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Subject: Block the Advance with Fast Action Battles Golan ’73 rss

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Adam Parker
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Great game design makes the complex simple, replayability maximum, and abstraction credible.
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It’s not how well you roll that counts but how well the dice suit the game.
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I recently met a Jewish survivor who lived hundreds of miles south of Moscow in 1943. Just a little girl then, she was there at the greatest tank battle in history. The devastation of the SS Panzer Corps at the Battle of Kursk marked the end of Germany’s offensive on the Eastern Front in World War Two. Whether a sandbag she contributed helped stem the tide, it didn’t matter. At Kursk, the deportations stopped. The death camp transports never made it to her home.

Thirty years later, on the holiest day of the Jewish calendar, worshipers deep in fast gathered at synagogues around the world. There they’d atone over the next 10 hours for a year’s worth of sins but few knew that a tank battle against Syria, one that history would match in epic only with Kursk, would be their divine answer. And it erupted mere hours from a city they’d mention in their final benedictions later that evening, though many Israelis wouldn’t make it to Jerusalem in their prayers that Yom Kippur.

Some say 1500, others 1300. But on the afternoon of October 6, 1973, a thousand-plus tanks in two Syrian armored and three mechanised divisions swarmed across the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights. Their goal Israel’s emasculation in reclaiming the Golan.

T62s, T55s and T54s churned dust alongside Second World War T34s and long-barrelled SU100s. One hundred and seventy seven up-gunned Israeli Pattons, Centurions, and Shermans, the latter also from a past epoch, hopelessly parried and thrust at enormous cost: their reserves and reinforcements already forming for a record-breaking mobilization. Syrian infantry with their RPGs and wire-guided Sagger anti-tank missiles hurled ambushes. Israeli concrete emplacements paralleling a massive defensive trench, front-wide, begged an impregnable line. Paratroop, special forces, and militia battalions on both sides clashed hand-to-hand. All the while Soviet-born MiG fighter-bombers, US-made Skyhawks and Phantoms, plus an elaborate belt of Soviet SA-6 surface-to-air munitions bit into the sinew of each side’s airborne might.

Locales like Booster, Hermon, Hushniya, Nafakh, Tel Faris, and the newly coined Valley of Tears entered household vernacular; as common as the river Jordan and its crossings along the great western escarpment at B’Not Yakov and Arik.

Never again would the Syrians come so close to spilling over the B’Not Yakov Bridge into Israel’s Galilee than on that first night when Hafez al-Assad, Syria’s President himself, called a history-making halt to regroup for a morning push.

By coincidence, that girl from Kursk now a woman, had left Jerusalem only prior. En route to Australia she was now heading to a new home cheating death yet again.

This arena is now yours in GMT Games’ FAB Golan ’73. And it’s a modern day wargaming classic by designers Rick Young, Michael Gustavsson, and developer, John Foley. It’s already an all-time favorite simulation of mine.


The Setting

FAB Golan ’73, the latest addition to Rick Young’s Fast Action Battles Series, places you in the shoes of Israel’s overworked Northern Command and its Syrian counterpart during Operation Badr or as the West would know it, “The Yom Kippur War in the North”.



You’ll maneuver single-sided stickered blocks, allowing for fog of war, representing divisions of Syrian brigades and assign face-up counters of special forces detachments, artillery, battle assets, air and surface-to-air elements against similarly stickered blocks representing brigades of Israeli battalions and assigned counters of artillery, battle assets, and airpower across a full operational battlefield, some 1118 miles square, scaled to a deluxe card stock map 22 x 34 inches.

FAB Golan lets you experience this complete Northern Campaign both historically and in free form, from kickoff on October 6 to October 11 when Israel finally managed to reacquire its 1967 Purple Line. All up, 9 always tight half-day a.m. or p.m. turns: Turn 2 as a special feature, gaming out October 6th’s now epic maneuvers at night.


A Little Introduction to the FAB Turn Sequence

To center our thinking, let’s start by looking at the general composition of those FAB Golan turns. For the same overall turn structure purposefully applies to every title in the FAB series.

Fast Action Battles runs with the ethos of simplicity in play (though yes, there is some acclimatizing to do). And it achieves this by structuring its rules in two main sections (three if you include options).

Series rules establish a common engine, meaning if you know one game you’ll know them all. Exclusive rules then apply the historical chrome particular to each campaign portrayed: the great escarpment along the Jordan River; fidelity to Syrian and Israeli command and control, for example. Both rules sets sit within the one manual for ease of use and I’ll say more about that later.

