SPI, SINAI (1973)

SINAI is a historical simulation of the 1956, 1967, and 1973 Arab-Israeli Wars. The game also includes a collection of hypothetical (what if?) scenarios for an Arab-Israeli War that might have occurred (but didn’t) in the mid 1970’s. SINAI was designed by James F. Dunnigan and published in 1973 by Simulations Publications, Incorporated (SPI).


October 6, 1973 was Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement), the holiest day in the Jewish calendar. It was also the day on which Syria and Egypt suddenly attacked an unprepared Israel on two fronts simultaneously. The sudden large-scale offensive by Syrian forces on the thinly-held Golan Heights, in concert with the totally unforeseen, but crushing Egyptian breakthrough of the Bar-Lev Line on the east bank of the Suez Canal rocked the political and military leadership of Israel as few events had before. For the first few days after the initial Arab attacks, the Israeli Prime Minister, Golda Meir, feared for the very survival of the Jewish State. However, it did not take long for the Israeli military leadership to recover its balance and to mount a counterattack.
On 8 October 1973, General Schmuel Gonen, Commander of the Israeli Southern Front, ordered a full-scale armored offensive against the hastily-prepared Egyptian Sinai defenses east of the Suez Canal. His goal was to smash into the advanced Egyptian positions, break through and then push his armor into the enemy rear to rescue any surviving Israeli soldiers still holding out in parts of the Bar-Lev Line. Unlike previous Israeli-Arab engagements, however, the unthinkable happened: Egyptian soldiers held their ground and decimated the attacking Israeli armor with long-range Sagger missiles. General Gonen, shaken and confused by the unexpected failure of his attack, lapsed into a mental fugue; stunned by the defeat of his plan, the Israeli commander was unable to decide what to do next. Clearly, the resilience and defensive skill of the Egyptian Army had been a complete surprise to the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) High Command, but something still had to be done about Sadat’s army on the east bank of the Suez Canal. A static IDF defense was not the answer; the Israeli tanks tied up against Egypt were desperately needed on the Golan Heights, where the Syrians continued to vigorously press their attack against the out-numbered Israeli defenders.

On 10 October, Gonen was quietly replaced by General Chaim Bar-Lev. By 11 October, Bar-Lev and two of his senior commanders, Major Generals Ariel Sharon and Avraham “Bren” Adan, had come up with a completely new plan of action: one that, all three men fervently hoped, would both encircle the Egyptian Third Army and reverse the military situation on the east bank of the Canal. Their plan was based on newly-obtained American reconnaissance photos that had revealed a narrow gap between the Egyptian Second and Third Armies. This audacious Israeli armored offensive was code-named “Operation Stouthearted Men,” and it would begin with Sharon’s division driving through the gap in the Egyptian front, while Adan’s division attacked the exposed flanks of the Second and Third Egyptian Armies. Once Sharon’s unit had slipped through the enemy lines, it would then advance on Deversoir, destroy any Egyptian forces that it encountered there, and then move on to quickly seize bridgeheads on both banks of the Suez Canal. If Sharon was successful in this critical first phase of his mission, a mobile bridging-train would immediately rush to the newly-captured bridgeheads, and once the portable bridge was emplaced, Israeli forces would pour cross the Canal and completely cut the Egyptian Third Army off from food, ammunition, and most importantly, from water.

Unfortunately, time was rapidly running out for the IDF. Faced with temporary stalemates in both the Sinai and on the Golan Heights, what Israel now needed more than anything else was a decisive battlefield victory: one that would transform the strategic situation and force the Jewish State’s enemies to seek peace on Israeli terms. And such a victory would have to come soon, before a UN ceasefire resolution could be forced on Israel that would end all fighting and preserve the existing Arab territorial gains. This daring armored operation, General Bar-Lev believed, could produce just such a victory. The jump-off date for “Operation Stouthearted Men” was fixed for 15 October, 1973. The ferocious clash that would result from this Israeli armored operation, however, would — in a matter of a few days — come to be known by a completely different name: the “Battle of Chinese Farm.”


