Wednesday, November 29, 2006

AAR: J106 - Marders Not Martyrs

Zeb Doyle

Mmmmmmm, Thanksgiving's tough to top food, family, and football. This year, I did manage to improve the holiday formula by ditching the family and heading to Eric's for football plus ASL. Now that's a combination that's impossible to beat. The football wasn't so exciting, with UT going down meekly to A&M, but the ASL more than made up for it. Inspired by the stellar AARs from Nick and Tom, we decided to try J106 Marders Not Martyrs from J7. The previous AARs did a great job covering the scenario, so I thought I'd try more analysis and less narration here.

We'll start the analysis with the VC, the heart of any scenario. The Russians win by exiting 17 total EVP, which must include at least 3 infantry EVP. Although they have 51 EVP in their force, the Russian ground-pounders have only 6 turns to go 15 hexes. This is a relatively rapid pace, especially given the open terrain, and it would take terrible German play or amazing luck to achieve anything close to 10 EVP with the infantry. Instead, the vast majority of playings will revolve around the exit of two KV tanks and a handful of squads. Clearly then, the KV tanks are the key to the game, both for their combat power in clearing a path for the infantry and for their EVP potential.

Since the Russian tanks are so vital, let's examine the AFVs of both sides. The German Marders are pure tank-killers due to the limited HE and lack of machine guns, while their weak armor and OT nature means that even the Russian light mortar is a threat. To make matters worse, the Marders aren't even very effective tank-killers here, as their net 6TK against the frontal KV armor puts the German on the wrong side of the bell curve. Although the possibility of APCR and the 2 ROF help, the German has to expect more Shocks and Immobilization than outright kills. Given this fragility and lack of punch, it's even more important than usual to avoid any situations where the KVs can gang up on an isolated Marder.

On the other side of the board, the Russian tanks have a few disadvantages of their own, such as the red MP numbers and the requirement to stay buttoned up to fire, but the 76mm MA auto-kill against the thin Marder armor outweighs those minor flaws. The KVs are also extremely durable; as we saw above, the Marders need a good roll to kill them and the German infantry has no hope other than CC to hurt them. In short, we can expect the KVs to dominate much of the action. Their major challenge in the scenario is that they must move to confront the Germans, thus giving the Marders the first shot. This is always a tricky proposition, especially since the Russian cannot afford to lose more than two tanks. As a final note, the KVs must be careful not to engage the Marders at extended range. We all know about the red vs black TH numbers, but here the small CE Marder with the 75L gun has a major edge over the large BU KV with the 76 gun. If the two forces simply parked on their respective hills at 16 hexes apart and shot it out, the Marders would start with an amazing 10TH vs the 5TH for the Russian.

Now that we've crunched all these numbers, let's step back and picture how the overall scenario might play out. The Germans, both with the infantry and the AFVs, have the advantage of ROF and range, so we can expect a defense in depth. The entire set-up will be intended to funnel the KVs onto the Marders, which will be safely towards the rear. The Russian light mortar is a concern here, but not enough of one to influence the Marders placement. Given the opening ranges, the MTR will need a 5TH and another 5 on the IFT to do anything, which isn't too deadly. To prevent acquisition and multiple fire phases of attacks, we'll set up the German HMG to duel with the MTR in an attempt to remove that threat early. Additionally, the HMG will be manned by a HS to make the defense less fragile and free up another scarce MMC for use elsewhere.

The Russians, meanwhile, would love to match up their infantry against the Marders and the KVs against the German infantry, but this is very unlikely to happen. So, the Soviet infantry will trade in the 8-0 for a commissar and push forward as best they can, with an eye towards CC and pot-shots at CE German AFV crews. Since the Marders armor is thin, even machine guns may be pressed into use as tank-killing tools. Meanwhile, the KVs will look to mass against a single Marder and fight at a range of two to six hexes. As we saw above, shoot-outs at seven or more hexes give the edge to the Marders, while the increased chance to hit at one hex is not worth the net TK change from 6 to 7.

With this hypothetical model scenario in our heads, let's now examine how Eric and I actually played it out. Both sides set up almost exactly as described above. The 50mm MTR got one shot at the Marders, missed, and (like everyone else in TX, apparently), was KIAd. The infantry of both sides then proceeded to clash in a profoundly non-decisive fashion. The key to the game came in the tank battle, when three KVs managed to isolate a single Marder at three to four hexes. The Marder Stunned two KVs but then was hit and flamed by the third. The remaining Marder maneuvered to clean up the Stunned KVs, but one of the Russian tanks unexpectedly came back to life and blasted the offending German into scrap. Although a brave landser destroyed the remaining Stunned KV, the loss of both Marders left three unopposed KVs. At that point, Eric and I pulled out our notebooks and wrote 'Game Over.' We played it out for posterity's sake, but the Russians triumphed with a turn to spare.

Anyway, analysis aside, it was a fun scenario that we managed to knock out in a lesurely three hours. Thanks again to Nick and Tom for bringing it to the attention of the list. I'd recommend it as well as a very fun 'lighter' scenario. Finally, if anyone has a strong preference for my analysis AARs over my narrative (or vice versa), I'd like to know.

Thanks for reading!