A turn in FAB always runs First Side (as set by the Exclusive rules) followed by the Second Side in an interactive form. Syria takes the First Side in FAB Golan. Therefore, a FAB Golan turn broadly runs:


Reinforcement Phase: Both players act.


First Side Turn: Admin Phase—Both Players; Operational Movement Phase—First Side; Strategic Movement Phase—First Side; Combat Phase—First Side (but the defender rolls first); Reaction Movement Phase—Second side; Breakthrough Movement Phase—First Side; Breakthrough Combat Phase—First Side (defender rolls first); Supply Phase—Both Sides.


Second Side Turn: All phases from Admin through Supply (swapping participants in their order).


Victory Check Phase: Both Sides (in FAB Golan victory can be Syrian Automatic, Sudden Death, or game end-related).


Game Turn Advancement: A new turn begins (start with a new Reinforcement Phase).


So let’s now look more closely at what makes FAB—and especially FAB Golan—a standout in game design. It all boils down to a gutsy break from the norm.


The Clear but Unusual Concept of Units, Events, Assets, and Special Actions

While FAB differs extensively from the traditional wooden “block” wargame approach and players familiar with that genre will need to put a number of preconceptions aside, the series still shares some typicality in a number of ways.

FAB is still an area based experience, its map is broken into maneuver sectors rather than hexes; its blocks show unit strength by “pips” along their edges from 1 to 4; each pip allows the roll of 1 ten-sided dice in combat (attack or defense), and as combat loses are taken these edges are rotated to indicate strength reduction. Elite, veteran, and green experience levels are indicated by colouring these pips red, black, and white respectively; lastly, a unit can go from elite to a lower experience level even visa versa to veteran, as battle impact through loss is forged.

But there’s a huge twist to gameplay that brings FAB its unusual edge and if viewed with an open mind, and a willingness to embrace its novelty, a fantastic experience sits inside.

It’s all about Units (blocks), Events and Assets (counters), and Special Actions (both). And it’s all very easy to grasp. Though, I admit, it took Golan to finally muster up my courage and pledge it a go. I honestly couldn’t come to terms with it in its prior titles of Bulge (’44) and Sicily (’43). But that was purely me.


Units—Yes, these blocks are your maneuver forces. Brigades for Syria and Battalions for Israel. During the Northern Yom Kippur War, these force sizes roughly fought on par operationally. Units engage in combat, take loses, retreat, receive replacements, disorder, recover, and are permanently lost through battle (some can return). Units are classed as either “Armor” or “Infantry” and this impacts movement allowances and numerous combat modifiers. The Syrians receive a helo-borne paratroop battalion too. For “stacking” purposes, only two units at a time may occupy an area at the end of movement.



Another variation of the Unit is the single-step Israeli Strongpoint. These 11 immobile positions come in 3 types: Armor, Infantry, and Ghost (Ghosts of course are dummies). Their overall effect is a defensive barrier in every Area along the Purple Line’s anti-tank ditch the Syrians must initially breach, along with minefields, towards victory. Their type and experience rating affects combat considerably.


Events—These counters represent a side’s special operational advantages. They become available per each turn’s Order of Battle reinforcement schedule. They are placed per side in an opaque selection cup. They are drawn during each turn’s twin Administration Phases. They may include armored replacements, unit-specific replacements, campaign-specific historical missions such as Israel's anti-SAM “Operation Dugman 5” and Lieutenant Zvicka Greengold’s heroic armored stand, HQ staff effects, Special Actions (more on these shortly), and others. You play them during the Reinforcement Phase or Administration Phases and reap their benefits for your future maneuvers. Once used, Events are discarded for the remainder of the game. Simple.


Assets—As their name suggests, these counters represent combat-beneficial TO&E issued by your abstracted command echelons. They too become available per each turn’s Order of Battle reinforcement allotment and are placed in your opaque selection cup for draw during the Administration Phases. They come in two flavors: artillery (rocket and tube) and battle assets (engineers, commandos, airpower, SAMs, infantry, armor; land battle assets having a colored experience pip like Units). You assign these Assets alongside your Units to enhance a combat’s potential, within limits. Assets can be destroyed in combat, eliminated by rules, or placed as Used for re-drawing in your selection cup next turn. A special case are a few Israeli Garrisons positioned pregame per set-up instructions. Simple again.


