Saturday, February 23, 2008

AAR: FrF14 Patton Breaks Loose

Zeb Doyle

Americans: Matt Schwoebel
Italians: Zeb Doyle

President's Day: a time to reflect on the past leaders of our country, but more importantly, extra free time to waste on ASL! I was one of the fortunate few to get the day off, and bee-lined it over to Matt Schwoebel's house. We bantered a bit over who exactly was our best leader, and although Matt finally managed to persuade me that Martin Van Buren probably was a heroic 10-3, I still think giving him commissar abilities goes too far. We then got down to business and settled in for a game of FrF14 Patton Breaks Loose. This is a typically excellent scenario from the Friendly Fire guys with simple SSRs but lots of tough choices for both sides and it ended up being a lot of fun to play.

The date is 1943, the place is Sicily, and a company of unenthusiastic Italian infantry, ART pieces, and tin-can tanks are hunkered down on board 46 just trying to stay out of the way until the war is over. Unfortunately for them, a bunch of noisy American tourists have just shown up to ruin the peaceful quiet of the countryside. The Americans get twelve squads using the heights of board 9 as a springboard for the attack, while an assorted mix of MG-armed jeeps, half-squads, MTRs, towed AT guns, and a HT enter on board 46 just to add to the fun. They have 5.5 turns to clear a road across board 46 of all unbroken Italian MMC on or adjacent to it. That's the simple part of the scenario.

The complicated part is that the Italians can't just hunker down in the village end of board 46. Although the infantry can freely set up anywhere, the two 75mm ART pieces are forced to set up on the rural half of the board, which also happens to be the end on which the American jeep force enters. One might be tempted to write off the two guns, but the jeep force is tantalizingly small, with only four crews and two half-squads. So, positioning a few Italian squads to support the ART pieces could turn them from speed-bumps to game-winning road blockers. Of course, the American player can always divert a few squads of his own from board 9 to counter this, and thus the aforementioned tough decisions and the fun begin!

In fact, it was a tough decision for Matt just to pick a side to play. Both forces are predominately 6ML, which led to much hemming and hawing on his part. Eventually the logic of "the American 3-4-6 HS is better than the Italian 3-4-6 full squad" was too compelling to resist, and Matt stuck me with the defense. It was a bit of a challenge to decide what to do, and I ended up deciding to risk only two squads on the rural half of board 46 with the guns. They got a 45mm MTR and an LMG to provide a modicum of long-range firepower, but the majority of my troops, including all three leaders, the HMG, and the MMG hunkered down in the village to await the American onslaught. Either force could in theory be in position to cut the road at game end, but my money was on the village force accomplishing the goal.

Based on the American attack, Matt seemed to be of the same opinion and he sent almost all of the board 9 infantry company aggressively towards the village. My HMG was able to cause some damage on an unlucky 6-6-6 via a boxcarred MC, but otherwise the Americans were able to move forward in good order. Meanwhile, on the rural half of board 46, the jeep force entered and discovered an ART piece commanding the road from a level two hill hex. Matt was aggressive here as well, giving me a 1-2 shot from a long range LMG shot on a 7-0 and two squads coming off of board 9 to reinforce the jeeps, but no damage was done. At this point, we effectively had two separate battles: the rural half of board 46 pitted my two guns and two squads against MG armed jeeps, AT guns, two 3-4-7s, a 75mm gun HT, and two 6-6-6s, while in the village roughly ten squads on each side did battle.

The early game was a bit of a pillow fight for both sides, with lots of ineffective attacks and high rolls. That was great for me in the rural battle, where multiple 12+2 shots by Matt did nothing against my gun and really slowed the jeep force down, but terrible on the other half of the map, as hordes of 6ML Americans passed NMCs and 1MCs en route to the village. I finally managed to bloody them a bit with a turn three 6+1 snake-eyes shot against a 9-1, HMG, MMG, 2x 6-6-6, but by that point their lead elements were already starting to engage my troops in CC. Here, Matt took the kid gloves off and engaged in some revenge for the death of his kill stack. The first three CCs featured CX American half-squads against my 3-4-6s, and in every case Matt got an ambush and immediate kill.

That really hurt as I'd expected those CCs to act as speed bumps for at least a turn and that put Matt in very good position in the village. My HMG ended up trapped in a steeple and had to fire a do or die 12+1 at an adjacent 6-6-6, but ended up doing nothing. That really turned things into a mini-disaster; I lost a squad for FTR, had to self-break my 9-1, and was very lucky to get him back in the next RPh by rolling a 4 on a self-rally. He ended up manning the HMG by himself, which slowed Matt's onslaught a bit, but things were looking ugly. Meanwhile, over on the rural half of the board, the pillow fight continued. I had numerous shots at jeeps, needing 5s and 6s to hit, but only ended up Xing out one of my ART pieces. My other ART piece was unmanned because I'd skulked the crew, twice rolled a six trying to recover it, and then got pinned adjacent while trying to skulk again...the only good thing was that Matt's return fire was equally ineffective and by turn four I'd only lost one of my two squads in the area.

That brought us to turn five, and as my feeble resistance in the village crumbled, it became apparent that the rural battle would likely decide the game. With the clock running down, Matt decided to step up the pressure there in a big way. Since my ART crew was standing near their gun but not actually manning it, he drove his 75mm gun HT up next to to my last 3-4-6. Here, my dice heated up and I flamed the vehicle with a lucky LMG TK shot, although the resulting smoke gave his two squads some nice cover as they came over to join the party. His AFPh didn't do much, and we went into my turn five with my 2-2-7 and 3-4-6 staring down Matt's two 6-6-6s and a 2-2-7 of his own.

This was my final MPh, and after much pondering on to get everyone adjacent to the road, I decided to try and recover the ART piece one last time. The gun crew moved on to the gun, weathering a 6+3 in the process, and on the third try finally found it. In the AFPh, I got some more hot dice, and the crew cranked out a snake eyes CH to splatter one of Matt's precious squads before once again dropping the gun and advancing back adjacent to the road. Meanwhile, my last 3-4-6 advanced into a stone building that was adjacent to both the road, and the remaining 6-6-6. It was now the American turn six, and my lucky snake eyes had put Matt in a tough position as he had only two remaining units to deal with my two units, both of which were now adjacent to the road. He fired a 12+3 at my squad in the stone building with his adjacent 6-6-6, but as with every other 12FP shot in the entire game, he rolled high for no effect. In my DFPh, my squad returned the favor with an 8+0, and the resulting 1MC broke Matt's unit and ended any hope he had of victory.

It was a really fun game with lots of action for both sides. I obviously was the beneficiary of several good rolls, namely the snake eyes on Matt's kill stack and especially the CH at the end, and that played a large part in the final outcome. That final CH was especially fortuitous when one considers the sheer number of 12+2 shots that the crew survived over the course of the game. However, I do think Matt could have utilized his resources slightly better, especially the jeeps and antitank guns. Those units spent most of the game driving across to the rural part of board 46 avoiding my ART pieces, and never really ended up doing anything. That probably wasn't such a huge loss with the 37LL AT guns, but the MMG and the .50 cal on the Jeeps could have come in in very handy. As it was, by the time they were unloaded and assembled, it was already turn five or six and they just didn't have the time to accomplish anything. I mention this only because Matt played such an great game elsewhere and the finish was so close that the machine guns could well have been the difference.

