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Subject: Going on the old Patrol rss

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Dan Edwards
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Not a lot of things from the mid 1970's have aged well, and Patrol!, a Simulations Publications Inc. (SPI) man to man combat game from 1974 seems at first glance to belong in that dark closet with the lava lamp and the Pet Rock.

Right off the bat, the components fail to grab the 2007 gamer...the six geomorphic mapsheets are relatively colorless, the counters for the generic "Alpha" and "Bravo" forces olive drab and a sort of mustard brown, and the drudgery of writing orders on SiMov pads for each turn are not things that you would find in a current wargame trying to grab your attention.

A closer look reveals some points of interest. Some rather stark counter art for pillboxes, hand and rifle grenades, barbed wire and craters are evocative of the deadly tools of the infantryman, and what are those counters with horses doing there?

The 32 page rulebook lays the game out in typical SPI style: Numbered paragraphs, very little in the way of examples of play, and no introductory scenarios or learning in small steps. Study hard and refer to rules often.

There are two terrain effects charts, a vehicle detail and a single fold over page of Combat Results Tables printed on construction paper style stock, once again in a sort of grayish beige and GI OD green that is present on the mapsheets.

The game is a contrast, in that it is at once very personal and very generic. The counters representing the individual men have phonetic names, and the scale represents infantry combat at it's sharpest, and most violent, end. Your cardboard troops are shot by machine guns, submachineguns and rifles, blown apart or stunned by grenades, smashed by artillery barrages, blasted by land mines, engage in hand-to-hand combat, and if that's not enough, there are optional rules that allow flamethrowers to roast them.

It's generic in that the counters and scenarios cover wars from WWI to theoretical 1976 WWIII clashes with the USSR, so there isn't the chrome of having maps, counter art and weapons from a specific period. Rifles are rated as being Bolt-action, semi-auto or assault rifles, a 1918 Maxim is the same as a 1968 M-60, and that ridge you took in Korea will still be there on the other side of the Rapido River. There are rules that change the effects of the terrain to simulate jungles and deserts, but they all look the same.

Rules cover panic under fire (based on last digit of the hex your soldier occupies, leading to some mass defections if your troops are lined up just so), scattering of artillery and grenade tosses, smoke and illumination, rocket launchers, tanks and Armored Personnel Carriers, claymore mines, combat from horses, satchel charges, ammunition expenditure, entrenchments and fortifications, and sundry other nasty aspects of infantry combat.

Since the game deals with individual men in squads, there are usually only about ten soldiers a side to keep track of and plot for on the simultaneous movement pad. The SiMov system adds some uncertainty as, and at it's best captures the tension of a man trying to hurl a grenade or satchel charge at a key defensive fortification...Will he panic, survive the opportunity fire plotted by your opponent, or will a grenade bounce under his feet? It allows for hidden units, some pretty odd situations when things didn't work out as you expected (that machinegun you were counting on for support ran away) and forces the player to think ahead.
There is no getting around the fact that writing orders can be a chore, however.

Scenarios are divided in to situations: Meeting of patrols, Recon expiditions and prisoner raids, ambushes and assaults. The situations are then given orders of battle in specific historical engagements, so the attackers in an assault at Ypres might feature 15 British riflemen supported by five rounds of light artillery (preplanned), at Normandy the Canadians will get five rifles, four submachine guns, a rocket launcher or flamethrower, five satchel charges, ten rounds of light artillery (on call) and a tank!

In addition to the forces listed for specific battles, there is a Order of Battle by nation and era for "rolling your own". Oddly, the WWII and modern scenarios tend to be somewhat bland due to standardization of weaponry. Everyone at the Somme has a turn-bolt rifle, all hands clutch assault rifles after the Korean war, but WWII and Korea have an interesting mix of infantry small arms types.

The game can vary wildly in balance due to the nature of infantry combat and the SiMov system. An ambush might be decided in the first bloody turn if the unlucky victims wander in to the kill zone of a claymore, an assault might be a close fought slugging match, or a cakewalk if a lucky artillery round takes out the pillbox.

Patrol! can be very simulative of it's subject matter, and that is a strength and weakness...it's chaotic, luck driven and alternatively exciting and tedious. Patrol's combat is at a level where abstractions don't play well, and where a Squad Leader squad might "Break" or be "Eliminated", in Patrol! the squad reaches it's preservation level when enough men are individually blown away and they survivors start panicking at a high rate, and that's when the turkey shoot starts.

What to make of this three decade old title? It is sort of the anti- Memoir '44. There are no pretty medals to be won or happy minis that simply disappear when they are hit. Patrol! is ugly on a physical and moral level (there is a solitaire scenario where you try to herd your men through a WWII artillery and Machinegun obstacle course, the survivors are considered to "die bravely on the wire"), cardboard corpses soon litter the map, and the movement writing may leave you with the feeling that you've slogged through the mud with your men.

Patrol! is sort of a cumbersome and depressing game, yet that might be appropriate; it also guaranteed that it would never take off like Squad Leader did. Now that the era of card driven gaming has made SiMov a relic, and infantry combat games have glitzy components, Patrol! is hopelessly outdated, but strangely enough it might catch the feel of the Poor Bloody Infantry better than slicker, more recent treatments.

Oh, and those horses get used by Cossacks in a 1919 battle, and there a scenario with my favorite title in all of wargaming, "Pursuit of the Faquir of Ipi, 19 May 1937". You have to like Patrol! for that, if nothing else.



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Dan Edwards
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Thanks, I cranked it out because a saw a comment regarding the lack of reviews for old SPI titles. I might do a few more.
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