Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Trench Warfare Part 1: Pillbox Pointers

Matt Shostak

(a reprint from Banzai!! 2.3, April 1997 - The Newsletter of the Austin ASL Club)

This is the first in what I hope will be a series of articles dealing with fortifications. How many times have you skipped over a scenario because of the inclusion of too many fortifications? It is my hope that these articles will take some of the stigma away from these things. I claim no great expertise in their use; it might be best to treat these articles as just one man’s look at them.

The pillbox is one of those things that often sway one’s opinion against playing a given scenario. I think that this is largely because players, particularly beginners, are a bit intimidated by the rules governing their use, and also the tactics to employ. Since I am guilty of this myself, I decided to take a look at that rules section and write an article about pillboxes, with the goal of making them less mysterious and intimidating, for myself and (I hope) others. This is not intended as a rules primer on pillboxes. I am sure the readership is fully capable of reading the rules section in a short time. After all, it is only a little over a full page long. It is intended rather as a look at the implications of those rules and at tactics for their use.

Attacker Considerations

Let’s look first at the ways that a pillbox can be destroyed. It’s all neatly wrapped up in a single rule, B30.92. Here’s a list of things that are capable of eliminating a pillbox:

  • A demo charge original KIA
  • Non-area ordnance fire original KIA
  • Indirect fire critical hit of at least 70mm (vs. brown pillbox) or 100mm (vs. grey)
  • Falling rubble
  • Bombardment
  • Dozer

Note that for the first two, the KIA’s # must be at least equal to the TEM of the pillbox that applied to the attack. Demo charges, however, have that KIA number increased by two if placed or set (i.e. not thrown). What does that mean? A demo charge placed through a +3 facing of a pillbox would eliminate it on an original DR of 5 or less. Not bad. It would need an original DR of 3 or less to eliminate a pillbox through its +5 facing. For non-area ordnance, it’s a little harder because it doesn’t get the benefit of that increase in the KIA number. In practice, this means that the smallest ordnance that could eliminate a pillbox through a +3 facing (barring a critical hit) is 120mm, and it would need an original roll of snake eyes to do so. That doesn’t sound so easy. The other methods listed are much less likely to come up during play, so I won’t go into them here. It probably suffices to remember the methods only, and look up the details when necessary.

It appears then that pillboxes are fairly difficult to destroy outright. You rarely have a dozer on hand, and even large calibre guns only have a small chance. Demo charges can often be found, but as we all know it is difficult to get them close enough to do damage.

There is an important distinction, however, between destroying and defeating a pillbox. The former is certainly just a subcase of the latter. Perhaps then we should look at ways to defeat a pillbox that might not involve destroying it. A few things come immediately to mind:

  • Avoid it
  • Smoke it in
  • Eliminate the occupants

Clearly, a pillbox has a big weakness, and that is that it is blind outside its covered arc. If the pillbox is not placed well, then it can be easily bypassed by simply moving outside its covered arc. Of course, most opponents will strive to make that difficult to do, but still I would always look at ways to bypass it first, just in case my opponent made a mistake. When possible, this is the easiest way to defeat a pillbox. This can be especially effective against a pillbox containing a gun, because B30.45 prohibits any 5/8 inch counter from entering or leaving a pillbox except as a dm support weapon. Dropping a +3 smoke round right on top of the pillbox would go a long way toward blinding it completely, while OBA smoke is capable of putting a +6 hindrance or more on the occupants, thus completely blinding them. These first two methods, then, appear similar in concept. Eliminating the occupants is altogether different in style. This can be accomplished in a couple of ways:

  • Brute force IFT – Use firepower to break, double break, or KIA the occupants.
  • Close combat – Occupants of a pillbox suffer a +2 drm for ambush purposes.

There is a nifty rule, B30.35, that allows a firer to ignore the TEM of a pillbox if using AP/APCR/APDS and the basic TK # of that weapon is greater than twice that TEM. Although the HE equivalency is often low, the increased odds of hitting (and possibly getting Infantry Target Type critical hits once acquisition has been gained) are often worth the tradeoff. Consider the implications. If a tank’s kill number is high enough, it could park outside the covered arc of the pillbox (where it can’t be hit by any antitank gun therein, for example), and yet hammer the occupants repeatedly, without paying the TEM on the To Hit rolls. Although the HE equivalency of 75mm AP is only 2, from 6 or less hexes away, a tank would be hitting the infantry in the pillbox on an 8 or less if CE, 7 or less if buttoned up (provided no hindrances or other modifiers apply of course). After –2 acquisition has been gained, critical hits become relatively easy. An original 5 or less would be a critical hit from such a CE tank.

Probably the best method to defeat a pillbox is some combination of the above, depending on what units are available, the victory conditions (of course!), and the time available. Perhaps a tank could throw a smoke shell on the pillbox, while another tank hammers it with AP from outside its covered arc. Under this cover, infantry assault teams could move up armed with demo charges, and either blow it up or knock it out in CC.

