SPI, KOREA (1971)

KOREA: THE MOBILE WAR: 1950-51 is an operational level game of combat during the first year of the Korean War, 1950-51. KOREA was designed by James F. Dunnigan and published by Simulations Publications, Incorporated (SPI) in 1971.


This game is interesting both for its subject matter, and for the place it occupies in the evolution of contemporary game design. KOREA, along with THE BATTLE OF MOSCOW (1970) and LOST BATTLES (1971), represents an early effort by SPI to improve design realism by increasing unit mobility in the battle area. In the case of these three early titles, their game designs allowed all combat units to move before and after combat. Dunnigan and company apparently found this approach to be unsatisfactory. Instead, the SPI designers finally decided to vest post-combat mobility exclusively in motorized units: thus was born the mechanized movement phase. This special second movement phase first appeared in the East Front game: KURSK (1971); and for that reason, contemporary games that employ this approach are typically said to be using the KURSK Game System.


At approximately 0400 hours on 25 June 1950, the North Korean Army (NKA) invaded its neighbor to the south without provocation or warning. As soon as the attack began, North Korea began radio broadcasts claiming that South Korea had actually invaded the North, and that the invasion of South Korea was a “righteous” and rapidly-delivered punishment for the South’s duplicity. There was, of course, nothing impromptu about the North’s actions at all: North Korea, with the help of its Communist sponsors China and the Soviet Union, had been preparing for its invasion of the South for months.

The Communist force that spearheaded the drive across the 38th Parallel was considerably stronger than the Republic of Korea (ROK) forces directly opposing them. The initial invasion force numbered seven infantry divisions, one armored brigade, and numerous supporting elements. The NKA units had been well-trained by Chinese advisors and even better-equipped with Russian artillery, tanks, anti-tank guns, and heavy mortars. In addition, to further sow confusion in the ROK Army’s rear, the initial assault was accompanied by amphibious landings by small NKA contingents along South Korea’s coastline. To initially oppose the NKA invasion, the South had only four infantry divisions and a detached infantry regiment near the frontier, and another division garrisoning Seoul. The rest of the ROK forces were scattered across the length of the peninsula and in no position to reinforce the border units during the early stages of the NKA offensive. Moreover, the South’s divisions had virtually no anti-tank guns or heavy weapons. Most ROK artillery was 105mm caliber or smaller: this meant that the NKA heavy artillery had a significant range advantage over that of the South. To make things even worse, the ROK Army also had no tanks. Thus, the outcome of the early battles was a foregone conclusion: the NKA quickly broke through the ROK Army’s lines and began a dash for Seoul. The South Korean Capital fell on 28 June. However, during a late meeting on the preceding night, the UN Security Council — thanks to the temporary absence of the USSR from the Council’s proceedings — had been able to call on its member countries to give South Korea military aid. American airstrikes and naval actions against the invading NKA units commenced almost immediately; in addition, General Douglas MacArthur ordered the American 24th Division from Japan to Korea. The Korean War had begun; it very quickly would become a proxy war between the East and the West, and the political after effects from its inconclusive outcome still fester on the Korean Peninsula to this day.


KOREA is an historical simulation, at the regiment/brigade/division/army level, of the early mobile phase of the Korean War during which both the Communist armies and the United Nations forces both achieved startling advances and experienced stunning reversals in their see-saw battle for control of the Korean Peninsula. This mobile phase began with the North Korean invasion of the South on June 25th, 1950 and petered out by late June 1951. By July 1951, the Mobile Phase gave way to the grinding World War I style trench warfare, and the frustrating military Stalemate, that most people associate with the “Forgotten War.” The Korean War continued on its bloody, dead-locked path until even the Red Chinese and North Koreans were forced to concede that further casualties were pointless. This first armed confrontation in the “Cold War” between Communism and the West would finally end with a temporary cease-fire in 1953; a cease-fire that is still in effect today, fifty-six years later.

KOREA is played in weekly game turns. Each game turn is composed of two player turns; both player turns follow the same sequence: first movement phase; combat phase; and second movement phase. Replacements, reinforcements, and supplies enter the game at the beginning of the player’s turn. Because of the nature of the campaign, KOREA’s rules include provisions for naval gunfire support, partisans, airborne and amphibious operations, as well as conventional ground combat. There haven’t been too many simulations of the Korean Conflict offered over the years. The bloody stalemate of the last two years of fighting, and the war’s unsatisfactory conclusion have both probably served to dampen interest in this important conflict. That’s too bad. Given current events on the Korean Peninsula, it probably doesn’t hurt to revisit this topic once in awhile.

KOREA offers three comparatively short scenarios: the 17 turn Invasion Scenario (North Korea invades the South); the 9 turn Intervention Scenario (Chinese forces attack overextended U.N. units occupying North Korea); and the 21 turn Stalemate Scenario (U.N. forces gradually grind the Communists back toward the 38th parallel). The players also have the option of playing the 52 turn Campaign Game, which essentially ties all three of the shorter scenarios together. In addition to the four standard scenarios, KOREA also offers twelve optional (what if?) rules that allow for different states of readiness, speedier mobilization, earlier Chinese intervention, or even reduced force levels for the players to use to vary the game or to fine-tune play balance.


The Korean War, like the Vietnam War, was a conflict that most Americans, at least at the time, wanted to forget. This is unfortunate but it also probably explains why there haven’t been all that many simulations of the Korean Conflict offered over the years. World War II was just a far more popular historical source for games. The bloody stalemate of the last two years of fighting, and the war’s unsatisfactory conclusion have both probably served to dampen wide-spread interest in this important conflict. Yet there is a lot to be learned, both militarily and politically, by studying the bloody struggle for the Korean Peninsula. Lessons that, sadly, seem to become steadily more relevant with every new nuclear threat or pseudo-declaration of war that emanates from the demented gnome in Pyongyang. KOREA: THE MOBILE WAR 1950-51, while a little dated in its graphics, is still a pretty good game and a reasonably plausible simulation of the conflict during the “mobile’ phase of the war. Given current affairs on the Korean Peninsula, it probably doesn’t hurt to revisit this topic once in awhile.

Design Characteristics:

  • Time Scale: 1 week per game turn
  • Map Scale: 10 miles per hex (estimated)
  • Unit Size: regiment/brigade/division/army
  • Unit Types: infantry, armored infantry, armor, paratroops, marines, supply, naval gunfire, amphibious landing craft, military sea transport, and information markers
  • Number of Players: two
  • Complexity: medium
  • Solitaire Suitability: above average
  • Average Playing Time: 3-3½ hours

Game Components:

  • One 23” x 29” hexagonal grid Map Sheet (with Combat Results Table and Replacements Holding Boxes incorporated)
  • 255 ½” cardboard Counters
  • One 9¼” x 11” map-fold style combined set of Rules, Scenario Instructions, Turn Record Track, and Terrain Effects Chart
  • One small six-sided Die
  • One SPI 12” x 15”x 1” flat 24 compartment plastic Game Box (with clear compartment tray covers) and clear plastic Game Cover with Title Sheet


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