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Posted on Jun 18, 2019 in Boardgames, Front Page Features

It’s Not Your Father’s Cold War. The Iranian seek an Undeniable Victory with Operation Fath ol Mobin, March 1982. Board Game Review

It’s Not Your Father’s Cold War. The Iranian seek an Undeniable Victory with Operation Fath ol Mobin, March 1982. Board Game Review

Ray Garbee

An Undeniable Victory: Operation Fath ol Mobin. Publisher: High Flying Dice Games.  Designer: Paul Rohrbaugh Price: $45.00

Passed inspection: Game provided insight into a little covered battle of the Iran-Iraq War. Focuses rules were easy to digest and focused on speed of play and player experience. Die-cut counters!

Failed basic: A few minor bits of errata you need to integrate into the rulebook, but the errata is included with the game.

I was a teenager in 1982. I was also a wargamer with a keen interest in ‘modern’ Cold War gaming. But the real-world action in those days did not focus on the Inter-German Border. Instead, the newspapers had sketchy reports from the front lines of a distant land – the ongoing war between Iraq and Iran. In 1980 Saddam Hussein launched an offensive into Iran designed to weaken the Islamic Revolution, secure Iraq from infiltration and allow Iraq to replace Iran as the dominant power in the Persian Gulf. As you might know, that plan did not work out so well for Saddam.

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After making strong inroads into western Iran, the offensive bogged down. Then it ground to a halt and devolved into what some observers equated to being World War One with modern weapons. Both sides dug in, strung barbed wire, deployed their artillery and their aircraft, and slugged it out.

For the next year, the only thing that seemed to change was the body count which kept growing. In 1982, the Iranians gained the initiative and launched Operation Fath ol Mobin (‘Undeniable Victory”) the first of several operations that would push the Iraqi’s back towards their own borders. For a while it gave the Iranians hope that they could win the war on their terms. At the time we shook our heads in wonder at reports of bloody ‘human wave’ assaults of young men fueled with the religious fervor of the Iranian State. Did they learn nothing from the history of the Great War in Europe?

Now High Flying Dice Games looks at this war with their new game “An Undeniable Victory: Operation Fath ol Mobin”.

This copy of the game arrived in the clear plastic bag that is standard for many of High Flying Dice Games products. Keep in mind that this game does have a boxed option (for an additional cost) if a box is important to you. Inside the bag were the following components; A map board, a rulebook, two cards with charts and tables, the counters and a short page of errata.

The map board depicts the area of southwest Iran occupied by the Iraqi’s. Bounded in the west by the border of Iraq and in the southwest by impassible swamps, the battle space centers on a series of rocky ridges defined as ‘rough ground’ with a few high hilltops commanding the landscape. Scattered across this landscape are a few towns which are connected by a road net. Superimposed on the map is a hex grid with a boundary line delineating the front line. A compass rose does a nice job orienting user to direction on the battlefield as the scale of the map and lack of well-known landmarks can disorient the player without a background in the period or the region’s geography. Ten minutes spent perusing Google Maps will be of immense help in placing the battlefield in context or the larger war and give a more nuanced sense of the terrain.

The rulebook clocks in at a relatively slim 10 pages that includes a table of contents on page 1 and a terrain effects/air support chart on page 10. The rules are laid out in the order you use them in a game turn, with the scenario set up being listed in the back of the book.

There are two (2) half counter sheets included with the game. Let’s start with the good news – these are die-cut counters! No cutting out cardboard counters is required! It’s a workman like job of die-cutting similar to what Avalon Hill or Victory Games did back in the day. The data was nicely aligned with the counter and the die-cutting job varied between strips of counters literally falling out of the sheet to a few counters stubbornly wanting to remain attached to each other and needing a sharp knife. Again, it’s the same experience you’d get from most die cut counters with many games.

The counters follow HFDG usual format with mechanized units having a silhouette of a vehicle and non-mechanized units depicting the standard symbols for infantry and artillery. Combat factors and movement values are clearly depicted. Unit organization (battalion/regiment/division) are listed across the top of the counter. I broke out my fancy Oregon Laminations counter cutter and rounded off all the corners on the counters, but this is a matter of personal choice, not necessity. (But it does make the counters look so very cool and crisp!)

The two (2) player aid cards include useful data such as terrain effects, the odds table and combat processes for air support, ground combat and artillery missions.  An additional third of a page captures the known errata and provides a breakdown of the data listed on the counters.

In a lot of ways, An Undeniable Victory provides a glimpse into what modern war between NATO and the Warsaw Pact could have been. The players here are almost proxy stand ins for the East and West from the late 1970’s, with the Iranians standing in for the US/NATO and the Iraqi’s playing the role of the Warsaw Pact. Both sides are equipped with hardware that could have come from the front-line ranks of either the WARPAC or NATO inventories.

