Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Shoot and Scoot: US & Iraqi Armies vs. ISIS

I ran a scenario I drafted at the Colorado Springs Gamers Association on Saturday, which pitted US and Iraqi forces against ISIS fighters in the suburbs of Baghdad in the near future:

Iraq, 2015

The Iraqi government has continued to perform poorly in the field, and Islamic State of Iraq and al Sham (ISIS) forces have advanced to the outskirts of Baghdad.  ISIS forces are within medium mortar range of Baghdad International Airport (BIAP), and are employing indirect fire against the airfield and hampering US Noncombatant Evacuation Operations (NEO).  US forces are now fully embroiled in the conflict, with US Special Forces advising Iraqi Army units in the field, and most of a Heavy Brigade Combat Team (HBCT) deployed in support of BIAP and embassy security and NEO efforts.

A particularly wily Chechen mortar cell has been harassing BIAP with indirect fire, then displacing in a station wagon to a new firing point.  The cell is currently located in a neighborhood protected by an ISIS GPS jamming device, further complicating US targeting.

An Iraqi Army unit advised by a US Special Forces Operational Detachment-Alpha (ODA) has advanced far into the ISIS-controlled neighborhood that currently hosts the Chechen mortar cell, skilled Chechen snipers and anti-armor teams, booby trapped buildings, and ISIS armor captured from Iraqi units that have either fled their posts or been defeated in battle.  US forces have committed a Bradley Rifle Platoon to reinforce the beleaguered Iraqi soldiers and their SOF advisors.  Both sides have sniper teams hidden on the board (without hidden unit markers), but do not know of each other’s whereabouts.  US air support is on the way, but so are ISIS reinforcements.
The scenario started out with both sides able to place hidden units (particularly the sniper team for each side, which had no "hidden" marker) in anticipation of the enemy's moves.  The US/Iraqi players had mixed units with TQ/Morale of d10/d12 operators interspersed with d6/d8 Iraqis and US d8/d10 infantry coming to reinforce.  The ISIS player had d6/d12 troops, while the Chechen ISIS had d8/d10 troops manning key positions, such as the mortar crew, hidden RPG-29 crew, and hidden sniper team.  The Chechen and ISIS players had the option of two positions at which they could hide their GPS jammer, and the US/Iraqi players knew that the device was at one of the two places.  The Chechen/ISIS faction players chose to put the jammer in the mosque with the blue dome on top, making this their strong flank with hidden unit placement.
Conceptual dry run at my house, from the US/Iraqi end of the board.  The US/Iraqi forces have to neutralize the ISIS mortar team as well as the GPS jammers.
Side view of the battlefield from the US/Iraqi right flank.
Turn 1:  
ISIS won intiative, and the ISIS team at between US/Iraqi Team #1 and the ISIS mortar team exchanged fire.  This didn't go well for ISIS, causing 3 ISIS casualties. Vehicles from both sides maneuvered and fired, causing one Iraqi casualty, damaging an ISIS technical's machine gun, and suppressing an uparmored Iraqi HMMWV.
View of the board from the ISIS side.
The US SF and Iraqi squad started the game in contact with an ISIS cell providing protection for the Chechen ISIS mortar team in the courtyard.  The ISIS cell fared poorly in its exchange of fire with US/Iraqi forces, rapidly reduced to one PKM gunner.
The US SF and Iraqi squad in the center of the game provided a testing ground for joint adviser/advised units.  Every time the unit had to make an opposed initiative check, the SF advisers rolled a TQ check to see if they used their initiative (d10), or if herding the advised cats was too much and they revert to the Iraqi initiative (d6).  This mechanic worked well, if a but cumbersome, and the unit weathered the whole game with one Iraqi KIA and no other casualties.
The ISIS technical, bottom of the picture, was immobilized and had its MG firepower reduced by half.  The crew and troops in the bed displaced into the mosque to carry on the fight.
The DShK-equipped Chechen ISIS technical shown here exchanged fire with an Iraqi Army HMMWV, suppressing the inferior Iraqi troops, and moved forward to let troops in the bed of the pickup disembark and take up position in this building.
Turn 2:  The US Mechanized Infantry platoon showed up with 4 Bradley Fighting Vehicles.  The Chechen sniper team immediately took a shot at the Rifle Platoon Leader (PL), who was dutifully leading from the front of his element, standing up in the turret exposed to name tape defilade.  The Chechen snipers missed, and the US player narrowly averted a significant blow to command and control. 
Arrival of the Bradley platoon.  The ISIS insurgents exchanged fire with the lead BFV, then exited out the back of the building.
The BFV returned fire at the building housing the Chechen sniper team, killing one of the Chechens in the co-located fireteam.
The lead BFV took an RPG hit, reducing its chain gun firepower by half.  It stopped to disgorge the fireteam contained inside so that they could get into a building and get into the fight.

