Sunday, May 28, 2006

AAR: ASL 115 - Huns of Steel

Matt S.

Besides the fact that it has the greatest title of all time, I was inspired to play this scenario from Armies of Oblivion by Zeb’s excellent After Action Report of his rocking game of against Eric. As our cardboard soldiers duked it out over the course of a couple of gaming sessions, Brian and I discovered Huns of Steel is an interesting, complex scenario with a lot of options for both sides and therefore a lot of replay value. It depicts a Hungarian attack to wipe out a Russian bridgehead on the west side of the Don River in the summer of 1942. The battlefield is modeled with three boards. The closest board from the Hungarian perspective (44) is rather open, while the crossroads village and surrounding large grain fields of board 48 is in the center. The far board (43) is transformed with a new river overlay. It still has its very large grain fields and brushy area, and also the famous walled compound. The Soviets have two pontoon bridges they’ve thrown across the river. One is very close behind the walled village (the compound) just to the left of center, while the other is a little farther to the right. To win the Hungarians have to clear the areas on the near side of each bridge of Good Order Russian units. They have a rather formidable force to do the job: twelve elite squads of cavalry, eight squads on motorcycles, and a variety of tanks, many of them German-made. The Russian defense has 14 rifle squads and four conscript squads, a variety of support weapons (most notably a few antitank rifles, and heavy and medium machine guns), some wire, a couple of roadblocks, and a 76L artillery piece. They get reinforced first by some lend-lease Stuart and Valentine tanks, and later by a trio of T34-M41s.

I wanted to try the Hungarians, and Brian, ever the sportsman, accepted and took the Russians. At first glance the defense appeared to have some units deployed forward to offer some resistance in the crossroads village, with the bulk of the forces farther back in the compound area, and just a couple at the farther pontoon bridge. There was no telling where the wire, roadblocks, or the gun were. I suspected that several of the forward units were dummy stacks of course. I briefly considered wide flanking maneuvers but decided instead to try to blitz the crossroads village as quickly as possible and try to eliminate the Russians that were there before they could retreat to better defense lines around the bridges. The crossroads village of board 48 is notoriously difficult to defend, and for a brief time before his armored reinforcements arrived, I expected to be able to use the mobility of my forces, particularly the Toldis and LTvz38(t)Es, to surround and overwhelm any defenders there. The first turn was rather uneventful as my motorcyclists and cavalry rushed to the village supported by the lighter tanks. The more valuable PzIVF2s with their potent 75L guns and smoke ammunition capability, I held back at long range to avoid losing them to the hidden Russian gun or some other mishap. Instead they were to acquire targets for smoke rounds on turn 2. With a mild breeze blowing in this scenario, the smoke would drift, making it possible for the Hungarians to really lay down some effective smoke screens. The Hungarian troops quickly discovered that the approaches to the village were covered with wire, which proved problematic for the attack. Avoiding the wire really slowed it down, particularly the tanks.

Positions after turn 1:

The Russian half of turn 1 was uneventful as they mostly skulked and tried to retain concealment. On turn 2 the tanks placed a few smoke rounds in key positions and then the Huns pressed the assault hard on the village. The artillery piece was revealed since it was not in concealment terrain. Rather it was in the compound, behind a roadblock that was placed to cover the gap in the wall. Soon the wind would carry drifting smoke over it and in front of it, but time still seemed precious. The Stuarts and Valentines would arrive in the Russian half of the turn, and they were superior to the Toldis and the LTvz38s. So a Toldi ventured forth on an infantry suppression task in the village, chancing a passage in front of the gun, when its luck ran out and a 76mm shell wrecked it.

Positions after Hungarian turn 2:

In their half of turn 2, the Russians again skulked and took potshots here and there. One of the thin-skinned Toldis was dangerously close to an ATR near the compound. The Soviet tank reinforcements split up. Three went to the left of the compound and took up good blocking positions. The other three went to the right of the compound, with two Stuarts in the large field of grain in the middle, and the Valentine off to the right behind a hedge. I thought this was a very good play by Brian and was quite worried about how to engage his tanks. The two Valentines with 6 armor factors all around, and 8 on the front turret, would be tough to knock out with anything smaller than a PzIVF2’s 75L gun. The four Stuarts were perhaps not quite as tough with armor factors of 4 and boxed 3 front and side, but both the Stuarts and the Valentines had guns that commanded respect on this battlefield. The 37LL and the 40L have basic kill numbers of 11 and 10 respectively, which is plenty when dealing with the sardine-can Toldis with their armor factor of circled 2 and 1. The LTvz38s are almost as good as the Stuarts, with 4 armor factors on the front and a 37L gun of their own with a basic kill number of 9. Even the PzIVs, the best tanks on this battlefield, could not take it for granted in a straight-up fight with the Stuarts and Valentines. Most troubling to me was that my Hungarian tanks were mostly tied up in the village and not in the best position to engage the Russian tanks. I was not eager to use the PzIVs either, if it meant giving the Russians the first couple of good shots. Fortunately one of the Stuarts in the center grain area malfunctioned its gun on its first shot. This left his partner rather isolated momentarily. Although the artillery piece was nearby, it was enshrouded in smoke and therefore much less likely to hit anything.