SINAI is a battalion/brigade level simulation of three of the most important wars that have, over the years, periodically erupted in the Middle East ever since the establishment, under UN auspices, of the Jewish State of Israel on 15 May, 1948. The planned centerpiece of this set of games was originally the ’67 War, but in the process of designing SINAI, the Yom Kippur (or Ramadan or October) War broke out. This unexpected development obliged SPI to postpone final publication of the game until the ’73 War had ended, and another set of scenarios based on the (then) latest installment in the chronicle of Arab-Israeli conflicts could be designed, developed, and play tested. The rapidly-changing face of the Yom Kippur War presented an unusual situation for the designer, Jim Dunnigan, who for the first time in his professional life, had to test his design assumptions against daily and sometimes contradictory newspaper stories. The effect on SINAI of these contemporaneous reports is inescapable. It is clear from the similar game systems used for the ’56 and ’67 Wars, and the significantly different system used for the ’73 War (and the hypothetical mid-70’s scenarios) that the unfolding battlefield developments led the designer to conclude that the force structures, doctrines, and weaponry of the belligerents had changed significantly from 1967 to 1973.

The ’56 and ’67 War scenarios in SINAI are played in game turns, each of which represents twelve hours of real time. The (12 hour) turn sequences for both the ’56 and ’67 War scenarios are identical, and follow a rigid sequence of player operations: (Israeli) supply phase; movement phase; combat phase; (Arab) command and control phase; supply phase; movement phase; combat phase; and Jordanian participation phase. Game mechanics for both scenarios are logical and uncluttered. Stacking is limited to three units per hex, and zones of control (ZOCs) are “rigid” but not “sticky.” Combat between adjacent units is voluntary, and “overrun” attacks are possible if the attacker can muster a sufficiently high attack differential against a weakly-defended enemy hex. The Supply Rules are comparatively simple: units are either “supplied” or “unsupplied.” However, the Supply Effects differ for the two sides: “unsupplied” Arab units may not attack, and are halved for movement and defense; “unsupplied” Israeli units, on the other hand, are halved in movement and attack, but their defense strength is unaffected. Interestingly, the game uses a “strength differential” rather than an “odds differential” type of Combat results Table (CRT). Terrain Effects are important both to movement and to combat, and, as might be expected, these rules affect the two sides very differently. The ’67 War scenarios also introduce Air Rules, but these are highly abstracted and, not surprisingly, strongly favor the Israeli player. If all of this wasn’t enough, Special Rules limiting Arab cooperation, command and control, movement, morale (panic), and supply capabilities all operate to further constrain the Arab player’s strategic and tactical options. In short: the Israeli player’s units have greater combat power, better mobility, fewer supply problems, and no command and control restrictions. They also have, in the ’67 War scenarios, absolute air superiority, and an airmobile unit available, as well.

In the ’73 War (and hypothetical mid-70’s) scenarios, the structure of the simulation is altered in a number of important ways. These scenarios increase the time period covered by each game turn from twelve to twenty-four hours, and they also use a variation of the KURSK Game System as the basis for the game’s basic design architecture. The new (24 hour) turn sequence proceeds as follows: (Arab) first supply phase; first movement phase; combat phase; Jordanian participation phase; second supply phase; second movement phase; (Israeli) first supply phase; first movement phase; combat phase; second supply phase, and second movement phase. The increased mobility of both sides along with the two impulse movement system tends to produce a much more dynamic and fluid battle area than in the previous scenarios. The Air Rules for the ‘70s scenarios are also much kinder to the Arab player; the power of the Israeli Air Force, particularly in the early going, is severely curtailed. In addition, the ’73 War scenarios include a number of other important rules changes that benefit the Arab player: the Arab command and control and panic rules disappear; movement capabilities are improved; the Arab player has “surface to air” (SAM) missiles; and the supply rules for Arab combat are less restrictive.