When I unboxed the game, I was expecting a variation on HFDG’s Land of Confusion series with card-based activations and brigade level units. While the ground and time scales of the games are similar, An Undeniable Victory is a break from the card-based activation games that are a staple of the High Flying Dice Games’ library.  The use of activation markers is a welcome change that balances the random fog of war with the ability to direct divisions/brigades in action. The change to activation markers also means that the two series of games have very different operational tempo from one another. While Land of Confusion units could cover a lot of ground very quickly, that’s not the case in An Undeniable Victory. Again, reflecting on it’s World War One feel, the limited mobility means it’s tougher to break through and exploit into the enemy’s rear area.

The mechanics of the game do a good job capturing the feel for the period.  Entrenchments are important, but are limited to what could have been built before the battle began. The game imposes this restriction both due to the nature of the rocky ground and the Iranian leadership’s philosophy of an offensive spirit towards going over the top. It’s reminiscent of the French Army early in World War I. Digging in was seen as sapping the moral spirit and detracting from the irredentist campaign to liberate Iran from the grasp of the Iraqi invaders.

Movement rates are high enough to allow for units to cover ground, but no so much that they run wild. Between the limits of the Formation Activation Marker and limited objectives, units will generally only move once in a turn. In this context, the roads become key avenues of advance, allowing mechanized units to rapidly advance or redeploy along these key corridors.

Ground combat comes in two flavors – fire combat and assault combat. Fire combat is what it sounds like, your units move adjacent to the enemy and apply kinetic firepower to target units in an effort to reduce or eliminate the enemy. In less fancy terms, you shoot at the other guy using your tanks, infantry and artillery. Each unit has a combat value representing its firepower. A die is rolled that must be equal to or less than the combat value. There’s a handful of modifiers that influence the die roll.  It’s entirely possible that there will be no results from fire combat.

Assault combat is a direct storming of an enemy position. You total the combat factors of all the assaulting units and all the defending units and create an odds ratio. There are modifiers to the odds ratio based on supply status, artillery support and for the Iranians, human wave assaults. At the end of the day, you roll a die and apply the results. This mechanic is most similar to a classic wargame process. Results can range from attacker eliminated through defender eliminated, with other options such as retreating or disruption possibilities. The better your odds, the more likely you will be victorious in your assault. Digging and entrenched defender out of rough ground becomes a very expensive proposition, which tracks well with the historical reports from this campaign.

The air and artillery sub-systems excel at delivering an experience that captures the period. Air units were present on both sides and feature the classic matchup of Iranians with American planes and trained pilots facing off against Iraqi’s with Soviet planes and training. There’s even the Iranian F-14 squadron armed with the AIM-54 air to air missiles. In the air war, players can allocate available units to perform air superiority missions, air support mission that directly support ground combat or interdiction missions. The Iraqi’s can also attempt SAM suppression in an effort to roll back the Iranian HAWK batteries that provided a good air defense cover for the offensive (shades of the Egyptian offensive in the ’73 war!).

Of these missions, interdiction is the most interesting and potentially useful. The ability to slow the movement of the mechanized troops on both sides is going to be key to winning the game. The airstrikes have a nice area of effect (the target hex and the surrounding hexes). Forget combat, just keeping the enemy pinned down by repeated airstrikes can be a big win!

In a departure from the mechanics of the Land of Confusion series, An Undeniable Victory models all the modern fire missions of modern artillery – bombardment, Artillery support and Interdiction.  Bombardment is the classic model of artillery from the Great War. Your guns are employed to shell enemy troops in an area with the aim of disrupting the enemy so they lose combat effectiveness.

Artillery Support allocates your guns directly in support of a specific combat operation. Rather than adding in additional combat factors, artillery support becomes a force multiplier that affects the die roll of an assault. There’s a sub-category where you can use artillery support to affect the outcome of a single fire combat as well.

The third major fire mission for artillery is interdiction. The effect is similar to an air interdiction, with the difference that the artillery mission only affects a single hex. Still, there will be times when the only way to plug a hole in the line is the drop artillery onto it to slow down the enemy advance.

With all these ways to knock units out of the game, you might start to think this is a bloody slaughter. Well…it kinda/sorta *is* a bloody slaughter, but don’t give up hope! There is a replacement mechanism that will help you return eliminated units to play. This can be crucial for both sides as you’ll be able to bring some reserves to the battle that will tip the tide, or at least offer a speed bump for a turn or two.

In addition to the replacements, there are a handful of reinforcements that enter play. Some of those reinforcements are conditional upon each player achieving certain objectives.  For example, the Iranians receive additional troops depending on the number of hilltops and towns they capture from the Iraqis. Beyond this, the Fortune of war marker can be used to bring units back up to strength. Bear in mind that using the Fortune of War marker is a two-edged sword as using the marker then gives it to your opponent to use as they see fit.

