Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Zeb's Owlcon AAR - Part 1

... or ANPOG: Panzers on the Drumlins

Zeb Doyle

Another Owlcon has come and gone and many good times were had. A huge thank-you to everyone who was involved in planning, preparing, and hosting this fantastic event. Special thanks to Nick Drinkwater, who for the second year in a row very kindly opened up his house for some pre-convention gaming, and to Walter for making all the magic happen. All of us who were fortunate enough to make it had a great time. Friday action started with the Annual Nick’s Pre-Owlcon Gaming. The featured scenario this year was TAC53 A Pyrrhic Victory, which takes place in Greece 1941. The British have been plucky enough to pull the tail-feathers of the German eagle by landing troops where the vaunted Wehrmacht can bring all its power against them.

It’s an exciting situation both historically and in ASL terms with the British fighting a bit of a rear-guard action against the Germans. The scenario is eight turns and takes place on boards 3 and 18. The Germans win by exiting 25VP or capturing all the multi-hex buildings in play, which causes both sides to have to make some interesting decisions. I’ve already discussed the opposing forces a bit in a previous email, but suffice it to say that I think the British have the edge in the armor battle and the Germans have better infantry and a big wild card in the form of a Stuka.

I was matched up as the Germans against Mr. Walter, head Owlcon Honcho and all-around great guy. We’ve played several matches before, all of which seem to see Walter suffer greatly from a single catastrophic roll. For example, we’ve faced off over the years in various PTO minis and always seem to be required to play CH6 Armored Probe. Both times this has happened, Walter has had his single BAZ squad go Berserk and run into the middle of my force. After that, my many Japanese tanks are always able to roll over his hapless GIs with impunity.

This time though, it wasn’t looking so easy. Walter’s defense was a thing of beauty, with his nasty 40L tanks in HD positions, his sparse infantry in nice spots, and the dreaded 114mm ART piece lurking out there somewhere HIP. My German attack was forced to evolve in a somewhat staggered fashion, as only five Panzers enter the first turn. Four squads and two more Panzers enter turn two, but it’s not until turn three that the bulk of the Teutonic infantry enters, with nine squads, another Panzer, an AA vehicle, and four half-tracks all making an appearance.

This staggered start is rendered even more annoying because the Stuka is (by SSR) only available for the first three turns of the game. I obviously wanted to use such a powerful piece every chance I got, but I didn’t fancy trying to make sighting task checks against concealed units in woods or buildings. At the same time, I didn’t want to throw away one of those turn one Panzers just to make Walter unconceal a unit just to give my Stuka a chance to kill something back.

It’s an interesting problem, but Walter did have one small flaw in his set up that gave me an opening. By SSR, the bulk of the British force must start on board three. Only a pair of two-pounders in portee are allowed to set up on board 11. These trucks can’t fire through their front VCA, and although Walter had placed them in woods, he’d also started them pretty far forwards. So, German turn one saw all of my initial armor pushing hard down my left flank, using the board 11 drumlins as a shield and threatening to get behind the portees. I was still worried about the Stuka trying to spot something, so I even gave Walter several low-odd but un-necessary fire attempts with the portees at my Panzers.

Walter was too cunning to take the bait, but on his turn one he rightly decided the trucks were a little too exposed and decided to pull them further back. That allowed my Stuka an easy sighting TC and I was able to destroy one. The remaining portee was now vulnerable and in my turn two, a brave Panzer drove forward, bounced a portee shell off its front (5 TH, 7 TK), got into the restricted VCA area, and killed it in AFPh with an 8FP CMG shot. Knocking the two trucks out for no losses was pretty huge, as it left board 11 wide open and a bunch of German armor threatening to exit and win the game in a hurry.

The British responded to this threat as well as they could, bringing their own armor over to block me off again, but as we all know, moving to contact with enemy AFVs is far more risky than being on the defensive. Walter did a nice job with the hand he was dealt, but having my Panzers shooting at his maneuvering armor rather than the other way around made a huge difference. We both had some early war wackiness, bouncing numerous shots and malfing some of the many B11 weapons, but in the end the German armor (along with the Stuka cleaning up anything my Panzers couldn’t kill) reigned supreme.

With a path blasted wide open, my half-tracks came roaring onto board 11 as well. I’d originally pictured them entering there regardless and then either exiting or swinging into the British board 3 positions from the flank as the situation dictated, but thanks to my excellent luck there was nothing to stop them from pushing hard for EVP. Again, Walter did everything he could, rushing infantry over, creating a hero, and actually killing a HT with an ATR, but his options were very limited and I managed to get off the required 25 EVP on turn five, even before the reinforcing elements of a New Zealand MG Battalion were to enter.

I like TAC53 A Pyrrhic Victory quite a bit, although I think the German player needs to be very comfortable playing armor and know when to push hard and when to play it safe. The fact our game ended on turn 5 is no knock on the scenario; Walter made one of those ASL mistakes that’s small but has huge ramifications when he parked his portees just a bit too far forward. If they are in positions further back, the turn one German armor has no credible flanking threat for turn two, the portees can sit tight for an extra turn, and the Stuka may very well not attack on turn one. Had Walter done that, it would have slowed me, quite likely cost me at least an extra Panzer, and made the armor battle far more difficult. At that point, I think we would have had a very close match going the entire eight turns. At least this time, Walter can take consolation that when the infantry carrying his only BAZ or ATR gets an HOB result, his chaps went Heroic instead of Berserk! It was a great start to the day for me: a very fun game against a very fun opponent.

