Friday, March 16, 2007

AAR: DB045 - The Backhand Blow

Zeb Doyle

Here's another AAR from the latest game day. A big thank you to Mike for hosting...I know I had a great time and I think everyone else did too (BTW, Mike, if you want to share that margarita recipe, I'm all ears!). We had a good mix of scenarios, including an ASLSK game, some tourney sized action, and even a few large scenarios. I think Shostak and Motes won the prize for fastest play time, with some bad dice effectively ending a smallish scenario on turn one, while the Denson/Seningen and the Roundhill/Schwoebel games going down to the last die roll. Meanwhile, I had the pleasure of playing Rick in DB045 The Backhand Blow, a scenario that also went down to the last die roll, although in extreme anticlimactic fashion.

Rick and I have had a lot of fun with East Front slugfests in the past, and we were hoping that The Backhand Blow would continue that trend. The scenario revolves around Manstein's counteroffensive to retake Kharkov in early 1943 and features a full company of 6-5-8 SS attacking down boards 23 and 49. Along with the standard 9-2 leader and lots of MGs, the SS get three Tigers (with a 10-2 AL), two PzIVH, a PzIIIN, and a Marder. This impressive force is pitted against some tough Russians, including 18 assorted elite and first line squads, a .50 cal, lots of mines and dummies, as well as a 45LL and a 57LL AT gun. The Russians also get two HIP T-34s, as well as another two T-34s that can secretly set up HIP or enter from off-map on a prerecorded turn and hex. It's a clash of two powerful forces, with the SS firepower and Tigers balanced by the extensive Russian HIP capabilities. The VC in this scenario call for the SS to score 99 points in 7.5 turns by capturing buildings, killing Russians, and exiting off the far map edge, with the interesting twist that any CVP the Russians score is added to that German 99 VP target.

This twist makes things quite tricky for the Germans because every loss they take saps their combat power, takes away EVP, and adds to the difficulty of the task. It's a little like running on a treadmill where the more tired you get, the faster it goes. A more concrete example is contained in the designer notes to the scenario, where it's helpfully pointed out that if you lose your Tiger with the 10-2, not only have you lost a very powerful unit and 11 EVP, you also now need to score 110 VP to win. Obviously, if the Germans take serious losses early, the scenario will turn ugly fast and so they have to be very careful especially with their tanks. The SS Panzer arm consists of seven AFVs, worth a total of 50 VP, and of which everything but the Tigers are vulnerable through the frontal AF against the Russian AT assets. Despite all this grim arithmetic, the scenario looked like a lot of fun and Rick graciously obliged me by taking the Russians.

He set up a very solid defense, with enough up front to slow me down but with the bulk of his force positioned in depth,causing me to abandon any hope of a grand flanking maneuver. I was going to have to dig the Russians out of their stone buildings squad by squad, and I started aggressively going at it from turn one. Things started poorly for me and a few low-odds shots caused a lot of damage. Over the first game turn, I had over 25% of my force break. However, the damage wasn't permanent and that ended up being the high-water mark for the Russian cause. Over the remaining seven turns, my SS troopers behaved like the 8ML he-men they're supposed to be, shrugging off 1MCs like they were nothing and dishing out tons of damage in return. It was pretty amazing how well my infantry performed and on the few occasions they did break, they simply rallied back as if the DM counters on them weren't even there. Anything my infantry couldn't kill, my sniper did, breaking a vital 6-2-8 who then died for FTR and wacking an 8-0, who took a squad with him via a boxcarred LLMC.

That was disheartening for Rick, but he sucked it up and focused on destroying my tanks, which are really the key to this scenario. Here, Rick did a great job reading my mind and setting up HIP traps, but his luck ended up being even worse than with his infantry. A T-34 ended up looking at the side of a Tiger needing an 8TH. Result: no APCR, miss, IF, hit, bounce, burning T-34. The second T-34 tried to take on my lowly PzIIIN. Result: miss, return HEAT shot Shocks T-34, Tiger moves up and delivers CH APCR hit to rear, burning T-34. My PzIIIN proceeded on its merry way, discovered the 57LL but was missed, drove on, discovered the 45LL, and survived six or seven ROF net TK5 hits to the front before the AT gun malfunctioned. The final two T-34s drove on map around turn four and confronted a PzIVH and the Marder. Result: Marder goes for APCR, T-34 dies. PzIVH goes for APCR, T-34 dies, Russian AT threat completely eliminated causing no German losses. Now, SS tanks in 1943 do have access to a surprisingly high amount of APCR, and net 5TK shots against PzIIINs and the sides of Tigers are not high-odds shots, but if you were to describe what happened in our game as 'statistically unlikely' or 'improbable' or 'really really lucky,' you'd be right.

