Sunday, January 28, 2007

After Action Report: RPT3 Varosmajor Grange

I had the pleasure recently of battling the redoubtable Zeb in this scenario from the first Rally Point, which is produced by the Schwerpunkt guys. It depicts a firefight in Budapest in 1945 between Hungarians and Russians. The Hungarians are on the attack, with the opportunity to come from two sides. They must clear four buildings of good order Russians at game end. One of the victory buildings is on the left side as the Hungarian player faces the board. It is a large, 7-hex, 2-level building. The other three are all in a row on the right side, and each is just one hex in size, but with an upper level. Their force comes in two roughly equal sized groups, one with slightly better quality troops featuring a 9-2 leader, a heavy machine gun, a flamethrower, and supported by two Zrinyi II assault guns, the other rounding out their numbers with a few conscript squads, led by an 8-1 leader, and supported by a formidable Hetzer tank destroyer. On the defense, the Soviets have a fairly low-quality force considering the time of the war, containing 5 conscript squads among the dozen total, led by a 9-1 leader, but with their firepower bolstered with a heavy machine gun of their own, plus a medium machine gun. They are supported by a T-34 M43 tank, and on turn 2 a fearsome flame belching OT-34 comes riding in to the rescue.

Zeb’s defense looked like it was going to rely on holding something in the 3 small buildings area, because the large building had only one unit in it, and it was not heavily supported. Consequently I only brought a few units on my far left, including the 9-2 leader and the HMG, hoping to get to a level 2 location where he could harass Russians from a distance. The Zrinyis, having little to fear from the Russian infantry, moved right up in their faces to try to intimidate them with their large 105mm guns. A 20-flat shot is nothing to sneeze at after all. The Hetzer was tasked with hunting the T-34, which was set up in the road on the far right (the Russian left). The Russians did not contest many of the opening moves by the Hungarian infantry, mainly because they did not have line of site to them, as they moved up behind cover to get to the front line on the first turn. The main action occurred when a Hungarian squad moved out into the street to draw fire from the T-34. My intent was to bait the tank to shoot, thereby preventing it from being able to make a motion attempt when the Hetzer later bore down on him. With a 14 frontal armor factor, the Hetzer had very little to fear from the Soviet tank, whose 76L gun only had a kill number of 13. With APCR, the kill number would go up to 17 at 0-1 hex range, 16 at 2 hexes, 15 at 3 hexes, and 14 from 7-12 hex range. So even against an APCR round at close range the risk was minimal. The T-34 took the shot with its bow machine gun, enabling my little scheme. The Hetzer moved up to a couple of hexes away, and when the T-34 declined to shoot, the little agitator took a bounding fire shot needing a 5 to hit. The shot was true, and it wrecked the Russian tank (17 to kill against 11 armor). This bounding fire shot had about a 1 in 8 chance of succeeding. Had it missed the odds for a kill in the next prep would have been much better, say about a 1 in 4 chance. It was an auspicious start to the scenario.

Naturally the Russians skulked under cover in their half of the first turn, but on the far left flank a lucky HMG shot directed by the 9-2 leader broke the Russian squad manning a medium machine gun. The game was really starting out well for the Hungarians.

On the second turn, one of the Zrinyis got up close and personal with the lone Russian conscript squad tasked with defending the big victory building on the left. The risk in close combat reaction fire for the Hungarian assault gun was again minimal, considering the low morale of the conscript. It pinned on its pre-AFV attack task check, and was subsequently bum rushed by about 5 Hungarian squads and a leader. It took a couple of CC rounds to finish them off, but the outcome was not really in doubt. Meanwhile the Hetzer relocated a little bit more to the left, since it had to be prepared for the oncoming OT-34, by far the most dangerous weapon in the Russian arsenal. I was a bit worried that the flame throwing monster would go after my Zrinyis, but instead it drove up right behind the wrecked T-34 on my far right flank, and belched a 16-flat shot at a stack of Hungarians in a building on that flank, doing considerable damage. They all broke, and were out of the game for a while as they fell back and tried to rally.

