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Ignorant Armies: Iran-Iraq War» Forums » Reviews

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Tim Korchnoi
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My Little Man's first real wargame play: Barbarossa Solitaire
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Ignorant Armies is strategic level game of the Iran-Iraq war that raged from 1980-88. Each turn the players roll for random events which can heavily influence the game, gain reinforcements and replacements, choose to redeploy units via strategic movement, attack and then move their forces. The game is won and lost in the long run by the accumulation of victory points gained mainly via the capture of cities and towns, but also some VP are gained through random events as well as capturing all eight of the Shatt al Arav hexes. There are also some “knock out blow” conditions.

Playing Time: This can vary wildly from just a few turns to a long drawn out conflict. In the eight games I have played, none of them went beyond 1984. This is mainly due to the knockout blow conditions of which Iraq has two and Iran has three possibilities.

Map: The map is pretty bland and simple. The terrain is clearly defined and easy to figure out and the roads are well marked. The hex numbers can be tough to read with the various shades of brown. The map also has the turn track, terrain key, Combat Results Table (CRT) and replacements tracks for the opposing sides. The terrain chart is really tough to read so if you are old like me, you might need yo use your reading glasses.

Counters: The counters are the nice big 5/8 size. Easy to read they identify the various units clearly even as regards the Iranian Army (gray) versus the Revolutionary Guard (green) The counter are sturdy and set up/reinforcement identification numbers are clear and easy to read (a.k.a I never need to use my reading glasses )

Rules: The rules are well laid out and the bold print for each section makes rules look up a breeze when playing. Most of what is here is old hat for experienced wargamers. When I pulled this out after having not played the game for seven years, I had no trouble brushing up on the rules. That being said there are two major areas that one has to be careful with that give this game a unique feel.

First, there are no ZOC. This makes maneuvering free wheeling but it also makes it nearly impossible to impact the opponents supply lines. The only way to cut off supply is to surround the enemy unit on all six sides and given the number of counters in the game, that is a tough proposition. Moreover, the Iraqi player has to be especially on his toes as any Iranian unit that reaches any hex in Kuwait ends the game instantly. This is quite tricky as their are no Zones of Control (ZOC) in the game and since combat comes before movement, any breakthrough by the Iranians is essentially decisive.

Second, combat comes before movement. Now granted there are many other games that use this format but the big problem in Ignorant Armies is the lack of ZOC. So if you smash your way through the enemy line you can then race ahead to your objectives. Granted the supply rules mitigate this somewhat as you must trace to a road hex that connects to your home supply sources but given the layout of the road net on the map, this is not as hard as it seems.

Some other interesting rules:
The ability to retreat from a battle by withdrawing your forces from the map and bringing them in again next turn. This does seem cool at first but given the no ZOC I don’t know how practical that option is in the end.

Random events. This gives the game a lot of flavor but they can also tilt the game quickly one way or the other.

The CRT. In the game combat is done via step losses which works well. However, the CRT only runs from 1:2 to 3:1 odds. That just feels a little too narrow for me. The flow of this game just seems to cry out for having more options on the CRT.

Things I Like About the Game

1 No ZOC. This gives the game a real jab and thrust so of feel. It does seem a little odd at first if you are an old hand at wargames, but it gives a nice flow.
2 The retreat rules. I like the idea of pulling off forces and bringing them back in. Like the no ZOC, it adds a layer of strategy and makes the game unique.
3 Having the combat come before movement. While this does allow for potentially big breakouts, this can be mitigated by some defense in depth.
4 The game is easy to learn. The rules are well outlined and it would be a good game for a newbie looking to take a step up from some basic wargames (think Blue and Gray system type games).
5 It covers a war that is often forgotten even though it was one of the most brutal and savage in the second half of the twentieth century. That alone is noteworthy.
6 The random events. I always enjoy games with lots of random events as friction rules!

