HISTORICAL BACKGROUNDAt 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 General Tommy Franks’ Joint Forces Command-East made progress against the layered Iraqi defensive belts almost immediately. These initial “diversionary” operations were so successful in dislocating and demoralizing Saddam Hussein’s forces in Kuwait that the attacking coalition troops quickly discovered that surrendering Iraqi soldiers were as great a hindrance to the advancing coalition forces as the defensive obstacles erected by Saddam Hussein’s combat engineers. Thus, almost as soon as the coalition offensive began, it became clear that most of the frontline Iraqi divisions were — because of the sustained coalition air campaign — already on the verge of collapse. Convinced by the flood of reports from the battlefield that the Iraqi army in Kuwait was disintegrating, General Norman Schwarzkopf, commander of all coalition forces, 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” began moving through the Iraqi frontier barriers and north into the western desert in search of Saddam Hussein’s last strategic reserves, the elite units of the Republican Guard.
ARABIAN NIGHTMARE: DESERT STORM (AN:DS) is an operational level, combined-arms (air-land-sea) simulation of fighting in the Middle East between what ultimately became the American-led Coalition forces and the Iraqi military. The game models military and political events both during and after Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait. AN:DS is actually three games in one: the Introductory Game; the Political Game; and the (advanced) Military Game.
The Introductory Game, as might be expected, is intended to acquaint new players, and even those completely unfamiliar with conflict simulations, with the basic workings of the ARABIAN NIGHTMARE game system. In keeping with this goal, the Introductory Game has only seven pages of rules. This basic game begins with the surprise Iraqi invasion of Kuwait and continues through the early stages of the Allied build-up in Saudi Arabia. The basic game is twenty turns long and focuses almost exclusively on ground operations. To keep things simple, the complex air war subroutine used in the Military Game is dispensed with completely and aircraft units operate much like air points in an old SPI East Front game like KURSK; naval operations are also severely restricted in order to speed play. There are no supply rules. In this version of the game, the turn sequence is abbreviated and proceeds as follows: Iraqi Movement Phase; Iraqi Combat Phase; Allied (initially Kuwaiti and Saudi) Movement Phase; Allied Combat Phase; joint Reinforcement Phase. The Introductory game system is both simple and familiar. All combat units have a zone of control (ZOC), and ZOCs are rigid, but not “sticky.” ZOCs do extend into friendly occupied hexes for purposes of movement, but not for retreats. Combat between adjacent units is voluntary. The combat results table (CRT) is the traditional “odds differential” (1 to 1, 2 to 1, etc.) type. Stacking limits differ for the two sides: the Iraqis may stack two divisions, one division and two brigades, or three brigades in a singles hex at the end of movement; the Allies may stack any combination of five units (brigades, regiments, and battalions) in a single hex. The Iraqi player can win in this Introductory Game by capturing Riyadh and controlling it for two game turns; failing that, by seizing six Saudi cities and holding them for two consecutive game turns, before Allied reinforcements can make themselves felt; or, alternatively, by capturing two Saudi cities and holding them through the last turn of the game.
The Political Game attempts to address the peculiar political and economic factors that then affected — and, in fact, still distort — international relations in the Gulf region, as well as the diplomatic infighting between the Major Powers (US and Russia) who, not surprisingly, have maneuvered for decades to protect their national interests in the volatile Middle East. The Political Game does not require either a game map or counters: the opposing sides pursue their conflicting diplomatic/political goals using a set of game charts and a pair of dice to a resolve the outcomes of “political endeavors” and to determine the impact of random events. Because there are far more political options than either side can pursue in any given game turn, each player must select a long term strategy that both furthers his own side’s political interests and that, at the same time, impedes or blocks those of his opponent. Just as is the case in real international relations, the Political Game requires skill to win; it is not merely Yahtzee in the Arabian Peninsula. The game system rewards the player who plans carefully, is adept at bluffing, has an abundant supply of guile, and last, but not least, is lucky.