You'd also be right if you figured that, thanks to all that luck, I was in great shape heading into the final two turns. I'd stupidly bogged a Tiger in a trench and the Russian sniper had Recalled my Marder, but my total losses were an amazingly low 7 CVP, I'd killed tons of Russians, captured every building on the map but one, and had my entire force ready to attack that last bastion. The only problem was that the last building is a factory where every hex is fortified and every Russian within is Fanatic by SSR. As anyone who has played RB knows, fighting 6-2-9s at one hex range in +2 TEM is very slow going, and although I threw everything I had at the factory, I ended up being completely shut out of it. In the end, I had to run my tanks off the map (surviving a last-ditch MOL attack) and ended up winning with 111 total points. That doesn't sound too close until you factor in those 7 CVP I lost and remember I needed 106 VP to win...had that last MOL hit my charmed PzIII, I would have not exited it, would have had to score 112 points, and would have lost.

The true difficulty of the task really didn't become apparent to me until after I'd played. As written, the Germans win by scoring 99 of a possible 196 VP, but that assumes the SS infantry can move an average of three hexes per turn against some very stout opposition and exit. I think instead they're going to be so busy grabbing buildings and killing Russians that you can't expect any infantry to make it off. Speaking of buildings, I don't think it's realistic to expect the Germans to take the factory either, which by SSR is worth double points. If you take out the German infantry EVP and the factory points, you're looking at trying to score 99 of a possible 152 points. Factor in three tank losses (and with six HIP Russian AT assets, that seems highly possible), and suddenly the Germans need 116 out of 135....very tough sledding and no margin for error. As an interesting comparison, the scenario designer notes say to budget two turns for taking the factory but expect overall losses in the 25%-40% range. Since I took 8.5% losses and arrived at the factory with two turns to spare and ended up barely winning, that seems like a very optimistic view to me.

At any rate, I'm certainly not complaining since I won and had a lot of fun playing. It was just unfortunate that what looks like a real slugfest has to be approached by the Germans as an exercise in casualty avoidance, with any slip up likely equaling a loss. I can't recommend the scenario as written at all even though there's a lot of promise underlying the flawed VC. If I were to try it again, I might tinker by giving the Russians the balance but ignore the provision that German losses add to their required total....obviously that's a big change, but I think the scenario needs something along those lines. So, final rating on The Backhand Blow: exciting situation, lots of promise, neat SSRs, but VC are a fatal flaw.

Anyway..thanks for reading and thanks to Rick for playing,


AAR: J33 - The Slaughterhouse

Brian Roundhill

Setup - As the Germans, I have to hold onto one of the two factories. I decided against using the board 20 factory as my Alamo because it was closer to the Russian setup area and had better approach paths for the Russians. The board 22 factory (the Alamo) had more open ground and fewer stone buildings for the Russians to use, so I designed my defense around it. I wanted the Russians to attack the board 20 factory first, I wanted it to hold for the first three turns, and I wanted to delay the Russians as they transferred their attack from board 20 to board 22. Ideally the Russians would be forced to take the last factory in only two turns.

With this in mind, all the conscript squads and one 447 went into the board 20 factory. I put two 6-factor minefields in front of this factory inside the wall, leaving the western-most hex empty. I put 3 of the Wire in position to slow down an attack from the board joins north-east into board 22, and finished the line of Wire with 2 6-factor minefields. I put 4 1-factor AT minefields in scattered locations. A picket force of about 5-6 squads occupied the village in front of my Alamo, and the factory got everything else. I put the majority of my forces in the back of the factories to gain concealment. Since I had some concealment counters to work with, I also created some 3-stack dummies in each factory with the plan of splitting each of them in to two 2-stack dummies. My 88 was in the village, and my 20L was in the woods on the board join, hoping to catch some Russians running into the board 20 factory.

The Russians setup as desired. Across the stream facing the Alamo was the kill stack with the 10-2 and two AFV's, one of each type (don't remember the details, but I think they were an IS-122 and a T-34 with 85L). Four AFVs setup with riders in the far west, apparently planning to drive behind the rowhouses behind that factory, and everyone else was in the center.

Turn 1 - The Russian kill stack opened up on my 9-2/HMG in the front of the Alamo. No effect early, but a later MC generated a Berserk 9-2 and squad. Schwoebel apparently didn't like that because a 122 hit vaporized them both. The rest of the Russians moved out. A few moved to the northeast towards the Alamo, found the Wire, and stayed out. Several squads moved towards the board 20 factory, some staying behind the wall, others hopping the wall into the building there. One squad examined the concealed stack in the factory and found several bullets, dying in the process. When a leader and squad moved into the street also, the 20L had to fire a 20-2, but only broke them both.

Fire was ineffective, so the Russians advanced closer to their objectives. Both the minefields in front of the board 20 factory were found, breaking one squad. The German turn was quieter as skulking and force shuffling was the order.

Turn 2- The Russians kept the pressure on. The kill stack and 122 kept the front of the Alamo pinned down, and probing fire was sent across the wire into the village with no effect. Schwoebel logically deduced that the third hex in front of the factory was also mined and avoided it this turn, which channeled his attack into the street to the west, with ugly results. About a squad and a half died there, and another couple of squads broke, but enough remained to close into CC in three locations. My concealed conscripts got ambush, declared Hand-to-Hand and eliminated a 628. The other two 628s avoided Hand-to-Hand and locked conscript squads in Melee.

