game started off with Washington contemplating airstrikes in support of Iraqi troops fighting against the self-styled “Islamic State” near Tikrit, but ultimately choosing not to go ahead with these. Throughout the US team was cautious about becoming too deeply involved in an Iraqi quagmire. Later some US Special Forces were sent to the country, and—after some extended discussions with the Iraqi government—ended up conducting cautious reconnaissance of ISIL positions. A terrorist attack struck the US Navy in the Persian Gulf (for which ISIL claimed responsibility), but this has little impact on American policy.

ISIL itself decided to launch an offensive towards Karbala through the sparsely populated areas to the northwest and west. This was intended largely as a feint and diversion, but it caught the Iraqi Army by surprise, which quickly routed. Much to everyone’s surprise, ISIL then defeated the Shiite militias in the city, causing a massive out-flow of terrified refugees.

IMG_2290Prime Minister Abidi oscillated between efforts to form a national unity government and building up troops for a counter-offensive. Iran sent arms, advisors, humanitarian aid. At the request of the Kurds, some Iranian combat units also entered Iraqi Kurdistan. Secretly the Kurds had cut side deals with both Iran and ISIL which enabled the Peshmerga to recapture Mosul but also saw most ISIL units leave the city to battle elsewhere.

The Iraqi Prime Minister’s effort to broaden the base of the Iraqi government bore some fruit when the Sunni opposition—attracted by the offer of future political decentralization and an equitable share of oil resources—abandoned their erstwhile jihadist allies. Heavy fighting soon followed as local Sunni tribal militias and ISIL militants fought for control of the border crossings into Syria. US airstrikes and a covert supply of US weapons to the anti-ISIL tribal fights tipped the fighting slightly towards the latter, although ISIL reinforcements continued to arrive from Syria to keep the fighting going.

At the same time, Baghdad launched two major offensives, Operation Heavenly Sword and Son of Heavenly Sword. The first bogged down amid poor planning and logistics (ie, a poor dice roll). The latter, however, eliminated most of the ISIL fighters in Karbala amid widespread destruction and atrocities on both sides.

The game ended with ISIL weaker but still a significant threat. The Sunni opposition, although now allied with the Iraqi central government, remained deeply suspicious of Baghdad. The Iranians had gained greater influence in the country, and were stalling on a Kurdish request that they withdraw their forces from Kurdistan. The US had become more deeply involved in military action, but had remained cautious, had not deployed major ground forces, and had exerted only limited influence on events.

For its part, the Iraqi government called for major talks between all parties—including, indirectly, ISIL—on national reconciliation. This received a lukewarm response from some. It also split the Shiite community, with many Iraqi militia leaders arguing that it was pointless to talk with extremists and favouring instead stepped up military action against their Sunni jihadist foes.

Methodological Impressions

Although I had watched and dabbled with matrix games a few times, this was the first one I had fully participated in and played through until the end.

  • The methodology is very flexible, and games can be quickly designed and conducted. Effective game play is highly dependent on a skilled facilitator, however. (Tom, fortunately, is very good.) It also needs players who are willing to accept the lack of formal rules. As one observer noted, it probably would have helped to have had a trial turn before the proper game started.
  • Like most games—and, indeed, history itself—there is a significant degree of built-in path dependency. This can be a problem if players don’t roleplay well, try to get too clever, or manage to pull off an unrealistic or implausible action early in the game (possibly through a lucky dice roll if that system of adjudication is used), thereby skewing the game in a particular direction. In our game, I didn’t think that the ISIL conquest of Karbala—a large, religiously symbolic, and very, very Shiite city—was at all realistic. I also thought that the government strategy of allowing ISIL attacks of Karbala as a way of mobilizing Shi’ite outrage was too risky to be feasible.
  • Of course, an umpire can rule against actions that are thought to be too unrealistic. However, if the game is too directed it merely ends up reproducing the views and possible biases of the adjudicator. Moreover, it also risks excluding interesting “black swans” and other low probability/high impact events. After all, few if any analysts had predicted that (Sunni) Mosul would fall so easily to ISIL earlier this year.
  • I think it helped to have a neutral, subject matter expert player to periodically nudge the game back to a more “realistic” course or to try to make sure that various important consequences of actions are represented in the game. It would also be useful to have a discussion and consequence management phase at the end of each turn to address what had happened and what additional second and third order effects actions might have.
  • The physical layout of the game matters. In our case the map and proliferation of military unit markers may have predisposed some players to think in military rather than political terms.  On the other hand, the game did nicely illustrate the difficulty of undertaking political initiatives and reforms amid an ongoing security crisis.
  • The choice of roles and players matters a lot. We had deliberately chosen tow knowledgeable (and devious) participants to play ISIL. Had others been playing the role it might have all turned out rather differently. We had also limited the number of roles to six for practical reasons. The absence of the Syrian government and various Syrian opposition groups from the game had the clear consequence of biasing us towards an Iraq-centric focus on ISIL. The absence of a Turkish player may have also given the Kurds greater free rein than in real life.
  • Even where game play diverged from the most likely course of events in Iraq, it provided considerable material for discussion. Tocite just a few of the issues that arose during our two hours of play:
    • How decentralized is ISIL? How vulnerable is it to leadership casualties? Have its recent successes been part of an central campaign plan, or rather rapid exploitation of local successes by local commanders?
    • How cohesive and fanatical is ISIL? Could parts of the organization be lured away with promises of political decentralization in Iraq? (I think not, but in our game Baghdad clearly hoped to do so.)
    • How easily can ISIL mask major troop movements from allied ISR, or otherwise complicate targeting? To what extent can it support operations away from its Sunni population base?
    • What domestic constraints exist on US policy? Would an ISIL-linked act of terrorism deter greater American involvement, encourage it, or (as in the game) have little effect?

