Thursday, June 29, 2006

AAR: 2006 Texas ASL Team Tournament

Jim Ferrell

I just love the end of June. The Austin ASL Tournament is one of the highlights of my year. Once again I'm up and on the road by 0600 to drive to Austin Thursday June 22, 2006. Zeb Doyle is planning a mini tournament covering Barbarossa and it starts at 0900. 201 miles later I pull into the La Quinta, ready to roll dice, with 5 minutes to spare.

Zeb's mini consist of two scenarios that 2 man teams play, one team mate is on the Russian side and the other plays the Germans. The team that scores the highest total points wins. I would play Sam Tyson then Matt Shostak, as a Russian player I defended then attack. These are excellent players and I really enjoyed my games even if Sam handled my poor Russians rather roughly. I really liked the format as one player tries to prevent points and the other is trying to accumulate them. The final total was very close between 1st and 2nd place. Great start to the weekend. Zeb passed out T-shirts to the contestants dated in the language of each nationality, really cool. Thank you Zeb.

Friday, I had arranged a game with Mike Seningen Friday morning to kick of the main Tournament. We chose A Hotly Contested Crossroads DB035 from the Bunker guys. I have played few scenarios as intense and gut wrenching as this one turned out to be. Mike is an ace ASL player and he put my Germans through the ringer, both of us played on the edge all game. In the end I took a chance with my OBA and it worked., The OBA had a 50% chance of nailing my guys if not accurate, it landed right on target and a I just escaped Mike's pending rampage through my rear area. Mike continued to attack with his few good order units and I managed to just hold on to win. 1-0 My second game Friday was against Walter Eardley from Houston. Walter is rather calm and mild mannered and after the 1st game a welcomed opponent as I was a wreck. We chose Lend-Lease Attack J98. I would be the Russian and Walter would take the Tigers. Walters luck was just average and he could not stop my exiting enough CVP for the win. 2-0 I was spent and went to bed around 0130 and did not sleep well as I continued to think about my ASL play.

Saturday, I was waiting for a match and Scott Bell asked if I needed a Game. We settled on A Siege of Their Own. This was a playtest scenario and Scott wanted the attacking Russians. I fell back against the advancing Russian horde and waited for my reinforcements and they proved decisive. Scott is relatively new, however, his attack was planned very well. It was just not to be. 3-0

I was matched up with Brian Roundhill and we decided to play after the annual Saturday Barbeque Dinner the Austin guys provide. Most excellent! Brian and I settled on Deadeye Smoyer SP43. Brian forgot that the M26 entered on the west edge and ended up losing his Panther early. Brian defended the victory building with tenacity and skill. The game would come down to the last close combat phase. Well played Brian. Sometimes you need a little luck and I rolled a snakeyes at the right moment. 4-0

Late Sat. is reserved for diehard ASL and cards. I played cards until 0200. Sleep is restless and Sunday Morning arrives and I drift into the game room. I will be matched with Zeb Doyle and depending on the outcome of another match ours could be for the title. We were asked to pick a scenario that could be played in a reasonable amount of time. Zeb pulled out some scenarios and I settled on Twilight of the Reich SP97. Zeb had played it before but it is one that struck me as providing an exciting ending. The dice gave me the defending Germans. The Germans are fragile and must try to conserve his infantry and that was my plan. I fell back and my squads slowly died off. A 2-3-7 and 8-0 leader are the heroes, they managed to survive turn 3 an 4 of CC at odds of 3-1 and 4-1. The 8-0 would withdraw Russian turn 4 when Zeb rolled a 12. He would run down the ISU152 and advance into CC and lock the Beast in CC, no Prep fire turn 5! My Jagd Panthers rummbled into burning wreck hexes and remained in Motion. Zeb would need a series of snakes to win and the dice would not comply. 5-0 and the Tournament 10-3 award as the other game's outcome made ours the Title game. The Austin Tournament is well organized and a blast. Texas hospitality is waiting for all of you next year. Rick, Mike, Zeb and all the others made this an excellent place to spend a few June days come see us next year.

Thanks, Jim Ferrell

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.


