I had the pleasure to finally punch and play “Desert Storm: Unfinished Victory” designed by Thomas Honsa a few weeks back. It’s a small footprint game that manages to capture both the military and political struggles of the Gulf War. I played this game not too long after reading Rick Atkinson’s book “Crusade” and I feel like the book and game make for a great combo meal. Several times as I was reading the rules and playing the game I couldn’t help but notice how several of the design choices corresponded to things I had just learned about in Atkinson’s book. For me the biggest example is the in game decision with how to use the incredible force of coalition air units. Do you try to soften up the first wave of defenders? Maybe it’s better to eliminate the Iraq SAM and SCUD sites first? Or just keep it strategic and focus on eliminating their ability to keep units in supply? That real life decision was often a heated issue, and the coalition player will most definitely have a tough choice to make. I went tactical. It worked, but I also had a some hot dice during this game so not sure how repeatable that strategy is.
I’ll go in depth on a few points in this article, but my overall impression of this game is it’s fun, fast and very easy to learn. I think this would be a perfect convention or tournament game because it moves quickly, and you could potentially have both players do one attempt on each side in an evening. There’s plenty of exciting choices for both players to make. I think my favorite for the coalition side is trying to find an excuse to make the USMC storm the beaches in an amphibious landing. FYI, It’s not worth the risk, don’t try it.
War Is Politics
If you read my series of posts on Arabian Nightmare then you are already aware much I enjoyed the political aspect of that game. Unfinished Victory has a similar feel, but it’s presented in a much more condensed way. Unlike Arabian Nightmare, which used separate political and military tracks, DSUV uses a single victory point track, and only the Iraqi player gains VP. There’s no political events for the coalition to attempt, and only about two dozen choices for the Iraqi player to use to snatch up victory points. One of the more interesting ways for the Iraqi player earns VP is through the use of SCUD attacks. The missiles do no damage to any on-map units, but each successful strike nabs you one VP. This to me does a great job of simulating the way that the SCUD attacks on Israel resulted in a major politician situation (despite the low number of casualties) for the US led coalition. The Iraq player also gains victory points equal to the game turn number at the end of every turn just for being in the game, which also simulates the pressure the coalition felt to “get the job done” before any potential conflicts between the participating countries arose.
Where’s the (Friendly) Fire?
If you haven’t noticed by now, I keep things fairly positive on both the blog and podcast because that’s just my style in general. I’m way more likely to talk about part of a game I like than an aspect I didn’t enjoy. But I was really surprised that this game in no way attempted to address the biggest threat the coalition faced during Desert Storm, which was fratricide. I understand why Arabian Nightmare didn’t make it a major issue, because the game was already in the in the works and published right before war broke out. But DSUV was published in 2004, and other games on the topic like Phase Line Smash have addressed the issue, so I just don’t understand why it didn’t make it into this design. I suggest a house rule:
Any time you have a coalition ground force involved in a battle, you roll a d10 and a 1-2 gives the Iraq player a VP.
If that seems a bit high, it’s not according to the numbers I come up with after a quick search. Maybe add this as well:
Subtract 1 from the roll if there was an air unit involved-or-if more then one ground unit participated-or-if more than one coalition nationality was represented in the attacking/supporting forces.
Obviously this is not a game breaker, and there are many other historic issues I feel the game “got right”. I just feel like this was a missed opportunity to include part of what made this particular battle unique.
One of the reasons I decided to pick this game up (aside from the very reasonable price and the fact that the publisher charged no shipping costs for orders directly from them) was the built in solitaire bot. I play almost exclusively solo. While I can handle the required “self deception” required for a standard “I Go, You Go” style game I always appreciate a little guidance for how to run one of the sides. The solitaire system works fine but I would suggest a few tweaks. Mostly just always spend the max amount of points possible on the political maneuvering instead of rolling to check and see if and how much to spend. Also use the military posture track and the other rules as a guide, but don’t be married to it. There’s the potential to send waves of under strength Iraq units crashing into much stronger opponents they have no chance of beating and it doesn’t make for a very competitive solo game…if that makes sense.
How Tough are These Guys?
One of the things that made my solo play through a little more exciting was the unknown strength of Iraq units until the first combat occurs. Again, I feel like this models the historical situation true to form. My understanding is that the US greatly overestimated the ground forces, and I rolled a “1” for my game’s check so that gave the coalition a pretty easy time. The elite armor units of the Republicans Guard could potentially give the Coalition a major headache if a “6” is rolled.
- Attacking in this game is a lot of fun. There’s the standard advance after combat, and then all the units that moved after combat get a second attack.
- The air war will be a very one sided affair. The Coalition player can easily wipe out the Iraqi Air Force in the first turn and still have plenty of birds left to go SCUD hunting or for ground support.
- I love the rule that says you can’t eliminate ground forces through air strikes alone. Gotta put boots on the ground!
- Because the historic result was such a one sided affair, I feel that most Desert Storm games benefit from the inclusion of “What if…” scenarios. This game offers several that the player(s) can use to create a more balanced game.