A critical question, of course, is whether two+ hours of matrix gaming provided more insight into these and other issues than would have been derived from a BOGSAT (“bunch of guys/gals sitting around a table”) of similar duration. I am not convinced that the game was better—indeed, having recently participated in an official/classified meeting on the topic, I thought the latter discussion was more productive. The game did, however, provide a different, and perhaps more enjoyable, perspective. Consequently, matrix gaming does have some value as a sort of alternative analysis exercise intended to shift analysts out of traditional and more comfortable thought processes. It can also serve to break up the monotony of a long seminar-type discussion, and encourage participants to interact and network in different ways.

Finally, the approach can easily be replicated and repeated. By doing so, more of the possible problem space be mapped. If key actions or questions repeatedly occur in games drawing upon different participants this would also suggest key questions, indicators, and potential courses of action worthy of additional analytical attention.

* * *

For more on this approach, see Matrix Games for Modern Wargaming, a newly-published booklet by John Curry and Tim Price. We’ll be reviewing it soon here at PAXsims. You also find a much more detailed write-uo of the game at John’s History of Wargaming Project website, and a very useful set of reflections by Ben Taylor elsewhere at PAXsims.

A recent version of the ISIS Crisis materials can be found on Tom Mouat’s website.

Oil War: The “Unstable Gulf” variant

As promised in my recent review of Oil War: Iran Strikes, I have been thinking about ways in which the game might be modified. To be honest, much of the reason for designing variants is the simple geeky pleasure of tinkering with game designs. I’m not the only one who feels that way, either—there is a very active thread on the Consimworld forum discussing new game rules, units, and so forth. As someone who has a particular concern with the politics of the region, it is also interesting to try to to adapt the game so that it more fully reflects current and future political tensions in the region (albeit within the constraints of the game, map, topic, and counter mix). It also provides an opportunity to illustrate how game design necessarily forces one to think about how various military, economic, social, and political dynamics can best be modelled in a parsimonious (and playable) way. The relative simplicity of Oil War makes it more easily modifiable than many others. Hopefully, “(re)designing out loud” here at PAXsims also provides an opportunity to illustrate to a non-boardgaming audience one of the strengths of manual gaming, namely the much greater ease with which such games can be altered compared to their digital counterparts.

Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps T-72s on exercise (Press TV).

As the originally configured, the game involves Iranian intervention in a renewed Iraqi civil war, followed by a dash down the Arabian peninsula to capture the capital of at least one Gulf Cooperation Council state (as the GCC tries to slow down the Iranian juggernaut enough for powerful US reinforcements to arrive). While I can certainly imagine scenarios where Iraq tips into renewed civil conflict, and even scenarios in which Iran intervenes in Iraq, the GCC part of the war seemed to be rather implausible.

Compounding this “realism” challenge is a parallel game characteristic that might be labelled  the “Kuwait bottleneck” (or “GCC flypaper”) problem. The layout of the map (and geography) and the configuration of victory conditions means that too many games hinge on a slugfest in a small area around Kuwait, while the Coalition player can usually bog down any Iranian advance further south by deploying a checkerboard of weak GCC military units that Iranian forces must fight their way through.

The Scenario

Protests in Bahrain (AFP).

Hence the logic behind this variant, which adds a GCC preoccupation with domestic security in addition to the military confrontation in Iraq. Specifically it imagines a near future where Gulf monarchies look much less stable than today (an argument that has been made by University of Durham political scientist Christopher Davidson in his recent book After the Sheikhs: The Coming Collapse of the Gulf Monarchies). In the proposed scenario the current political confrontation between the (Sunni minority) monarchy and (Shiite majority) opposition in Bahrain has reached the point of near civil war. The opposition, whose initial calls for democratic reforms were brutally crushed by Bahraini and GCC security forces in March 2011, are projected to have slowly grown in strength, and now seek to topple the royal family. The scenario also assumes generally rising Sunni-Shiite sectarian tensions across the Middle East, aggravated by events in Bahrain and Iraq, systematic discrimination against the Shiite minority in Saudi Arabia, tensions between Hizbullah and the March 14 movement in Lebanon, as well as by the (future) success of the Syrian revolution against Bashar al-Asad. In Kuwait it is easy to imagine future political protests, especially given the real-life protests that the country has seen in recent weeks. In this case the source of tensions is not a sectarian one (although Kuwait does have a significant Shiite minority), but rather the continuing tug of war between the Emir and the opposition over elections, the role of parliament, and political reform.