Wednesday, June 14, 2006

AAR: J80 - Egypt's Last Hope

Nick Drinkwater

German Player [ELR 3, SAN 2]: Nick Drinkwater

British Player [ELR 3, SAN 3]: Stephane Graciet

Round 2 of the Line in the Sand mini-CG. Going into this on the back of my loss in Rommel's Remedy and comments from the Houston Crew of "if you thought that was hard for the Germans, just wait for the next one..." ringing in my ears, I set up with a due case of caution and dread. In this one, I actually probably randomly selected the best combination going of an extra Long-barrelled MkIV, 2 x MkIIIHs and a 8-1 AL, an additional half-track mounted force of 3 x 458 and a 8-0 and an extra 100mm OBA with aerial observer. This is pretty powerful and is great in combination with two more OB Long Barreled MkIV F2s (with another 8-1 AL), two MkIIIJs with 50L, two MkIIIHs, an AA HT, and a couple of HT mounted squads. Already on-board half-way across Board 26 are a ground-force of a 9-1, 8-0, HMG, 2 x LMG, 5 x 468 and 3 x 548. My one big choice was whether to go for a 75L Marder (with B11) or a MkIV F1 with a third 8-1 AL. I chose the latter for its suppression abilities with a good HE capability and good Smoke-churning potential. Finally, I get onboard-set up of two 81* Mtrs, with their awesome 3ROF and S8.

So what have these bad boys got to do to get this job done? They need to cross two desert boards under long range fire, climb up the face of the Board 25 gullied precipice (representing the western end of the Alam Halfa ridge, which in reality was a low rocky ridge and not the Tunisian Djebel which the Board 25 massif represents) and be in control of two of the three marked peaks on Level 4 at Game end - all that in 6.5 Turns. Again, the rigours of broken terrain are to play a major part in this game, and there are patches of cactus patch and hedges to really impede progress on the lower slopes of the hill. The broken terrain fields are more prevalent on the eastern 2/3rds of the two desert boards while the western third is much more open - however, there is only one of the three victory locations on this side of the play area, so the bigger of the two Level 4 hills is almost inevitably going to be the focus of the attack, and I am going to have to brave at least one or two BT hexes whether I like it or not. The ground force have really got their work cut out as it is extremely open terrain in the run-up to the base of the hills. One thing that could be useful is that I can park a vehicle on a victory hex to control it - the presence of a trench or sangar does not create a separate location to deny this, so Stephane will have to get an unbroken infantry unit in there to deny me control - something to keep in mind for game end.

Stephane has a small but very potent force to stop me in my tracks. He has been given one of the dreaded 3ROF 6lber AT Guns, and three more Grants. He has 8 x 457s, a 9-2, 8-1 and 8-0, MMG, plus 88mm OBA and Radio. Stephane's Operational Reinforcements are actually fairly average (compared to the awesome force he pulled in Round 1) and he gets three Valentines with 2lber guns and poor HE capability (really BAD tanks for July 1942), Random Air Support (2 FB with bombs - of course!) and two 25lb ART guns - again all good stuff for Infantry suppression as they try to inch across the open ground, especially the strafing FB which are will be there until the end of the game. Also he has a couple of light mortars and an ATR or two, but overall this is not as strong as the force he had in Rommel's Remedy, although the natural terrain more than makes up for this.

In light of everyone's comments, Stephane graciously agreed to give me the balance and subtracted his 76* Mtr from his OB, a big loss of a very nasty 3ROF weapon. Even so, if he gets his OBA going and my smoke weapons and OBA fail to do much, then I am really going to struggle in this one.

So we're off and straightaway, one of my two Mortars instantly loses Smoke. Hmmmm. Looking at the terrain, I forego the obvious path of using the western-most Level 0 wadi complex to approach the hill, as based on Stephane's Game 1 policy, it is sure to be heavily mined - also, it only gets me to the more isolated of the two peaks and there is a belt of wire in the way to block access out of the wadi. As a result I am going to try trekking across the broken terrain fields on the eastern side to tackle the double peak fortified complex. Stephane has foregone the option of setting up anywhere on Board 26 and has gone for a stand and die defense on the dominating Level 4 peaks of Board 25 with entrenchments and sangars. His Hull-down attempts for the three Grants largely fail, and he is very unlucky in T1 when I hit and break the crews of both 88* ARTs in their hilltop eeries and the crews fail to rally. Things get better when I successfully smoke in his 6lber AT Gun plus his 9-2 MMG combo - finally, my overwatch MkIV F2 takes out one of the Grants at Long Range which was cool. I even destroy two of his squads with long-range MG fire which is a serious chunk of his defense off the board.