Special Actions—Special Actions are the easiest concepts to grasp. Each side gets one as a stickered block. This is your “Re-useable Special Action”. Each side also receives a number in counter form, being periodic drawable Events. A Special Action can be applied for a range of uses defined by both the Series and Exclusive Rules, such as: merging Israeli units, releasing Syrian reserves, allowing breakthrough movement, retreating before combat, and applying quality replacements.

Once initiated the Re-usable Special Action, only, is deemed “Used” for readiness next turn. Single-use Special Action counters, like other Events, are discarded.


In abstracting command using this paradigm of Units, Assets, Events, and Special Actions—together with rules pertaining to divisional and brigade integrity—FAB Golan shows astounding design elegance.

Trust me when I say again, the whole portrayed above, is thoroughly easy to grasp and it all comes together so plausibly well.


Objectives and Victory

What’s at stake in FAB Golan? More so, how is victory measured in a campaign that spanned weeks when its 6-day game window expires?

We can be pretty sure that capturing Damascus is not on the cards for the Israelis. It’s not on the map. Earlier, I mentioned three victory types: Automatic, Sudden Death, and Game End.

The beauty of FAB Golan is that determining victory progress is a piece of cake.

Victory is assessed by a mix of territorial objective points and those for the destruction of “large” Units, with one exception I’ll soon show.

On map territorial objectives come in two types:

Six sites with gold stars-on-red pentagons populate the battlefield’s center. These represent key terrain. Examples are the historical Israeli headquarters at Nafakh and the hills Tel Faris en route to Nafakh from the south and Tel Abu Nida to Nafakh’s north.



Blue-on-white Stars of David then spread along the eastern side of the Jordan River. These sites represent a significant enemy threat to the Galilee beyond.

The Syrians receive 1 Victory Point per Star of David occupied (some Areas have 2 or 3). Both sides receive 1 VP per gold star captured. Though the Syrians must constantly occupy them to count.

Lastly, the Israelis receive 1 Victory Point for every Area they Control in Syria east of the Purple Line. The vaunted Israeli counter-offensive has begun!



To Control an Area in FAB Golan, you need to be the last side to move through it. To assist memory, Arab crescent/Israeli star chits are supplied, though I purloined some clear green and blue plastic discs I’d once bought, as they stood out much better.

We then come to “Large Unit” victory Points:

A side that eliminates a Unit having three strength pips or greater, receives 1 Victory Point.



Given these different point sources, from Turn 4 onwards FAB Golan’s Turn Track lists a Syrian versus Israeli objective number. Should a side reach this figure through territorial and Unit points by that turn’s completion, they win by Sudden Death.

The Syrians can also win an Automatic Victory. They merely need to have a supplied Syrian Unit on the west bank of the Jordan River at any turn’s end. Merely huh? That’s quite a feat to pull off. In my last game the Syrians crossed the B’Not Yakov Bridge on Turn 3. They simply needed to survive that turn’s Israeli response … and they were annihilated. Timely elite Israeli armored reinforcements backed by airpower outside the SAM belt did the trick. It explains why the Egyptians, all the way over at the Suez, dreaded leaving their SAM umbrella.

Otherwise, the side with the most Victory Points at game end wins.


Mapping the Golan

It’s impossible to discuss a game without focusing on aesthetics. And when it comes to FAB Golan’s map, functionality and playability are at its core.

The 22 x 34 inch “Deluxe GMT” card stock foldout uses just four-fifths of its space for actual maneuver. Charts and holding boxes fill its remainder with the playing surface situated centrally within. Oh, how I’d love a mounted map for this game. In fact, without plexiglass of some sort, I found the card stock very tricky to lay flat being a split-cut design.

On the table for the first time, you’ll note that locality and Area symbols are oriented to the map’s shorter southern edge. This makes geographical sense seeing that the Golan battlefield runs from Lebanon in the north, east to Syria, southeast to Jordan, with Israel’s lengthy Galilee in the west separated by the paralleled Jordan River.



However, FAB Golan sees itself as a two-player game and actually visualizes players sitting at the map’s longer west-east axis as they should. Accordingly, all holding boxes are oriented west for Israel and east for Syria. The Turn Track and map legend then face towards the north!

