Trouble at Suez
This is not so much On the Table, as Been on the Table a While, and now it’s coming off. It is John Prados‘s game on the Sinai front of the Yom Kippur War, published by GMT Games back in 1995. Only recently have I got past reading the rules, finally managing to play to completion a couple of the scenarios (of the five, plus campaign game, provided).
The physical components are not bad, the highlight being the excellent map by Joe Youst, scaled at 2.5 miles per hex. The 700+ counters are half inch, double sided, and color coded for side and formation. Unit sizes vary from company to brigade, with a good spread of unit types and differentiation. The game aids are reasonably clear, and the rulebook and playbook are above average. That’s not to say the rules are trouble free – they are not – but you can get a handle on the way the game is supposed to play, leaving only some annoying little details to figure out. Game turns are two per 24 hours, with no air activity in the night part.
The sequence of play is lengthy, but straightforward. It starts with a Political Step (for the campaign) to take care of aspects such as intervention, and ceasefire. Daylight turns then have a Maintenance Step, mostly having the players deal with their air units – there is an extensive air system – as well as SAM repair and replacement. The Israeli player will cry as he sees some badly needed air units mandated for service on the Golan front.
There then follows the usual movement and combat, with extra phases for air strikes, bombardment, reserve movement, and exploitation.
The historical campaign featured an Egyptian attack that surprised the Israeli defenders, and established a secure foothold on the east bank of the Suez. Israeli attempts to use overrun style tactics from their 1967 success were bloodily repulsed due to the surprising resilience of the Egyptian soldiers, and their anti-tank missiles and other defenses. The Israeli air force found itself up against an effective SAM umbrella. Over time, with new tactics based on the experience of the early encounters, and with the benefit of USA supplies and rearmament – especially TOW anti-tank missiles – the Israelis managed an effective counterattack, pouncing on a break in the line to cross to the western side of the Suez Canal, and ultimately threaten to eliminate an entire Egyptian Army.
So far as I can tell, based on solitaire plays of a couple of the scenarios, the game system does a good job of portraying these factors (and others) in a playable format. However, some of the rules are clunky, with too many exceptions, and the details can threaten to overwhelm the player. (or at least, this player!) That is why it has taken me so long to actually muster up the courage to play the game.
I played the Across Suez scenario (the opening attack on 6-7 October) and that ended in a huge Egyptian victory. Then I played The Battle of Chinese Farm (15-17 October) and that ended in a draw.
Overall I had a good time. Here are some likes and dislikes.
- Seeing the action on the map gives you a good sense of the situation; for example, at the start of the campaign, the Israeli forces are minuscule. The game shows how thin the margin was between defeat and victory.
- The system highlights the vulnerability of tanks, and shows the impact of changes in weaponry (TOW) and tactics (combined arms stacks, instead of tank only ones).
- The crossing of the canal, complete with bridging operations,is detailed enough to be interesting, without being unnecessarily complex.
- The SAM umbrellas are there in all their glory.
- There are rules for tank recovery from eliminated tank steps that add something extra, easily.
- Artillery is important; vulnerable, but important.
- The scenarios look to give a view across the whole campaign, without having to tackle it all. But if you want to, it’s there.
- The campaign game starts with the Egyptian player having the initiative, but allows the Israeli player to take the initiative dependent on certain events.
- The political rules are not overwhelming, but seem fit to deliver a more enthralling experience. For example, players may be faced with tough decisions about breaching a ceasefire to try and secure a bigger win.
- The notes in the playbook – developer’s, historical commentary, and tactical – are a rich source of material to help you get more out of the game.
- The Israeli superiority in leadership is reflected by giving them more leaders, rather than better leaders. That seems a bit clunky to me. Maybe it would be a waste to have lots of zero rated Egyptian leaders, though.
- The rules for hasty attacks are fiddly with too many exceptions.
- The rules could have been sharper. The errata is essential.
- There are some counter errors; fairly easily sorted, but annoying.
- No bibliography.
- Command and control rules work, but have a fair number of exceptions.
- Ground combat has a SNAFU system that allows things to go wrong. It works, OK, but could have been streamlined.
- Ground combat is mandatory between adjacent units. I am unsure about this.
- The air game is detailed, demanding, and tricky. I would have preferred an easier system.
I would have liked to see the same, or a similar system, deal with the Golan front. That will never happen now. But given the paucity of games on the subject, perhaps it might not be too much to dream about an updated version – improved counter graphics, some streamlining of the more clunky rules, perhaps an optional simplified air system, and cleaner rules.