The Trouble with Kuwait: Gulf Strike (Strategy)


Strategies for Scenario #1 in Victory Games’ Gulf Strike Board Game

Gulf Strike Board Game

Overview

Long before Saddam Hussein and the Iraqi army brought the horrors of war to the kingdom of Kuwait, there was a company called Victory Games and a designer named Mark Herman who postulated that it would likely be Iran who would incite a major war in the Persian Gulf region. Work was begun on a simulation that culminated in Gulf Strike, a board game that addressed a series of potential conflict scenarios in the Persian Gulf, from an Iranian invasion of the Gulf States (US siding with the Gulf States) to a Soviet invasion of Iran (US assisting the Iranian defense).

This article looks specifically at Scenario #1, the Iranian invasion of the Gulf States, and suggests possible strategies for the initial phase of that invasion: the neutralization of Kuwait. Although Kuwait really has no chance of actually halting the transgression, Iran must go through Kuwait like a hot knife through butter if the overall plan to subjugate all the Gulf States is to be accomplished within 14 Game Turns. The Kuwaiti military is certainly capable of slowing Iran’s advance if the Iranian plan is unsound. So, we’ll discuss strategies for both Kuwait and Iran.

The real challenge I faced when preparing this article was to suggest strategies that are not dependent on the vagaries of the dice. The dice love no one, and I’ve had too many bad experiences to depend on “good rolls”. As a matter of fact, in my last play-through of Gulf Strike Scenario #1, I employed most of the Iranian air force during Game Turn 1, spending 20+ supply points, and was not able to score a single hit on the Kuwaiti air base. Therefore, all of my suggestions mostly ignore air forces, except for Iranian transports and escorts that would obviously be needed to transport infantry units. No combat operations will take Bombardment or Close Air Support into consideration. If the Iranian player is successful with air operations, that’s just icing on the cake. Following the same logic, I have omitted the three available Iranian air defense ground units as well. As much as possible, I’m attempting to take “luck” out of the equation.

All Iranian strategies will obviously be predicated on the defensive setup chosen by the Kuwaiti-controlling player. So let’s take a look at some of the possibilities.


The Ostrich Defense

The “Ostrich Defense” postulates that the Kuwaiti government will bury its head in the sand and form a tight defensive circle around Kuwait City (in game terms that’s hex 1244, Kuwait City).

Although at first glance this may seem like the worst possible option, piling every Kuwaiti unit into Kuwait City may not be a such a terrible idea. Kuwait has no real chance of safeguarding the entire length of their border or their widely scattered oil fields. While the oil fields may have been a concern for the real Kuwaiti government, in this Gulf Strike scenario they really don’t matter as they are not included in the victory conditions. The only geographic point that matters for victory purposes is Kuwait City itself.

Gulf Strike Board Game

Some positive and negative considerations (from the Kuwaiti point of view) for the “Ostrich Defense”.

  • Depending on the Iranian resources dedicated to the task, it may take from 3 to 10 turns to reduce all the Kuwaiti units and take control of Kuwait City. (Positive)
  • All Kuwaiti military units will be sitting directly atop their supply source, eliminating the logisitics issue entirely. (Positive)
  • The Kuwaiti military will not even be a “speed bump” on the road to Saudi Arabia and the other Gulf countries. (Negative)
  • The Kuwaiti air force will be immediately grounded due to ZOC restrictions. (Negative)
  • The Iranian player will most likely decide just to ignore the Kuwaitis, bottling them up with infantry/militia units. (Negative)

The negatives may seem to outweigh the positives, but the positives are hugely important. The only victory objective to be had in Kuwait is the capital city itself. So the longer Kuwait can hold the city, the better for the US player. By adopting a Hasty Defense formation, the tiny Kuwaiti army can be difficult to dislodge without a major Iranian effort.

