Thursday, October 12, 2006

AAR: J105 - Borodino Station

Nick Drinkwater

Russian: Nick Drinkwater [ELR 3, SAN 2]

German: Stephane Graciet [ELR 3, SAN 3]

Journal 7 is turning out to be extremely cool - yet another quality scenario from it to keep the masses happy. This one is a powerful little gem that is small enough to be done in a single evening sitting, big enough to be forgiving of some bad or good dice, has tactical conundrums for both players to beat and is real Russian Front, "in your face" ASL.

For this one, we turn to the grinding stage of Barbarossa - it's now October 1941 and all the easy wins are over for the Germans - now they're starting to get a feel of what it is like to face the endless hordes of Russian peasants who just keep coming, no matter how many you mow down with your automatic weapons. This one is set on hexrows R-GG on the awesome Board 20, probably the best of the old Beyond Valour boards for the variety of terrain contained therein. A single railroad has been added to the board to create the small town of Borodino, scene of an earlier famous defeat of a nasty invader of mother-Russia in the previous century.

In this scenario, the Russians have a tough 'ask' in that they have to control either or both of two large stone buildings (either the 'station' building or the 'city hall') and also have three squad equivalents across the southern most board-wide road in the German backfield - all this to be done over 5.5 turns (and the Russian moving last is important for the assault move / advance options available to them to get the win). Sounds tricky? Well, yes it is, but they get a superb force to do this - 3 x 458, 6 x 527 (assault engineers with smoke exponent of 2) and 9 x 447 which is probably as good as it gets for 1941. Even better, they get some superb leaders in the form of a 9-2, 8-1, 8-0 and 7-0. On the downside, there are virtually no support weapons for this very mobile strike force - just 3 x LMG. Pah! Who needs those clunking great Maxims anyway? We're on the attack!!

Facing off against this finely-honed battlegroup are advance elements of a German armoured division. With their ELR of 3, they've clearly been through a few tough fights along the way, and there are some holes starting to appear in the ranks - automatic weapons is the way to go! In the station, the Germans get 3 x 467, a LMG and a 8-1, in City Hall, they receive 2 x 467, an HMG and an 8-0 and finally they are allowed the option of 3 x 467 to scatter across the defence line to help plug the gaps, as well as 5 x ? to spread around to make a couple of dummies. Even with the best will in the world, thats never going to hold back Ivan and in Turn 1 a small but potent relieving force arrives, consisting of 1 x 9-1, 3 x 467, 1 x 468, a MMG and 2 x LMG who are providing foot escort for a Hanomag and a Pskw 221 (the "leedle tank" for those who have ever seen "Allo, Allo!"). Options, options everywhere.

This game kicks off nasty and brutish from the start - the Russians arrive from offboard straight into the open-ground and woods 'teeth' of the German defence, only one, two or three hexes away from the fronts of both objective buildings. Looking at Stephane's defence, I see a major gap on the west side where I can left hook around, enfilade City Hall and be running into the backfield, with effective bypassing of the defenders of the Station! YES!! Uhhh, wait for it, NOOO! Xavier Vitry, the designer, also saw this fabulous plan, and outlawed it in Turn 1 by making Russian entry occur between AA-R, and only allowing full north side entry on Turn 2 or later - make sure you catch this one...

Anyways, quickly I re-setup and this time we're doing it - straight into the jaws of death at the Station. With that many bodies to get onboard over such a short entry area, some guys are inevitably going to enter open ground adjacent to the Germans on Turn 1, but it is important for the Russians to do some stack management pre-start so that brokies have somewhere to rout to and that your better squads get to use some of the small amount of initial cover. I scatter the assault engineers around to try and use their smoke grenades to hinder some of the firelanes coming my way - what stinkin' smoke grenades would those be? They obviously got left in the mess in Moscow as I never saw one all game (about 9 attempts!). I also use the two Commissars to help get those guys back into the frontline - and yes, you can have two, and I think the Russian needs both of them.

