Gulf Strike – Scenario 5 Redux

If you’ve read much of my blog before, you’ll know that I’m a huge fan of Victory Games’ Gulf Strike.  After it sat on my shelf for the better part of a year, I picked it up and got it on the table.  It’s a real gem of a game and I unfortunately got distracted by something else before I could seriously delve into it.  One of my first write-ups on Gulf Strike dealt with Scenario 5 – an unfinished report that for some reason still managed to get a lot of love.  I’ve been feeling a bit red-faced from that, so I’ve decided to go at it again and do a complete playthrough of the scenario.


In this scenario, Soviet-backed Ethiopians are launching a major offensive against Somalia from hexes C-16 and D-17 against D-15 and D-18.   Each game turn, the Ethiopians will inflict 1 hit against these objective hexes, which will fall after incurring 4 hits.  The Americans can prevent hits from accumulating by inflicting 3 hits on the Ethiopian hexes C-16 and D-17 each turn.  To win, the Americans must also inflict 3 or more hits on three Soviet bases in the area (B-13, C-14 and H-14).  The scenario is over when turn 7 ends.

Ethiopians launch offensives vs. Somalia. Soviet bases that need to be hit are starred.

Initial Thoughts:

Okay, so there’s a lot of Soviet airpower in the region.  The USSR has 3 MiG-23 squadrons parked in D-16 along with a Tu-126 for EWDA.  Just to the north of that in Yemen, there are two MiG-23 squadrons and a Tu-20 bomber squadron. Way up north of that, the Soviets still have toys – a Tu-26 squadron near the Black Sea and three Tu-26 squadrons in Afghanistan.  The Soviets have a carrier force with an ASW helo and some Yak-36 fighters.

The Americans don’t have the numbers to match at the start.  They have a carrier group (CV-63 – USS Kittyhawk) with the standard stuff:  A-6 Intruders, A-7, 2 x F-14s, S-3 Viking, and an E-2 Hawkeye for early warning and detection.  Diego Garcia houses an F-15 squadron and some P3 Orions.  Each turn the US player gets two B-52s that come on board for an air strike.

So what to do here?  I suppose the CV could move up towards the coast of Africa and take care of the Soviet base in D-16 so the B-52s will be able to attack the Ethiopians without worrying about getting shot down. The only thing that’s really going to suck for the American carrier group is that the Soviets have a CG tailing behind it that can fire on it right at the beginning of the game.  The American sub can be used to try and hit the Soviet carrier but I’m not overly concerned about it either way.

I haven’t played much of this scenario before and it’s been a long time since I’ve played Gulf Strike.  A lot of this playthrough will be me pushing cardboard around, just trying to get the hang of the game again.

Turn 1

The first move of the scenario results in a serious problem for the Americans.  As soon as the Kittyhawk moves towards the African coast, the Soviet CG fires at it.  The carrier takes 2 hits and fires back at the Soviet cruiser, destroying it.  As it continues its trek towards the Somali coast, the USS Kittyhawk is intercepted by a nearby Soviet SSGN.  It fires its anti-ship missiles from 1 hex away and hits the carrier for 1 damage.  Gravely damaged, the American carrier now has its sortie rate reduced from 3 to 2.  Three of the air units on the carrier have taken a hit of damage as well.

This is a poor start for the Americans but they’re still in the game.  Together, the US destroyer and carrier move into the same hex as the Soviet submarine.  The destroyer detects it and fires at it without any luck.  The Soviet sub, however, fires back and hits the destroyer for one damage point.

Huge battle between Soviet sub and US surface fleet near Somali coast.

A nearby US submarine is sent into the same hex as the Soviet sub to hunt it down.  It manages a hit on the Soviet sub but gets taken for 2 hits in return.  This is a brutal start for the Americans!

The tide begins to turn near the end of the first action stage when a P-3 Orion is sent out from Diego Garcia and lands 3 hits on the Soviet sub, sinking it.

P-3 Orion finally sinks Soviet submarine in hex F-18.

The US carrier launches a strike package against the enemy ground forces in D-17, failing to score any hits.

Hoping to keep the Soviets from using Socotra as a base for replenishment or repair, the Americans decide to bomb it from the air.  The B-52s are dispatched to take care of it and score 2 hits.

The Soviets respond by moving their carrier and destroyer out from Straits of Hormuz towards the Horn of Africa.  Two Tu-26 squadrons are sent on an air ferry mission to rebase from Afghanistan to Yemen in base 904.

