Monday, October 02, 2006

AAR: KE20 - The Steel-Eyed Boys

Nick Drinkwater

German: Nick Drinkwater [SAN 3, ELR 2/4]

British: Tom Gillis [SAN 2, ELR 3]

September's game day was at Walter's house - this lies in some long lost forgotten corner of the greater Houston area , somewhere lost in the wilds, wait for it ... OUTSIDE THE BELTWAY! I mean, man, for us ITL types, that's like, Canada, right? I'd prepared for this expedition into the unknown by retaining a spare cup of coffee for any emergency that cropped up - this was done through the cunning plan of throwing it all over my lap at breakfast - when times got really tough, I could always pour milk on myself and suck out the sweet caffeinated nectar and imagine I was having a Montrosian-latte. (Note that even this desperate measure would be better than anything you get served in Austin...!).

Anyways, having noticed that the map for this area was almost empty apart from the words "Here be dragons", I employed a local guide (Tom) to hack through the undergrowth and guide me to Walter's, where to my pleasant surprise, Ken, a fellow ITL-ite, had also managed to make it through the wall of death, bamboo spears and headhunting cannibals. Even more impressive was he'd found this oasis single- handed - no stinkin' guide for him! Brave fellow indeed! Two ITL-ites in the same wilderness room at the same time on the same game day? The world really was upside down today.

Before the game, Tom and myself had decided we want to play something meaty - however, Tom's been playing like, forever, so we also wanted to try and find something he hadn't played before which was harder. Luckily, I do have some of the Kinetic Energy scenario packs which I'd bought years ago and there was some 'new' stuff in here which looked tasty. The problem many people have with the KE stuff is that they automatically assume the VC are going to be very confusing or that there are pages of impenetrable SSRs to wade through ... I don't think is really all that true - granted, there are some challenging ones in there (the mobile German "democharges on tracks" rules is one example that comes to mind), but there's also a lot of good straight- forward stuff in here as well, usually with interesting twists (I'm keen to try the four-phase "Dreadnought of Razne-thingy" scenario some time) and of course the ultimate three-player challenge, "The Dogs of War", is a KE special. If you are looking for something new and you have a good few hours, then I would recommend these scenarios strongly.

In the late nineties, KE had done one scenario pack that was of real interest to me - this was the march of the British 53rd and 11th Armoured Divisions across northern Germany in April 1945, taking on the reserve and replacement battalion of the 12th SS HJ division and a recently constituted Marine division - these scenarios are largely based on an excellent book called "No Triumphant Procession" that is filled with very descriptive small unit actions. I had actually bought this book last month on Amazon and had just finished reading it and so was itching to play something from it, though I don't actually own the original "At the Sharp End" scenario pack. I do however, own a series of sumptuous colour updated scenarios that KE issued to amend a few perceived balance issues with some of their earlier packs - 3 modified scenarios from the original British pack are included (Black Friday, Franzen's Roadblock and The Steel Eyed Boys) and all look quite fun. We opted for The Steel Eyed Boys, and I was happy to play the bitter and desperate SS, whilst Tom took on the challenge of a very tasty late war British company from the Rifle Brigade with plentiful armour support from the 11th AD.

The action is set on a slightly odd board configuration of Boards 11 and 18 with their level 1 hills flanking the trusty stone village of Board 10, rowhouses and all. Environmental conditions are moist, but a stiff breeze is blowing smoke from two burning British tanks right across the frontal southernmost buildings of Board 10 at start. What at first seems odd is that the Board 10 village is right at the 'front' of the German defence line and the Brits can simply walk on in Turn 1 and start fighting immediately for the buildings. The Germans set up between hexrows EE-U, right in the centre of the village whilst there is the whole empty half of the board 'behind' the main scene of the action - odd huh? However, this configuration is explained by the somewhat advanced nature of the VC - the Germans can win by having 15 VP on board 10 and/or exited offboard from the north, back edge of the playing area, but to do that they are going to need to beat a desperate retreat across the open half of board 10 under the guns and noses of the well armed and armoured Brits sat on the heights - a veritable reverse Valley of Death!

