Playings; 6 (16 hours)
Stuck for a modern war to simulate (after the Warsaw Pact retired) Victory have plumped for Israel with this 2 mapper. Worry not if you are short on space, the 7 basic games only use 1 map and several of the campaign games will see very little action on 1 of them. Of the 7 basic scenarios, 2 are pretty much full size, the others are quickies, only 2 or 3 of which would I rate for repeated plays. Best make sure that if you only have space for 1 map that it is the northern job (Israel, Syria, Lebanon) because here is where most of the charts are. All the scenarios are based on some combination of Israel and an Arab coalition having it away in 2 teams, with possibly Syria or Jordan sitting it out and everyone walking all over Lebanon. Egypt does not get to play, handy because the map does not stretch that far south, of course the USA and Iraq may make guest appearances. The shorter games have a set number of turns (1 to 6), the others end on a of 7, 8 or 9 on a D10 rolled each turn, the number depending on the scenario. If the USA is a major player, the die is not rolled and the games continue until 1 team walks over the other. My first campaign lasted for 5 turns, it is wise to expect the total number of turns to be fairly low and plan for some early game success. To be honest, Golan is just a chance for a punch up using the latest in weapons and drawing heavily on the experience of the Gulf.
Full marks to Victory for cutting heavily in 2 areas often given a lot of space in modern games. There is no need to pay any sort of supply point to perform actions, unlike Gulf Strike and Arabian Nightmare in both of which your offensive could halt through a lack of pencil sharpeners or whatever. Supplies are someone else's problem, everyone is assumed to have enough for the 1st few day's play (which is what we are simulating here). Further sacrilege, where is the air system? Junked (hooray). Air power is measured as its ability to support ground troops, there is no air combat as such. Instead we have a track of boxes with Arab 3 at one end, neutral in the middle and Israel 3 at the other. Each turn a D10is rolled to see which box is in effect, unless all these rolls deviate from the norm the marker will end up in the Israel 3 box pretty swiftly, from which, due to certain die modifiers, it will not stray. The side with air superiority can detect enemy movement further away and has more of air strikes available. I am unable to fathom why Israeli units can detect Arabs at a greater range than Arabs Israelis at equivalent superiority levels. Presumably the Israelis can download US AWACS data but the Saudis have some fancy gear that would be available to the Arabs. The game assumes that both sides have plenty of strike aircraft but only if you have air superiority is it worth taking them out of the bunkers and putting them in the air. Air strikes are the only actions in the game that require aircraft (not choppers) you declare a strike and move an aircraft counter from an airbase to the target, where if it has not been shot down, it will attack. Sorry lads but all this sis just pure chrome. In the game we roll a die to find the type of aircraft launched, another for each AAA attack in range, this may cause the plane to abort but if it doesn't then another die will tell us the effect. A single table with a few +'s and -'s could handle the lot, in my games I don't bother putting the air units on the map, merely trace the route, check for AAA and look in the counter tray for the strike modifiers of individual planes. Victory must have realised this, I presume that they left in the little plane units for hands on feel for us punters.
Top marks for cutting these 2 areas but could victory have gone further? Plonked in the middle of an innovative game we have those old favourites the HQ unit and the command range. Yes you've all seen them, each HQ has a range within which all subordinate units are in supply and outside of same units move at under 1/2 speed and attack at 1/2 power. Most HQ's are division commands, 1 on each side (2 Israeli) are super powered army commands but these only supply a few special units plus the artillery reserves. The army commands have ranges of up to 30, division HQ's are more in the reign of 5. What does that mean boys and girls? Clumping, all our cardboard chums sticking close to the HQ and trying to keep clear of the one next door but getting in a right mess when it comes to throwing in anything to plug that gap. This game maintains that each unit must be in range of its very own HQ. No making do with the nearest one, this seems to fit for the more rigid Arabs but may not hold true for the Israeli system which could be more of a "you boys follow me" affair. Its eye strain time as we try to see who belongs to whom, the little numbers on the sides of the counters are less than adequate. Spoilt by the snazzy XTR graphics, I yearn to see little symbols in the counter corners to show their affiliation, little coloured circles and squares like the British army paints on the front of trucks for reasons best known to themselves. Hell, even the livid stripes across the bottom of counters as seen in the White Eagle Eastward would be an improvement on Golan's tiny digits.