At any rate, it was another fun evening of ASL and another excellent scenario from Friendly Fire. The design philosophy of medium-size scenarios and simple SSRs and VC that somehow combine to make intricate and tactically puzzling situations is truly fantastic. Finally, many thanks to Matt for his hospitality, although I still have to express some doubt about his ardent protestations that Calvin Coolidge was the proud owner of a mechanical bull. Thanks as well to you for reading!


Saturday, February 16, 2008

Tournament AAR Scenario 1: MP11 Vulcan's Forge

Nick Drinkwater

German: Rick Reinesch [ELR 4, SAN 3]
Russian: Nick Drinkwater [ELR 4, SAN 3]

So its Owlcon Precon at my house, and in the fine tradition of the event, we settle down to synchronous playings of the nominated scenario for Ferocity Fest, "Vulcan's Forge" from one of the Melee Packs. This was an excellent scenario to choose Ferocity Fest for the potential for carnage and bitter close combat and its chess-like setup conditions and nicely, was playable in 5-6 hours. My opponent in this was Rick Reinesch from Austin who runs and organises the excellent June Austin Tournament - massive fun to play and Rick plays at a nice quick clip which meant we were going to be comfortably placed to get through the game in a good length of time. Looking forward to playing Rick again, hopefully in the summer.

The scenario is set on the southern most part of the RB play area and is really two games in one. To win (and we used the German balance in all cases), the Russians must control seven more stone locations (including cellars) than they began with. The big gulley splits the board into two parts, with the Russian right flank being dominated by one of the RB factories, while the Russian left is dominated by a series of 2-3 hex multi-level buildings in a kind of worker's housing estate, so one of these alone is worth 6 Stone Locations.

Scenario Considerations:
Setup is interesting - the two sides swap placing a counter each time and all counters are revealed to your opponent, after three designated H2H melees are created in the front line of the German setup area. There are about another 15 counters to place including about 8-10 more squads, support weapons, leaders, and for the Germans some concealment. The question each player has to face here is how much strength to give each side and how then to react to any thrusts they can detect being made by their opponent. This is quite a challenge, but a couple of things should be borne in mind - if the German gives up the factory after a token resistance, then they are handing over 8 stone location - this means they need to get back only a couple of locations in "Workerville", as it will be hard for the Russians to transfer any units from the factory to the housing estates in time to make a difference. Note also that the Russians will be fanatic in the factories and for Turn one only, they will be facing the Germans at their weakest when they are missing their nastiest support weapons and have only access to 2nd line troops. If the Russians can spot an opportunity to bum-rush and eject the Germans in Turn 1, they should - the phased reinforcement schedule means than within a turn, the Germans can get Sturms and Engineers up and in to the factory quickly and this means the factory could become much harder for the Russian to occupy, especially if the Germans get the Breach-Flame "Blowtorch" combos going.

Reinforcements to the Rescue:
The other thing both sides need to think about is how long it will take reinforcements to get into the action - you will need bodies before toys, so get the footsloggers on first in the schedule, especially for the Russians as they have further to go to have an impact. Also note that Platoon Movement means it just takes time to get anywhere on the RB board. The sequential arrival of the reinforcements for four turns is a nice touch as both sides get some nice flexibility and can feed help in just where needed to assist with any desperate situations. Finally, it is possible to get creative with your placement of the AT Guns - the Pak 40 in the factory is difficult for the Russians and could just tip the balance in any Turn 1 Russian rush. Notice however, the Russians also have options to have fun with their gun - it is a nasty beast against both the German armour and their infantry.

The problem of the Factory:
Zeb has already commented on a perceived slight advantage to the Russians and I agree with him, even with the German balance in play - if the initial H2H's go well for them, they are even better placed and they have a great opportunity if they go for broke in the factories in Turn 1 - as long as they have a squad or two at the far factory wall they can really dominate the approach paths of the German engineers in the Debris and Shellhole field and the Germans will really struggle to get the factory back. Unfortunately my RB experience was a bit limited and I missed seeing the tactical advantage of a fast hard push with fanatic 8 morale troops, so I settled down for a safety first policy. This meant that Rick and I ended up in a "chicken" stalemate as he was able to get his engineers up quickly with their potent weapons. Any kind of move by either of us into no-mans land of the centre factory would have meant exposing your unit to withering 20, 24 and 30 FP shots at +1 (or worse with FTs) so a bizarre paralysis took over until Turn 6 with everyone too scared to move.

On the housing estate side, I had a dream start as Rick was a little bit light with troops over there and I eventually won the two at-start melees. In Turn 2, I had managed to break everyone I could see and pushed hard to gobble up more buildings and try to enforce a FTR on the one key squad, LMG and leader that were in the middle of my push. I thought I had these guys bang to rights and was getting ready to take them off the board, but Rick was more awake than me and routed them upstairs - I forgot about multi-storey buildings! Of course, these guys rally with a "4" next turn and thus its my turn to go reeling back in the face of just-in-time tough engineer reinforcements and I was forced straight out of two of the three buildings I had just claimed. Aaargh - SO close!

After that, we jockeyed for position in the houses - I pulled off a beauty to reveal my AT Gun, which on its fourth attempt, found a shell to kill Rick's big assault gun (Intensive Fire to boot), but then failed to hit a single German for the rest of the game even though it was two hexes away from buildings stuffed with them. My armour also failed to do a lot with multiple one-hex adjacent misses. Ugly. Rick also had his share of crap dice as his AT Gun failed to nail my KV1 and did little else.

The End:
At the start of German Turn 7, I held 10 new stone locations, but was resigned to losing one in the factory as Rick was able to get his engineers moving there. I should have been a couple more locations to the good, but I had critically pinned with one squad in my Game Turn 7 so I was unable to advance, and likewise a berserk result for me meant yet another non-advance to miss out on another hex. An engineer blowtorch in the factory netted him another two hexes (I thought he was only placed to get one more and didn't realise his stack contained two units), so I was now down to the minimum-required seven new stone locations. Rick then pulled off some star moves in his turn - his gun crew almost got through but I got a very last chance break on them as they were in the final stages of dashing through.

He then pushed as hard as possible to get other units through my thin lines, but an intensive fire shot with a snakes from my T70 removed the last of his 'thrusters', and so it all came down to a close assault on the one new building I still retained. With desperate fire, I manged to pin and nail a batch of attackers in the street and I was looking good in there as I still had two concealed engineers shrouded in a German smoke who had shrugged off everything to date. Rick then pulled out a Bomb-squad and crucially my two guys both lost concealment on a PTC from the subdued boom. Finally, he then dived in with some engineers of his own for the game deciding CC - if I killed them or avoided complete death myself, then the game was mine as I was going to hold onto that critical last location....

So, off we go...

First off, no ambush!

Then, I roll a .... 10....! Rick rolls a....4!!

Post-Game thoughts:
German win, just, on the last die roll of the game. Can't ask more than that and it was a monster emotional rollercoaster of a match and we had a blast. Look forward to playing Rick again. We both knew that neither of us were in the running for Ferocity Fest (half the game had been more timidity-fest), but that was the least of our concerns - it was just a great game fought to an unbelievably intense conclusion. Well played Rick!

The critical moment in this one was the escape from death and subsequent Must, Must, Must Rally of the German 447, LMG and 8-1 in the Housing estate: in half a turn, a really promising situation for me had been turned around completely and I had lost a squad for FTR and the Germans were one street ahead of where I wanted them to be. That hurt and I was never able to regain the initiative on that side at all. Rick also played the factory better than I did - he stepped out with his engineers a little bit sooner than I felt comfortable in doing and it probably resulted in one extra location for him and that made all the difference.

