Sunday, February 10, 2008

AAR: SP103 For Whom The Bells Toll

Zeb Doyle

Germans: Stephane Graciet
Americans: Zeb Doyle

Here's another AAR from my last Houston foray: This time I got a rare chance to play Stephane, a French import who, according to our club records, spends most of his time playing Nick. I figured that was typical European snobbery, with the men from across the pond thinking they were too good for us 'Colonials', and so I went into the game undecided on whether to take the high road and show Nick and Stephane that Americans can play good ASL too, or to give into my baser instincts and engage in an afternoon of French bashing, no matter how unwarranted it might be. I would have had some great ammunition if we'd played the game just a few days later. The story of the rogue Parisian trader Jerome Kerviel was just coming out and so I was unaware of the byzantine French labor laws that forbid the firing of employees who rack up a record-setting $7.2bn of losses via unauthorized trades. As it was, lacking that particular arrow in my quiver, I left the touchy subject of the thirty-five hour work week and all the ensuing ramifications alone and confined my obnoxiousness to shouting "Army Strong!" whenever my American paratroopers passed a morale check...

We'd originally wanted to play RBF50 A Perfect Match, but four Deluxe boards was a bit more than the available space could handle and so we settled on SP103 For Whom The Bells Toll instead. This scenario takes place about a week after D-Day in Normandy, and revolves around a German force trying to maintain good order units in at least two of four specific buildings on board 12. The scenario had been on my play-list for a while because the situation looked so interesting. The Germans start with just a platoon in the board 12 village and have to fend off eight 7-4-7s and a 9-2 entering turn one, another platoon of paras on turn two, and then a half-company of 6-6-7s and six Shermans on turn three. The initial German force has a difficult task trying to slow this array of American awesomeness and is bolstered only on turn three by eleven SS squads and six assorted StuGs, StuHs, and Marders. Both sides have tough decisions to make throughout, with the Americans racing to get into the village before the German reinforcements arrive. It's 6.5 fun turns of meeting engagement with the added amusement of getting to overrun the garrison.

Stephane wanted to defend and nestled his initial platoon down in the village with good LOS to my entry areas. Getting onto the board is probably the biggest challenge for the Americans in this one as they have to cross a good deal of open ground. A convenient gully and the 3 smoke exponent for the 7-4-7s offers a bit of relief, but the paras will still have to weather a lot of -2 shots on their way in. So, I started the game by deploying a lot and running all-out for that gully! Stephane opened up, laying down presky resid counters and doing everything he could to slow me. His dice were all over the map, killing a half-squad with a snakes but then boxcarring out an LMG, and over the first two turns I was able to get into pretty good position on the outskirts of the village.

That brought us to turn three and a major decision point. I was on the verge of smashing my way into the village and had another wave of troops entering, including six Shermans, but had to begin to consider what Stephane might do with his six AFVs and eleven SS squads in his next turn. I had the German squads outnumbered 11 to 3 at this point and my units were sitting in stone buildings instead of running through the open, so I certainly had the initiative. Going back to Carl's comments on the list a few days ago, though, he made a great point when he mentioned it can become increasing difficult in the mid-game to figure out what to do and that's what happened to me here. Although I was in a stronger position in turn three than turn one, the best way to continue the attack was far from obvious and I made some sub-optimal decisions that ended up really hurting me. For example, I decided to send all six of my Shermans to cut off the reinforcing SS armor. I easily could have placed just four of my tanks in that role and sent the remaining two to support my infantry with WP and smoke in the village assault. A few more decisions along these lines resulted in a number of broken American squads and really slowed my attack.