It sounds like a bit of a design “balagan” (Hebrew for SNAFU) doesn’t it? Until you realize the game’s desire for a neutral viewing experience. Surprisingly for me as a solo player, and though I’ve often criticized this layout choice in the past, the whole settled in ergonomically fairly quickly. But there’s something that definitely helped in this regard.

How familiar are you with the actual Golan battlefield and campaign? For the Golan novice (and I barely had my bearings this time around) it’s pretty hard to make sense of where you are and why without this grounding.

My solution was a flick though a couple of books on the campaign before attempting play. Google offers some fine situational maps too.

Once you grasp where (off-map) Haifa sits, where (off-map) Damascus is, what the zoomed-in Sea of Galilee means in relation to Israel, and the unplayable country of Jordan itself, where Mount Hermon features in proximity to Lebanon etc. you very quickly feel at home. It’s like, “Ok, my team is heading in that direction for that reason.”

For me then, having the west edge at my front (i.e. viewing the map from the Israeli perspective) pushing Syrian forces towards me for its objectives, the game’s operational ambiance quickly became second nature.

Plenty of maneuver room is offered for a breakthrough into Syria should the Israelis perform faster than history. Likewise, west over the Jordan River exists a row of Areas for Syrian occupation.


Art inspiration

Now, the Golan in 1973 as you’d expect was a place of dirt and rock, with the occasional patch of green at its various agricultural settlements established by Israel after the Six Day War. Israel claimed the Golan in a bitter fight late in that conflict as a buffer against Syrian artillery and commando incursions. And to secure the Jordan’s water supply.

While GMT could have simply gone with a palette of plain browns to color the play area (and though yellows and browns do feature), superimposed underneath the whole is a Soviet topographical map that pops with immense but toned-down detail. It’s an artistic decision that adds a beautiful layer of immersion to the playing experience.

The Golan’s all-important road network mirrors this topography almost faithfully. You can see a reasoning for the shapes of the map’s various Areas and the finessed positioning of the map-long great escarpment in the west providing a substantial barrier to the Jordan River other than by those roads.

The 1967 ceasefire Purple Line is shown, as are wadis, rugged terrain, the unplayable Sea of Galilee, the anti-tank trench boundary, and tels (hills) that gave the Israelis in particular (due to a more efficient hull-down barrel depression) a massive range advantage against advancing enemy armor. And a map-long blue-dashed line denoting Syria’s SAM envelope runs almost to the Israeli border. Offensive sorties flown within by the Israelis will be a perilous affair.



Mount Hermon serves as a special map case. This Israeli listening post with ears to Syria, Jordan, and Lebanon sits separated in the north from the reminder of the map by a grey perimeter. It’s a space saving measure that doesn’t look out place, for it connects by arrow to a single Area giving access and egress.

Thing is, on Turn 1 (or thereafter) the Syrians have the chance to take it with a helicopter paradrop. But it’s a tough ask.

Reinforcements enter the map via specified holding boxes for the Israelis and entry Areas for the Syrians. The map also features Syrian divisional boundaries limiting the ability of its brigades to range freely until mid-map from turns 1 to 4. Another nice touch are the color-coded on-map scenario set-up indicators too. We’ll look at this feature again.


Movement and combat costs

Now, why is the historical taking of Mount Hermon from the Israelis so potentially arduous? It boils down to the map’s terrain movement costs and its Area combat modifiers.

Areas are separated by borders of various types (open, road, wadi, rugged, river etc.) each having a differing movement cost per Unit type. An Assault combat penalty also applies whenever a Unit newly contests an Area by crossing an unbridged river or AT ditch, or by paradropping into it.

Armor class Units receive 6 movement points per turn; Infantry class 3. A Unit is guaranteed a single area move and this is essential as some boundaries such as the Israeli anti-tank ditch take an entire Syrian movement allowance to cross unbridged.

Roads become essential to Operational Movement in FAB Golan. They are the sole means for long-range Strategic Movement; they are also the only means for crossing the great escarpment at the Jordan River.

When you realize that entering an occupied Area (friendly or enemy) costs an extra movement point simulating congestion, you’ll really want to economize on movement in order to coordinate your attacks.

Each Area also houses a combat die roll modifier of 1 to 3 indicated by a shaped icon. A triangle for example, indicates mountainous terrain, as at Hermon, and mandates the highest -3 Success Number penalty.

The basic Success die roll in FAB Golan is 5 or less. This means that attacking Mount Hermon requires a D10 roll of 2 or less to reduce a defender by a single pip.

