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Subject: Persian Incursion review rss

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Sweet William None
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INTRODUCTION:

Persian Incursion (can't say I like the name) is a simulation of political and air warfare between Israel and Iran in the present. The game is based on the Harpoon system (which as probably everyone knows is primarily a naval minatures game) but no ships are featured here; instead, Israeli F-15's and 16's (along with some 707 air tankers) face off against a grab-bag Iranian fleet of F-14's, F- 4's, F-5's, Mig-29's, Mig-31’s etc. etc. and whatever surface-to-air (SAM) systems the Iranians may have. Additionally, there is a political game played primarily via cards but also through ballistic missiles, terrorist attacks etc..

GENERAL OVERVIEW:

There are three ways to win the game for Israel, but only one way for Iran to win:

(1) Either Israel or Iran influences public opinion in their opponent’s country to such an extent that political support for their opponent collapses.

(2) by Israeli air strikes against Iranian oil refining capacity culminating in a sufficient amount of consequential economic damage to Iran such that the Iranian government is toppled;

(3) by Israeli air strikes against the various nuclear components of the Iranian nuclear program that are successful enough that the Iranian government is convinced it cannot maintain a nuclear program.

PHYSICAL COMPONENTS:

The game board: In accordance with the nitty-gritty realism of the Harpoon system, the game board is in fact a portion of a real air chart (a General Navigation Chart) of Iranian air space. There is no “hex grid” overlay and it is not meant that the map be used in the sense of a traditional wargame. The only real use of the map, I have found, is to place counters for mobile SAMS at various target locations as well as track the general status of each sides aircraft squadrons. However, the cover of one of the game booklets shows actual aircraft counters upon the map as well during an apparent airstrike, but in game play the placement of such counters is unnecessary (and something I never bothered to do).

The real “game board” might be considered whatever blank paper or Excel computer worksheets you use to track the aircraft, their targets and orders for future military actions!

****

The rule book (and other books): There are a total of three booklets: a rules book, a targets folder and a briefing folder. The targets folder has a very professional feel to it because each nuclear target (and some generic oil and SAM targets) include a labeled photograph of the target itself. 20 years ago, I was an Air Force intelligence officer and the look of those photographs really brought back the memories. Quite frankly, the declassification of satellite imagery is quite amazing; in my day the photographs in the target booklet here would have been classified “secret.” Finally there is the briefing folder, which is an excellent summary of all the various political, strategic and military considerations.

****

The counters: The counters are full color.. The vast majority are of individual aircraft (though I am finding little use for them in game play) but there are also squadron status counters (which are of use) and a “bank “ of counters to be used to keep track of your intelligence/military/political “points.”

THE AIR GAME:

Assuming you are Israel and seek to win over Iran by attacking their nuclear or oil infrastructure, you assign your participating aircraft into one of three roles: fighter suppression, suppression of enemy air defenses (SEAD) or strike. The fighter suppression mission influences the number of Iranian aircraft that can intercept the Israeli strike package. The SEAD mission allows the Israeli player to suppress surface-to-air missile (SAM) sites based on the number of SEAD aircraft assigned to each SAM site. The strike mission is assigned to those planes whose weaponry will actually hit the target. After any squadron (Iranian or Israeli) has been doing anything but “standing down”, and even if it did not actually participate in any combat, the player rolls to see what planes are down for maintenance. Subsequently, there is a plane-by-plane roll (!) to see which are repaired. I put the exclamation point because it can end up to be quite a bit of book keeping and dice rolling.

Except for targeting, the air game is very abstracted. “Dogfights” and SAM attacks are determined by a single dice roll. For instance, aircraft will attack each other by cross-indexing the missile they are firing with the enemy aircraft that is the target, to result in a percentile dice roll. The same procedure is used for SAMs. There is no tactical maneuvering on a hexagonal display map. Attacks on ground targets usually involve quite a few dice rolls because you roll for each attacking air-to-ground missile against each component of a target it is attacking (for instance, an oil refinery has four primary components and four secondary components).

Overall, I found the air game to be lacking in much excitement because both the planning and the execution are so slow and it really ends up just rolling dice and cross-checking numbers on a chart in a very dry and clinical way. For example if an Iranian F-5 engages an Israeli F-16, all that is done is simply choosing an air-to-air missle and then rolling on a chart. Similarily, targeting a specific weapon on each aircraft for each target component is an exercise in a lot of paperwork. And there is much secondary note taking as well - I find myself scribbling notes as to what SAM sites have been suppressed or what components in a target weren’t destroyed.