The Americans end off the turn by launching another air attack on the Soviet ground forces in hex D-17 but find no joy in their efforts.

The turn ends with the Soviet-backed Ethiopians scoring a hit each against their target hexes in Somalia.

Positions at end of turn 1

Turn 2

The American fiasco continues here as 3 F-15s enter by C-5.  I set up the US airbase in D-18, within arm’s reach of the enemy ground forces approaching Somalia.  I put them up here to give the US carrier some much needed air cover.  I also pop the reinforcement AWACS over the base to boost detection capabilities against enemy aircraft.

US airbase reinforcements enter map.  F-15s station in Somalia hex D-18.

The USS Kittyhawk pulls up tight to the Somali coastline and a strike package is sent out to hit the Soviet airbase in D-16.  The drama begins when the Soviet Tu-126 detects the incoming F-14s, A-6 Intruders and the EA-6 Prowlers.  Three MiG-23 squadrons scramble and manage to score 2 hits on the incoming American aircraft.  The Tomcat fires back and scores 2 hits.  The American player assigns the hits to the Intruders and Prowlers, which aborts the strike mission.

The Soviets respond by moving their aircraft carrier and destroyer into the Indian Ocean.

Soviet DDG and carrier in K-15.

In the following action stage, the second strike package is sent out to hit the Soviet airbase.  A MiG trades hits with the Tomcat and the rest of the strike package gets through.  Unfortunately, the American planes fail to score a hit on the Soviet airbase.  On the bright side, the MiG-23s have now maxed out their interceptions and the base is wide open to attack.  The B-52s mercilessly pound the Soviet airbase, destroying it completely with 3 hits.

Although this is a considerable victory for the Americans, the Soviet-backed Ethiopians score a second hit against both the D-18 and C-15 hexes.

End of turn 2.

Turn 3

The Americans get some heavy hitters coming in this turn with the USS Enterprise (CVN-65) entering the theater.  The Soviets put a CG on the east side of the map.

With only 2 Naval Movement Points each, this turn will be heavy on the air and light on the sea.

The US finally gets its act together, hitting D-17 for 3 points of damage with a carrier strike package.  The B-52s smash C-16 for 3 points.  The Soviets start to get their air game happening by launching strikes and sinking the American destroyer near the Kittyhawk.

I probably could and should have done more with each side this turn but I think I got pretty tired at this point and lost focus on which units had already done what.  Looking at my notes, it seems much more should have happened in this turn but just didn’t for some reason.

Turn 4

I corrected an earlier mistake I made with the naval reinforcements from last turn and had to move them back a bit.  It didn’t make any difference in play, luckily.

The US gets 0 naval movement points for the first action stage while the Soviets get 5.  I somehow forgot that NMPs are determined for each action stage and not just the turn.  This probably explains why not much seems to be happening for US naval movement this turn.

The air war continues over the Horn of Africa and a carrier-launched strike mission of A-6 Intruders and EA-6 Prowlers against hex D-17 ends in disaster.  The Prowlers take a hit and are eliminated by enemy air defense.  The A-6 Intruders fail to score any hits whatsoever.  The B-52s are called in to do the job instead and manage to inflict 3 hits.

The Soviets go hog wild and start moving their naval units closer in towards the US carrier force parked off the coast of Somalia.  The Americans respond by sending out P-3 Orions to detect the Soviet subs but they fail to find them.

Lots of Soviet naval forces on board at this point.

Hex C-15 takes 1 hit and it looks like the US player is in real trouble now.

Turn 5

I got pretty aggressive as the Soviets this turn.  Lots happened here.

First off, the US gets 0 naval movement points again in the first action stage while the USSR gets 3.  The B-52s and A-6 Intruders both try to hit C-16 but fail to inflict only 2 points of damage.

I had shifted the F-15s in the Somali base to offensive mode and one of them hits C-16 for the much needed extra hit.

In the Reaction Phase, the Soviet DDG and carrier move west to G-19 near the USS Kittyhawk.  They are easily detected by the carrier’s E-2 Sentry and the carrier launches F-14s on CAP to intercept the Russians.  As they speed towards the enemy carrier, the Soviet CVH launches its own CAP to intercept the US airplanes (I think I did this right – it seems to make sense).

Carrier air war!  The Kiev and the Kittyhawk go toe to toe.

