Table for One: Sinai (SPI) After-Action Report

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Sinai: The Arab-Israeli Wars, ’56, ’67 and ’73 (SPI, 1973)
1967 Scenario Report (Base Scenario; no optionals)

Overview

The 1967 scenario for SPI’s Sinai tasks the Israeli player with three objectives, which seem at first rather daunting:

  • Occupy/Control all Suez Canal crossing hexes (15 VP plus 5 per turn before T12)
  • Clear all Arab forces from the West Bank (10 VP plus 2 per turn before T12)
  • Clear all Arab forces from Syria (5 VP plus 1 per turn before T12)

However, given the forces at their disposal and the severe restrictions placed on the Arab nations in terms of mobility and supply, as outlined in my review of Sinai, the Israeli player will be able to accomplish all three tasks; the question is how long it all takes. The highest level of victory (Decisive) comes in at 75 points, which corresponds to completing the first objective by Turn 6 (15 + 30) and the other two by Turn 7 at the latest (10+10 and 5+5).

All this presumes that the Arab player is prevented from his/her own objectives of destroying Israeli cities and fortified settlements (10 and 2 VP, respectively), and units (1 VP per point of combat strength). Though they’re fairly well de-fanged by the rules, the Arab nations can still strike painfully if they choose their moments.

Sinai 1967 Scenario Set-Up

Sinai 1967 Scenario Set-Up (Click for full-size image.)

Should Jordan not enter the conflict, the West Bank victory condition cannot be fulfilled and the VP levels are dropped by 16 points. A late Jordanian entry is not accounted for in the victory conditions, but should they come in after Turn 1, the Israeli player will have a more difficult time reaching the Decisive level owing to fewer turns to clear the West Bank.

Initial Thoughts

On the Israeli side, efficiency is key. Not only does the possibility for a Decisive victory dwindle after Turn 6, but also automatic supply runs out. Once the automatic supply falters, any Israeli offensive will perforce be channeled along roads in the Sinai, meaning a lone Egyptian unit passed by can cause havoc if it can throw even a Zone of Control onto the supply path. Some units will have to stay back to guard against this possiblity.

The single Israeli airmobile battalion starts near the Sinai, but I think it will do much better up in Jordan, should they enter the war—Arab nations have to trace supply to the map edge, and there are only two bridges across the River Jordan and only a few paths to the fort line in Syrian. Shutting down one of those supply lines will make clearing the forces dug in much simpler. Besides, the Israeli mechanized units can move eight hexes a turn on roads—who needs air-mobility when you have treads!

For the Arab nations, it’s a matter of playing spoiler while trying to avoid encirclement (and thus elimination). A unit surviving one turn longer than it rightly should can throw off the entire Israeli timetable. There are a few fortified settlements that appear vulnerable to at-start forces, but attacking them allows Israeli units into Trans-Jordan. The VP trade-off might not be worth it if that allows for Israeli forces to sweep at the West Bank from behind.


Turn One

Israeli forces jump off and conduct a number of overruns in the Sinai, clearing the Gaza Strip and freeing armored forces to race down the Mediterranean Coast. The airmobile unit promptly uses its 15-hex movement ability to transfer to near the Syrian front, while the forces there push around the Sea of Galilee to try to flank the Syrian forts. Even though they’re occupied only by 1-1 strength Syrian Infantry units, the defensive bonuses from terrain and forts make them hard to clear. On the Jordanian border, a second unit moves to West Jerusalem to fortify the unit already there. With automatic supply, there’s no need to worry about lines of communication being cut quite yet.

Sinai 1967 Scenario Turn 1 after Israeli Combat Phase, Sinai Front

Sinai 1967 Scenario Turn 1 after Israeli Combat Phase, Sinai Front

The initial onslaught causes enough combat losses that Egyptian forces suffer the full brunt of the Arab Command Control Table—over half their units run towards the Suez Canal. Most of them would have anyway, because the column of Israeli armor pushing down the coast road can’t be intercepted. There are simply no roads from their positions to the coast road, as their mobility restrictions keep them on roads and clear terrain. For a desert, there’s not a lot of clear terrain in the Sinai.

Worse still, the two best units of the Syrian Army, a pair of mechanized brigades, fail their command roll and speed off map, not to return. They would have stiffened the fortified line as well as provided some flank protection, but for this scenario, it’s not to be.