Defender Considerations

Okay, now that we know how pillboxes can be defeated, let’s take a look at how they can be used effectively. This boils down to two things: where to put them and what to put in them. Naturally, victory conditions and terrain are paramount. Since their blind areas are such a big weakness, the first big consideration is to place them with a good field of fire, preferably on areas that your opponent really must traverse. This is much easier to accomplish in rural, open terrain than it is in city fighting. In a rural area, the +3 frontal TEM of the typical pillbox is often the best on the board, whereas in the city it’s just another stone building, albeit one with a restricted field of fire. Just what to put in them is a tough question, again largely dependent on the tactical situation. One thing seems clear however. Putting a 5/8 inch counter in there should be done only after careful thought, because such a gun cannot be moved out of the pillbox if it really needs to see something outside of the covered arc. Therefore it seems reasonable to avoid putting guns in pillboxes except in special circumstances. If the pillbox is the best terrain available, such as in a rural fight, it might be a good place for your best leader and machinegun. If it is not the best terrain, such as in a city fight, it might be more suited for a lesser unit, since good terrain abounds, and the restricted LOS might not be worth the trouble for your best unit.

There are a few special capabilities of pillboxes that are worth noting also, since they can affect how you use them.

  • Rout and Rally – Pillboxes are considered equivalent to a building for rout and rally purposes, and broken units therein are never forced to rout.
  • Concealment – Pillboxes are concealment terrain. Although such concealment never halves incoming firepower, nor add the +2 DRM to incoming To Hit shots, opponents are not allowed to inspect the contents of a pillbox except to verify details of an announced attack.
  • Bunkers – Set up in the same hex as a trench, or adjacent to a trench, a pillbox is considered a bunker. This allows units to enter/exit a trench more easily (see B30.8 for details). This capability can be used effectively to enable skulking by the occupants. Skulking is ASL slang for the tactic of moving (often assault moving) out of enemy LOS during the Movement Phase to avoid being shot at, then advancing back in during the Advance Phase to be ready to defend the same position again during the opponent’s turn.

Supporting a pillbox with other units is important as well. Placing units to cover areas outside of the pillbox’s covered arc will make it much more effective. Often when given a pillbox in your OB, you are also given several other fortifications. Wire, roadblocks, trenches, and mines can be set up in combination with a pillbox in order to make it more difficult to bypass and/or destroy. Wire and/or mines in the same hex as a pillbox will make it less susceptible to CC or a demo charge. Trenches, as we have noted, can make a pillbox into a bunker. If any tunnels are available in your OB (rare outside the PTO), you can connect tunnel to pillbox to further increase your mobility/flexibility/skulking. Perhaps a future article can bring together considerations for all the various fortifications in a combined defense. The philosophy of using pillboxes, I think, is to place them in areas that are difficult for the enemy to avoid. At the same time, make each pillbox difficult to destroy so that the enemy will be slowed considerably in his advance. You want to force the enemy to choose between two or more unattractive avenues of attack. He can either deal with the pillbox frontally, with all that entails, or he can try to avoid it and deal with your supporting units.

PTO Considerations

There are some special circumstances that come into play with regard to pillboxes in the Pacific Theatre. There seem to be a lot more of them in PTO scenarios, which I suppose makes sense given the way the Japanese fought. Pillboxes can be much more difficult to bypass in PTO scenarios, because they can remain HIP for much longer (see G.2). This can be offset, however, by the restricted LOS that is often prevalent in the PTO. The Japanese using pillboxes get some special capabilities, such as a free tunnel to go with every pillbox (G1.632).

Monday, May 14, 2007

AAR: RBF 20 - Amateurs At War

Michael Rodgers

Think of this scenario as an Axis Minor version of Blazing Chariots. At first glance, however, the sides do not look evenly matched. Looks can be deceiving.

Five Romanian tanks are pitted against twelve Russian tanks that appear in two six packs.

Be sure you have the errata for this scenario before you play it. According to the errata, the tanks in the scenario are different from those pictured. The Romanian tanks are Pz35 (note 34) with a 37 mm gun, armour of three and 14 MP. The Romanians also have an 8-1 armour leader. The first wave of Russian tanks are radio-less T26-M37 that have B11 45L guns, armour of 3 and red 11MP. The second wave of Russian tanks are radio-less T28 (note 11) that have 76* guns, armour of 3 and red 12 MP.

The scenario uses boards 18 and 16 butted together on a long edge with 18 on the left and 16 on the right. The map numbers are on the north edge. Board 18 has two level two positions on the southern half that are key to any chance of a Romanian victory.

Set up is simultaneous and secret. The Romanians enter first from the south and the Russians enter from the north. The Russian player must exit 3 AFV off the south edge. The Romanian player must exit one AFV with functioning MA off the north edge. Be careful of the SSR. HOB splits them into Historical Rules and Scenario Variables, which makes it easier to miss one. In this scenario, there is no acquisition (HR) and no road movement rate (SV).

The Russians have only numbers and penetration in their favour. They have twelve tanks to the Romanian five. The 45L gun has penetration of 10. The 76* gun has penetration of 9. All their tanks are radio-less. The six T-26 tanks have restricted turrets, so they must be BU to fire the MA. The vehicle notes state that Russian note D applies, so their movement starting dice roll is trouble on an 11 or on a 12. On an 11, they stall; on a 12 they immobilize. The T-28 tanks are large targets. The Romanian guns have a penetration of 8, but the Romanian tanks are small targets.

