Monday, 16 May 2011

Raid on Iran: a trip down memory lane

Given that my parents are currently adventuring in the Golan Heights with a former Israeli tank commander, I thought perhaps now might be a good time to re-visit the Middle East, in the form of Steve Jackson's most excellent Raid on Iran. I had thought I'd lost this game, one of a series of fondly remembered mini-games produced by Steve Jackson back in the Eighties, of which Car Wars and OGRE are probably the most famous. However, while digging around in my parents' attic a few weeks ago, my brother stumbled upon it, and joyously restored this relic of a forgotten age to its rightful owner.

Raid on Iran was published not long after the events it depicts, namely the failed attempt by US special forces to retrieve the American hostages held by revolutionaries in the grounds of the American embassy in Tehran. In the wake of Desert Storm, Mogadishu, and 9/11, this seems like small beer (heck, I've forgotten Grenada and Panama too). But back then it was big stuff. I was living in Bahrain at the time, and 1979 was certainly one of those years of Living Dangerously, capped off with the Russian invasion of Afghanistan.

But Raid on Iran was a brave move. It is a 'what if' scenario dealing with the US assault on the embassy compound that was planned, but never happened. The Iranian player controls the hostage takers and the mobs that quickly converge on the compound once news of the assault leaks out. He has a number of options available, like extra choppers, or Farsi speakers to distract reinforcements (always my favourite as the American player).

The hostages' location is hidden, so you don't know for certain which buildings they are in, or how many there are. Indeed, the American player starts off with relatively little intelligence on the actual locations of his targets, plus the knowledge that he is on borrowed time. The Iranian player has unlimited reinforcements, including the aforesaid mobs. Those who have played the excellent Block Mania may remember the way the Justice Department finally moves on the blocks to bring the riots to an end. Raid has a similar mechanic.

Raid on Iran also featured a very smooth area movement system, which made it easier and quicker for units to cross large, open spaces, but harder to move inside a building. Firepower was based on numbers of soldiers shooting into an area, although it was also possible to initiate bloody close combat. Units could also be split up: need your unit of 10 Revolutionary Guards to split up? No problem, make change with two 5s, or a 4 and a 6. Units were not static, they were fluid. They could be split up during the game, but not reunited again, although they could combine firepower.

Finally, there was the nail-biting evacuation, as the American player struggled to get his rescued hostages into the helicopters.

It played well, you did not get bogged down in charts and tables, it 'felt' realistic. It was also cheap and affordable. In my view it was one of the better mini-games Steve Jackson came up with, OGRE being the other I really enjoyed. I aim to play it again soon, to see if it really is as good as I remember. Never advisable, of course. But still, when I saw that little black box again, the Eighties came flooding back with it.

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