I also find myself wanting to develop Excel spreadsheets to track aircraft status and mission planning and the status of attacked targets. Frankly, this game could have come with a CD-ROM (or even a download) for computer assisted sheets to do the paperwork. The squadron status boxes on the map helps a little, but I sometimes feel that the map exists merely to center the player’s attention a little bit.

I found the rules regarding success in destroying a target (which consists of several primary and secondary components that must be targeted) a little bit unrealistic . If you destroy (not damage) all the primary components of a target, it is a “tactical victory”; and if you destroy all primary and secondary components it is a “decisive victory.” If one secondary component is only damaged even though every other component of a target is destroyed, you get only a tactical victory, which seems pretty ridiculous. Given Persian Incursion's love of percentages, it seems it would be better to say 75% of the "hit points" of a target represents a tactical victory (as to that target) and 95% represents a decisive victory.


THE CARD GAME

The card game appears to represent the only way the Iranian player can win (though the Israel can win this way too). Essentially, each side gets political points, intelligence points, and military points (PIM) that they can spend to play various cards. When a card is played, the usual result is that the player is allowed to roll dice to move the political opinion of a country in a favorable direction (domestic opinions range from +10 (pro-Israeli) to – 10 (pro-Iran). The stronger another country’s support for you and the more popular you are at home, the more PIM points you get. PIM points can also be used to pay for airstrikes (by the Israelis), terrorist attacks, ballistic missile attacks and “closing the straits of Hormuez.” If, through the use of these measures you manage to move your opponent’s domestic opinion track to a certain point that indicates that your opponent’s government is essentially ousted, you win.

For the Harpoon system, the card game is a strange add-on. It involves very little of the underlying Harpoon system and while there are a few points where the air game and the card game intersect, it essentially feels like two different games (which I suppose it is). And frankly, I am not sure if either side can win through the card game. For as seemingly as much as you might move your opponent’s domestic opinion track, you can play cards to move it back again. I have ended up feeling like I am playing the equivalent of WWI in the card game; i.e. the lines move very very slowly.

I also have to confess I am confused as to a very fundamental principle in the game… moving Iran or Iraq’s domestic opinion tracks. While “third party” country’s opinion tracks are well explained as to how they are moved (specifically a third country is ranked as an ally, supporter, cordial or neutral towards your country and the die roll needed to move that country’s domestic opinion track is explained in terms of those labels), those labels cannot apply to Israel or Iraq! I have spent hours with the rules and if it is not obvious to me now, it is not my fault (to be momentarily defensive here). I suppose you can superimpose the “third party” domestic opinion table onto the Israel and Iran opinion tracks, but I feel that raises as many questions as it answers. For instance, if Israel is about to topple (say a -8 on its domestic opinion does the Iran player need to roll a “6” (neutral) or a “9” (ally)??? Beats me. As simplistic as it should be, I would have liked to have seen an example in the rules where the Israel or Iranian domestic opinion tracks themselves are being used.

CONCLUSION

In terms of gameplay time, the air war by far dominates the game. Essentially, I believe the Israelis will simply wear Iran down through air power, but there is a whole lot of paperwork to get through before that happens. I do not find the airwar mechanics very engaging to participate in and I found the political game to be a little frustrating in that there is a lot of tit-for-tat that results in a static enviroment.

Where this game gets outstanding marks is the research and presentation as to the factual background. I feel like I have read an excellent book on a potential Israeli-Iranian conflict and I feel I would be more knowledgeable than probably 99% of the talking heads on television if a conflict ever occurred, but as game it left me cold which I am really sorry to say.

If you want to learn about Israel vs. Iraq - thumbs way up.
If you want a game about Israel vs. Iraq - thumbs moderately down.
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David DeThorne
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Great review- it answers a lot of the questions I had about the game.

It sounds like the type of aircraft doesn't matter at all; any Sidewinder will be treated the same regardless of firing platform. Is that correct?
 
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Seth Owen
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There are cars for each plane included in the game that show its air-to-air weapons available and the hit chance for each possible target, although often there's not a lot of variability, especially for the Iraqis.
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Sweet William None
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DDeT wrote:
Great review- it answers a lot of the questions I had about the game.

It sounds like the type of aircraft doesn't matter at all; any Sidewinder will be treated the same regardless of firing platform. Is that correct?


Most of the planes are pretty close in percentages for the missile they fire. For instance the Israeli F-15 and F-16 have the identical percentages to shoot down various Iranian aircraft types when they use the same type of missile. Though there can be some slight variations, For instance the Iranian F4D, using a PL-5E infra-red missile is 5% more likely to shoot down an F-18 than an Iranian F5E using the same missile.

