PAXsims

Conflict simulation, peacebuilding, and development

Tag Archives: Oil War: Iran Strikes

“Unstable Gulf” playtest

Annual_Day_Parade_Iran_spy_tank_002Back in November I drew up a set of modified rules for the wargame Oil War—Iran Strikes. In this “Unstable Gulf” variant, the Coalition player must contend not only with Iranian military intervention in a future Iraqi civil war, but also with growing political protests in several Gulf countries. My point in proposing this variant was not only to add more political content to what is otherwise a very traditional, force-on-force boardgame, but also to add a new series of operational challenges and choices that highlighted the fundamental linkages between political objectives and the employment of military force. From the perspective of gameplay, I also wanted to create some action outside the Kuwait bottleneck around which so much of the game otherwise focuses.

This week we finally got a chance to playtest the result. Once again I was playing Iran, while my son David was playing the Coalition.

As usual, we started by determining the contours of the civil war in Iraq. This is what the map looked like, before we tested for the loyalty of Iraqi units and militia:

IMG_5072…and this is what it looked like afterwards, with the green counters indicating pro-Iranian units. The loyalist units near Baghdad were a problem, since I had hoped to capture the city quickly.

IMG_5074As per the variant rules, the Coalition player was also faced with opposition protests in Kuwait, Dahran (Saudi Arabia), and Manama (Bahrain). Those in Bahrain are particularly dangerous: not only are protests more likely to occur there, but they can also escalate rapidly. One of the variant random events even generates a test for a full-scale uprising the country that can topple the monarchy and potentially gain the Iranian player victory points. Consequently—and as in real-life—the GCC needs to think about internal security as much as it does about Iranian troops.

IMG_5073

On Turn 1, I decided to stoke the fires of political protest in both Bahrain and Saudi Arabia through covert IRGC al-Qods Force destabilization operations, using the revised covert action rules in the game variant. Unfortunately, both attempts went poorly. My teams were captured, and exposure of an Iranian connection caused the demonstrations to fizzle.

My third al-Qods operation was more successful, subverting the loyalist Iraqi militia unit in Baqubah with large offers of cash and causing it to switch sides. This allowed Iranian military forces to approach Baghdad quickly, seizing the Iraqi capital.

IMG_5075

To the north, the Kurdish “capital” of Irbil also fell quickly, although the nearby city of Mosul took somewhat longer to secure. Iran now had three of the four victory points it needed to win.

I decided not to deploy Iran’s airborne or marine forces in the first few turns of the game. Under the rules these become much more difficult to use as the game continues, reflecting the growing strength of Coalition sea and airpower. In the regular game of Oil War there is thus a strong incentive to use them early. However, my hope was that the Shi’ite majority in Bahrain might eventually rise up against the regime—at which point, Iranian troops could be landed to “protect” the new government from any GCC counterattack.  Under the modified rules, the Iranian airborne and marine forces would gain a landing bonus under such circumstances.

I also toyed with the idea of landing these Iranian forces near Dahran to slow any GCC efforts to aid the Bahraini government. In retrospect that might have been useful. However, under the variant rules it would have come at the political cost of aborting any further protests in Saudi Arabia, and increasing the level of military commitment to the Coalition.

Sure enough, new protests soon erupted in Bahrain and in the Eastern Province of Saudi Arabia. The Coalition diverted three divisions of Saudi troops, plus a contingent from the UAE, to help put these down. To maximize their effectiveness, they often used deliberately brutal tactics. While these made their efforts more successful, the sight of GCC troops firing upon anti-government protesters weakened US support. On several occasions US ground reinforcements were delayed as a result.

IMG_5078

Within Iraq, Iranian troops consolidated their control over the Baghdad area, clearing out the last pockets of loyalists. Others moved south, to the Kuwaiti border. I did not attack Kuwait immediately, however. Doing so would have increased US resolve, dampened any protests in Kuwait, and freed up Saudi troops to enter the country. At this point I was still hoping that the protests in Bahrain would rebound in strength. Consequently, al-Qods Force operatives made it a top priority to provide covert assistant to friendly elements of the Bahraini opposition.

