Thursday, February 26, 2009

Owlcon AAR Part II: AP41 The Meat Grinder

... or Friday Night Fight

Zeb Doyle

Germans: Zeb Doyle
Russians: Brian Roundhill

After the fun and games at Nick’s house, it was time to head over to Walter’s domain and get in some actual Owlcon action. My first scenario here was against the cagey and crafty Brian Roundhill. We’ve crossed swords a number of times before, and although I’ve generally had the better of it, it’s usually due more to luck than skill. I can readily recall several games in which Brian was fairly comfortably ahead, corrected me on a few rules, and then lost in the last turn on a fluky roll.

We went to the latest Action Pack to select a scenario and picked out AP41 The Meat Grinder. This is a pretty straight-forward fight with little chance for Brian to teach me new rules, but both sides get some interesting units and the five turn length and small size were ideal for our limited Friday night playing time. It’s an early Barbarossa battle, with the defending Russians getting eight squads, two monster KV-2s, and one each of the rarely seen GAZ-4M-AA trucks and the 76LL AA gun. A few reinforcing BT tanks enter on turn one. Against this powerful force, the Wehrmacht comes with ten rifle squads, nice leadership including a 9-2, three tasty Pz IVEs for infantry support, and three Pz IIIHs that enter on either flank on turn two. The board 49 and 56 terrain is excellent for armored maneuver, with a very nice rural village feel to it. Both sides get VP for killing stuff and controlling multi-hex buildings, with the Germans needing the high score for victory.

All of this makes for lots of fun and interesting match-ups. The German infantry is superior to their Russian counterparts, with better range, ELR, and (especially) leadership, but the open nature of the terrain will make it tricky for the landsers to work their way into those multi-hex buildings. The armor battle is a bit more complicated; the KVs clearly dominate but are somewhat hamstrung by their slow speed and red MP. The next best tanks are the PzIIIs, which should easily prevail over the two 45L-armed BT-7s in a straight-up fight but need a lot of luck to handle the KVs. In the infantry support category, the Pz IVs are amazingly good and clearly outclass the lone BT-7A (with the 76* gun) and the unarmored GAZ AA truck. All-in-all, the vehicles have lots of differences in their strengths and weaknesses and there are no easy decisions for any units. The one real wildcard is the Russian 76LL gun. A HIP gun with a two ROF and 16TK is a huge threat at this time of the war, and will really complicate things for the German until it is found.

If memory serves, we diced for sides and Brian got the Russians. His set up was interesting, with several squads pretty far forward, and lots of stuff covering a strip roughly seven hexes wide that contained all the multi-hex buildings on board 56. There were a few units back on board 49, but the clear intent was to make me fight for every VC building and run me out of time. With only five turns, the threat was real enough but I decided to meet the challenge head-on and take my entire force right up that strip and into the heart of Brian’s defense. The open terrain would cut both ways, making it tough to skulk, and with only two Russian leaders I figured I could bag some prisoners for doubled CVP and still get into enough buildings to win.

The game started off with Brian schooling me on the tricky board 56 lines of sight. An HMG way back on board 49 broke a squad, and I endured a scary moment when my 9-2/2x 4-6-7/MMG/LMG stack lost concealment on a razor-thin LOS…but only to an 8-0. If it had been a Russian squad, the ensuing 2-1 shot could have really ruined my day. The rest of game turn one was much less eventful, with the Soviet armor entering and using those amazing 23MP to come up and help box in my infantry.

Turn two started off well for the Germans, with the 9-2 stack getting some nice ROF and trashing two Russian squads. The Pz IVs, with the 8FP machine guns and 75mm gun also got into the action and put some more hurt on Brian. Meanwhile, my Pz IIIs entered on the north flank and managed to pick off the BT-7A and the GAZ-AA truck. Knocking out those Russian infantry support vehicles was great and also scored me some nice CVP. In Brian’s half of the turn, a massive KV dropped concealment and rumbled over to take on a PzIII and with a lucky DI roll I immobilized the monster in a spot where it would be a nuisance but not a major threat. The resulting loss of the Pz III to a return 152mm shell was well worth it. To make things even better, the crew bailed out saving me 2 CVP and opening up the possibility of grabbing a VP building.

Despite my luck, turn three saw things swing back towards the Russians a bit as I tried and failed to crack Brian’s defense. The KVs and remaining BT-7s were in spots that really shut my infantry down, and I was very leery of trying to swarm the Russian tanks with a HIP AA gun still lurking. This forced my assault to slow to a crawl and forced me to give up any hope of grabbing prisoners. That really hurt my VP tally and I was belatedly forced into sending a few half-squads on flanking missions to try and grab some outlying undefended VP buildings. If I’d done that on turn one, I would have been in good shape; as it was, Brian’s skill was more than cancelling out my dice.

The action picked back up again in a hurry in the Soviet DFPh when the 76LL AA gun revealed itself and missed one of my PzIVs. Dropping HIP like that couldn’t have been an easy decision and I’m sure Brian thought long and hard about it. It was a very interesting situation, as the gun was a powerful asset both directly and indirectly. Hidden, the gun was a major indirect factor, forcing my tanks to maneuver very cautiously, stay spread out, and avoid anything too aggressive. In a way, I was happy to lose a tank just to find out where the gun was. However, the 76LL wasn’t doing anything to directly influence the game and was a rapidly depreciating asset as a function of time.

In that sense, when Brian made the call to open up with it, he was making the decision that the direct influence was now worth more over the remainder of the game than the indirect influence. He was probably right. Although my remaining armor could now operate fearlessly, killing the PzIV would give the Russians the VP lead and the German attack at the time was pretty well stalled. If he didn’t take the shot, he’d have to come up with some other way to score VP, and every option for a Russian counterattack looked pretty gloomy. The other factor to consider, though, is that the indirect influence a weapon has is completely uncorrelated to the dice. Regardless of Brian’s luck, as long as the gun was HIP, I would have to be cautious. When the time comes for a weapon to actually do something, chance (aka risk!) becomes heavily involved and the direct influence should be discounted appropriately…

With that kind of build-up, you probably have a pretty good idea of how the Russian turn three PFPh went. The AA gun hit my PzIV but didn’t get rate and the TK roll was a 10, just enough to immobilize my tank. In my turn four, a kamikaze HS ran through an 8+0, a 6+1, and a 4-1 from the 76LL crew to make it into CC with the menace. Two low rolls later, everyone in the gun’s location were dead, saving the PzIV and resulting in a net +1VP for me. That really put Brian into the position of having to quickly do something dramatic. Unfortunately his remaining mobile KV had Stalled on a previous turn and had to risk a street-fighting attempt from my 9-2 and a 4-6-7 to get anywhere useful. Lady luck smiled on me, the KV was knocked out, and the German VP lead became essentially insurmountable ending the game.

It was a fun scenario against a great opponent, although once again I was left with the feeling that Brian had outplayed me. Despite this fact, there was no whining or pouting, which after my previous game was really a welcome relief. Discussing the scenario afterward, we agreed that although neither of us had played brilliantly, my assets (the 9-2, tanks, etc) had really come through for me. Brian’s tricks and traps, had been well-executed but the dice repeatedly refused to show up, with the gun obviously being the major disappointment. Overall, I liked the scenario quite a bit. As mentioned above, the armor match-ups are quite interesting but the buildings are important enough that the infantry battle is really vital. Nicely done by the designer and well-played by Brian….I really thought I was going to bag some prisoners!

Thanks for reading,


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