Bar-Lev: the Yom Kippur War

My dad and I started playing Bar-Lev last night.  I say ‘started playing’ loosely, because after sorting the pieces and getting everything setup, it had gotten pretty late and I needed to get home.

While I haven’t played it, my dad has and it’s one of his favorites.  Ironically, when he suggested it he did so because (he claimed) it was a fairly simple and quick game*.  Though it’s a pretty small scope, it actually reminds me more of Fortress Europa in terms of complexity than some of the simpler SPI wargames we’ve played in the past.  As my dad read the various rules for ranged fire phase, ground movement & combat, zone of control, supply line, air superiority (the air combat and support rules are complex enough that the system treats using air power as a whole new game with its own manual), and morale rules, I’m thinking to myself “oh, god, I’m still trying to setup my pieces!  I’m never going to remember this.  What if I set my pieces up wrong?!”  Fortunately, BGG has a pdf of the both the ground and air rules, at least, so I’ll have time to go over them before we actually play.

The game itself looks fascinating, and I’m excited to get underway.  It has two separate maps, one for the Egyptian Front and another for the Syrian Front, each using a different scale, movement and stacking rules (the Syrian Front tactical map is smaller scale, so movement rates & firing ranges increase while stacking decreases), with various reserve boxes representing the Israeli interior through which the Israeli player can move troops between fronts.  On separate sheets, the various (and rather useless) Arab allies reinforcements are kept in reserve (Lebanon is on a tiny corner of the Syrian front map, so they’re deployed, but I can’t imagine them ever coming into play; all of the other Arabs are off-map until they intervene).

The Egyptians have to fight their way across the Suez Canal against the Israeli forces on the border; I’ve got my heavy tanks stacked up in places where they can hopefully punch through with enough oomph to overcome the tactical disadvantages of attacking from the middle of the freaking Suez Canal.  The Syrians look like they’re going to have a lot tougher time, because they have to move down into a valley and attack up slopes and with much worse equipment than the Egyptians.  From what I remember from my dad’s reading of the rules, Air Power is pretty much going to make or break things for either side: you get air superiority?  you get to strafe, do bombing runs, move paratroopers, and mow down infantry with assault helicopters.  You fail to get air superiority, all of that stuff gets done to you.  And all while factoring in stationary and mobile SAM platforms and shrike radar jamming and god knows what other rules I may have missed because I was trying to figure out where to put my Syrian light tanks.

There are a LOT of options for endgame conditions, so many that I can’t remember them all.  All I do remember is that either the players can agree to a cease-fire or slug it out until the Americans & Soviets bring the hammer down and tell everyone to cut it out.

Interestingly, Bar Lev could be played as a 3 player game**: the Syrians with the Arab Allies are set up to where they could be treated as wholly separate faction from the Egyptians.  There you’d get interesting scenarios where one side could establish a separate peace while the other kept on fighting because they still had a chance.  But man, where would you find a third player for a game like this these days?  In my gaming group, stuff that takes more than an hour and a half are considered “forever-long games” (partly due the restricted time-frames we tend to have in some of our meetup locations), so I can’t imagine what they’d think of a game that takes that long just to set up.

Maybe being a hex & chit wargamer is a kind of masochism?  You’ve got to truly love both the game and the player to have to patience for this sort of thing, but usually it’s pretty rewarding.  Which is why it’s a shame that opponents are so hard to find.  Anyway, I’ll have more to say about it once we’ve actually started playing.

*: From a Board Game Geek review: “Each turn consists of twenty(!)steps involving both players. This may seem daunting, but once you get the hang of the system, it is really no big deal.”

**: Board Game Geek actually lists it 2-5 players.  I have NO idea who players 4 & 5 could be, unless you wanted to stick someone with the Jordanian reinforcements and the other with the maybe dozen & a half various (and nearly worthless) Arab Allies units.  There is seriously nothing worse and more awkward than trying to run a game where one player is controlling mid-game variant forces; I ran SPI’s Gondor once with splitting the city guards and the relief forces as separate factions (they DID at least have separate morale tracks) and it went rather poorly.