The middle game saw the Russian luck begin to turn. I rolled well early, but now Zeb reeled off a string of threes and assorted other low rolls to keep my forces back. The fight was most intense in the middle area between the big victory building and the three smaller ones. My flame thrower team would carefully move up, only to be broken two or three times, eventually succumbing to a Russian sniper while taking cover in the big victory building. They never got a shot off. One of the Zrinyis tried the vehicular bypass trick again to limit fire opportunities from a Russian squad in the front line and thereby jumpstart my assault in the area, but this was no squad of conscripts. It was a seasoned group of veterans that wouldn’t be so easily intimidated. They deftly knocked out the assault gun with grenades in CC reaction fire. For sure, the Zrinyis are not ideal for this tactic, since they have no machine guns, giving infantry a +1 bump on their attack. The difference between needing to roll a 4 or a 5 to harm a vehicle in CC is pretty significant. The other assault gun wasn’t having much luck either, as it malfunctioned its gun! The Hetzer drove over back to the far right flank to take on the OT-34, but it could not do so without spending a lot of points in its line of sight, thereby allowing the Soviet tank to kick into motion and turn away for a quick escape, making it nearly impossible to hit. During the next turn or two, the Hetzer kept chasing the OT-34, only to see its prey kick into motion and escape each time, free to drive somewhere else and fry another group of Hungarian infantry. The hunt was made that much harder because the Hetzer dared not get too close to the flame throwing tank either. If it got up close to increase its odds of a hit and kill, and make it harder for the Russian beast, if it kicked into motion, to turn toward a covered escape route, it might have to endure instead a shot from the flame thrower. These are very dangerous indeed. Even if the Russian tank had to change facing to take such a shot, it still wouldn’t matter because there is no to hit roll. Instead, the flames allow an immediate roll on the kill table. Yikes.

Eventually though in the middle area, numbers began to tell and the Hungarians were able to push the Soviets back and gain a foothold. The Zrinyi with the malfunctioned gun now had the duty of driving next to as many broken Russian troops as possible to make them DM, and to force their routing in a direction to my liking. It could do little else unless it managed to fix its gun, which it failed to do for the remainder of the game. Otherwise the Hungarians tried to get their panzerschreck teams forward to prepare for the next attack by the OT-34.

The critical moment occurred, I think, in turn 4. The OT-34 had successfully torched a couple of Hungarian stacks of infantry, setting back the assault on the Hungarian right flank. Moreover, it had escaped the Hetzer twice. It now drove across toward the middle area, and a Hungarian panzerschreck team, thinking it was now or never, took a shot at 3-hex range. I think they needed to roll a 4 or less to hit, certainly not great odds. Not only did they miss, but they ate the backblast to the tune of a K/1, resulting in a broken half squad. Now the Russian monster, no longer having anything to fear from the PSK, drove over that way and gave the hotfoot to another stack of Hungarian infantry. The roll was a 10, however, and the ammunition ran out! The attack still counted, but it was only a morale check. The Russian tank moved on, and drove down the road next to those it had just attacked. From the upper level, a squad found a panzerfaust and, braving backblast of course, put a lucky shot through the hide of the dragon, creating a blazing wreck in the road. This wreck would now conveniently provide some cover for Hungarian infantry as they tried to cross the road to the last bastion of the Russian defense, the final three victory buildings.

There were other notable events in the mid game, although I can’t remember the precise order of their occurrence. The bypassing Zrinyi managed to casualty reduce a Russian squad when Zeb rolled boxcars on their CC attack. In another close combat, Zeb rolled snakes to recreate a 7-0 leader in roughly the same area where the previous 7-0 had been dispatched by the Hungarian sniper. The Hungarian sniper was active all game, breaking a key unit in the victory area fairly early, and then later eliminating the Soviet 8-1 leader in the final victory buildings.

With unopposed armor and a numbers advantage in infantry, the endgame was somewhat anticlimactic. Zeb did a great job getting the most out of his troops, but the writing was on the wall about how it would end, and using vehicular bypass and infantry firepower, the Hungarians were able to clear the victory area. This was another fun game against a great opponent. The scenario is worth a try. Give it a go and let us know how it went. I hope you’ve enjoyed this recap.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

AAR: ASL 116 - The Sixth Blow

Zeb Doyle

This won't be nearly as polished as Nick's AAR from the other day, but I had fun playing The Sixth Blow with Eric last Saturday. The scenario has always tempted me since the card looks so interesting, with fleeing Hungarian cavalry fighting through partisans and a powerful German force entering to block off a mixed Soviet group of cavalry and tanks. The terrain is also a major attraction, with hills, valleys, woods, and streams all combining to make some very tough going. There are defensible choke points galore and of course the random rockets and airplanes only add to the spice.