The first wave piles in - Stephane's first two rolls are twelves! I like this game!! Especially as this puts final fire on both squads. His next two rolls are better and the HMG firelane is nasty. Now there are two things that happen in ASL games I play: I will have a really ugly rolling streak for at least one turn and I will fail each and every 1,2 and 4 -1 and -2 Residual Fire Morale Check. In games against Stephane, this will be compounded by two extra events: I will never, ever successfully ambush him and no matter how lousy he is normally rolling, he will always, I repeat always, find the absolute, "fail this and lose the scenario", must-have die-rolls when he needs them. This was to be no different.

I assault move into a bunch of 1-1 and 2-1 Residuals and come reeling back, always broken, often reduced. Luckily I do find one roll with the 9-2 stack that just breaks the 8-1, LMG and 467 in the point-defence hex of the station - these guys roll back and split open the station defenders. Even though my first line has gone down in a wave of bullets, the awesome commissars are doing their rally- factory tricks and sending the peasants back to the front line, after a few summary shootings to encourage les autres (I self-killed a squad and a half overall). With the chink in the factory defences, I manage to rush a squad around to the station west side to enforce a FTR on the LMG squad, break a second 467 on a crucial FPF attack (who then die on FTR due to No Quarter being involed) , and then jump into melee with the final 467 Station defenders.

On the other eastern side of the board, I also crucially break the 8- 0 and HMG/467 in City Hall and then critically force the other defending 467 to drop concealment on a gacked attack. Stephane is faced with a tough decision at this point - should he stay to try and rally and then get the HMG firing again or run and get bodies back into the fight later? He takes the safe action and runs back to the backfield and I waltz in and pick up the Germain HMG! Yesss! Following this, I then jump into Melee with the last City Hall 467 with a couple of my own squads. We then, of course, both proceed to fumble all our CC rolls, but at the end of Turn 3, all the initial Germans are either dead, in melee or running away.

Stephane's Hanomag whacks one of my squads on a very long AAMG shot on a thin-but-there LOS which was a bit needless and wasteful on my part, and his 8-1, MMG and 468 reinforcements are now entrenched in the stone building overlooking the Board 20 "circle" (familiar to those who've played "To the Square" and "Acts of Defiance") - they knock off another of my squads who try and dash across the road and my attack is effectively being cut in two by this firelane. I eventually kill off in CC both the last remaining City Hall and Station defenders for the loss of a squad in return, and then whack the 8-1 when he fails to execute a successful ambush of a CX conscript.

Both the building objectives are captured but I have taken some big hits in return. Stephane is now well placed across the board to make it difficult for me to get anything across the road, and the clock is ticking. I do remember to pick up his abandoned LMG in the station and then start to challenge the "leedle tank" with it - this is the only thing that is stopping me crossing the railway line for the advance to the southern road net. This could be brilliant - I may just be able to shoot and kill the German armoured car with one of his own weapons!

I miss killing the "leedel tank" at 2 hex range the first time by one, aargh, so, as a random shot at start of Russian T4, I try again: roll a three - HIT! Snakes - kill, BURN! Awesome! Hoisted by his own petard and kind enough to leave me some nice friendly smoke to cover my dash across the railway too - think of the style points baby!! In the same turn, I break the only 467 (and 8-0) defending the wooden building line south of city hall from a big FG from the captured HMG - this nicely opens up the entire eastern half of the board.

Seeing this hole, I run a 7-0 and 447 past the broken guys so now I am adjacent to the 'road that must be crossed'. Crucially, the MMG strongpoint is also fired out, so spotting the opportunity, I am able to run at full pelt the 9-2 and 2 458s for 8 hexes over to the east side of the board to be in place for T5 and T6 assaults across the "road". I also run a commissar-led assault due south of the station through the woods to the southern rowhouses, next to the gully, where I force to rout two broken squads back across the southern road.