Positions after Russian turn 2:

A Stuart malfunctions its main gun at a bad time (is there ever a good time?):

Things really got interesting in turn 3. The Hungarians had successfully cleared the outlying village. There weren’t that many Russians there in the first place, just a few conscripts and some dummies. A few Russians were in the woods on the approaches to the right pontoon bridge, and a couple of conscript squads had managed to retreat toward the walled compound. A couple of other conscripts were eliminated. A few Hungarian troops were broken, but by now they had all dismounted and were in fairly good shape, although there wasn’t a lot of cover now between them and their attack objectives. Moving through such terrain under fire is difficult. The Russian tanks had taken up good blocking positions. However the malfunctioned gun of the Stuart in the center appeared to offer an opportunity and the Hungarians tried to seize the moment. One of the LTvz38s actually managed to hit the lead Stuart with an APCR shot, but failed to penetrate. Not wanting to trade shots frontally with superior tanks, the Hungarians pressed the attack. A Toldi raced forward, outside of the covered arc of the leading Stuart. The Toldi got behind the Stuart and stopped and popped the hatch to go crew exposed, hoping to get a shot through its rear armor where it had its best chance to penetrate if it could get a hit (still not great though: basic kill number of 6 for a 20L, up by 2 for the short range to 8, up by another one for a rear shot to 9, minus 3 for the armor of the Stuart yields a 6, still less than a 50% chance). The medium machine gun in the compound took a shot to try to penetrate the thin armor of the Hungarian tank, but failed. The Stuart didn’t like the odds so it kicked into motion to make it harder to hit, and turned its frontal armor to the Toldi. With no realistic hope of knocking that Stuart out now, the Toldi still had plenty of movement left, so it started back up and got behind the other Stuart, the one with the malfunctioned gun, and stopped to line up shot. This Stuart decided to hold its ground, but it paid the price. A bounding fire shot from the Toldi killed it.

Now the central area was more open. The motion Stuart that was left was vulnerable and certainly not likely to hit anything while in motion, but swarming it still did not seem like a good idea, because that would leave the Hungarian tanks out in the middle grain in range of the big artillery piece in the compound. The smoke on that piece would clear very soon and then it would be truly dangerous indeed. So instead the remaining Hungarian tanks pushed to the right flank with the dual purpose of supporting the straight-shootin’ Toldi, and of suppressing the Russian infantry in the woods there to help leverage the infantry assault on the right flank. So the Hungarians were now attacking in two directions from the village. About six or seven squads, supported by a few tanks, attacked toward the small copse of woods on the road to the right-side pontoon bridge, while the other Hungarian infantry pushed forward and to the left to try to get close to the compound. One of the highlights during this time was how the infantry came to the rescue of one of the Toldis. It was in motion just 3 hexes away from an antitank rifle that had a good chance of knocking it out. The infantry, despite a paltry smoke exponent of 1, managed to place two smoke grenades on the Toldi to make it harder to hit, and it escaped to go support the other tanks on the right side. Meanwhile more tank support arrived this turn in the form of two more PzIVF2s with their nice 75L guns, three PzIVF1s with short-barreled 75s but lots of smoke ammo, and a couple of Nimrods. I always thought I’d have to go into management if I wanted to command some Nimrods, but thanks to Armies of Oblivion I can do that when I play ASL instead! J These reinforcing tanks pushed up the left flank to try to support by weight of numbers the assault on the Stuarts and Valentine over there. The PzIVF1s took up positions to try to place valuable smoke cover again on the compound area.

Right flank and center on turn 3:

At this point I was rather pleased with the progress of my Hungarians. They had traded a Toldi for a Stuart, cleared the central village, and were in the process of clearing the woods just beyond it as a precursor to assaulting the far pontoon bridge area. In the center the Russians had no armor support anymore, but it still looked like a tough task to attack the walled compound, because there wasn’t that much cover on the way in. Moreover the Russian right flank or Hungarian far left on the other side of the compound had two Stuarts and a Valentine in support in good positions. However, the reinforcing tanks were motoring into the area and gave a large numerical superiority to the Hungarians in that potential tank battle. Still the Russians had been causing some damage themselves. The gun in particular scored some good hits on infantry targets, elimating or breaking a couple of squads, and the medium machine gun too many great shots from its perch at level 1, which allowed it to often see over the grain fields unhindered when there wasn't smoke in the way, and it was sometimes able to catch unwary enemy infantry and break them. Also in his half of turn 3 Brian made some good moves to shore up his position. The Stuart in the center sped over to get revenge on the Toldi that had caused so much grief earlier, and took a bounding fire shot, but missed. So it then restarted and moved into a good blocking position close to the right pontoon bridge. Then the Valentine on that flank started up and moved over behind the Toldi, popped the hatch to go crew exposed, and nailed it with a bounding fire shot of its own. I only had one Toldi left, and it did not want to engage in a firefight with the Valentine because it had almost zero chance of penetrating its armor, so it kicked into motion and pivoted to make good its escape on the next turn. Nearby Hungarian squads in the woods, however, fired on the exposed crew of the Valentine and stunned it. This was a very valuable result as later events would prove. On his other flank, Brian pulled his tanks back to the compound, with two of them gaining hull down positions. It looked like a formidable hedgehog over there indeed, with the Valentine closest to the bridge. You can also see the stunned Valentine and its Toldi victim at the far right of the picture:

Things got even more exciting in turn 4. The vaunted T-34 M41s were scheduled to arrive in turn 5, and I wanted to have my Panzer IVs ready for them. But there was still the matter of those pesky Stuarts and Valentines to take care of. I didn’t think there was a lot of time to waste. The T34s could drive across the pontoon bridges and park in the victory area as soon as they entered, and they would be difficult to eliminate. Therefore I pressed the attack as hard as I dared on both flanks. First on the right flank the remaining Toldi drove out to try to play the same trick on the Stuart. Since it was my least valuable tank, I thought Brian would be reluctant to shoot at it and it might get lucky again and cause trouble by using up the Stuart’s fire opportunities or getting him to kick into motion or perhaps even get really lucky and knock him out. But it was not to be. Brian wasn’t going to have any of that funny business this time, and as the Toldi came into view to run down the road at his Stuart, the Stuart opened fire and knocked it out easily. At least he used up his rate of fire. A LTvz38 went next, straight at the Stuart, hoping to get behind him or at least get a side shot. But as soon as the LTvz38 got next to the Stuart, it used intensive fire to knock him out. Ouch. Two-zip Rooskies. I sent a second LTvz38 now and the Stuart had no shots available, so it managed to sidle up adjacent and take a bounding fire shot right at the flank, but missed. Egads. The Russians would get to shoot next in their Prep Fire Phase, and they had not only the Stuart but the Valentine over there as well. The Valentine had not yet fired. I still had my heavy-hitter left though, a PzIVF2. It cruised right up to the Stuart and stopped adjacent to line up a pretty good shot, but also missed. Yikes. Now it was looking decidedly ugly for the Huns on this flank. It was very likely that in the next fire phase the Russians would kill both tanks. This flank looked like a goner. The infantry, however, pressed forward and eliminated the last couple of Russian squads in the woods due to failure to rout. The Stuart managed to break a Hungarian squad with its machine guns but otherwise could not save his infantry comrades from their fate.

The right flank on turn 4:

On the left flank in turn 4, things started out well with some good luck in prep fire. Two cavalry half squads had ridden over there early in the game and assembled their light mortars, and had been dropping rounds on the Soviets in the woods in front of the compound as much as possible, with little effect. However on this turn, two consecutive critical hits from one of the light mortars eliminated a Russian squad in the woods on that flank. Then the tanks pushed forward as hard as they could. Most of them didn’t have enough speed to get far enough to properly swarm the defending armor, but one Panzer IVF2 risked it and drove into the woods angling for a side shot at the closest Stuart which was behind the roadblock. Both Stuarts fired at the Hungarian tank but missed, and the Panzer IV missed his bounding fire shot too. But another tank, a PzIVF1, then drove right up to the roadblock to try to nab the Stuart. It tried for AP ammo but didn’t have any, so it was forced to try HE instead. One critical hit later, scratch another Stuart. None of the other tanks were able to hit anything, but they were getting closer and closer, and soon would be able to bring their full weight of numbers to bear on the beleaguered defenders of the compound. In a rare occurrence, the wind had shifted direction at the beginning of this turn, which would cause smoke to drift toward the upper left rather than the upper right. Hence a smoke round in the compound helped cover the assault at just the right moment.

The left flank on turn 4:

In the Russian half of turn 4 on the left flank, the remaining Stuart traded shots with the Panzer IVF2 in the woods, with the Stuart coming out the loser, as the hard-hitting 75L turned it into a burning wreck, creating yet more drifting smoke on this flank. The Valentine scootched back a little bit to get within the compound and behind the wall. One of the Hungarian medium machine guns finally got into the battle and some well-directed fire broke a Russian squad.

Meanwhile back on the right at the other pontoon bridge, there was more exciting action. The Stuart hit the PzIV and shocked it, and now things were looking very grim indeed for the Axis tankers. The Valentine started up and trundled over to finish off the weaker LTvz38. They popped open the hatch to increase visibility and get a better shot, and then the nearby Hungarian infantry opened fire with small arms, stunning the crew a second time. A second stun is a Recall, which was huge. Now there was some hope still left on this flank. In defensive fire, the LTvz38 immobilized the Stuart, but the Stuart crew stuck to their guns and did not bail out.

Turn 5 opened with the PzIV coming back from its shock result, and putting the kibosh to the Stuart once and for all in prep fire. The tank battle finally won on this side, the infantry moved forward across the grain toward the final objective, the area around the pontoon bridge. But here I got sloppy and made a mistake. It’s easy to forget a tank under Recall, but it can still fire. I started the LTvz38 up in the movement phase and it was promptly dispatched by the wounded Valentine. Then in defensive fire, the Valentine used intensive fire to kill the PzIV. That was ugly, and possibly preventable. I should have had the LTvz38 shoot the Valentine in prep fire, and if that failed (which was likely, given the tough hide of the Valentine), I should have had the PzIV take an intensive fire shot. This was a costly mistake, but at least there were no Russian tanks left on this flank that could do much more, since the Valentine had to leave the map to satisfy its Recall status in the next movement phase.

The right flank on turn 5:

Back on the left, the artillery crew started pushing their gun to the other side of the compound since the Hungarian armor seemed to mostly be coming from that direction. But now was the time to fully assault the compound. A LTvz38 went into bypass near the roadblock and took a bounding fire shot with its coaxial machine gun at the gun crew in the middle of the zone. It was only a 2+0 shot, but it managed to pin the crew. Being pinned meant that they could not pivot the gun nor use its rate of fire. Seizing the moment, the remaining tanks crashed over the compound walls. One drove right into the crew’s hex and hosed them down with machine guns for a 6+0 shot, breaking them. Then it proceeded to move right into the Valentine’s hex to distract it. The Valentine missed its shot, and now with target selection limits imposed by the enemy vehicle in its own location, it was done for. The rest of the Axis tanks swarmed and one of them managed to drill a hole into the Valentine. The Hungarian infantry pressed forward as well, and now as Russian units broke they had enemies in all directions and therefore many were eliminated for rout failures. A Russian conscript squad was captured in close combat, but they and their captors were soon gunned down in the street by the Russian medium machine gun. Still, the fat lady was starting to do her do-re-mis. What looked like such a formidable defense not long ago collapsed in a hurry under sheer weight of numbers and encirclement.