Close-up of the mortar team firing at BIAP from this compound's courtyard.  At this point the sole remaining member of the ISIS team that was exchanging fire with the US SF/Iraqi team across the way has displaced to the safety of the mortar cell's station wagon, getting the engine warmed up for a quick getaway when the BIAP fire mission is rounds complete.
Turn 3:  The BFV platoon rolled on, with the second BFV exchanging fire with an RPG gunner in the mosque at the other end of the board.  The RPG gunner lost this exchange.  The US SF sniper team on overwatch successfully spotted the Chechen snipers and fired at them, hitting the Chechen sniper that fired the errant shot at the Rifle PL.  The suppressed US SF sniper weapon helped hide their location, allowing them to remain completely hidden (no hidden unit marker for snipers in this scenario).

Turn 4:   US/Iraqi troops continued their advance.  ISIS forces received reinforcements in the form of a captured Iraqi M1A1 Abrams MBT, but it didn't exactly shift the battle's momentum like I thought it would.  A Fog of War card brought the Iraqi Army an M1A1 of its own, and the ISIS Abrams was quickly knocked down a peg by the US forces.
The Army goes rolling along.  One BFV fired at the far building that housed Chechen ISIS fighters and the Chechen sniper team.  On a Fog of War card, the Bradley's fire hit something that caught ablaze and set the building alight.  All Chechens inside displaced out the back of the building.  The Chechen mortar crew made an insanely lucky unobserved mortar fire mission on the dismounted US infantry, wounding two.
Another US SF/Iraqi unit advanced in the burning M113.  Prior to it attaining kindling status, it rounded the corner and the Iraqi gunner exchanged near-point blank HMG fire with the Chechen DShK-equipped technical gunner.  True to form, both Iraqis missed.  The Chechen RPG-29 crew perched on the nearby roof, however, did not miss.  It smoked the M113 and killed the ODA's Team Sergeant, a couple of Iraqis, and inflicted numerous wounds on the troops inside the vehicle.
A lot going on here.  In the burning bulding, an extraordinarily unlucky ISIS team tripped one of their own IEDs (Fog of War card) and all but one of the ISIS fighters was killed.  The ISIS M1A1 that showed up is pictured at the top of the board.  It rolled in to the battle, lost initiative against a heavily-penalized BFV crew.  The BFV fired a TOW missile that knocked out the M1's main gun, reducing it to a heavily armored taxi and convincing the ISIS crew to reverse and look for somewhere else to be.  The second BFV in the order of movement disembarked its troops at the corner of the mortar cell's firing position compound.
Turn 5:  The US retained the initiative, and on a Fog of War card (as if they needed it) received reinforcements in the form of a 4-man SOF team.  The two factions exchanged fire, with ISIS taking the worst of the casualties dished out.  The US SF/Iraqi element in the middle of the board knocked out the Chechen DShK technical parked behind the burning building.  At the end of this turn, a Fog of War card brought a sandstorm, significantly changing the course of the battle.  In Turn 6, US forces were supposed to get dedicated Apache gunship support.  Not only was that not going to happen now, but visibility was reduced such that optimum range no longer applied, movement was limited to tactical speed only, and only units with thermal sights (the M2 BFVs and the M1A1) could engage anything beyond 18" away.

