Poles: Zeb Doyle
Germans: Doyle Motes
Well, after my trip to the Bayou City, I'm happy to say that the Houston ASL scene is alive and thriving. It was a fantastic weekend of good gaming and good hospitality, with Nick ably serving as host. He introduced me to Czechvar beer, some of the best pizza I've had in years, and actually managed to serve up some coffee that was pretty tasty even by Austin standards. It would have been a great time even without the ASL, so thank you very much, Nick! In between the trips to the House of Pies and teasing Nick about the Spice Girls, we did manage to play some pretty fun scenarios. Here's a recap of the action:
My first match was against the august Mr. Motes. Interestingly, we both play a ton of ASL but have only ever faced off once before, so I was looking forward to the challenge of facing such a wily veteran. We'd decided on FrF2 Maczek Fire Brigade, which is an early war German/Pole conflict with lots of tin can armor for both forces. As an aside, if anyone is looking to add some scenarios to their collection, I'd highly recommend the Friendly Fire stuff. I've played six of their sixteen scenarios now and really enjoyed them all. Maczek Fire Brigade is another winner, with ten German squads and seven assorted AFVs of the PzI, PzII, and PSW222 variety trying to capture twelve buildings on boards 17 and 50. The Germans have a long way to go in only 5.5 turns, but get enough motorcycles and trucks that their force is extremely mobile. To hold off this onslaught, the Poles have nine squads with the usual HMG, MMG, and ATR, as well as six assorted tanks that enter over the first two turns. The Polish armor is an interesting mix, ranging from a turretless AFV with nothing but a 2FP BMG through some multi-turreted 'land-battleships' with twin 6FP CMGs all the way up to a dominating (in this scenario anyway) Vickers tank with 2AF (!) and a 47* gun sporting a massive 8TK. It doesn't sound like much, but everyone else has 1AF and a 6TK at best. It also has a B12 which is also a big edge in this scenario, as red B11 numbers are common. One last thought that strikes me as I write (this didn't come up in our game): how do the twin 6FP CMG tanks work in CC? I'd guess they get two attacks, but if anyone knows for sure, please enlighten me!
At any rate, Doyle fancied the Germans and so I set up a Polish defense that featured the MMG on the dominating board 50 hill with two halfsquads as a covering force. Pretty much everything else went onto board 17 since that's where the vast majority of the buildings are. I don't think there are any fun tricks or traps to try, so the set up was pretty straightforward with an eye to placing resid on key roads in the hopes that the German trucks and motorcycles would be slowed or shot up. Things started off well on the first turn. I was able to kill two HS motorcycle scouts and persuade the remaining Germans to dismount. Even better, those B11 numbers reared their ugly heads early and Doyle malfunctioned two of his MAs taking low-odds AFPh shots. After each roll, Doyle just shrugged and mentioned that they were still perfectly useful VBM machines. I was well aware of the possibility and didn't really pay much attention, something that would come back to haunt me.
As we played through turns two and three, Doyle quickly gained the upper hand. He did a great job of hunting down my CMG-armed tanks with his 20Ls and exploiting his superior 6TK against my 4TK. I stupidly tried to fight back rather than run and the dice punished my poor play by malfing two of my MAs. As Doyle brewed up my now-helpless tanks, his own malfed vehicles started to VBM-freeze my poor Polish infantry all across the map. Normally, this isn't the huge threat people make it out to be. The VBM tank is vulnerable to CC without escorting infantry, and if there is escorting infantry it's also vulnerable to ambush and of course the sequential CC. In addition, I had a nice in-depth defense with the covering HMG and MMG and so any German infantry would still be taking fire as they came through the open towards the frozen positions. In this game, however, even though the German infantry did take some losses on the approach, they were invincible in CC. Repeatedly, a Polish unit would be frozen, fail the CCRF attack, fail to ambush the German infantry despite the +3 mod, and then die haplessly without ever doing any damage in return.