I ended up with the Soviets and set the partisans up skewed very heavily to one side of the map, with a few units scattered in the middle as well. The far side of the map looked wide open, but was actually covered by the minefields. Eric quickly figured out my gambit, but decided it would be easier to face the mines than the partisans and readied his cavalry to retreat. Things started off with a bang as the rocket OBA came in and killed two Hungarian squads, but also blocked off a road, preventing my tank column from making much progress on the first turn. Still, the Hungarian cavalry didn't make it too far in their MPh, and by turn two, the Russian armor had caught up to them.

By the time the mid-game rolled around, the mines and Soviet tanks had wiped out the Hungarian cavalry to the last horse but were greatly slowed by the tough terrain and weapon malfunctions. Out of the six tanks, two .50 cals, and two airplanes available over the course of the game, seven of them were lost to the dreaded boxcars. That put more of a burden on the Russian cavalry, but they were up to the challenge, clearing out a Hungarian rear-guard with a saber charge and scaling the board 50 hill to destroy a machine gun nest.

Still, even the toughest Cossack has a tough time fighting tanks, and things began to look rather dicey for the Soviets towards the end. Even if the Soviet tanks weren't largely malfunctioned, the terrain is so difficult to maneuver through that it's almost impossible to get onto the vulnerable flanks of the Panthers. This brings up what I feel is the key match-up of the game: the Soviet aircraft vs the German armor. In my game, I targeted the FlaKPz IV/37 early and knocked it out. That left the planes free to carry out a lot of point attacks on the PzIVs and the Panthers, and even with net 5TK and 6TK, it was enough to get the job done. I lost one plane to a boxcarred attack, but by turn 8 all the German tanks were taken out as well. A late game kill of the last Panther was the difference, and a final cavalry charge cleared the way for the Soviet armor to slip off for the win.

Overall, the game was fun but wasn't as cool as the scenario card suggested. In its favor, it's the best venue for cavalry I've ever seen in ASL. I had units doing charges, dismounting to mop up, and then climbing back on their horses to head up the next hill. Every horse that got shot was a major loss, and the overall effect was very cool and something I haven't experienced in any other scenario. Ultimately, though, the game seem to come down to the German tanks and the Russian airplanes. There's not a lot of skill involved in that match-up aside from trying to roll fives and sixes, but I have a tough time seeing the Russians win if it doesn't happen. The fact that the scenario seems to center around a dice-rolling contest definitely makes it less interesting for me, although I still enjoyed the overall game. The last interesting point regarding this scenario is what to do with the Hungarian guns. Eric used them in conventional fashion and managed to blast a few Russians, but I'm wondering if putting them in the back and pushing them off for another 8 EVP isn't a better way to use them. I know Bryan and Brian have played this scenario; you guys have any thoughts?

Thanks for reading,


AAR: SP12 - Piano Lupo

Nick Drinkwater

German / Italian: Nick Drinkwater [ELR 4/2, SAN 3]

American: Ken Havlinek [ELR 5 SAN 2]

The underused Board 11 with the two low flat hills makes a nice change for this 4.5 turn, single-session playing scenario from Schwerpunkt. The Americans have to eject a small and brittle 5 x 346 strong Italian platoon from out of a large fortified, 2 level stone farmhouse (introduced on an overlay) and one of two 157 pillboxes. These Italians are stuffed to the gills with automatic weopons (HMG, 2 x MMG and a LMG) and have been stiffened by a single German 468 squad and an 8-1 out of the Hermann Goering Division with another Italian MMG - this all sounds impressive but the US are a mighty impressive force themselves with 4 x 747 para squads, 3 x 337, 2 x (dm) MMG, a Bazooka and 2 x (dm) 60mm MTR. The Americans have very tasty leadership for such a small section with a 9-2 and a couple of 8 Morale leaders, and this compares favourably with the 8-0 and the 7-0 of the Italians.

Setup restrictions mean that the Italians have to start a MMC in each pillbox and they need to be within 5 hexes of the Q4 overlay farmhouse - I place them separately, one on each of the two hills to the north of the farm, with LOS over the farm complex (south) and the approach over the hills to the east. I strengthen these more by placing trenches adjacent to the pillboxes to create bunkers, which offer to act as much more defendable fortresses than is possible by just using an isolated pillbox alone. The important thing with any pillbox is to make sure the pillbox hex location and blind spot approaches are covered by other forces and the bunker tactic helps this a lot - any Italians stuck in a pillbox will clearly be doomed in CC when these Americans get motoring, so its important to try and prevent / delay such access by the US Paras before they get there as much as possible.