But of course this is ASL and things always swing back! Stephane instantly gets his accurate (despite the light dust) OBA going followed by air support (rolls a 1 on Turn 2!), and even though his bombs only immobilise one of my MkIV Specials, a 25 hex "red" to hit number shot from a Grant Gun takes him out. He then follows this up with a lucky crit on my smokeless Mtr, still a major loss. Finally my aerial observer, after twiddling uselessly with his frequency dials for 1.5 turns, goes and blows a transistor on his radio - second game in a row where my OBA has done squat. This and the Mortar-crit are huge losses as crossing the open ground with the infantry to climb the hill with no smoke is going to be a very painful drawn-out suicide attempt.

To compound this, I realise I've made a bad tactical error - based on my horror-story attempts to get vehicles across BT in game one, I choose to pick the least BT-ridden path I can to get my huge armoured convoy to the front. This means sending the whole lot down a big right-central wadi, but this just costs far too much time, and I realise that I am going to be seriously behind the required pace by the time I've picked my way out of there. Obviously, the design of the scenario was for the convoy to risk the one hex of BT in the southern-most board and then suck up a couple of bogs, but my dice-rolling on braving BT bog attempts in game one had been pitiful and scared me off this. In the meantime, my ground-based forces are inching along the open plain under the pressure of an accurate correcting 88mm OBA Barrage. Grim progress here.

Despite all this, I press on grimly into the face of adversity. My Aerial Observer manages to find a spare transistor under the co-pilot's seat and fixes his radio, and I send the half track convoy around to the east where they carve a way through the BT fields with only a couple of bogs. The armour column pops up out of their cover in the gully and swiftly dispatches a Grant and a Valentine with consecutive crits (sorry Stephane!), followed by the last Grant by another long shot. My smokin' Mtr continues to keep the 6lber and the 9-2 shrouded in gray misty stuff, and my only OBA fire mission (before I pull the inevitable second red card) is good enough to break the two squads with the 9-2, and the AT Gun crew. Stephane can barely buy a break and receives virtually no ROF from any of his weapons, including the two now-rallied 88* ARTs. I continue to get great ROF from my HMG and my surviving Mtr, but this is rarely effective as Stephane continues his usual trend of always being able to find that necessary seat-of-the-pants die-roll just when he needs to.

By the end of T4, all the Grants are smokin pyres, the British OBA has gone away after the observer broke, one of the FBs has been recalled with jammed guns on a 12, the 9-2 has been forced to rout, the three crappy Valentines are still struggling to climb the north side of the precipice to join the fight, and the 6lb AT Gun has not fired a shot. With heavy smoke cover, my surviving infantry start legging it up the hill, but Board 25 is a total bitch to assault either on foot or on tracks and I am probably already 2 turns behind schedule at this point. By the end of Turn 6, I have just managed to get a couple of squads onto the eastern most of the three Level 4 victory hexes, but the armour is lost in the maze of wadis and unable to help. I even get adjacent to the middle peak victory hex with a Mk III but it just clean runs out of time and MP to climb out the double-crest wadi it was in for an Overrun and possible victory - meanwhile, the British have been pretty much cleaned off the front face of the hill and the few surviving units adopt a reverse slope defense.

Realising in T6 that 95% of my force is going to be locked up on the main massif but due to the terrain are ultimately doomed to fail in their attempt to claim the last peak and seal victory, I send a HT and 8-1 + 468 on a hail mary to take the westernmost isolated peak - this HT immobilizes halfway up the hill on an ESB and even survives a hit (dud) from the entrenched 88* ART which is the sole British unit actually on this victory hex. With this sole HT-borne squad, I actually have a shot at snatching the unlikeliest of victories from the gory, dripping jaws of an ugly defeat, but I need to survive all the DF against them in my last phase and then advance in for the win.

