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Posted on Jan 16, 2004 in Armchair Reading

FREE Game: Operation Iraqi Freedom

By Mark H. Walker

This game comes in the form of a series of .jpgs and documents, and is a hex-based tabletop wargame. You will need to print the map and units (counters) before you can play the game.

To play against live opponents get the Vassal Module of this game! Click here for more information on VASSAL.

Operation Iraqi Freedom: Difficult Domination
Armchair General Exclusive Bonus Game Designer Notes
By Mark H. Walker
Artwork by Nicolas Eskubi

Download the game. Errata.
Download the VASSAL module (thanks to Bill Ask for creating this module).



The muted clank of metal tread over drive sprockets filled the cool air, lending an odd, machine-like edge to the desolate desert. The midnight-blue sky and buff sand looked as it had for months; some compared it to Nevada, others southern California, but this night was unlike the others. This night the Bradley’s, Abrams, HMMWV’s, and soldiers of the United States’ 3rd Infantry Division (Mechanized) churned the sand of Saddam Hussein’s Iraq. Part of a multi-national Coalition bent on ousting Iraq’s dictator, the 3rd ID was the tip of an arrow shot at the heart of Iraq ?the streets of Baghdad.

It was an arrow, however, long in the making. Fourteen months before the Coalition invaded, President Bush had declared Iraq part of his "Axis of Evil". In the interim, The United States and Great Britain had lobbied the United Nations to support a war to oust Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein and rid Iraq of weapons of mass destruction. Frustrated with the UN’s lack of support, President Bush, Prime Minister Blair, and their allies decided to take matters into their own hands, and that decision lead to the clanking treads on the night of March 20th, 2003.

The war actually started at 5:34 AM on March 19th when Coalition B-2 stealth bombers and Tomahawk cruise missiles struck Baghdad. The following night Coalition airplanes began the attack in earnest, hitting targets in western Iraq and softening up Hussein’s defenses in the south. Iraq retaliated in kind, launching cruise missile attacks against Coalition forces in northern Kuwait.

Yet there would be no lengthy air campaign in Operation Iraqi Freedom. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld knew an Iraqi Army weakened by both Desert Storm and 12 years of embargo would be no match for the Coalition’s Abrams and Challengers. Coalition planners also worried that a prolonged air campaign would allow Hussein to practice a "scorched earth" policy, destroying the very oil wells that the country would need to rebuild their economy after the war. Hence, the ground and air campaign started nearly simultaneously. The goal was simple: capture Baghdad; kill or capture Saddam Hussein.

The original Coalition strategy directed armored spearheads to thrust into Iraqi from Turkey and Kuwait. The Turkish parliament, however, refused to allow U.S. ground troops to stage on their soil, so the northern front would be initially handled by Kurd militia supported by Coalition Special Forces and aircraft.

The main Coalition attack sprang from Kuwait. The 3rd ID struck northwest across the southern Iraqi desert, and then hung a right into Nasiriyah on the Euphrates river. Forget, however, any vision of thousands of foot soldiers shuffling through the sands toward the Euphrates. No one shuffles in the 3rd ID. The division is stuffed with five mechanized infantry battalions, four armor battalions, supporting artillery and arms, and a cavalry squadron to find the enemy. The infantry rides in Bradley Infantry Fighting Vehicles (IFVs) ?an armored personnel carrier whose 25mm chain gun and TOW anti-tank missiles pack more punch than most World War II heavy tanks. The tanks are M1A2 Abrams. Arguably the best tank in the world, the Abrams can pick off an Iraqi BMP-1 IFV lurking 100 football fields distant or shoot straight through a sand dune and blow the turret off of a Republican Guard T-72 tank.

The Screaming Eagles of the 101st Air Assault Division advanced into Iraq alongside the 3rd ID, using the mobility of the division’s Blackhawk transport choppers to air assault key locations, and the firepower of their Apache gunships to blow resistance away. The Marine’s 1st Division advanced on the 3rd ID’s northern flank and the British contingent, which centered on the famed Desert Rats of Britain’s 7th Armored Brigade, worked with the Marine 1st Expeditionary Force in capturing Basra, Umm Qasr, and the Al Faw peninsula.

The Coalition juggernaut moved quickly, the 3rd ID and 101st rushing across the open desert, metal treads and rubber tires raising an ominous cloud of brown. By March 23rd, the Coalition spearheads were in Nasiriyah, where Marines and 3rd Division troopers alike met serious resistance. In western Iraq, Coalition Special Forces seized vital airfields, and Kurd fighters pressed forward to Mosul. Meanwhile, the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force and British 40 Commando had seized the Al Faw peninsula, preventing the Iraqis from sabotaging the oil wells and poisoning the environment.

