Monday, June 19, 2006

AAR: GONA 2 - Gona's Gone

Nick Drinkwater

Japanese Player: Nick Drinkwater [ELR3 SAN 3]

Australian Player: Tom Gillis [ELR 3 SAN3]

From the burning, searing arid wastes of western Egypt to the stinking, steaming jungles of northern New Guinea (i.e. overcast), the wife-free ASL-athon continues. For my final act in this two weeks of gaming, Tom swaps in for Stephane, but the results stay the same - I get spanked hard again - 0 for 4 on my last 4 games now! But I'm learning a lot fast...

Anyway, this one comes from a small neglected gem from the early Critical Hit stable, Those Ragged Bloody Heroes, which was produced by the Paddington Bears team (I think). The map is not one of the best, being computer generated with some sickly odd green colours for the jungles and marsh and odd symbols for debris and palm trees, and movement on the map is severely curtailed by the huge swathes of dense jungle (3MF by SSR, not the usual 2MF), so most travel will be along the main open ground and kunai 'corridor' where the Gona-to-Kokoda trail finishes at the sea. However, most of this map does not come into play in any of the scenarios (there is a fun looking five date Platoon Leader CG that comes in the pack which uses all the map), with play being restricted to the area around the Gona village on the western half of the map.

In this particular scenario, the Australians start off by having just conquered the main part of Gona village and its vital wooden building Mission, and are poised to sweep into the sea the final remnants of the Japanese garrison, whose backs, quite literally, are up against the wall. The Japanese are clinging on to the few bits of debris left of the village amongst the palm trees on the two-hex wide slight beach. Setup requires that the Japanese start on or adjacent to three separated ocean-facing hexes - effectively they can form a defensive belt two hexes deep by approximately nine hexes wide. To win, the Aussies need to eliminate 22 of the available 26 Japanese CVP within seven turns while losing less CVP than the Japanese.

Setup for the Australians means they are at start at most 3-4 hexes away from the Japanese outer line, so crossing the terrain in the time allotted is no issue here. The restricted set-up also means that there is not so much tactical flexibility for me here either. I only have one light jungle hex at the extreme west end of my setup area, while the the bulk of my force is scattered among palm trees or in a couple of hexes of beach debris. This is the first time I have played FTF PTO, so this really is a sharp-learning curve for me on all the quirky setup tricks for the Japanese. I place my two (HIP) pillboxes at each end of the defense looking inwards and make bunkers with the two trenches, one of which is placed HIP in the single jungle hex for me. Tunnels are run to some foxholes in the middle part of my coastal strip to give me some ability to switch some units laterally, but this and a few HIP tricks are the best that I can achieve here - this really is the end of the line as far as the Japanese go as there is nowhere else left to retreat to.

The Japanese force is brittle with 2 x 448, 2 x 447, 3 x 347 and 3 x 336 with a smattering of 0 and +1 leaders. I also get 2 MMGs, 3 x LMG and 2 Lt Mtrs and that is pretty much it. In return there is a crushing Aussie hammer to whack this particular nail back into place: 6 x 458, 6 x 457, 3 x447, 1 x MMG, 2 x LMG, 2 x Lt Mtr, 1 x 76mm Mtr and 1 88* OBA module. In addition they get 4 leaders ( two -1s and two 0s) - so, a huge numerical and quality advantage, tons of quality leaders, three smoke belching mortars and OBA combined with no real distance to travel - where's the challenge for the Australian? Well, it comes from the fact that Tom has to destroy pretty much 90% of my force but that is pretty much it - these Aussies are really well equipped to do this task (probably a bit too well equipped as it turns out) and they have plenty of time to do it.

Tom kicks off by trying to do a half-squad searching creep blitz on the west flank in the jungle but loses a half-squad to search casualties for his efforts. In response to this, he gets even more aggressive and continues to push a strong elite force through on this western flank right into the teeth of my defense, and sends the other platoon of 447s through onto my eastern bunker. His mortars all lose smoke after one or no shots, and in my T1 response, I devastate many of Tom's probing squads as they try and jump me in CC - he triggers a couple of my hidden trap HIP squads, and even though I fluff the ambush each time, I whack 4.5 squads in CC. Tom then gets even more aggressive with his Aussies (who is really playing the Japanese here?) and goes for an overly hasty conversion of his correcting OBA which unfortunately does zilch, nada, nothing to my eastern bunker complex but kills another 1.5 squads of his own 447s. Nicely done Tom! End of Japanese Turn 1 and I'm 13 CVP up to Tom's 3!!! Awesome start and I look forward to getting another couple of points as one of my eastern 448s is in H2H melee with a 457, behind Tom's attack line. I even have a conscript Japanese squad get aggressive and take out 1.5 Aussies squads for the net loss of a half-squad...even the bad Japanese are deadly!