I can tell you, from my one playing experience, what does not work for the Russians. My opponent, Jean-Pierre Raymond, moved two tanks straight up board 16, one up the middle board edges, and two towards the board 18 level two positions. I moved two T-26 up the left side of 16 and two more up the right side of 16; all to deny the central wall area to the Romanians. The remaining two T-26 moved up the middle board edges and stayed in motion. The second Romanian turn saw them occupy the two level two positions with successful HD attempts with one side for each tank. The armour leader showed himself here to help this succeed. The middle tank moved to a level 1 position where it could shoot at my left two T-26 tanks. The other two Pz35 moved to hide behind a two hex building near the center of board 16.

On my second Russian turn, I decided to bring on the six T-28 tanks into positions on the Russian right where they could engage in a gun duel with the two level two Pz35. I knew the shots would be difficult, but I thought that with six guns shooting versus two that I would get lucky before JP did.

I was mistaken or unlucky or both. JP concentrated on shooting up the closer T-26 tanks while my T-28 tanks shot ineffectively for several phases. The HD aspect saved the level two tanks a couple of times, but I needed a four to hit; four is not easy to roll. I managed to kill only one Romanian tank; the one that was on level one and not HD to my level 1 T-28 tanks.

Of my two T-26 tanks on the left, one was killed and the other broke its MA. It later moved once to hide behind a nearby building, but never passed the TC to move again. The other four T-26 tanks moved to close in on the level two tanks. One failed the MR die roll. It and two others were killed and one immobilized by fire. Time to move the T-28 tanks. One failed the MR dice roll, but at least its partner passed the TC to move. The five tanks began their suicide charge, but were unable to get by the remaining four Romanian tanks. I conceded on Russian turn 5.

I would like to try this strategy: have the four of the first six tanks again deny the central wall and position two to guard the north edge while staying hidden from level two positions. Then, bring on the other six tanks and try to get ten tanks moving south at the same time.

Michael Rodgers


Saturday, May 12, 2007

AAR: 122 Extracurricular Activity

Nick Drinkwater

Hungarian: Stephane Graciet (ELR 3, SAN 2]

Russian: Nick Drinkwater [ELR 3, SAN 3]

Pre-Game Thoughts: A nice, compact, 5.5 turn, one-evening special scenario set on one half of the new urban board 51. The Hungarians are tasked with having more unbroken squads in the large 'university' building (B2) at the very back of the board than the Russians at game end. Note that this does not include the usual 'good-order' qualifier, so it is OK for either side to be locked in melee in this one and still scratch out the win. Its a wet, un-windy day in Budapest in December 1944 and the siege is about to start.

As the Russians, I had a tidy but not invincible force of 10 x 447s, a 9-1, an 8-1, 7-0, a couple of light machine guns, an HMG, and two T34-85s. SSR meant that all buildings were ground or one level only, but rooftops are in effect for the university and there is an inherent stairwell of every hex of that building so the ability of either side to block critical stairways with broken squad or MMC bodies will be reduced somewhat. The Russians have to defend the board width-wise so there is a 10 hex wide front to try and stop the Hungarians. There are several options on how to defend, but row "I" is the critical one as this comprises a road that stretches directly across the front - it will be tough for the Hungarians to cross this, and its the Russian's job to make this tougher.

Russian Summary: This road formed my "Stop Line", and I set up the majority of the squads to interdict all the main crossing points with tank support to dominate several of the long 'avenues' of approach that lead to this. One of the big missing attributes for the Russians is their lack of spray fire capability - this is one scenario where they are screaming to leave as much residual fire as possible, especially as some of the squads will probably be locked in by VBM freeze.

Therefore defending could be a painful process, particularly as the Hungarian will be able locally to concentrate more forces due to the need for the Russians to defend the whole board width against incursions against the flanking force . Most of the defenders were set up behind the Stop Line, but in an attempt to be crafty, I put one concealed squad just ahead of it, matched with an equivalent dummy, to put a bit of caution into the Hungarians in their approach. I rejected the idea of putting a really forward 'speedbump' line right at the front, as I think with row houses and narrow road terrain, there are just too many parallel entry points for the Hungarians and such guys would be swiftly bypassed.

The plan was to hold firm at the Stop Line until Turn 4 and then slowly retreat back to the university for the last turn stand. One thing about the approach on the Hungarian half of the board is that it is dominated by lots or rowhouses in long parallel avenues which are always challenging to attack and defend. There are less of these in the Russian half of the board, but there are still lots of very open roads and avenues that will need to be dashed across when it comes time to fall back to the university.

The Russian's other big tactical problem is the Hungarian entry conditions, which offer a nice spin to this scenario. The Hungarians can delay entry of any part of their force to any time after Turn 1, so it is critical that the Russians maintain a screen across the board just in case the Hungarians leave a flanking force for a mid- game entry mad dash down the "other" flank and start doing nasty tricks in the Russian back field. This can happen at any time, so the timing of the retreating shift of the Russians is critical. Too early and the Hungarians end up with a lot of mid game flexibility and options to manoeuvre. Too late and the hard-pressed defensive line will buckle before any support can come. This needs a bit of finesse and is one of the nice challenges of this scenario.

Hungarian Summary: Weirdly enough, it is the Hungarians who have a lot of the interesting tricks here. They receive Panzerfausts, so the T34s need to be really wary of this. In contrast the Russians are more limited in their AT capability - they do receive 2 ATRs but it may be hard to get these in optimum positions. The T34-85 is an awesome tank in most scenarios, but in this choked urban terrain, they are very vulnerable to reaction fire and street fighting, but then so should be the machine-gun less Hungarian Zinyris.

