Gulf Strike: The Horn of Africa

I seem to be stuck on Victory Games products lately so why not do a round of Gulf Strike?  Designed by the venerable Mark Herman, this game was published by VG way back in 1983 – more than thirty years ago (don’t you feel old now?).  Gulf Strike was an interesting attempt to deal with land, sea, and air combat in a major war in the Middle East during a time of growing tension between the superpowers.  As the decade wore on, Gulf Strike players were treated to a 1988 update as well as a Desert Shield expansion in 1990 after Saddam Hussein brilliantly decided to invade Kuwait.  It’s worth noting Gulf Strike and its designer’s role in the actual predictions and planning involved in the real Gulf War in 1991 and you can read more about that here.

One of the things that I really like about this game is how it attempts to deal with how these various forces interact together in any conflict.  Although I will always love the Fleet series, I have to admit that separating the various elements of naval combat into distinct phases (air, surface, and subsurface) and the turn order sequence of “Player A moves and attacks with his units and then Player B moves and attacks with his units” doesn’t seem all that realistic sometimes.    
Anyway, Gulf Strike tried to get around this problem by having a series of action stages where players are allowed to move and attack with different kinds of units while the opposing player might be able to react to these moves with attempts at detecting incoming enemy units and intercepting them.  There’s sort of a twisting series of back and forth decisions that both players can make throughout a standard game turn. Although only one player’s decisions are truly driving the action during the parts of each turn, both players are fully engaged with gameplay decisions throughout.  It’s a cool system.
One of the introductory scenarios for Gulf Strike is the fifth and final scenario presented in the first edition rulebook.  Scenario 5 is based around a conflict between Ethiopia and Somalia that gets out of hand and drags in both superpowers.  Played on the strategic map only (1 hex = 280 kilometers across), this centers on the US efforts to support the Somalians by bombing the heck out of the two Soviet-backed Ethiopian army units on the border.  Complicating matters slightly, the Soviets have a carrier group in the region along with four submarines and quite a few Backfire bombers located in their bases in Afghanistan.  The Soviets also have several squadrons of MiG-23s stationed in Ethiopia.  
The Americans have two B-52 bomber squadrons, a carrier group (CV-63 – the USS Kittyhawk), a destroyer and an airbase in Diego Garcia that houses both an F-15 and a P-3 squadron.  The US needs to inflict 3 hits on several Soviet-friendly ports in the area  (two near Dijbouti and one in Socotra) before the end of the scenario (end of turn 7) while preventing the Soviets from achieving any victory level whatsoever.  The Soviets have multiple levels of victory.  They can simply opt to capture the Somalian hexes or they can up the stakes by trying to sink two US carriers (another US carrier arrives later in the game as a reinforcement) and eliminate the Diego Garcia airbases.  
The US player sets up his carrier group northwest of Diego Garcia.  A friendly sub is placed further north.  The Soviets then set up their subs near the US carrier group and then places their Tu-126 on the border of Somalia and Ethiopia to detect incoming enemy planes.  The Soviet carrier group is placed on the north coastline near Somalia.  It’s not very effective at delivering air strikes but it has some ability to intercept enemy planes and fend off US subs.  The Soviets get one ace in the hole here – they have a cruiser that’s shadowing the American carrier task force and it gets a bonus to its attack rating if it fires the first shot when hostilities begin.  The US player is unable to attack any Soviet units until his forces are attacked so there’s nothing the CV group can really do about the tailgating cruiser at the start of the game.
Scenario 5:  Setup
Naval Movement rolls are made and the US gets a 2 while the Soviets get a 1.  The US starts off by sending its carrier group (and the destroyer that it’s stacked with) west towards the African coast.  The Soviet cruiser immediately fires on the carrier, inflicting 1 damage.  The US carrier fires back at the cruiser and sinks it.  The US carrier has taken a hit on one of its air groups so the A-7 Corsairs are assigned the hit, which puts a small dent in the CV’s offensive air ability.
Next, the B-52s roll in from off the map.  One of the B-52s reaches hex C14 and is detected by the Soviet air defense regiment.  A squadron of MiG-23s are launched from the airbase to the north but fail to successfully intercept.  The B-52s bomb the hex, scoring two points of damage.  
Another squadron of B-52s hit hex B13 and another squadron of MiGs is sent off to shoot down the bombers but they fail to inflict any hits.  
The Soviet player spends the reaction phase moving his bombers from Afghanistan to Yemen, where they’ll have enough range to hit at the American carrier group in the following action phase.  
First Action Stage is over!  The US has managed to do alright here but I fear the Backfire bombers might be able to cause some serious damage to the US before reinforcment squadrons of F-15s can be deployed in turn 2.  The F-14s on CAP can definitely hold their own but it would be nice to have the additional safety of being under the umbrella of the F-15s at Diego Garcia.  Unfortunately, the Kittyhawk has traded speed for safety and is now out of F-15 air cover.  On the other hand, the B-52 strikes have been devastating and the US player has been quite successful in its bombing efforts.  The USSR seems to have no problems detecting when its units are going to be bombed but can’t seem to do much about it.  


  1. Yeah, this game sat on my shelf for over a year since I bought it and I finally decided to get it out and start playing the other day. I've made quite a few mistakes so far but reading through the rules, it actually seems a lot less complicated than it first appeared to me. Air/Naval combat is handled really smoothly. I'm interested in trying out scenario 1 to see how it all works together.

  2. I haven't played it enough to figure that out yet. I like the action/reaction flow of play a little better. Having said that, the Fleet series has always had a special place in my heart because it was one of the first wargame series I got into when I started out. I think I could probably say either way after playing through a couple more scenarios!

  3. Thanks Craig! I made a bunch of mistakes and restarted a few times before I got the hang of it. I'll get back to it at some point. I actually decided to try and learn the whole thing and began scenario 1. I'm doing a short write-up of a few events that happened in turn 1. It's still too big for me to play at this point. I need time to work through all the rules in my brain. Fantastic stuff, though! I can see why you play on Vassal. I can barely fit it on my kitchen table!

  4. Yeah, I do miss the map boards and counters but the problem I had was 1.) a nosy cat playing with the pieces and 2.) an 8 yr old thinking it was a new version of Candyland. Vassal seemed a better alternative. lol

  5. Anyway, I got the NOTIFY ME checked so I can see what you're doing. I do agree with you about the fluidity of how the pieces move and react. I never saw that system [at the time] do that kinda thing. Panzer Leader never did, which is what I'm playing now.

  6. That would certainly do it! Having it on Vassal is great too because it really saves on setup time. It's nice to just sit down and start playing without having to worry about finding (and losing) pieces. I'm in the process of packing it off fom my kitchen table and getting my Vassal going.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

Back to Top