On the other side of the map, Stephane was playing very well indeed and my loss of the initiative was due as much to his efforts as mine. The initial platoon of Germans finally fell in a series of CC attacks, but they bought more than enough time for the SS reinforcements to enter and take up some very strong defensive positions. The battle now split into infantry against infantry in the heart of the village and tanks against assault guns on the periphery. My paras slowly ground forward but pushing against equal numbers of SS was much slower going than beating up the platoon of landsers....meanwhile, my Shermans were able to use some sneaky LOS to claim a StuG and a Marder and my 60mm MTR left another Marder Shocked, immobilized, and useless. Stephane got his revenge with the armor leader from hell, who twice drove calmly up to a Sherman, survived all defensive fire, and then torched my tank in the AFPh. That made the armor battle much more even than I cared for and although I'd managed to clear two of the VC buildings, I still had to kick a lot of Germans out of another. At this point, I'd completely lost the initiative; Stephane's stout defense would force me for the rest of the game to make moves I had to make, not moves I wanted to make.

So, with two turns left, I kicked off the assault on the third building. I had a lot of paratroopers available, but they had to come through open ground and orchards against SS firepower. I belatedly pulled my tanks into the village to support the attack, and a lot of VBM freeze took place, aided greatly by the fact that Stephane's troops had no PFs by SSR. With the armor support, a few of my men actually made it into the building. During the German player turn, the assault guns rumbled into town while some SS infantry tried unsuccessfully to reinforce the VC building. Lots of wild stuff happened, including the return of Stephane's crazy dice. He boxcarred an important StuH shot and thus essentially lost another AFV, but then rolled an MC snakes on a broken HS/MMG combo that went Berserk...the unit still wasn't Good Order and so didn't count toward the VC, but would be a real thorn in my side. As I started my last turn, it was looking grim. In the building, Stephane had two SS squads, the Berserk HS, and a second GO HS all in different locations. One of the SS squads was frozen by a Motion tank, but everyone else was free to fire.My troops pushed forward, but failed on their smoke rolls and mostly went down in a flurry of fire and resid. The Berserk HS earned his keep, FPFing multiple times until an unlucky roll of 11 melted his MMG and killed him off. The freezing Sherman was torched by a StuG, although my last remaining tank survived several shots to freeze up another German squad. When the dust settled, I had my 9-2/747 advancing onto a HS, two squads advancing onto an SS squad frozen by a tank, and two 9-1 leaders who were all that was left to try and tie up the last SS squad.

I crossed my fingers, advanced my units, and commented that I'd need a supremely lucky CCPh to win. At this point, Stephane committed an act of superb sportsmanship by noticing and pointing out to me another German halfsquad that had on his last turn infiltrated back into the first VC building I had captured. The HS was under several other counters, including a bypassing StuH and a level marker, and we'd just lost track of it in all the excitement. I had two adjacent squads that could have advanced onto it and Stephane was gracious enough to allow me to do that, after weathering a harmless AFPh shot from the HS. Had Stephane kept his mouth shut, he would have guaranteed himself a win, and I greatly appreciate his sportsmanship. Such gracious gestures are too seldom rewarded, however, and that was the case here. I easily won the CC with my two squads against his HS, and my 9-2/7-4-7 were also able to kill off the second HS. That left Stephane with two more excellent-odds CCs, either one of which would win him the game. The first had the VBM freezing Sherman in the location and gave the SS squad a -3 Ambush drm...of course, there was no ambush, and the unit ended locked in Melee with two American MMCs. That brought us to the other ridiculous CC, with my two 9-1s against his SS squad. Chanting "Army of Two!" over and over, I rolled the dice and the two leaders actually ambushed and killed off Stepane's entire squad for a wild American comeback win.

Looking back over this AAR, I see I've done a very poor job of conveying what an emotional roller coaster it was and how many swings of fate occurred. It was one of those ASL experiences where, for eight hours, you're transported to a different plane of existence and is so much fun you can't wait to do it again. Rather than keep typing then, I'll just finish here by saying that SP103 For Whom The Bells Toll is a very enjoyable scenario, and I now see why Nick tries so hard to monopolize Stephane's gaming time. Clever people, those Europeans...

Thanks for reading, and thanks again to Stephane, who has mastered both the spirit and the letter of the rules.


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