There is a lot going on under the hood with An Undeniable Victory. Most of it is good, but I stumbled with a few items. Most of these were minor, but several could have been avoided outright with a little more detail.

The legend for the map is very minimalistic. Most everything was defined with one exception. It lacks a definition for the boundary between the two sides. While the front line is referenced in the set-up instructions, I was forced to infer the identity of the front-line boundary as it’s not explicitly declared on the map legend or in the rulebook. We can debate if it’s obvious or not, but a great game won’t force the players to guess.

The independent units require player to remember that they can activate with other units. It’s a mistake I made repeatedly. There’s nothing wrong with the activation of these units. Heck it’s a nice touch to keep them as a reserve that activates along with another unit.

Lastly, it was tough to keep track of which unit is where on the map when its formation activation chit is pulled. It’ll come with time, but out of the gate, you’ll be a little confused trying to remember where the 84th Mechanized set up versus the 21st Mechanized. I’d suggest a quick paper sketch map with the rough unit boundaries to serve as an aid. It might also help you remember that the independent units are also there and can be activated with other units.

Artillery counters come off as a little cluttered, but much of that is the nature of their mission. Being tasked with range, bombardment value, combat value as well as a movement rate is a lot of detail to convey on a small counter.

An Undeniable Victory feels like a good representation of the Iran-Iraq War. Entrenched units can be tough to dig out of good ground which is what you’d expect. Mechanized units are still the key to creating breakthroughs and making the battlefield mobile. Artillery and Air can be used to interdict those mobile forces.  It’s an effective interplay of unit capabilities that does a good job of representing modern warfare.

If there is one thing I would have added, it would be a game turn phase chart. It became tiresome constantly referring back to the rulebook to see what the next segment in the game turn was next. It’s something I could knock together myself if need be, but given that An Undeniable Victory is a tad bit more complex that other High Flying Dice Games, it would be very helpful – at least for the first few game turns.

I believe that the game works well for solitaire play. There are no bots to automate the play of either side, so you’ll have to hot seat this. As a result, it’s not perfect for solitaire play – but it still great a good experience. The initiative system coupled with the Formation activation chits give a reasonable amount of uncertainty when it comes to launching the big offensives. But this fog of war breaks down a little with the back and forth of limited operations, but those operations are usually limited to redeployment and exploitation movement so it’s not a deal breaker.

Where I think it gets sticky for solitaire play in the interplay of committing assets in support of a single battle. You are unlikely to effect operational surprise against yourself, so the choices of when and what to commit to a battle lack some of the fog of war that a live opponent will bring to the table. Having said that, it’s no worse an issue than it is doing solo play of other boardgames like GMT’s FAB: Sicily or Golan ’73.

An Undeniable Victory succeeds on several points. This is a game that made me think about the Iran-Iraq war at an operational level. It covers an important battle from a neglected war. The Iran-Iraq war in many ways set the stage for the wars and political landscape of the 1990’s and 21st Century. To ignore this war is to ignore the history of the region and the impact these Cold War proxies had on the events of the last half century.

It’s a great example of modern warfare in an inhospitable region. And it’s an example of what can happen when political goals don’t align with operational capabilities. The protracted nature of the Iran-Iraq war stands in stark contrast to the decisive battles fought not even a decade later in the first Gulf War.

If you are a student of the wars of the Middle East, this game will appeal to you. The game challenges a lot of the perceptual biases that have developed in the last quarter century regarding both Iran and Iraq. An Undeniable Victory gives you a good look inside what the Iranian counteroffensive looked like and why the Iran-Iraq war dragged on for 8 long bloody years.

If you are a Cold War gamer, this game may appeal to you as offering a different take on the modern warfare expected during the early 1980’s. The arena of the battlefield lacks much of the geographical baggage associated with the Arab-Israeli wars and the ideologies of the two combatants make it tough for a westerner to root for either party.  What your left with is almost a tactical exercise featuring ‘red’ and ‘blue’ where you can project the outcome of the game onto how it might have changed the geo-political landscape of the past quarter century.

Armchair General Score: 92%

Solitaire suitability (1–5 scale, with 1 being virtually unplayable as a solitaire game and 5 being completely suitable for solitaire play):  4

Ray Garbee has been a gamer for the past four decades, Ray’s interests include the Anglo-Sikh Wars through the conflicts of the 20th Century and beyond but his passion remains ACW naval gaming. Currently, Ray works as a Product Owner in the IT field while continuing to design tabletop games. His past works include Iron Thunder, Anaconda, Anaconda: Capital Navies and articles in a number of defunct hobby magazines. When not busy gaming, Ray enjoys working on his model railroad, hiking and sport shooting at the local range.

Cover
die cut counters
clipped counters
face off in the desert
northern front

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