The Zinyri is a real tin-can for late 1994 with 6/2 armour, but by SSR the crews are elite which means their S7 is a healthier S8. The other good thing about the Zinyri is the SD7, which will all contribute to getting the Hungarian infantry across the Stop Line. In fact with no ROF and the +3 terrain the Russian defenders will be lurking in, the Hungarian should expect to see these anachronistic relics being used more for their smoke, their potential to apply VBM to critical strongpoints and possibly their ability to cut rout paths than their direct fire capabilities - if all else fails, they of course could be useful in a "burning vehicular smoke producer" kind of way too. If they try to take on the T34s they will surely lose this - the T34s should be left to the 'faust-totin' infantry and CC opportunities.

The Hungarian infantry is a tasty little force - there are 14 x 347s with several LMGs but by SSR, they have broken side morale 2 higher than printed - with good rally points and an abundance of leaders (9- 1, 8-1, 2 x 7-0) they should be recycling units back to the attack much more quickly than the Russians. As mentioned above, they also have the tactical advantage of being able to enter the game late and so keep the Russian defenders guessing and limiting their reactionary capability. They should also be looking for opportunities to take advantage of the VBM freeze wave expected by the Zinyris to help get them across the road and ultimately into the B2 university. They will need to take care in CC as this is where their 3FP will hurt them and they will need to double-up on occasions. It is important for the Hungarian to keep one eye on force preservation as they will need to have 5-7 squads left over for the end game where hopefully they will only be facing 3-4 Russian squads at most.

AAR: Anyway, that was the plan and it worked pretty well-ish. Stephane focused on my left but he did keep a platoon and a Zinyri offboard to see what he could do to test the defences on the right or middle. He eventually sent these on in Turn 2 through the middle area and I started to rush my rightmost squads back and across towards the B2 university. In one of those classic brain-failure moments, I tempted fate by running one squad across an open road...thought I was out of range so I'd only be taking a 2-2 shot...of course, I was in range and it was leader-directed and it was actually a very nasty three on a 6-3 shot: nothing left but twitching bodies scattered along the kerbs. A poor move on my part and a cheap victory for the Hungarians, and as the Russian I couldn't easily afford a loss like this.

In contrast, my little Dummy trap worked splendidly and I managed to whack an incautious defender who tried to run across the street under the guns of a very real squad. Stephane used the Smoke a lot and in an effort to put some cover into place on the Stop Line, shoved a Zinyri straight down the throat of my central defending T34. I of course missed the critical shot from my defending T34 while he was still two hexes away and he was able to end up adjacent to one of my strongpoints. I burned him with the other T34, but the obstruction was now in place to help the Hungarians bridge the gap, which they duly did.

Learning from Tom's (now) famous exploit with M10 from last month, Stephane chanced his arm with another "straight into the heart" of the defences charge by another Zinyri. I of course missed this sequentially first with Streetfighting, then missed it with the first T34 and then missed it for the third time with the last T34. Of course I did! He drove through my T34's hex, parked next to and behind it to try and shoot me from the rear. I did spin and kill it in the next turn, but by this one move he had fixed both T34s in place - the first attempt by Stephane to find a PF was of course successful (though he ate a 1 on the backblast) and the T34 burned.

Using the last two Zinyris, Stephane then VBMed my Stop Line defenders in place and I continued my usual practice of missing on Reaction Fire attempts. With the VBM in place, Stephane sneaked two squads behind the frozen Stop Line defenders to be directly able to threaten the B2 university defenders. At this point, I dropped my "?" on my last big stack only for the HMG to break on its first shot - oh how we laughed! Taking this reprieve for the golden chance it was, the now optimally placed fired up the fausts to toast my adjacent and last T34. Again he ate the backblast - another 1! The leader took the K, died on the wound check and then the two squads broke on the LLMC. Some justice at last! These guys were able to rout upstairs though, but I did whack one later on a FTR.

For the end game, Stephane tried to VBM freeze my now mended HMG squad in the point-defence location of the B2 building. This he did successfully, and this really was the critical move: it was only now I was actually able to whack a tank in CC, but I did it too well...this one went up in flames, but this put smoke right on top of my critical defence point: all my shots out of this would now be +6. As a side note, up to this point I had missed eight Reaction Fire, Street Fighting and CC attempts in a row before I whacked them (these were typically 5 or 6 To Kill). Not great! Like all good London buses, I was of course able to whack the last Zinyri in CC on the very next shot - honestly, you spend twenty minutes for one to come and then two turn up at once! I was still desperately trying to get my last outlying squads back to the B2 building for the final defence, but one went down to a 2+1 shot and the other went down to an 8+2 with nowhere to rout to. Of the three squads on the right flank, three single shots had been enough to put all of them out of the game - take care when trying to cross those roads on the retreat!

