Saturday, May 12, 2007

AAR: 122 Extracurricular Activity

Nick Drinkwater

Hungarian: Stephane Graciet (ELR 3, SAN 2]

Russian: Nick Drinkwater [ELR 3, SAN 3]

Pre-Game Thoughts: A nice, compact, 5.5 turn, one-evening special scenario set on one half of the new urban board 51. The Hungarians are tasked with having more unbroken squads in the large 'university' building (B2) at the very back of the board than the Russians at game end. Note that this does not include the usual 'good-order' qualifier, so it is OK for either side to be locked in melee in this one and still scratch out the win. Its a wet, un-windy day in Budapest in December 1944 and the siege is about to start.

As the Russians, I had a tidy but not invincible force of 10 x 447s, a 9-1, an 8-1, 7-0, a couple of light machine guns, an HMG, and two T34-85s. SSR meant that all buildings were ground or one level only, but rooftops are in effect for the university and there is an inherent stairwell of every hex of that building so the ability of either side to block critical stairways with broken squad or MMC bodies will be reduced somewhat. The Russians have to defend the board width-wise so there is a 10 hex wide front to try and stop the Hungarians. There are several options on how to defend, but row "I" is the critical one as this comprises a road that stretches directly across the front - it will be tough for the Hungarians to cross this, and its the Russian's job to make this tougher.

Russian Summary: This road formed my "Stop Line", and I set up the majority of the squads to interdict all the main crossing points with tank support to dominate several of the long 'avenues' of approach that lead to this. One of the big missing attributes for the Russians is their lack of spray fire capability - this is one scenario where they are screaming to leave as much residual fire as possible, especially as some of the squads will probably be locked in by VBM freeze.

Therefore defending could be a painful process, particularly as the Hungarian will be able locally to concentrate more forces due to the need for the Russians to defend the whole board width against incursions against the flanking force . Most of the defenders were set up behind the Stop Line, but in an attempt to be crafty, I put one concealed squad just ahead of it, matched with an equivalent dummy, to put a bit of caution into the Hungarians in their approach. I rejected the idea of putting a really forward 'speedbump' line right at the front, as I think with row houses and narrow road terrain, there are just too many parallel entry points for the Hungarians and such guys would be swiftly bypassed.

The plan was to hold firm at the Stop Line until Turn 4 and then slowly retreat back to the university for the last turn stand. One thing about the approach on the Hungarian half of the board is that it is dominated by lots or rowhouses in long parallel avenues which are always challenging to attack and defend. There are less of these in the Russian half of the board, but there are still lots of very open roads and avenues that will need to be dashed across when it comes time to fall back to the university.

The Russian's other big tactical problem is the Hungarian entry conditions, which offer a nice spin to this scenario. The Hungarians can delay entry of any part of their force to any time after Turn 1, so it is critical that the Russians maintain a screen across the board just in case the Hungarians leave a flanking force for a mid- game entry mad dash down the "other" flank and start doing nasty tricks in the Russian back field. This can happen at any time, so the timing of the retreating shift of the Russians is critical. Too early and the Hungarians end up with a lot of mid game flexibility and options to manoeuvre. Too late and the hard-pressed defensive line will buckle before any support can come. This needs a bit of finesse and is one of the nice challenges of this scenario.

Hungarian Summary: Weirdly enough, it is the Hungarians who have a lot of the interesting tricks here. They receive Panzerfausts, so the T34s need to be really wary of this. In contrast the Russians are more limited in their AT capability - they do receive 2 ATRs but it may be hard to get these in optimum positions. The T34-85 is an awesome tank in most scenarios, but in this choked urban terrain, they are very vulnerable to reaction fire and street fighting, but then so should be the machine-gun less Hungarian Zinyris.

The Zinyri is a real tin-can for late 1994 with 6/2 armour, but by SSR the crews are elite which means their S7 is a healthier S8. The other good thing about the Zinyri is the SD7, which will all contribute to getting the Hungarian infantry across the Stop Line. In fact with no ROF and the +3 terrain the Russian defenders will be lurking in, the Hungarian should expect to see these anachronistic relics being used more for their smoke, their potential to apply VBM to critical strongpoints and possibly their ability to cut rout paths than their direct fire capabilities - if all else fails, they of course could be useful in a "burning vehicular smoke producer" kind of way too. If they try to take on the T34s they will surely lose this - the T34s should be left to the 'faust-totin' infantry and CC opportunities.

