Zama & Felix

Playings; Zama, 2 (Roman wins), 3 hours.
Felix, 2 (2 UK wins), 3 hours.

Felix is a game of the German (or Spanish) assault on Gibraltar in WW2, even I know that this never happened, so we are on alternative WW2 ground not seen in S&T since, (thinks hard), last issue with Case Green. Here the Axis storm across the land bridge into Gib, cross the minefield and hopefully drive the British into the sea.

 The designer assumes that the British will be overwhelmed and bases the level of victory on how long it takes to beat the defenders and how many units are lost in the attack. This sort of battle could be based on the historical assaults by the Japs on Singapore or Hong Kong, it is not for us to reason why Gib was favoured for the game but a few problems spring up as soon as the map is opened out. Gib is long, thin and tall, in hex terms 31 long by 8 wide at most, 5 at the British perimeter. Stacking is 4 for the Axis 3 for the allies, so with about 30 units a side on the map it is not as crammed as first appears. Height is rather better handled, only mountain units (about 1/4 of the German counters) can move up more than 1 elevation level a turn (curiously this does not apply to going down again). There are 4 height levels but such is the geography of Gib that there is only 1 hex through which an attacking (non-mountain) unit can move past the defending perimeter. Units have fire/melee/movement ratings, infantry can fire up to 2 hexes, the few mechanised units can manage up to 4, all firing at half power at a range >1. Both sides have immobile artillery units (not halved for range), which are of limited use, the UK units are usually facing the wrong way and the Axis maximum range only reaches 3 hexes into Gib at best. Melee occurs within the hex, it costs 2 extra MP's to enter the (non-locking) ZOC and 4 to enter the enemy hex, so it can take a couple of turns to get into a melee even if starting from 2 hexes away. 10 to 12 are common MF's but the terrain of the rock soon eats this up, UK units can move an unlimited distance within Gib provided they stay out of Axis ZOC's. The basic sequence is fire, move, melee but a unit that has fired cannot move, try using part of an adjacent stack to fire on the target, then pile on with what is left. Fire and melee both give results in steps lost but the 1st loss may be taken as a retreat, melee may force a retreat as part of the result, shooting is over with 1 die roll per hex but melee continues until 1 side retreats or is wiped out.

 Note that it is not possible to retreat into an enemy ZOC that is not occupied by a friendly unit, a common enough system except that in melee all 6 hexes surrounding the combat are in both sides ZOC's. To fix this keep single units behind the front line to allow the boys to pull back, otherwise a whole stack will be removed by inability to retreat or overstacking, if the adjacent hexes are all full.

Both sides have HQ counters, the 2 UK units are able to bring back a dead unit of their formation, at 1/2 strength on a D6 of 1 to 4. The Axis does not have this power, so what good are his HQ's ? I used them to stay behind combats to allow units to retreat, they cannot enter into melee voluntarily so are no good for removing losses. The ability to reorganise dead units is a big help to the UK, the Axis will steadily run low on units whereas the Brits keep coming back for more, in my 1st game of Felix I called the thing off when the Axis clearly did not have enough units left to carry on. I am a firm favourite of the "charge right in" school of tactics but softening up the enemy with firepower first might save a few cardboard lives.

 The game plays predictably enough, Jerry uses 2 goliath counters to clear the way through the minefield in front of Gib, or, because same are slow, charges through it taking a step loss on a roll of 1 per unit, per minefield hex entered. A few units can land behind the Allied lines but are too weak to be much help. The British can only move units of the 2 HQ's if a 1 or 2 is rolled, or if an axis unit approaches to within 2 hexes. Once activated a unit can move freely, half the UK units are facing the sea rather than Spain, so how easy a time the Axis has of it will depend on this HQ's die roll. If activated early it is no surprise what the commander will do with them. I have been playing the December assault against a full strength garrison, the game can be played in July, with harder victory conditions but only 1/2 the UK combat units. Certainly the December bash is very hard for Jerry to win unless he is allowed some sort of re-organisation like the allies. The game is a good exercise in pushing and pulling, odds calculating and outflanking and should only be seen as such. Its main selling point is that it is quick to set up and can just about be finished in 1 1/4 hours, if you do not waste time thinking. hence it has potential if a planned longer game has finished early. I would put this game into the category of "Strike Force 1", it is almost up to "Napoleon at Waterloo" standards but is let down by the restrictive map.