Gulf Strike Board Game

The Iranian plan is as follows:

  • The armor/mech units accompanying the 1st HQ will enter Travel Mode and move toward the southeastern corner of Kuwait. Note that they do not cross into Saudi Arabia at any time, since that will allow the Saudis to activate immediately.
  • The armor/mech units accompanying the 3rd HQ will move to hex 1144 in Movement To Contact formation. This places Kuwait City in a “Fluid” ZOC, thus grounding the entire Kuwaiti air force.
  • All of the Iranian Infantry units along the northern Kuwaiti border, including the militia division in Basra, begin moving south. These forces will encircle and invest Kuwait City, freeing up the 3rd HQ (and accompanying armor/mech units) to drive south on Game Turn 2 or 3.
  • The Iranian Airborne unit can be landed in hex 1245, just south of Kuwait City, to complete the encirclement.

In this scenario, Game Turn 1 ends with Kuwait City bottled up tight, their air force neutralized. Significant Iranian armor/mech formations are hugging the Kuwait/Saudi border. If they remain in Travel Mode, they can be on the outskirts of Al Jubayl (Saudi city in hex 1754) in turn 2… but the logistics of the invasion of Saudi Arabia will have to wait for another article.

Likely Outcome: Iran will have to use a combination of aerial bombardment, naval bombardment, and grinding infantry attacks to reduce the Kuwait City garrison by Game Turn 7 or 8. But the fact that Kuwait did not impede forward Iranian momentum at all will give Iran a big advantage over Saudi Arabia and the rest of the Gulf countries.


Hold ’em at the Border!

This was the option chosen by Kuwait in the summer of 1990 (Source: Defense Intelligence Agency) when faced with an Iraqi invasion. They shifted their outnumbered forces to the country’s northern border, intending to check the Iraqi advance right at the jump-off point. On July 26th of that year, the Kuwaiti government ordered a partial stand down of its ground forces due to misplaced confidence that OPEC negotiations would force a resolution short of military action. Meanwhile, most of the Kuwaiti leadership and royal family were busy leaving the country as the likelihood of war became more and more certain. This option assumes that Kuwait would have behaved in a similar fashion if faced with an Iranian invasion.

It’s really not a wise defensive choice. In the real world, Iraq did not have the logistical expertise to execute a full “right hook”, sweeping in with armor units from the Neutral Zone border area. So the left flank of the Kuwaiti army was not badly exposed. However the game imposes no such logistical considerations on the initial Iranian setup. Therefore, Kuwait’s flank is terribly exposed. Iran can basically use the same setup used for the “Ostrich Defense”, with the exception that some artillery units have been shifted to Iranian units in the northern border area to inflict maximum damage on the Kuwaiti armor/mech brigades.

Gulf Strike Board Game

The Kuwaiti player could try to mitigate the threat to the flank by placing the MP infantry unit in hex 1044 (containing the air field). Or by sending the MP unit to the northern border and placing the armor brigade in 1044 instead (for its armor ZOC). This will at least prevent Iran from simply walking unopposed to the outskirts of Kuwait City. But this just makes the overall situation even more precarious as it would leave Kuwait City ungarrisoned except for the airbase and thus susceptible to an airborne/amphibious invasion.

Gulf Strike Board Game

Likely Outcome: Iran will probably be unable to destroy the entire Kuwaiti army until Game Turn 3. Iran may be forced to use the western forces to cut off the retreat paths of the Kuwaiti army, otherwise they can retreat back towards Kuwait City and other points south, further blocking Iran’s advance. If the Kuwaiti army is cut off, however, by Game Turn 3 the entire country (including victory objective Kuwait City) should be in Iranian hands. The Iranian advance into Saudi Arabia will probably not begin in earnest until Game Turn 4, a critical delay of one or two turns.

… OR …

Iran might just ignore Kuwait City and the Kuwaiti army, leaving one or two units to block the roads, and sending the rest of the western force south to the Saudi border, thus keeping on schedule to go “heavy” into Saudi Arabia on Game Turn 2 before the Saudis can mobilize at all.