Boost this by the Syrian’s elite paratroop rating versus the Israeli Hermon Garrison and you’re still left needing to roll a 3 or less. Add some Syrian airpower for another +1 DRM and the chances get better but remember that air assault penalty too. Artillery can’t be used against Mount Hermon.

The Syrians would like to take Hermon on Turn 1 if able. It’s not necessary and you may want to sortie against it by road later, using your sole elite paradrop elsewhere. But every victory point helps in FAB Golan especially early on. So roll well if your strategy is a go. By the way a die roll of 1 always results in success in FAB.


The interesting case of Kuneitra

As an interesting map note, Kuneitra in FAB Golan, being the region’s largest population center has its own Area with only a mild “1” combat success DRM. Another game on the battle, MMP’s Heights of Courage, using a different scale and approach denotes this town largely unplayable for both sides. It being a hornet’s nest, explaining the historical lack of interest in its possession by either combatant during the actual campaign. Should this Area be a -3 instead?

In fact, come the campaign’s actual armistice agreement, as part of the Israeli pullback from their Damascus approach, they gladly handed the headache to Syria for that country’s only territorial gain (and now possibly a Hezbollah springboard against Israel in the contemporary near future).


Brilliance

Elegance and aesthetics go a long way to explaining why FAB Golan has been glued to my dining table for weeks now—and giving it no chance of leaving for a while yet, other than family gatherings (which is why I wish we had IHOP here).

But lets talk abstraction and historical fidelity in chrome. For FAB Golan is definitely different to its siblings bestowing its unique strength.


Abstraction first up is felt throughout. From movement limits, to Unit cooperation, to combat DRMs, disorganization, Assets, Events, and supply.

Eventually the question pops up, that if movement is so precise in getting Units into battle, how do Assets then magically appear in an Area and disappear once used?

I put this down to command and control and the abstraction of distance and time. An armored or infantry Battle Asset depicts the allocation at a higher echelon of special maneuver elements—or perhaps the realignment of forces on the move. Artillery Asset appearance is easier to fathom given their immense ranges and their historical caliber span of say, 105mm to 240mm plus. Airpower assignment is the easiest abstraction to grasp of all. “We fly today.”

The removal of Assets at the end of combat or possibly, the avoidance of combat through enemy elimination or a side’s retreat, to me represents logistics and fatigue. Were these assets in fact, a Unit’s own independent combat teams? Have they now been absorbed after fighting? Is artillery now exhausted needing a redraw from a side’s opaque cup to illustrate readiness? Is the assignment of a commando team or a Staff Asset a reflection of a higher echelon’s thinking on the run?

None of this yet, talks about a thoroughly important Asset available to both sides: Engineers.

These Assets can build and destroy bridges, span the AT ditch, clear minefields, set fieldworks, create road blocks and then defend them. The correct use of Engineers and their luck of the draw is fundamental to solid FAB play. I think of these Assets as the strategic allocation of limited specializations; constantly on the move along the front and at the whim of battlefield fate.

All in all, I see no problem suspending disbelief in this simulation framework. It simply works allowing a focus on strategy (hence immersion) rather than fighting the rules.


Historical fidelity in FAB Golan is felt in enormous ways too. This is where the Exclusive rules come into play.

We’ve glimpsed the difference in orders of battle between Syria’s divisional structure versus Israel’s brigades.

In total, as the Israelis, you’re looking at fielding just 7 battalions, 11 (single-dice) Strongpoints, and 6 minefields against Syria’s 16 mech and armored brigades at the start. Syrian Assets and Events more than triple Israel’s until around turn 4, and Syria receives a massively larger draw capability for the first few turns as well.

When it comes to reinforcements, however, 15 Israeli battalions (some temporarily understrength) will join the fray against just 5 Syrian brigades. The Syrians have 6 powerful brigades in reserve but their release is dependant on Israeli reaction and the luck of the Event draw.

That the Syrians are under the pump from the get-go is historically accurate. That their reserves are hogtied is kosher. Yet, that their Asset/Event ratio is supreme reflects the surprise nature of their campaign and preparation through large-scale exercizes prior.

We then find plenty of color in these OOBs. A Moroccan mech brigade loaned to Syria that the Israeli’s can decapitate through the play of the “King Hussein’s Troublemakers” Event. Electronic warfare outfits on both sides that can disorganize a Unit pre-battle on a die roll. “Counterbattery” Events for both sides that can render an enemy Artillery Asset unavailable for a die roll-based number of turns. Commando detachments for both sides that can bottle up Areas for enemy access and egress.

