Like I said, I’m going to play some of these scenarios while reading the appropriate sections from the book The Arab-Israeli Wars: War and Peace in the Middle East, by Chaim Herzog. I’ve just finished the section on the Sinai Campaign and am wrapping up a pair of operational scenarios dealing with that same front. One is in The Operational Art of War (TOAW) and one in Modern Campaigns – Mideast ’67 (ME67) .
The TOAW scenario Sinai 1967 focuses on creating a single-player experience for an Israeli player who must reproduce the lightning campaign through the Sinai desert from the Six Day War. It’s a scenario that’s interesting because of its limitations. The ME67 scenario, Gaza and Beyond, is even more limited but it far more traditional in its design. First to TOAW .
Sinai 1967 has a nicely developed designer-notes package with historical background, instructions, and design philosophy. I’ll try not to simply repeat that information here. Essentially, the idea is to ask the player to repeat Sinai campaign, conquering the entire peninsula in a mere six days. The war opens with a theater-wide airstrike that hands Israel nearly complete domination of the air and, with that executed, the scenario opens. In addition to air superiority, Israel has an opening shock bonus to simulate the surprise of their attack and the confusion of the Egyptian forces.
The scenario is built around the key locations seized by Israel and the resultant shock and confusion this caused in the Egyptian command. If the player takes the historic junctions by the morning of the second day, Egyptian field marshal Mohamed Abdel Hakim Amer will panic and attempt to withdraw the Egyptian forces from the Sinai. If not, the player must fight an alt-history battle where the Egyptian forces contest the Sinai and recover from their initial panic.
Looking at the above screenshot, taken in the morning on June 6th, I am a bit behind schedule. Historically, the Israeli’s had taken Rafah on the 5th and by the morning of the 6th were ready to launch into Al Arish. My forces were still undertaking mop-up operations at dawn in the Rafah vicinity, meaning I had no hope of capturing Al Arish on the historic time table. However, take a look at these dispositions, because I think they will look familiar later on.
This is what creates the depth for this scenario. There are essentially two sets of deadlines. The first is to capture enough in the first day of the war to achieve the requisite “shock and awe.” Depending on whether you have, you then have one of two end games. In one, you pursue a fleeing Egyptian Army towards the Suez Canal, attempting to reproduce the second half of the Israeli campaign. In the second, Egypt has decided to stand and fight, and you see how effective you are against that tactic.
As I write this, I am attempting to get a win under that second set of conditions. What I’m finding is Israel is heavily weighted towards the north. While I am pressing forward there, I am taking a pounding in the south, where Egypt is refusing to turn tail and run. I’m also running against that perennial opponent in TOAW, the supply system. Supply is a critical component of the TOAW modeling and, by the end of the second day, my supplies very much depleted in my combat forces. Resupply is done through the system and is controllable only indirectly, through maintaining ownership of hexes between units and their supply sources. To make a long story short, I’m not sure that I can get my units resupplied in time to be effective in a six day war. Nor am I sure whether my resupply problems accurately reflect the constraints on the Israeli command. Nonetheless, this is a recreation of this campaign that illuminates the historical factors.
ME67 is, at the same time, both a more interesting and a less interesting take on this battle. We see a scale that is still at that operational level, although a slightly finer grain than TOAW. You may recall a discussion on scope and scale when we fought over this very same ground back in 1956. I had been pleased with the explicit treatment of day/night cycles before. While it remains a clear discriminator, I wasn’t as excited about it this time. Is it too much detail to have me engage in a night turn without asking me to explicitly manage how I disengage and then reengage the at dawn? This case makes me wonder if it isn’t better abstracted away?
Another obvious difference is in the graphical interface and the feedback it provides. ME67 abstracts each unit as a primary weapon. See for example the above screenshot (clicking should display full scale), where the 82nd Tank Battalion is represented as 52 Centurion tanks. Compare and contrast that with TOAW. In Sinai 1967, the 82nd is represented as two different counters and details not only the tanks, but the halftracks, armored cars, infantry, and mortars allocated to the formation. The key advantage for ME67 is that the “tank” representation is very visual. As I watch my vehicles fall by the wayside, I’m getting some immediate feedback on the health of my force. TOAW‘s accounting is more detailed (see, particularly, the Loss Report screenshot further up), but it is considerably less visceral. Whether one is a more accurate simulation than the other depends on your thoughts about the relative merits of Tiller’s algorithms versus Kroger’s.
My play was inhibited by a lack of familiarity with the Tiller UI system. It always takes me a few scenarios to remember how the little icons interact with the UI. Worse are the functions that aren’t tied to the little icons. For example, it was Turn 5 before I remembered how to turn on the map labels (and experience I found illuminating enough to include as its own screenshot, left). I continue to have trouble with “on foot” versus “travel mode.” Are they meant to be used separately? I decided to focus entirely on “travel” mode (an icon that looks to me like some sort of Wiccan pentagram), but even then I have considerable trouble remembering to bring units in and out of the mode as I would consider appropriate.
For all of my little blunders, I managed to bring my forces near the last two objectives (just outside of el Arish) on the final turn, having captured the major objectives further to the East. This is very, very similar to the third screenshot from TOAW, above, but (once I get over the non-American date style) exactly one full day behind schedule. Even still, this earned me a major victory.
That brings me to my biggest complaint here. For all that the game/scenario is getting right, in the end it leaves the impression of simply an implementation of one particular battle in the Tiller engine. Whereas TOAW sets the play some specific goals – meeting the historical timetables to gain historical advantages, ME67 lacks that unique feeling. It’s not that its bad. It has the right units, the right map, and a pretty effective scope/scale. But the gameplay style involving the surround of the enemy hex followed by multi-turn attrition of the defending unit – this seems more than a bit out of place in the lightning war that was that of the Six Days.