Russians: Zeb Doyle
Hungarians: Eric Gerstenberg
My next fun August ASL experience was with Eric Gerstenberg in TAP20 The Buda Probe. This is a mini-monster East Front action somewhat reminiscent of G34 The Liberators. A huge Russian force of 32 squads and 15 tanks gets to slap around a dug-in company of Hungarians, who are reinforced on turn three by a bunch of Germans who arrive in style with King Tiger, Jagdpanzers, and all kinds of fun half-tracks in support. All in all, it looked like some fairly standard meat and potatoes east front action, standing out for its size more than any unusual SSRs or VC. Sometimes meat and potatoes makes the best meal, though, and Eric and I ended up having an incredible game with more wild swings and shifts in momentum than you’d get out of a season pass to Six Flags.
For all the excitement that lay ahead, the game started off surprisingly slowly. Even in their improved new era of production, CH scenarios often have some rough edges. In this case, we needed a pre-game email to the designer to clarify the pre-game rocket strikes, there was also a typo (the JgPz IV/70 is listed with a 75L instead of the proper 75LL…no big deal, I thought), and the German Field Phone is directing OBA meaninglessly designated as ‘Battalion MTR.’
Finally underway, things went great for my attacking Russians. Eric broke and X’d out his Hungarian MMG and HMG and drew a red card for his OBA, allowing me to make great progress. The attack slowed a lot when the reinforcing Germans arrived, but I was happy to see that Eric parked one of his JgPz IV/70s in clear LOS of an ISU-122. I opened up, and several fire phases of annoying high dice later, still hadn’t hit. I finally got curious and asked why the JgPz wasn’t returning fire. Eric pointed out my 14 AF and said he didn’t think his 75L 17TK had a good chance. Yup, he was so busy looking at the scenario card, he hadn’t realized he was actually working with a 75LL. Making up for lost time, the tank destroyer swung its VCA and launched a shell at the ISU-122. CH and burning wreck! Well, I guess the typo didn’t make a difference after all…
Fortune swung back towards me after that though. My 120mm OBA strayed perfectly, hitting an entire platoon of 5-4-8s that Eric had carelessly left stacked. The resulting 1MC broke them all and opened a real hole in the middle of the Axis lines. Elsewhere, his 9-2/5-4-8 advanced into CC with a CX, pinned 6-2-8. Ambushed attained, Eric went for the (SSR-allowed) HtH attack, only to roll a 12. In the next CCPh, everyone there died in a maelstrom of bayonets and rifle butts, robbing the Axis of their best leader.
This was no small thing, as one of the more subtle but interesting aspects of this scenario is the miserly leader allotment for both sides. The Axis, after deducting one SMC to man the field phone, have four leaders for 23 squad equivalents. Not terrible, but not great considering the wide front they have to cover. The Soviets are in the same position, with five leaders for 32 squads, and so both sides are often forced to either play very conservatively in a leaderless sector or risk having broken squads out of play for long periods of time. Very neat!
At any rate, I was well positioned to really bring the hammer down on Eric in the middle. I started off placing a DC on an unfortunate Hungarian 4-4-7 and bringing up every single body I could muster to exploit the hole. Sound tactics, except when the building rubbles and falls over, wiping out a platoon of 6-2-8s with DCs. Turns out this particular ASL story is a lot more fun to hear than to experience.
The Soviets have plenty of bodies in this one, and so despite that loss, I kept pushing into the center. Then, Eric rolled a sniper. The Axis SAN of 5 is a real threat, and so I’d protected my kill-stack (10-2, 3x 4-5-8, .50 cal, 2x HMG) with some of those numerous Soviet bodies and surrounded it on two sides with 4-4-7s. That didn’t stop the 1 in 36 sniper hit on my 10-2’s location, and there was no way I could guard against the yahtzee that killed him and broke a squad. The ensuing 2LLMC broke everyone there and snuffed out my kill stack. Another ASL story that’s not too fun to experience, especially when you’ve already had it happen to you.
That left me with very little to throw at Eric’s weak spot, but I still had one trick up my sleeve. The only infantry he had in this sector was a stack of 2x 4-6-7, HMG, MMG…very nasty, but vulnerable to my OT-34. I’d bring that up, burn them out, and still break through with the few good order squads I had left. The Germans were in a key VC building, and it put Eric in a tough spot as the OT-34 rolled up. He decided to risk going for a PF and got one on his first roll. Needing a 4 TH (base 6 at two hex range, +2 for motion), he took the backblast, turned the OT-34 into scrap, and had both squads pass the 1MC. For the next few player turns, I was, as the song has it, “speaking a language the clergy do not know.”