The US, however, decided to force my hand. Backed by airstrikes, two US brigade combat teams launched an attack out of Kuwait against Iranian troops in the south, destroying several divisions of Revolutionary Guards. I counterattacked immediately, inflicting heavy casualties on the Americans, and slowly pushing back Kuwaiti and later Saudi troops. One Saudi column entered southern Iraq in an attempt to turn my flank, but was destroyed.

I was careful not to cross the border into Saudi Arabia itself—under the modified rules, doing so would have brought to an end any new protests in the country. In the “Unstable Gulf” variant, such political calculations often shape military strategy.

IMG_5079

A sandstorm struck, slowing Coalition efforts to reinforce their positions. I also used my al-Qods Force teams (reinforced by an additional team from Hizbullah via the Lebanese Complications event) to try to sabotage transportation facilities and thus slow the arrival of US troops. On one occasion the team was detected by an alert sentry and killed, but a few days later another enjoyed somewhat greater success.

IMG_5081

GCC troops continued to play whack-a-mole with protesters in and around Bahrain. Motivated by the Wahhabi zeal random event, Saudi troops again used brutal tactics against Shi’ite protestors to slowly regain the upper hand. Once again, this didn’t help US efforts to build political support at home for an expanded American military commitment.

IMG_5082

However, the GCC gamble paid off. When a full-scale uprising did eventually come via the Bahrain Erupts random event, it was weak and quickly crushed. My hopes of a Shi’ite liberation (and Iranian intervention) were dashed. With so few protests still active, not even the Social Media random event could reenergize the opposition.

Things were going rather better for me around Kuwait, where I continued to push back Kuwaiti and Saudi troops. American reinforcements continued to trickle in only slowly. I was certainly glad that so many GCC troops were tied up suppressing protests to the south.

At this point I still had two Revolutionary Guards divisions in reserve. I was reluctant to commit these to operations—under the variant rules, they might be needed to suppress any demonstrations at home should there be a political backlash against the war.

IMG_5083US air power was taking its toll, however. Iranian movement was increasingly interdicted, and slowed to a crawl. In Kuwait, US airstrikes inflicted heavy damage on my formations as they approached Kuwait City.

As if that wasn’t enough, a Marine Expeditionary Unit launched an amphibious attack to the north of Kuwait City. It pushed back several Iranian divisions, and pinned others to prevent them from moving south.

IMG_5084Between this and the defence-in-depth offered by newly-arrived Saudi troops it seemed unlikely that my troops would break through before the game ended. In desperation, I ordered my Iranian airborne and marine units to make landings south of Kuwait City.

The result was expected, given coalition air and naval power. My forces were destroyed before ever reaching their assigned landing zones.

And so the game ended. Iranian troops had reached the very gates of Kuwait City. However, they clearly lacked the firepower to dislodge the two US brigade combat teams that defended it, while additional US reinforcements continued to arrive. It was a draw.

20111213_iraq1_33

How did the “Unstable Gulf” variant play? I have since made a few small rule tweaks and clarifications based on the playtest, but in general we were both pleased with how well it worked. The addition of a political overlay to the game added a whole new series of strategic and operational trade-offs for both players. Much more of the map was at play in this version compared to the standard game, with GCC troops having to contain political protests across a wide area. The game modifications somewhat tilted play in favour of Iran  during our game, compared to the original rules. However, this is offset by the fact that, in the variant, any potential Turkish and (post-Asad) Syrian intervention arising from the random events phase is always on the Coalition side—unlike the original rules where the Turks can come in on either side, and the Syrians always join the war as Iranian allies. Finally, the Iranian player can potentially lose victory points by suffering heavy casualties, and then having insufficient forces on hand in their strategic reserve to deal with any subsequent anti-war protests by the opposition.

In addition to the link at the top of this page, a pdf copy of the variant rules (minus the development notes in the original blogpost) can be downloaded here.