Things That Can be Annoying angry
1 No ZOC. The problem here is the order of combat and movement combined with the Iranian’s ability to achieve victory by entering any hex in Kuwait. I have had a couple games that ended in early 1981
2 The Iranian invasion of Kuwait instant victory conditions. I understand the history, but with no ZOC this can be very frustrating for an Iraqi player.
3 Iran has a big early advantage due to reinforcements. Simply put, the Iranians can overwhelm Iraq if they handle things carefully. Part of the problem stems from the fact that reinforcements can arrive at any city or town in the home country. This allows these early Iranian forces to literally unleash their human wave assault with brutal fury.
4 Lack of columns on the CRT. Having more columns might help to mitigate one of the biggest issues of the game: the Iranian instant win condition of a breakthrough to Kuwait. And while I understand the historical justification that condition combined with the lack of ZOC.

Evaluation: d10-9 =Wargamer Heaven d10-1 =I’d rather staple my tongue to the wall for a month! yuk

Map= d10-5 The map is fairly bland. The turn record and replacement chart is nice but the terrain effects chart print is really tiny.

Counters= d10-9 The counter are nice, big and sturdy. Set up numbers are clear as is the reinforcement identification. Colors are clear for defining not only each side but the military divisions within each country.

Rules= d10-6 I really feel ambivalent about the rules. On the one hand, I like the no ZOC and the order of movement and combat. On the other, some random events feel really strong and the Iranian ability to strike into Kuwait to score an instant victory feels unbalanced. I know there are restrictions on the first turn, but maybe they need to be extended until after 1981 when Iraq begins to get more forces. Otherwise, the sheer number of Iranian units, coupled with their higher replacement rates tilts the scale heavily in their favor. I have toyed with a few ideas like having ZOC exist until 1982 or adding Kuwaiti forces to guard their border hexes or even giving the Iraqis the Republican Guard right off the bat. Of course the easiest solution would be to ignore the Kuwaiti invasion victory conditions, but that, I think, would do away with too much history. So the real challenge is to find a balancing factor that meets historical requirements while balancing the early stages of the game.

Deployment of Forces= d10-7 Generally this is quick but some of the hex numbers on the map are hard to read.

Solo Play= d10-6 Solo play is helped by the large random events chart but the stock Iranian assault toward Kuwait makes the game a bit scripted as well. The best thing for solo play is to hope for an early arrival of Iraqi units such as the Special Forces brigades and the Republican Guard. Otherwise, the 1981 turns come down to die rolls.

Final Evaluation= d10-6 I really, really, REALLY want to like this game but there are some issues that put the kibosh on that.
First, the instant victory conditions favor Iran. Even setting aside the major Kuwait issue, Baghdad is a lot closer to the border between the two countries than Tehran so this also tilts the scale in Iranians favor. Second, the no ZOC is a very brutally sharp double edged sword. On the one hand, it gives lots of room to maneuver but on the other it makes breakthroughs way too easy. Third, the random events are fun but can make the game swing wildly. I had one game where Iraqi got both the SF and Republican Guard in the first two turns and that was more than enough to clobber Iran. Finally, the game is a lot of fun…if things fall right. Getting them to do so is the challenge.

Bottom Line: This game will stay in my collection and see the light of day once in a great while, but playing it is like watching a dance group where one of the performers is very obviously off: the experience is fun but you just can’t shake that one klutzy dancer out of your head. That being said, the fun factor outweighs the flaws which is why I gave it a d10-6 instead of a d10-5
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Lance McMillan
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Wish it wasn't so hard to find a copy of this one. Even with its flaws (and you did a great job of enumerating those in your review) it's still a solid design on an obscure topic.
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Colin Parkin
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Thanks for the interesting review. One of my regular gaming partners and I have played this many times and I agree, this can be a really fun game. Certainly not a classic, but worthy of replay and good value for a magazine game.
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Bill Lawson
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I like the game. Getting the Republican Guard for Iraq is a must though. Without it they will lose.
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Lance McMillan
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billyboy wrote:
Getting the Republican Guard for Iraq is a must...


Yeah, and it's not a particularly easy event to roll either. I think that's a bit of a flaw in the design, and it should probably have been handled as a scheduled or "trigger" event, rather than strictly randomly.
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Bill Lawson
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Lancer4321 wrote:
billyboy wrote:
Getting the Republican Guard for Iraq is a must...


Yeah, and it's not a particularly easy event to roll either. I think that's a bit of a flaw in the design, and it should probably have been handled as a scheduled or "trigger" event, rather than strictly randomly.


Agree
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