VG, GULF STRIKE, 3rd Ed. (1983, 1988 & 1990)

GULF STRIKE is an operational simulation of land, air, and sea combat in the Persian Gulf. This game was designed by Mark Herman and originally published in 1983 by Victory Games, a division of the Avalon Hill Game Co. In 1988 and again in 1990, because of changes in the military situation in the Persian Gulf, a 2nd and then a 3rd Edition of the game — all authored by Mark Herman, the game’s original designer — were published in rapid succession. This description is of the 3rd Edition version which also includes the “Desert Shield” Expansion Module.


At 0400 on Sunday, 24 February 1991, the first blows of the ground phase of Operation Desert Storm struck Iraqi units along the Kuwaiti border. A two division assault by the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force and a “breaching” operation by elements of the Joint Forces Command-East made progress against the layered Iraqi defensive belts almost immediately. In fact, the attacking Coalition forces quickly discovered that surrendering Iraqi soldiers were as great a barrier to the advancing Coalition forces as the defensive obstacles erected by Iraqi combat engineers. Evidence was clear-cut that most of the frontline Iraqi divisions were, because of the sustained air campaign, already on the verge of collapse. General Norman Schwarzkopf, commander of all Coalition forces, therefore decided to accelerate the pace of his offensive. By the afternoon of the 24th, the armored units that would comprise Schwarzkopf’s massive “left-hook” were already moving through the Iraqi frontier barriers and north into the western desert.


GULF STRIKE, 3rd EDITION is an operational-level simulation of the very complex air-land-sea operations that dominated military events in the Persian Gulf leading up, first to “Desert Shield,” and then to “Desert Storm.” In many ways, the Gulf War represented an “extreme armaments testing ground” in which newer generations of western and Soviet weapons systems could finally be matched against each other in the crucible of combat. The wars in the Gulf also underscored the absolute lethality of the modern battlefield. In the modern, larger, more exposed “electronic” battle area, to be detected — or “seen” by enemy forces — is to be destroyed.

Components-wise, the game is what one might expect. The unit counters in GULF STRIKE represent the actual air squadrons, capital ships, and ground units that either directly participated or could have been deployed to the Persian Gulf during the different periods covered by the game’s scenarios. Because of the level of detail that Herman has chosen to incorporate into his design, players will find that they have to plan and conduct their large-scale, theater detection and interception moves using the Strategic Map (280 kilometers per hex), and then transition to the Operational Map (28 kilometers per hex) for the resolution of specific air-land-sea operations. Ground units operating on the Strategic Map may always move one hex and are unaffected either by terrain movement costs, or by enemy zones of control. Ground units may freely transition between the two map scales at the option of the controlling player.

GULF STRIKE is played in game turns which are, in turn, composed of three “Action Stages.” Each Action Stage is further divided into two “Movement Phases” and one ground combat or “Assault Phase.” Air and naval interception and combat operations take place during the Movement Phases; all ground combat — except for that conducted by US Special Operations Forces which represents a special case — occurs during the Assault Phase. Because of the necessity of coordinating the offensive and defensive (reactive) capabilities of the different combat arms, players will find that GULF STRIKE requires careful advance planning so that players have the appropriate mix both of offensive combat assets to attack, but also sufficient “reactive” reserve forces to meet and blunt the enemy’s counterblows. A typical game turn sticks to the following basic sequence of turn stages: Strategic Stage (during which the effects of Global political and military events are checked); Unit Assignment Stage (during which players assign the types of missions —offensive or reactive — that they want their air and ground units to perform in the coming game turn); Initiative Determination Stage (during which the first player to act in the initial two Action Stages will be determined); First Action Stage; Second Action Stage; Third Action Stage (during which the player without the initiative finally gets to act first); and the End Stage (during which players attend to general game operations such as supply attrition effects, bridge demolition, unit repair, etc.). As might be expected, given the complex richness of Mark Herman’s design, many game options are available for the players to try.

The original GULF STRIKE offered five hypothetical (what if?) scenarios based on the most obvious politico-military fault lines in the Gulf Region in the 1980s. Scenario One: an expansionist Iran, having defeated Iraq in 1984, prepares to purify the formerly pro-Iraqi Gulf States through military invasion and armed Jihad. Scenario Two: peace is concluded between Iran and Iraq, but the Soviet Union — displeased with Iranian support for Afghani resistance fighters — prepares to cut off such support at its source, by invading Iran. Scenario Three: is a variation on Scenario Two with a slight change in the cast of national actors. Scenario Four: a “historical” Solitaire scenario — not recommended for competitive play — which covers the Iran-Iraq War during 1982. Scenario Five: covers a hypothetical confrontation between the US and the Soviet Union, and its potential escalation, over the two nations’ support for competing factions fighting in Somalia.

The sixth scenario, which appeared in 1988 in the GULF STRIKE 2nd Edition Scenario Update, reflects the escalating tensions between the US, Iran, and the Soviet Union in the Gulf Region during the period of the late 1980s. Besides offering Order of Battle corrections for several of the first edition scenarios, this update also presents a completely new military situation for players to experiment with. Scenario Six: presents five different types and levels of military confrontation between the major players in the Gulf, as the threat of an Iranian interruption in the flow of the Gulf Region’s oil becomes more real.