Not sure which is better for Iran: The Ostrich Defense or Hold ’em at the Border! If Kuwait chooses the former, Iran can expect to have 2/3 of its army powering into Saudi Arabia on Game Turn 2, with the remaining 1/3 of the army reduces Kuwait City over the next 6 or 7 turns. If Kuwait chooses the latter, Iran can expect to have 100% of its army available to move into Saudi Arabia on Game Turn 4, completely unencumbered by enemy units in its rear.

Decent Interval

I believe that this option provides the most effective Kuwaiti defense… which really isn’t saying much, but you do the best you can with the resources on hand. I call it “Decent Interval” because I believe it offers Kuwait the best chance to simultaneously (1) retain control of Kuwait City for 2 or 3 Game Turns, (2) keep Iran away from the coastal road hexes near the Saudi border for two turns, and (3) may actually allow Kuwait to use its air force for at least one turn. All “decent intervals” in my opinion.

“Decent Interval” is also the title of an excellent book about the fall of Saigon by CIA analyst Frank Snepp.

Kuwait needs to deploy its units in such a way that they:

  • form a seamless interlocking armor ZOC around Kuwait City.
  • are positioned so that, if forced to retreat, attacker advance after combat will not put Iranian units adjacent to Kuwait City or the Kuwaiti airbase.
  • can make optimal use of defensive formations.

Gulf Strike Board Game

Looking at the proposed Kuwaiti setup, we see that all the requirements are met. Kuwaiti armor ZOC are present in such a way that Iran cannot possibly move past the two armor brigades without violating the Saudi border. While this may seem tempting to an inexperienced Iranian player, he should resist the impulse. Such a violation will immediately activate Saudi Arabia. Having Saudi ground forces available to move and, of more immediate concern, Saudi aircraft eligible to perform combat missions on Game Turn 1 is the worst thing that could happen to the Iranians.

Both Kuwaiti armor brigades and the mech brigade are setup in Hasty Defense (HD) formation, doubling their defensive strength. The “MP” infantry unit in Kuwait City is setup in Deliberate Defense (DD) formation, tripling its strength. Armored units (includes mech units as well) may never enter Deliberate Defense formation in a city, so the MP infantry unit is the logical choice for this position. Its tripled defensive strength of 6 will make this a tough nut to crack, probably too tough for just Iranian airborne/marine units (which cannot be carelessly risked at this stage since they will be required later in the scenario to secure objective in Bahrain, Qatar, UAE, Oman, etc.)

The sole Kuwaiti airbase has been placed in a remote airfield in the southern desert. This leaves Iran with two choices: (1) Use the single airborne unit or one of the infantry brigades to put the airbase in a ZOC, grounding the Kuwaiti air force, or (2) accept the fact that Kuwait’s air force will be free to fly on Game Turn 1. Note that even if Iran pulls an “end run” by sending an armored unit in Travel Mode down to hex 0946, it won’t shut down the Kuwaiti air force since a unit in Travel Mode has no ZOC. But it will qualify as an invasion of Saudi Arabia! In short, there’s no way other than a riskyAir Transport or Paradrop mission to get a ZOC on that airbase.

Finally, the Kuwaiti HQ is placed in hex 1144 merely as a roadblock in case the 2nd Armored brigade is blown away. Although its presence limits the 2nd Armored brigade’s ability to retreat (cannot retreat through any unit, enemy or friendly), it also ensures that no Iranian units can advance from the north, ending their advance adjacent to Kuwait City.

