From time to time, I contact Paul Rohrbaugh with High Flying Dice Games, just to see what he is working on. And, from time to time, he shares these really interesting historical conflict simulation games with me that are very interesting and kind of obscure. Such is the case with An Undeniable Victory: Operation Fath-ol-Mobin from High Flying Dice Games.
Grant: What has been your source of inspiration to design these games, including Bloody Dawns: The Iran-Iraq Wars, 1980-1988, on conflicts between Iraq & Iran?
Paul: I am usually inspired to make a game when I read a good history, or come across something intriguing while doing research. In this case, the inspiration for the game was Pierre Razoux’s excellent history on the Iran-Iraq War. While I was reading the chapter on this battle I thought “There is a game here!” and immediately contacted Pierre (we were working on his game at the time). He was quite pleased that I would make a game after reading his book, saying he hoped someone would do that, and he quickly volunteered to help play test.
Grant: Is this game a follow up to your previous Bloody Dawns? If so, what similarities do the games have?
Paul: The only similarity between the two is the overall topic of the war. Pierre’s game deals with the entire 1980-1988 conflict. My game, An Undeniable Victory, portrays the first large-scale (multi-Corps) offensive of the war; one that evicted the Iraqis from the last section of occupied Iranian territory. The two games are very different in scale, design and focus.
Grant: What historical event does this game cover and why should wargamers care about a conflict on the other side of the world in the early 1980s?
Paul: Operation Fath-ol-Mobin resulted in the Iranians driving the Iraqis out of occupied Iran. It was also the first large-scale deployment of the Pasdaran, the armed wing of the Revolution. The regular Iranian armed forces were under a lot of pressure here; sort of a “damned if you do and damned if you don’t” situation but still delivered a stunning victory. The Iranians squandered the victory by resorting to even more infighting and purges of their military and political high commands, resulting in more war and no peace agreements that could not pass the Mullahs’ acceptance. In many ways, Iran’s climb back to regional power, and the role it presently plays in world politics, can be traced back to this battle.
Grant: Where does the title of the game come from? Potentially a quote from someone?
Paul: The title An Undeniable Victory is simply the English translation of the Quranic phrase Fath-ol-Mobin.
Grant: What is the game scale? Why did you choose this scale to focus on in the design?
Paul: Units are mostly battalions, a turn represents 8 hours of time, and a hex is about 4 kilometers across. The game uses a derivation of the design from my very well received No Middle Ground: The Battle for the Golan Heights (published in issue #46 of Against the Odds magazine).
Grant: Any special rules or considerations to allow the system to work well as scaled?
Paul: I’ve revised the air warfare aspect of the game a bit, as well as tailoring the formation activation/sequence of play to model the command/control as well as logistical aspects of this battle.
Grant: Why did you feel a blind Chit-Pull System was the best method to activate formations for your vision of the design?
Paul: The blind Chit-Pull provides a very interactive sequence of play, is easy to adapt for solo play, and also allows me to portray some of the very intriguing political and high command issues unique to both sides (all without a lot of scripted rules or involved limits on players). I want the game to be played by those who really want to enjoy and learn, not become rules lawyers.
Grant: There appear to be some interesting exceptions and restrictions during the Operations Phase. For example, each side can use at least 3 formations but the Iranian player must include their Pasdaran FAM in those three. What is this exception for and what does it model from the conflict?
Paul: The Mullahs, and others high-up in the Iranian Revolutionary Government, set up the Pasdaran as a way to assert and develop their control over the country, especially the regular armed forces which many still viewed as pro-Shah and a threat. The Iranian military was under a great deal of pressure to deploy the Pasdaran, and to use them in ways that they could gain success and not just act as cannon fodder (although that would come later…).
Grant: Also the Iranian player can use an additional FAM during a phase after he captures the first town hex or hilltop. Why is this the case and what does it model?
Paul: As Stalin once quipped, reward success and abandon failure. Once the Iranians start achieving demonstrable goals, then more freedom of action can be gained. As I stated above, the Iranian military was under a lot of pressure. Earlier in January, a smaller but very ambitious Iranian offensive was launched, over the objections of the regular military leaders, at Hoveyzeh (portrayed in High Flying Dice Game’s mini-game, Mud, Blood and Steel: The Battle of Hoveyzeh, January 5-7, 1981). The shadow of that debacle still loomed here, so until some goals are met, the Iranian player will be operating with some limitation.