While on the subject of HQ's, it must be pointed out that they are very important, so much so that the capabilities of HQ's don't fit on the counters but form columns on the player aid sheets. The divisional HQ's have 1 set of abilities for each nation with the army jobs having a wider ranging set. These include the range of AAA covered by the HQ, ability to resupply troops and artillery, engineering abilities, availability of transport helicopters and use of missiles. In reality all this sort of stuff would be scattered around the formation, here it is represented by a single counter in 1 place, this makes it easy to aim at but is a bit of a fudge. All the HQ really represents is the commander, his staff and a handful of communications vehicles, Victory have assumed that all the support paraphernalia is parked up there too. Wrong, but it does cut down the amount of counters cluttering up the map and considering the range of air and artillery strikes, if you can find it you can probably hit it, so at this sort of level of game does it really matter where every SAM site is?
The prime tenet of Golan's game system is action and reaction, this is not an "I go-you go" game. Every one of the above-mentioned HQ's has its own chit, chuck the chits of all the HQ's in play into a heap and pull 1 out. All units under that command then get to move and fight, the exception to this is the very first chit of the turn that can be chosen (sifting through the pile) by the initiative player. So after the 1st mob has had its go anyone may move, from either side but the Israeli's have more HQ's and are more likely to pull a chit than the Arabs. In practice you may find that the formation in the rear area gets pulled 1st but can't move far because the front line units haven't been able to break through yet. On defense, the front line units could be activated early but have to sit around waiting for the reserves to be activated and move up. If you are doing really well, in kicking butts terms, there is a chance of a bonus chit being added to the pile allowing a single command to act twice in a turn. If you' re in this sort of situation you probably do not need the help of the bonus chit, many times a formation will waste its turn doing little because its actions depend on the success of another formation that has yet to be activated. You just have to make the best of the chits that you draw.
This is not all, the ability of the non-phasing player to move units is limited to reinforcing some battles but he can mess up the phaser good and proper using his air and artillery power. As each unit moves it can be detected, this is automatic but the range depends on the terrain and Air Superiority level. A detected unit can be shot at using helicopters, planes or artillery, if the shot hits then in addition to its combat effect, the target is "struck" and can move no further. It is a good plan (and easier targets) to shoot units using the improved speed road rates, if they are forced to stop they block the highway. Subsequent units have to get off and walk round, which slows the enemy's advance or retreat. This is not all, if artillery is used, any phasing player's guns in range can fire at the firing battery, any unused reactive batteries can then have a shot at these and so on. The result of this is that if a player is well outgunned in an area, he will only fire when he needs to or his guns will be flattened as soon as they let rip. Worse still, if air or helicopter units are fired at by the phasing player's AAA (from HQ's), those HQ's may be detected and themselves become liable to gun, air and missile fire. Much of this action, reaction and counter reaction stuff will not take place, players should be cautious and save some air power for future activations. Artillery is more expendable, each time it is used there is a chance of the unit running out of ammo but the HQ's can refuel them in short order, if they are in command. We also have cruise missiles that act like reusable air points but only the army commands have them.
Play is pretty straightforward, after a spot of housekeeping, players pick chits and activate commands until the pile is empty, when its off to the next turn, the number of chits in play gives a fair idea of how long the game is going to last. ZOC's are locking and not negated for movement by friendly units, so the defense will always try to form a line of locking ZOC's. A lot of the border terrain between Israel, Lebanon and Syria is high ground that will slow down or stop mechanised units, in these areas strong stacks at critical road junctions can stop an advance. All units have 4 states (combat steps), they are flipped from normal to disorganised and a marker is used to indicate broken or cadre status. Only if the attacker's troops are markedly superior to the defenders will any combat result in more than 1 loss of combat state, combat odds do not affect this matter. If you do beat the defender he is forced to retreat 3 hexes plus a breakthrough marker is placed in the original hex allowing all units within 5 hexes a bonus movement at the end of the phase. Even at top odds a 9 can mean failure, so you need to weight the crucial battles by using air power to reduce the defender's status before the battle and piling on plenty of support during it.