Iranian Setup

So what’s an Iranian player to do? Here’s the recommended setup:

  • Basra, hex 1140 – Two infantry brigades (2-1-4), along with the required militia division.
  • Ahvaz, hex 1537 (not pictured on graphic) – The Airborne brigade, along with required militia division.
  • Hex 0544 – Armored division (5-3-8), and one Artillery.
  • Hex 0643 – Mech brigade (5-3-8)
  • Hex 0743 – Armored division (5-3-8), Armored brigade (2-1-8), and one Artillery.
  • Hex 0742 – Mech brigade (5-3-8).
  • Hex 0641 – HQ #1. Required for Reserve capacity.
  • Hex 0741 – Armored division (6-3-8) in Reserve Mode.
  • Hex 0841 – Armored division (7-3-8), and one Artillery, in Reserve Mode.
  • Hex 0840 – HQ #2. Required for Reserve capacity.
  • Hex 0941 – Infantry division (5-2-4).
  • Hex 0940 – HQ #3. Required for Reserve capacity.
  • Hex 1141 – Infantry division (6-2-4).
  • Abadan, hex 1440 – Militia division.
  • Al Faw, port hex 1241 – Three Marine battalions (1-1-4) and the entire Iranian navy.

Gulf Strike Board Game

Although we are generally ignoring aircraft, there must be at least two airbases placed in Basra, hex 1140, to facilitate required Transport missions. Basra contains two airfields, and two airbases may be placed on each airfield, so it can accommodate four airbases if required. Make sure the following aircraft are present on the two Basra airbases:

  • Airbase #1 – CH-47 (transport helicopter), two F-4 aircraft units.
  • Airbase #2 – CH-47 (transport helicopter), two F-4 aircraft units.

Finally, at least one airbase should be placed in Ahvaz, hex 1537, so the airborne brigade can be Transported or Paradropped.

  • Airbase #3 – C-130 (transport aircraft), two F-4 aircraft units.

Iranian Moves – 1st Action Stage

1. The first Iranian move is the biggest gamble of the entire plan. Use a CH-47, escorted by 2 F-4s, to Transport an infantry brigade from Basra to hex 1246. The brigade can then expend two movement points (half its movement allowance) to move to hex 1146, adjacent to the Kuwaiti airbase. Because an infantry brigade exerts a Fluid ZOC into adjacent hexes, the entire Kuwaiti air force is immediately grounded. If this gamble does not work out and Kuwaiti interceptors are able to penetrate your F-4 escorts and score a hit on the CH-47, things become more risky, but by no means hopeless.

2. Use another CH-47 to Transport another infantry brigade to hex 0845, then use half its movement allowance to walk to 0945. The ZOC exerted by this unit will make it prohibitive for the Kuwaiti armored brigade to retreat towards Kuwait City. Note: If step #1, above, failed then this mission will have to be escorted by two F-4s as well. Kuwait will have used their best air-to-air combat aircraft (Mirage) in the previous combat, so this should not present a major threat to this heavily escorted Iranian Transport mission.

Note: If either of the above Transport operations fails due to Kuwaiti interception, use the Iranian Airborne brigade and the C-130 transport aircraft in Ahvaz to complete the unfulfilled mission. Otherwise there is no reason to risk the Airborne brigade at this time.

Gulf Strike Board Game

3. The armored unit and artillery on the far right flank (hex 0544) enters Travel Mode and moves toward the Kuwaiti airbase, ending in hex 0845. Their objective is to protect the flank of the army from possible Saudi counterattack next turn. They must remain in Travel Mode at least until Game Turn 2 when they will (hopefully) begin the drive into Saudi Arabia.

4. The main axis of attack this Action Stage is in the west. The stack of units in hex 0743, led by the 5-3-8 armored unit, spend 4 movement points to get to hex 0844, then spend an additional 4 movement points to shift to Deliberate Assault formation (triples their combat strength). The first supporting 5-3-8 mech unit spends 4 movement points to move from hex 0643 to hex 0843, then an additional 4 movement points to change to Deliberate Assault. The other supporting 5-3-8 mech unit in hex 0742 spends 6 movement points to move to hex 0943, then uses its remaining 2 movement points to convert to Hasty Assault formation (doubles combat strength).

4. The two Infantry divisions in the north can begin moving south into Kuwait, making contact with the Kuwaiti armored brigade there. They will not be attacking in this Action Stage because Iran does not want to risk the possibility of the Kuwaiti unit retreating south, which will totally gum up the plan. So, for now, it will remain untouched.

