Mud, Blood & Steel
The Battle of Hoveyzeh
January 5-7, 1981
Review by David Lent
Mud, Blood & Steel is an extremely inexpensive simulation of the Battle of Hoveyzeh in the Iran/Iraq War. Essentially, the Iranian government rushed a limited offensive near Hoveyzeh against the wishes of their generals who wanted to wait and have a much larger offensive after the mud dried out. Historically, many of the Iranian tanks became bogged down in mud and were easy prey for the hull down Iraqi armor. The Iraqis nearly wiped out the Iranian tanks and very few were able to withdraw from the battlefield.
This game can be purchased for $7.95 with paper counters that have to be glued to cardboard and cut out with a scissors or you can pay $5.00 extra for mounted counters. I elected to buy the mounted counters to save myself some work. The mounted counters are not die-cut though, so you still have to cut them out. However, it saves you from having to glue double-sided counters to cardboard.
The map is small and simple. It’s essentially just has 4 towns with a road going around a muddy area in a nearly square fashion. There is a terrain key, morale track, turn track and random events chart on the map also. The random events chart has very little impact on the game and feels unnecessary. It either allows one side to reroll one dice in a turn or once per game a unit can remove a pin marker. I’m used to random events that have a measurable impact on game play.
Mud, Blood & Steel can either be won with an automatic victory or with victory points. An automatic victory occurs when one side reduces their opponent’s morale level to zero. The Iranian morale goes up whenever they exit a unit off the opposite edge of the map or capture a village. Iraqi morale goes up whenever they exit a unit off the opposite side of the map. The Iranian morale reduces whenever they lose a unit or an Iraqi unit exits the opposite side of the map. Iraqi morale reduces whenever one of their units is destroyed. If an automatic victory does not occur, victory points are awarded for reducing or destroying units, exiting the map or if your opponent chose to let their reinforcements enter the map. You have to carefully decide whether or not it is worth bringing aboard reinforcements.
The game only has a partial sequence of play printed in the rules. The full sequence of play is something like this:
1) Determine how much Iraqi artillery support there will be
2) Determine how much Iraqi and Iranian air support there will be
3) Each side draws a card to see who goes first and how many activations they get this impulse. If the first joker is drawn that player doesn’t activate and rolls for a random event instead. If the second joker was drawn, start the next turn.
Impulse (one or two activations):
Activation (choose one):
a) Artillery support strike (Iraqi Only)
b) Air support (both players)
c) Move (both players)
d) Assault (both players)
e) Rally (both players)
4) Go to step 3
Some of the activation steps do not say how many units they affect. E.G. the assault activation doesn’t say if it can only be done by one unit or by all your units. I assumed it was by all units or this game would be so slow moving as to be unplayable. The rally step does not say how many units you can rally. I assumed it was just one. At the end of a turn, all pinned units rally though.
The artillery support and air support may be available on any turn starting with turn two. You have to roll for it and sometimes your side may get none. I had one game where the Iraqis didn’t get artillery on any turn.
There is a “hot potato” mechanic in this game called “Fortunes of War.” The Iranians start with it and can use it for one of many beneficial effects. If it’s used, the opponent gains it the next turn. I didn’t bother using it, since it would benefit my opponent the next turn if he chose to use it. In other words, you can’t really use it to gain an advantage unless you use it on what you assume will be the last turn of the game.
In this game, tank fire cannot directly cause another unit to lose a step. Steps can only be lost from ground fire if it causes a pinned unit to retreat and it cannot do so. This happens if the retreating unit was surrounded or gets stuck in mud. Usually, ground fire just pins the enemy. Artillery and air strikes can cause a unit to lose a step if it is already pinned though. However, the availability of artillery and air strikes are highly variable and you do not know in advance if you will have them the next turn.
The basic strategy to eliminate units in this game is to try and retreat your enemy into the mud so it might get stuck and lose a step or to attack pinned units with artillery or airstrikes (if you have them).
In all the games I played, the Iranians won. The only notable advantage Iraq has over Iran in this game is artillery. When I played the Iraqis, I rarely rolled high enough to get artillery. The Iranians have better tanks and they can easily get victory points by taking towns since all of those except one, start the game undefended.
This game felt way too variable to me. A turn could end on the first card draw if both sides draw a joker or it could last a dozen impulses. In a one-in-a-million game, you and your opponent could each draw a joker on the first turn of all eight turns and nothing will happen at all in the game. You never have a clue if you will have artillery or air support (which is desperately needed) on the next turn. The optional rule that gives armor units facing make the game even worse, since there is no rule prohibiting you from moving a unit inside a zone of control. Your tank can meet an enemy tank in an adjacent space head on one turn and if it survives, move around the rear of the enemy (while still in its zone of control) and then shoot at its rear armor. If the enemy tank survives, it can then move around to your tank’s rear. There were also many errors I found in the rules (as you can see in the “Bad Points” section below) that were not corrected with errata. If you use a card deck in a game you need to state in the rules whether an ace is worth one, eleven or both. It also would have been nice for the rulebook to state what color units belong to what side. Also, if the rules refer to a “Game record track”, there should be one on the map.
Mud, Blood & Steel wasn’t the right game for me. It felt like it needed more playtesting before publishing, since there are too many problems with the rules and I didn’t feel engaged while playing. In each game I played, I was so disinterested and bored after a few turns that I just wanted the game to end and didn’t care who won.
View this game’s components in the unboxing video below: