Gulf Strike: How do you solve a problem like Saudi Arabia?

In this article, I’m referring to Scenario 1 of Gulf Strike where the Iranians are thundering down through the Saudi Peninsula with the help of their Soviet buddies, trying to close off American access to the Persian Gulf before the US can rush in carrier groups and Marines and air and endless amounts of supplies for their beleaguered buddies of the Gulf Council States.

So you’re playing Iran and turn one has gone fairly smoothly. You’ve had Kuwait all to yourself to beat the hell out of and now it’s conquered and turn two starts. The Gulf Council States immediately declare war on you. With budding optimism, you push your first armored unit south from Kuwait City on its long march towards Riyadh.

If this next step of the takeover plan of the Middle East is not thought through carefully enough, you’ll be thinking to yourself by turn 3 or 4: “Wow, this is going to be tougher than I thought!”

By turn 6 or 7, that will change to: “You stupid stupid idiot. Why did you decide to invade Saudi Arabia? This is not at all worth it.”

And you’d be right. Because Saudi Arabia is mostly just desert and there is nothing – absolutely nothing to conquer for the first zillion miles south of Kuwait. That means that you’ll have to rely on long supply lines to feed and gas up your army. Not only will you have to worry about where to place the supply depots, you’ll have to worry about protecting them.

It’s a long way to Riyadh! It’s a long way to go! – Basra to Riyadh with very little in between

It only takes a vintage enemy fighter bomber with a Bombardment value of “1” to run an interdiction mission on your supply lines, thereby either knocking your units out of supply or delaying your ground forces’ arrival until you plug the gaps in air defenses to deal with those pesky incoming planes.

A smart ally player will know how to frustrate your drive south again and again with this. If he’s really lucky, he’ll be able to throw a unit in behind your front lines to really tear things up.

After only a single play of this scenario, you’ll understand why Saddam stopped at Kuwait in 1990. A drive down the peninsula probably sounded cool but the logistics would have been a huge challenge for a modern army.

So the first thing you need to heed here is the air war. You need to knock the hell out of the enemy’s air capabilities from the start. Your ground forces can handle themselves without the need for close air support. Let your AH-1 Cobra helicopters handle that job. From the very start of the game, you need to aggressively obtain control the skies. Every F-4 and F-5 has to be committed to this single task because even one plane can ruin your plans for a swift victory in Saudi Arabia.

The Saudi AWACS should be the first thing to take down. It’s the most potent unit in the game for the US player’s side this early on. Airbases in Kuwait can be used to strike at Riyadh while Khark Island and Bushehr hit at the airbases on the east coast and in Qatar. and Bahrain. F-5 air escorts with F-4 bombing missions would probably work best here in the early stages. Once the interceptors are either shot down or have run out of sorties, send whatever you can in to hit those airbases.

The second thing is that you have to be really comfortable with the supply rules. In case it’s been a while since you played this beast, supply depots work as relay stations between supply sources (cities in the case of Iran) and units. To be considered in supply, a unit must be within a certain distance of it (for the sake of supply determination, this means the unit is treated as a hypothetical armor unit in Movement to Contact formation with an MPA of 20).

Across clear terrain, which dominates most of northern Saudi Arabia, that’s 3 MP per hex so that’s a measly 6 hexes you can advance. If you’re lucky enough to have a road to travel on, it’s only 2 MP per hex, giving you a marginally better 10 hex supply radius. Oh boy. Riyadh is 22 hexes away from Kuwait City.

If you have managed to plunk down a supply depot in Kuwait City after taking over its airbase and placing an interceptor in there to protect your supply depot, your armor unit can only get a bit down the road into SA before it runs out of supply. As you can see, our example tank unit runs out of supply before it reaches anywhere near any airbases.

The Saudis can – and should, if they are capable – put up a measly Lightning aircraft with a “1” bombardment rating, hit the hex to the north of the armor division and boom – we are now 22 MPs from our supply source and out of supply.

The effects of this out of supply state for the unit are as follows:

1. combat strength halved
2. cannot declare combat
3. cannot be repaired
4. it suffers a hit during the End Stage

Not good!

So even if you decide to just plunk down three quick supply depots and try to push on anyways, you’ll face a problem. Those rough hexes near Riyadh are prime defensive real estate and it won’t be easy to push those Saudi defenders back without hitting their flank!

With three supply depots stretched to the limit of their 20 MP allowance, you could manage a single front against Riyadh but it will probably cost you time – something the Iranian player doesn’t have in this scenario.

Do you attack Riyadh from two prongs –  the north and the east? Well, guess what? You’re going to need more supply depots to do that. That means more planning and more precise coordination of truck movement. You’ll need to get your transport aircraft in on the act too. But then with more supply depots comes the need to further spread your defenses around to protect them.

To make matters even worse, you’ll have the US Special Forces conducting raids on your supply depots by turn seven. I typically use my SF guys exclusively for supply depot raids and destroying valuable truck units. With only three anti-air units, the Iranians can’t protect everywhere at once from paradrops. I think this is the time limit for Iran at this point. If Riyadh is still in the Allied possession at this time, it’s basically game over for the Iranians.

The only solution I’ve been able to come up with is basically a.) ruthlessly committing my air force to achieving air supremacy early on in the first turns of the game and b.) setting up redundant supply depots in the chain so that if one depot is destroyed or interdicted, another can take care of it. Four supply depots are probably the minimum. Six are likely the ideal – but it takes a lot of planning to shuttle your trucks back and forth to the right places. C-130 transport aircraft help in this matter a little too – they can land in a clear hex and unload without needing a friendly airfield.

If your air supremacy bid fails or you want to remain cautious during your drive down the peninsula, you could also set your depots 18 MP apart and keep your units tethered at 18 MP from the nearest supply depot. It’s enough to make one interdiction mission useless though it will cost about one extra turn of delay for your units.

Invading Saudi Arabia is a huge risk and requires a lot of thoughtful planning for how to deal with the small details of a task that appears deceptively simple. I find that these crucial few turns after Kuwait’s defeat is usually where this first scenario is won or lost.


  1. Thanks for the nice preview of Scenario 1. Right now I'm playing Scenario 2 in a face-to-face game. Gulf Strike is a great game! I'm playing the US-Iran coalition. Yes, interdiction is a useful tool especially if you have weak air units. I successfully put the Soviets our of supply. Sadly, I wasn't able to capitalize on the opportunity and will probably cost me the victory. We are already planning the next scenario even though we are still in turn 13 of Scenario 2. Please see my blog reports on the game

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