Wednesday, March 22, 2006

AAR: U9 - A Belated Christmas

Nick Drinkwater

This one is more of a proto-AAR as we wrapped up after a couple of turns due to time issues and also confusion over what was intended by the VC – yes, it's another example of the "Curse of the Dreaded And / Or" statement!!!

This was the game I sort'a, kind'a played at Owlcon – my opponent was Clint Howell, and after aborting this game, we re-convened the next morning to play Guerra en le Selva where I diced the crap out of him. In hindsight, and after a late start due to a visit to the House of Pies for some corned beef hash and some eggs, we were never going to get this one completed in the time allotted, so we played out a couple more turns of "what ifs" to see what could have happened, then called it quits.

Anyway, this actually has the makings of a fun and quirky scenario – this is an ASL remake of one that I think first appeared way, way back as part of GI Anvil of Victor so this is real walk down memory lane. Yes, this is the one where all the gliders loaded to the gills with supplies try to reinforce the surrounded 101st Airborne in the woods just outside of Bastogne – the gliders try to land on Board 4, between a force of late war 2nd line Germans on the hills of board 2 and a tough bunch of US paras in the woods of Board 5. The scenario seems to be designed to actually act like a game of rugby, where the two sides line up on each side of the playing field ready to dash out and struggle with each other in the open ground for possession of, in this case, 18 rugby balls (gliders). The gliders land over three turns in three waves of six. Their landing hexrow is determined randomly by pulling out drift counters (on the back of the big assault boats - we now know this after a lot of hunting), but their ILH hex-number can be determined by the US flayer evasion etc is measured from that hex. Now they're supposed to Land on Board 4 which of course we're all hugely familiar with as being the open, farmy one – well, actually there are a lot of small isolated woods and small isolated buildings on there all doing their small isolated thing and these can all play havoc with your approach run with gliders. Obviously, the American wants the gliders to land more on his side of Board 4 than the German half and this did indeed happen as he can choose the ILH, but despite this the Germans do have options and it was just interesting playing out the landing phases to see where they all end up.

I won't go into all the details of which side has which weapons, squads etc – suffice it to say that for the purposes of AA fire, the German gets a single 6FP IFE AA 20L Gun, an HMG with a 9-2 leader and the AA MG capability of two halftracks. With a glider "star" number of 1 and a one loss of ROF for AA fire, my defense fire against the gliders was pretty pathetic – the best weapon is the HMG with the leader which does have the potential to shoot gliders down (something like a 7 after mods with a ROF of 2), while the AA Gun is a 5. We played all three turns of the glider landings to see what happened, and I shot one down and caused two others to crash into woods, but with little to no ROF, so I was probably a little below par on the shooting – I guess overall, you would probably want to bag between 3- 5 gliders leaving between 13-15 to actually land. Some of these will definitely end up pretty safe far enough behind the US lines to be too far out of reach for the germans (although the US will need to watch out for any long-shot hail marys by lone half-tracks into the end-zone to try and steal the odd, more isolated glider). Overall though, the game is probably going to come down to a struggle for 4-5 gliders in the middle of No-Mans-Land.

The setup is important – I missed a trick with the Germans and put all my efforts (and LMGs) into going with the Level 0 ground forces (lots of 447s and a few 548s) ready for the dash to the middle for the big scrum, and not put any of the LMGs on Level 2. As a result, the US were able to aggressively march all their squads (approx 12? 747s or so I think) out into No Mans Land with impunity much further than I had intended, as I had little left that could take advantage of even the long-range 1FP -1 and -2 shots being offered. Hence they were able to claim much more yardage in Turn 1 than I was happy with and the majority of the gliders landed in the protective cordon they quickly set up over the eastern 2/3rds of Board 4. Then we both re- read the VC and realized that *AS WRITTEN*, to win, the Americans have to control 18 VP worth of gliders (2 VP per undamaged glider, 1 for damaged) and / or have at least twice as many good order squads on board 4 as the Germans. Now, I'm English and I speak the queen's English, and no matter what *AS WRITTEN* literally means that the Americans must achieve BOTH parts of the VC to win (this is the AND part of the infamous "and/or" qualifier). Clint and TD Walt both agreed, though I consulted with Zeb Doyle as well afterwards and he explained the true intent. Anyway, as a result of the VC as they are currently written, all the Germans have to do is stay holed up on the hills, take long range potshots at the US with the HMG and keep the casualties within reason and stay below the 2:1 loss ratio and the Germans can't lose – I did this for a turn, eliminating two 747s in a wood with a brutal -2 ROF streak and it was clear the writing was on the wall. This was after Clint's 60mm mortar had X'ed out on its first shot. As it was, as the VC are written, the Americans have to deny both of the VC to the germans, and so they are going to have to come chasing the Germans over the open ground and still pull out some miraculous victory. AND yes, there is even a rule in the SSR about how the Germans can destroy gliders in CC to encourage them to come out of their foxholes, but I didn't need to go there.