Though I lost, I still think that even with the balance, this is still every so slightly Pro-Russian overall. The initial Germans could probably do with a little bit more of a boost - perhaps a couple of 548s instead of all 447s, but much replay value all the same. Thanks guys for setting this one up and putting the time into it to make Ferocity Fest competitive.

0-1 for Owlcon on the last die-roll of the game! Awesome.

Tournament AAR Scenario 2: SP147 The Zebra Mission

Nick Drinkwater

German: Eric Gerstenberg [ELR 2, SAN 4]
American: Nick Drinkwater [ELR 4, SAN 3]

After the initial marathon game session in Vulcan's Forge, I was actually quite happy to take a couple of hours off on the first evening, put my feet up, and watch some games. However, Rob needed to bail out at the 11th hour and so I replaced him as the Americans in a very fast game of "The Zebra Mission" from Schwerpunkt 13 against Eric Gerstenberg. This is one of those classic end war scenarios where a fast US armoured combined arms force has to take the village from your average bunch of late war Germans. In this case, this means nine US elite and 1st line squads ejecting two 548, four 447s and three 436s from an enclosed road net of buildings on SK Board Z. To offer the Americans a bit of latitude, half of board 49 has been glued to one side of the main action area to allow some armoured envelopment options.

Pre-Game Thoughts:
The twist in this one is that the Germans receive a Nashorn and a Wirbelwind as fire support for their beleaguered defenders, who must know they are going to receive a pasting of the whitish, phosphourousy kind from the US bazookas and Shermans. Bizarrely, the Pershing is probably the least effective weapon on the board - yes, it can instantly kill anything it hits, but then so will both Shermans and they come stocked to the gills with smoke and other fun stuff, so they are actually the more valuable assets in this one. The one other key unit the US get is a 9-2 - he will be useful to unlock any end-game defense in the big 5 hex stone building at the back of the road-net. Like all SP scenarios, the US needs to move fast but the 9-2 will help keep the pace up a lot.

Flanking Fun:
Eric set up a very concentrated defense essentially with everything already tucked back within the victory defining road net apart from two suspiciously isolated three-deep "?" stacks in woods just east of the village. With no HIP capability for the Germans, I can now proceed unimpeded through all the forward outskirts of the village with impunity by eight of the nine foot squads, but I also send a squad as a rider and the M3 MMG HT on a deep flanking manoeuvre to the back of Board 49 to envelop the defenders. These guys quickly disembark, and after shooting an outlying dummy stack, the crew goes through the laborious procedure of abandoning and scrounging the .50 cal.

Meanwhile, with the freedom of movement I can now exploit from Eric's die-in-place defense, I quickly shove some squads into the face of the now Phosphorous-shrouded defence. I almost get lucky and come close to bagging the Nashorn with a 8-1 led bazooka shot but miss on a 10, and the lucky crew realise its their lucky day and go off any buy lucky lottery tickets at the back of the village and keep out of the way and hide - open topped vehicles are no place to be when 6 FP US troops are running rampant.

Keeping the Momentum going:
In the village, pressure begins to tell and the prisoners start to mount up - 436s are just no challenge in CC vs 666s. I continue to push on and keep the pressure on despite some fairly bad dice rolls for a spell on my part and some hot rolling by Eric. His vehicles pass several MC and PTCs without blinking and then in the moment of the game, one of Eric's 447s marked with a First Fire, decides to fire a Shrek at my 9-2. He pulls out the only single roll he can which can both hurt me and not hurt him with the back blast (a 7 with a coloured 5). He then rolls a K/3 on the effect which of course kills my 9-2 on the wound check and CRs, ELRs and breaks the squad with him on two failed MC! To add salt to that wound, his next attack is to spin his Nashorn 3 hexes and fires an intensive fire AP shot at an adjacent 666 which I had patiently sweated into position to toast the Nashorn, and they of course break on the lowly 2FP attack.

Despite these setbacks, I am ultimately well placed to wrap this one up. After burning the Wirbelwind with the Pershing (a case if ever there was of using a hammer to crush a nut) I do the dance of death on the Nashorn with the three tanks. This blocks off all the rout paths for Eric's infantry from the back of the road-net, and despite one squad escaping hand grenades, knives and rifle butts when I roll a useful 12 in CC for Eric, the end cannot be denied and the last couple of squads go down heavily outnumbered in a flurry of CC.

Post-game thoughts:
I think Eric hurt himself with his setup as he instantly ceded all initiative to me and left me free to manoeuvre wherever and whenever I chose, especially once I had worked out quickly with my first shot of the game that his two outlying stacks were just dummies, and that everything was rooted to the village net. As a result of being on the back foot, Eric failed to get any real effective shots off with either the Wirbelwind or the Nashorn and they ran out of boltholes to sneak back into. This one definitely needs some form of speed-bump to impede the Americans as they are just too smokey, speedy and shooty to be be held back for long. Fun to catch up with Eric at last and like all my opponents this weekend, someone that I would play again in an instant. 1-1 for the weekend.

Tournament AAR Scenario 3: RPT1 Ferenc Josef Barracks

Nick Drinkwater

Hungarian: Ken Havlinek [ELR 3, SAN 4]
Romanian: Nick Drinkwater [ELR 3, SAN 3]

Pre-Game Thought:
I was going to live up to Ken's prediction and have a big bitch and moan about this scenario, but scared of coming across as a poor loser, I will instead carry out a pensive, insightful but short review instead.

Very hard to win as the Romanians.

I would have initially have said "Impossible to win as the Romanians" but I realised afterwards that we missed out on playing the increased rear Morale for both sides, which would have helped the attackers a little more, and there is of course, always the chance that the Hungarian 3ROF machine gun would fail, the Romanian Flamethrower would not "X" out and would in fact remove KIA 5 squads (one per game turn) and that the Romanian sniper may nail the chief Hungarian honcho through the head. Still, just a simple analysis of time and distance needed to be covered by the Romanians show that they would probably need to be completely un-threatened in their approach, would have to execute a close to flawless in their attack on the buidling, pass all their MCs and find a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow to get a result here.

VC and setup Analysis:
The Romanians come on from the SE half-board edge on one-half of Board 51 - they have to cross diagonally across the board through rowhouses and wide long city streets to get to the three-level victory building in the central NW area. Note that even if unopposed in their onboard entry and approach, that will take the Romanians a minimum of two turns just to CX and normal move and to be in a position to assault the house from the neighbouring rowhouses. Assuming the Huns are naive enough to let them walk openly up the street like that, they then have three turns to evict all good order Hungarian MMC from a six-hex building where the Huns can both stay concealed and conduct a "fill-the-two-stairwells-with-bodies" defense. Note also that in their approach to such an attack, the Romanian units may be facing some 20FP (-1) attacks from the Huns from a squad, HMG and leader combo. And lets also add that 95% of the Romanians are 3 FP troops and they will be attacking against 7 morale troops in a stone building defense? Note also that the increased rear morale (which we missed) also helps the Hungarians on their defense and rallies too. Ummm, am I missing something here?

The trouble with Stairwells:
Ken (and Brian I think too) had already worked out that by deploying like crazy everything that he could, a smart Hungarian player could then pack the VC building with so many bodies that he actually virtually wouldn't have to fight at all - ally this trick to a ~2-3 squad speed-bump platoon in the Romanian entry area and there seems to be no way that the Romanian can do it. Instead of this, Ken, being a gentlemen, opted to play a more normal gentleman's defense, where he kept his heavy weapons at the back in the VC building ready to do some end-game death-dealing, but put a ring of concealed units (some dummies and 3-4 real squads) upfront to interdict the Romanian entry area and the first paved road they have to cross as soon as they walk on. I did all I could to try and shield myself from damage with a half-squad blitz but 4, 2 and 1 Residual Fire on paved roads is lethal whatever you do and I had to accept a bit of a safety-first policy.