In the revised scenario, the Arab Spring has made US policymakers reluctant to be seen too closely tied to authoritarian Gulf monarchies, especially when popular protests erupt. For its part the US public—while alarmed at Iranian intervention—is wary about getting too bogged down in another Gulf or Iraq war.

Finally, the scenario suggests that Iran is far from perfectly stable, the Iranian leadership was not entirely united around the decision to intervene. The Iranian public, which has sombre memories of the human carnage that was the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq war, isn’t entirely enthusiastic either. The Green Movement opposition—presumed to be still active , if largely underground—is hoping to use anti-war sentiment to mobilize popular support against the regime.

The original Oil War raises the issue of Iran’s nuclear weapons program, but leaves uncertain what its status is, and the issue has no real effect on the scenario or gameplay. I’ve maintained that ambiguity. Finally, I’ve added a little more detail on the actual path to war.

The resulting scenario doesn’t eliminate the prospect for an Iranian blitz into the GCC countries. However, it shifts the balance somewhat, with the Coalition player facing new trade-offs between whether to commit military forces to defence or internal security, on crushing the protests versus maintaining maximum US support, and as to how best to balance the external threat to Kuwait against the risk of a popular uprising in Bahrain.

The scenario setting thus ends up looking like this:

1.1 Game Premise

It wasn’t, in the end, the Iran’s nuclear program that brought military confrontation with the United States. Certainly the nuclear issue was a continuing source of tension. Israel continued to utter threats to strike at Iranian facilities. The US and its allies continued to place diplomatic pressure and economic sanctions on Tehran. For their part the Iranians continued to develop their nuclear capacities, but had thus far refrained from moving beyond 20% enrichment to produce weapons-grade uranium that could be used in a nuclear device. The covert campaigns of sabotage, assassination, cyberwarfare, and tit-for-tat retaliation had all continued too.

Instead, it would be a series of local political crises that would tip the Gulf into armed conflict.

Iraq’s August 2014 parliamentary elections had been deeply divisive, marred by sectarian tensions and political violence. While Iyad Allawi and his al-Iraqiyya party had won a narrow plurality by drawing upon both Sunni and Shiite voter support, many other Shiites had voted instead for rival parties: former Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki’s “State of Law” coalition, the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq, or the Sadrists. Prime Minister Allawi thus depended heavily on support from the Kurdish parties to maintain a majority in parliament, which only further angered the opposition. In response, these Shiite parties drew closer to Iran, which was quite willing to offer political support, funding, and even the occasional covert arms supplies.

The new Iraqi Prime Minister also sought to reorient Iraqi policy closer to the United States and Saudi Arabia. Coming so soon after another strategic reverse—namely the overthrow in Syria of former Iranian ally Bashar al-Asad by the predominately Sunni (and vehemently anti-Iranian) opposition—Tehran saw this as deeply threatening.

In Bahrain, the Sunni Al Khalifa monarchy had, backed by its Gulf allies, continued its brutal crackdown against the Shiite majority. The countries of the Gulf Cooperation Council, and especially Saudi Arabia, were convinced that the reformist movement there was little more than an Iranian-backed plot. Sporadic protests among the long-oppressed Shiite minority in Saudi Arabia’s Eastern Province only heightened Riyadh’s concerns.

In July 2015, a little over a year after the elections, Iraq’s unstable politics worsened dramatically when a senior Shiite cleric was assassinated in Najaf by unknown gunmen. As each side quickly accused the other of complicity. Angry street protests erupted across the southern part of the country. Some security units mutinied, siding with the protesters. Fighting escalated further as ISCI and Sadrist militias joined with rebellious security forces to battle those loyal to the Allawi government.

On August 12, a powerful car bomb destroyed the Iranian embassy in Baghdad, killing the ambassador and more than a dozen staff. A second, in the southern city of Karbala, killed a visiting a Iranian cleric and several senior ISCI officials. That same day, the Iraqi Minister of Defence flew to Riyadh to discuss a possible defence relationship with the GCC countries. In Washington, the US announced stepped-up military aid to the tottering Iraqi government.

Three days later, Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, used his annual al-Quds Day speech to declare that “the Islamic Republic of Iran could not and would not allow brotherly Iraq to once more fall into the clutches of an evil tyrant or his dark Satanic puppeteer.” Within Iraq  a joint “National Islamic Redemption Council for Iraq” was announced by opposition figures in Basra. It called for a popular uprising against Prime Minister Allawi’s government—and for external support.

Hours later, the first Iranian combat units crossed the border into Iraq. For the fourth time in less than four decades, the Gulf was at war.

Rules Modifications

Below I have listed all of the rules that need to be modified or added to make the scenario work . These should be compared with the original rules for Oil War: Iran Strikes, which can be downloaded via BoardGameGeek. The section numbers are consistent with the original rules, with the P.1 to P.7 sections being completely new.

