Sunday, February 19, 2012

FAB: Siciliy

Eric's choice again, and he decided that next on the table would be the recent release from GMT, FAB: Siciliy, the second in the Fast Action Battles series, the first being FAB: Bulge, which I'm rather fond of after a couple of excellent games.

The first thing to note is that the rules have changed very little from the first game in the series. Although I hadn't played FAB:B for a year or so, the mechanisms came back quickly, and we didn't have to do much rule referring pretty quickly.

Additions to the FAB: Bulge rules are fairly minimal. Some rules for landings, and for the wobbly Italian morale, but that’s about it. Air units have been moved from distinct units to become assets, so they’re handled as part of the standard rules. Overall, pretty easy to play, and the rules are well presented, and thorough. Once you’ve been through the move/combat processes it sticks in the brain quite easily.

We spent an evening getting back into the FAB ruleset, playing the tournament scenario, then played the full campaign game over another couple of shortish evenings. Perhaps 5 hours for the full game, with a little rules confirmation and kibitzing. That first game played pretty quickly, although I was a trifle concerned that it was rather easy for the Allies to win. 

The Axis player has 8VPs at the start of the game: 5 from areas that score for both players (Termini Imerese, Caltanissetta, Catania, Val di Catania, and Niscemi); and 3 that only score for the Axis player (Syracuse, Palermo, Marsala). The Allied player has 0VPs at start. 1VP is also awarded for killing any large block, one that starts the game with 3 or more steps. The current victory level is determined by subtracting the higher score from the lower, so the Axis player starts with a net 8VP lead. So, for example, if the Allied player captures Niscemi, the score is 7VPs to 1VP, for a net Axis lead of 6VPs.

In the tournament scenario, the Allied player wins if the net score is 3VPs to the Axis player, or less, after 5 turns. Capturing Syracuse is 1VP, and Niscemi and Val di Catania are 2VPs each (1 lost by the Axis player and 1 gained by the Allied player). So, capturing those 3 areas give an Allied victory. Given that the British land in Syracuse, Niscemi is adjacent to Gela, an Allied landing area, and Val di Catania is only 2 areas from Syracuse, it doesn't appear too hard.

And indeed it wasn't. By the end of the 3rd turn (I think it was) my Allies had already done enough for the victory. The last couple of turns were just playing it out. The Allies have the stronger force, better assets, and a higher replacement rate. The Axis have a couple of good German blocks, but mostly just weak Italian garrison blocks. I don't recall any outrageous fortune on either side.

For the full campaign game we switched sides, but the outcome was pretty much the same. Requiring to get a net score in their favor to win, the Allies took Syracuse and Niscemi quickly. However, they had trouble getting into Val di Catania as I rolled like a demon with the strong forces there, rolling above average to score 5 or 6 hits in his first couple of attempts, and Eric chose to call off the attack rather than take the large losses.

By the time it fell during turn 6, Eric had also captured Caltanissetta and killed an Italian large block. That made the scores 4VPs against 4VPs, for a net 0VP, meaning Eric had 3 turns to score a single VP for the win.

There then followed 3 turns of ‘find the weak block’, which Eric totally failed at, as I successfully played a shell game. He also attacked into Catania, but, once again, I rolled well in my defenses and repulsed him each time. In the final turn it came down to Eric needing to roll 5 hits in 8 dice on a 50/50 chance in his at ton Catania. For pretty much the first time in the game he got the roll, captured Catania, as well as removing a large block, swinging the score by 3 VPs for a Decisive Victory.

I have several issues with the game.

Despite rolling like a demon for most of the game, the Axis still lost. If I’d been rolling averagely, the Allies would have captured Val di Catania, and been attacking Catania, a turn or two earlier, and won that much sooner. Eric rolled on or below average for most of the game. If he’d been on average, he would likely have killed more blocks and won that way. Yes, it was very close in the end, and Eric pretty much won with a Hail Mary, but if he'd been able to guess where my weak blocks were, and roll average on his attacks, he would have found the required VP there. The balance of luck was with the Axis, and they still lost. After just I single play I can’t say the game is unbalanced, but I’m sure not able to see how the Axis can win. They have to protect the VP areas, but doing that loses blocks, so they lose either way.

The second issue is that the game is very small. The British zone from Catania north is 1 area wide, and only 2 areas wide below that, so they have no real maneuver options. The US forces have more room to maneuver, but won’t get too far given the length of the game. Generally, the US has a choice of one or two areas to attack in, sometimes not even that. The only real choices are in the shuffling of the blocks, and how to assign assets, not in any choice of strategy.

Another issue is the VPs for large blocks losses. At the end of the game, I’ve seen it devolve into a search for the weak units for that final VP, quite common in our FAB:B games. Just feels a little off.

And that brings me to the biggest challenge I have with the game; it doesn’t cover the whole Sicily campaign, stopping about half way to the actual German withdrawal. That leaves an odd taste to the game; just as you think it’s getting interesting, it’s over. The US forces never get a real chance to drive to Palermo and capture the island; the Axis never really have to play a fighting withdrawal. The campaign just feels half done.

Overall, the FAB system works, and it’s a cool system, I like it. But Sicily just doesn’t work as well as Bulge, Not enough options, too small an area, not enough play, and it’s over before it gets interesting. I think I’d play it again, as with familiarity of the rules you can fit it into an evening, so it’s a good length, but I’d far prefer to play FAB: Bulge.

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