The end:
After that first round of nasty fire and several broken units, Ken conducted a skillful retreat backwards - even where I did detect a chink in his defense and was able to push my leader and MG combo hard, I ran up against another layer of concealed defenders lining the road in front of the Victory Building. This again meant more caution, not helped by the presence of the Hungarian HMG dominating all who came close to the final building. Ken cleverly conducted the required stairwell body defense and I was left stuck at the beginning of my last turn Prep Fire with a single squad in one bottom location of the VC building, wistfully hoping for a KIA from my FT to clear a stairwell and free access to the rest of the building and then win about three CCs whilst CX vs concealed troops. As you can imagine, that didn't happen.

Post-game thought:
The appeal of this scenario is its length. At 4.5 turns with 8-12 squads per side, it looks very manageable in 2-3 hours, which was indeed the case for us as we played this one as filler when none of the ASLSK people showed up. As listed though, the general consensus around the room was that this was flawed at best, broken at worst and thats a surprise as this is out of the Schwerpunkt stable and they are normally very reliable. The strairwell-body defense is an absolute bugger to beat with limited time and, as related, even if my Romanians had been completely unmolested in their approach to the building, even three turns of assaulting concealed troops in a multi-hex, multi-level building would have been pretty tough to get through...there really was no way I was going to do it in less than two. At time of writing, ROAR has this has 18-6 for the Hungarians - I'd love to hear from those six Romanian winners and how they pulled this one off!! Did we miss something completely here? And if anyone's wondering, we didn't have access to ROAR when we selected it.

The recommended balance for this was to add a HMG to the Romanians, but a clunking great 5PP weapon is the last thing they need in this scenario with the big time issues they face. What they really need is either an extra FT, an extra turn or even for the VC building to be reduced to a single-storey building with inherent stairwells in every hex. That way they would have a much better chance.

Anyway, well done Ken for both being and playing the gentlemen and trying to give me a real played the fallback defense really well and snuffed out any remote hope of a Romanian win and quite rightly so! So now I'm back to 1-2 for the tourney and just playing for the fun of it!

Tournament AAR Scenario 4: ITR1 Debacle at Sung Kiang

Nick Drinkwater

Chinese: Bill Dorre [ELR 3, SAN 3]
Japanese: Nick Drinkwater [ELR 4, SAN 3]

Pre-Game Thoughts:
Game four was my other big monster scenario for the weekend. I was itching to play some Japanese vs Chinese mayhem but had been warned off some of the other classics (The Grand Canal, Shanghai in Flames, The Drive for ChertzyHungyThingy) by more knowledgable folks than myself, due to some perceived balance issues. Then I remembered this one out of the brand new pack, "Into the Rubble", from the recently resuscitated Bounding Fire Productions. This is actually one of the smaller scenarios in this pack with about 17 or so squads on each side and six and a half mayhem-, bloodsoaked-, action-filled turns. The scenario is designed by Scott Holst, who despite the many, um, interesting aspects to his online persona, is a bloody good scenario designer. I think this could be another one of his great scenarios just due to the fun and mayhem factors alone. Bill Dorre, another man who's a bloody good laugh to play, was looking for some fun and graciously agreed to play me in this new beast!

Scenario Considerations:
Its 1937, so prisoners are still being accepted, and its non-PTO terrain for once, this one being set on the transitional board 49 and one of the beautiful new railway-heavy boards produced by BFP for this pack. The Japanese are on the attack in this one and they have to extract 11 multi-hex buildings from the clutches of their Chinese opponents. Many of these buildings are wooden sheds (actually factories using the new rules), but all the transitional board 49 buildings and several on the new board are stone and multi-level. The Chinese can fortify 4 locations in this, and any of them can declare H2H CC at will, though they still get Dare-death capabilities as normal. Finally, the many railroads on the new board are EmRR, and so act like hillocks (broad walls). Finally, finally Storage tanks and Water Towers are both in play on the new board, rules familiar from RB and elesewhere.

Chinese defense options:
Keeping the Japanese out are a very thorny force of sixteen Elite and 1st line Chinese, with good leadership, two 70mm ART guns, and wonder of wonders, two armoured cars: words you don't hear in ASL very often: "I'll just look up the Chinese Vehicle notes for their Armoured Cars". These are archaic and with twin B11 MGs don't really pose too much of a threat to their IJA opponents. Their infantry SW HMG and MMG will cause me more problems however. Bill set up mainly on the Board seam, covering all the more open approach routes on Board 49, and particularly covering the big E-W lateral road I had to cross. His right side looked lighter than his left so I guessed that may be where his ART guns were hidden, but there were numerous scary looking 3 and 4 counter stacks scattered around all over the board.

Japanese attack options:
In response to this, I had been provided with a whopping sixteen 1st Line Japanese squads and a single solitary 448 whose job it was to man the Flamethrower. Four leaders come with these guys together with a couple of MMGs and crews, and three Knee Mortars which were clearly going to be my principal asset to crossing that lateral road in one piece. I setup heavy on my left which meant running directly into Bill's more numerous stacks, but I felt this offered me a little bit more of a covered approach to the main game area. This was also the side upon which there were more Multi-hex building victory objectives too - on this matter, the playing area is naturally divided into four areas: the area in front of the main E-W railway contains 11 multi-hex buildings, while there are approximately 6 more behind it. The main Chinese area is also split by a N-S road which cuts their area in half.

Hence the Japanese can try and wrestle control from all 11 buildings in front of the tracks or perhaps push on and gobble up 2-3 more in one of the two back corner quadrants. This is good for the Japanese as they do not need to decide immediately on their exact plan of attack, but can see how the game plays out and in Game Turn 3/4 if reqired, make a decision to push hard and fast into a back quadrant to claim the extra buildings. In contrast the Chinese must remain aware of the threat from any deep penetrating Japanese flanking attacks and keep the edges of the playing area guarded. More reasons why this is a fun scenario as there are some decisions to be made early and then yet more decisions to be made in the mid-game. Both sides need to be on their toes and look out for opportunites and suitable responses.

The Japanese also get three of their own Armoured Cars, equally archaic and equally as bad as their Chinese equivalents, but these could be more useful for cutting some late game rout paths and enforcing some failure to rout options on some beleagured Chinese - they will need to be preserved.

Flanking attacks?
With my main attack path decided upon, I had a bit of a think about how I could support this - the knee mortars are the key for this and I opted to push them into some scattered woods in the middle part of the board where they had a nice line of sight to some critical road crossing points. In addition, I put a strong 5-squad reinforced platoon down my extreme left side to keep Bill's defenses on that side from getting a free-ride and translating across to support his defenders on my main attack sector. Realising the weakness of the vehicles to attacks by both the 70mm guns (unknown at game start) and the ATR (also unknown) and also the MGs (also unknown), I decided that discretion was the better part of valour and kept them well to the rear to be used as needed in Turns 4-7, once all Bill's AT assets had been smoked out.

AAR - the main assault:
That was the plan anyway, and for once, it actually worked. The start was horrible - a leader and a squad went berserk and charged straight into the face of a MMG squad. In my Prep Fire, I tried to save these guys with a well-aimed smoke or WP from the only knee mortar I had in position but could find neither, so those guys went down in a hail of lead. Despite this, I kept pushing hard on the main attack side and soon, I was poised to leap across the road, but Bill pulled off a great lateral shot from one of his guns that knocked several units back. Bill then shot up another couple of squads from an upper level building location with 2 x 447, a MMG and an 8-1. Ouch.