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.

Review: Oil War—Iran Strikes

Oil War—Iran Strikes. Decision Games/Modern War magazine/Strategy & Tactics Press, 2012. Designer: Ty Bomba. $30.00 (including magazine).

Iraq’s 2014 parliamentary elections had been deeply divisive, marred by sectarian tensions and political violence. While the winning al-Iraqiyya party had drawn on both Sunni and Shiite voter support, many Shiites had voted instead for al-Dawa, the Islamic Supreme Council for Iraq, or the Sadrists. Prime Minister Iyad Allawi had thus depended heavily on support from the Kurdish parties to maintain a majority in parliament, which only further angered the Shi’ite opposition parties. His relations with neighbouring Iran were marked by mounting tension too, as Tehran grew increasingly concerned at the new government’s efforts to strengthen ties to the United States. 

A little over a year after the elections, Iraq’s unstable politics tipped into crisis when a senior Shiite cleric was assassinated in Najaf by unknown gunmen. As each side accused the other of complicity, angry street protests erupted in the southern part of the country. Some security units mutinied, siding with the protesters. Fighting broke out as ISCI and Sadr militias joined with rebellious security forces to battle those loyal to the Baghdad government. Iran threw its political weight behind the opposition, providing them with weapons and money.

Washington hurriedly dispatched US military personnel to Irbil at the request of the Kurdish Regional Government, hoping that such a deployment would deter further Iranian interference.

In Tehran, however, the move was seen as a further provocation. On 17 August 2015, the Supreme Leader announced during his al-Quds Day speech that Iran “could not and would not allow brotherly Iraq to once more fall into the clutches of an evil tyrant and his Satanic puppeteer.” The following day, a “Popular Provisional Government of the Islamic Revolution in Iraq” was announced in Basra. It called for both a popular uprising against Prime Minister Allawi’s government, and for  “support for the people’s Islamic revolution in Iraq.”

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.

And so it was (and with very considerable political embellishment on our part of the game’s otherwise very brief scenario description) that we began our first game of Oil War: Iran Strikes, included in issue #2 of Modern War magazine. I was playing Iran and its Iraqi allies, whereas my son David was playing the US, Iraqi loyalists, KRG, and Gulf Cooperation Council countries. While random events make it possible that Syria or Turkey might enter the war too, that didn’t happen in our game.

The game comprises of a 22×34″ map, 228 counters, and a 16 page rulebook. It bills itself as “an update and expansion of the classic old-SPI Oil War game from the mid-1970s,” and while there are very significant differences in game mechanics (notably with regard to air power and airlift/logistics), it nonetheless does very much have that classic 1970s wargame look-and-feel. Iran wins if they can capture four capital city hexes (Baghdad counts as two), while the US wins if it can hold the Iranians to only two—although these victory point requirements can change as the game progresses. Unites represent fairly generic brigade, divisional, or even corps formations, while each turn represents three days of real time.

The Game

The game starts by determining the loyalty of Iraqi military and militia units: will they side with the government, or join the Iranian-backed revolt?

In the Baghdad area, to the west, and in Kurdish areas to the north most units refuse to join the uprising. In the south, the revolution was more fortunate, with many of the red militia counters flipping to their green, pro-Iran, side.

The Supreme Leader has approved my war plan. One column of our forces would cross into Kurdistan and secure Irbil. Our main force will liberate Baghdad on behalf of the Popular Provisional Government of the Islamic Revolution in Iraq. A third force will take up positions along the Kuwait frontier. Finally, in a daring move, Iranian paratroops and marines will land in Qatar, in a risky attempt to destroy the CENTCOM forward headquarters at al-Udeid Air Base. If successful the assault will throw American reinforcement plans into chaos—and secure us additional victory points both for Doha and destroying the American facility.

DAY 1: Iranian forces, lead by elite Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) units, soon reach the outskirts of Irbil and launch a successful assault in Baghdad. Units headed towards the Kuwait border are slowed, however, by the stubborn resistance of a single loyalist brigade of Iraqi troops. (Picture right: Iran’s opening move—note the one red counter in the south blocking the black IRGC units).