Syria’s SAM capability is immense but fragile. Anytime the Israelis wish to sortie inside the SAM belt, they face a die roll that can destroy, abort, or let pass an Air Asset. But those same SAM Assets once used, then face a Reduction die roll during the next Reinforcement Phase that may eliminate them due to missile depletion (actually representing erosion of the SAM barrier itself).

There’s the Golan terrain types catered for. Particularly the Israeli-built anti-tank ditch along the Syrian jump-off line. The historical scenario sees Syrian Infantry already across it in the Israeli Strongpoint lines but still needing to bridge that boundary to freely allow their armor across. The alternate scenario sees all Units needing to cross first. But where should the Syrians assign their scarce Engineer Assets to build their total of 8 ditch bridges? And how long will it take to arrange them? Should these engineers be assigned other tasks first—will they be needed in battle?

The most impressive piece of chrome is the Night routine of Turn 2, the first and only night simulated in the game.

Historically, the Syrians were on the move. They’d broken the Strongpoint line at a number of locations and had armor across the ditch. The B’not Yakov Bridge at the Jordan River was reachable. Should they strike?

It’s not as easy as it seems. First up Night restricts Syrian armor to just 2 Area’s movement and infantry to 1. The Israeli’s face no such handicap—this simulates their unexpectedly rapid reinforcement drive to the front; one that took the Syrians by surprise the next day.

Night also impacts combat by a -1 DRM to the Success Number. But here’s the catch: not for Syrian armor! Their superior night optics are accounted for. Historically, the Israelis fired blind that night as tanks from both sides became so intertwined, brew ups occurred at point blank range.

Now take command and control. As mentioned, Syria’s 3 starting mech divisions are limited by operational boundaries leading mid-map for the first 4 turns. No Unit may cross or retreat into another division’s area of operations. Further, when divisions mix for combat a severe restriction on Asset assignment applies. The Israeli’s superior command faces no such limitations in the game's non-optional Exclusive rules.

The Israelis though, are prohibited from attacking directly across the Purple Line. Historically, this offensive political will wasn’t consolidated during the game’s period. That said, the Israelis can cross that line unopposed—and then initiate combat after. “HQ! We’re in, ok let’s fight!”

A frustrating experience for the Syrians is the holding back of some much needed elite armored reserves. The Syrians feature both a Strategic Reserve and two Operational Reserves. Each of division strength, meaning they comprise 3 brigades each.

The Strategic Reserve requires the play of a named Event to release each brigade. These are the “Assad” and 141st armored, and the 62nd mech. Two brigades, Syria’s choice, are immediately released on the Israelis crossing the Purple Line. Historically, only the Assad Brigade saw action.

The official Operational Reserve comprises the 3rd Tank Division made up of the 81st and 65th armored, and the 15th mech brigades. A play of a Special Action is required to release each brigade one at a time. Though if the Israelis cross the Purple Line, all come onto the map at once.

A third reserve (quasi-operational), being the 1st Tank Division of 4 brigades, is brought into play during the Reinforcement Phase of Turns 3 and 4, a brigade duo at a time.

Syria needs to use these Units wisely and imaginatively. It’s easy to lose them in battle considering a defender never factors in terrain to their combat rolls. And rather than retreating to minimize losses, the Syrians must push lest the Israelis move too far ahead in points mid-game.

Many other pleasant pieces of chrome await players in FAB Golan. What I hope stands out here, is that none are onerous to implement. Just keep the rules at hand as you play, as it’s easy to miss a nuance, things being so streamlined.


Rule Books and Errata

Talking of nuance and simplicity, it’s worth turning quickly to the rules as promised earlier.

They’re a masterpiece of writing and structure. I can’t recall a game where every question was answered with a continued read. And that's the tip when using them.

Recalling the separation of the single rulebook into a Series and Exclusive rules set, when a concept is discussed you’ll usually find its corollary mentioned a paragraph along or on the next page turn.

What’s more, every title in the FAB series uses the same rules numbering regime. Section 8.3 in the Standard Rules will always talk about Staff Functions. Section 14.62 in the Exclusive Rules will always talk about specific tweaks to Staff Functions in its title. What does this latter section say for FAB Golan? “None for this game”. Cool!