SINAI, as already noted, offers three main historical scenario packages (or games within a game): the 1956 War; the 1967 War; and the 1973 War. Given the volatile nature of Middle East politics, however, SINAI also includes — besides the historical games — a set of hypothetical scenarios for renewed conflict between Israel and its Arab neighbors sometime in the mid-seventies. In addition to these historical and hypothetical situations, the game presents a series of “what if?” scenarios for the players to explore. These optional scenarios all benefit the Arab player to one degree or another, and include changes to the historical situation such as, but not limited to: free set-up; Israel napping (caught by surprise); better Syrian and Egyptian officer corps; increased Arab cooperation; and a combination of all of the above in the Arab fantasy “Jihad” scenario.


The ’56 and ’67 Wars were quick, decisive Israeli victories; the ’73 “Yom Kippur” War, on the other hand, was clearly different in a number of important ways. Some examples of these important differences are immediately obvious: the Arabs struck first, achieving strategic and tactical surprise; Soviet anti-tank weapons contributed greatly to the defensive combat power of the Arab forces; and heavy concentrations of SAM missile sites were very effective in neutralizing the Israeli Air Force in the early stages of the war. The historical scenarios covering the ’56 and ’67 Wars are, as might be expected, pretty much a romp for the IDF (Israeli Defense Forces), although the victory conditions and optional rules can make these games a lot more competitive. The scenarios for the ’73 War, as well as those for the hypothetical mid-70’s War, make for much more interesting and competitive games. As has already been noted earlier, the Arab Armies improved dramatically between 1967 and 1973. Israel’s enemies came surprisingly close to victory in the Yom Kippur War, SINAI attempts to help its players understand how this happened and why.

Unfortunately, despite its many good points, SINAI — like many of James F. Dunnigan’s early designs — is a disappointment; and, taken as a whole, it can probably best be described as an ambitious and intriguing “near miss.” The ’56 and ’67 historical scenarios both require a lot of fiddling with the victory conditions to produce anything approximating a reasonable amount of play balance; a fact that, not surprisingly, makes it hard for most players to summon up much enthusiasm when it comes to commanding the seriously out-classed Arab armies in these earlier scenarios. The ’73 and mid-’70s scenarios are much more interesting, yet they each seem to lack something intangible, both as games and as simulations. Of course, it is possible that the constant changes in the game’s developmental trajectory forced by the day-to-day news reports coming in from the battlefield were, in 1973, a little more than Dunnigan or SPI could handle at the time. This is not to say that SINAI is a particularly bad game, only that it has a curiously “cobbled together” feel, and that it probably could have been — had it not been rushed into print — considerably better with a little additional effort. Clearly, Dunnigan was in a hurry to publish this title, and it shows. For supporting evidence for this last argument, by the way, one only has to look at John Hill’s excellent and richly-textured treatment of the ’73 War, BAR-LEV, which appeared some time after SINAI, in 1974. The difference in quality between the two games is glaring.

Design Characteristics:

  • Time Scale: 12 hours per game turn (24 hours per game turn in the ’73 War, and mid-70’s hypothetical war scenarios)
  • Map Scale: 12 kilometers per hex
  • Unit Size: battalion/ brigade
  • Unit Types: armor, mechanized infantry, mechanized paratroop, reconnaissance, infantry, paratroop (functional and non-functional), camel, SAM site, air-droppable, airmobile, Israeli supply, and information markers
  • Number of Players: two
  • Complexity: medium
  • Solitaire Suitability: above average
  • Average Playing Time: 2½-3 hours

Game Components:

  • One 22” x 34” hexagonal grid Map Sheet (with Turn Record Track, Combat Results Table, Terrain Effects Chart, and Arab Command and Control Table incorporated)
  • 255 ½” cardboard Counters
  • One 6” x 11½” Map-fold style Set of Rules (with Scenario Instructions and Examples of Play incorporated)
  • One 8½” x 11” S&T Subscription Ad
  • One 8¼” x 8¾” SPI Came Catalog and Order Form
  • 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 box cover with Title Sheet


  • This is not a criticism of the above reviewer's rather fair acessment, just some comments from memory on a few of his points.