The Germans can also win by retaining control of eleven board 10 building / rubble hexes at game end (all board 10 buildings start under German control at start, even those outside the original setup area) at game end after 7 turns, or finally, by achieving an instant win by inflicting 20 CVP on the Brits. The Germans are very tasty but apparently brittle - 12 x 658s, 4 x 348s, 1 x HMG, 2 x MMG, 4 x LMG, 4 x Psk, 2 x DC and up to 28 Panzerfausts. Pretty damn good, especially as we will be mainly conducting a stone building defence. The big problem they have is very weak leadership (3 x 8-0, and a 7- 0, all ELR 4) and that there is a strong possibility of their main squad contingent reducing down to a 447 (SS) very quickly with a ELR of 2. Hmmm. Less good - I expect to see numerous 447s by scenario end. Finally I receive 12 x ? in addition to those received due to British offboard setup, so I need to set some good dummy stacks - this combines nicely with a 2 HIP squad equivalent potential to create a few tricks for unwary British tanks and three boresighted locations for the machine-guns.

The Brits, despite their late war "lets avoid undue casualties" ELR of 3, are awesome: 18 no-cowering 457s, 4 x 247s, 2 x Lt Mtr, 6 x LMG, 2 x MMG, 4 x Piats, 6 (six!) Comets and 4 M5 halftracks. In this environment, with no long-range enemy AT assets or armour to worry about, the Comet is a brilliant tank with both SD and SM (3-hex range), 6FP of MGs and a 12 FP equivalent 77L gun for knocking dug-in tough guys out of stone buildings. They also have outstanding leadership (9-2 plus a load of 8-1s and 8-0s) - a really nice mobile, late war assault group. They also have the boards and armoured mobility to surround the village in very short order whilst the bulk of their infantry are swiftly assaulting the village the hard way from the front. Knowing that Tom plays hard and aggressive on the attack, I quickly reject any notion of being able to slip off a bunch of infantry through the open area to the north of the village to get some easy escape VP - he's far too good to let that happen - so I set up for an all-round contracting defence of the village with the intention of trying to hold eleven building hexes or get him on the low CVP cap (another mechanic to reflect the quoted wish to avoid excess casualties on the behalf of the British), finalising on the big Board 10 factory where all my troops will be fanatic by SSR. Recognising but yet rejecting the 'escape clause' made the setup a little easier as I was able to be more focussed - all the HIP and boresighting traps were put in place to whack incautious Brit infantry or tanks in the environs of the village - a HIP PSk HS in woods on both the east and west side in middle ground locations and a 658 MMG combo in the backfield to try and put the hammer on slack Brit squads creeping around to seal off the rear.

As expected, Tom moved two split armour forces with HTs to the northwest and east of the village to seal off any immediate thoughts of running offboard. He also moved in strongly with a big ground assault directly into the teeth of the defence on the southwest and southern sides of the village, supported by a couple of Comets, trying but failing to find SM shells. I had set up tough with the big HMG stack in the factory and then squads and dummies scattered evenly around the rest of the village. Through armoured assault Tom marched hard onto my outlying defences and I missed three PF shots and 2 PSk shots in a row - eventually I managed to find a 'Shrek shell and reduced a Comet to atoms and started the VP assault (two for the crew only, vehicles not counting against the balance). Tom also tried to jump an isolated half-squad in hexrow EE in CC - these guys were total heroes and managed to whack two squad equivalents over three turns before going down on the fourth attempt. Despite missing another ambush with a concealed squad against a CX half-squad, I eventually managed to get them too - Tom's VP cap was rising sharply by Turn 2. I was however, taking some sharp knocks in return - an outlying squad was encircled and then wiped for FTR (no quarter in effect by SSR), and other squads and half-squads were being reduced or eliminated slowly, especially in the SE corner of the village.

Seeing the need to get more cheap victory points by killing tanks with Faust fire, I ran another two squads out into the woods line on the southwest side of the village, but these guys got hosed by a +6 shot from an adjacent Comet despite smoke, woods TEM, buttoned up and a CA change. Eeek. I did manage to smoke another Comet from a long- distance Shrek shot (two more VP), and knocked off some riders for some more VP. One of the HIP half-squad traps whacked a British half- squad adjacent in the open, but I also had a MMG fail for a heart- stopping turn before recovering. Turn 3 was absolutely horrible - in another missed by 'one' shot sequence, I rolled a series of 9, 11, 10, 11, 8 and 9 for a series of To Hits and IFT rolls - my "usual roll horribly in one long sequence" event for any scenario I play. At this point, the defence was collapsing badly and although the British CVP cap was at 12, things were breaking horribly everywhere. A Psk X'ed on an 11, a half-squad rallied themselves to death on a 12, and one of my leaders did the same - to counteract this Tom X'ed one of his two FT (oh yes, the Brits also had two FTs!) on his first shot. Then he berserked one of my whole squads who subsequently went down in a hail of flame and gun fire. Despite this, Tom was still having trouble getting all his units co-ordinated and focussed at any one point or place at any one time, reflected by an inability to rally a 8-0, 2 x 457 stack for three turns. In contrast, I managed to battle harden my 8-0 with the HMG to an 8-1 - a vital turn of affairs as it turned out.