Cracking the left?
On my left side, my flankers pushed forward really hard and Bill forgot to shoot his other gun at them when they were in the open and marching nonchalantly forward without a care in the world...its difficult to keep tabs on all the key units sometimes when there's a lot of stuff going on. My flankers pushed on hard, finding one dummy but then getting dumped out of another location painfully by a two squad "?" stack. More ouch. On my right flank, my main attack was eventually able to get some squads across the lateral road, but I was forced to be extremely careful and assault move only as I was aware of a four unit "?" stack that was looking very menacing there and covering all the approach routes. Progress was being made but it was slow and by the end of Turn 2, I was feeling like I was moving six feet forward but sliding five feet back. Frustrating and a good tough defense by Bill.

Everything kicking off...
Turn 2 is when everything happened. First off, Bill's overwatch MG broke down and then X'ed out for good and that took a little of the pressure of my main force. With my left flankers, I then ran into a concealed HMG, 447 and 9-1 combo which then went on a 5 shot 3ROF spree of hell as Bill rolled five times, rolled Snakes twice and never less than 5, and yet missed my sniper! Scratch two more Japanese squads. Don't get me started on 3ROF weapons! Feeling aggrieved at this, for one of the few times in my life, I had my own little moment of ROFness immedaitely in return and one of my MMG had his own moment of fun in the sun and scratched off 1.5 Chinese squads in return.

Next up, I was able to sneak a squad onto Bill's laterally-facing 70mm Gun and the crew went down in a brutal CC attack. With his HMG, Bill then made another of my leaders and accompanying squad go berserk - YUK! They were one-hex away at the time from the HMG, yet miraculously they survived a 30 -3 shot when adjacent, and thus also forced Bill's other 70mm Gun to declare IF - lucky for me, only the leader succumbed and the squad charged straight on into the HMG hex. This was huge as the resultant CC opened up Bill's right side completely as in a follow-up, I was also able to destroy the Gun crew in CC as they had used up all their fire opportunites trying to nail the zerkers.

Grinding through in the middle and right:
In the middle, more sharp shooting and the finding of another of Bill's fortified building the hard way meant I was still grinding forward way too slowly. Something needed to change for me to force a result on this side. My now striped and CRed Flameboys needed to be brought into action to crack this fortified thorn in my side which was completely dominating my whole centre and left. Thinking quickly, I managed to relocate Bill's lateral 70mm ART Gun, and managed to find one of the Chinese' own Smoke shells to give my flame boys some freedom of movement and lightly toast these bad boys - massive STYLE points! And even better the plan worked - light toast was produced to order and as no-quarter isn't in effect, I even managed to persuade these diehards to surrender...I expect they regretted that one afterwards.

To match this piece of style on my side, Bill pulled out a corker of his own on my right flank. Having worked very hard to advance a DC bomb-squad onto Bill's menacing four-unit stack, imagine by disappointment when the resultant BOOM removed a stack of four dummies! Classic poker move Mr Dorre, carried out with a classic poker face and I was had, hook, line and sinker. I'm still wandering why I didn't bother to test that one with a bouncing half-squad move, but I'd already convinced myself of the threat it posed. Nicely done Bill.

After the clear-up of the middle strongpoint, I'd pretty much reached stalemate on my main attack units were pretty beat up over there and I lost another squad to a nicely declared dare-death attack when my guys pinned so I decided I was best off holding on to what I'd got, especially when my FT Xe'd out on its fourth shot of the game (it had paid for itself though). I had pretty much conquered everything I could on that side and we both had to settle for stalemate over here as another squad loss for either of us would mean the other would be pouring through the line.

In contrast, on my left flank, the loss of Bill's guns and the HMG was proving critical - I destroyed one of his armoured cars with a shot from a MMG, and then one of my AC immobilized the other, forced the crew to abandon and then I shot them down in the street with Bill's own HMG freshly captured - Sweet!

Added to that, my only effective sniper shot of the game broke one last cricital squad and I was off to the races. One of my armoured cars went chasing deep into Chinese territory to keep a squad DM, another killed a broken squad for FTR and the third helped to encircle Bill's last fighting squad who went down in a big CC. At that point, I had claimed the required 11 buildings, but I was placed to capture at least three more deep into Bill's back yard with nothing there to stop me. We ended it with one Chinese and one Japanese turn to go.

Post-game thoughts:
A really fun scenario with tons of what makes ASL such a great game - two berserk leader charges, bluffing concealment stacks, hot snipers, working flamethrowers, fortified buildings, hand-to-hand combat, crap tanks, captured weapon use in improbable situations and so on. An absolute blast. I'd say this is pretty balanced - we both had severely interesting dice in this game and all sorts of weird stuff going on, and Bill admitted he was caught in the classic dilemma of both trying to defend up front and defend in depth, tried to do both, but ended up doing neither as well as he would have liked. The big critical rolls were the loss of the MMG from the multi-storey stone building, the second berserk squad which though it looked horrible for me, was the key to cracking open Bill's right flank, and finally the finding of the Smoke shell to assist my FT to break Bill's central strongpoint. Huge fun and strongly recommended. And I'm back to 2-2 and all square for the tournament.

Tournament AAR Scenario 5: SP14 The Green House

Nick Drinkwater

Japanese: Zeb Doyle [ELR 4, SAN 4]
American: Nick Drinkwater [ELR 3, SAN 3]

Pre-Game Thoughts:
Game 5 of the Tourney and fate has pitched me against the Owlcon champion for the last two years - I've just finished the monster game with Bill and we still have three hours before we get chucked out of the gaming hall, and Zeb is free, having just completed yet another game with John Hyler. Despite feeling shattered, I'm always up for a game against Zeb - we've become good friends, and its always a blast to play him both from the learning perspective (he is one of the best players in Texas) and the running commentary of extremely dry witticisms which he peppers the conversation with.

The Doomed Platoon:
We opt for "The Green House" from SP2, one of their earlier offerings that has an interesting premise behind its storyline. Basically, this is a rescue attempt to save the doomed Second platoon which is stranded in a multi-level, jungle plantation wooden building (an overlay on Board 19) across an open meadow (the main part of Board 19). The rescuing Third platoon starts on neighbouring Board 38 (the airfield is covered by Hutville) and needs to quickly move to the jungle edge in Turn 1 to try and lay some covering fire for their stranded colleagues. Further company support is due on in Turn 1 (heavy weapons) and on Turn 3, a platoon of Stuarts stuffed with Canister will arrive to add some more oomph.

Japanese Vice:
In return, the Japanese have executed a nice trap here. A platoon of infantry is about to appear close, dirty and concealed to the Green House and a second platoon is due on in Turn 2 on the opposite flank to shut the jaws tight. To stop the Americans from fleeing back to safety, a flanking MG and Mortar platoon has just popped up in a nasty overlay jungle pillbox-bunker nest and can interdict all running GIs in their tracks.

Tough VC:
This is a Schwerpunkt scenario of course, so the big emphasis in this scenario, as ever, is a set of VC tied to a fairly tight timetable (4.5 Turns), but in this case, there is a twist. The Americans can claim an instant win by getting 5 CVP of 2nd platoon back to the safety of the jungle - they have 8 CVP at start (3 x 666 and a 8-1), and this could be possible in Turn 1 or even in Turn 2, but the Firelane potential of the HMG is huge and the 9-0 leader with it adds to the risk with no cowering. If they can't do this, then the US must ensure there are no good order Japanese MMC either in the jungle-bunker complex of the flanking weapon support platoon, and none in or in hexes adjacent to the Green House. This is a tough ask.

