Not every game — no matter who creates it — is a ground-breaking new design; and hence, not every game is really all that interesting to review. The following profile of ACROSS SUEZ is a good example: it has been languishing for quite some time in my documents folder; but, whether because of disinterest or inertia, I just never got around to finishing and publishing it before now. That being said, I invite my readers to look upon the following essay as a “palette cleanser”; that is: a short piece that is somewhat similar to the small serving of sherbet which provides diners with a refreshing pause before the next major course of their meal.
ACROSS SUEZ: The Battle of Chinese Farm, October 15, 1973 is an operational simulation of the Battle of Chinese Farm during the ’73 Arab-Israeli War. The game was coauthored by Mark Herman and James F. Dunnigan. ACROSS SUEZ was published by Simulations Publications, Inc. (SPI) in 1980.
|Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir|
On 8 October 1973, General Schmuel Gonen, Commander of the Israeli Southern Front, ordered a full-scale armored attack against the newly-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 Egyptian rear to rescue any surviving Israeli soldiers still holding out in parts of the Bar-Lev Line. Unlike previous engagements, however, the Egyptian soldiers held their ground and decimated the attacking Israeli armor with long-range Sagger missiles. Gonen, shaken and confused by the unexpected failure of his attack, lapsed into a mental fugue, 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 press their attack against the out-numbered Israeli defenders.
|Generals Sharon and Bar-Lev, 1973 Yom Kippur War.|
The small, three-color, hexagonal-grid ACROSS SUEZ game map depicts the area in the Sinai over which the major events of the battle occurred. To speed set-up time, the map locations of all starting units are predetermined. There are eleven different types of terrain represented on the map: clear, sand, ridge, elevated sand, the “Chinese Farm”, Bar-Lev forts, canal, lake, swamp, road, and trail. For the most part, clear, sand, ridge, road, and trail hexes will exert the most important influence on movement; the “Chinese Farm”, Bar-Lev, ridges, and elevated sand hexes will typically be the most critical terrain (by adding column shifts) when it comes to combat resolution. The counters in ACROSS SUEZ represent the combat units — typically armored and mechanized infantry battalions — that actually participated in the historical battle. Both the Egyptian and Israeli forces have access to off-map artillery.
Combat in ACROSS SUEZ can take one of two forms: regular adjacent combat and artillery bombardment. As might be expected in an “introductory” game, the combat system is simple and follows a traditional die-roll and Combat Results Table (CRT) based resolution system. Interestingly, instead of the more common “odds-differential” CRT, however, the Combat Results Table in ACROSS SUEZ uses a “strength- differential” WORLD WAR II type system — that is: attacker’s combat strength minus defender’s strength — to resolve the outcomes of battles.
The burden of attack in ACROSS SUEZ, as it was historically, is squarely on the Israeli player; thus, he or she must accomplish a great deal in a relatively short amount of time. To win, the Israeli player must position his bridging unit on a specific hex on the Suez Canal, get at least six combat units across the Suez, and maintain an unblocked line of communications to the bridging unit at the end of the last turn. An Israeli failure to satisfy any of these requirements results in an Egyptian victory. Play balance, not surprisingly, tends to tilt in favor of the IDF; however, a few lucky Egyptian die-rolls in the early going can tip the scales fairly dramatically in favor of Sadat's forces. A complete game is seven turns long.
A PERSONAL OBSERVATION
|Israeli mobile bridging train.|
In any case, this title was only one of a number of “small” boxed games that SPI offered many years ago. These titles were ostensibly designed to be easy to learn, fast-paced, and yet simple to play. In short, ACROSS SUEZ, LENINGRAD, AUSTERLITZ, and THE BIG RED ONE (formerly BULGE), were all published by SPI specifically to serve as “gateway” games for those who were completely new to the hobby of wargaming; a role that, for the most part, they fulfilled moderately well. These small games were also intended to be cheap! In this department, at least, SPI succeeded admirably; they were inexpensive enough, in fact, that even I bought a number of them as gifts for those of my friends who were imprudent enough to indicate even the slightest interest in my hobby. As I recall, the best-received titles were LENINGRAD, THE BIG RED ONE, and, of course, ACROSS SUEZ; for some reason, however, AUSTERLITZ never seemed to elicit nearly as much enthusiasm as the other three titles. I can only assume that for novice players, both the October War and World War II were simply more interesting than a Napoleonic battle that took place more than two hundred years ago.
Interestingly, when it came to trying to tap the “introductory” game market, SPI was not the only publisher to make an effort in this direction. Game Designers’ Workshop (GDW) also attempted something along the same lines with their Series 120 Games; unfortunately, GDW being GDW, only a few of the Series 120 titles were truly suitable for beginners. Two of their World War II titles, 1940 and 1941, fit into this category rather nicely. Unfortunately, GDW tended to have a lot more misses than hits when it came to their “gateway” games: AGINCOURT, for example, was both too simple and too colorless; and 1942, although limited in its scope as an air-land-sea game, was a bit too complicated. In fact, if the truth be told, quite a few of the Series 120 games, although cleverly-done, were something of a chore to master even for experienced players: ALMA and BEDA FOMM, for example, come immediately to mind when I think of comparatively sophisticated “introductory” games that were really more suitable for seasoned players than for novices.
|Israeli bridging train in place on the Suez Canal.|
- Time Scale: 8 hours per game turn (two daylight turns followed by one night game turn)
- Map Scale: unstated
- Unit Size: battalion
- Unit Types: armor, mechanized infantry, armored cavalry, infantry, and bridging train
- Number of Players: two
- Complexity: below average (introductory)
- Solitaire Suitability: above average
- Average Playing Time: 1.5 - 2 hours
- One 11” x 17” hexagonal grid Map Sheet (with Turn Record/Reinforcement Track, Combat Results Table, Terrain Key, and Terrain Effects Chart incorporated)
- 100 ½” cardboard Counters (over 50% blanks)
- One 8½” x 11” Rules Booklet
- One small six-sided Die
- One 7½” x 8½” SPI Mail Order Envelope
- One 9” x 12” x 1” cardboard Game Box
Related Blog PostsSPI, MODERN BATTLES: Four Contemporary Conflicts (1975)
SPI, SINAI (1973)