Illustrations and rules ordering are sensible and clear. The only quibble I have with them—and note that other than the card map this is my first—it’s the decision by GMT to print them (and the Play Book) on gloss paper stock. While the paper chosen is nice and thick and shouldn’t tear, I just cannot notate them and I’d love too. And yes, gloss showcases every bend, mark and defect you make.

Which brings up the question of errata. Yes, FAB Golan has some but not in its rules or charts.



Simply put, on the set-up cards—caused it seems, by a late catch of a duplication in map Area numbering—the OOB doesn’t fully match the map or scenario instructions. A clarification has been issued and it’s pretty easy to intuit otherwise. Still, it’s a small shame considering the care taken to art-up both some great set-up cards and the map’s icons. Yet, that said, only a couple of Units are off and the effect is invisible during play.

It’s worth also mentioning Golan's Play Book. I usually don’t bother with these other than to read designer’s notes and find a game’s scenarios.

However, this Play Book is a gem of forethought. Fifteen heavily illustrated examples of play guide new players through nearly every game routine and in a couple, I actually picked up a rule use I’d missed. Superb: a litmus for other game designs. The team did a wonderful user-friendly job here.

A fairly good topic-ordered index rounds these rules out.


Replayability

So does FAB Golan make you want to come back for more? Oh, absolutely … and recall, I’m playing against myself.



I’ve organized my bits and pieces using two GMT trays. These fit easily within the standard slim-style game box supplied. I’ve arranged blocks and counters by start and entry turn number. Therefore, setting up and and breaking down the game is a snap furnishing a quick replay straight after a scenario’s end.

There’s an immense difference too between the game’s historical and alternative set up scenarios. The former starts during Turn 1’s Syrian Combat Phase. The latter during Syria’s Operational Movement Phase. The latter also gives greater flexibility for the placement of both side’s starting forces. Which Strongpoints will you target first and with what? Do you want your armor over the trench first?

These two elements create a great “one more turn” feel and a strong yearning to play again with a different strategy.

I personally like the fidelity to history of the main scenario, though I can already see through some reading, the potential to test some official Israeli alternate defensive approaches and see what the early release of Syrian reserves might have brought.

In the session I’ve just finished and taken down for a family birthday (not mine), I’m eager to get going again once the vacuuming is done (me) and the dishes (me) and the (oh heck me). But I tell you what. During it all, I’m going to be thinking about offensives and counterpunches, and cake.

But can the Syrians win if they perform poorly early on? What of the Israelis?

Definitely. If the Jordan proves a pipe dream for Syria, the Israeli’s will still be stretched depending on how willing they’ve been in accepting losses rather than retreating from contact.

Unit losses are as key as territory. A game-end victory is worth the same to the Arab world as an Automatic one. And for Israel, survival is survival.


Blocking it Solo

Which really leaves the last point to all this. How have I managed to play a block game solo so enjoyably? The virtue of stickering blocks to one side of course is its fog of war. What will you be running up against? Where’s the enemy’s weakness going to be? Is that just a feint they’re threatening?

I’ll admit, head-to-head FAB Golan looks absolutely sensational: both sides continuously on the move—attack and defense.

But great news: it works solo too.

Firstly, when setting up Israel’s first-line Strongpoints in every area along the anti-tank ditch per instructions, I blindly shuffle them and place them rear side towards me. I therefore have no idea where the early opportunities in the Israeli positions will be—those of the Ghosts and low-threat infantry outposts.

I’ve experimented too with randomly setting up other starting Israeli forces similarly but feel this is unnecessary.

Fact is, a player with a good memory will recall where the enemy’s forces are once revealed in combat or having remained in an enemy contested area for a time.

I have diced out the allocation of key reserves to crisis points for both sides simulating command confusion under fire. That’s a nice touch too but not always used.

Otherwise, as with every game I play solo, it’s all about the historical experience. I run to the best of each side’s abilities and with the low force count in FAB Golan together with its streamlined mechanics, I just keep coming back for more.


End Result

FAB Golan to me is as classic as the hex-based games of yore where we’d spend hours trying to determine the best German approach to the Elsenborn Ridge in the Ardennes, the taking of Leningrad in Barbarossa, and how to crack Hougoumont at Waterloo.

With that, the global dilemma for both sides then becomes one of force optimization and husbandry. Where to push, when, and what to protect in the fallback if need be.