Left flank on turn 5:

The Russian half of turn 5 saw a berserk squad charge a tank in the center of the compound and get machine gunned down, and the remaining Russians were doomed. The T-34 reinforcements arrived and pulled up on the opposite side of the river to engage the bevy of Hungarian tanks in and around the pontoon bridge. Both sides missed all their shots in this turn, but in the following turn’s pre fire the PzIVs destroyed the first two T-34s, at which point Brian threw in the towel.

The compound at game end:

I really had a lot of fun playing this game. Brian is always a treat to play, and it was fun to dive into a new scenario from Armies of Oblivion. I hardly think either of us played a really tight game, and we made many mistakes. I foolishly assembled both medium machine guns in the little farmhouse on board 44 to support the attack into the central village, but the attack swept forward so fast that the machine guns couldn’t keep up. Their owners tried to lug them forward but they are heavy and the wire made movement more difficult. Then they got harassed by the Russian sniper for much of the game. But this scenario is intriguing since it presents so many options to both players. Hence the replay value is strong, and I’d certainly like to give it a whirl again. The defenders could use the wire and roadblocks to create a fortress at one of the bridges, or try to use them to seal off a flank, or use them to impede passage through the village as Brian did. There are numerous good spots to hide the gun. The attackers could pig pile into the central village like I did, or perhaps send a massive swarm down one flank or the other, or divide their forces and go down both flanks. I agree with Zeb’s thoughts that winning the armor superiority battle is the key. If one side can win it outright, it’s difficult to imagine them losing. But winning the tank battle is quite a trick. The matchups are not even, but all the tanks are dangerous in their own way. I think it’s too early to draw many conclusions about this scenario. I’d like to play it again, and experiment with different ideas for both attack and defense.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Scenario: Saving Ryan's Privates

Scenario Analysis: Saving Ryan's Privates

This scenario caught my interest as soon as I first saw it. It has interesting orders of battle and should provide a challenge for both players. Plus, it fits the bill perfectly for those times when you only have 15 minutes but really want to get a scenario in. It's also good for best two-of-three or three-of-five playings.

German Advantages: ROF, time
German Disadvantage: Setup limitations

The Germans have an excellent ROF of 3 on their HMG, which should be very intimidating for the Americans as they try to cross all that open ground. They are somewhat hamstrung by their setup, however, since the Americans won't be fooled as to where they are.

American Advantage: Numbers
American Disadvantage: Crossing open ground, going uphill

The Americans outnumber the Germans in squad equivalents by a 2:1 ratio, and they have a 9-2 leader to boot! I'd list him as an advantage, but as the scenario preface says, it's hard to explain the 9-2's decision to charge this strongpoint instead of having his sniper take it out at his leisure.

The Americans have a few choices in this scenario. They could move all of their units into one hex, but here I don't think stacking is a very good idea. Assault move each unit to a different hex and hope someone survives to fire, and then advance in for Close Combat. Roll low.

AAR Page

No Errata!!

Thursday, May 11, 2006

AAR: ASL35 - Blazin' Chariots

Nick Drinkwater

British: Stephane Graciet

German: Nick Drinkwater

All-tank classic from West of Alamein and a perfect warm-up for the planned Pete Shelling mini-campaign around Alem Halfa from Journal 5 that Stephane and myself are about to launch into in June. This is as pure as it gets in ASL - no need to worry about funny immobilization rules as everyone is fully tracked on the scrub and hammada, no snipers, no advances, no ELR to worry about, no close combat etc - just an armour shoot fest!

Some people hate desert for a lot of the reasons just listed and also as they think it is too dicey...tosh! The beauty about this environment is the dice-element - every roll, comes with some risk, some uncertainty, some need to think about the consequences when this shot fails - it really pushes you to look at and consider a lot of those To Hit and To Kill modifiers that normally you just glance over as you find yourself rolling the 27 needed to toast that Sherman with your Panzerfaust. This is the beauty of early to mid war tanks whose TK numbers are 10 and 11 against AF in the 4-6 range - you are forced to weigh up ROF vs IF vs * range modifiers vs the agonising choice of being BU or OT to get the extra +1 vs the threat from the extensive MG platforms that both sides have. I could go on, but you get the picture...I like the desert as you need to think. Sneaky LOS tricks are not an issue here, and in this one you're likely to get burnt retinas if you try it (Late Afternoon Sun Blindness is in effect).

Anyway, I digress. I got my ass handed to me by Stefan in this one...and what was great was that I thought had him in my vice-like grip pretty much all the way to the end. To win, the Germans need to score 56 DVP vs the British 40 DVP (basically approx 8 tanks vs approx 6). Stephane led the charge and from his original 12 tanks, after turn 1, he was three immobilized and 1 burning wreck worse off and I was unscratched. I thought this was great but in reality the crew only abandoned one of the three disableds and the others were gaining acq. Stephane did the standard split into flanking positions, but his weaker side was stopped in its tracks, with two KIA and 1 immobilized and gunless. I continued to immobilize and re-immobilize tanks, but they kept shooting back and scoring the occasional success. Also, once the MkIVEs have used up both it's HEAT and AP, they are quite weak tanks in this battle with their 1 Side Armour, and the MkIIs need to maneuver point blank and from behind to have any chance of hurting the Stuarts. I even got behind an immobilized, abandoned Stuart with a MkII and even then I couldn't knock it out after repeated attempts (talk about not even being able to hit a barn door).