After the game with Walter, Nick Drinkwater, our resident Brit, wanted a piece of me in something small and fast, and pulled out AP52 Into Vienna Woods. This is a late-war battle with eleven SS squads, lots of machine-guns, and a 10-2 storming the new board 58 hill. The defending Soviets are totally outmatched initially, with five 5-2-7 squads, two LMGs, and six trenches that have to go in level three hexes, but they get ten 4-5-8s, an SU-85, and an SU-76 on turn three as a bit of a counter-attack force. When the dust settles at the end of game turn six, the SS have to control all six level three hill hexes for the win.

Obviously, the Germans have to rush on-map and establish defensive positions as quickly as possible and then deal with any surviving 5-2-7s while fending off the turn three Soviet assault. It’s an interesting but fairly straightforward situation and Nick (who clearly wasn’t exposed to Margaret Thatcher enough as a child) eagerly chose to play the Communists. His defense consisted of scattering his sparse troops around the periphery of the hill, with most units far enough apart to be non-supporting. Back on the level three heights, a large stack was pretty obviously his only leader stacked with a squad and an LMG.

All-in-all, the Soviets didn’t look too formidable, and my boys in black came pouring aggressively onto the map. Lots of orchards and SSR’d-in Pine Woods and Alpine Hills create a surprising number of blind hexes in this one, and although Nick was able to KIA a HS with a lucky roll, most of my troops were in excellent position at the end of the MPh. In the AFPh, I introduced Nick’s big level three stack to Mr. 10-2 and his Assault Firing friends and knocked the Soviet 8-0/5-2-7/LMG out of the game.

With his only leader gone and most of his remaining units in position to take fire as they fell back, Nick opted to stay and shoot it out in his turn one PFPh. He broke a few squads, but it turns out that a few 8+0s at 8ML troops don’t hurt as much as a LOT of 12+0 shots coming back at his 7ML men. Turn two and three were essentially mop-up time for me, and only a 6-5-8 breaking on a 2+0 from Nick’s last unbroken unit saved his entire remaining force from being captured.

That left the turn three Soviet reinforcements in the position of crossing a lot of open ground under the fire of my 10-2 and machine-guns and after another half-turn of slaughter, Nick tossed in the towel. He quickly proceeded to full-on Moaning Minnie mode, offering up all kinds of blather about how the scenario was a dog and he was diced and his circadian rhythms were at ebb tide and so forth. Since our entire game had lasted about the time it took you to read this, everyone else was busy still playing, and so I told Nick to man up, turn the board around, and give the SS a try. He tried to demur, but eventually gave in.

This time, the Soviets were hunkered up in a nice conservative set-up with almost everyone in those level three trenches. Nick copied my attack pretty shamelessly, but I was able to use some really sophisticated tactics, like skulking and using leaders to rally people and stuff, and by turn three the SS were just barely starting to grab their first trenches and several 5-2-7s were still alive and kicking. That allowed me to get my turn three reinforcements right up onto the hill in great shape, only having to sacrifice the SU-85 to lock down a single 6-5-8 on my flank.

Nick could see the tide starting to turn against him and managed to knock me out of several more trenches in his turn four. At this point, he had five of the six trenches, but only a very limited LOS to the last one. For all practical purposes, he’d have to channel his attack through a key single adjacent trench to take the last VC location. That was looking tough as he only had two MPhs remaining, had just a 9-1 and a 6-5-8 in his key hex, and was facing my 9-1, three 4-5-8s, and two LMGs. Faced with this interesting tactical problem, Nick responded by whinging louder than ever.

In the Soviet turn four PFPh, I unloaded a 30+1 from my last trench into Nick’s adjacent men. He managed to have his 9-1 go Heroic and the 6-5-8 pass a 3MC, and his return 12+1 broke everybody I had. That was disappointing, but I tossed three more squads in during my APh. That brought up Nick’s turn five, and he hit me with another devastating 12+1 that shattered two more squads. In the MPh, he brought in his 10-2/6-5-8/MMG group, everyone survived my 12+2 DFPh, and they cleared out my last squad in AFPh and advanced into the sixth trench.

That made me a little sad, but I still had a decent chance to restore the situation in the next half turn. That last trench was pretty well surrounded by Russians, putting Nick’s SS in ‘they break, they die’ land, and in my PFPh I managed to encircle Nick’s stack and smack it with a 24FP attack, several 8FP attacks, and two hits from the SU-76. The SS never flinched though and completely cleaned my clock in DFPh ending any hopes for a Soviet victory. Overall, I think AP52 Into Vienna Woods is a fun little scenario, although lopsided luck early will quickly turn it into a blowout as the SS may either quickly take the trenches in force or just never get there. It could be a good transition from the Starter Kit into full-bore ASL as well, since there’s lots of interesting LOS issues. The two vehicles, one OT and one with lots of special ammo, might fit that transitional category as well.

Anyway, I thought I’d seen Nick excited before, but after his win, he was giddier than a fat girl catching a wedding bouquet. I interrupted his little dance of joy by telling him to enjoy it while he could; I was going to crush him the following day in our much awaited, much anticipated Duel on the Drumlins. Sporting fans around the world will be saddened to hear that Nick wanted to savor that ‘post-win glow’ for as long as possible. He got super-whiny and pouty, exactly like a stripper having to tell her sugar daddy that another guy got her pregnant, and he said he didn’t want to play me in the morning. I thought about offering the balance or something, but I’d already called him out once that day and the whole pouting thing was really awkward. When Ken from Calgary intervened and offered to take Nick’s place, I decided that would be for the best and so the Drumlin Drinkwater Duel was called off. The fact that I’d now be playing a Canadian makes it a pretty typical case of a former colony bailing out the overly-jingoistic John Bull from another mess of his own making, I think.

After that minor spot of unpleasantness, I thought it best to pack up my stuff and get over to Owlcon ASAP, where I found that I was playing Brian Roundhill in AP41 The Meatgrinder. Great…another bloody Brit.

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