Japanese Considerations:
The Japanese have a fairly standard setup with little ability to get too creative, though they should remember to use their tunnel in a clever way, for some last-turn CC surprises. They need to try and eliminate the 2nd Platoon as quickly as possible but they have been given the tricks to do this - note eliminating all the US and being scattered in every level of the +2 TEM Green House will be a much more daunting problem for the US than if there is some die-hard Ami squad / leader in the upstairs position hanging on for grim death.

US Considerations:
In contrast, the US needs to plan quite hard on their stacking and MF / PP cost combinations for their offboard Support Weapon platoon and their pathway to the main playing area, as they get very little time in this scenario to get their 81mm MTR and HMGs operating (probably two turns at most). They also need to keep an eye on the time needed to clear the woods of Japanese troops and use their tanks and any spare infantry to clear all the Green House adjacent attackers. This is not easy at all. They will almost certainly need to get one or two WP shells in to cover any infantry moves across the field, and use the Mortars and long-range MG to suppress any Japanese adjacent to or even in the Green House. At the same time, they may still need this FP to suppress the Bunker-complex defenders, and to support the attack the US 666s must pull off to clear them out. Tough choices all around and not easy to get the balance right.

AAR - tiredness all round:
Probably due to a touch of tiredness and a failure to grok (awful word) the scenario, I can't say I really understood what I needed to do in this one and kind of blindly stumbled through it, finding the way to resolve issues by chance more than any real judgement or nous on my part. On small scale tactical issues, I played it quite well, especially in the ultimate endgame - it was more the bigger issues on timing and force balance that I struggled with and there were moments where I couldn't see how the Americans could do it all (yeah, I had a moan and a whinge (questioning the integrity of the scenario?) but I was tired!). So, for the last turn or two I got a bit unit happy and just sent guys on missions to see "what could be done", more in hope than expectation. The early game had actually seen Zeb on the receiving end of some hot dice from me and I had successfully whittled down the odd half-squad here and there (also stopping Zeb's knee mortar from firing at all), and found a couple of dummys by wasting bullets on them, but I had also ruled out early on any kind of dash by Second Platoon across the meadow.

Desperate times...
My Green House defenders did some damage to their creeping concealed nemesis but all the squads were ultimately broken and FTRed by the end of Turn 2, and that on some very average Morale Checks. Critically however, my 9-1 stayed alive (and encircled) in the top level of the house to the very end and I was able to pin or break any Japanese who got close to taking him out with long-range fire. Despite my decision making problems, I ended up doing the obvious things with the Mortars and using them to Phos both the Pillbox nest, the Green House and the adjacent jungle, before they ran out of Smoke shells. This set me up for the end-game dash: thinking I was in a hopeless situation I just sent a batch of squads against the Pillbox-bunker nest, and by US Turn 5, these guys were poised to wipe out all the remaining Japanese, despite losing two squads to a measly 8+1 shot, and Zeb's smart play in putting the leader outside of the Pillbox to ensure I had to go through two rounds of CC (no Tunnel use from Zeb though - he was tired too!).

...Desperate Measures:
Things were even more desperate around the Green House though - thinking I had nothing left to lose and getting a bit Canister fixated, I manoeuvred the three Stuarts into position to threaten the jungle at a three-hex range. However the Japanese were now covered in my own WP, so I had to re-start and drive straight into the jungle to attempt to suppress them with MG FP - probably the better manoeuvre as they will then need to come into your hex to get you! I also had one squad and an 8-0 dash across the meadow to help the solo 9-1 in the Green House - in fact these were the only guys I could get there, and reflects my problem with getting division of forces right. These guys withstood the 2-2 Firelane, but their passed MC caused one of the CE Stuarts to take a Sniper Shot between the eyes. This manoeuvre did enable me to threaten one of Zeb's half squad when I moved adjacent to it - even better, they generated a hero on a MC of their own which really opened the game for me. Another hot sniper removed the second of my Stuarts to a dead Tank Commander, but my last tank was able to charge into the jungle and threaten this annoying HS.

End Game at the Green House:
In final Turn 5, I had one of those situations where I had to have a whole series of events go for me. Firstly, I was able to Pin by Tank MG Fire Zeb's annoying half-squad in Prep Fire, adjacent to the hero, squad and leader, when he critically failed a PTC on an 8 (2FP shot rolled a six). This freed up by Leader and Hero to advance in and ambush and kill the HS in CC with a base 9 on the normal CC roll. Next my now freed-up squad advanced, with the sole 2nd Platoon survivor (the 9-1), into a hex with Zeb's only other Japanese half-squad, again managed to avoid being ambushed (just!) and then wipe out the Japanese with a 3-1 CC roll. So all good on the Green House side of the Board.

End Game at the Bunker:
On the Pillbox nest area, I was left needing to win two more CC's - the first was against a crew in a pillbox and again no real surprise there, that was succcessfully completed. The final one was the toughy - having just seen two squads break and run earlier in the turn, I was down to two half-squads vs a Japanese half-squad. The tension was big here....advance in, dodge (just) the ambush and again, normal CC and I think after mods, I needed an 8 for the win...rolled a six!!!!

Post-Game Summary:
Frickin Awesome. Still not quite sure where that one came from as I never felt like I was really in control in this game at any all had the whiff of desperation. The key rolls in this scenario were the turn one loss of the Japanese Knee Mortar, an initial successful US defense of the Green House and Zeb's failure to completely capture it and Zeb's forgetting the tunnel. The real kicker however was Zeb's pinning of his HS next to the Green House and my generation of the Hero. I was now free to send the leader and hero against the pinned guys and use my squad for the harder job against the non-pinned guys with their bigger fire power. I had actually failed to deploy this squad that turn and so without the options created from generating the hero, I would not have won it, as I would not have been able to get units into both of the reuqired CCs. I was lucky to miss ambush and subsequent withdrawals in all these CC's and was also lucky to roll four times under an average of nine to win all the CC, but best of all, I never actually had to ATFP against Zeb in this game (ATFP - "assume the foetal position" - something I do when Tom and Zeb normally play me with their crushing dice rolling!).

Final Comment:
An odd scenario - it seems weird that your biggest weapons barely get to fire at all in this one before the end game-rushes in two separate directions are upon you. No smoke from the two Mortars would really crimp the US player as there is no cover in that field whatsoever, though maybe you could do some Turn 4 armoured assault to get across it. The Japanese have little to do apart from some clever concealment and squad recycling tricks, but it does play quickly - we were done from start to finish in 2.5 hours. Moderately recommended if only because of the tactical challenge it poses.

Tournament AAR Scenario 6: SP125 Numshigum

Nick Drinkwater

Japanese: Rob Purdon [ELR 3, SAN 4]
Ghurka: Nick Drinkwater [ELR 5, SAN 4]

Pre-Game Thoughts:
The last of the weekend's scenarios was one of the shortest but a complete blast to play. Rob was my opponent and this was the third new player I had played in less than three days - this is the great thing about Tournaments in that you get to play new folks and this gets you out of playing style ruts and makes you think about new challenges and be outside the proverbial box. Also Rob was my fourth opponent from Austin - I only dodged Roy, Matt, Brian and Jeff during the weekend.