    Back then at least, board gamers tended to fall into one of two classes -- competitive players and historians. JFD was definitely "a historian who designed games." And I was definitely a "historian" player, so generally preferred his simulations.

    Will try to explain....

    SINIA, in as many of his games, first presents the historical situation as the "basic" game. It tends to show "why" things happened as they did. And victory conditions often leave one side getting "hosed." Personally I was content to play either side, to see what the opponents experienced historically.

    For competitive players, and further historical exploration, there are "What If" scenarios. The most important of these in SINAI was Arabs having a better officer corps. JFD said that was UNLIKELY to happen because most Arab nations fear an effective officer corps might overthrow the government. Neither Israel nor the U.S. has such fears and both have better armies as a result.

    So the competitive player, instead of fiddling with victory conditions, could simply add variants that give him a fair shot under existing victory conditions.

    Unfortunately most competitive players want to play "the historical battle" with a fair chance to win by the losing side. That's not always possible without distorting something. A strange exception to that desire by competitive players was AH's STALINGRAD. Everybody wanted to play the Germans though they invariably lost -- the "challenge" was irresistable.

    As for the "something missing" in SINAI, I felt it was due to the choice of map scale which covers the entire Sinai peninsula. The great majority of the map is never used for play. This tends to render the battles "mini-games" fought on a small critical map area. There is historical value here, in visually grasping the entire region "at stake," but it does make play itself less exciting.

    John Hill is by contrast one of the most thrilling designers the board game hobby produced. I've played his BAR-LEV, his Korea game, Rommel at Kasserine and a good number of the others -- and they are terrific.

    But John himself admits he is something of a subjective designer who seeks the "feel" of realism rather than strict historical accuracy.
    Given that, he delivers the goods. I find that you don't learn a whole lot more history than you already knew from his titles -- but never regretted buying or playing them.

    But I've also been fascinated -- rather than thrilled -- by some rather astonishing SPI non-starters. PATTON'S THIRD ARMY opens with Patton stuck in the mud and out of fuel before Metz. Then there was Jay Nelson's LEYTE where the U.S. player is like a pack of dogs ripping into the Japanese on the island. Jay was unable to create a campaign game due to the IJA not surviving from one scenario to the next. But I was fascinated playing the scenarios in sequence as a "story".

    I guess what I'm saying is that a game can look pretty bad when a historian reviews a competitive game, or vice versa.

  • I have always had a "love it but still not happy" feelings on the game. I found many things good with the game but still something not hitting it right either. I do wish there was another hex row or two on the Syrian front

    I want to add that along with Ralph Vickers,Mark Saha was the best game reviewer/commentatour out there back then in Moves,F&M etc. I enjoy seeing Msark still post once in awhile on BGG and happy he gave his take on Sinai!

    Joe's becoming my 3rd best reviewer ;)

  • Greetings Again Kim:

    Yes, I always looked forward to reading Ralph Vickers (F&M) and Mark Saha (S&T and Moves); however, I think -- probably because Mark was so close to SPI -- that he tended to be a little more generous in some of his reviews than I would have been.

    Best Regards, Joe

  • I'd appreciate it if someone could send me a photocopy /electronic copy of the rules. I picked up the game at a swap and the rules were long gone. Thanks.

    Dan in Baltimore do30red@yahoo.com

  • Greetings Dan:

    Your's is not an unusual problem.

    I suggest that you visit the SINAI game forums at "Consimworld" and/or "Boardgamegeek.com" and advertise your predicament. I am pretty sure that someone at one of these gaming sites should be able to help you get a hold of a PDF copy of the game's rules.

    Also, while I'm on the topic of useful "gaming" sites: you can also check "grognard.com" for printable versions of any official "errata" that might have been issued by SPI after the game saw print.

    Good Luck and Best Regards,

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