So after a turn or two once the Mk IVs have used up their special ammo, it really all comes down to what you can do with the 5 MkIIIs with the 50 normal guns vs point blank, nippy Stuarts with the quite effective 37LL. Stephane had a key shot where he just managed to Shock my 9-1 Armour Leader on the 3rd or 4th shot and was then able to maneuver with the ultra-nippy Stuarts and swarm it. By then, I had immobilized 4 tanks, knocked out 4 but had lost 5 and we came down to British Turn 3. I had three of the immobilized Stuarts in the sights of my last 4 tanks and just needed to survive Brit Prep and Movement from his last three mobile tanks. Stephane started by getting the necessary two (of course!) to get one of his tanks back from a UK, but misses and disables it with an IF. He then tries to swarm one of my other tanks with another Stuart, but misses the BFF and the subsequent IF by 1 on the TK. He sends his second active Stuart down my throat and again hits and glances off the BFF shot - now if I can just survive the IF shot, I can probably get at least two of the three tanks I need and make it into German Turn 3...1,1. Multiple, critical hit, Burn. Stephane's at 41 DVP and that was that.

Oh well, we were both in place to win it in this last turn, so I wasn't unhappy. In hindsight, the first turn of Immobilizations was actually not as good as I first thought as they were still tubes firing shells that could hit. I just kept hitting the immobilized tanks and re-immobilizing or shocking them without being able to kill them. We had everything good about armour in this one - tough call IF choices, Multiple hits, crews that survived to crawl another day. Much fun and over in 3 hours so that was that.

Anyway, Stephane is playing Brit in the mini-CG so I will get my revenge then with Rommel's finest as I roll over him all the way to "Alex" - Mwahahahaha!!!

Nick Drinkwater

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

AAR: A54 - The Raate Road

Bob Chandler

The Finns faced off against the Russians twice on Saturday. Both games went to the last turn.

I must admit...I felt pretty confident after my Finnish set up...almost feeling sorry for the frostbitten Russians...but can you not feel confident playing the Finns?

Sure...the Russians had tanks, more troops than I could count, and artillery...but the Finns had skiis, stealth, winter camo...and...Self Rally.

With only 1 plowed road to move down, I felt Finnish resolve could carry the day...who cares how many Russians there are?

But what I didn't see during set up was:

How VERY LONG 13 turns...13 turns!!!...can be when facing such a numerically superior force...

George moved the Russian horde through the cover of the woods around the road and I had no choice but to give ground or be overwhelmed...he took the roadblock position with ease, cleared it with an efficient demolition crew using a Set DC, and put my Finns in danger of being surrounded.

The Finnish roadblock defense was in disarray with the Russian armor unleashed...only the Finns could have pulled off an organized withdrawal to new lines...some key rallies and some cross country skiing and we were ready for a new wave of Russian attacks...

George sent his Russians out of the woods both at us and around us...there's just too much ground to cover...too many Russians...and too few Finns...

Once again...with Commie tanks firing point blank and Russians throwing demo MG position went down and the line was in danger of collapse...

But fortunately...Russian maintenance was finally showing the effects of winter...and the lead tank platoon suddenly malf'ed ALL it's weapons...MGs and MAs on both tanks all disappeared in a turn. The Finns picked them off with the 20mm ATRs (1 manned by a hero) and managed to pull their HMG and MMG to new positions where they managed to hold back the Russians long enough for the win...

This one is definitely pro-Finn...don't let the Russian numbers fool you...but George kept the Russians in it until the last turn...not bad for a bunch of guys used to vacationing on the Black Sea coast. :)

The Russians probably need something other than a couple of squads for the balance provision...2 more don't really help when you already have so many...maybe a few more MGs or leaders instead.

Good game George!

Bob Chandler

Monday, May 08, 2006

AAR: ASL 115 - Huns Of Steel

Zeb Doyle

After my narrow escape from Schwoebel in With Tigers On Their Tails, I headed over to Casa Gerstenberg for some more ASL. Determined to make up for lost time wasted on work, I challenged him to do battle in ASL 115 Huns Of Steel. Eric Gerstenberg has a win streak going against me that's longer than I care to admit, so he was eager for another chance to slap me around.

Huns Of Steel is an interesting looking little scenario that takes advantage of the new AoO river overlay, and features a mixed group of 20 Hungarian squads on horses and motorcycles trying to snuff out a Russian bridgehead in 1942. The Hungarian infantry is assisted by three PzIVF2s, three LT 38s, and three Toldis, and get another two PzIVF2s, three PzIVF1s, and two Nimrods on turn three. All in all, it's a very nice armored force, but the Russians are a tough nut to crack, with 18 4-4-7s, 4x 4-2-6, and a 76L, which are later reinforced by some Lendlease Valentines and Stuarts on turn two and some T-34s on turn five.

As can be seen, the infantry forces are fairly even, which puts the pressure on the Hungarian tanks to carry the attack. The assault has nine turns to cross board 44, clear out the board 48 village, and then drive any Russians away from two bridges that cross the river overlay on board 43. The terrain is an interesting mix of woods and grain, with no real dominating features aside from the farm compound on board 43, which abuts one of the bridges and is sure to be the scene of heavy fighting.

Eric wanted to be the Russians and put together a defense with a small screening force in the forward board 48 village, a group of six or so squads covering a bridge on my right flank, and the remainder of the force packed into the farm compound, challenging me to come and dig him out. As I looked things over, I thought it might be a bit challenging for the Hungarians. The infantry forces are numerically so even it would be hard to take any real risks on the attack. Looking at the tank matchups, it seemed like a similar situation to With Tigers On Their Tail: the 75L tanks were the only weapons that could deal with the T-34s and had to be preserved at all costs for that task. The PzIVF1s and LT 38s are great anti-infantry weapons, but are outclassed to one degree or another by the Soviet armor and are absolutely dominated by the T-34s.