Scenario Analysis:
This fun little scenario is set on one half of Board 50, and involves a very tasty but lightly armed force of Ghurka Paratroops (9.5 648 squads) with moderate leadership and an all-important airborne light mortar with its nice smoke option (note these are elite so the depletion numbers are raised by one - we missed this). These gutsy guys need to evict all good-order Japanese MMC from an L-shaped hill mass between hexrows X-DD, south of the stream. One arm of the hill projects down to the south board edge whilst the other projects to the east board edge with light jungle masking most of the approaches in the 'elbow' between the two. The hill has a wooded Level two location on the east arm and a bare level two plateau at the join between the two arms and this will probably be where the Japanese make their last stand. To the north of the stream is another Level two hill - from here the Japanese reserve of a 9-1 and HMG can dominate both the wooded eastern knoll and the approaches to the central bare knoll. The Japanese have 6 squads in total to play with, a Lt Mortar, a MMG, the HMG but importantly, no HIP by SSR.

Ghurkhas attack plan:
Thus its a fairly straightforward run and push assault for the Ghurkas and their biggest issue is going to be time as they only have 4.5 turns to get the job done. The assault fire bonus and the H2H option plus modifier means the Japanese are not scary to these bad boys at all (BRING IT ON!), but the thing they need to watch is leaving a gap in their cordon that a sneaky Japanese half-squad could sneak into in the bottom half of Turn 4. It will be tough going in this terrain and there may be some advances in difficult terrain and the ability to keep concealment will be hard due to the problems with not being able to do assault move uphill in jungles. However paths along the axis of the east arm of the 'L' and another through the jungle into the elbow of the 'L' offer some fast routes into the core of the action - only problem is the Japanese know this too and can respond accordingly.

Japanese Defense:
Rob set up a very dispersed defense to clearly offer me a bunch of targets that I was going to physically have to chase down and check for dummy status. I pushed on hard and fast with six squads and the mortar entering on the south and three squads and a 9-1 climbing directly onto Level one of the east arm to face the three "?" stacks Rob had there. My first shot of the game was an assault fire bonus 6-flat and I roll a nice juicy three. Rob immediately rolls a 12 on the two check - scratch the first 447 squad who drop the Knee Mortar to the ground cold and unfired! Sweet!

The Ghurkas Push on...
I peel a squad and a half off to the 'point' of the southern arm and remove the first dummy while the core of the force pushes hard into the 'elbow' - I have misplayed my Airborne Mortar which is out of position, but no matter as my super hot dice continue to cause Rob all manner of problems. DFF versus a Ghurka squad causes them to go berserk adjacent to their Japanese tormentors which is perfect for me as I was CX before that - no ambush needed and straight into H2H CC! Kill, dispatch, destroy and that one's all over. After striping a nasty 2 x 447 stack, I jump into CC with another Ghurka squad - if I can win this, I've virtually won the scenario in two turns as I will have killed four of Rob's six squads - for once, I get ambushed and killed, but I am able to get these guys later with more aggressive assault fire, stripe, ambush, kill tactics later on.

Give that man a medal!
Rob's two MGs are my biggest headache and are really the only things keeping him in the game. I am able to Smoke in the MMG in its Level Two plateau hex foxhole with my only Smoke shell from the Mortar, but the HMG north of the stream is dominating my platoon on the eastern knoll as it goes on a nasty ROF3 streak (3 ROF weapons - sheesh! Don't get me started...). My sniper goes hot but picks a dummy and I move, bump and remove his last dummy, but I am still stymied on the east where Rob now has me pinned and broken. This is now serious as all three squads and the 9-1 are broken over there and I am reduced to a sole hero....Victorious Cross to this guy though, as he shrugs off about three 1MC and MC unscathed and he is left in Japanese Turn 4 as the only unit I have who can stop an adjacent 447 from running around the north side of the hill for a last-ditch win. By this time, I have whittled away the main hill defense to a half-squad, a striped crew and a leader. My sniper gets hot for one last time and stripes the HMG crew (I was lucky in this one), but I am hopelessly out of position with my unbroken units to stop Rob's end run.

Rob does the 'manly' Japanese thing and starts to run his brave 447 away from my lone hero - I have one shot only as he moves these guys under the adjacent heroic Sten Gun and I have to kill them all - a CR or a Stripe is not going to be enough here. We both know the critical importance of this one roll as otherwise, this will be the biggest escape since Clint swam out from Alcatraz - roll the dice.....drumroll....SNAKES!!!! Bam, bam, bam, twitchy bodies everywhere and a lone Gurkha pensively smoking a Woodbine...ten dead Japanese, all in a good days work.

I love this game...!!! Did I say that I was lucky in this one?

Still not over:
BUT wait, there's more! The desperate Japanese limpy types on the main hill could still win this one yet...the way to go is to dash over to my eastern flank, where now of course the hero is isolated and alone, smothered in cigarette smoke and with a First Fire counter on his head. Rob could still snatch victory from the jaws of defeat from this one yet. Only two squads of my main force can see these guys at all as they go on their mad dash for victory and they will be firing into the jungle. Hmmm. To make it worse and to get even more MF, Rob declares Banzai with the hero as the target and runs headlong into the hero's hex. I fire off vainly but these bad boys are in there screaming and they are mighty PISSED OFF! Of course, as we're in Banzai no ambush is possible for me or Rob (which would have been -2 in my favour (Stealthy, vs Lax) and my hero is simply going down.

And then we both wake up. The banzai is a cool trick with its extra MF, higher morale and lack of chance to be ambushed, and Rob has gone and shoved them into the face of my hero. However, the hero is currently one hex north of the area stipulated for the VC, and with no ambush possibility, there is now no way that Rob can now get a MMC into the victory hexes!! Its all over. Good guys win. Ooops.

Strike one for Nepal's finest!!

Post-game thoughts:
Big bad error, but didn't offset the fun the two of us had playing this - this was a blast and Rob was great as he smiled through the complete dicing I had inflicted on him from the beginning until Turn 4. We talked it through and realised that instead of being hero-fixated and banzai-ing, he should have motored his guys along the eastern 'arm' path to the very eastern board edge. This would have DMed my eastern platoon again and left my main force facing the unpleasant notion of crossing a -2 firelane from the HMG and then a batch of -2 moves in the hexes adjacent to Rob's last few guys; this would have been almost impossible for me to pull off. I got lucky again at the end! Overall, even though this may look a bit dicey at first with only 4-5 Japanese squads, it actually isn't - the 2 and 3 ROF MGs are great levellers so even if the Japanese get hurt hard in the first couple of turns, they will still have a chance to win, especially if they have retained a leader and a couple of MMCs at game end...just make sure you know where hexrow X is!!!

All in all then, 4-2 for the weekend with a 3-1 record against Austin's finest (smelliest??), including that scorching victory against the Owlcon champion himself, Mr. Doyle. Awesome weekend and awesome gaming and awesome gamers. Thanks all!

Friday, February 15, 2008

AAR: OwlCon 2008

Zeb Doyle

Well, it's been four days now since OwlCon and I still haven't recovered enough mentally or physically to write a decent AAR. Here goes anyway. First off, just to repeat what others have already mentioned, the best part of ASL is the people. From riding down with Rick to invading Nick's house to invading Tom's house, I feel very privileged to know all of you. The generosity and kindness of our ASL community extends well beyond the boundaries of the game. A special thank you goes to Walter, who once again put together a fantastic time for all of us, and managed to answer all the tough questions we threw his way even as he worked at his real job throughout the weekend. It was really great to see everyone, swap stories, and roll dice.