5. Finally, two of the Marine units in Al Faw (hex 1241) execute an amphibious assault against the Kuwait HQ in hex 1144. There is no Kuwaiti navy to challenge the maneuver and the Kuwaiti air force is unable to fly due to the ZOC extended over the airbase in hex 1046. The landing automatically succeeds.

Gulf Strike Board Game

The Kuwaitis have no units in Reserve Mode, their air force is grounded, and they have no naval units. So there is nothing to be done in the First Reaction Player Segment. The action moves to the First Combat Phase.

Just want to point out that, in a real game, I’d be moving the HQ units along with the combat units. But I’m trying not to clutter up the graphics any more than I have to so I’m just leaving them where they started.

Iranian First Combat Phase

I’m completely skipping the Close Air Support segment since there’s no guarantee that Iran’s air units will score any hits and I’m trying to minimize the “luck factor” in this example. So keep in mind that successful Close Air Support missions could only improve things for Iran. For the same reasons, I’m also skipping the allowable Iranian naval bombardment in support of the amphibious assault. There’s a 50% chance that the Iranian DD naval unit could inflict a hit on the target Kuwaiti HQ before the amphibious assault proper actually commences. But it’s not a 100% certainty, so I’m ignoring it.

There will only be two combat situations resolved in this Action Stage; the main attack on the Kuwaiti armored brigade in hex 0944, and the Marine amphibious assault against the Kuwaiti HQ in hex 1144.

Let’s resolve the main attack first. After factoring the multipliers for Deliberate AssaultHasty Assault, and Hasty Defense, and including the 2-strength infantry unit that helicoptered in earlier, the basic combat odds are 8-1 (48 to 6). The only other combat modifier is the +2 to the attacker die roll because the attackers include an artillery unit. Assuming the worst possible die roll of “1” modified by +2, the defender will sustain 3 hits and the attacker none. The Kuwaiti player cannot even reduce his hits by retreating because a retreat into an enemy ZOC inflicts 1 hit per ZOC entered (negating the reason for retreating in the first place). So, the Kuwaiti armored brigade in hex 0944 is destroyed and removed from the map. Because there was no retreat, and the defender absorbed all required hits, there will be no advance after combat.

Now we’ll resolve the Marine amphibious assault. The basic odds are 2-1, but the Iranian Marines are Elite Troop Quality and the Kuwaiti HQ is just a Line Troop Quality unit, providing a 3 column shift for Iran. So the attack will be resolved in the 5-1 column. Once again, I’m assuming the worst possible die roll of “1” which, in the 5-1 column, inflicts 1 hit on the defender, none on the attacker. The rules of Amphibious Assault state that if the defender takes 1 or more hits, it must be retreated at least one hex. So the Kuwaiti HQ will be marked up with 1 Hit and retreats into Kuwait City. The successful Marine attackers remain in the assault hex.

Gulf Strike Board Game

So far, so good for the invader. Let’s proceed to the 2nd Action Stage.

Iranian Moves – Second Action Stage

1. The 7-3-8 armored unit plus supporting artillery (Reserve Mode) move from hex 0841 down to hex 1043, using 7 movement points. Not enough movement points remain to change to any offensive formation so they remain in Movement To Contact formation.

2. The 6-3-8 armored unit (Reserve Mode) moves from hex 0741 to hex 1042, using 6 movement points. The remaining 2 movement points are used to switch into Hasty Assault formation.

No other units are in Reserve Mode, so no more movement can take place. The Reserve units that just moved will launch an attack against the Kuwaiti armored brigade. Again, I’ve ignored the fact that Iranian air units could be Bombarding the Kuwaiti target unit as well as executing Close Air Support missions.