Overall, I’ve tried to make very few changes to the military combat rules. This isn’t for a lack of possible tweaks—on the contrary, the discussion at the ConSimWorld forum offers all sorts of ideas on how to make the military order-of-battle and combat dynamics of the game more detailed or accurate. However, I wanted to focus attention largely on rules changes necessary for the politics of an “Unstable Gulf.”.

2.14 Other Counters

The uses of the following counters are explained at appropriate points throughout the rest of the rules.

Protest Marker (see 11.10)

Modification and rationale: Adds protest markers to the mix. These will need to be made up to play the “Unstable Gulf”—eight or so should suffice. Any other marker will do, as long as both players know what it means!

4.12  Bahrain

If at the end of the game Manama is under the control of Bahraini protesters, roll a d6. On a score of 3+ the Iranian player gains one VP.

Modification and rationale: A successful anti-government uprising by the (Shi’ite-majority) opposition in Bahrain—while not necessarily pro-Iranian—would nonetheless be seen as a major strategic threat by most (Sunni) GCC countries.

3.9 Protest Set Up

Place  a protest marker in Bahrain, Kuwait City, and any Saudi town or city (selected by the Saudi player). The effects of protest markers are described in 11.10.

Modification and rationale: The Gulf countries are suffering from a degree of political turmoil when the war begins.

5.2 Turn Sequence

The game turn sequence is given below in outline. The rest of the rules are organized, as much as possible, to explain things in the order they’re encountered as you go through each game turn’s sequence.

I. Iranian Player Turn
A. Iranian Combined Movement Phase
B. Iranian Basij Combat Phase
C. Iranian Artesh/RGC/Iraqi Insurgent Combat Phase

II. US/Coalition Player Turn
A. Non-US Coalition Movement Phase
B. Non-US Coalition Combat Phase
C. US Movement or Combat or Airpower Phase
D. US Combat or Movement or Airpower Phase
E. US Airpower or Movement or Combat Phase

III. Random Events and Protest Phase
A. Random Events Phase
B.  Protest Phase

IV. Mutual Replacement & Reinforcement Phase
A. Iranian Basij Replacement & Strategic Reserve Release Step
B. Saudi Reinforcement Step
C. US Reinforcement Step
D. Air Support Availability Step

Modification and rationale: A “Protest Phase” has been added during which time players will determine the eruption and spread of political protests. An “Air Support Availability Step” has also been added.

5.8 Syrian Movement & Combat

If Syria enters play (see 13.2), the movement of and attacks by its units always take place as part of Coalition steps II.A and II.B, respectively, in the outline above.

Modification and rationale: Syrian units enter the war on the Coalition side in this variant.

6.4 US & Coalition Stacking Particulars

On the US/Coalition side, US, Kuwaiti, Saudi, Bahraini, Qatari, UAE, Iraqi loyalist , Kurdish, and Syrian units may freely stack, up to a limit of four per hex. Multinational stacks suffer a one column shift penalty when attacking or defending, however.

Modification and rationale: Simplifies stacking rules, while addressing the command and control problems of multinational operations.

6.6 Syrian Stacking

If Syria enters play (see 13.2), it always does so on the Coalition side. They may free stack with other coalition units as outlined in 6.4.

Modification and rationale: Revises rule to be consistent with 6.4.

7.2 Geographic Restrictions

US units may enter any part of the map.

Iranian units may enter any part of the map except Turkey.

Saudi units are initially confined to Saudi Arabia and Bahrain. Once Iranian units (but not al-Qods Force missions) enter or attack any GCC country, they may enter all GCC countries as well as Iraqi hexes south of Basra (XX28 or higher). No more than half of all Saudi units may be outside Saudi Arabia at any one time. If this occurs a sufficient number of Saudi units must return to the Kingdom as quickly as possible.

The UAE unit is initially confined to the UAE. Once Iranian units (but not al-Qods Force missions) enter or attack any GCC country, or once there are two or more protest markers in any one GCC country, they may enter all GCC countries.

Kuwaiti, Qatari, and Bahraini units may not leave their own countries.

Turkish and Syrian units may only enter their own countries and Iraq.

Iraqi units may not leave Iraq. Kurdish units may not leave Iraqi Kurdistan (KRG).

Units may attack across the border of the region(s) to which they’re restricted. For example, Kuwaiti units may attack across their nation’s border into Iraq.

Modification and rationale: Adjusts geographic restrictions for simplicity and political plausibility. Situated so close to Iraq and Iran and with the bitter experience of the 1990-91 Gulf War, it seems unlikely that Kuwait would weaken its defences in a crisis by sending troops outside the country. The Bahraini and Qatari militaries are small and largely needed for internal security as well as to defend against the threat of Iranian attack. The Saudis also need to keep sufficient troops in-country to assure domestic security. The UAE “Peninsula Shield” force that is included is designed for joint GCC operations, hence allowing it to deploy elsewhere in the GCC (as it did to some extent in Bahrain in 2011).