The Hungarian infantry is a tasty little force - there are 14 x 347s with several LMGs but by SSR, they have broken side morale 2 higher than printed - with good rally points and an abundance of leaders (9- 1, 8-1, 2 x 7-0) they should be recycling units back to the attack much more quickly than the Russians. As mentioned above, they also have the tactical advantage of being able to enter the game late and so keep the Russian defenders guessing and limiting their reactionary capability. They should also be looking for opportunities to take advantage of the VBM freeze wave expected by the Zinyris to help get them across the road and ultimately into the B2 university. They will need to take care in CC as this is where their 3FP will hurt them and they will need to double-up on occasions. It is important for the Hungarian to keep one eye on force preservation as they will need to have 5-7 squads left over for the end game where hopefully they will only be facing 3-4 Russian squads at most.

AAR: Anyway, that was the plan and it worked pretty well-ish. Stephane focused on my left but he did keep a platoon and a Zinyri offboard to see what he could do to test the defences on the right or middle. He eventually sent these on in Turn 2 through the middle area and I started to rush my rightmost squads back and across towards the B2 university. In one of those classic brain-failure moments, I tempted fate by running one squad across an open road...thought I was out of range so I'd only be taking a 2-2 shot...of course, I was in range and it was leader-directed and it was actually a very nasty three on a 6-3 shot: nothing left but twitching bodies scattered along the kerbs. A poor move on my part and a cheap victory for the Hungarians, and as the Russian I couldn't easily afford a loss like this.

In contrast, my little Dummy trap worked splendidly and I managed to whack an incautious defender who tried to run across the street under the guns of a very real squad. Stephane used the Smoke a lot and in an effort to put some cover into place on the Stop Line, shoved a Zinyri straight down the throat of my central defending T34. I of course missed the critical shot from my defending T34 while he was still two hexes away and he was able to end up adjacent to one of my strongpoints. I burned him with the other T34, but the obstruction was now in place to help the Hungarians bridge the gap, which they duly did.

Learning from Tom's (now) famous exploit with M10 from last month, Stephane chanced his arm with another "straight into the heart" of the defences charge by another Zinyri. I of course missed this sequentially first with Streetfighting, then missed it with the first T34 and then missed it for the third time with the last T34. Of course I did! He drove through my T34's hex, parked next to and behind it to try and shoot me from the rear. I did spin and kill it in the next turn, but by this one move he had fixed both T34s in place - the first attempt by Stephane to find a PF was of course successful (though he ate a 1 on the backblast) and the T34 burned.

Using the last two Zinyris, Stephane then VBMed my Stop Line defenders in place and I continued my usual practice of missing on Reaction Fire attempts. With the VBM in place, Stephane sneaked two squads behind the frozen Stop Line defenders to be directly able to threaten the B2 university defenders. At this point, I dropped my "?" on my last big stack only for the HMG to break on its first shot - oh how we laughed! Taking this reprieve for the golden chance it was, the now optimally placed fired up the fausts to toast my adjacent and last T34. Again he ate the backblast - another 1! The leader took the K, died on the wound check and then the two squads broke on the LLMC. Some justice at last! These guys were able to rout upstairs though, but I did whack one later on a FTR.

For the end game, Stephane tried to VBM freeze my now mended HMG squad in the point-defence location of the B2 building. This he did successfully, and this really was the critical move: it was only now I was actually able to whack a tank in CC, but I did it too well...this one went up in flames, but this put smoke right on top of my critical defence point: all my shots out of this would now be +6. As a side note, up to this point I had missed eight Reaction Fire, Street Fighting and CC attempts in a row before I whacked them (these were typically 5 or 6 To Kill). Not great! Like all good London buses, I was of course able to whack the last Zinyri in CC on the very next shot - honestly, you spend twenty minutes for one to come and then two turn up at once! I was still desperately trying to get my last outlying squads back to the B2 building for the final defence, but one went down to a 2+1 shot and the other went down to an 8+2 with nowhere to rout to. Of the three squads on the right flank, three single shots had been enough to put all of them out of the game - take care when trying to cross those roads on the retreat!