So I've eliminated about 25% of Tom's force for virtually no net loss, but pretty much all my stuff apart from one concealed squad and leader is now revealed. Tom has so much extra leadership in here that he is able to use a probing 8-0 as a half-squad concealment stripping proxy. Hmmmm - seems odd, but no worries as I am well ahead here and two or three more dead Aussie squads and I'll be home and dry!

And that was the end of the game as I then proceeded to lose in style over the next 3 Turns with not a single point of damage inflicted on the Australians.

I could not buy a roll at all. My H2H Melee 448 squad somehow contrives to lose its hand-grenades and bayonets and misses its target and then gets wiped - this is a big loss. In addition my heroic CC-lovin HS goes down in another CC and that adds salt to the wound. Then things go really wrong. I break all three of my machine guns, two squads drop to two 8+3 snakes attacks, I could only ever pin Tom, never break him: in one particularly grim sequence, I rolled 11, 10, 9, 10, 11 on a series of breaks and stripes on my troops which gutted the core of my defense. One of my few very good attacks resulted in a hero for Tom which proceeded to carry on striping and breaking my sole surviving eastern bunker force with three effective 4+1 shots!

At this point with everything falling apart around me, I try my only remaining trick which was to send my sole remaining concealed squad and 8-0 back through one of my tunnels to the western (now abandoned) pillbox behind and adjacent to an Aussie two squad (plus leader) adjacent stack - juicy target indeed! In reply, Tom of course gets just the exact dice to strip my concealment and then another long range 8+3 shot of his 'stripes' my sole squad there. Despite this, I jump into CC - now that I've just lost the concealment (by one), I miss the ambush ( by one - for the third time) and then miss taking all three Aussie units - by one. Of course I do. The return attack leaves my guys all dead and that really was that - I planned and played that attack perfectly but came up with nothing - I just can't buy a good and essential dice roll right now (see recent AARs!). Tom then plays out the next two turns to whittle down my last three squads and the leader on a series of "just by one" success rolls from two-hex range big fire groups shooting by him, and a series of "just by one" failure rolls by me and that was that. We were actually laughing by the end as you could predict that my next roll would miss by one, and yep, sure enough, there it was, missing by one!

Oh well. I learned a lot on my first FTF PTO game, despite the nasty dicing I gave myself at the end. Despite failing every ambush attempt from concealed stealthy Japanese, my HIP units worked quite well in their positioning and the attempt for the 'stab in the back' via the tunnel would have been a thing of beauty on any other day and been a serious setback for the Aussies if it had come off.

Overall though, we both agreed that this scenario, though fun, was too pro-Australian. Tom's kamikaze tactics in turn 1 were actually a bit too premature and cost him a lot more than he should have ever lost. He should have probably held back at least one round, probably two, doing some large fire group attacks and multiple mortar attacks at my guys to cause some stripes, combined with an aggressive half-squad search policy to find the HIP stuff. There is very little tactical flexibility for the Japanese here and once concealment and HIP is lost, there is nowhere to hide to regain it, and the Aussies just need to sit there and shoot holes in the Japanese until it is time to charge. By the end of two or three turns of this pounding, the Japanese will be seriously atritted and unable to hold back the Aussie tide.

A couple of points - my SAN of three netted me one broken 447 squad (too late to make an impact), and the overcast conditions kicked in normal rain in Turn 3, but this was too late and still too light to do anything. The Aussies need to be softened: maybe 3 x 458, 5 x 457 and 5 x 447 (these guys are supposed to have fought their way across some of the hardest terrain on the planet, so they should be degraded somewhat), and lose one of the four leaders. Or they need to lose a turn to do this as in seven turns, it really is a bit too easy for them to win.

Despite this, I'm looking forward to some of the other scenarios in this pack and I would like to give the small CG a spin as well, as this is as "meat and potatoes" as it gets in the PTO. It does look fun as the Japanese try and pull off a tough fighting withdrawal against these hardened Australians.


1 comment:

Nick Drinkwater said...