11.10 Protests

A protest marker indicates the presence of protests in a given hex. It is not a unit. Protests are static and may never move.

Units of any nationality may be stacked with protests. Protests do not count towards stacking limits. Units may move on or through protests.However, the cost of entering or leaving a protest hex is increased by one for all units. This effect is cumulative, so that three protests would cause a penalty of three movement points.

In the case of the Abu Haddryah road/causeway, units may move normally as per rule 9.8 if there are fewer than two protests in the hex they wish to enter (3709 or 3810). They may not, however, cross if two or more protests are present in that hex.

US units may never voluntarily enter a hex containing a protest, although they may retreat into such a hex, and are not required to leave if a protest erupts in the hex they currently occupy. US reinforcements may not appear in a hex containing a protest.

Combat units in the same hex as protest suffer a 1 column shift penalty when attacking or defending.This effect is cumulative, so that three protests would cause a 3 column shift penalty. This does not affect attempts to suppress protests.

Modification and rationale: This rule introduces the effect of protests, which inhibit movement. The protesters may be anti-regime, but they aren’t necessarily pro-Iranian, so the effect is felt by all sides. Protests will also have some bearing on US reinforcements and random events.

PROTEST PHASE

P.1 Protest Phase

During the protest phase, test once each for Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Iran, and Iraq, unless the rules below state otherwise.

P.2  Kuwait Protests

Roll 2d6:

  • 2-8: no effect
  • 9-10: place a protest in Kuwait City
  • 11: place a protest in al-Ahmadi
  • 12: place a protest in a-Jahra

Exception: If Iranian forces are in or adjacent Kuwait or attacked Kuwaiti units this turn, do not roll for protests. Instead, the Coalition player may remove one protest from Kuwait.

P.3 Saudi Protests

Roll 2d6:

  • 2-7: no effect
  • 8: place a protest in Dahran
  • 9: place a protest in al-Hafuf
  • 10: place a protest in Ras Tannurah
  • 11: place a protest in al-Jubayl
  • 12: place a protest in Khafji

Exception: If Iranian forces are in Saudi Arabia this turn, do not roll for protests. If there are 10 or fewer Saudi units within Saudi Arabia, add 1 when rolling on this table. Do not place a protest in a Saudi town or city if a Saudi unit is present there.

P.4 Bahrain Protests

Roll 2d6:

  • 2-6: no effect
  • 7-9: place a protest in Manama
  • 10: place a protest in hex 3810
  • 11-12: place a protest in hex 3910

Exception: If Iranian forces are in Bahrain this turn, do not roll for protests.

P.5 Iran Protests

Roll 2d6, and add one for every three Iranian units lost this turn:

  • 2-11: no effect
  • 12+: anti-war protests erupt. Permanently remove one IRGC or Basij unit from the turn track or strategic reserve, as it is committed to internal security duties. If no unit is available, the Iranian player instead loses 1 VP.

P.6 Iraq Protests

Roll 2d6:

  • 2-3: The Coalition player must place a protest marker in Iraq in any town or city.
  • 4-10: no effect
  • 11-12: The Iranian player must place a protest marker in Iraq in any town or city.

P.7 Domino Effects

If a protest phase results in a protest being added to a hex where one or more protests are already present, opposition momentum builds. Place the protest, then roll one additional time to possibly place an additional protest in that same country. This process may be repeated multiple times.

Protests generated by al-Qods Force destabilization (11.1) do not cause domino effects.

Modification and rationale: This entire section is new, and it introduces protests that erupt during the game. Because anti-regime movements are not necessarily pro-Iranian (indeed, even the Shiite opposition in Bahrain has no fondness for the Iranian system), the Iranian player has little influence over where they appear. Protests in Kuwait represent non-revolutionary calls for political reform. Protests in Bahrian represent Shiite opposition efforts to topple the regime. Protests in Saudi Arabia generally represent the pent-up frustrations of the marginalized Shiite minority, although at times they might also be others critical of the regime. Protests in Iran indicated a resurgent Green Movement opposition. Protests in Iraq represent the chaos of the civil war.

10.31 Suppressing Protests

Any GCC unit may attempt to suppress protests within Saudi Arabia or Bahrain. Only Kuwaiti units may attempt to suppress protests within Kuwait. Any units may attempt to suppress protests in Iraq. Units attempting suppression must be in the hex containing the protest. Suppression takes place during the combat phase, in place of regular combat.

Add together the total combat factors suppressing the protests, and subtract the total number of protests in the hex. This gives the suppression differential. There are no column shifts.

Decide on the tactics to be used (brutal, regular, or cautious) then roll a D6. If brutal tactics are used, add one to the total. If cautious tactics are used, subtract 1. Consult the Suppression Table (below) to determine the result.

Suppression Differential
die roll -1 or less 0 +1 +2 or more
0
1 HR HR
2 HR PS 1
3 PS 1 PS 1
4 PS 1 PS 1 PS 1
5 PS 1 PS 1 PS 1 PS 2
6 PC 1 PC 1 PC 1 PC 2
7 PC 1 PC 2 PC 2 PC 2

HR: Humiliating retreat, as protestors force back security forces. Add a second protest marker in the same location.