The German turn saw more skulking and force shuffling, but both conscript squads turned their Melee into Hand-to-Hand. One resulted in mutual annihilation, but snake-eyes in the other found the Germans a new leader.

Turn 3- The Russian Commissar was earning his money, rallying troops and creating a Fanatic 628. More Russian troops assaulted the board 20 factory, but couldn't get in. Russian AFV's had moved behind the 20L and were peppering the position with fire, but to no effect. The kill stack and 122 continued their barrage, but the Germans were playing scared and only putting dummies in the front of the Alamo. The Germans yet again skulked and shuffled, but the board 20 factory force got brave and moved into CCs. Outside the factory, a 426 and a Fanatic 628 with prisoners killed each other, leaving some German unarmed. Inside the factory, the German leader and squad were unsuccesful and perished, giving the factory to the Russians. Also, the 20L was given several targets and its fire broke a squad, but the flamethrower roasted the crew.

>> I think this was a mistake on my part. Attacking the Fanatic 628 was not a bad play because he was guarding prisoners, but I should have kept the leader and squad out of CC and made Schwoebel dig them out. Even if they broke in Prep Fire, it would be one less unit moving towards the Alamo.

Turn 4- The Russians turned their attention to the Alamo. At this time, I'd lost a couple of squads in the Alamo, but still had my entire picket force. Russian fire exposed more dummies in the front of the Alamo and broke the 88 crew. Several Russian squads quickly moved past the board 20 factory and onto board 22 north of the village where German forces were lighter. Advancing Russians avoided the Wire and found the minefields, slowing progress into the village. The Germans continued to skulk, and also started to pull in the village picket, giving up a hex or two.

Turn 5- Russian fire continued to pound the front of the Alamo, and a second Heat-of-Battle found the squad with the Panzerschrek go Berserk, and ELR'd the 838 with the flamethrower. They would later be shredded by the kill stack on a 12-4. Russian forces continued to move into position to assault the factory, and a brave DC squad entered the building adjacent to the factory, only to die there. Russian AFVs surrounded the factory and opened fire, giving notice that it would not be easy for the Germans to hold on. The Germans started pushing out of the village and into the factory, putting a couple of squads in the street.

Turn 6- Two turns to go, and my plan had worked so far. Schwoebel had only two turns to dig me out of the factory, but he still had a lot of firepower. The Russians had lost half of their Infantry, but so had the Germans, and the Russians still had all of their AFVs. One AFV drove into the front of the Alamo, establishing a bridgehead for the rest of the Russian troops. Thankfully, none could take advantage of that as they instead ran around the Wire and minefields and through the village. The western side of the factory was also assaulted, but not enough troops were available to get in yet. The kill stack dropped their weapons and ran down the eastern flank to get into position to assault that side of the factory. During the German turn, the 8-1 quit trying to rally the conscripts and instead took the flamethrower out of their hands. Then the conscripts self-rallied. The AFV inside the factory was introduced to the flamethrower and promptly started burning, and the Germans fell back into the eastern side of the factory. One turn to go, could they hold on?

Turn 7- The Russian horde, or half-horde because of losses, attacks. The AFVs go wild and drive into the factory. One locks down a group of Germans, one bogs in an entry hex, and one tries to lock down another group of Germans, but the flamethrower ends that idea. Russians charge the factory and survive the resulting fire to mixed effects. For example, the 10-2 passes, but one squad with him pins and the other breaks. The end result is that only two groups of Germans can be attacked in CC. The stack with the flamethrower is eliminated, but the stack locked down by the Russian AFV kills a squad and survives the return attack.

Last player turn. One German squad with MMG is in the back of the factory, surrounded by a 10-2/8-0/628 on one side, a couple of squads and a burning wreck on the other side, and an AFV with an 85L on a third side. One German squad is locked in Melee with a Russian squad and an AFV. First, the Russian 8-0 recovers the flamethrower, then he and the 628 break under fire from the German squad. Then the Russians open up. 12 +1 from AFV MG's, 16 +0 from the AFV main gun, 24 +6 from the squads in the burning wreck, and the German squad stands strong. The Russians are running out of options, and when the AFV can't eliminate the squad in its hex, the Germans remain in control of the factory.

Synopsis - This was one tight game that lived up to it's name. The streets ran red with blood this day as both sides were decimated with losses. Schwoebel played straight into my plan, and I still feel lucky to win. A fun game, and an enjoyable scenario.

Lessons learned -

  • Shostak commented that keeping the heavy weapons in the factory for the end-game might be the wrong thing to do in this scenario. My PSK never got to fire, and the squad with the flamethrower broke before using it, but the leader with the FT was invaluable.
  • I got too carried away with CC in the western factory. Keeping control of that factory at the beginning of Turn 4 might have made it impossible for Schwoebel to take the other factory.
  • My Gun placement could have been better. The 20L was effective and probably gained me a quarter or half turn, but the 88 was seen immediately and avoided. It fired twice, broke a stack once, and failed its first MC.