The Military Game is, of course, the central focus of ARABIAN NIGHTMARE: DESERT STORM. It combines the Political Game with a very detailed simulation of the complex, highly-integrated air-land-sea operations that characterized combat both before and during the First Gulf War. An (extremely) abbreviated description of a representative game turn of AN:DS would begin with the (first player) Military Action Segment (MAS1), followed by the (joint) Political Action Segment (PAS), and ending with the (second player) Military Action Segment (MAS2). The game’s turn record track lists twenty game turns; however, the designer recommends that the twenty-turn limit be treated as a nonbinding suggestion and nothing more. In the interest of brevity, I will skip any attempt at a detailed description of a typical player turn: a single player’s Military Action Segment is composed of far too many individual steps to catalogue all of its various phases here. Suffice to say that virtually every component of modern combat operations is represented in the Military Game: ballistic and cruise missiles, chemical warfare, special operations, airmobile assaults, electronic warfare and counter measures, SAMs, and stealth aircraft. And this list could be much longer. Moreover, as richly detailed as the ground game is, the air and naval subroutines are almost mini-games in their own right. That being said, AN:DS is, in a very real sense, a game about logistics; or as the designer notes: “it as about the beans and bullets” that make modern combat operations possible. The limitations imposed by logistics are represented in the game by Iraqi Operations Points and US Logistics Points. And both players will consistently find that they want to conduct more combat operations than their logistics will support. In this game, the supply “tail” really does wag the combat operations “dog.”
ARABIAN NIGHTMARE: DESERT STORM offers a number of scenarios that permit the players to examine different phases of the First Gulf War. These scenarios include: Scenario 1: Oil Scramble: The August 2, 1990 Iraqi Invasion of Kuwait; Scenario 2: Jabarut!: On to Riyadh; Scenario 3: Pay-Back: US Airstrikes on Iraq; Scenario 4: Beware the ides of January; Scenario Variant: “Sitzkrieg in the Sand”; the Historical Scenario — The One that came true: Beware the ides of January: The Historical Version; Scenario 5: Enter the Turk: The Turkish frontier mini-game; and finally, the Campaign Game, which begins with the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait and continues either for twenty game turns, or, alternatively, for as long as the players want to continue slugging it out. In addition, for those gamers with an interest in truly unsettling hypothetical situations, the designer offers two Special Scenarios: 1994, Orwell, Ten Years After, in which Saddam Hussein has nuclear weapons and has fully mobilized his armed forces, even as the US begins the scenario with reduced forces due to the Congress’ profligate spending of the so-called “peace dividend.” And finally, Armageddon 1: The Whore of Babylon, in which Saddam Hussein launches his army through Jordan in an attempt to attack and destroy the State of Israel. And, as if players didn’t already have enough on their plate with the regular Military Game, the designer also offers a few additional “optional” rules for that tiny number of gamers who really do have too much time on their hands.
A PERSONAL OBSERVATION
The American-led war to liberate Kuwait produced one of the most lop-sided military victories in modern history. In the aftermath of the Iraqi defeat, a valid question then, and one that can still be asked today, is not whether Saddam Hussein’s military could have ultimately won the war, but whether — with different battlefield preparation and planning — they could have done appreciably better than they did. Was the catastrophic defeat of Hussein’s forces inevitable, or did the Iraqi dictator and his generals prepare for the wrong kind of war? Several different conflict simulations — see, for example, Victory Games’ GULF STRIKE for another approach to this subject — have been published in the years since “Operation Desert Storm” that, with varying degrees of success, have all attempted to address this historical puzzle. ARABIAN NIGHTMARE: DESERT STORM, while not without its faults, none-the-less presents one of the more convincing responses to this nagging military question.
Interestingly enough, SPI first raised the possibility of a war in the Gulf in 1975, long before Iraq actually got around to invading Kuwait. The initial S&T version of this game, ARABIAN NIGHTMARE: The Kuwait War, was an indirect off-shoot of SPI’s S&T #52 magazine game, OIL WAR. This resemblance, despite noticeable differences in scale and complexity, can still be seen in the Introductory Game portion of the newer title. Given its early start, 3W’s ARABIAN NIGHTMARE: DESERT STORM was one of the first games to see print that dealt with the conquest and liberation of Kuwait, and even after eighteen years, it still provides one of the more intriguing treatments of the subject. If nothing else, AN:KW and its expansion kit provide an interesting look at the unfolding historical drama as it was happening. And, unlike most of the other models of the Kuwait War, in this game, the pressures of political events can be almost as important to the final shape of the coalition victory as the course of the actual fighting in the deserts of Kuwait and Iraq.