That sequence really turned the game around and put me in a bad position. The rest of the game was a great exercise in improvisation, as I tried to regroup and throw my shattered force again and again against the stout German resistance. Bringing my armor forward, I managed to take out Eric’s weaker AFVs. Knocked out JgPz IV/70s and Hetzers choked the streets, but his PaK 43 88LL AT guns took a heavy toll on my armor as well. Then, both guns broke firing at infantry, leaving the King Tigers as vulnerable as King Tigers ever get. In one of my proudest moments, I successfully managed to Overrun one with a T-34 M43. Finally, a cool ASL story that actually is good for me! Now we were both dealing with the pressure of forces crumbling away. The game started to feel increasingly like a scene out of a Paul Carell book, with flames, smoke, and desperation everywhere. It is terrible history, but it’s fun reading and great ASL.
As time ticked away, freed from the menace of the PaK 43s, I managed to maneuver my two IS-2ms into a great spot. Peering through a miasma of drifting smoke and flame, they spotted one of Eric’s two King Tigers with a very tight LOS. We were within six hexes, there were four hindrances, he was double large, I was CE with armor leaders, it couldn’t get any better. DFPh: hull hit, bounce. Hull hit, bounce. PFPh: Hull hit, bounce. Hull hit, bounce. Eric’s DFPh: His BU King Tiger swings his slow-traversing turret around and fires at my normal sized target. Hull hit, but when it’s a CH, it still penetrates and burns the IS-2m. Arrrgh! At least the newly-placed smoke from the wreck blocks LOS and prevents Eric from using the ROF to kill my last IS-2m…
My infantry has not been idle during all this, swinging around to challenge Eric’s right flank. He has a Hungarian 4-4-7 there with one of those ungainly 20L, 2 ROF ATRs. He’s in a line of anti-tank ditches, and I send a platoon of 6-2-8s down it to take him out. The first 6-2-8 goes down to the 8+2 shot. Annoying, but it happens. The second breaks on the 4+2 residual shot, and so does the third. Getting desperate now, I send a 4-4-7 into an adjacent patch of woods, only to fall victim to the ATR…and it keeps ROF! That stupid ATR (and I admit to laughing at it pre-game when I saw it on the card) goes on to break another 4-4-7 and a 4-5-8. Ugh, and there goes any threat to Eric’s right.
Racking my brains to their utmost, I see one last slim chance on my left where a 5-4-8 in a fortified building location is protecting another VC area. I throw everything I can towards him, but most of my troops have to come from pretty far away and it tips my hand. Eric has a chance to respond, and drives a King Tiger right into the building to guard against the threat. He shifts his OBA over to the area, and it drifts right onto his 5-4-8. A little risky, but the OBA does make a good shield around him. With one turn to go, I still have a chance, but it’s a slim one.
With no margin for error, I bring a T-34 around for a BFF shot on the King Tiger. He has APCR, and the King Tiger (with 10-2 AL) is destroyed. Tasty, and it frees a second T-34 to go and park on the 5-4-8 and lock him down. That 5-4-8 is feeling pretty lonely right now. My few remaining Soviets get sequenced forward to draw off as much fire as they can and get into the VC building. There’s nothing I can do about the OBA though, and it’s cursedly effective as my troops run into the stone VC building and get hit by it. A series of 16+4s break and pin several of my units. Now it’s time to bring up my ace in the hole, a 6-2-8 and FT. I cross my fingers and he plunges into the OBA. Eric gets a good roll, and it’s a 2MC. The 8-1 with the FT squad pins. The squad passes! There’s still hope! It’s AFPh now, and with the game on the line, the FT goes to fire. A 24+1 through the OBA at the 5-4-8. The dice roll and spin and….boxcars. Germans win!
But wait! We’re fourteen hours in right now, and my brain is fried. I’m more confused than a baby at a topless bar. For some reason, I decide that the tank parked on the 5-4-8 makes him non-good order, and so I can advance in across non-breached hexsides. This is, of course, totally wrong, but thankfully Eric wins the ambush roll and withdraws for a slightly delayed victory. Germans win! My apologies to Eric for wrongly delaying his celebration there.
Well, I hope I managed to convey at least a faint impression of all the excitement we enjoyed playing this one. I think this is a very good scenario, and the dice and action gave both Eric and me a truly epic experience. We’ve both been playing ASL for years now, and we still had multiple events occur that we’d never seen before. Great times! I didn’t even get to mention my crazy OBA or the fact that our combined four FT units got off a single successful shot or that…
Thanks for reading!