Across Suez is an excellent wargame of the quick and dirty genre. Playable in an hour or two, the situation is fluid, and the victory conditions give both sides a chance to win, albeit through very different tactical approaches. On a scale of 1-10, I give it an 8, as a wargame, quick to set up and fun to play with straight forward rules. As a boardgame, I give it a 6. While a stellar wargame, it pails in comparison to "German" boardgames . I would especially recommend the game as an entry into wargaming, but it's better to let the newbie play the Israeli side.
Background / Theme
In 1973, on the Jewish holiday of Yom Kippur - the day of atonement, Egyptian forces launched an assault against Israeli positions along the Suez Canal and throughout the Sinai Peninsula. Armored, air mobile, and commando forces swept through the wastes leaving a few, mostly fortified positions uncaptured in their wake.
In the coming days, the Israelis responded. Their superior armored doctrine, and bold - even reckless leadership came to the fore. Recon units, including one led by current Israeli Prime Minster Sharon found a gap between two Egyptian armies near the north end of the Great Bitter Lake on the Suez Canal.
A plan was hatched to spearhead through the gap, cross the canal into Egypt and cut off the Egyptian armies' supply. So three divisions and a convey of bridge builders began their advance towards the canal.
Only the gap wasn't empty; two Egyptian divisions, one infantry and one armor, were already there.
The ensuing battle, to punch through to the canal and bridge it, before Egyptian forces could reinforce the gap, became the basis of the game. Much of the action focused upon the Israelis attempt to bypass a Japanese research farm whose position commanded the two roads leading the canal.
The battle for control of this misnamed "Chinese" farm is key to either sides success.
The Bits and Pieces
The components are classic wargame. The re-released, Decision Games version sports half inch cardboard counters and a paper map (11x17). The unit counters have silhouette style graphics and glossy finish, with setup information on their backsides.
The map is filled with helpful organizational data: a turn track with reinforcements (separate colors for the two opponents), combat results table, and movement point cost summary. Did I mention the hex map is also on the map board? Yes it's a small map.
Anyone familiar with James Dunnigan's plethora of game designs will be comfortable here. Movement costs vary with hex terrain - and play a pivotal role in the game.
The CRT is of the combat differential (attacker-defender) / column shift style and can be quite bloody. For example, the Chinese farm hex shifts the differential two columns to the left - making a +5 attack into an even strength one where the attacker and defender have a 50-50 chance of forced retreat - a big advantage given unit strengths average 3 and 4.
Zones of control (ZOC) are used, and their effect on post combat retreat can be critical. Units must stop for the remainder of the turn when they enter a ZOC, but can leave next turn if a ZOC free space is available.
There is no stacking of units.
The game is played over 7 turns, three of which are night turns with reduced movement allowances.
At the beginning of the game, the Egyptian units occupy a bulge between a group of Israeli units in the vicinity of the Matzmed fortification on the Canal, and the eastern board edge, where the bulk of Israeli units will enter the board on turns two and three.
The tableau captures both sides in disarray, with several units surrounded by enemy ZOCs. On this first turn, units can not withdraw from enemy ZOCs, and must fight in at least one combat with an adjacent unit. It's a night turn, so neither side has the benefit of its off board artillery.
The key to Israeli success is to surround and overwhelm Egyptian units as quickly as possible without getting bogged down . They have to establish a corridor between Matzmed and the road entering the eastern edge of the board. This may take some recklessness but the bridge unit must be protected at all costs as it is essential to Israeli victory and can be destroyed simply by being forced to retreat.
The Egyptian has to play a holding action (to which the Farm can prove critical), avoid being surrounded through the creative use of their own ZOCs (as they have scarce units at game's start), be opportunistic (pouncing on any Israeli mistake), and remember the victory conditions. Specifically, destruction of the bridge unit, failure to get six units across the canal, or the lack of a ZOC free path to the road on the East board edge all spell Israeli defeat.
The Egyptian has to pressure the bridge unit, and pray for their artillery's success. Each combat phase, the Egyptian may bombard two Israeli units adjacent to any Egyptian units using off board artillery. On a roll of "1" the unit in question is destroyed. A successful artillery bombardment can be pivotal.
Understanding the bridge unit is essential to both sides success. Unfortunately, in a rare lapse, the rules bury its description in the final "How the Game is Won" section. The bridge unit can only enter road or clear hexes on its way to Matzmed, if forced by combat to retreat off the road into sand its destroyed. Once in place in Matzmed it can not move, and if forced to do so by combat it is destroyed.
Six game variants add commandos, airborne units and other units should you want to effect game balance. Moves magazine #82 adds intervention by the US and Soviet Union, but Decision Games includes these counters with the game.
I appreciated this game's speed, freewheeling nature, and manageability right from the start.
But when a game is this short, balance is always an issue and a few die roles can be critical. The Egyptian artillery support die rolls come to mind, but a few die rolls, especially in the vicinity of the Farm, can tip the balance.
The first few times I played the game, I thought the Israelis couldn't be stopped. Then I began to see the Egyptian way to victory. Now I'm as likely to win with the Egyptian side as with the Israeli.
It's a good solitaire play as well.
All-in-all an affordable, approachable, and enjoyable wargame.