So in the last turn of the game, I was down to only 3 squads in the B2 building. Stephane had managed to get a single flanker into the university the turn before which I could do nothing about, but I was able to pin his other flanker. I arranged my last three squads to cover all points of entry, but the critical one was the point location of the B2 building. Despite lots of fire at adjacent Hungarians, another squad got in and survived, but the key fight still came down to the final assault on the point of the B2 building. Three squads sequentially moved in and they survived the approach completely unharmed, mainly due to my residual fire being reduced to 2+2 instead of 6+2 due to the smoke from the burning Zinyri. . Eventually it all came down to the last CC: Stephane had three squads, an 8-1 and a hero versus myself with a 447 and a 9-1. Firstly I only needed to survive the ambush. Secondly, I just needed to survive the 2:1 (-2) cc attack (Stephane needed at least an 8 or less to win). Thirdly I also had to win the final 1:2 (-1) attack (I would need a 4 or less to win)...admittedly on the wrong side of the odds curve, but not completely impossible. If of course, I ambushed them, the odds would improve significantly...

However, when it comes to Stephane and ambush, I have what, they say in British Law Enforcement, some "Form", having had many instances in all our previous meetings where I had completely screwed itevery time - its got to the point of being a joke between us. This game was no different - so far, I had blown every Ambush roll bar one all evening (about 6 attempts). So was this critical one going to be any different? I was -1 on the ambush roll and Stephane was -2. Here it goes...roll the dice....there's a big fat juicy "six" staring up at me! Of course there is. There was still a chance that Stephane would also roll high, but no, here comes...a TWO! Ouch.

Even, even so, it wasn't quite over. I could still do this. If the Hungarians fail the attack (now only an 11 or 12 would save me) AND I roll a three, I will win.

Well, a three was rolled, but you guessed right...it wasn't by the Russians! Game over. Well played Stephane.

This was fun. Last gasp, last roll CC games are always great and this was no different. My biggest mistake was the cheap loss of the squad from the 6-3 non-long range shot down one of the avenues. That extra squad may have been the difference as it would have meant that Stephane would need to find 5 squads for the win, but also, I could have packed it in to the 'point' of the B2 building: the assaulting units would have taken a 20 +5 shot instead of the 12+5 shot, and also my residual would have gone up. Finally, my CC odds would have significantly improved: instead of receiving an 11-5 attack, it would have been an 11-9 attack by the Hungarians and my return attack would only have needed to be 9-6...MUCH healthier odds indeed. Just reinforces that age old ASL maxim that EVERY squad counts and there are no throwaway units in any game.

Stephane played this well. I had boxed him into a bit of a blind alley at the Stop Line and he was clearly stalled, but he pulled out the patented Gillis "charge down the throat of Nick's defence" ploy and it really paid off for him...(deja vu anyone?). The three misses against that one Zinyri were huge events and they opened up lots of opportunities for Stephane which he took full advantage of. I don't mind the VBM freeze rule too much as I think the rules give plenty of scope to stop this or hurt the vehicle back (Reaction Fire, Ambush, -1 for lack of machine guns etc etc)...you just have to roll low enough to do it some times! When my dice did eventually turn hot, it was just too late, and Stephane's far too good to miss an opportunity like that.

We liked the scenario and would definitely recommend this one. The Hungarians are great fun, there is a neat tactical problem and flexibility to wrestle with, and even though its only five and a half turns, there's 24 squads and six vehicles onboard so it is not dicey. Interestingly, all six of our vehicles were burning at game end...I don't think Stephane fired more than 3 shots from the Zinyri at the infantry all game - these guys have other roles to play in this scenario. We are both quick players and we were done in 3.5 hours, but even if going at a more relaxed speed, this shouldn't take more than 5 hours all told.

Nick Drinkwater

Friday, May 04, 2007

Scenario Analysis and AAR: J103 - Lenin's Sons

Nick Drinkwater

German: Nick Drinkwater [ERL5, SAN 2]

Russian: Ken Havlinek [ELR4, SAN 3]

Some die-hard holdouts of Stalin's reddest, most communisty heroes against a bunch of Hitleresque Supermen? What's not to like?

As imitation is one fine form of flattery (ask the Austinites about their ersatz, synthetic copied forms of the peerless Montrose Latte), I'll try and put my best "Zeb Doyle" hat on and do a bit of scenario analysis on this one, and then a summary AAR at the end.

Scenario Pre-set Conditions: Six and a half turns of infantry mayhem on one of those moderate, windless days that were apparently so common in Russia in 1941. Three quarters of Board 42 (Rows D-Z inclusive) is in play for this one. This is another in-your-face ASL scenario from Xavier Vitry (much like Borodino Station, also in the same Journal) which starts off with the assaulting Das Reich division taking on the task of capturing 8 of a possible 10 wooden buildings from a seriously souped up collection of elite Russian cadets.

The SS must avoid a 16 CVP cap to win this one and they will be assaulting the long way down the excellent Board 42 to get the job done. The Germans only have a maximum of 22 hexes to traverse, so the pace of the attack doesn't need to be ultra aggressive. However, the terrain configuration on Board 42 does make this a little tougher: the half of the board south of the main east-west road is (very) open ground as it is October and the Russian peasants have had a good harvest this year.

In contrast, the northern half of the board is dominated by a large east-west forest, but this is dissected by several forest roads and paths - the paths are important for the SS as they will seriously reduce the amount of hard-marching the Germans need to do. Clearly the Russians need to guard this sylvan glade with road-bumps for as long as possible as it is the very obvious access route for the Germans to get directly into the village.

The last third of the play area is where the final two or three turns of action will be focused. The large open ground "field" is covered by a hedge so the Russians can easily cover this approach from any brave (or sneaky) Germans with the cajones to try and test that route. Using a LMG or the Lt Mtr at the hedge line will easily accomplish this, and the Lt Mtr team can also can keep an eye on the southern fringe of the forest to catch napping any unwary or broken Germans with air bursts.