This may seem to be a defense orientated system but unlike many games you can attack the same unit as many times in a turn as you can bring troops up. Each phase starts with combat of adjacent units, next units that did not begin the turn adjacent to the enemy may move 6 operations points, spending 1 extra to attack an adjacent enemy. If you keep winning you can keep attacking the same or other units until the points run out. After all units have been accounted for, adjacent units again get to attack the enemy, if any battles in these 3 stages have been won you will have breakthrough markers that allow units not used in the last combat phase to utilise 3 more operations points. Only units of the activated formation get to do all this, any other friendly units stand on the sideline, even if they are adjacent to any battles that are fought. The 4 phase system does allow you to pile on to a point of defense and pour through the gap, if the enemy air and artillery power does not flatten you before you get to the front. The rules do not prevent use of breakthrough markers gained by another formation, so you can build on previous success, indeed they do not forbid the use of breakthroughs gained by the other side but because these markers are double sided (for the 2 teams) I did not allow this.
This game rewards success and punishes failure, victory in any combat brings several momentum points, usually 1 but if the battle is large or situated in a town or defensive site a maximum of 9 is possible. For each multiple of 50 points gained an extra chit is added to the pile allowing 1 formation to be activated twice. This is unlikely to happen but the player with the most points gets to activate 1st, choosing the only formation that is not randomly activated. If your assaults peter out then momentum points will drop until it is the enemy that has advantage. When the original defender gains and holds the momentum, the aggressor is in trouble because any defense line will rest on towns and dug in units it is quite possible for a few bad die rolls to see the momentum shifting sharply to the defender.
I had Golan sat on the shelf for a good 6 months before I forced myself to play it. This is not a complex game but many of the concepts are different to those commonly used so they take a while to sink in. I complain a lot about magazine games that are clones of each other, now here is a different game involving more work to get up and running. The idea of action and reaction is one that would benefit from practice. I would imagine an experienced Golan player making far better use of these abilities than I have been, then again with so many games old and new (a few of them good) there are not going to be many experienced Golan players about. My view is that it is worth the time to play the short scenarios and get into this game but I am biassed towards the period and a sucker for a new rules mechanism. The rules and scenario book are peppered with designers notes on the systems used, together with the new systems I could see this appealing to the "read the rules, look at the map" type.
The system is far from perfect, a lot depends on whether you think that the HQ type fudges are a cop out or a play aid. The activation system tries to give the feeling of events happening at the same time but also prevents all along the line offensives. Setting up the divisions in lines 1 deep is way too thin and a good way of keeping plenty of units out of command. The more useful setup is to have divisions each holding part of the front, with maybe a few in reserve. Only 1 division will ever be active at the same time so you cannot attack on 2 wings at the same time, the sort of "there goes the whistle and their off" offensive (Desert Storm) is not possible. Attacks are more in line with probing with some formations to draw off reserves then moving in elsewhere. All this depends on the chits being drawn in the right order, the Israeli's have more chits so have an advantage here. Dare I suggest that another couple of maps would not go amiss? The front lines can get pretty crowded with units stacked 2 or 3 high, plus the odd marker all of which needs to be shifted to check formations and combat odds. The units need spacing out either by a larger map area or blowing up the border zones, where the crucial action will be. I cannot imagine ordered gamers going for this game, if the chits don't let you down, the opponent may react and mess you up, even in an ideal encounter you could roll a 9 and foul up. If you don't mind this and have an interest in modern games take a look, don't worry about the subject matter and scenario backgrounds, some are a bit thin. All that is up to the politicoes, we are generals commanding ground forces, ours not to reason why.
"First let me deal with your Flashpoint Golan review. I have played the game quite a few times and confess it is one of my favourites. You say that you are puzzled as to why Israeli units can detect Arabs at a greater range. My suspicion is that this is one area of the game where the modular approach of the Scenarios has not been followed. I think that it is indeed being assumed that the USA would provide its ally with the flow of information that it would ensure that the opposition did not have available even if that meant conducting electronic warfare against the Saudis. I have not tried out the alternative but it is a reasonable guess that without the advantage the Israeli player will be hard pressed, to say the least. I would take issue with you in relation to the designer's use of headquarters counters. I think what the designer is trying to show is that there has to be a nominal operations centre for the headquarters. Other modern games by people in the know seem to indicate that headquarters are not only important for the operating of your own forces but are going to be targeted by enemy forces and this a view reflected in Flashpoint Golan. I do agree that bigger size hexes would be better. Like you, the game sat on the shelf for a while before I forced myself to play it but once I had it down I was pleasantly surprised. Although the example of play is flawed and there are one or two last minute errors which show that production may have been rushed I think it's a good operational system. It is certainly easier to play than Gulf Strike.