So in the last turn of the game, I was down to only 3 squads in the B2 building. Stephane had managed to get a single flanker into the university the turn before which I could do nothing about, but I was able to pin his other flanker. I arranged my last three squads to cover all points of entry, but the critical one was the point location of the B2 building. Despite lots of fire at adjacent Hungarians, another squad got in and survived, but the key fight still came down to the final assault on the point of the B2 building. Three squads sequentially moved in and they survived the approach completely unharmed, mainly due to my residual fire being reduced to 2+2 instead of 6+2 due to the smoke from the burning Zinyri. . Eventually it all came down to the last CC: Stephane had three squads, an 8-1 and a hero versus myself with a 447 and a 9-1. Firstly I only needed to survive the ambush. Secondly, I just needed to survive the 2:1 (-2) cc attack (Stephane needed at least an 8 or less to win). Thirdly I also had to win the final 1:2 (-1) attack (I would need a 4 or less to win)...admittedly on the wrong side of the odds curve, but not completely impossible. If of course, I ambushed them, the odds would improve significantly...

However, when it comes to Stephane and ambush, I have what, they say in British Law Enforcement, some "Form", having had many instances in all our previous meetings where I had completely screwed itevery time - its got to the point of being a joke between us. This game was no different - so far, I had blown every Ambush roll bar one all evening (about 6 attempts). So was this critical one going to be any different? I was -1 on the ambush roll and Stephane was -2. Here it goes...roll the dice....there's a big fat juicy "six" staring up at me! Of course there is. There was still a chance that Stephane would also roll high, but no, here comes...a TWO! Ouch.

Even, even so, it wasn't quite over. I could still do this. If the Hungarians fail the attack (now only an 11 or 12 would save me) AND I roll a three, I will win.

Well, a three was rolled, but you guessed wasn't by the Russians! Game over. Well played Stephane.

This was fun. Last gasp, last roll CC games are always great and this was no different. My biggest mistake was the cheap loss of the squad from the 6-3 non-long range shot down one of the avenues. That extra squad may have been the difference as it would have meant that Stephane would need to find 5 squads for the win, but also, I could have packed it in to the 'point' of the B2 building: the assaulting units would have taken a 20 +5 shot instead of the 12+5 shot, and also my residual would have gone up. Finally, my CC odds would have significantly improved: instead of receiving an 11-5 attack, it would have been an 11-9 attack by the Hungarians and my return attack would only have needed to be 9-6...MUCH healthier odds indeed. Just reinforces that age old ASL maxim that EVERY squad counts and there are no throwaway units in any game.

Stephane played this well. I had boxed him into a bit of a blind alley at the Stop Line and he was clearly stalled, but he pulled out the patented Gillis "charge down the throat of Nick's defence" ploy and it really paid off for him...(deja vu anyone?). The three misses against that one Zinyri were huge events and they opened up lots of opportunities for Stephane which he took full advantage of. I don't mind the VBM freeze rule too much as I think the rules give plenty of scope to stop this or hurt the vehicle back (Reaction Fire, Ambush, -1 for lack of machine guns etc etc) just have to roll low enough to do it some times! When my dice did eventually turn hot, it was just too late, and Stephane's far too good to miss an opportunity like that.

We liked the scenario and would definitely recommend this one. The Hungarians are great fun, there is a neat tactical problem and flexibility to wrestle with, and even though its only five and a half turns, there's 24 squads and six vehicles onboard so it is not dicey. Interestingly, all six of our vehicles were burning at game end...I don't think Stephane fired more than 3 shots from the Zinyri at the infantry all game - these guys have other roles to play in this scenario. We are both quick players and we were done in 3.5 hours, but even if going at a more relaxed speed, this shouldn't take more than 5 hours all told.

Nick Drinkwater

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

hey Nick,
Thanks for the excellent aar of
Glad to see that someone not only
won as the Hungarians, but "got it"
as far as the scenario goes.
Your comparison to a game of chess was very kind, but spot on as far as
what I was trying to achieve with
the design.
chris olden