The VC should actually read "To win, at game end, the US player can win in any of three ways: (a) control 18 VP of gliders, (b) have twice as many good order squads on Board 4 or (c) achieve both (a) and (b).

There. Nice and straight forward and impossible to beat with any rules finessing – achievement of (a) or (b) or (c) and the US wins. If none of those three are achieved, then the Germans win. Now then… that wasn't hard, was it?

So, give this one a spin if you fancy some totally unpredictable wackiness and fancy playing the ASL version of multi-ball rugby, but play with the VC listed above. I wouldn't mind giving it a spin some time, but it is a big one with a lot of squads each side and there are options to do lots of FTR options with the two halftracks. Ground snow is in effect but it doesn't really impact the game too much. The gliders are really easy to do and it is quite fun watching them crash into the trees.


Thursday, March 09, 2006

AOO Review

Zeb Doyle

Well, I finally received my copy of ASL's Holy Grail, and I thought I'd share my impressions for those who care.

When I saw AOO sitting on my doorstep, it generated a level of excitment equal only to my first purchase of Beyond Valor so long ago. At that time, I was able to buy the rulebook but then had to wait some time before I had the money to get Beyond Valor. The delay really built up my sense of anticipation and excitment, and the prolonged wait with AOO had generated similar feelings in me. So, as I tore open the packaging, I could feel vast new vistas of gaming spreading out before me, just like when I first broke the shrinkwrap on Beyond Valor. Then, as I greedily gazed over the contents of my AOO, the disappointment sunk in.

It was inevitable, I suppose. I've already seen and played scenarios on all the four maps contained within, the vast majority of the Axis infantry counters are quite familar, and the new rules and Chapter H notes can easily be integrated into my existing ASL knowledge. In short, I was completely missing the sense of magic and excitment that Beyond Valor provided me. It's one thing to open your first module marvelling over the myriad half-comprehended counters within and quite another to cast a jaded eye over a mixture of stuff you've already seen and stuff you can comprehend at a glance. The veil has been torn, an era has ended, the core ASL system is complete, and I'll never get a similar sense of wonder from ASL ever again.

Melodramatics and my inflated expectations aside, however, it must be admitted that AOO is a very solid core module, contains some pretty neat-looking stuff, and is a very satisfactory finish to the core ASL line. Contents include four nice maps most of you have probably seen already: board 48 (village crossroads), board 49 (rural board transitioning into urban), board 50 (big hill covered with woods and craigs), and board 51 (dense urban terrain). To add to the versitility of the maps, you also get three sheets of overlays, including hills and a very cool river. One minor complaint here; the three sheets could easily have fit more overlays on them. There's lots of wasted white space on the pages.

But enough of maps and overlays; every module has those. Let's move onto the things that make AOO unique: the complete Axis Minor order of battle. There's lots of interesting stuff contained here on six counter sheets. The core Axis Minor squads are unchanged, although there are now a few more distinctions in the nationality characteristics. The Romanians and Bugarians also now have access to a 5-3-7 squad, and the Romanians actually get access to ATMMs in 7/43, months ahead of the Germans! The Hungarians, meanwhile, not being turncoat traitors, get spiffy two-tone counters with German grey around the outside and Axis green on the inside. This, ironically, makes them look rather turncoatish.

