Axis Player: Zeb Doyle [ELR 2; SAN 3]
Russian Player: Nick Drinkwater [ELR 3; SAN 3]
The final game of the ASL-bounty we indulged in this weekend had to be a fast and furious scenario that we could finish in 3-4 hours as I needed to be back in Houston. As Zeb, remarked we couldn't go a whole weekend without trying something that was hot off the presses and the Action Pack from MMP, "A Few Returned" offered up this juicy morsel which was just perfect for us.
After I had been on the receiving end of a defensive drubbing in our previous scenario, Zeb gamely tried the challenge of the ultimate in lost causes - a bunch of wounded and weak Italians and Germans stranded and stranded in a tiny hamlet in the snows of Southern Russia. This is a very desperate bunch - completely abandoned by their colleagues, this forlorn group tries to go down to the last bullet taking as many of the communist horde with them as they can. Their task is to have one surviving MMC in the board 48 village (between hexrows U and J) at the end of 4.5 turns.
They receive one Italian elite squad, three Italian first line and three conscripts. Even in these very desperate hours, the Germans were clearly still miffed and blaming Tuscany's finest for the nightmare they are living through as SSR means that no Germans can stack with an Italian at game start - the Germans are a scraggly force of a 467 and and two 247s and an 8-0 leader. This really is the bottom of the barrel time as there is only one SW in the entire Axis OOB, a solitary Italian LMG. Finally, to rub salt into the numerous wounds, three Italian and two German squads need to be nominated as walking wounded, and the Italian 9-2 is also wounded at game start. Ouch!
The Russians really only have two problems in this scenario - a very scary wide open set of approaches to the village and the question of the time available to get the job done. Despite the completely awful state of the Axis, it is eminently possible that a single diehard Axis half-squad will remain tucked away somewhere to hold out for a win. The VC require an unbroken MMC to be alive at game end (and not good order) so even being stuck in Melee results in an Axis win. The Russians do have a very robust force to achieve the task, with two 458s, 8 x 447s, a MMG, 2 x LMGs and a 9-1, 8-0 and a 6+1. In addition they have been given the luxury of a couple of 237s to act as first fire soak-ups in the initial approach to the village. Finally, they can come on from three sides (north, east and south) and this does need to be considered carefully when planning the assault.
A couple of extra bits of chrome have been added which give this scenario a nice final twist. The Russians and Germans both receive winter camouflage to use in the ground snow, but its unlikely I'll be doing much assault moving concealed here due to the time element - there are a lot of buildings in the Board 48 village spread all over the map. Next, the Russians get a radioed T60 M42 - normally not a tank to inspire terror in one's opponents, but in this scenario for the Axis, this is like a communist Nuclear Bomb. The potential for armoured assault and the fabulous opportunities to cut route paths and enforce FTR are obvious and the Russians should be licking his lips with glee at the thought. To dig out particularly difficult Italians, the Russians are also provided with one opportunity to declare Hand to hand combat - maybe needed at the very death to try and guarantee the destruction of the very last MMC.
Finally, the last interesting twist is that two blazes get placed in wooden building from a centrally placed Random direction DR. The mild breeze and resultant Smokes will create all sorts of opportunities for both the attack and the defense. In this game, the blazes ended up in some of the eastern-most buildings, one of which had no impact at all on the scenario. The other did help my approach from the east, but the burning building also impeded my entry as my infantry had to skirt around the blaze in the open. Your mileage and hence the Russian assault options will vary a lot depending on the results of this SSR, and this is one of the cool things that will add to the scenario's replay value.
I put the tactical flexibility of the multi-route approach to the test by sending a platoon and the 6+1 to the far northern side to put pressure on Zeb's hard-pressed defenders from behind. This was where the German "?" stacks were, but through shielding by a small hedge and an orchard, I had a modicum of cover and I was able to run hard and fast across the snow-blown field. At worse, I thought I would lose one unit, but Zeb started as he meant to go on and rolled high and I was able to make the partial cover of the hedge intact by Turn 2. The rest of my force came on in the direct and closest direction from the east and quickly revealed two Italian conscripts in the outermost buildings who both cowered on high rolls on their first attacks. In small games on open ground like this where every -1 shot counts, this was the worst possible result for Zeb, and I quickly disrupted and captured them on Turn 1.
This was my first play on Board 48 and Zeb was prescient in his statement that this is commonly seen as a defender's nightmare - the tiny wooden buildings mean there are numerous LOS opportunities in all directions, and skulking, routing and concealment gain are effectively impossible, especially for him due to the units I had managed to get around and into the back of the village. I continued to roll low and strip many of Zeb's units of their concealment and Zeb just kept missing key shots as I inched my way into the village. Having carefully manoeuvred by MMG and 8-1 into position, I was able to shred Zeb's 447 and wounded 9-2 on an opportunity fire attack. This and my invoking of hand-to-hand combat on an obstinate Italian 1st line infantry squad took the wind out of the sails of the defense. This was followed up by some more careful movement to enforce some FTR opportunities (allied to the huge mobility of the T60 tank) and by the end of Turn 3, most of the southern half of the village was in Italian hands and all but one of the Italian squads was dead or safely captured together with the 9-2. The 8-0 and 6+1 though isolated,were still looking to pick fights, but I wasn't too bothered by them and happy to let them do their headless chicken thing (a bit like the Black Knight in the Monty Python Holy Grain movie - "no arms? - come on you b*stard, I'll head butt you!").
All that remained to do in the final two turns was to mop up the German units in the NW corner of the village. At the very back of the village, I locked up a 247 hs in melee with a 447 squad, and a very timely snakes from the MMG broke both of the other 247s in the core of the last quadrant of the village. The defense ultimately came down to the wounded 467 in an isolated house and the aforementioned ongoing melee, which lasted longer than I first planned. I manoeuvred hard to enforce no quarter on the broken German half-squads and to get in a position to take down the 467 who, because of the wound, just missed immobilizing the tank in a freeze bypass position. However, the writing was now on the wall for the Axis, as the ongoing melee finished in a Russian clear-out, and despite sending the 467 berserk, I was able to destroy them with a couple of 16+2 shots. Solid Russian win after 4 turns.
So a fun but quick one, with a bit of replay value due to the variable building blazes which may result in variable Russian approach routes each time. I think it is perhaps a tad harder on the Axis as they are just that little bit less forgiving of a key bad roll or two...once their concealment and dummies are all stripped, Board 48 means they have nowhere to hide and they will inevitably start to go down to a continuous barrage of 4+2, 6+2 and 8+1 rolls from the Russians. If by some miracle, they are able to knock out the Russian tank then they will be in much better shape, but careful Russian play should completely prevent that. If the Russians get stalled or badly knocked about on their way in to the village then they will be pushed to beat the time issue, but it is definitely doable.
Zeb played a very solid game and only missed a couple of small things from what I could see, but he was definitely on the lower end of the luck quotient on some key die rolls. I messed up the use of my leaders as I had a couple of broken squads out of position which I struggled to get back into the action, and probably went with the freeze a turn early, but I was lucky on SW breakdowns and rolled a couple of critical low rolls when needed.
Recommended for single night evening play or for those times when you want to get something squeezed in quickly - 3 hours from setup to shut down.
Nick Drinkwater and Zeb Doyle