Grant: Why did you include Independent units and what does this represent? How are these Independent units activated?
Grant: This game has a considerable amount of MBTs and APCs. Why is this the case? What care did you have to take with the design to make sure this aspect was playable?
Paul: I was very fortunate to have access to some first rate source material thanks to Pierre. That made the OOB very accurate and I found that MBTs and APCs were very prevalent in the historic battles. The design was already extensively playtested with No Middle Ground (over 10 years by 3 separate publishers), so we had an excellent “design platform” to build on. Not having to reinvent the wheel was a definite plus!
Grant: Can we see a picture of an example counter for an MBT and an APC as well as a few close ups of infantry? What is the anatomy of the counters?
Paul: The final graphics work hasn’t started yet, but I will give you the following graphic to show how the counters will be laid out and what information they will contain. This isn’t finalized yet as it only being used now for playtesting.
Grant: I want to get into the combat system and how it functions and noticed that there are two types of combat. What is the main difference between Fire Combat and Assault Combat?
Paul: Fire Combat represents “stand-off” ranged combat, while Assault Combat is close-in between adjacent units. Fire Combat is voluntary, while Assault Combat is mandatory for units in an enemy zone of control that did not engage in Fire Combat.
Grant: How does combat function in the design?
Paul: Fire Combat is less risky, but also has less chance of destroying the enemy. Also, even if the enemy is destroyed or driven off, the attacker cannot advance into the defender’s hex if it just used Fire Combat. Assault Combat has more risk, but this is much more “winner take all”, unless you get a Blood Bath result.
Grant: What are the possible CRT results from combat and how do they effect units? What is most important in designing a good CRT?
Paul: For Fire Combat, if units are hit they become Disrupted. If already Disrupted then the unit is Reduced (or Eliminated if already Reduced or have only 1 step). For Assault Combat the results are Retreats, Disruptions, Outright Eliminations or Blood Bath, which means that each side suffers the loss of a unit, and possible additional step losses. Blood Bath can be very brutal.
Grant: How are Air Units determined to be eligible? How are they used?
Paul: Players roll a die each turn to determine how many Air Units they have to use. Available Air Units are then assigned to Air Superiority (escorting friendly or attacking enemy Air Units), Air Support to attack enemy ground targets, or Air Interdiction (to inhibit the movement/activation of enemy ground units or their supply). The Iraqi player only also has Air Suppression missions that can be used (to attack Iranian Hawk AA batteries).
Grant: How are each of these available Air Missions best used?
Paul: This is a very interactive and important aspect of the game’s “decision tree”. Players cannot ignore what their enemy is doing in the skies, and must also try to allocate sufficient air resources to support what is happening on the ground. In this war, neither side had enough of these assets to do it all, so how they are deployed is very important. There is no “best way” to use the Air Units, as each game and each player will have to weigh the circumstances and opportunities then apparent and act accordingly.
Grant: Anti-aircraft seems to be very important to the design? Why does the Iraqi player not have AA attacks?
Paul: The Iranian Air Force was already hurting just one year into the war. Pierre’s book really does a great job in describing how the smaller Iraqi Air Force was able to do as much as it did because of the serious parts and fuel shortages with its U.S. made aircraft (the U.S. embargo and sanctions really hurt here). It was their Hawk AA batteries (refitted with non-U.S. parts in many cases) that they deployed in large numbers to protect the key road junctions, artillery batteries and HQ centers that supported their offensive. Just as the Israelis learned in 1973, coping with these air defenses to attack the enemy or support your own troops with air support is key to success or failure. This was another reason I felt the No Middle Ground design would be a good fit for this battle.
Grant: What are the three different missions available during the Artillery Phase?
Paul: Bombardment, Interdiction and Offensive/Defensive Support are the main missions for artillery. Bombardment missions are used to “soften up” a target by inflicting disruption results on the targeted unit(s). Interdiction is similar to air interdiction missions that can limit movement, supply or activation. Direct Support causes odds column shifts for Assault Combats. An artillery unit can only do one of these missions in a turn, so choosing which and when are key decisions.