PS 1 (or 2): Protest suppressed, with little or no loss of life—remove one (or two) protest marker(s).

PC1 (or 2): Protest crushed, with significant loss of life—remove one (or two) protest marker(s). The Coalition player subtracts two when testing for reinforcements during the US Reinforcement Step. Treat this as a PS result instead if the Kuwaiti police unit participated in the suppression.

Modification and rationale: The Coalition player needs to suppress protests, but doing so comes with some risk. Excessive use of force by the authoritarian GCC states could generate a backlash in US and global public opinion, and complicate US reinforcement efforts. The GCC can minimize this risk by adopted cautious tactics, but these are less effective than more brutal ones at crushing dissent.

11.1 Iranian Al-Qods Force Markers

The Iranian player starts the game with three of these in the Turn 1 box, and one in the Turn 2 box. The markers represent covert missions by members of IRGC al-Qods Force.

Each turn the Iranian player must deploy the available Al-Qods Force markers in the current turn box to any of the four missions listed below. This may take place at any point during the Iranian player turn.

al-Qods Force markers that are eliminated are permanently removed from the game. Those that survive their missions, however, are replaced on the turn track during the Basij Replacement step (14.1) as if they were Basij units.

MISSION: Subversion. Place the al-Qods Force marker on on top of any single non-Kurdish militia unit (ie, one that is not stacked with other Coalition forces), and roll immediately:

  • 1-2: The angry locals turn on the Iranian emissaries. The al-Qods Force marker is permanently eliminated.
  • 3-4: No effect. Return the al-Qods Force marker to the turn track in the Basij Replacement Step.
  • 5-6: Iran guns, money, and diplomacy prove effective. The militia is flipped to its pro-Iranian side.  Return the al-Qods Force marker to the turn track in the Basij Replacement Step.

Once an subversion attempt is made against a unit, it may not be repeated for the remainder of the turn.

MISSION: Train and Equip. Place the al-Qods Force marker underneath a pro-Iranian militia. It does not count towards stacking limits. While it is still present, the militia gains a one column shift to the left when defending. In addition, that militia may now conduct attacks against neighboring hexes as if a normal unit, although it still may not move , not even to occupy a hex vacated by the enemy as a result of a successful attack. If at any time the militia is defeated, the al-Qods Force marker is permanently eliminated. Otherwise it may remain in place as long as the Iranian player chooses, or be returned to the turn track during the Basij Replacement Step.

Only one train and equip mission may be active in any given hex at any given time.

MISSION: Destabilization. Assign an available  al-Qods Force marker to Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, or Bahrain. Immediately roll two d6:

  • If the total score is 5 or less, the effort backfired—the al-Qods Force marker is eliminated, and the Coalition player may instead remove one protest marker from that country.
  • Otherwise, implement the appropriate results (P.2, P.3, P. 4) as if it were the Protest Phase for that country. Return the al-Qods Force marker to the turn track in the Basij Replacement Step.

Once a destabilization attempt is made in a country, it may not be repeated in that country for the remainder of the turn.

MISSION: Sabotage. Roll a d6:

  • 1-2: The saboteurs are caught by alert sentries. The al-Qods Force marker is permanently eliminated.
  • 3-4: Mission aborted. Return the al-Qods Force marker to the turn track in the Basij Replacement Step.
  • 5-6: Mission successful. The coalition player subtracts two when testing for either reinforcements or airpower availability (Iranian player’s choice) during the US Reinforcement Step.

Once a sabotage attempt in a turn, no further attempts may be made for the remainder of the turn.

Modification and rationale: The rule has been completely rewritten to better reflect the sorts of covert activities undertaken by al-Qods Force, and to link more closely with the protest rules.

11.5 US Base Units

All these units may serve as entry hexes for all US reinforcement units other than MEU (see 14.10). Whenever US units defend in, or attack from, a hex containing a US base unit, their combat factors are doubled; however, that multiplication effect never extends to the combat factor of the base unit itself or to that of any non-US Coalition units that might be present. Also see the last paragraph of 10.27.

The US base indicated for hex 1303 (Irbil) is not placed on the map at the start of the game, but is rather placed in the US reinforcement pool. When drawn it may be placed in or adjacent to any friendly-control capital city, or in Dahran.

Modification and rationale: Resolves the issue of whether there is, or is not, a US base in Irbil (in reality there isn’t; the rules are ambiguous)—now that base unit is deployable, representing the establishment by US military personnel of a new US logistics hub at a regional port or airport. Also eliminates a reference to old stacking rules that have been superseded by revised rule 6.4.

13.2 Random Event 2: Syria Enters the War

Syria sends troops to aid the Coalition side. Each time this event occurs two Syrian units are immediately placed in west-edge hexes between 1001 and 1011, inclusive, by the Coalition player. No placement may occur in enemy-occupied hexes, but placement in EZOC is OK. Because of the negative effects of the Syrian civil war on Syrian military capabilities and logistics, the combat rating of the unit is variable regardless of the number printed on the counter. Roll d6 to determine the unit’s combat factor each time the unit is engaged in combat and halve this, rounding down if attacking and up if defending.

