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Posted on Feb 8, 2018 in Boardgames, Front Page Features

Sicily: Fast Action Battle – Operation Husky unleashes Patton and Montgomery in the Race for Messina. Board Game Review

Sicily: Fast Action Battle – Operation Husky unleashes Patton and Montgomery in the Race for Messina. Board Game Review

By Ray Garbee

Fast Action Battles: Sicily Board Game Review Publisher: GMT Games. Designer: Rick Young Price $60.00

Ray Garbee

Passed inspection: Gorgeous map. Good balance of detail with speed of play. Elegant method for integrating air support, artillery and low level supporting units. Game contains two scenarios, plus an introductory scenario. Supports exploration of alternative strategies.

Failed basic: Rules were a bit dense and could benefit from better organization.

In July, 1943 the Allied armies invaded Sicily and took the war to the Axis home turf. The invasion – known as Operation Husky – is a bit of a paradox. It’s both a well-known iconic military campaign in which generals Patton and Montgomery competed with each other in the “Race to Messina” while at the same time, the details of that race have receded into the dusty recesses of faded memory. Fast Action Battles: Sicily, from GMT Games, blows away that dust and shines a light on the campaign. A light that reminds us that the battle for Sicily was much more than just a public relations contest between two Allied generals.

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Rick Young, the designer of the ‘Fast Action Battle’ (FAB) series of games, sought to provide a good introductory wargame that captures the feel of the battles being modeled. GMT labels the game with a complexity level of four. Not too tough, but certainly above the level of a beer and pretzels game. Sicily: FAB is an area movement block game that provides a degree of the fog of war by concealing the details of enemy units from the opposing players. The blocks represent elements of the static garrisons and major combat units of the Allied and Axis armies. Each block for a regular unit roughly equates to a brigade – regimental combat team sized unit. The garrison blocks are more like battalion-regimental sized units. GMT includes extra blocks and a duplicate set of the sticker sheet so if the unthinkable happens and you lose a block you can replace it from your spares supply. Nice work GMT – that’s a classy move!

Smaller units, referred to as ‘assets’ represent low level supporting units such as a headquarters staff’s planning ability, artillery, engineers and smaller combat formations that could be cross-attached between divisions. These assets are depicted with counters showing the unit type and name in the standard format familiar to many wargamers. In addition to the ground forces, your assets can include air support and naval gunfire.

The map is clearly delineated into areas corresponding to sections of the landscape. Across those areas is a depiction of the rivers, hills and mountains that make up the physical landscape. Mark Simonitch, the graphic designer has done a fantastic job in his depiction of the Sicilian landscape that is in many ways reminiscent of the maps that accompany the US Army’s official history or Esposito’s classic Atlas of American Wars, Volume 2.

Sicily: FAB gives a good feel for the topography of the landscape and how the ground becomes increasingly more defensible as you approach the northeast quadrant of the island. There, hulking in the northeast lies Mt. Etna as imposing a feature as the fictional Mt. Doom. Mt. Etna dominates the landscape serving as a defensive fortress and bulwark of the Axis defenses.

The map nicely depicts how the rivers dissect the island forming natural defensive lines against attack. The various beaches suitable for amphibious landing are all represented, presenting a clear picture of the length of the coastline that must be defended.

Beyond the landscape the map board captures the places important from a military strategy context – the cities, ports and airfields that were the objectives of the campaigns. These break down into the four port cities of Palermo, Messina, Catania and Syracuse and the airfields at Gela and Masala. Connecting the places is a road net that meanders over the landscape. Conforming to the topography, the road net conveys the sense of being a part of the landscape, rarely taking the direct route when an indirect path that hews to the contour of the land was an option.

Rules

A 24-page rulebook contains all the ‘core’ FAB rules as well as a separate section for the rules specific to the Sicily game. While it’s meant to allow players familiar with the series to jump right in and study the game specific rules, it was a bit daunting for a new player to flip back and forth between the two sections.

Fortunately, the book comes with a short table of contents as well as a three-page index which helps you quickly find the relevant sections of the rule book.

The rules are nicely done with graphics giving clear examples that reference the specific rule. For example, when the rules speak to units – you’ll see a depiction of what they mean by a unit. The same holds true for the game board, counters and the various tables and charts. The document format follows the old school decimal format of 1…1.1….1.1.1 used with board games rules for at least the past four decades.

A separate 32-page playbook contains short sections of designer’s notes, player’s notes, the three scenarios and detailed examples of the various sub-phases within a game turn. The examples of play are very well done. Each is a synthesis of an illustration of the example combined with detailed annotation describing the action under review, complete with references to the main rulebook. Almost every question you might have can be found in one of these examples in the playbook.

Sicily: FAB has a number of charts. These include; a turn sequence chart, a combat flow chart, asset action summary and Italian unit summary for the effects of fading morale. At first glance this seemed like a lot of charts, but most of your time is occupied with the turn sequence and combat flow charts. The others are great quick reference charts, but you won’t be constantly using either of them.

The turn sequence chart is a double-sided chart with the basic turn sequence and movement rule summary on one side. The reverse of the chart contains and expanded turn sequence detailing all the sub-phases and the order of events.

The combat chart has the sub-phases required to resolve each combat. This is a functional flow chart that steps you through each sub-phase and explains how a single battle is resolved. While there is only one copy (presumably for the phasing player conducting the attack), two copies would have been nice so each player could follow along through the action.

The asset chart provides a one stop shop that breaks down when an asset can be used and what it can do. It’s a very helpful aid for players new to the series, but after a few games, you’ll remember what most of the units can do.

The fading Italian morale chart is helpful just to keep track of the various effects on the various units across the game. This is a good handy reference for the players to document what the status of a unit becomes as the Italian morale starts to crack and crumble.

The game plays much like a conventional IGO/UGO game. The exception is that within each player turn the non-phasing player has the ability to perform limited actions – mainly participating in the defense of each battle, but also with the ability to perform move and attack with reserve units, as well as perform administrative actions such as blowing up bridges or constructing field fortifications.

The turn sequence results in a game where both players are engaged throughout the entire game turn with the opportunity to expend assets on key actions that influence movement or combat actions. The block game aspect introduces a limited fog of war by concealing the exact identity and strength of units, though the unit count is low enough that you’ll keep track of the really important ones.

While it’s not a card driven game, the event counters and asset counters give it a little bit of the flavor of a card driven game. Assets are counters representing battalion level ground units, or abstract allocation of forces such as air support or naval bombardment. Other assets represent the ability of each faction’s command and control infrastructure to influence the course of the battle. Thes