By Turn 4, things were getting desperate for me - my counter attack in the woods had failed, my HMG squad had broken and with two other squads, were forced to rout to the back of the factory with the 8-1. Only my very backline was holding tough with a 658/LMG and a 658/MMG FG holding back the British mobile force at the very back of the village. I had to rally the Factory HMG force and this is where the Fanatic bonus allied to the additional -1 leadership from the battle hardened leader just did the trick - I managed to just rally the lot of them, and then moved back to the front of the factory and reclaim the temporarily lost HMG. We then ended up in a Mexican standoff with Tom's 9-2 and 2 x 457 stack which were now like a rabbit in the headlights: in the open amongst the swirling smoke - who would blink first? Tom crucially rolled an 11 on the Brit Prep Fire in T5 and my big stack came through unscathed. I then whacked him hard in the open with a -1 directed HMG - I managed to firstly pin the 9-2 in return and then break one of the squads, but most importantly, kept rate. Further fire CR'ed the broken squad, broke the unbroken 457 and managed to break the 9-2! Yaay! To add to my fortune, Tom was unable to rally the 9-2 in German Turn 5, and I kept the pressure on with more ROF which CR'ed the half-squad. Bigger Yaay and another VP. This fire only wounded the broken 9-2 however, and the last broken squad pulled out consecutive snakes on two 1 MC - the first resulted in disruption, but they weren't adjacent and no quarter was in effect anyway, so this was like a null result for me. The second snakes was for me even more heart-breaking - battle hardening and hero creation was a result and these guys were now pretty much unscathed. I was 1 point away from victory but out of bullets in this part of the village and feeling gutted.

Luckily though my backline was still there, fighting hard, rough and tough. I knew that if I failed to scratch any of the British infantry now, I was probably going to lose as I had already missed with a long range Pf on one of his tanks and I had also had one further shot at another broken squad in woods, but these guys had also passed a game winning MC with yet another of the many 4s that Tom rolled on his special dice. Tom had both my backline key squads double-acquired by three Comets and it was only going to be a round or two before I went down in a hail of tank shells. I had one final 16 FP shot left at an unbroken squad in a stone building - amazingly, these guys broke, and best of all, both MGs kept rate! Woohoo! The follow up shot was crucial - again a 4 on the IFT for me and a 1MC for Tom. Heart in mouth time. Pass this and there is nothing left to shoot and he's going to be carving me to small, feldgrau coloured pieces...

Tom rolls a 10. The squad casualty reduces. 1 VP for me. The magic 20 CVP cap is reached. Game over. German win.

Awesome game with a great opponent - the guys in Texas are such fun to play and Tom's a star! We had the usual ASL madness (a berserker, three cases of battle hardening, two fate die-rolls for the Germans, my sniper landing directly on Tom's sniper to remove it from the game, five malfunctions (three for Tom, including the FT and two Comet MA (one repaired)) and much end-game nail-biting desperation where every roll counted. In post-game discussion, we both thought Tom had probably pushed a bit too hard too early - the loss of the two Comets was four good VP for me - he also was very unlucky with the half-squad from hell CC which also took another four VP. His inability to rally the 8-0 stack was important as their extra firepower would have been helpful too. Finally, despite my usual mid- game dicing of myself, I did receive some top ROF die-rolls at the very end to just send Tom over the CVP limit - if I hadn't done that, he would certainly have won the game on the other VC as I was fast running out of troops to hold buildings and the British still had troops in abundance - I had under 50% of my force left at game end and I was seriously acquired by the tanks - the last round really was a round of all or nothing and luckily it just paid off.

Great scenario, much fun, needs some careful playing with both forces and demands some tough decision making for both sides, which is always the sign of a good ASL scenario. Recommended.

If you have comments, as always, would like to hear back!


1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I am the author of No Triumphant Procession and I am delighted it has provided you with such challenging and exciting scenarios! When I wrote the book I had no idea it would provide this function.

best wishes

John Russell