Meanwhile, an Egyptian raiding force of two mechanized units pushes into the lightly defended Negev Desert, hoping to reach the fortified settlements there. Only a lone Israeli infantry brigade stands in their way, but it sits on the only clear/road path available and cannot be bypassed.

Jordan enters the war at the very first opportunity, a bright spot for the Arab nations.
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Table for One: Sinai (SPI) Review

Table for One: Sinai (SPI) Review
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For the inaugural post in the new Table for One project, a series of wargame reviews with an eye towards solitaire suitability, I’m going back to the first wargame I ever played: Sinai (1973), by SPI. Then, as now, I tinkered with this operational level one-mapper on the various Arab-Israeli wars without benefit of an opponent. Unlike the last time, however, I sort of know what I’m doing this time around.

Playing a wargame sans opponent requires an understanding of how wargames work, and some thirty-odd years ago, first confronting this mass of paper and cardboard and rules, I had no idea at all how to proceed. But I was hooked nonetheless, captivated by the possibility of moving these variously colored forces across the stark buff-and-blue map.

Even then, as certainly now, I loved the idea of chrome, and the promise of a US expeditionary Marine force or a Moroccan mechanized battalion entering the fray made me determined to learn how to play wargames. I didn’t really succeed then, but mostly because I didn’t know how to play both sides at the same time.

It’s an acquired skill, this simultaneous solitaire, requiring both an uncanny impartiality and a willful ignorance of what the “other half” of your brain is planning. With years of playing face-to-face against an opponent under my belt, it’s actually rather easy to drop into this dual-mindedness. Sometimes your opponent knows what you’re going to do and will try to oppose it directly; sometimes, he or she doesn’t see it. You can tie yourself into knots trying to guess if your opponent knows what you know—that way leads analysis paralysis, a dreaded gaming disorder. You just have to take your chances to the best of your ability. Wargames are sufficiently complex creatures that you’ll often overlook a good move or clever feint until you switch sides and see clearly what you should have done. That little bit of uncertainty makes solo wargame play possible.

Still, some games provide a better solitaire experience than others, and in Table for One, I hope to look at games from a solo perspective and highlight what aspects of them make for good, or poor, single-player experiences.

Overview

Sinai: The Arab-Israeli Wars, ’56, ’67 and ’73
Simulations Publications Inc. (SPI), 1973
Designed by James F. Dunnigan

Sinai (SPI) Flat Pack Cover Sheet

Sinai was released in two versions, as a boxed designer’s edition and in the infamous SPI flat pack with integral counter tray. My copy is the latter, complete with folded rules folio. Everything about the SPI flat pack, down to the cheap, poorly-molded d6, screams cost-savings, and the ability to simply drop in a new cover sheet under the flimsy plastic cover allowed SPI to push an enormous number of games out the door. SPI was nothing if not prolific; the contemporary management notion of “fail fast” seems tailor made for their way of business, leading to some remarkable successes at the price of a few less-than-brilliant games, all sent into the world at a breakneck pace—breakneck, at least, in comparison to today’s wargame publishing market, where most games are subjected to lengthy waits on pre-order lists prior to release.

Sinai (SPI) Flat Pack Counter Tray

Sinai comes in as neither an overwhelming success nor a resounding failure. It’s a fairly bog-standard ’70s wargame, with locking zones of control and an utterly bloodless Combat Results Table. The single standard-sized map is awash in blue and tan, with a slightly confusing road network and terrain roster that variously exists depending on which scenario is being played. The 255 half-inch counters are front-printed only on decently thick cardboard, with crisp printing in a few colors that nevertheless allow for good differentiation between the multiple factions in play. One either deeply appreciates Redmond Simonsen’s Letraset skills or finds them bland; I fall firmly in the former camp. Indeed, the clean lines and contrasting colors of this game’s components, far more than the gameplay itself, helped draw me into this hobby all those years ago.

The counters in my copy suffered just the slightest bit of off-registration printing, leading to some counters with an off-color band on the bottom or side. The die cuts were good and well-centered, however, and the counters look quite tidy after a visit from a 2mm Oregon Laminations Counter Corner Rounder.

Order of battle research seems thin on the Arab side, with only a few units given specific designations; by contrast, the vast majority of pre-1973 Israeli units are delineated and set up in their historical starting locations.
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