It's all or nothing time now for the Germans - Stephane revs up the Hanomag to come and put hurt on the redirected 9-2 stack and survives 4 cases of Street Fighting from my guys (where did my good rolls go???!) and sticks it right in the path of the Russians. I try to dash the 7-0 and 447 across the road, but go down to a three on a 1-2 attack - Stephane pulling out the die-rolls just when he needs them. Crucially my half-squad doesn't break on the K/1 result, but I am now really only placed on this extreme east side to get only 2.5 squads across the road....nightmare!! His HMG killstack then pulls off four 1MC results in a row to still be able to interdict almost all the streets in the region. Next, his last squad in the rowhouses manages to ambush me (6 for me, 1 for Stephane) and just withdraws next door to again interdict anything that dares try to cross the road, and then to compound it, one of the broken squads (with LMG) manages to pull out a three on a miracle self rally to put more hurt on my brave Ivans with added firelane potential - freakin' unbelievable. Finally, Stephane's sniper hots up for the only two shots of the game - the first sticks one between the eyes of the 10-0 commissar, the second breaks a 247 HS in the building next to the gully. This is horrible.

But lady luck, though sticking me in the ribs and kicking me in the nuts, did decide to smile on me for one last turn. In German T4, after two more failed Russian PAATC for Reaction Fire on the Hanomag (yuk) and a "missed by one" PAATC by the 9-2 leader (would you credit it?), the two 458s do find some grenades and I manage to whack the tiresome Hanomag at last. In one last desperate Defensive Fire shot, I again despair as the 8-1 leader with the MMG passes his third 1MC in a row - can you believe that - 5 passed 1MC on that stack in sequence? - but luckily the manning squad rolls a 10 and start to ask about "the location of Mommy". However, if the leader is able to rally these guys back in Turn 6, this is going to the edge...

Turn 6 starts - they miss the rally by one!!!! PHEW! This is the gap I need...I charge all my rowhouse units out across the street - they all go down in glory, but most importantly, they fix German covered MG arcs and use up all the German defensive fire options, who are all then fired out. Once that is gone, I am able to saunter the three squads from City Hall who used to own the now discarded German HMG past the broken MMG squad yelling, "yaah, Fritzski, look at us - we sneer in your general direction" and gain the win!

Awesome, heart stopping ASL at its best. This one has the hallmarks of a classic and must be tried - there was never one point where I ever felt totally comfortable about this - the Germans always have the chance to stop this one right to the end - even after clearing out both objective buildings by the end of Turn 3, there is still tons to do as the Russian and two more "roads" to cross (the railway and the southern road) - and the MMG is still critical to stopping you at this point. The biggest two events that changed this were the destrucion of the "leedle tank" to a 3 and 2 combination, and especially the loss of the 467 and 8-0 in the wooden buildings on the east side, which opened up the defence significantly.

Turn 1 is important but not completely critical to the result of the game - both sides can survive a bad Turn 1, but some thought needs to be given to the Russian setup with rout paths, stacking and placement of the commissars. It may be possible once onboard that the Russians could get a human wave going to get across the street, though there was never the opportunity or the need for me to do this. Things to read up and get comfortable with in this scenario are all the first, subsequent and final protective fire principles, Commissars and their effects, street-fighting and reaction fire, dash, and all the Fire Lane details as they are a major component of the battle. The Russian should also note the possibility the gully offers for some cheap and sneaky routes to win.

Great scenario - strongly recommended. Thanks Stephane for that one and especially for leaving the Armour-piercing incendiary bullets with your nice shiny LMG!!!

Nick (still trying to remember where we packed them thar' smoke grenades?)


asler said...

Great AAR. I playtested this for MMP and right away new it was a gem and well balanced from the get go. I've played it a couple of times and have pulled of a Russian Human Wave on turn 2. First turn I assault moved on board, and then advanced into the street. The German pulled back to prevent my defensive fire leaving no one adjacent to the potential human wave - so I triggered it. Great action. Won as the Russian that time with 4 squads across the street and control of the train station.

Bill Brodie said...

The Journal 7 will go down as a classic because of this series of scenarios. They are all fun and well balanced. My interest in Eastern Front scenarios was rekindled.
I played this one as the Russians, and easily cleared the buildings, but misread the victory conditions and did not realise how far I had to get to cross the roads. I did manage to get some Russians across on the right, but my left flank went down in a desperate attempt to force a crossing of the open road. It was still a great and exciting game to play.