Playings; 1 campaign month (7 hours).
In Patton’s Best we start with a basic Sherman after D-day and aim to get across the Rhine in a series of daily battles. This will take some time even allowing for some days not seeing any fighting but the consequences of a battle can be written down on the game-pad and play resumed at some future date. A day will take anything from a few minutes (with bad luck) to 1 1/2 hours. With most days being very similar, 2 or 3 are enough for a sitting before the brain begins to tire. 16 models of Sherman are provided but are not all used nor will they appear in order. Avalon Hill have not seen fit to give much detail on these vehicles, baring a name, number and game statistics on a different card for each model. The sort of vehicle data provided with ASL is not given here, considering the level of detail of the simulation an unfortunate omission. I began with the basic family version, had it shot up by a panzerfaust and was presented with a state of art sports version (including bigger gun). This was knocked out by an anti-tank gun to be replaced by a more primitive runner which is still going despite a track hit in a later bash. All Sherman’s take a crew of 5 who are rated (covering firing spotting and such), tending to get better with combat, luckily the Sherman protects them rather well. After losing 2 tanks all my crew was still alive although 1 was pensioned off because of extensive hospitalisation. If it brews up you can roll up a new batch.
Many gamers have difficulty crossing the boundary between ripping the cellophane off a game and actually playing it. Patton’s Best does not help itself by having a truly ugly gameboard that is only remotely connected to the pretty map picture on the back of the box. The pleasant map of town and fields that graces the box is only used to determine where combat will occur, not to actually fight battles. It is divided into a grid through which the player’s tank moves, each box entered may or may not initiate a battle, getting from the starting box to a specified exit box yields the always popular victory points.
Most of the action in Patton’s Best occurs on the battle board, an oval divided into 6 equal segments representing direction and 3 concentric inner ovals representing range. This object is very clever but also very abstract, the player’s tank sits at the hub of the display and enemy units will appear as front- close range, left-medium and so on. The US tank never moves on the board but if it is ordered to move, enemy units may move closer or further to or from the centre representing their new position in relation to the US tank. Note that they may not, perhaps you have not been able to move far enough to close the range on some of the targets. 2 to 4 enemy units will start the battle on the board, they may leave, move around or more may arrive during the battle. The player’s aim is to slice the lot, easy targets like trucks will tend to run away, tanks are more likely to come and get you. The soundest strategy is to sit tight and shell the targets 1 at a time. Alas, some German tanks cannot be penetrated frontaly (apologies to sensitive readers) by the Sherman, some moving around is essential to get a
viable shot. Running away is possible as a last resort.
The basic situation is complicated by the player’s tank being part of some larger unit that is not directly represented. This consists of further tanks and supporting infantry. Both Jerry and you also have access to off-map artillery. German units may fire at unrepresented US units and these units may fire back at German units. In both cases a basic % chance of success is given, if achieved the enemy or friendly unit is destroyed. It is possible for all hostile units on the battle board to be destroyed by forces other than the player’s tank. There is a seemingly inexhaustible supply of friendly units to be hit. Loss of friendlys will reduce the % hitting chance of other supporting unit’s fire and (naturally) lose victory points. It is an advantage to have enemy units fire at targets other than your tank, firing at a target will increase the chance of it firing back at you. The tactic of leaving tricky counters alone and leaving it to someone else does work but certain tanks are very hard to kill by any unit, sooner or later they will make for the player’s tank.
The small cog in a big machine idea is good but falls down because the player has considerable control over what his tank does. To win a day’s battles a positive victory point total is satisfactory but to win the war you must stay alive. The player will tend to act exactly like a tank commander that also has considerable pull over what his unit does, the Prince Andrew factor. The actual tank commander would have to put up with doing what he’s told no matter how dull or dangerous. In game turns he might spend 6 months in England painting black stones white and polishing white webbing black then spend 6 hours in Normandy wishing for clean underwear. To elaborate, the player is able to avoid certain black looking situations. Days last a number of 15 minute periods, if the unit is in positive victory points he can waste time until sunset then go home. Calling up air strikes and waiting for them to arrive and hanging about for more ammo are good time fillers. Areas of heavy resistance can be bypassed, although weak areas might still put up a strong fight. Any self conscious commander not looking for a medal would do these things but superiors would tend to override
him. Patton’s Best is solitaire so some degree of pushing to the limits is recommended. Similarly the tank may end up in a position where it would be no use but the game rules would force it to continue.
Loss of the tank will end the day’s fighting. I had a malfunction of the main gun that could not be fixed, it soon became apparant that my role in further battles that day was relegated to machine gunning infantry and hoping the other boys would deal with any heavy stuff. In this circumstance the my tank should have been sent to the repair shop, players ought to bend the rules here. Another facet of history that intrudes into the usual ‘‘Sergeant Rock’’gaming styles is the role of the Sherman tank itself. The Sherman was designed for infantry support and battles will tend to be of that form. German units are rolled for randomly and are placed as unidentified tanks, tank guns, unarmed vehicles and infantry weapons. The probability tables are such that many battles will consist of your tank against infantry with the odd anti-tank gun. Once the gun has been silenced there is not a lot the others can do to your tank. Exposed crewmen may be hit and the tank could suffer peripheral damage but the chances of it being destroyed are slim. The battle turns into the Sherman shelling an infantry unit until it is hit then rotating and moving onto the next. Sure, your supporting infantry take a bashing but barring something heavy showing up or a lucky shot from a panzerfaust, the match lacks challenge.
On the other hand if 1 or more tanks do turn up then the Sherman is not well equipped to take them on. All unrevealed tanks and guns are assumed to be 88s or Panzer VIs, firing and dieing as such (well and rarely). By keeping at least 1 of the crew unbuttoned, chances of identifying the enemy are increased. If a unit is not spotted it cannot be fired upon but will fire at you, a low spotting role will identify the unit and since most guns and tanks are not 88s or Panzer VIs, make fighting it easier. Maybe this represents getting a really good look at the enemy. We must spot to target the enemy but a high spotting role will rate the target as hidden, unable to be spotted until it or you move. If the target is life threatening the Sherman will then be forced to move, only the best Shermans with the best gunners can move and fire, moving usually means losing a shot. Although fire to and from supporting units is swift any fire to or from the Sherman will incur the traditional modifiers plus the need to hit, penetrate and see the effects of penetration. Most models of Sherman do not have good guns or armour compared to the later Panzers, should 1 of these show up reversing off the battle board becomes a conceivable option.
Tactics are pretty obvious, pack plenty of HE ammo and shell everything in sight. Smoke can be used to confuse enemy tanks while manoeuvrering for a better shot. Against weaker Panzers sticking still and shelling them usually works.