Iranian airborne troops en route to Qatar are intercepted and shot down. Iranian marines to make it ashore, but are eliminated by Qatari and US troops after a bloody battle.

The US sends elements of an airborne Brigade Combat Team to Irbil to reinforce the city’s Kurdish defenders.

DAY 4: An Iranian assault captures Irbil, eliminating US troops there. Iranian offensive actions along the Kuwaiti border achieve little, however. A US Marine Expeditionary Unit arrives to reinforce Kuwait.

The US heavy Brigade Combat Team based in Kuwait begins localized counterattacks, inflicting heavy casualties. Iraqi loyalist troops regroup west of Baghdad.

DAY 7: Coalition airpower begins to make itself felt in a substantial way, slowing Iranian movement. Mosul falls to Iranian troops. However, a surprise counter-offensive by Iraqi loyalist troops retakes northern Baghdad. Saudi troops begin to reinforce Kuwait positions along the frontier, and threaten to turn the western flank of the Iranian advance.

We forgot, at this point, that the rules don’t permit Saudi troops to enter Iraq. Oops.

DAY 10: Iranian forces, including mass human-wave assaults by Basij reservists, once more recapture Baghdad. A strong force of Iranian mechanized troops counterattacks against the Saudis, pushing them back. US airborne elements deploy to strengthen Saudi positions.

DAY 13: Iranian troops continue to move south to reinforce their faltering attack against Kuwait. However, a second US MEU arrives as the build-up of US forces continues.

DAY 16: A major assault by US troops against IRGC forces in southern Iraq is unsuccessful. However, with their movement interdicted and their supply lines under growing US air attack, the combat effectiveness of Iranian troops is declining. A US medium BCT arrives in Kuwait.

DAY 19: A call by the United Nations Security Council for a ceasefire is briefly observed by both sides, who use the lull to reinforce their positions.

DAY 22: Supported by airstrikes, US forces lead a major counter-attack. While Marines, airborne forces, the medium BCT and allied troops eliminate IRGC forces west of Kuwait, the heavy BCT cuts through the Iranian frontline to the north. (Picture, right: IRGC forces west of Kuwait surrounded and near elimination, while US forces also push on to Basra. Strictly speaking the small Bahraini, UAE, and Qatari contingents fighting in the area shouldn’t be there, but at this point we had decided to further relax the geographic restrictions rules in order to see some real Gulf Cooperation Council cooperation.)

DAY 25: Iranian Basij reinforcements deploy to protect Basra, but it is too little, too late: the US heavy BCT fights its way into the city, capturing it. Other US forces move north to join the American spearhead.

DAY 28: As the Iranians draw up a new defensive line south of Baghdad, the Americans push northwards. With their movement and supply lines under constant US air attack , however, Iranian units can only move slowly. For their part, US forces find their progress northwards slowed by both the terrain of southeastern Iraq and various pro-Iranian militia units along the way.

And thus the game ended with the end of Turn 10.. With Iran holding three victory points (Baghdad x2, Irbil) but needing four, the result was a draw.

The Game Review

Oil War—Iran Strikes offers a very general and easy-to-play representation of a future strategic environment, and certainly doesn’t make any claim to offer the much finer-grained military detail of, for example, Gulf Strike (3rd edition, 1990) or the intricate airstrike targeting of Persian Incursion (2010). Airpower is modelled through the simple but effective expedient of gradually reducing the mobility and combat effectiveness of Iranian units as the game progresses, although the US/coalition player is also allowed to conduct one air strike per turn against a stack of enemy units. Supply rules are simple too, depending on a combination of geographic restriction (for the Coalition) and control of key transportation nodes (for Iran), rather than any requirement to trace lines of supply back to a supply source.  To represent the superior command, control, intelligence, flexibility and maneuverability of US forces, American units are allowed to ignore enemy zones of control and freely maneuver around them. US units may also choose to act at any point in the game sequence, including part way through the Iranian player’s movement or combat.