Tuesday, November 07, 2006

AAR: SP34 Frankforce

At yesterday's game day Doyle Motes and I matched up in this scenario from Schwerpunkt. I wish I had brought my camera to take photos of the game in progress, but I forgot. So we'll just have to make do with description. The scenario is played out over the relatively open countryside boards 4 and 43. The British must exit 26 points through the German defenses. But they are not allowed to exit across the entire board edge, but rather through a range of hexes that are roughly in the middle of the board edge (hexes M through Y if memory serves). To do so they have 11 first line squads, 6 Matildas (marks I and II), and a MkVIC tankette. The tankette is very fast but also very lightly armored, whereas the Matildas are slow and reasonably heavily armored. They are further slowed by the lack of radios in the Matilda Is. Opposing them the Germans get 7 first line squads led by a 9-2, a 37L gun, and two 88L AA guns.

Since the British can enter along the entire north side of the map (board 4), the Germans must deploy their forces in such a way as to be ready for any angle of approach. However, the speed (or lack thereof) of the tanks means that the British cannot dawdle. In fact, the tanks probably have to remain in motion for most of the game to have a reasonable hope of exiting. It would be very unlikely for the British to get the needed 26 exit points without the majority of them coming from the tanks, so clearly the 88s are the centerpieces for the German defense. An SSR even allows the German to ignore one non-intensive-fire malfunction by one of the big guns, further underscoring their importance to the game.

From the German perspective, the map has the board 43 walled compound or village just to the right of center. The rest of their backfield is dominated by grain. I set up the 88s in a manner such that each covered one of the extreme ends of the exit area, but so that they also could cover the middle together, and lend some support to each other as well. The 37L I put on the extreme left flank looking back across the middle, hoping to surprise some tanks with a rear shot if Doyle came that way. Most of the infantry went into the village, with a couple of half squads as close to the exit area as they were legally allowed, with the aim of moving to the exit hexes immediately and digging in.

Doyle sent his British troops in a massed attack on my right flank, oriented toward and around the board 43 village. The very early game was fairly uneventful as my Germans tried to harass his infantry as they moved forward through the grain. Small results were achieved here and there, but no big deal. On the second turn I managed to get the 9-2 and MMG into position in the village to lay a nice fire lane across the British avenue of advance. I thought this would probably do a good job in slowing the British attack. However, one of his first few units to move outside the fire lane went berserk due to another shot, and started charging the MMG position. As soon as they entered the fire lane the MMG malfunctioned. This opened the floodgates and Doyle sent his troops pelting forward hard. As they got closer to the village to prepare an assault, most of the British tanks continued their slow platoon movement around the edge. The exception was the speedy MkVIC, which Doyle used to scout. He had a pretty good idea where my guns were and sent the tankette searching for them. Given the axis of the British attack, one of my 88s was in a key spot and the other was somewhat (but not entirely) out of position. My key 88 was in a brush field in front of a stone building guarding the right and center of the exit area. As it became obvious that Doyle was going to discover this gun and probably overrun it, I had to reveal the gun and spin it to take a shot at the tankette before it was too late. I decided to take the shot with the tankette two hexes away, so that there would be the opportunity for an intensive fire shot if I missed. The shot was true, however, and the pesky vehicle was set ablaze. Doyle seemed pretty content with this result, because the blaze would provide a bit of smoke cover. But really the more insidious effect was that the blaze could spread to the brush and eventually cook the German gun! And the blaze did spread very rapidly indeed. It spread, well, like wildfire.

Fortunately the showdown at the village took a turn in my favor as the German 9-2 leader directed an attack that broke several British and limited their fire opportunities. This looked like it would stall the attack quite well, except that Doyle countered with a critical hit from his light mortar, and effective machine gun fire from one of his tanks to break the 9-2 and a couple of squads. It took them a couple of turns to rally. In the meantime back at the gun position, nearby German half squads moved in to try to hinder the spread of the flames to keep them away from the gun, which had destroyed one of the Matildas that it could see to the right of the village. They could slow it down but they could not stave off the flames forever. Would the blaze cook the gun in time for the British to make good their escape? The fire was already providing some smoke cover. Ultimately they bought enough time for the 9-2 to rally and bring over a couple of squads to the gun position to keep the flames away just long enough. Toward the end Doyle kept wishing for a wind change to kick up more smoke to cover his exit, and dang it if he didn't get it, almost calling his shot on the wind change dice roll. Wow. Fortunately for me the direction of the wind was away from the gun, which made it a little harder on the fire to spread to the gun, and also rolled the smoke back toward the British tanks rather than on top of the gun. In a little bit of irony, the smoke cover Doyle wished for actually helped the German cause by making movement for the very slow tanks even more expensive, costing several of them their chance to exit in time. Some British infantry had pushed hard all the way down the flank to support the tanks, but on the last turn the Germans shifted some infantry over to occupy the exit hexes to prevent and British infantry from exiting. The other 88 actually ended the scenario with an unlikely hit on one of the last Matildas with a chance to exit.

Overall this scenario was a pretty fun experience with a few key events. The berserker helped the British forward somewhat, and the loss of the tankette burning in the brush had a huge impact. I don't think I've ever played a scenario where I've made so many attempts to hamper flames. And then of course calling for, and getting, a wind change was rather amazing. If I were the British player I think one thing that would bother me would be the need to keep the tanks moving nearly all the time, rather than fighting. As the German, I think there isn't a lot of mystery about where the big guns should go, and I don't often like feeling that constrained in my setup, although it certainly makes setup relatively easy and quick. It appears quite balanced on ROAR (23:22 Brit), and plays rather fast, so it's probably pretty good tourney fare.