With all that in mind, I started my attack in splendid fashion and sent a wave of Hungarian cavalry galloping towards the enemy. The galloping units were careful to keep large amounts of grain between themselves and the Russians, however, and no meaningful fire was exchanged during the turn. During the next turn, I used a combination of Toldi VBM freeze and dismounted cavalry to clear the board 48 village, revealing a lot of dummies and a few conscripts who were promptly captured. During all this, the PzIVF2s were kept well to the rear, and all the Hungarian armor was moved with an eye towards denying the Russian 76L multiple targets. That didn't work so well, and the 'crash-boom' gun claimed two of the LT 38s, but at least I knew where it was and could avoid it.

As we started turn three, I felt like I was in pretty good shape. My 75L Panzers were all still intact, and I used them to lay down a pretty good smoke screen for my infantry to advance behind. The Mild Breeze really helped here, sending smoke drifting everywhere, and I pushed my troops forwards towards the farm compound without taking any real damage. Things changed in a hurry during the Russian turn three, when Eric rolled up some Gusts to erase the smoke screen I was so proud of and left my infantry caught in the open without cover. This was mildly annoying as it would really complicate my attack during my next turn.

I stopped worrying about my attack real fast after the Russian turn three PFPh though, and starting thinking about how best to retreat. Eric took advantage of my lack of smoke to really punish my infantry, with the first three rolls from his HMG being 2, 2, 3. The 76L joined the fun as well with a massive ROF tear, firing at a squad behind two grain hindrances and a wreck, double breaking him to death, and then smashing another squad that had thought he was safe in a wooden building behind two grain with a 24-2 4KIA CH. A 50mm MTR also rolled up a snake eye attack, and scored a K/1 on a squad, while the rest of the Soviet infantry also managed to land some telling blows. In DFPh, I managed some amoeba fire groups and tossed a few 24+3s at Eric, but couldn't break anybody. Under this withering fire, my attack faltered and fell back in a bloody shambles.

That really hurt, but as Eric helpfully pointed out, the Hungarians don't really need all that much infantry to win. If the Soviet armor can be taken out, the PzIVF1s and Nimrods can really dominate and push the Soviets away from the VC areas. I took this advice to heart, and decided to use my tanks to clear out the bridgehead on my right flank while my infantry rallied for another push on the farm compound. Things looked promising on the right, as six Russian squads were sitting in the open there, covered only by two Valentines. Eric had neglected to dig his troops foxholes, and they looked like overrun meat to me. Even better, my turn three reinforcements were moving up and would soon be able to join the fun.

So turn four started with an armored blitz against the rightmost bridgehead. This did not go as planned, with a Toldi immobilizing on startup, another Toldi malfing an MA during an overrun, and then an LT 38 malfing an MA and a CMG during another overrun. During all this, the Russians refused to break. Heaving a sigh, I brought my three precious 75L Panzers to duel Eric's two Valentines. I felt this was an acceptable risk; I outnumbered him 50% and had a net 11 TK against his net 4 TK. The first flurry of fire ended with a dead PzIV, two malfed PzIV MAs, and two intact Valentines.

This prompted a slight delay in my attack along with a flurry of redeployments. The PzIVF1s were dispatched to smother the farm compound in smoke to prevent the HMG from further tearing up my broken troops, the Nimrods were sent to face the Russian infantry by the rightmost bridgehead, and my last two 75L PzIVs went to deal with the pesky Valentines. This time things went a little better, and I was able to kill every Soviet man and vehicle in the area at the cost of a Nimrod, which boxcarred a startup roll, and a PzIV MA going from malfed to disabled.

Eric had been sitting watching all this, wisely refraining from doing anything too aggressive, and he continued this policy through turn five. As the T-34s entered, he brought them up behind some woods on the far side of the river, where they could cover the approaches to the compound but couldn't be seen by my 75Ls. A single Stuart maneuvered to cover their flank, and the rest of the Russians hunkered down to await the resumption of my attack. It wasn't long in coming.

At this point, the battered remnants of my infantry were finally back in good order and were ready to renew the assault. The bad news was that the Soviet troops now outnumbered me, were still in +3 TEM, and I had to cross open ground to get at them. It was vital that my PzIVF1s pave the way for them into the compound, but the T-34s were going to make that almost impossible. My only remaining hope lay in my two PzIVF2s with the 75L. With no time to waste, I maneuvered them out of LOS of the T-34s but towards the Stuart, hoping to kill him with BFF and at least distract the T-34s during their turn. This was a similar situation to my initial attack on the Valentines, since I had a 2:1 advantage and a net 13 TK against a net 5 TK. The outcome was all too similar as well, with one PzIV slain by a CH and the second malfing its MA...

That made things a little tougher, as I now had no working weapons that could do more than scratch the paint on the T-34s, but we decided to keep playing just to see what happened. During the Russian turn, my PzIVF1s made their presence felt, finally breaking the upper level HMG squad that had caused me so much grief, and really taking the pressure off my infantry. That was nice, but until the T-34s were dealt with, it would be impossible for the panzers to move up and be decisive. Eric's commissar gleefully slaughtered the broken HMG squad during my next rally phase, but that was fairly meaningless to me; my attention was fully focused on the repair rolls for my two remaining broken 75Ls.

I was lucky enough to find out my fate quickly: one became disabled and one managed to repair itself. Feeling like the game had slipped almost beyond my grasp, I sent the last functioning 75L on a quixotic charge towards the Stuart of Doom. Again, the plan was to kill the Stuart with BFF and prepare to harrass the out of LOS T-34s on the next turn, and again the result was not to my liking. As the PzIV pulled up six hexes away from the Stuart, Eric calmly fired and blew the tank into scrap. That smashed even the faintest hope of victory for me, and, unable to touch the T-34s, I threw in the towel.