Behind the hedge, the village is divided into three sections by the road net: three widely scattered buildings can be accessed at the very back of the play area by any flanking force the Germans opt to throw out there, and four more buildings in the central northern part of the village are fairly easy to capture as they are all directly accessible from the forest and neighbouring scrub. Where the Russian needs to think carefully about is how best to defend the three isolated buildings that lie to the south and west of the main roads. The Germans absolutely have to have one of these buildings for the win, but they will need to assault across an open road for the last turn or two to get there. This should be a good place for the Russians to hang tough for the "last stand" to deny the Germans the win. These three houses are surrounded by the odd patch of woods and several orchards on the western side, but the Germans will have to run across the open "field" to get into here from that direction.

Germans: force advantages and disadvantages: This is a nasty, brutish bunch of tough thugs from the 2nd SS Division. These are ten 468s, three 548s a 238 half squad, which are all SS by SSR, with increased broken morale, underlined morale and ELR 5. The 548s are also assault engineers who have smoke exponent of 4, and can use the flamethrower and the two DCs without penalty. To give some ooomph to the assault, they are also issued with three LMGs and a MMG.

The SS leadership is very tasty for this scenario - an 8-1, 8-0, 7-0 and an awesome 9-2 bad boy. Expect to see the three LMGs get shoved into the willing hands of the 548s to give a really healthy 8FP, even when adjacent in the advancing fire phase. The DCs may well get tossed into the hand of the 238 half-squad to provide an excellent "mobile-bomber" distractions to the Russians that just screams out to be shot up, but also suck up lots of defensive fire in true Japanese-style.

Finally, it may be a good thing to give the Flamethrower to the 8- 0...a potentially very devastating but awesome self-rallying combination. Like always with the engineering toys, it is actually the potential threat from the weapon that is most effective, not necessarily its execution. The 7-0 leader should be used as the rally point to help get these SS tough guys back into the attack as much as possible - when DM, these guys still have a good shout at rallying with 6 or less when in woods, and will be back on a 10 or less otherwise...no slacking off crying for mama from these guys. The 9-2 + MMG combo is perhaps obvious, but hey, why not? The Russians will be in wooden buildings at game end and so this guy does need to be around in the final stages to be most effective: even commissar- inspired Russians may melt under the 8 or 12 Flat shots from this guy.

German Attack: For the Germans, at first glance an attack over the open ground (the "field") looks suicidal - the Russians are just too well-armed for this to make much progress. However, this attack shouldn't be completely ruled out - with the abundance of infantry, it may be good to think about rushing a squad or two over there to man the hedge if the opportunity presents itself through Russians being distracted or shot out elsewhere. This is even more pertinent in the last two turns, as such an opportunistic attack from the hedge opens up an interesting back-door approach into the Russian three-building "last stand" area that a) may enable the Germans to sneak control of a cheap building (at best); b) deny rout paths (at worst) as the Russians fall back across the main east-west road to make their last stand; or c) even offer some nice options to think about enforcing encirclement from here too. This will all be vital if it comes down to a last turn struggle to take that last outstanding building.

For the most part though, the German attack needs to smash through the woods as fast as possible - with one eye on the CVP cap, it may be good to try and mix it up with some infiltration between Russian "?" units as well as bumping them to test for dummies. This can be done with both a couple of deployed half-squads as well as with full squads - keep the DC-totin' engineer half-squad for the end- game.

The Russians are stretched thinly in the woods as they will definitely have their principle big, immovable 5PP weapons in the "last stand" section of the village, together with squads to man them. The key for the Germans here is speed and envelopment of the sparse Russians - they need to pour through the Russian defences and leave them with all sorts of tough decisions on where to place RF and spraying fire and when (or if) to use FPF. Ideally, they should have cleared the woods by end of Turn 4 at the latest, to enable them to start running around clearing up the buildings in the last three turns. If opportunity presents itself and the Germans can sneak an annoying half-squad into the Russian backfield earlier, then even better.

German End-Game: The end-game is interesting and needs to be thought out a bit. The CVP cap of 16 is a touch on the generous side, equating to 8 full squads. If the Germans are on the brink of reaching that cap by GT6, then they are most likely going to lose as to get into that last house, they will have to be taking some very nasty shots right at the very end and there will inevitably be casualties. However, careful but aggressive play means the cap shouldn't need to come into play unless some last turn "stuff the melees" with bodies events need to happen.

Ideally a good German attack will still have at least 2/3rd of their start force in place for the end game, and the Engineer's toys should still be available and running. This is especially true of the FT in particular as you will really benefit from it to swiftly reduce a Russian strong point or two to burning ashes, ideally in the AFPh from a range of two hexes. The 9-2 leader really also needs to be alive as the final task of the game will be to clear out some tough 628s with multiple ROF machine guns and probably the rotating rally machine of the Commissar.

Assuming that your half-squads have gone on a blitz and run around the backfield stamping their hob-nailed boots in the flower beds, then the best way to bust into the last building is to envelop it from three sides (west, north and east). Use single squad assault moves to get adjacent to the Russians, helped (hopefully) by smoke grenades from your surviving engineers. You will be taking a batch of 6 or 12 -1 shots here and you will take your licks, so ideally you need to be starting this in German Turn 6 if possible so that if it fails the first time, you still have time to rally and try again.