Modification and rationale: By the time the scenario takes place, the current regime of Bashar al-Asad has been overthrown in Damascus by the predominately Sunni opposition. Given Tehran’s previous backing of Asad, the new regime is strongly anti-Iranian.

13.3 Random Event 3: Wahhabi Zeal

Pro-regime clerics exhort Saudi citizens to fight against the Shiite menace. The Coalition player may remove one protest marker in Saudi Arabia. The Coalition side gains a one column shift for all attacks involving Saudi units this turn. All Saudi protest suppression efforts next turn must use brutal tactics.

Modification and rationale: Rule reflects widespread Saudi religious hostility to Shiism.

13.4 Random Event 4: Lebanese Complications

Lebanese politics is complicated, it really is. Roll a d6:

  • 1-4: Hizbullah provides covert assistance to the al-Quds Force. Place an additional al-Quds force marker on the turn track for next turn.
  • 5: Tensions mount between and Hizbullah the anti-Hizbullah “March 14” coalition. Diverting resources to support its Lebanese ally, the Iranian player permanently loses the next available al-Qods Force marker from the turn track (if any).
  • 6: Israel and Hizbullah clash. Move all al-Qods Force markers one turn further along the turn track as Iran waits to see how the Lebanese conflict develops. The US must subtract one from the reinforcement and air availability rolls this turn as it too monitors the situation in the Levant.

Rationale for rule change: Hizbullah works very closely with both the IRGC (including al-Quds Force) and the Iranian Ministry of Intelligence and Security, and likely provides cadres for some external operations. On the other hand, Hizbullah’s position in Lebanon is likely to be weakened by any regime change in Damascus, and the close relations between the new (Sunni-dominated) Syrian government and the (Sunni-led) March 14 coalition in Lebanon. Finally, Israel could take advantage of Iranian intervention in the Gulf to have a go at Hizbullah, or vice-versa.

13.5 Random Event 5: Coalition of the Willing

If there are two or fewer current protests in GCC states, Britain, France and other Western allies send combat aircraft to Gulf to assist US efforts. Add one to all future air support availability rolls. This effect may be rolled more than once during the same game.

Modification and rationale: Replaces previous rules that doubled or eliminated US air attacks for a turn, shifts this dynamic into the air availability roll, and makes European support contingent on the political context.

13.6 Random Event 6: Kuwaiti Political Crisis

If there are three or more protests in Kuwait, roll a d6:

  • 1-2: The Emir suspends parliament and declares martial law. Remove any one protest in Kuwait (Coalition player’s choice). Subtract one from all future US reinforcement rolls. Treat this as “No Event” if Kuwait Political Crisis rolled again during the same game.
  • 3-5: The crisis drags on. Subtract one from the US reinforcement roll this turn.
  • 6: The Emir announces major political reforms. Remove all protests. Add three to the US reinforcement roll this turn. Non-Kuwaiti GCC units must leave Kuwait as soon as possible, and may not reenter. Treat this as “No Event” if Kuwait Political Crisis rolled again during the same game.

Modification and rationale: Raises the possibility of the war contributing to political changs in Kuwait, which in turn affects US commitment.

13.7 Random Event 7: Bahrain Erupts

Place a protest marker in Manama.

Roll a d6. Add the number of protests in Bahrain, and subtract the total combat value of GCC units in the country.

  • 3 or less: The regime remains in control. One protest is removed (Coalition player’s choice).
  • 4: Heavy fighting breaks out. One protest and one GCC unit are removed (Coalition player’s choice).
  • 5 or more:  The royal family is toppled. Treat this as “No Event” if Bahrain Erupts again during the same game.

If the regime is overthrown, place the flipped Bahraini unit on Manama to represent a Bahrain opposition militia unit, having retreated any other Coalition units from Manama to make room. Neither Iranian nor Coalition troops may enter Manama while it is under opposition militia control. GCC and Iranian (but not US) units may attack it.Iranian al-Qods Force missions may be used to try to influence the militia to become Iranian-controlled.

If Manama comes under Iranian control, Iranian ASR and NDC units in strategic reserve attempting to land in Bahrain add two to their rolls on the Iranian Airborne and Amphibious Movement Table (11.4), Iranian Airborne units may move within the country as if they were regular Iranian units, and Iranian units in Bahrain count as in supply (7.4).

Regardless of outcome, television coverage of the Bahraini crisis weakens Western support for the GCC. Subtract two from the US reinforcement roll this turn.

Modification and rationale: the scenario envisages a Bahrain with an increasingly radicalized Shiite opposition, on the brink of civil war. The GCC will need to reinforce the Bahraini security forces, or risk losing it. This is an important random effect, and fear of it is likely to significantly shape Coalition behaviour.