Just FYI, the way air combat works is this... the Iranian player rolls dice to see how many interceptors he gets (if any). If he gets interceptors and chooses to intercept, he then rolls to see how close his planes start to the Israeli strike package (his planes are placed in one of six randomly determined zones). There is a low chance the interceptors will start in dogfighting range (the "dogfight" zone) and a high chance they will start far away (Zone 5 is the farthest away).

Because the Israeli aircraft have longer range missiles, the chances are the Israelis will shoot (and down) Iranian interceptors before the Iranians have a chance to shoot because there is a 60% chance for the interceptors to be placed in the most distant zones (zones 4 and 5) and only a 4% chance they will be placed in the dogfight zone . But if the Israelis don't shoot down all the Iranians, the remaining Iranians then move one zone closer. Then the Iranians may, or may not, be in range to shoot at the Israelis. The Israelis then shoot again at the Iranians. Then any surviving Iranian aircraft agian move one step closer. Most Iranian aircraft need to be in Zone 1 or the Dogfight zone to shoot back at the Israelis.

If the Iranians do get close enough, both sides launch missiles simultaneously.but it is still a tough chance for the Iranians. . . . An Iranian Aim-9 Sidewinder only has a 5% chance of hitting an Israeli F-15, whereas the F-15 Python-5 has an 85% chance of hitting the F-4.

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Jeff Dougherty
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William,

Thanks for the review. I've created a set of charts to speed up aircraft repair rolls, linked off the PI game page. Hope it helps the next time you play!
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Charles F.
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Quote:
For the Harpoon system, the card game is a strange add-on. It involves very little of the underlying Harpoon system and while there are a few points where the air game and the card game intersect, it essentially feels like two different games (which I suppose it is).


So, I take it one wouldn't describe this game as being card-driven? Merely the political sub-game qualifies as such. Correct?
 
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Darren M
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Excellent review. I agree with the general finding... these types of games are often better educational tools than they are games.
 
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Chaim Kaufmann
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Might be useful for a class that I teach. For anyone who can answer: 1. How long does PI take? 2. Can you imagine simplifying aircraft/mission record-keeping (details being my problem) and would this greatly reduce time needed? 3. Can you imagine (again, details my problem) roles being defined for multiple players per side?
 
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Rebecca J
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Another teacher here thinking the same sorts of things. And can anyone tell me what was the game I played in high school that simulated the Korean War?
 
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Jeff Dougherty
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Chaim,

Hope you see this, and I'm sorry for the late reply. I've been away from BGG working on another project and did not see your post until now.

To answer your questions:

1) PI takes quite a long time to play. A full game would probably be 6-8 hours, at least with the rules out of box.

2) Take a look at the Clash of Arms Games website (http://www.clashofarms.com) and their Persian Incursion page. The other designers and I have come up with some quickstrike rules to simplify things and make the game run a lot faster. It basically cuts out a lot of the detail surrounding the Israeli airstrikes for people who are more interested in the political game.

3) Take a look at the "Persian Incursion at the Origins War College" thread for an example of folks doing exactly that. The Israeli side was constituted as a staff, which made things go a lot faster- while one group was executing one day's strikes, another was planning the next, while another did political strategy. The Iranians have less work to do, but I could still see having multiple people on their side.

If I had 10-12 people I'd probably set it up as follows:

Israeli side
- 2-3 person execution team, runs today's airstrikes and deals with routine stuff like maintainance rolls.
- 2-3 person planning cell, plans tomorrow's airstrikes by taking the targets selected by the overall commander and figuring out planes, routes, weapon loads, etc. Ideally there should be a backup plan as well in case a route gets shut down or planes take heavy losses.
- 1-2 people running the political game and acting in the role of overall commander. They are responsible for card play, allocating political, military, and intelligence points, and picking nuclear or oil targets for the planning people to hit.

Iranian side
- Air defense commander, works with the Israeli execution team to resolve the day's airstrikes. Note: you'll probably want to have people alternate in this role, because it can get depressing. They're going to see a lot of planes go down in flames.
- Military commander. Decides on overall alert levels and high-level strategy ("We send all the Fulcrums out tonight and try to bag us a Zionist. Put them all on Airborne."), and makes rolls for miscellaneous military actions like IRBM shots and blocking the Straits. Assists ADC as needed.
- Political/Supreme Leader. Does the same thing as his Israeli counterparts, playing cards, allocating points, and deciding overall strategic questions.
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Ron A
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Interesting reviews and comments about PI. The more I read about it the more it seems like this would be a REALLY good candidate for a computer game.
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