Phase Line Smash: First Impressions

I have just finished playing turn 1 of Phase Line Smash, GDW’s solitaire game of the 1991 Gulf War, featuring the US VII Corps.  I’m kind of blown away, to be honest.

Contrary to my first impressions, the game is not overly complex.  Although the rules are certainly dense in some places, they are pretty intuitive and easy to grasp after you play through them a couple of times.  Chadwick and Nilsen were pretty careful about not including too many exceptions or long lists of die modifiers, which means that you don’t have to keep referring to the rulebook every time you want to move a counter.  An index certainly would have helped new players a bit but the tables and charts are okay.

The artificial intelligence rules are actually quite smooth once you read them over a couple of times.  The varying postures of each AI-controlled formation make good sense and, in cases where they didn’t, I just improvised and it worked fine.  The chit pull mechanic is pretty smooth and although they it isn’t so novel now in 2012, it works really well for this game.  The lack of fixed “steps” during a phase lets you decide how and when to attack with your units, when to bring in tac air, helos, etc.  It really feels like you have just a huge number of options at your finger tips as I’m sure Gen. Franks had available at the time.  The addition of command points for things like electronic warfare, air assaults, theater air strikes, etc., only adds to the sense that you are commanding the most advanced and well-trained military force in the world.

For all that though, the game throws dilemmas at you constantly and is very good at making you second guess what seemed like obvious choices in the previous impulse.  How much Tac Air do you lend to the Egyptians?  Do you make careful progress and avoid casualties only to see the Republican Guard saunter back to Iraq unscathed?  Or do you push your men and equipment and supplies to the breaking point and end up with fratricide casualties or even risk an eliminated Coalition unit (1 lost player-controlled unit  = -25 VPs = game loss).  What do you do when just winning the war (which you will certainly do) is not good enough?  How do you bring back all your guys safe from the desert?

The Egyptians move up towards Kuwait while the Iraqi IV Corps waits patiently for them.

Random elements play into the game like weather, fratricide, and possible disruption of your units for even walking into an Iraqi ZOC.  There are also some problems just sitting and waiting for you and there’s nothing you can do about any of it.  The 2nd ACR is going to have to limp through the muddy sakhba on the first turn and the 1st Armored Division is probably going to need to squeeze through a tiny gap just to get past the barriers and up towards the Republican Guard.  Right away, there’s a massive traffic jam facing you from the very start of the game.

Feb. 24th and the Coalition pushes up towards the Iraqi VII Corps infantry near the border.

PLS was one of those rare games that I would sit through in the evening and think about at work or on the bus the next day.  If you have a copy of the game, don’t let the rulebook intimidate you.  Just get it out and play through your mistakes.  I can’t wait to get PLS on the table again.

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