Grant: Why does Iranian artillery have less range than Iraqi artillery?
Paul: The Iraqis had plenty of time to prepare their defenses, arrange pre-plotted artillery missions, and had numerous spotters deployed throughout the combat zone. The Iranians, however, were rushed in planning and reconnoitering the enemy’s works, as well as not having sufficient time to train and replace all of their skilled/experienced artillery crews (remember the purges I mentioned earlier?). How should the Iraqi player use this to their advantage? Holding the high ground where the spotters are located for as long as possible is key. Once those hilltops start falling, so do the Iraqis’ support and fortunes.
Grant: Who is the map artist?
Paul: Bruce Yearian will do the graphics for the published game. He hasn’t started on it just yet as we’re not quite done with play testing. The best I can do is to show my modest efforts used to create the play test version of the game. Bruce’s work will definitely take it to the next level!
Grant: How does the Combined Arms special rule work and why did you feel the need to include this?
Paul: Units of the same formation in a Close Assault Combat (attack or defense), that include 1 armor and 1 infantry type unit have a beneficial odds column shift. Combat of this era was centered on such combined-arms work, and that included this war.
Grant: What is unique about the Pasdaran units?
Paul: Pasdaran units cannot engage in Fire Combat, (they didn’t have the training or equipment for this) but are deadly in Close Combat with their “Human Wave” assault capability. Also, the Pasdaran Formation Activation markers, when drawn, allow the Iranian player to activate a number of units determined by a die roll doubled. This can be a lot of units, and since this is not tied/limited to a particular formation, these units may be able to activate more than once in a turn as which Pasdaran units are activated per the individual FAM is the Iranian player’s choice. This flexibility and ability to activate multiple times reflects the remorseless usage of these units here.
Grant: How does setup work? What variants are included in setup?
Paul: The set up uses the historical deployments. Variants allow players to set up as they see fit. Also, the Iranians bluffed the Iraqis into thinking their main effort was going to occur further to the north with Operation Fatimah. As a result, the Iraqi 7th Mechanized Division was withdrawn on the eve of the battle. A variant assumes that Saddam wasn’t taken in, or that his front commanders were able to delay the unit’s withdrawal such that it could return to fight here. There is also a “Fortunes of War” rule that allows the player that has it to do some rather interesting things during the course of the game.
Grant: How does a player win the game?
Paul: The player that occupies/controls the most towns, villages and hilltop hexes at the end of the game is the winner. Nearly all of these are under Iraqi control at the start, so the burden of attack is squarely in the Iranian’s court. That said, the Iraqi player just can’t sit there and expect to win. The Iraqi has an “egg shell” defense with little-to-no reserves. If the Iranians can break through and exploit, things will get very fluid and “interesting” very quickly. When and who gets to activate, and how a player deploys and uses their air/artillery assets will be key. Most games come down to the last few die rolls on the final turn.
Grant: What points of strategy must the Iranians keep in mind? What about the Iraqis?
Paul: Plan ahead and stick to the plan. Feints are important, but in this game if the Iranian player tries to do everything then nothing will be accomplished. If a town or hilltop has not been taken from the Iraqis by the end of the first day, expect security from the Revolutionary Guard to be escorting you to the nearest rooftop.
The Iraqis? Fight hard for every inch, and pray for Saddam to release some reinforcements soon. You cannot afford to let any units to become trapped/isolated, especially on the first day and night, as large scale counter-attacks are not in the cards. Once you’ve identified the Iranian’s main effort, then you can take more risks and perhaps even drive the enemy back and earn an automatic victory by capturing an Iranian supply center. If you can do that, expect to see that brand new shiny Mercedes from Saddam at your HQ soon!
Grant: What are you most pleased with concerning the design?
Paul: How interactive the game is, and how well it is portraying the history. This battle was very important to how the war unfolded, and I’m pleased with how it has turned out in development.
Grant: What is the schedule for the games release?
Paul: It all depends on when play testing finishes up, and how soon I can save up the money to get the counters die cut, maps made, and perhaps some boxes for the game.
Thanks for your time in answering my questions Paul. You always are very open and available and I appreciate that. I also want to thank you for your work and dedication to history. I love that you do research and find these great battles to bring to us.