To explore these divergent but connected themes, ARABIAN NIGHTMARE: DESERT STORM offers a challenging mix of different gaming options for players with different tastes and experience levels. The rules to both the Introductory and Political games are relatively short and both are also clear enough to be learned and played by almost any casual or novice gamer. The more complicated and expanded Military Game incorporates the Political Game into a single comprehensive simulation of the First Gulf War. For this reason, the Military Game requires a bit of serious study on the part of a new player — even one who already has experience with simulations of contemporary (present-day) conflicts — if that player really wants to get a handle on the highly-detailed game system, and the complex interplay of the various combat arms. That being the case, I don’t believe that the “advanced” Military-Political Game, with its voluminous rules and increased complexity is a particularly good choice for the casual or novice gamer. It can undoubtedly be learned by a motivated beginner, but some experience with a variety of different modern combat simulations really helps to significantly shorten a new player’s learning curve. On the other hand, I don’t think that this title was designed just to be hauled out of its Ziploc® bag, set up and admired, either. So, for the experienced gamer 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 ARABIAN NIGHTMARE: DESERT STORM might well be an excellent choice.
Finally, I want to add a few brief words about this game’s designer, Austin Bay. Colonel Bay, U.S.A.R (ret.) is currently one of the most knowledgeable military bloggers to be found on the internet. In addition to his conventional military postings as an armored officer, he was, for four years, directly involved with wargame design and testing at the Pentagon. In 2004, Colonel Bay was recalled from retirement to active duty and served in Iraq. Today, Austin Bay is a successful author of both fiction and nonfiction books, and a recognized expert on military affairs. For this reason, I strongly recommend him as a source of insightful, cogent, and well-written commentary about ongoing political and military events in the Middle East. His website can be found at: http://www.austinbay.net/
- Time Scale: 36 to 72 hours per game turn (Introductory and Military Game); 4 to 6 days per Political Action Phase (PAS) in “Political” Game
- Map Scale: 30 kilometers per hex
- Unit Size: squadron (10 to 24 aircraft); ship (individual capital ships with escorts); battalion/regiment/brigade/division
- Unit Types: regular infantry/US light infantry, mechanized infantry/armored infantry, armor/tank, armored cavalry/reconnaissance, marine/naval infantry, parachute/airborne infantry, special operations force/ranger/special forces, naval surface action groups (SAG), air units (assorted types), surface to air missile units (SAMS), surface to surface missiles, and information markers
- Number of Players: 2-3 (excellent candidate for team play)
- Complexity: high
- Solitaire Suitability: medium
- Average Playing Time: 2- 10+ hours (depending on scenario)
- Two 22” x 33” hexagonal grid Map Sheets: AN:KW & AN:KW “West” Expansion (with Terrain Key, Turn Record Track, Political Points Track, Military Victory Points Track, Iraqi Operations Points Track, US Logistics Points Track, Supplied Units Track, Air Base Boxes, “Dug-in Infantry” Stand Chart, Stealth/Cruise/Stand-off Weapon/SOF Raid Chart, Combat Results Table, Aerial Bombardment Table, EW Jamming Chart, Aircraft Holding Boxes, Air Interception table, Air Superiority Determination Table, incorporated)
- 600 ½” back-printed cardboard Counters
- One 8½” x 11” 84 page Rules Booklet (with Historical Background, Rules for Introductory Game, Rules for Political Game, Rules for Advanced Military and Political Game, Political Game Charts, and Scenario Instructions incorporated)
- One 8½” x 11” DESERT SWORD: Arabian Nightmare Expansion Kit Instruction Booklet(with IDs for new units, Political Endeavors Record Sheets, and new Scenario Instructions incorporated)
- One 12” x 15½” clear plastic Ziploc® Bag (original packaging)