13.8 Random Event 8: Social Media

Images and reports of Gulf protests go viral, shaping regional and international opinion. If there are three or more protests currently on the map, subtract one from the US reinforcement roll this turn during the US Reinforcement Step, and add one to all protest rolls (P.2 – P.6) during the Protest Phase.

Modification and rationale: Suggests that post-Arab Spring US support for Gulf States may be affected by human rights concerns. This rule also attempts to replicate the impact of satellite television and the internet during the Arab Spring of 2011. While in this case it seems unlikely that the two main Arabic satellite news channels, Al Jazeera and al-Arabiyya, would be reporting on Gulf protests given that they are Qatari- and Saudi-owned respectively, this could be offset by the high rates of internet penetration and social media use in the Gulf region.

13.9 Random Event 9: UN Ceasefire

The UN Security Council considers a ceasefire resolution. The US player may choose to veto this resolution, in which case it counts as “No Event.” Otherwise:

  • If the Coalition player attacks this turn, the number of VP the Iranian player needs to win at the end of the game is decreased by one.
  • If the Iranian player attacks this turn,  the number of VP the Iranian player needs to win at the end of the game is increased by one.
  • Players may move and suppress protests as normal, and al-Qods Force missions may continue without restriction.

Modification and rationale: Modifies the UN random events in the original rules to more accurately reflect US strength (and Iranian weakness) in the United Nations Security Council.

13.10 Random Event 10: Major Sandstorm

The US player should immediately make a second die roll. On a one through three, he immediately places the Sandstorm marker in any hex on the map; on a result of four through six, the Iranian player places it. The effect of the marker lasts until the start of the next Random Events Phase: there may be no combat (including airstrikes) in its hex or in any hexes within two hexes of it, and movement costs within this area are doubled.

Modification and rationale: Reduces the frequency and severity of sandstorms.

13.11 Revolutionary Fervour

Inspired by exhortations from the Supreme Leader, the Iranian side gains a one column shift for all attacks involving the IRGC or Basij next turn. Alarmed by this, all GCC units must opt for brutal tactics when suppressing protests next turn (10.31).

Modification and rationale: Modifies the original Event #11 which called for Iranians to rally around the reappearance of the 12th (Hidden) Imam—an effect that seemed somewhat akin to giving US combat forces a shift because someone had declared themselves the second coming of Jesus Christ.

13.12 Random Event 12: Turkey Enters the War

Turkey enters the war on the Coalition side—immediately deploy all Turkish units in hexes of that country (EZOC OK). If rolled again during the same game, Turkey gets cold feet about intervention—immediately remove all Turkish units from the game. In the unlikely event that this event is rolled a third time, Turkey enters the war once again on the Coalition side (and so forth).

Modification and rationale: The original rules allow for Turkey to intervene on the Iranian side, which seems completely implausible.

14.5 US Reinforcements Step

At the start of the US Reinforcements Step the Coalition player rolls 2d6 to determine the arrival of US ground combat units. Add and subtract any modifiers arising from al-Qods Force sabotage (11.1), protest suppression (10.31), or Random Events (13.2-13.12). Subtract one if no Iranian units have yet entered a GCC country. Add one if it is game turn 5 or later:

  • 4 or less: No US reinforcements are drawn.
  • 5-9: One reinforcement chit is randomly drawn from the reinforcement pool.
  • 10 or more: Two reinforcement chits are randomly drawn from the reinforcement pool.

Such reinforcements are immediately entered into play as described in 14.6 – 14.10 (and also see 14.3 and 11.7). Normal stacking limits apply during all such placements and arrival in hexes containing EZOC is OK.

Modification and rationale: US “boots on the ground” are now affected by conditions in GCC countries, both for logistical reasons (protests might hamper transportation) and political reasons (protests and repression might undermine US and Western public support for the GCC states).

14.11 Air Support Availability Step

At the start of the Air Availability Step the Coalition player rolls 2d6 to determine the availability of air attacks next turn. Add and subtract any modifiers arising from al-Qods Force sabotage (11.1) or Random Events (13.2-13.12). Subtract one if no Iranian units have yet entered a GCC country. Add one if it is game turn 5 or later:

  • 4 or less: No US air attacks next turn.
  • 5-9: One US air attack next turn.
  • 10 or more: Two US air attacks next turn.

The US does not receive an airstrike for the first game turn.

Modification and rationale: The build-up and employment  of US airpower is now affected by political conditions in GCC countries, although much less so than the deployment of ground combat units.

* * *

Note that while the game revisions above still envisage a two player game, it could be easily played as three by splitting the Coalition side in two. This would give you Iran versus the US (including Iraqi loyalists and possibly Turkey) and GCC (including possibly Syria). One can even imagine some squabbling between the US and GCC players over appropriate strategy. Further rules revisions might even involve slightly differing victory conditions for the two Coalition players to encourage some dissension.

* * *

Update: I’ve now playtested the “Unstable Gulf” variant rules. You’ll find the results here. The rules can also be downloaded as a pdf (minus the explanations for each modification) here.

%d bloggers like this: