Voice of the Arabs:
By Mike Bennighof, Ph.D.
“They look awfully dour,” my wife once described a cluster of game publishers in a convention-hotel bar, “for guys who play games for a living.”
“Those guys,” my then-vice president explained to her, “are the bitter old men of wargaming.”
And she was right. When you work on them all day, it’s easy to forget that games are supposed to be fun.
When you work on games, the work isn’t always fun. Like any job, sometimes the work is quite far removed from fun (we’re supposed to pretend that everything we do is fun, just like Santa’s elves, but this outcome is not unusual in this business). When I rebuilt Panzer Grenadier (Modern): 1967: Sword of Israel, it was not a fun task at all. But as I slogged along, I saw a glimmer of fun. A way to inject some extra fun.
If you didn’t have to work on it, 1967 Sword of Israel is a fun game to play. You get plenty of tanks to play with, many types of scenarios (infantry fights, armored assaults on prepared positions, even a heliborne assault though the landing itself takes place off the edge of the map). But it’s the Israelis who get to do all the interesting stuff, which is fitting since they won the war and won it in spectacular fashion.
Part of my rebuilding task involved a lot of reading to double-check the historical research behind the game. The Six-Day War doesn’t have a great deal of in-depth, nuts-and-bolts historiography behind it; the diplomacy of the war takes up most of what is published because you can dig out a wealth of information on that aspect from American, British, French and Russian sources. But as far as the participants themselves go, they’ve kept their mouths and their archives firmly shut.
But there is information to be had, if you dig beyond the superficial (and often error-riddled) English-language popular histories. As I did that, I kept running across references to Cairo’s Voice of the Arabs radio station. While the Israelis were beating the hell out of the Egyptians and Jordanians, that’s not the story that the Arab world’s public was hearing. Lead announcer Ahmed el-Said spun a fantastical tale of great Egyptian victories, and for the first 48 to 72 hours of the war, he was widely believed. Then the ragged remains of Egypt’s Sinai Field Army started showing up on the streets of Egyptian cities, confirming the “fake news” of the mainstream Western media detailing Israel’s smashing victory.
Half his brain tied behind his back. Ahmed al-Said on the job.
Here lay the game-design path that I wanted to take. Games are supposed to be fun, and I enjoy studying strange and obscure, and most of all absurd, historical events. There’s not a whole lot out there in English about the role of Voice of the Arabs during the Six-Day War. I enjoyed running down the story and putting it all together into a single narrative; this is what attracted me to first journalism and then history, the chance to tell stories that were out there but scattered in many places.
Telling that story would just be the start. Next, I wanted y’all to play it: the campaign of the Six-Day War, not as it happened, but as Ahmed al-Said said it did (under threat of possible execution, to be fair). In an age when millions pretend that the lunatic fantasies spewed over the interwebs by cynical manipulators raking in profit and political power are actually true, it seemed the perfect metaphor for American political culture in the first quarter of the 21st Century. Lies proclaimed as truth, the truth decried as fake news; it’s nothing new.
And that’s the basis of our Campaign Study, Voice of the Arabs: we take Said’s tales of Egyptian victories as though they were truth, and build a set of ten scenarios around them. The scenarios draw purely on 1967: Sword of Israel for their maps and pieces; the story’s just a funhouse-mirror version of reality.
This time, it’s the Egyptian National Army that’s an ass-kicking machine. It has more leaders, better initiative, better logistics, and it has efficiency (a game concept that essentially means that your guys can do more stuff more, well, efficiently). It already has better equipment in most categories: tanks, artillery, heavy weapons, armored personnel carriers. With the highly-motivated and well led Egyptians manning them, against the inept and cowardly Israelis, victory is assured.
Though you still have to fight the battles. Panzer Grenadier and its close sister system Panzer Grenadier (Modern) lean heavily on the soft factors of war: leadership, initiative (reflecting planning and similar factors) and morale. But those will still sometimes lose to overwhelming brute force.
The Egyptian chapter has five scenarios, with a battle game to link them together. The brave defenders of Sinai at first repel the Israeli attack, then go over to the counter-offensive. The elite “Sword of the Sinai” 4th Armored Division’s T55 tanks fight their way through the Israeli 84th Armored Division and on to the gates of Tel Aviv, just as Voice of the Arabs said they did. We get to fight tank battles, conduct infantry assaults, and finally use all of those Egyptian Commando pieces to do some commando things.
With these guys, how could Egypt lose?
The second chapter traces the victorious march of the Royal Jordanian Army, starting with the capture of Mount Scopus (an achievement that startled the Jordanian staff when they learned about it over the radio). The Jordanians then proceed to carry out their long-planned Operation Tariq to isolate Jerusalem from Israel, and to march across the narrow 16-kilometer “waist” of the Jewish state to the shores of the Mediterranean. Finally, the Jordanian 60th Armored Brigade drives south-westward from the West Bank to link up with the advancing Egyptians. Like the first chapter, the Jordanians get five scenarios and a battle game to tie them all together.
The story obviously could have matched the 48 scenarios of 1967: Sword of Israel, but that would be taking the joke too far. Ten scenarios are just about right to get across the idea: the Six-Day War as the Arab world thought it happened, if only briefly.
All of that makes Voice of the Arabs a unique item in the world of wargaming. It had the mix of actual history and absurdity that drives me. And if it offends the weak-minded, well, those guys don’t play our games anyway.
You can order Voice of the Arabs right here.
Please allow an extra three weeks for delivery.
1967: Sword of Israel (Playbook)
IDF: Israel Defense Forces
Voice of the Arabs
Retail Price: $147.97
Package Price: $120
Gold Club Price: $96
You can experience the Arab-Israeli Package right here.
Please allow an extra three weeks for delivery.
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Mike Bennighof is president of Avalanche Press and holds a doctorate in history from Emory University. A Fulbright Scholar and NASA Journalist in Space finalist, he has published an unknowable number of books, games and articles on historical subjects.
He lives in Birmingham, Alabama with his wife, three children and his new puppy. He will never forget his dog, Leopold.
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