Each side scores 2 hits on the other one and the air battle is a draw as both sides abort.  The Soviet DDG launches anti-ship missiles against the Kittyhawk and the roll is a “1” for the attack with the carrier’s ECM roll failing completely.  The Kittyhawk takes 3 hits, which is more than enough to sink it.

During the Second Action Stage, the P-3 Orion from Diego Garcia manages a hit against a detected Soviet SSGN.

Turn 5 ends with a Soviet hit on ground hex D-18.

Turn 6

The US stops fooling around here and gets the B-52s on a bombing run immediately.  They score 3 hits on hex C-15.  An American SSN gets near the Soviet carrier but fails completely to damage it with anti-ship missiles.  A second ASM attack from another US sub hits the mark nicely and sinks the Soviet’s CVH.

F-15s from the Somali base hit hex D-17 for 3 hits.

Before the American player can celebrate the string of recent victories, it seems that the US airbase in Africa has been left with only a single squadron of F-15s on interception while the other 2 are on offensive missions. Three Tu-26 bombers from Yemen attack the American airbase and two of them manage to get through with one of them scoring two hits.  In the third action stage, the Soviet player follows this up with another attack by the bombers.  Only one gets through the F-15’s defenses this time but it scores a hit and destroys the US airbase completely.

Tu-26 bombers eliminate US airbase in D-18.

Turn 6 ends and things look really bad for the US player…yet again.

Turn 7

Final turn here.  The USS Enterprise takes up the Kittyhawk’s former place near the Somali coastline and launches airstrikes but fails to score the much needed 3 hits against D-17.  The Soviets try another air attack, this time on the US carrier – but fail to score any hits against it.  The Americans launch a fruitless P-3 anti-sub mission against a Soviet submarine.

The whole scenario just sort of ends at this point.  Neither side can really get what they want at this point despite the massive number of planes and ships in the area.  The Soviets have managed to score a marginal victory by capturing hex D-18.

Parting Thoughts

Well, I really played this one poorly by both sides, I think.  The Soviets did very little with their navy until very late in the game and the air force barely showed up until turn 5.  On the other hand, the Americans made big mistakes by pulling their CV out of air cover of Diego Garcia very early in the game.  It may have made more sense to keep it back for a turn or two while launching air missions to detect Soviet submarines.  I’m not sure placing the US reinforcements in turn 2 where I did was a good idea.  The US airbase was just too vulnerable to Soviet air – and for no discernible reason.

I don’t think using the carrier to launch air strikes against ground targets was a good idea either.  Carriers seem much better suited towards anti-ship and anti-submarine duty while the B-52s should be used to alternate between hitting the two enemy ground force hexes and the Soviet airbases in the region.  I’m going to set up this scenario again and try to see if I can do better!

I have a feeling that Mark over on The Boardgaming Life has the correct approach down.  I’m going to try to follow some of the applicable advice in his article and see how it goes.

I made quite a few mistakes in my play here.  I missed a few rules and forgot that I could move certain units in other stages.  However, this is about the closest I have come to getting it right.  I find that if rule questions or concerns come up, you can usually resolve them with common sense and you’ll probably be right when you check the rulebook later and finally dig up that rule that you missed.  Having said that, I’m pretty sure I started and restarted this scenario about 6 times to get it this close to a play that resembled what was going on in the rulebook.

I’m going to stick with Gulf Strike for a bit now and see if I can get together some kind of coherent strategy that results in better play for both sides.  I’ll post another article about it here when that happens.


  1. You bet, Mark! The more I play Gulf Strike, the more I love it. Thanks for the comments! I hope to do more with Gulf Strike soon. I'm going to try and use your strategy from your article and see how things turn out.

  2. Thanks for bringing up so fond memories! Gulf Strike was my first wargame (really!), I dived into it with all youthful enthusiasm and curiosity for the era. This Scenario 5 was a deep exercise in solo mutual-thinking about what's possible, effective, deterred and punished.