Also, try to approach from multiple directions so that the Russian HMG and MMG get fixed in their covered arcs and so that the Residual Fire gets dispersed around the building and not all focused in the one 'must-approach-from-here' hex. The key to winning this game for the Germans is to be in place to jump in for any required last turn CCs, but even here, the Russians are tough and you may be facing some tough, "no-guaranteed win" odds in melee - again, the 9-2 will be your friend!

Russian: force advantages and disadvantages: For an army suffering massive defeats, huge manpower losses, and a shattering blow to the collective confidence, this bunch of 1941 Russians sure are a tough bunch of hombres. The ELR of 4 is awesome for 1941 Russians, the leadership is plentiful and abundant (10-0 Commissar, 8-1, 8-0, 149 Hero), they are stuffed to the gills with automatic weapons (HMG, MMG, 2 x LMG and a Lt Mtr) and the troops are the absolute best the Russians can offer at this time of the war: 2 x 628 (plus two demo charges), 2 x 328, 3 x 458, 2 x 447, a 228 crew and a batch of dummies for concealment. Despite this being 1941, they are unable to cash in for the second Commissar due to the leader : commissar ratio cap, but in truth, probably don't need it.

They have two main tasks in this scenario: to try and reduce the German march through the woods to a slow and painful crawl and then to pour on plentiful amounts of hurt in the last two turns to either deny them the eighth building or just nudge the nasty Nazis over the 16CVP cap. These are tough tasks, but they are doable. In terms of weakness, the only real issue they have is perhaps a lack of bodies - they are going to be sorely pressed to mount a comprehensive defence, as there are a lot of Germans coming at them hard and fast. There will be a need to try and put warm or cold bodies in the way of the Germans for as long as possible to try and delay, delay, delay in the assault through the woods - the merest chink of light in the defence and the Germans will take the opportunity to rush someone through the gaps and then there will be trouble.

One of the few things I think are disadvantageous for the Russians are their B11 numbers on the LMGs and the MMG, and more especially the 4-5PP necessary to haul these chunks of iron around - it would be really great to have these weapons with the high ROF available for the forest fight, but that needs to be resisted, as swift German manoeuvre tactics will mean these antiques get quickly abandoned. They need to be where the German has to get to, not where he possibly could be going. The HMG and the MMG allied to the 628s are the linchpin in your defence and they need to be firing on all cylinders in Turns 5, 6 and hopefully 7.

Russian Defence: This has been touched on already, but after trying to delay the Germans in the woods, the Russians are going to need to stand tall and firm in the village. They do have one ace up their sleeve - they have the option to have a HIP MMC plus SW. This should be thought about carefully - it may be possible for the Russian to keep the Hipster hidden in a back corner of the village so that they can un- hip and waltz into an abandoned house to reclaim it and take the Germans back down to seven controlled buildings - all they would have to do is survive German T7 movement and fire for the win.

This may be quite possible if the Germans are behind the clock in terms of manpower or buildings, but it is probable if not necessary, that if by this point the HIP unit hasn't been revealed, the Germans will have left covering half-squad screens around to prevent any easy and cheap HIP reclaim tricks. Other alternatives maybe to HIP it somewhere in the German staging area where it can come as a nasty shock in Turns 5-6 to cause problems as the Germans are preparing for the final assault from the woods and brush that neighbours the won. Making the HIP guy a sacrificial 328 with thrown DC may be particularly effective as you may catch an unwary stack napping and again cause late game casualties - this is all about trying to knock the Germans off their schedule.

Russian End-Game: Recycle, recycle, recycle. The Commissar is the king on this one and he is vital - any serious end-game situation is going to need him alive right to the bitter end - even better, as you have an abundance of elite troops, the chances of shooting a few cowards is actually pretty small - these guys are the finest there is in the red horde and they should be rallying every time on 10 or less....we don't do no stinking DM! Awesome.

The Russian needs to be alert from any end-game dashes across the open field by some late-arriving Germans for the reasons outlined above: they could compromise rout paths and even sneak in a back door of an undefended house for the win - it may be judicious to try and keep at least one half-squad manning the hedge defence line until the end of GT6 to prevent this.

The Russian also really needs to think hard about all the permutations of defensive fire in the last turn in particular, especially where and how much residual to place and invoking options for spraying fire, and where covered arcs of MGs will be fixed - the Germans will probably be coming at you sequentially from three or four different sides, and if they have points in the bag, they won't mind burning the odd half-squad or squad even to dilute the firepower attacks on their main assault. Ideally, the Russians should save their biggest FP and the biggest residuals (8-1 and 12-1) shots for the biggest German threat, which will inevitably be coming from the 9- 2. If you can neutralise him (pin or better), then the CC odds are going to dramatically swing in your favour and you may get away with the win by holding the Germans in melee (read the building control rules). Again, the 628s are your friends - look after them well.

AAR: We rolled for sides - I received the tough looking Germans, while Ken plotted a fiendish Russian defence. I swung 90% of the force straight through the forest where I could see a lot of scattered Russian "?" units, whilst a squad and a half and the 7-0 went dummy-testing of some "?" at the front (German) end of the open field. The plan was to part-infiltrate, part-steamroller my way through Ken's Russians in the forest, and then if any opportunity came, express-train a squad across the field to put pressure on the Russian back area.