 Zama is another simple game, it reminds me of Breitenfeld way back in S&T 55, a basic quad type system with a few extra rules thrown in. Breitenfeld had a pretty open map but Zama is completely devoid of terrain although it has set up hexes picked out in blue and red hatching. Because there is nothing new or daring in Zama, there is very little to go wrong, is this nostalgia for perceived golden days of yore or a 20 year leap back in game design ? Only the tasteful counters (based on piccies in Barker's book) point to this as a game of the 90's, Command can take a lot of the praise for the increase in graphic standards. If you have missed or no longer own these old quads, Zama is a cheaper way to pick up on them than going to a dealer. If you have seen enough of that sort of thing and are expecting a new approach to ancient games you will have to look elsewhere.

 Zama is also a reversion to the old SPI practice of putting a 5th (or higher) part of a quad in S&T. This is a no lose situation to subbers, we get to play a game system without having to fork out for the full quad, something reading no end of reviews can do. In this instance we can play "Four Battles of the Ancient World" without having to buy the whole set, a lucky escape in this case.

 The basic game system of Zama can be summarised with a few well known wargames words, which would be gobbledegook to a non-gamer. Zoc's are locking but only face to the front 3 hexes, combat is mandatory, so defenders are forced to counter attack the turn after the initial combat, often at hopeless odds. A few missile units have the ability to leave enemy Zoc's, attacks are doubled in the rear of a unit, cavalry and elephants that do not start the move adjacent to the enemy are doubled (try charging units in the rear for 4x CF) on melee but change attacker retreat results to attacker loses 1 unit. Missile units can only fire in their own player turn, no defensive fire here, and have a 1/3rd chance of reducing the CF of the defender for the current turn only. Archers can fire 2 hexes everyone else 1 but because of the short term effects of missile fire there is no point shooting at anything that is not going to get meleed that turn, hastati and principes can only use their javelins once per game.

 The command control rules are worth using, the usual "less than such and such" on a D6 is needed to move a section of the army, Numidians (Roman allies) and elephants are fanatic and if the roll is not made, must move towards the enemy. These rolls are compulsory, the Roman has 4 commands the Punic 5, Roman legions are the best troops moving on a 1 to 5, I rolled a series of 6's when needing to move them up, Numidians and elephants are a rubbish 1 to 2. Surprise, surprise, elephants can go berserk if they suffer an adverse result in combat, they turn in a random direction and move at maximum speed, 2 hexes, and assault whoever's hex they land in (the only inter-hex combat) then promptly expire. The Carthaginian can allow the hephalumps to charge but hold the next line of troops back so that they do not catch the stampeding elephants but it is a lucky beast that is still alive on turn 3. With victory based on destroying units, this means 64 points of pachyderms in exchange for a few Roman light infantry. Losses of units are counted towards demoralisation levels of 112/115 (Roman/Carthaginian CF's) after this point all attacks are shifted 1 column lower and all units that fail command rolls must head for the table edge. At CF levels of 178/143 (R/C), the game is over, or at the end of turn 10 (or possibly 12, this is not clear) points are counted up based on CF loss and commanders killed. The Roman can bring back 1 unit at the end of his turn on a roll of 1-3, Hannibal needs a 1-2, so these loss levels can go down as well as up. New units conveniently come back on or adjacent to leaders (if not adjacent to an enemy), who are also handy for a CF bonus and excepting nearby units from the command DR.

 At this level of simulation much of the historical detail will be lost but some sort of chrome has to present to convince the gamer that his counters are Roman dudes and not panzers. In this case only Roman units can retreat through friendly units, a 2nd rank of Punic counters will prevent the 1st rank from retreating and eliminate them, this is a fair approximation of maniples exchanging ranks. The Numidian cavalry is hard to handle, unless near a leader but if the cavalry is kept within range of a leader (usually 1 hex) it is a little too flexible, Hannibal can shift all his cavalry to the same flank early in the game to overcome his inferiority in this area. The map is narrow enough for the Punic infantry to expand to the map edge to stop any outflanking on the other side, a bit off when it is supposed to represent an open plain. An advantage of the troops forming up as they did, in 3 lines, is that neither could be outflanked by cavalry, if there were some edge to butt up against they would have done it. Reading up on the battle in Connolly's "Greece and Rome at War", the chap is of the opinion that the final stage of the battle consisted of Scipio expanding his 3 ranks to 1 long one and forcing Hannibal to do the same or be outflanked. Regardless of what really happened, you can't do this because the map is not big enough, could Decision not have traded some of the useless sea in Felix for a wider map here?