Despite this frustration, the Poles managed to hang tough, with the hill-top MMG dishing out a lot of pain. That unit was really my MVP, killing a 9-1/4-6-7/MMG stack with a 4-2 shot, and then getting a 4-6-8 with a trick LOS for FTR. Meanwhile, my 47* tank, dubbed "The Pride of Poland," was smashing up the German armor. It's amazing what a big difference a net TK7 is compared to a net TK4! As we played out turn four, the momentum swung back my way, with my HMG going on a rate tear to chop up some more squads and an ATR scoring a lucky kill against a pesky hull-down PSW 222. At this point, things were looking pretty good for me. Doyle was now down to three AFVs, only two of which had functioning MAs, compared to my four. We were also pretty even in infantry, but the Germans still had a long way to go across the open ground and only two movement phases left.
My feeling of complacency didn't survive turn five, however. Doyle decided that his VBM tactic had been working well but didn't go quite far enough. So, he smashed a PzI into the building containing (in various locations) a 9-1, the HMG, and 1.5 squads. It would have been annoying to have them frozen but when the bog check came up with a one on the cdr, the whole hex collapsed into a pile of rubble and killed everything...except the PzI, which survived unbogged, of course! Elsewhere, a CX'd German ATR squad, needing a 5TH and 5TK, killed two of my remaining tanks with some deadly fire in his AFPh and DFPh. To complete the disaster, my 47* 'King Tiger in disguise' was wacked by a CH from a PzII. That took out 75% of my armor and 33% of my remaining GO infantry and really put Doyle in a great position going into my turn five and then his final half of turn six.
This set up a classic end-game puzzle that turned into a total brain-teaser for me and is one of the reasons I love this game so much. Up to this point, the scenario had been very evocative, with lots of neat details painting a great picture of the action including desperate leaders rallying squads to re-man key machine gun positions, tanks crashing through woods in search of the foe, etc. ASL does a great job of that, but it's also capable of being very chess-like, and the combination of the evocative feel and the analytical part of it are very appealing to me. At any rate, the last turn became very analytical and I tried to make it all as tough for the Germans as I possibly could. I'll spare you the gory details, but the key moment was deploying a squad in my last turn and sneaking one of the resulting half-squads back into a German controlled building. Doyle had a squad there so I didn't recapture it, but my HS was still in a good spot to cover another key building and could at least tie the 4-6-7 down.
The last half turn saw the Germans rushing forward to capture the three buildings they still needed. We were both pretty thin on the ground at this point but Doyle still had enough bodies to get it done. It took a lot of good rolls and some really key residual for me to not lose right away, and Doyle had to suffer the heartache of a potentially game-winning squad pinning on a 1-1. In the end, the Germans needed one more building and had only an 9-1 and the 4-6-7 guarding the building with my HS to get the job done. My HS was already First Fired but was the only unit left that could do anything. This was a major decision point and Doyle opted to Double-Time his squad out of the building, risk my Final Fire 2-1, go tag the other building, and then come back and attempt to eliminate the Polish HS in CC with the 4-6-7 and the 9-1. The other option would have been to run the 9-1 into the building first to retain control and then run the squad out. This would have caused me to FPF my HS and so the 4-6-7 would have had to survive two 2-1 attacks but the Germans would have retained control of the first building. What would you have done in this situation? Take two 2-1s, or one 2-1 and win a CC with a CX 4-6-7/9-1 vs a 2-3-7? I think I would have risked the FPF myself...
In our game, however, it came down to the CC and I managed to ambush Doyle's tired troopers and survive for the closest win I've had in a long long time. I can't take any credit for the victory since I was outplayed early and got very lucky on the last turn, but it was a great time and extremely entertaining throughout. Thanks to Doyle for being such a great opponent!
I have to stop here, but my next AAR installment should be coming soon: "Part II: I stop dodging Tom"
Thanks for reading!