Turn 6:  US/Iraqi forces retained initiative, but Fog of War cards continued to derail the anticipated course of the game.  A Fog of War card gave the Chechens their own captured M1A1, which showed up behind the mosque.  I only have one M1 model (a toy, really - but to scale) so a Matchbox flatbed truck and SUV were serving as my other two tanks.
The Iraqi HMMWV shown on the right had its HMG knocked out and was reduced to half speed.  The crew chose to get out and assault the crew of the destroyed Chechen DShK technical.  They chose poorly.
The Iraqi HMMWV crew dismounted their vehicle, and the vehicle commander was promptly shot.  The driver and gunner lost their nerve and froze outside of the vehicle.  The US SF/Iraqi squad from the destroyed M113 had treated casualties, rounded the corner, and shot down the Chechens in return.
A Fog of War card brought a random mortar barrage down on this US fire team - the second one they faced - killing one of the team members.
The burning station wagon in the middle of the road doesn't do justice to the insanity that happened here.  BFV #2 pulled even with the doorway of the mortar cell compound and fired on the mortar cell members, who were all loaded up in the station wagon.  The 25mm cannon FAILED to damage the station wagon - I guess it blew a luggage rack off of the top.  Then the mortar cell screamed out of the compound in their vehicle, and a US AT-4 missed the vehicle as it fled.  Small arms fire, however, immobilized the station wagon in the middle of the road.  In Turn 7, as the Chechen M1A1 moved toward this stretch of road, the Chechen mortar crew ran to the safety of cover behind the wall of the compound.
Turn 7:  The Iraqi Army M1A1 destroyed a Chechen-crewed uparmored HMMWV on the left, and a Fog of War card dropped an IED in the middle of the ISIS left, complicating movement of forces.   This turn was dominated by the advance of the Chechen-crewed captured M1A1 and ISIS efforts to move forces around their right, hoping to compensate for the collapse of their left flank. 
The Chechen M1A1 didn't inflict any casualties on US/Iraqi forces, but merely by moving toward contact it helped the Chechen mortar crew escape and forced the Bradley platoon to displace anywhere else as fast as possible.  The 24" arming range of the TOW IIA missiles on the BFVs handicapped US anti-tank capabilities.  Lucky for the Americans, the M1A1 couldn't clear this alley quick enough, and couldn't turn its turret to engage up the road.
ISIS forces displaced around to their right flank, hoping for an RPG shot on a BFV...
...alas, they lost an opposed initiative roll and the BFV cut down the RPG gunner.
ISIS counter-advance in Turn 7.  The SUV at bottom of the picture is an M1A1 MBT.  Really.
State of the battle at the end of Turn 7.  A lot of stuff was on fire.
With the end of Turn 7, we closed out the game.  The hour was late, and the insanity imposed by Fog of War cards meant that this wasn't going to end any time soon.

ISIS forces claimed victory.  The victory points for the US/Iraqi forces were entirely objective-focused on knocking out the mortar crew and the GPS jammer.  Neither happened, and ISIS forces inflicted a number of casualties that gained them victory points.

As a closing thought, I need to retool the scenario.  US forces, though they didn't prevail here, had a ridiculous amount of combat power.  The US player should start on the board in Turn 1, and only have half a platoon - two BFVs and a squad of infantry.  One thing that doesn't need to change is the uncertainty I built in.  Each side only received their objectives, and a number of ISIS units started hidden.  This definitely added to the sense of the unknown for both sides.

We'll see how this goes next time we play it.


  1. Excellent AAR, looks like a really busy scenario! I love the comment "they chose poorly" - great quote. Thanks for sharing.

  2. Ah, yes, the Fog of War-mess. Now you know why I toned down that aspect of the game significantly in the houserules ;)

    1. How do you administer Fog of War in your house rules?

    2. I just switched the card deck to a set of less intrusive cards, granting smaller (but at times still significant) boni to the faction drawing the card. Instead of playing them the moment you draw the cards, you may keep them on your hand until the moment suits you.

      This significantly reduces the imbalance generated by Tanks and SF-teams popping up while giving the FoW-cards a meaningful role of providing small buffs and debuffs.

  3. Thanks for a good read. Yes, the sandstorm sure can change how the game goes!