The HT survives the attention of the last FB, and the subsequent CX-ing squad and leader survive 6 enfilading attacks from a lonely British HS and a Valentine. The leader finally pins from the now pinned, adjacent Gun's Defensive Fire, but in true Stephane fashion, after having rolled really horribly all night, finds the one shot he REALLY needs from left field and ends the game with an Intensive Fire Critical Hit!! My guys go down in a hail of high-explosive shrapnel and that was that. What was worse was that this lone British crew had survived two hits from my Mortar and two hits from my HMG, but of course he merely pins when I absolutely have to have him break.

To say I was gutted was an understatement - to get SO close on a scenario that I was forewarned was really tough on the Germans was actually good, but for once, JUST once, I wish that single critical game-winning die-roll would just go MY way for once. It gets a bit disappointing and tough to keep coming back for more of this after a while.

It's rare for me to criticise a scenario in these AARs, but I think this one is far too pro-British: the Germans need the best selections from the force pool, no weapons to break (2 of my 3 MkIV F2s had malfunctioned guns, and my MkIV F1 was recalled with a Disabled main gun), inexhaustible smoke, a non-failing radio and every other slice of luck going and even then they will lose. I can only imagine those few British losses on ROAR were due to loss of the OBA and the AT Gun very quickly, coupled with some Grant breakdowns. I diced Stephane pretty horribly in places in this scenario and was above average on most of my die-rolls - he had five good die-roll combinations in the entire scenario and that was it (the last shot, a low odds hit by a strafing FB, a very low odds shot to take out one of my half-tracks, and the long-range kills on my Mtr and first MkIV F2). His OBA was actually pretty ineffective (mine was no better with its single Fire Mission), his 88 Guns didn't much until that last shot, his FB killed only one half-track and one squad over over 6 turns, his mines played no part in this and he'd already taken his other big weapon, the 76* Mortar, off the board as part of the balance. I kept his 57L AT gun smoked in and unfired all game, the Grants killed one tank only before all being destroyed, my other Mtr and HMG went on several ROF streaks and kept smoke and I played this whole thing pretty well. And yet I still lost and wasn't realistically that close at winning if truth be told, reduced to trying the big lateral hail mary with the Half-track. It was taking so long to pick through the terrain that some of the Mk IIIs and several of the HTs and passengers never fired a shot in anger, spending most of their time just picking their way through the terrain just trying to get to the Level 4 hexes on Board 25, let alone actually fighting for them.

One lesson learnt - the Germans absolutely have to go through the more open west central route, as there is nowhere near enough time to get there and actually do anything by going to the east - the eastern summit of Board 25 is essentially sealed off from the others by a horrible wadi complex and you are doomed to fail if you try that route. Of course in the west, the infantry are then inching across a lot of -1 open ground and not +1 BT so they will chopped to pieces, and you will be running into a funnel where the Brits can pour fire on you from 2 sides, but you may just at least have the time necessary to achieve the VC if nothing else. Having tried to avoid the worst of the pitfalls of the BT by using the eastern wadi in the interest of force preservation, I needed at least one more turn, and my impact was again dissipated by the forced dispersion of my units imposed by the BT and the problems of all the crags, cliffs and wadis on Board 25, which meant they arrived there piecemeal, if they actually arrived there at all.

So that was that. Ultimately a very disappointing scenario as all Stephane had to do was play average, sit there and take his licks and he was still going to win, and yet there were very little tactical options open to him. All I could do was try and think of a plan which minimised the effects of the terrain (which I failed) and then really hope for the best as I rode into that particular valley of death. Overall, I had lost the mini CG on the slightly pro-British Rommel's Remedy and the very pro-British Egypt's Last Hope. One final thought - in this scenario, I had probably the best option going here in terms of my choices of Operational support, and Stephane's were pretty average. I absolutely shudder to think what the result would have been like if the Brits had been able to choose their operational support teams and had had their Game 1 choices here of 3 more Grants (with six-more barrels) instead of 3 Valentines, and they had had ANOTHER 57AL 3ROF AT Gun. There is no way the Germans could win that - I have to wonder how the Germans managed to pull a win out under that combination during playtesting?

Ugly indeed.

Nick Drinkwater

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

AAR: J79 - Rommel's Remedy

Nick Drinkwater

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

New Zealand player [ELR 3, SAN 3]: Stephane Graciet

Stephane and myself are both partner-free for a couple of weeks so we are using the opportunity to get in some serious ASL, starting with the Line in the Sand mini-CG. Rommel's Remedy was round one in this three-part classic, and ended with a solid New Zealand win in German Turn 5 when yet another of my AFVs went down to another long odds shot from Stephane. Anyway, for those who want to read my AAR, please read on...