It's in the Chapter H notes that things get really interesting. As you'd expect from the Axis Minors, there's a crazy assortment of different weapons from a variety of different origins and some very novel design ideas. My personal favorites are counters for the British OQF 4.5 inch howitzers that were captured at Dunkirk and then pawned off on the Romanians in 1943 and a Skoda infantry gun with interchangable 37mm AP and 75mm HE barrels. Apparently, the crew would simply change to the appropriate barrel depending on the target at any given moment. Given the level of detail lavished on most counters, it's a shame MMP went with generic light, medium, and heavy trucks. They could easily have spared us more Sturmtiger counters (I think we have more counters than scenarios to use them in now) and used the space to give us more interesting trucks. Again, though, this is a minor complaint; overall the Chapter H notes are amazingly detailed and very educational to read over.

Moving on the the scenarios, of which there are eleven, AOO does a good job of using all the new boards and counters. I haven't played a single one of these yet, but just based off the card and in chronological order we have:

Balkan Sideshow: 4/13/41, looks like a Hungarian river crossing against Yugoslavians. Ten turns, has cavalry, a Toldi I, some Csaba armored cars, and roughly forty total squads.

Out Of Cowardice: 4/13/41. More Hungarians thrashing the Yugoslavians, with the support of more Toldis and Csabas. Six turns, 25 or so total squads, this is the smallest scenario in the pack by far.

Liberating Bessarabia: 7/5/41: Romanians attacking Russians in an urban setting. Eight turns, 25 total squads, and a bit of an armor battle with both sides getting some tanks. Another smaller scenario, as far as this pack goes.

Cautious Crusaders: 7/23/41: Slovakians making a rare and brief visit to Russia. Nine turns, 45 squads, bicycle troops, OBA, and a brutal battle for a railway station make this one look fun.

Huns Of Steel: 7/18/42: Hungarians, as you'd guess, trying to smash a Russian bridgehead. Nine turns, 38 total squads, and what looks like a pretty nifty armor battle, with some Panzer IVF2s up against Valentines and Stuarts. Cavalry and motorcycles also involved.

The Sixth Blow: 7/12/44. The Russians are now on the attack, aided by some partisans, and are up against Hungarian cavalry and a very tough bunch of Germans. Nine turns, 48 or so squads. Looks way cool, with Panthers and SU-85s slugging it out, while the Hungarian Csaba (yes, the same exact ATR armed model used in the 1941 scenario to overrun Yugoslavians!) goes running for a flank shot....or maybe just running.

With Tigers On Their Tail: 7/23/44. More attacking Russians, this time chasing down some Hungarians who get some Tigers to cover their retreat. Eleven turns, forty total squads, seems interesting. Fighting retreats are always fun to play.

Downsizing The Uprising: 9/9/44. Germans trying to hold off some restless Slovakians. Nine turns, 52 total squads, and finally the answer to the question that has plagued ASLers for decades: if a big group of 3-4-7s and 3-3-7s attacked a big group of 4-3-6s, who would win?

Ancient Feud: 10/11/44. Romanians attacking Hungarians in an attempt to grab territory for the post-war era. Eight turns, 28 squads, and a fun looking armor battle that has never before seen matchups of tanks with crazy names like the 40M Turan I (r) facing down the TACAM R-2 (f).

Return To Sender: 10/14/44. A big group of German-trained Bulgarians turn their rifles (and 105mm OBA) on a group of the SS Prinz Eugen Division. Ten turns, 44 squads, 88Ls trying to retreat from Ploesti, and six PzIVs in the hands of the Bulgarians make this one look very fun.

End Station Budapest: 1/1/5/45. Hungarians and Romanians face off one last time. Ten turns, 54 squads, all engaged in a dense urban slugfest.

That's it for the scenarios. I'd be remiss if I didn't mention that the package also comes with some replacement counters for past errata and some new rules pages. These cover Human Waves, Bicycles, and Platoon Movement. This last topic, as anyone else on the ASLML knows, has the potential to end Western Civilization as we know it, but I'm still very happy MMP put out some better platoon rules.

Overall, AOO is a module very well worth getting. There are five scenarios I really want to play (a high ratio for me), some important rules changes, a really high-quality addition to Chapter H, and lots and lots of new tanks and guns and toys. The boards are also of high quality and have already inspired some good scenarios. All in all, AOO was worth the wait. I'm still never going to get that Beyond Valor ASL feeling again though!

Thanks for reading,