    Some par-strategy improvement points I did find out (from some repeated solos, then an epic pair of PBEM's with Manuel Perez Ron from Spain):
    1) There isn't enough time x bombardment power for Soviet ships to destroy Diego Garcia within this scenario, so that can be safely ignored.
    2) The expeditionary wing of 3xF-15 can also arrive in Kenya (B-20) where they are immune from MiG's (but not from Tu-26). The airport being close enough to the coast, they can be guarded faster by the AA rating of a carrier on the way north, or even a destroyer detached.
    3) Similarly, THE position to deploy forward the Tu-26's is in a coastal hex like D-13, with the CVH offshore (AA rating of 9, representing a mighty Slava cruiser. One needs to play some Harpoon to get a feel where the unit ratings in Gulf Strike come from! ;-)). 2 airbase units with 6 squadrons can use the same airfield. The air defense value of Mig-23's also helps; the embarked Yak's are insignificant, so better have onboard 2x Ka-25 anti-submarine helos.
    4) So with the heavy AA of the CVH, practically deterring B-52's and carrier air strikes – there needs another tin-can-opener that can avoid that. It's the mighty Los Angeless class sub (SSN) with very high ECM rating (stealth). With all the ASW against it, it still has a good chance to survive and strike.
    5) So: Soviets need a way to neutralize that sub. More searches with the Tu-20 may help, even before open hostilities. I did have a funny cover story in that PBEM game: "Peaceful scientific cooperation invited to search for the Queen of Saba's lost treasure" 😉
    [And of course the surprise missile salvo of the trailing Mod-Kashin DDG was not the very first Soviet action, but giving Tu-26's time to rebase]
    6) As US, I had no problem letting the Somalis to the brink of defeat (3 hits on each objective) without any effort to help them, to concentrate airpower first against the Mig's and the Yemeni base (this, after the sub weakened the CVH AA).
    7) Strikes against the MiG base in middle Ethiopia were a mighty cat-and-mouse game of uncertainty between air and ground armed F-15 (in PBEM we sent encrypted plan, with password told after decision to intercept or not). There could be the usual light escort of 1xF-15 or none or a pure fighter sweep of 3xF-15 that crushed Soviet air for a good time.
    7) I hope I played right the Soviet AA's guarding the battle areas. Even if they are on the Strategic map, Soviet AA has a range of 1 _operational hex_ out. This means 2 fires before, 1 after if bandits detected, or 2 after if undetected. A substantial risk that yes, justifies using the largest strikes (taking same losses, but more survivors and more effect on ground) and high ECM (intrinsic in B-52; moderately high in F-15 and F-14; I used the EA-6 only if it was the odd unit left on the carrier, else a F-14 suffices).
    8) In the end, destroying all required bases was very easy with 2 carrier groups unopposed…

  3. I'm glad you liked it. Please do not consider my opinions as strategy for GS in general, but as reasoning example for this scenario. And please CHECK again the rules understanding and application, and CHECK strategic reasoning, don't just take my word 😉
    Also: did you ever see or play something in VG's Nth Fleet series ? how does that compare to GS/AegeanS ?
    I did observe once a massive multiplayer 6th Fleet large scenario. it was very interesting but as I didn't have the game, didn't understand much on the finer points of game mechanics.
    Other games in this domain ? paper Harpoon ? Cold War Naval Battles (card game, old version is free) ?

  4. Hi Mircea! Sorry it took so long to reply. My wife and I have a newborn baby and he is a lot of work!

    Regarding your strategy and tips, I will check around and try a playthrough to see how it goes. I did indeed play several of VG's Fleet games (I have 6th, 7th, and 2nd Fleet). I think they are terrific. However, they don't really have the same fluid "action/reaction" pattern of GS, which I think is a bit of a weakness. For example, a detected US carrier can move right on top of a Soviet submarine and the Russkies can't do a thing to intercept it. They need to wait until it's their turn to actually try and move to attack it. On the other hand, I thought aircraft were handled well and things like strategic missions and CAP/interceptions made sense. Overall, I would say the Fleet series is very good and much simpler and faster to play than Gulf Strike but the Fleet games seem a bit unrealistic at times.

    I've always been curious about Harpoon and I'd like to try it. Cold War Naval Battles looks good but I'm mostly a solitaire player so card games are usually out for me. Thanks again for your excellent comments.

  5. There are 2 games I search for playthroughs and discussions the one is Rise and Decline of the third Reich the other is this game Gulf Strike. This blod is a treat. Thank you for your playthroughs and thoughts. I found it very valuable and equally entertaining moving through with your tactical thoughts. Great job and Thank you for sharing!

  6. Hi Kevin, Thanks very much! I'm glad you enjoy the Gulf Strike blog posts. I always intend to get GS to the table more often and write about it. It is pretty much always in the back of my mind because it is so well-designed and interesting to play. It is one of those games that – if I had to lose every game in my collection except one – I would keep Gulf Strike. Thanks for your encouragement! That certainly motivates me to get it out on the table soon and play it.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

Back to Top