The scenario is also far vaguer than I’ve painted above, simply suggesting either a “near future—2013 through 2017—in which the Iranians may indeed have developed some kind of military nuclear capability” and harbours regional hegemonic ambitions, while the US has fallen back into a more isolationist posture, or, alternatively, a “possible Iranian reply to a US and/or Israeli precision aerial campaign against their nuclear facilities.” Oil War rather overestimates, in my view, the ability of the Iranian military to launch major offensive ground operations much beyond its borders, and especially Iran’s ability to mount airborne and seaborne operations across the Gulf. Then again, if it didn’t do this it really wouldn’t make for much of a game.

As a game, I certainly enjoyed it. The themselves rules are brief and straight-forward, although in a few places they could be more clearly written. (There are also a few errors in the rules or on the tables printed on the map, so be sure to check the errata). Since some aspects of the military campaign become rather predictable—Baghdad always falls to Iran, Kuwait always becomes a critical objective and choke-point, Iran usually tries a surprise amphibious/airborne operation against Qatar or Bahrain at the start of the war— so I’m not sure how well it would stand up to too much repeat play. A game takes about two hours.

The accompanying Modern War magazine contains a short game design commentary, a backgrounder article on Iran and the military balance in the Gulf, and unrelated articles on the fighting at Fire Support Base Mary (during the Vietnam war), the Israeli order of battle at the Battle of Chinese Farm (during the 1973 Arab-Israeli war), and profile pieces on various weapons systems.

Useful in the Classroom?

There are some insights that might be gleaned from student play of Oil War, especially with regard to the security concerns of the GCC countries—although the game’s abstraction of air and naval power might be rather limiting in that regard. It does highlight the challenges facing the US in rapidly reinforcing Gulf allies with ground forces, and why Washington has chosen to pre-position American military equipment in the region. The game doesn’t really have much political element at all, besides randomly-generated events.

Where I think the game would be most useful, however, is not so much in whatever specific strategic insights it might or might not offer, but in how easily students could learn the basic game mechanics, play it, and then be invited to modify Oil War to reflect more detailed scenarios or highlight particular operational and strategic challenges in the Gulf. For example:

  • Some of political and alliance assumptions could be rewritten. It is hard to imagine the Turks entering the conflict on the Iranian side, for example, as the present rules allow. Similarly,  a future post-Asad Syria would likely lean heavily towards the anti-Iran coalition, and have much less in the way of military forces to contribute.
  • The random events could be changed. (Random event #11—“The 12th Imam Appears”—is a particularly problematic rendering of both Shi’ite religious belief and Iranian politics.)
  • The game could be transformed from a two player game into a three player game, with the separate but allied players controlling US and Gulf Cooperation Council forces. If combined with slightly differing victory conditions, this could lead to some quite interesting coalition challenges.
  • The political setting could be changed to imagine a somewhat less stable Gulf—with pro-democracy protesters in Kuwait, and a restive Shi’ite population in Bahrain and the Eastern province of Saudi Arabia. Protests might erupt in towns and cities, requiring the GCC player to divert military resources to quickly quell them. In turn, violent repression of reformist protests might adversely affect US willingness to assist its Gulf allies.
  • The current randomly-generated system of US reinforcements could be changed, so that it requires more of the preplanning associated with current US security guarantees for the region.
  • Finally, elements of the movement, combat and supply system could be changed.

The point here is that because of its topical contemporary focus and ease of play, Oil Strike could work rather well as an “introductory” strategic game intended to get students thinking about game design in general, as well as how best to represent the contours of possible future security challenges in the Gulf. If time allows, I might even post a three player/Gulf protests variant to PAXsims.

* * *

Update: You’ll find my “Unstable Gulf” variant of the game posted here. It is still a two player game, but could easily be played with three (Iran, US+Turkey, GCC+Syria).

%d bloggers like this: