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Subject: Does this Husky pull its weight? rss

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Alasdair Campbell
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MedWar Sicily offers a nice short and low complexity treatment of the campaign for Sicily. The components are of a reasonable quality and the game offers a challenge for both sides. If you’re not a fan of the buckets-of-dice system where bad luck can leave you very frustrated, then you should probably avoid this title, but if you don't mind it and want to be able to play out Operation Husky in a single session, then this game might just fit the bill.

Components

I found the components to be overall of a fairly decent quality. The cards felt a bit small and fragile, but they did the job. The counters that I used were the replacement ones supplied with the sister game, Desert War. They give the counters a bit more colour, but there is one rather large error with the new counters, and that is that the German Armoured/Mech Infantry counters for the 29th and 15th Panzer Grenadier divisions and the Hermann Goering Division are indistinguishable, and indeed appear to make those divisions’ counters to be all armour. The original counters, showed a difference between the two, which is key for movement and the play of the ‘Armour’ card. So I may be tempted to play with the original counters which shipped with the game, or perhaps I’ll just make a note of the three ‘actual’ armoured formations to be able to make the distinction in the game. Unless the new counters are supposed to give you three all-armoured German divisions, surely not. The map for me is very nice, and shows off well the variety of terrain on the island.

Rules

I found the rules to be fairly straightforward, and very short and to the point. This is a simple game, and so no need for endless pages of explanations, right? Well, yes, and no, and more on this later. The basic combat mechanic is that each unit can roll a number of dice to try and reduce or push back the enemy, the number of dice is based on the potency of each unit. As expected Armoured and Motorised units are more powerful – they hit on a die roll of a ‘5’ or ‘6’ (as opposed to infantry who hit on a ‘6’), and they can move significantly further than infantry. However, infantry can cross rivers and other terrain which armour/motorised units cannot. Terrain has an effect on movement and combat as you would expect. Indeed, a unit holed up in decent defensive terrain across a bridge/river can make life difficult for the defender, as a river and other hex-side terrain features remove a die roll from each attacking unit. Quite often a single strength unit, cannot attack an enemy unit in any kind of defensible terrain, as terrain with any kind of terrain modifier removes at least one die. I’m sure it is obvious that terrain can play a big part in MedWar, and that trying to make massive multi-stack attacks is often the best way to effect a breakthrough.

As well as the dice system of attacks, the game uses a small deck of 10 cards for each side. This is where Resource points (RPs) come into the game. RPs can be used to refit units, draw cards, or add some air power or naval power to attacks. The Allies get 3 RPs each turn, and the Axis rolls a die to see if they get 1-3, unless they are able to play the ‘Fall of Mussolini’ card, which allows them 3 automatically each turn from then on. The cards allow you to make improved armoured attacks, bring airpower into play, roll for Italian desertions, make an airborne operation and so on. They add a little suspense to the game, and some replay value. Especially if you keep shuffling them each turn, as the same card can then turn up again and again, and some cards may never come into play.

That is basically the rules. There are some added wrinkles such as the way the Allies invade, beachheads which are the initial supply sources, dummy Italian garrisons which are only revealed to be dummy when you move adjacent to them, and so on. But the game is really pretty simple, and so are the rules.

However, as with Desert War, I found that there were some little niggles in terms of clarity. As with Desert War, what happens in terms of retreating from combat is not always clear, and you are allowed to interpret the rules at times it feels. For a fuller discussion on what I, at least, saw as ambiguities, you can look at my review of Desert War. One ambiguity regarding rules specific to MedWar was that concerning Italian coastal garrisons – the rules state that you must stop and resolve combat during movement, but it does not state specifically whether you can carry on moving or not after combat? My interpretation has been to stop the unit, as it has been tied up in combat, but as in several other places in the rules, maybe a little more unpacking of the rules may have been helpful.

Also, when moving a stack, can you in effect move one unit as a scout, before deciding to move the other units, or do you have to/should you declare first where the units are going to move?
It costs 2 RPs to bring a unit to the Refit box and then the Reinforcement box, but nowhere can I see whether the unit moves from reduced to full-strength when it moves from Refit to Reinforcement for the 2nd RP. I have been playing it that 2RPs gets you a full-strength 2-step unit, but I can’t be sure this was the designer’s intention. Also what about 1-step units, do they cost 2RPs to refit and reinforce? It appears they do. Then there is the Italian Desertions card, it appears it can be played as often as you like, if you redraw it, as long as ‘Mussolini Falls’ has not been played. Then there is the airborne drop rule where you must drop them within so many hexes of a friendly-controlled village or city, does this mean the village in question has to be in your control at the beginning of the turn? I have been playing that it has, but the rules don’t say anything on this. So once again, as with Desert War, there are some annoying little instances such as this, which play-testing must have thrown up, where a little clarification would help a lot for us non-grongnards. Another example is the ‘Reaction’ card which can be played by you during your opponent’s movement phase to move one of your armoured units. For example, what happens when the Allies move two units into the ZOC of a German armoured unit, and the German unit then uses ‘Reaction’ to move away? Should the Allies be allowed to keep moving as if they hadn’t entered a ZOC? Rules cannot help you here.

So as you can see, there are some little niggles here and there. You can of course, make your own rulings, and most of them will admittedly be common sense. But it’s a shame another half-page wasn’t added to clear up any ambiguities. Overall, however, I like the rule system as it helps to simplify play which is what you want with a low-complexity game.

Gameplay

This has a different feel from Desert War, the follow-up game, as you would expect. The wide-open space of the Egyptian and Libyan deserts is nowhere to be seen in Sicily, and the game evokes well the claustrophobic and frustrating (at least for the Allies) nature of the campaign. As was historically the case, the Axis forces are stalling for time and trying to make an orderly withdrawal while keeping the Allies at bay for as long as possible. The game definitely creates this scenario. The Axis player must withdraw a certain amount of German units to achieve a victory of any sort, the Allies are trying to clear Sicily as quickly as possible and trap as many German units in the process.

As was the case historically, the Italian units are in the main weak, one-step units. I like the blind placement of real and dummy Italian coastal units to reflect how in many cases these were decidedly unreliable units. It creates a nice sense of suspense, as the Allies can be stalled on the beaches, or make a dash for Catania on a good day, depending on die rolls and dummy units. In one of my games as the Allies I was able to rush a unit up over the river at Catania on the first turn, although it was quickly pushed back before I could reinforce. There are chances to drop airborne troops behind enemy lines, and make amphibious landings behind the enemy after the initial invasion beaches. So all of this adds to a bit of variety with the game, at least for the Allies. The Axis are more restricted in their options, and so the Axis side is probably not as interesting. I have only played the game solo, and to my mind it works best as a solo puzzle, as the Axis moves are quite often limited to one or two options.

I like the way the game descends into a race against time, where the Allied player is praying for good dice rolls to finally roll back a stubborn defender on the other side of a river. The Allies certainly need to push hard to try and achieve a victory, and I see the balance in favour of the Axis player, as they can choose to some extent when they withdraw, and leave quite a tough defensive line on either side of Mt Etna. Indeed, this is where the game seems to reach its dénouement in the games I have played. It can get a bit silly at times, with a tough Axis stack in a city on the other side of a river being almost impregnable, but there usually tends to be somewhere where the Allies can attack. The Allies also have to make for Palermo and the west of the island, as a victory stipulation is that they clear the island of supplied Axis units, so there’s no making all out for Messina.

The Axis player does have some scope for counterattacks, especially early on, with the powerful German formations, when the Allies overstretch themselves, but for the most part it’s an Allied juggernaut making its way to Messina. There are some things which can jar at times in the game. For instance, I’ve had a couple of games when a single Italian coastal garrison has held up an entire US division for two turns! Bad dice yes, but would this have ever happened. Then there are the use of airborne troops, unless you have a particular card you cannot drop them but must bring them in via the invasion beachheads. I would have liked the option to drop airborne troops to be solely reliant on the weather. It has happened to me that I’ve had to bring all of my airborne troops in via the beaches, at least a rule that 1st turn airborne are always brought in via air drop would be welcome.

Overall I like the gameplay, it has a bit of a puzzle-like feel to it, as the Allies and Axis players look for the optimum attacking and defensive situations. And the dice add an element of chance, and the cards add a thin extra layer of strategy. The game feels attritional, which is right, and there is a tough timetable which the Allies must keep to, but I do feel that the Axis player will more often than not eek out a minor victory at least. But that of course leaves the game as a big challenge for the Allied player, which in solo is a good thing. In opposed, a double-header would work well, and would be doable, due to the shortness of playing time.

Conclusion

Despite some woolly rules here and there, the game works well for me. I prefer it to Desert War, as I feel it has more meat. And despite my reservations about the Axis’ being more likely to win, I feel there is more balance here than Desert War. There’s nothing better than finally pushing a stubborn defensive stack out of a city, or cutting the supply of the enemy to force them to retreat. There are more than enough variables through dice, changeable weather, terrain, card play and dummy units to make for an enjoyable game with reasonable replay value. I will definitely come back to this and play it again, and it’s a bonus for me that it plays fairly quickly. Overall 8 out of 10.
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Jan van der Laan
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Thanks for the informative review. I personally think MedWar Sicily is a decent game but compared to FAB: Sicily I like the latter a lot better. MedWar Sicily does its job well enough, the components are acceptable (not extraordinary) and being a light wargame it has some replayability and plays faster than FAB: Sicily but FAB: Sicily does a far better job imho. More decisionmaking, more tension and better components. For a quick game I choose MedWar Siciliy, for a more involved game I prefer FAB: Sicily.
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Alasdair Campbell
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I'm sure FAB: Sicily does do a better job, and in many ways I would like a heavier treatment of the campaign. As I solo most of my games, MedWar was a better fit for me, as I had heard that the Fog-of-War with the blocks in teh FAB series didn't make for a good solo experience. If I can find regular opponents, then I may just pick up FAB: Sicily, as I am interested in the campaign itself. I had read Carlo D'Este's 'Bitter Victory' a few years ago and that gave me a good flavour of some of the events.
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Steve Herron
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cillmhor wrote:
I'm sure FAB: Sicily does do a better job, and in many ways I would like a heavier treatment of the campaign. As I solo most of my games, MedWar was a better fit for me, as I had heard that the Fog-of-War with the blocks in teh FAB series didn't make for a good solo experience. If I can find regular opponents, then I may just pick up FAB: Sicily, as I am interested in the campaign itself. I had read Carlo D'Este's 'Bitter Victory' a few years ago and that gave me a good flavour of some of the events.


http://www.boardgamegeek.com/video/18403/fab-sicily/video-re...

I asked Marco Arnaudo about that when he posted his video review of FAB: Sicily. He said it was solo friendly.
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Alasdair Campbell
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Thanks for that, I like Marco's reviews, and I didn't know he had done one on FAB: Sicily. Hmmm, now I might just consider it, but then there's the GMT monster treatment coming out. And I'm kind of intrigued as to whether I would be able to get to grips with one the "monster" games, although I'm guessing Battle for Sicily will be a "smaller" monster.

I'll give MedWar another spin or two before deciding.
 
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Jan van der Laan
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sherron wrote:
I asked Marco Arnaudo about that when he posted his video review of FAB: Sicily. He said it was solo friendly.

I fully agree with Marco. Apart from the missing of the fog of war (which is a nice addition in a two players game) the FAB games play surprisingly well solo.
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Werner G. Elb
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Unfortunately both times we played MedWar Sicily the game ended with victory of the Allies through the fact that the Allies shortly before the end of the game landed parachutes units between the Germans and Messina. Even those parachutes units are not supported after the landing turn they snip the support line for the German and prevent the German units for leaving Sicly in the last turns. Because we did not find a rule or a tactic against it we did not play the othewise liked game again. Did we anything wrong?
 
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Alasdair Campbell
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From my understanding of the rules, you need an Air Support card or Airborne Ops card to make an Air Drop, and then only on the turn they are introduced as reinforcements. If memory serves me right, most Allied airborne troops arrive fairly early on when you are some distance from Messina, so the 10-hex rule should make it difficult to air drop close to Messina, and as they cannot be air dropped after they have been deployed, then a late air drop seems to be impossible to me. Unless, you can hold units in the reinforcement box until a later turn - nothing in the rules makes an explicit ruling on this. They just say that units should enter on the turn designated - my reading of this was that they must enter play, not just the reinforcement box.

So if turn 4 is the last airborne unit to enter play for the Allies, the blocking Messina with air drop tactic looks to be a no-go.
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Aaron
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So feinting and fog of war is not that important in FAB Sicily? Its seems that is what is at the heart of the blockgames so I dont know how its possible that this one would play good solo.
 
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