Due to time limitations, I was rushed on the setup and struggled to place the two pillboxes optimally with covering fields of fire - probably the best way is to connect the farm back up to mutually covering pillboxes on the hills just to the north through use of the trenches so that when the time comes to give way, a fallback retreat could be conducted. With my defense however, I had separated the two pillboxes from each other and the farm - this was good as it would mean that Ken's force would probably have to split into two and hence weaken it's overall thrust, but it also meant that the defenders of the farm would have to hang tough for almost the entire game as there would be no place to retreat, and with one or two bad rolls I ran the risk of being defeated sequentially and quickly - perhaps asking a bit too much of this small defending force. Anyway, I stuck the Germans on Level 2 of the farm together with a 346 and an MMG, put a 346 squad in the outlying southern shed of the farm to cover any quick dash by the Americans from the southern woods, and then put a 126 half squad in each pillbox together with a squad, MG and a leader in each trench element of the bunkers.

The US has the option of coming on from the east - a longer trek in, probably taking at least 2 turns just to get to the place to start attacking (and no margin for error in this approach) - or come in from woods on the south side of the board either side of the Q road. This meant that is was only 2-3 hexes distance for the paras to be onboard and assaulting the farm, but also some less pleasant open ground to negotiate. Ken opted for this direct approach, putting half squads with each mortars on both flanks and then driving the bulk of the force up the left hand side of the road. A single halfsquad swung west to try and sneak onto the back of my westernmost pillbox, but I quickly shoved my entrenched squad into wall advantage to slow their advance to a crawl - Italians theymaybe, but even Italians can wreak damage on targets moving in open ground.

The main attack in the middle was just plagued by misfortune for Ken - immediately I thought I was in for some big trouble as one of Ken's Para squads shrugged off a 2 check from the Italian HMG which then X'ed on its next rate shot. This was swiftly followed by more X's by the German MMG and a LMG and it was all looking a bit grim. However, Ken then just tweaked the nose of misfortune when he rolled the first of five "sixes" for smoke grenade placement out of nine attempts in the game (and these Para bad boys have "3" smoke exponents). In a short 4.5 turn game, the loss of this much manuever capability is a really tough thing to recover from, and even more so when you're in a Schwerpunckt scenario where the emphasis is usually on the attacker to move and keep going.

Even when he did get going, my Germans made short work of a Para squad with a nice 16-1 "eyes" and Ken really struggled to put together any big fire groups as I successfully kept the odd crucial squad pinned, broken and most importantly DM. This ensured that many of Ken's attacks were 6+4 and 8+4 instead of 16+2 (the 9-2 and two squads all pinned on one really crucial moment on a lowly 6+2 shot). I also got very lucky when Ken's Bazooka Xed on its first shot (8FP HE equivalent attacks are nasty!) and I managed to survive unscathed a crucial 2 check myself from one of Ken's big attacks. Even when the Germans did eventually break, their superior morale meant they were able to rally straight back on a 6, despite being DM (rally terrain with the 8-1).

Eventually Ken did sneak 2 x 337 hs onto my western most pillbox and they were confidently expecting to crush the 7-0 and the 136 inside (which had been broken by the only effective sniper the turn before), but the 7-0 refused to bow and managed to CR one of the 337s on his own 1-4 CC attack roll of a 3 - posthumous medal for him! The other 337, unable to advance into the pillbox was then caught with its pants down in the open by the K/2 roll from an adjacent 346 in the trench in German Turn 4 and that was effectively it. It was now Turn 4.5 and Ken had still not quite taken the farmhouse and I was conducting a "fill the stairs with bodies" defense there and there was no way he was going to be able to even get near to taking either of the pillboxes now. We did play it out, and even though my German 468 did break, a hardy 346 hung tough on Level 1 and kept control of the crucial farm.

A fun but quick scenario which is actually much tougher on the US than it first looks - the +4 fortified farmhouse is a really tough nut to crack and bunkers are hard things to successfully get into without having some time to suppress the defenders first. Ken tried every trick he had in the book with lots of great use of firegrouped advancing fire by the Paras and multiple hits (but no crits from the mortars), but the loss of the squad to the "eyes" and the failures to move when looking for smoke cost him the match. Missing a couple of critical MCs hurt the Americans a lot as it took Ken until the last turn to get in a 20+4 Point Blank attack from the Paras (my Germans melted under that one), but by then it was too late. Overall, this is a great scenario to have a nice short refresher on the mechanics of placement and mechanics of pillboxes and bunkers, and hell, when isn't it fun taking on the challenge of the Italians?