Zeb and myself had some follow-up comments on this one which may be of interest to the community. You have read these before, but I want them attached to the AAR for the sake of completeness.

Re: AAR GONA 2 Gona's Gone

Thanks for the AAR, Nick. Sounds like you did an excellent job for your first real PTO scenario, especially against a cagey veteran like Tom. That scenario in particular sounds like the Japanese have to use every defensive trick available to them to stay in the game at all, so nice work. That module is one of the few I don't have in my collection. I've heard good things about it, although your game didn't sound like a very balanced situation. Does the rest of the pack look like fun?

Aussies vs. Japanese is always a great matchup, so I'm somewhat interested in getting it if you think it's worth it.

Thanks again for the AAR, and sorry you can't make the tourney. Would have been great to see you again.


Hi Zeb,

I got lucky in the mid nineties when I took an enforced ASL "acquisition" break due to having no money from being a poor student - this coincided with the Avalon Hill slow-production low-point. When this all changed with employment, like the sad ASL-addict I am, with my first couple of pay checks I went on a huge spending spree to pick up all the things I'd missed from 92-96: CDG, COB, Gung Ho, all the missing annuals, the very rare AP1 and a batch of the selected earlier CH stuff (included both very good Scottish modules, Ruwesiat Ridge, Pointe de Hoc and Stonne, but also the map-awful Carnage at Cassino).

In this mass buy, I also picked up TRBH, which I think is a lot of fun - there is no Armour in this and no caves, rice paddies, panjis et al - it really is a solid PTO all infantry slug-fest of the first order (terrain types are light and dense jungle, a few huts, deep streams with fords, a lot of kunai, a bit of marsh / swamp and a palm-tree covered slightly sloped beach). The other good thing about this are the combatants: the Japanese are a real mixed bag at the end of their tether after a hellish retreat across the mountains with lowish ELR and unlike late war marines, the Australians are good (FP of 4) but not overwhelming, again being mixed forces of mainly ELR 3.

There are six scenarios in the pack which represent the Australian inching forward to the coast - these progressively move northwards across the board representing the Japanese fighting withdrawal - there are a couple of fights in the kunai (one with an all HIP japanese defending force), a rare Japanese attack against a split Aussie company, two big fights for the southern outskirts and then the centre of Gona village (7 and 9 turns respectively), GONA 2 which is the mopping-up exercise on the beach and then a final short night scenario where the Japanese try to exfiltrate from the beach and the Australian noose.

The CG does offer a few more complications - it is run using the PL rules, which I beileve stabilised at 2.5a, and you get to think about the tactical options about using the whole of the map, which includes another coastal micro-village and stream to the east, but separated from the main area of combat by a huge jungle. For a force at the far end of the imperial march for glory, you do get some interesting options - the Japanese can buy a few Imperial marines, which arrive by landing craft - this is the point where everybody groans, but I don't think this will be so bad as for most of the dates they will probably arrive unopposed (also there was a really good flowchart for LC on the web somewhere which worked pretty well). Obviously they don't get that much flexibility being where they are, but they can buy the usual defensive bag of tricks stuff.

The Aussies also are restricted to a degree - there are some tight limitations on the amount of infantry they can buy as they were supposed to be trickling over the hills at a long distance from the supply bases, so the reinforcements are drip-fed into the attack. They do get the chance to buy a regular bombing mission (which acts like a harassing fire bombardment) and some FB, but this is really an infantry fight at its heart. One of the other key options both sides need to consider is buying food supplies and for the Japanese, extra ammunition, as the effects of these over 5 CGS are deleterious - I think there is one night CG date in this as well.

Variant rules are at a minimum - there are crew-supported SW (Steve Swann is part of the credits on this one!) and there is an option in the CG to have "Cleared Fire Zones" which you can purchase - these represent hexes where the kunai and debris has been beaten back to create zones of more open terrain for your pillboxes and bunkers. And that's pretty much it on the variantism.

If you get a chance to pick it up at a reasonable price on ebay, I'd recommend it. Unlike the later CH stuff with their strangely confusing counter layouts (see the Genesis module), there are only a few cut-outs to make counters (Cleared Fire Zones and control counters), but these could easily be swapped in from the existing counter mix and so nothing new is really needed at all.

Anyway, sorry I can't be there this w/e but I'm on my way to CA for a work trip that I can't get out of!

See you at Owlcon next Feb.