I can't say that I got a very good feel for the scenario, considering how early I had to concede, but I think my approach was the correct one. Armies Of Oblivion has several meaty combined arms battles, and in every one of them the side that wins the tank battle will have a huge edge. That really seems to be especially true in Huns Of Steel, however, since the Hungarian PzIVs are such great anti-infantry tanks, and so much of the map is grain with no real cover. I think the key matchup is the PzIVF2s against the T-34s, but Eric did a great job early of making my tanks come to him and decisively won the armor battle. That really took any chance of victory away from me, for which he deserves congratulations. I don't even want to think about his win streak now!

For myself, I was left to return home and sulk. A few stats that came to mind on the drive back to my house: One weekend, two scenarios, and nine tanks that mattered. Of those nine, one died to a net 4 TK, two to a net 5 TK, and six malfunctioned their guns. Ugh!

Thanks for listening to my whining,


AAR: ASL 117 - With Tigers On Their Tail

Zeb Doyle

Things had been extra crushingly busy at work lately, and I'd been forced to go a long time without an ASL fix. So, I was pretty excited when Matt Schwoebel dropped me an email saying he was looking for some action. As the weekend rolled round, I headed to his house with nothing but ASL on my mind. That changed quickly when I arrived and was offered my choice of five different beers along with a fantastic view of downtown Austin. Suddenly, I was lulled into complacency and just looking to relax after the long week. That was when 'Shark' Schwoebel sprung his trap and informed me we were playing ASL 117 With Tigers On Their Tail and he was taking the Russians.

Too dazed by his lavish hospitality to do anything but nod acceptance, I sat down and cast my eye over the scenario card. With Tigers On Their Tail is a 1944 fighting withdrawal writ large, with 18 Hungarians squads and a bewildering array of 14 Turans, Nimrods, and trucks fleeing across the wide open expanses of boards 50, 11, and 9. A few hill overlays and a pond tighten things up a bit, but for the most part the terrain is very wide open. A pair of Tigers gets the task of watching over the Hungarian retreat, and those big cats will be needed, as hot on the heels of the retreating Axis is a horde of Russians, with 23 squads and 29 vehicles, including 12 T-34s, entering over the first five turns of the eleven turn game. The Hungarians win by exiting at least 30 VP and exiting more than the Russians, so both sides are constantly faced, not just with the standard ASL decision of 'shoot or move,' but also whether to risk units in combat or try to save them as exit points.

Despite my daze from the beer and the view (both great!), a few things stood out. Whenever you play a scenario named after a unit in the game, it seems like that piece ends up playing a key role. Based off that, I figured the Tigers might be kind of important. As I looked closer, I realized those two tanks were supposed to hold off twelve T-34s over the course of the game. They would be reinforced by a StuG and a PzIVH, but those were the only Hungarian vehicles with any chance at holding back the T-34 swarm. Even in my befuddled state, I could tell that losing the Tigers meant losing the game.

With that in mind, I set the Tigers up on a hill overlay on the middle of board 11. I'd resolved to protect them with everything I had, and being hull down in a level three location seemed like a nice place for them to start. The remainder of my force entered from the north edge, and I sent the majority of my infantry down the left flank into the wooded hills of board 50. The StuG, PzIV, and Nimrod also entered here, to protect the rear and flanks of the vital Tigers. Everything else, including five assorted Turins and a smattering of infantry with an HMG and two 50mm MTRs, came in on the right flank and climbed the hills of board 9. The forces on both flanks tried to head for easily defensible chokepoints, while board 11, dominated by the Tigers, was left wide open in the middle.

It was then Russian turn one, and Schwoebel tried to keep the hospitality going by offering me another tasty beer, but couldn't completely restrain himself and started to gloat about how my entire defense centered on just two pieces and how crippled I'd be if anything went wrong with just one Tiger. Meanwhile, I was busy observing that the Russian challenge in this scenario is trying to keep pressure on the Hungarians with a force that enters in an rather piecemeal and ungainly fashion. Big mobile combined arms scenarios, especially fighting withdrawals, can be very challenging to play. Although that's true for both sides, the Hungarian ends the first turn with his entire force on board in any configuration he wants and with the Tigers dominating the map. The Russian has a vastly superior force, but has a far more difficult time coordinating it, and has to be very patient with it as his most powerful units don't enter until turns three and five.

This lack of coordination could be seen from turn one, when Schwoebel received four SU-76s, three T70s, and two M3A1 scoutcars with the inherent .50 cals. Certainly a nice force, but not one that can easily engage the more balanced Hungarian groups of both armor and infantry that exist at scenario start. Likewise, the turn two wave of sixteen 4-4-7s in trucks is a welcome addition to the battle, but comes with only three LMGs for long range fire. Somehow, the Soviet must pressure the Hungarian with these ungainly groups from turn one while also thinking longer term about how to link the streams of reinforcements into balanced battlegroups...all under the watchful eye of the Tigers.

Given the high complexity of the scenario, with different battlegroups trying to seize short term opportunities as they arise but also needing to coordinate with other units in the medium and long term, it was inevitable that we'd both make some mistakes. After the first two turns, a large mass of Soviet infantry had gathered on my left flank, but there weren't quite enough of them to do anything decisive on their own, and they were entirely without armor support. This really minimized their threat and made me quite optimistic that I could exit a good deal of my force while shutting Schwoebel out in that sector. On the right flank, however, I was kicking myself for not committing at least one 75L armed tank to the area. Schwoebel had sent all his T-70s and SU-76s to the area, and although the Tigers had claimed a few, the remaining Soviet AFVs really outclassed my Turans and were forcing me to give up ground at a rapid rate. In both areas, the player with the better balanced force was winning.