The seventh scenario, which appeared in 1990 in the GULF STRIKE Desert Shield Expansion Module, covers the rapid buildup of US and Coalition forces (Operation Desert Shield) in Saudi Arabia and several other Gulf States following Iraq’s surprise invasion of Kuwait. Because this module was published before the onset of “Operation Desert Storm,” several potential military developments are presented. Scenario Seven offers four completely different military situations: Option 1 is a (what if?) examination of what might have happened if Iraq had continued its offensive into Saudi Arabia on 5 August 1990, rather that halting at the Kuwaiti-Saudi border. Option 2 offers a more fluid, and more complicated situation as the Iraqi player must decide when and how to invade Saudi Arabia in the face of a rapid buildup of US forces in the region. Option 3 is basically “Operation Desert Storm” — the US-led Coalition’s Offensive to drive Iraqi forces out of Kuwait. Option 4 (On to Bagdad) is essentially a much earlier “Operation Iraqi Freedom,” but with the attacking Coalition forces jumping off from positions in Saudi Arabia, rather than Kuwait.


GULF STRIKE is, in many ways, an extremely interesting and very innovative design. In other ways, however, much of the design's platform is surprisingly familiar. When the game first appeared, one of my friends, and another long time gamer, observed that GULF STRIKE looked a lot like a cross between SPI’s SINAI and THE NEXT WAR. As it turned out, there was very little of SINAI in Mark Herman’s design, but there was a lot that was reminiscent of THE NEXT WAR. Mark Herman’s game uses three Action Stages, while THE NEXT WAR uses six similar phases; the effect, however, is pretty much the same. And the complex interaction of air-land-sea operations of the two titles into a single, unified simulation also has a lot of the same feel, although the mechanics of the two games vary significantly. This, by the way, is not necessarily a bad thing. I personally happen to like the older, bigger title; in both of my tries at the larger game, I ended up running NATO naval and naval-air operations in the Baltic and North Sea, and I had a great time. GULF STRIKE doesn’t use the large numbers of counters typically required by the bigger THE NEXT WAR scenarios, but it is, nonetheless, a nuanced, detailed, and intellectually demanding game. Just balancing the demands of offensive versus reactive (defensive) force allocations is a challenge; and the air and naval subroutines are virtually games in their own right.

Clearly, GULF STRIKE, in any of its several versions, is not a simulation intended for the casual gamer. On the other hand, I don’t think that this title was designed just to be hauled out of its box, set up, and admired, either. So, for the experienced player who is interested in a very challenging and rewarding game experience, and who can invest the time to learn a richly-detailed game system, I think that this would be an excellent choice.

Design Characteristics:

  • Time Scale: 2 days per game turn
  • Map Scale: 28 kilometers per hex (Operational Maps A,B, C, and D); 280 kilometers per hex (Strategic Map)
  • Unit Size: squadron (10 to 24 aircraft); ship (individual capital ships); division/brigade/battalion
  • General Unit Types: air combat units, air transport, air EWDA units, aircraft carriers, surface action units, submarines, naval transport units, armored units, infantry units, ground support units, truck units, and information markers
  • Number of Players: two (excellent candidate for team play)
  • Complexity: very high
  • Solitaire Suitability: medium
  • Average Playing Time: 2- 45 + hours (depending on scenarios)

Game Components:

  • One 16” x 22” hexagonal grid Strategic Map Sheet (with Terrain key and Supply Point/Turn Record Track incorporated)
  • Two 22” x 32” hexagonal grid Operational A & B Map Sheets
  • One 16” x 22” hexagonal grid Operational C Map Sheet (with Terrain/Elevation Key, Air/Naval Combat Resolution Track, and Air Display incorporated)
  • One 8” x 22” hexagonal grid Operational D Map Sheet
  • 1340 ½” back-printed cardboard Counters
  • One 8” x 11” Rules Booklet (with Scenario Instructions incorporated)
  • One 8” x 11” 2nd Edition Scenario Update Booklet (with IDs for new units on 2nd Edition additional Counter Sheet and new Scenario Instructions incorporated)
  • One 8” x 11” Desert Shield Expansion Module Booklet (with IDs for units included with new Counter Sheet, rules changes, and a new Scenario (with variants) incorporated)
  • One 8” x 11” GULF STRIKE Insert Booklet (with Formations Effect Chart, Ground Combat Resolution Table, Ranged Characteristics Summary, Random Political Events Table, Air Mission Prerequisites Summary, Detection Range Probability Tables, Terrain Effects Chart, and Troop Quality Effects Matrix incorporated)
  • One ten-sided Die
  • One Avalon Hill The General Advertising Insert
  • One 3½” x 6½” Avalon Hill/Victory Games Customer Response Card
  • One 8½” x 11½” x 2” bookcase style Game Box


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