Gulf Strike Board Game

Iranian Second Combat Phase

So what we’re left with is the attack of the Iranian (Reserve Mode) units that just moved into position against the defending Kuwaiti armored brigade. The 7-3-8 armored unit attacking from the southwest is in Movement To Contact formation and thus only adds face value to the attack for a net of 7 attack strength points. The 6-3-8 armored unit attacking from the northwest, however, will be doubled to 12 attack points due to its Hasty Assault formation. The defending Kuwaiti 3-2-8 armored brigade is doubled to 6 strength points because of its current Hasty Defense formation.

So the final odds will be 19 to 6, simplified down to 3-1. Due to the Iranian artillery unit stacked with the 7-3-8 armored division, there will be a +2 to the attacker’s die roll. Again assuming the worst possible attacker die roll of “1”, modified by +2, makes “3” the final value. In the 3-1 column of the Ground Combat Resolution Table, the result is 1/1 meaning both the attacker and defender suffer one step loss.

In lieu of taking a hit, the defender could possibly retreat into a Dunkirk-like position in hex 1243, but that really would just make its position worse. If it remains where it is, at least its ZOC is gumming things up a bit. So it absorbs 1 Hit as does the Iranian 6-3-8 armored division. The battle is over.

Gulf Strike Board Game

The completion of this combat phase leaves the Kuwaiti military isolated and in disarray, but still in existence… and still in control of Kuwait City.

Third Action Stage

It’s pretty obvious that there won’t be much activity in the Third Action Stage because Iran has spent movement points with all of its units, both Frontline and Reserve. Kuwait could potentially move a few units around, but I really can’t see anything constructive to be done. The mech brigade in the south, guarding the airbase, could disengage and head south into Saudi Arabia, but that will make it too easy for the Iranians to eliminate the airbase. Might as well stay and make a fight of it!

The Kuwaiti MP infantry unit in Kuwait City is in Deliberate Defense formation, providing it with tripled defensive strength. So, although it is possible to move it out of the city, it just wouldn’t make sense for it to be anywhere else other than guarding the family jewels in the only valuable hex in the country.

Although it has not been mentioned at all in this article, availability of supply points is always a consideration. Not only do you have to ensure that you have sufficient supply to execute all attacks, but sufficient reserve must be kept on hand for critical air operations and follow up ground operations on the following game turns. The “Decent Interval” option forces Iran to spend quite a few supply points (39, I believe, for the ground attacks and air transport operations alone), Iran starts the game with 80 supply points and receives 20 as reinforcements each turn. That should keep the Iranian tanks rolling through Game Turn 2 at least. But, do keep supply in mind when formulating your own plans.

Likely Outcome: Iran is positioned to eliminate the remnants of the Kuwaiti armed forces on Game Turn 2, “liberate” Kuwait City by Game Turn 3 (latest), and open the gates to Saudi Arabia and the Gulf Coast road. This is the only one of the options that could potentially leave Iran in control of Kuwait City AND ready to go “heavy” into Saudi Arabia on Game Turn 3 (with the Iranian Airborne unit intact and ready to make mischief where necessary). But it requires such careful choreography that one botched Iranian move will bog them down longer than anticipated. That’s why I feel that “Decent Interval” is the best possible option (so far) for the Kuwaiti player.

Summary

The original purpose of this article was to devise, and publish, a “perfect” Iranian strategy that would destroy the Kuwaiti army, leave Iran in control of Kuwait City and rush a credible Iranian force into position on the Saudi border… all in Game Turn 1. A tall order and one I was unable to fill. I could not devise such a plan, although I gave it my best shot. Every offensive plan I could think of was eventually stymied by a Kuwaiti counterplan. Of course, you could hope for good things from the Iranian air force. I mean, if die rolls go his way, the Iranian player could make short work of the overmatched Kuwaiti army and air force. But relying on Iranian air power makes it just a crap-shoot and not really a plan.

If anyone has also gone through this intellectual exercise and has come up with a solid plan, we’d all love to hear from you. Until then, I’ll just have to get to work on my contingency plans for the swift single-turn takedown of Bahrain and Qatar