But the Iraqis had a plan of their own. They knew armored battle in the open desert was suicide. Instead they fought the Coalition in the cities, ambushed its men and women from narrow, single-man foxholes called spider-holes, harassed IFVs and tanks with anti-tank guns mounted in the back of civilian trucks, and faked surrenders to close with American Marines. On the 23rd Iraqis ambushed a convoy from the 507th Maintenance Company, killing or capturing 12 soldiers, and as late as March 24th Iraqi’s battled British and American Marines for control of the port city of Umm Qasr ?a city the Coalition planned to capture on the first day.

"I laugh when the papers call it (Iraqi Freedom), a cakewalk," says Sergeant Rick Sutton of the 101st Air Assault. "The Iraqis fought hard.., but we fought harder."

By the 24th the noose was tightening around Hussein’s neck. The American’s 173rd Airborne Brigade had jumped into northern Iraq and the top U.S. Commander, General Tommy Franks, had followed up by airlifting in a small amount of armor to augment the paratroopers, Special Forces, and Kurds already in place. In the south, the Americans, using a combination of air assaults by the 101st and armor thrusts by the 3rd ID, had advanced to Najaf. It was here that Mother Nature did what the Iraqis had been unable to do… slow the Coalition. For three days a fierce Shamal, or sandstorm, grounded all aircraft, reduced visibility to the length of a tank, and seriously hampered the Coalition offensive.

Nevertheless, by the end of the month, the Coalition forces ?regrouped and re-supplied?were closing on Baghdad and a supposedly tough battle for the Iraqi capital. Iraqi Defense Minister Lt. General Sultan Hashim said, "It they (the Coalition) want to take Baghdad, they will have to pay a heavy price for it." But reality didn’t match the words. Coalition A-10s, FA-18s, and Tornados battered the Republican Guard’s Medina and Baghdad divisions that rung the capital, reducing them to scrap, and members of the 3rd ID and 101st captured the Baghdad International Airport on April 3rd while Marines assaulted the city’s western outskirts. Two days later a brigade sized task force of Abrams and Bradleys blasted through the streets of Iraq’s capital, shattering the remnants of the city’s defenders and ending effective Iraqi resistance, despite claims by Mohammed Saeed al Sahaf (Iraqi Information Minister) that "We are in control."

In little more than a week the northern towns of Kirkuk, Mosul, and Tikrit fell, and Coalition forces ran out of Iraqi units to fight. On May 1st President Bush declared the war’s end. In little more than five weeks the Coalition forces annihilated the Iraqi army, and toppled Hussein’s regime. It was not an easy victory; to the soldier walking point there is never an easy victory, but Iraqi Freedom was a stunning display of power that may profoundly change the political landscape of our world.

Designing the Game

Operation Iraqi Freedom presented an interesting design challenge. On one hand the Iraqis were almost immobile; if they attempted to move large formations they were destroyed. It was that simple, and Coalition air power and long-range tank gunnery were that overwhelming. That makes for easy solitaire rules.

On the other hand, most of the interesting stuff happened on a scale smaller than depicted by the map and counters. The Coalition never fought large formations of Iraqi tanks, but rather small groups of Fedayin and Iraqi Regulars entrenched in schools, warehouses, and suburbs. Furthermore, many factors either influenced or could have influenced the war.., too many to put in the rules. The solutions to both of these problems were the action cards. These cards not only resolve combat, but also throw unique events ? both historical and hypothetical? into the mix.

A couple of words on the counters… are the British 7th Armored honestly more powerful than the 3rd ID’s 2nd Brigade? No, the 7th just has more tanks. How come the foot soldiers of the 101st Air Assault are so fast and so powerful? Actually, they are no faster than the guys in the 173rd Airborne, but they used trucks for transport and had helicopters to move a portion of each brigade. The attached Apache gunships are what swell the brigade’s combat factor.

Finally, what’s a game without flavor? In our opinion, not much. Hence the special rules for Marines, paratroops, artillery, etc. Are Marines better troops than Army soldiers? Are Special Forces really so dominant? Well.., that depends on if you are talking to a Marine, a soldier, or snake eater (Special Forces soldier). We’ll let you decide.


  1. Thanks for the free game (Operation Iraqi Freedom). The rules mention use of action cards, but none are included or explained. Can you help with this please?

    • The action cards are the counters with Saddam’s face on one side; on the other side is a number and a random event. Use the number like a die roll on the CRT and apply the random event.

  2. Can someone please explain the combat system to me. Example of one of the issues I am having is with the Combat Results Table. The Rules Table Explanation section under the table explain A or D1-3, What about the D4 in D4DR2 that appears on the CRT when a 6 is the Action Card Number?

    Also if this indicates a step reduction and “Units lose the total amount of steps indicated from the attacking or defending forces” If a unit eather has one step or two steps why is a four step reduction needed?