As turn three dawned, Schwoebel decided to throw caution to the wind and brought his first wave of T-34s directly at my Tigers. Elsewhere, the action also picked up, with Russians hurling themselves headlong at my retreating Hungarians. This ended up being a good thing for me. Backed by the PzIV and the StuG, the Tigers turned multiple T-34s into funeral pyres in the middle, while on the left the board 50 stream also became a deathtrap for the Russians. Here, Schwoebel's sizable but non-decisive amount of force was badly bloodied when I got several sneaky lines of sight and some very good rolls to really put the hurt on his troops. On the right side, the Soviets got a little overextended in their attempts to push AFVs forward out of LOS of the Tigers, and I was able to launch a quick counter-attack. There's nothing more helpless than an SU-76 in Bypass, and some fancy BFF took out several of them along with an M3A1 scoutcar. As we wrapped up turn four, I couldn't help but think that Matt was the most gracious host I'd ever met: great beer, great views, and great ASL.

This warm fuzzy feeling of complacency lasted until Russian turn five, when the last wave of T-34s entered the map. With the survivors of the first wave getting perilously close to my precious Tigers, the key moment of the game approached. My four guns capable of killing T-34s all had great shots and I had the opportunity to really cripple the Russians. Instead, my lead Tiger malfed its MA, sending Schwobel into full-on gloat mode. He pressed his sudden advantage well and forced my second Tiger into an Intensive Fire shot which only resulted in a Disabled MA. Later, when my PzIV also malfed his MA, I started rethinking just how good a host Schwoebel really was. I think the moral of the story here is always drink another man's beer but never use his dice...

As I was learning this bitter lesson, a true disaster developed in the center of the board. The StuG miraculously managed to cover the retreat of the Tigers, and even kill another T-34, but was then blasted into scrap along with the PzIV. When my malfed Tiger MA also became Disabled in the RPh, I was left with two Recalled Tigers and four Turans with a 10TK or worse to face the six remaining T-34s. Thanks to my three boxcars, I didn't have a single long range weapon left that could engage Schwoebel's armor. My pregame fears had all been realized and now I was faced with the worst-case scenario.

Thankfully, the fighting on the flanks had been going very well for me. I hadn't managed to meet the Hungarian challenge of keeping the Tigers alive as killing machines, but the Russian challenge of forming cohesive combined arms groups on the fly was proving equally difficult. On the left, my troops imitated Horatio at the board 50 bridge, with my two MMGs proving to be a big advantage over the unsupported Russian infantry. On the right, board 9 didn't have nearly as good a chokepoint, but I was able to kill the last SU-76 with a hail of MTR fire, freeing up my Turans. That really made life tough for the Soviet infantry, since the Turans are great at killing unarmored stuff. It's only the T-34s that give them problems in this scenario.

Schwoebel could see that as well as I could, and only paused to offer me another beer before sending his T-34s swarming across the map to bolster his stalled infantry. As we approached the end game, things got very interesting, with both sides weighing the damage each unit could do against the exit points it represented. The armor became even more important, as at this point only the tanks had the speed to maneuver to combat and then still exit. The infantry had to choose between fighting and running. Here, my smashing victory on the left flank really paid off, as I could left behind a relatively few blocking units and exit the vast majority of my force.

The T-34s were still the deciding factor, though, and Schwoebel used them well, swinging them over towards board 9 to break up the stalemate there. I had to get lucky to stay in the game, and Lady Luck ended up smiling on me quite a bit. Two T-34s en route to some protective infantry fell prey to very low-odds faust shots. Another effectively put itself out of the game with an failed ESB roll, and in a bit of payback, a T-34/85 Disabled its MA on a boxcarred Intensive Fire shot when I ran a Turan at it in desperation. All these improbable events were absolutely required to keep me in the game and left Schwoebel with only two T-34s to carry the day on the right flank.

In an impressive display of just how important combined arms are in the scenario, the two T-34s still managed to drive off my Turans and supporting infantry in double-quick time. This opened up some daylight for the board 9 Soviet infantry who piled into their trucks and headed down the road. With the time pressure now huge, we were both making agonizing 'fight-or-flight' decisions every turn. Amazingly, the game came down to turn 11, which saw a mass exodus off the south edge by both sides. In a moment of high drama, a lowly Hungarian 3-4-7 managed to get some resid on the road the Russian truck convoy had to take, and although the eight or so RFP attacks only managed to immobilize a single vehicle, it was a truck carrying a full squad and a 9-1 leader, giving the Hungarians the win.

It's impossible to dislike a scenario that ends like that, and the way Schwoebel was wining and dining me, I could have played Soldiers Of Destruction and had a great time. Trying to filter out my bias, though, I still think that With Tigers On Their Tail is a classic in the making. The mixture of a fighting withdrawal and a combined arms shoot-em-up is a very compelling combination. The VC really add to this, since every unit sacrificed is one less unit that can exit. The combination of all these various factors makes this scenario one of the more complex I've ever played as far as decision making goes and it's certainly a very 'advanced scenario' despite not straying out of the standard Chapters A-D.

The fact it is so complex makes me think it likely won't go the full 11 turns very often on initial playing. Instead, since the scenario rewards skill so much, I think the better player has a very good chance of building up a big lead early, and if neither side is very experienced, I feel the Tigers on the hill will win it for the Hungarians more often than not. It's also a major time commitment, as those 45 vehicles and 40 squads are all going to be making tough decisions each turn. Despite these hurdles, the reward is worth it, so look it over, formulate a plan, and give it a go. The experience will be well worth it, and think of the Major Johnson points you could score with this puppy at the tournament!

Finally, a huge thank you to Matt Schwoebel. In all seriousness, his hospitality was wonderful, he put up with me leaving in the middle to pick up someone at the airport, and he didn't complain at all at the end when the series of improbable PF shots stole away his win.

Thanks for reading,