There's a little bit of choosing to do in the set-up as the Germans get to select between either an 88L AA Gun or a 81mm MTR + 20mm AA Gun. In addition, as this was round 1 of the CG, we both drew randomly from the three operational reinforcement groups: I selected 4 x MkIII H (50 normal gun barrel) with a 9-1 AL, a 3 x 468 HT Reinforcement group and 2 Stukas with Bombs. Stephane received 2 FB with bombs, 1 x 6-Lber AT Gun and a 76* Mtr and 3 Grants with a 9-2 AL.

These random reinforcements augment a very mixed at-start line-up of six 347 Italian sappers with a 9-1 leader and (chosen) HMG and a 8-0 with 70mm OBA and 3 x M13/41s. The at-start German forces include 2 Psw 222(L)s, 2 MkIIIJs with the 50L Gun and a couple of MG half-tracks. To win, the Germans (and let's be honest, it really will be the Germans and not the Italians doing the hard miles here) must exit 45 DVP off the east edge of Boards 31/30 (game area includes these plus half of boards 26 and 27), having started set-up on the board 27 half-board. All the German random reinforcements arrive from off-board on Turn 1 to really provide the impetus to the attack as the Italians are far too weak to achieve this on their own. The northern half of the Allied play area is dominated by two large hillocks arranged lengthwise, both with Level 1 summits. In addition the attack is funnelled by three lengthwise wadis that are located at the edges of the play area to create a central flat 'kill-area'.

The big thing about all these scenarios for the CG is the fact that Broken Terrain (BT) is in play and this has an absolutely MASSIVE effect on the way the scenarios pan out. The big part of BT is that hammada hexes resolve as half-level obstacles which seriously reduces the LOS opportunities to small open "courtyards" between "walls". In addition, all hexes around the hammada become bog terrain and this can seriously break-up and spread out coordinated attacking forces as I was about to find out. There is a lot of broken terrain in this play area and at some point the Germans are going to have to cross some of it in force, with a fair number of their vehicles surviving if they are to win. And that is in the teeth of a British linear defense that as well as the things listed above has 10 458s, a 9-2, an 8-1, an 8-0, some sangars, a few trenches and wire to impede movement and 60 mine factors: up to 45 of these could be replaced by AT mines and all, some or none could be hidden. Moderate dust is in effect so every shot is at least +1 minimum. Finally there is a track that traverses through the southern third of the play area and frees up all the movement for the attacking Germans, but means running through the teeth of the central 'kill-area'. Oh yes, did I mention that the Kiwis also have sticky gammon bombs to slap on to the immobilized or slow-moving German vehicles picking their way through the Broken Terrain? I didn't? Well, they do, and they really hurt.

I was a bit ring-rusty on ASL having just got back from a big trip to Europe, so I certainly wasn't at my best, but I think to win this, the Germans have to bring their absolute top game with them plus a bit of luck, as the terrain alone both funnels and then really breaks up the coherency of their attack. On top of that, they are facing a New Zealand defense that merely has to hang tough for a while while they maneuver the Grants through the broken terrain fields to hinder, delay and damage the slow-crawling German strike force. In addition, the Kiwis rolled really well in this for their support groups and picked up the dreaded 3 ROF 57L AT Gun, that can just destroy anything the Germans throw at them. The three Grants are really effective as well as they have 6 tubes firing all of which can damage any of the German armour, and their 11 turret AF means that all the German guns are more likely to bounce off rather than penetrate. Despite all this, Stephane, in his own words, presented one of his weaker setups and set up the AT Gun in the centre in front of some crags which effectively blocked his LOS to the northern half of the area and all of his backfield. Also, he'd been less than optimal with his all-hidden mine deployment and I fortuitously found the extreme northern flank wide-open at the extreme board edge. In contrast, the Italians went nowhere at all slowly and were soon running backwards in their customary "Nick is playing them" fashion.