Ken had the Lt Mtr on field watch duties at the hedge line and had burned a couple of the lesser squads in the forest to slow me down. They partially succeeded in this as I was unable to motor my way through the clear forest paths, but I did manage to bump out most of the dummies and then whacked the majority of the defenders through lots of desperate First Fire, FPF failure and subsequent FTR. Most casualties for me were self-inflicted: the 7-0 went down to the first sniper check of the game, and I fated out two more squads, but the controlled "octopus" aggressive onslaught paid off and by the end of Turn 4, I was maintaining the timetable and the forest was cleared out and I had a couple of half-squads just starting to run round the back and 'bag' empty buildings. In a good move to try and stall me, Ken had sallied out the Commissar from the town to the forest to try and put some backbone into the forest fighters: I thought I'd snared him, but with a great voluntary break, he managed to escape the net only to come back and annoy me more later.

I tried a couple of tricks in the Forest of Death that were great for style but poor in execution: the one with the Japanese-styled run and throw of the DC half-squad into a stack of Russians was great, but at the last moment they went down in a hail of bullets. In return, Ken decided to throw his own DC back...ouch! He caught three congested stacked squads with their pants down and I was very lucky to come away from that with only a half-squad dead. Nice move Ken!

In Turn 2, when his mortar crew was shot-out, I managed to take advantage and dash a squad almost to the hedge line, but then they were quickly CRed and DMed from a shot from a newly arrived MMG and hero. These guys were quickly removed for FTR with nowhere to go, so that part of the plan was dead in the water.

In turn 5, just as I was about to press into the village from the fringe of the woods, I had to survive my customary PMC issue as five squads all failed their MC in a row (the usual string of high rolls) and went reeling backwards - my second and final attempt to place a DC got shot down in a blaze of non-glory and things were looking bleak. Ken then produced his next (HIP) Thrown DC bombshell (literally) and got another crowded stack to wet themselves: two broken squads resulted with the reduction of a third.

At this point, I was staring a tough defeat in the face as he still had both 628s (one fanatic), a 458, the Commissar, the 8-1 and the hero in the "last stand" section of the village. I think he then made his only mistake of the game - he sallied forth his Lt Mtr crew to come and chase some of my backfield, forgotten brokies for easy CVP points - this was a good move in some ways as it sucked off a couple of good order squads from the main German assault, but it also meant I was able to rapidly dash a half-squad of my own across the open field to take up an advance position on the hedge line and threaten the rearmost house.

More importantly, this meant I now had his forward defenders boxed in and I managed to critically FTR one of the two 628s as they couldn't rout backwards - that had a big influence on the end game. My half- squad building mop-up teams had by Turn 6, cleaned up all the outlying buildings and I was in control of seven of the required eight. I was very lucky to instantly rally the faltering SS assault line (gotta love that broken side morale of 9) and despite my MMG breaking, and my only surviving engineer squad fumbling their smoke grenades and pinning, I managed to inch three squads, the 9-2 and the 8-1 adjacent to one of the "last stand" buildings, though it cost me a squad and a half in casualties to get there through a veritable storm of 6 and 12 FP -1 and -2 residuals.

In hindsight, I definitely came up smiling out of this attack, as I bounced a lot of them bullets off. I think the presence of the half- squad on the hedge line also compromised Ken's defence slightly, as he had to leave a squad in the rearmost house in case I dashed in and sneaked victory through the backdoor (as it were). Unluckily for me, Ken's third quality sniper attack of the game broke these guys, but their usefulness had already been proven, and luckily they weren't need to do anything superhuman in the end.

German Turn 7 Advancing Fire Phase was the critical end-game moment: Ken's 628 and Commissar stack survived an ineffectual FT attack (did nothing all game) and almost, almost survived an eight-flat attack from the 9-2. The Commissar passed, but the 628 broke on a ten, Ken's dice really failing him at the very last, and they were forced to rout out of that building. I advanced three squads, the 9-2 and 8-1 into the house, avoided the ambush, and then whacked the Commissar on a 14-1 CC attack (just!! - rolled an 11). Last CC die-roll of the game deciding DR - awesome.

If the earlier FTRed 628 squad had survived and been there or if I hadn't got the flanking half-squad into a good position, then possibly I would have been facing one more squad and that may have made the difference. Certainly the odds in the final CC may have changed in a more positive way for Ken, and rolling the subsequent 11 may have lost me the game. Such are the margins in the closer games!

We enjoyed this but have slightly mixed views on this. I played pretty well, with average to bad luck, while Ken played pretty well with average to bad luck too - we wondered if the Germans were a little bit too strong in this one? There was little more he could do, and apart from the mortar crew sally (which was eminently justifiable as the CVP cap was rising), I would have done little different. I must state that both sides' automatic weapons were useless in this game: the only thing Ken really got any rate with was the Light Mortar and that did squat, whilst the MMG and HMG were very limited in their impact. My MMG barely fired all game before it broke down, but that was less of a handicap to me than the weakness of his weapons was to Ken. With average luck, I think the Germans could be a little bit better placed in this, so I'd rate it slightly pro-German (55%), but this is tricky - ROAR has this as 33-23 to the Russians at time of writing and I wonder how much of that is down to a last turn HIP trick where they go running around and reclaim empty buildings?

Nick Drinkwater