FAB Golan is complex history with the most user-friendly game engine I’ve come across in a non-traditional, bona fide, operational wargame for a long time. It’s actually easier to grasp even with its idiosyncrasies than many pure hex games of the past few years.

The key to FAB lies with the series’ philosophy. Says Rick Young in his design notes, that means: accessibility, fun, a feel for actuality, and a challenge sufficient to have gamers wanting more.

Well, he’s succeeded in this regard with me. And Michael Gustavsson, as Golan’s specific mind, has truly created a solid historical basis for the campaign.

Maybe the real attraction to FAB Golan for me is its window to the complexities of conventional warfare in the Middle East, a debate now raging as to whether massed tank armies are still in vogue given the close-in lessons of Gaza and Lebanon since 1982.

It’s a debate that even questions the essence of the Israeli Merkava main battle tank program, asking whether its billions spent would be better seen in urban warfare solutions?

Either way, the death tolls on both sides of the Golan war were immense. Per capita, the Yom Kippur War cost Israel three times more dearly than the Vietnam experience in its entirety for America.

That’s why the Golan campaign must never be forgotten. And for militaries worldwide, it’s remained a teaching topic till this day.

Politics aside, in FAB Golan, the gauntlet is now thrown.

Can you as President Assad, the Syrian commander, take the lead in the Arab World over Anwar Sadat, a man who will soon ignobly sit on the far bank of the Suez Canal forgoing a conquest of the Sinai?

Can you as Major General Yitzhak “Haka” Hofi, as Israeli Northern Commander, push the Syrians back from their strategic advantage and gift Prime Minister Golda Meir her bargaining chips for the Syrian recognition of Israel?

And how many must fall while these circuses are run?

That’s what’s at stake in the green, blue, brown, and tan of FAB Golan’s pieces. A fascinating highly playable addition to wargaming.

Happy gaming,
Adam.
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Manu
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Thanks for this great write-up Adam. I have Bulge... now you have me wondering whether I should get Golan
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Doug DeMoss
United States
Stillwater
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Adam Parker wrote:
As an interesting map note, Kuneitra in FAB Golan, being the region’s largest population center has its own Area with only a mild “1” combat success DRM. Another game on the battle, MMP’s Heights of Courage, using a different scale and approach denotes this town largely unplayable for both sides. It being a hornet’s nest, explaining the historical lack of interest in its possession by either combatant during the actual campaign. Should this Area be a -3 instead?


I don't think so - if you make it a -3, it becomes a key anchor for your line. At -1, it's pretty much insignificant to the battle, which sounds like how it was historically.

I'm not sure how big Kuneitra is in terms of space occupied on the map, but if it's a small part of the area, that probably makes the most sense.

EDIT - CORRECTION: I just looked at the map shown in the Images section and Kuneitra appears as a -2. That is what city areas have been throughout the series, by the way.

supamanu wrote:
Thanks for this great write-up Adam. I have Bulge... now you have me wondering whether I should get Golan


You should. I have all three, and although I wasn't looking forward to this one as much as the others, I find I enjoy it more.
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Adam Parker
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Great game design makes the complex simple, replayability maximum, and abstraction credible.
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Thanks Doug!
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Maya
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New Haven
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This is an amazing review, Adam. Wonderfully comprehensive. I was very interested in this game already, having grown up roughly in the middle of that map (and spent most of my military service in the same territory). After this review, the game has moved high up on my wishlist. I especially appreciate the notes on solitaire play, as it's likely that i will only ever get to play it solo.
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Jan van der Laan
Netherlands
Leeuwarden
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I rarely find such a review. A long read but a most interesting one for sure. If I wouldn't have preordered this game a while ago I most definitely would go out and find me a copy solely based on this review.
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Randy Mauldin
United States
Texarkana
Arkansas
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I think so far, this is the best of the FAB series of games. And this from a WWII junkie...
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Manu
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I hope it's not the last of the series... I vaguely remember reading that somewhere.

I am soloing Bulge at the moment and I have deeply fallen in love with the system, what a masterpiece of design.
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Adam Parker
Australia
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Great game design makes the complex simple, replayability maximum, and abstraction credible.
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No need to worry Manu. Kharkov and the Western Desert are up next, with a hint towards the Sinai later

PS And thank you all for the very kind comments.
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Steve
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Precious little talk over this release but it is great! I need to play a few more times and put together a review as well. Love to draw attention to this series, it's my favorite operational series.
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