Having recognised the need to kill some of the hordes of Kiwi infantry, I had opted for the 81mm MTR instead of the 88L AT Gun as I really wanted its 3 ROF to keep the heads of the Kiwis down, but this was noticeably ineffective as it missed virtually every shot, didn't keep rate and was put out of the game twice by sniper shots. The sniper also whacked my 8-0 Observer right between the eyes, so the OBA did precisely nothing after just half a fire mission. Two key pieces, both rendered ineffectual in no time. Ugly indeed. In the middle, my HT swarm of elite Germans were held up after running into the misplaced AT Gun. After one lost HT, they quickly swerved left to the north to drive and join up with MkIII swarm which had just successfully turned Stephane's flank for the loss of one tank on an AT mine. By now, the Italian tanks were all Immobilized on BT, or burning from one of the Grants, so it was up to the Germans to finish it off.

On the MkIII dominated northern flank I had been progressing pretty well. To Stephane's frustration, I had managed to race off one of my two Psw 222(L) for 7 DVP exit points, but then the first of numerous failed bog checks meant the other become burny, crispy toast for one of the swiftly transferring Grants. I managed to catch a 458 in the open, but true to form, Stephane rolled just perfectly when needed and it survived 2 nasty OVRs and then of course blew a hole in one of my nice shiny MkIIIs. I continued to fail Bog checks at the critical moments and was soon seriously over-stacked in one key Broken Terrain edge hex. Further maneuver with what was left of the Panzer force killed off three 458s for FTR and I overran the 76* MTR in its sangar to remove that threat. At this point we were looking good for the win, as Stephane lost a Grant to a Stuka, another one to a BFF critical hit (always sweet), and then I managed to break the 57L AT Gun crew with the other as they tried to rapidly manhandle the Gun over the rocky fields to get a LOS to my tanks. (These guys '12'ed themselves out of the game during a rally).

All I needed to do was get off 3-4 of the tanks and some of the stuffed-to-the-gills half-tracks. Stephane sent his big 8-1 AL Grant on a charge to halt me but missed everything and then broke both guns on IF shots - in addition both his FB missed with their bombs by one (phew) and their strafing attacks were ineffective. To counter this, I lost an all important half-track to a rear LMG shot through dust which was a nightmare, and then another motion tank went down as Stephane charged his 9-2 and a couple of squads through a storm of defensive fire as they all shrugged off countless -1 and -2 shots unscratched. Typical. Now it was down to a really fine margin as I had to get everything mobile off unscathed and de-bog my only remaining bogged tank.

We entered German T5 and I started the great Kentucky Derby dash. One half-track got off and 2 of the 3 tanks were on their way when my final HT went down to a 3 TH roll and then an immobilizing 4 TK from the only effective attack the FBs did all night - grrrrrhhh. I tried to run the surviving squad and leader off the board but went down to a lousy 2 FP long-range shot - the leader broke but the squad went berserk and were shot down in a hail of bullets on the empty desert floor (one of the few bits of the play area without BT!) as they charged back towards the Kiwi defense line!

That was pretty much it as I couldn't get enough off to win - we rolled to see if I debogged the stranded MkIII but that mired - of course it did.

This is quite a delicate scenario and needs some more finesse as the German than I was able to provide. In the cold light of the day after, I still think it is a bit pro-Allied, and this was compounded by Stephane pulling out the most lethal of his possible random reinforcement groups while I pulled merely average. This combination, allied to the extreme effects of BT on LOS and maneuver as well as the need for the Germans to cross at least 1-2 BT hexes means the Germans have to work hard for every advantage and everything needs to function at least in an average way to help this task. If Stephane had played his A1 defense and placed the mines and AT Gun in much stronger positions, I don't think I'd have even got close. Of my choices, I would still stick with the 81* Mtr as if it functions normally, it is an outstanding support weapon - I was unlucky to have Stephane pull the Grants, and the 88L AA Gun would have helped a bit, but not enough to offset the advantage that the Mtr offers. Finally, I definitely need to brush up some more on my Combined Arms play as I missed one or two opportunities and too many of the German infantry spent the game as passengers rather than fighting. The biggest thing of all though is the BT - this is a bugger to get through and seriously reduces the two big advantages for the Germans in this game - maneuver and speed.

Anyway, well played Stephane to pull yourself out of the hole you'd partially dug yourself into. We're moving onto Egypt's Last Hope next where I have to win. More to follow.

Nick Drinkwater