The gaming started at Chez Nick this year, and although it wasn't quite as palatial as Ken's house the year before, the venue is excellent for hard-core ASL action with great coffee, fantastic (and fantastically cheap!) pizza, entertaining cats, and everything else a discerning grognard could want right at hand. Thanks very much to both Nick and his wife for letting hordes of gamers and gear occupy the entire place for the day. Things started off with a bang, as Rob and Roy had us all playing Vulcan's Forge for Ferocity Fest. They did an amazing job this year with the trophies (and finally picked a decent scenario for once!) and so I was pretty excited about the mini tourney.

My opponent was John Hyler, a very fun opponent and fellow beer aficionado whom I've somehow never played before. That got fixed but good as we ended up playing three times over the weekend. In this first meeting, we diced for sides and I ended up with the Russians. Usually I don't care what side I get, but I felt the Russians are pretty favored in Vulcan's Forge and so that first die roll made me very happy. That also started a unusual trend of wanting and getting a preferred side in most of the other games I played over the course of the tourney. At any rate, we started to play and the Russians ended up having a pretty easy time of it. I had an edge in RB experience over John and in Vulcan's Forge, that makes a major difference. Even worse, John consistently rolled very high and the few good rolls he got were matched by my better rolls. We called it on turn three with the Germans down to nine squads left on the map after starting with 23.

Since the game went so fast and was such a bust, we swapped sides and went at it again. This time things were much closer although I was able to use enough RB tricks as the Germans to get a pretty convincing win. Again, John's dice made things tough on him, with one FT-toting Fanatic 6-2-8 repeatedly failing key NMCs. Overall, a fun scenario and one that worked very well in the Ferocity Fest format, but when playing for blood, give the balance and take the Russians! It was also fun watching everyone else play it out and see the different approaches, although the most amusing sight was Schwoebel and Gerstenberg playing each other. Living two minutes apart in Austin, they have to drive all the way to Houston to play each other! I think that Brian Roundhill and Jeff Toreki ended up being the overall winners as the German and Russian respectively, so congrats to them.

It was then time to head over to Rice University and start OwlCon in earnest. The venue was the same as the last two years, but this time the adjacent table overflowing with roleplayers had been replaced by a bunch of Battle-Tech/Mech-Warrior video games. That was actually much quieter and gave us more room, which was a really nice change from the year before. At this point, I was pretty tired from a late night before and then getting up early to drive down, so when Rick wanted to play the attacker in VOTG14 Pavlov's House, I was happy to do so. My Russians got to sit in a fortified building with Fanatic troops and fire at Germans running across a boulevard, which required no thought whatsoever on my part. Rick was probably pretty tired too, unfortunately, because his attack hinged on setting up a bunch of StuGs on-map and firing smoke on turn one to provide some much-needed cover. I gleefully pointed out that the StuGs enter from off-map and have no smoke by SSR. That was pretty much the game right there, as the unprotected German infantry got chopped to bits. I think the Germans actually have a decent chance to win, but they have to bring their best game, while the Russian is basically on auto-pilot. That was lucky for me, as my mind shut down half-way through and I walked away with another win due solely to the side I was playing.

We then headed over to Tom's place, where he was nice enough to let a bunch of us Austinites spend the night. I was pretty much asleep before my head hit the pillow, although as I was passing out I heard something about how the way I was lying my head was blocking a door. I woke up the next day with no bumps, bruises, or concussions, so thanks to everyone for being careful and not braining me in my sleep. Sorry if I actually was in the way! From there, it was back to OwlCon and more ASL.

My first opponent of the day was Bill Dorre, a very enthusiastic player who always finds a way to make every game close. We picked out Eye Of The Tiger, a scenario I recently got off Ebay and had heard great things about but had never played. I would have happily played either side here, but the dice gave Bill the Germans. The scenario has a weak company of SS with some PzIVs, Pumas, and a Tiger attacking a Russian village without losing more than 30 CVP. The Soviet side is your standard infantry force, and gets some T-34s and an SU-85 as reinforcements on turn one. The Germans get a little help with a turn one 280mm artillery FFE as well, which complicates the defensive set-up just a bit! In our game, the OBA came in and killed a squad but also started a bunch of fires, which really constricted Bill's attack. He also made one mistake by leaving all his armor in motion on turn one. I was able to aggressively drive up my tanks and knock out all his AFVs at a cost of a single SU-85. However, Bill does have that knack of hanging tough and making the game close, and his SS actually made a very credible push into the village. With the scenario in the balance, I threw a captured DC at a platoon of SS and sent them all Berserk and spent the rest of my turn setting up a nasty trap for them. In Bill's next MPh, he was forced to run the 9-1/3x 6-5-8 into a 12-2, a 20-3, etc, etc, and that blood-letting triggered the CVP cap. Fun game, great scenario, but a tough way to lose for poor Bill. I'd never seen anyone lose a game by rolling snake-eyes before, but Bill handled it with his usual great sportsmanship.

Since that was another quick game, I sat around for a bit until John Hyler showed up. No one else was close to being finished, and Walter nicely allowed us to play again. We pulled out Pomeranian Tigers, another classic I'd never played, and this time the dice gave me the attacking Germans. The battle takes place on board 41, and features six 6-2-8s, an MMG and a 57LL holding off six 5-4-8s and some StuGs. The Germans get another six 5-4-8s, a StuH and two King Tigers on turn three, while the Soviets get three Stalin tanks on turn four. I attacked on a wide front, with an eye to getting around John's defense with the initial wave of 5-4-8s, and then try to use my reinforcements to crush the Soviets in place. Unfortunately for me, the third time was the charm for John and I couldn't get anything to go right. My trap worked well enough, and my reinforcements forced four or five 6-2-8s to Dash across a street under the eye of a lot of Germans, but a ton of 2-2 and 1-2 attacks came up totally empty.

John's Stalin tanks then came on and took up defensive positions. I had a King Tiger waiting for this and strung perhaps the prettiest LOS I've ever managed, reaching an amazing 12 hexes across the cluttered terrain of board 41 and trapping a Stalin squarely in my sights. A malfed gun was my only result. That left the Soviet defense intact and with three big tanks against only one of mine now, but all was not lost. John's 6-2-8s were out of position and my StuGs could put down some smoke and allow me to take out the 57LL and MMG group, which were stacked together in a high-risk, high-reward position. Three rolls later, we discovered that none of my S9 weapons had brought any smoke. Well, there's always the sD, although the positioning would now be very tricky. I figured risking a small-target StuG in a HD position for a single MP in LOS of the AT gun would be reasonable so I could lay the smoke. One CH later, I had some smoke via a burning wreck....just not where I wanted it.

From there, things went downhill. I boxcarred a few MCs and turned 5-4-8s into broken 2-3-7s, while repeated 20+2 attacks on the gun/MMG stack did nothing. John got bolder with the Stalins watching this fiasco, and gave me a rear HEAT shot with a 105 gun on one and a 20+1 attack on the CE crew of another, but I never managed to affect him. Meanwhile, a return snake-eyes CH from the 122L splattered another 5-4-8 with a 36-4 attack. Eventually, the MMG malfed and I took out the AT gun in CC, but it was far too late in the game and I ended up scoring 6 out of a required 40 VP. It was charitable of John to call our game close, but I think he overstated things a bit...Now that I'm done whining about the dice, let me add that John played a very solid game overall and made it tough on me. Also, as the end-game unfolded and the writing was on the wall, I should have risked my second King Tiger by aggressively going after the Stalins. The odds wouldn't have been in my favor, but it would have given me a better chance than trying to save it for EVP that clearly wouldn't matter. Poor play on my part for not doubling down at that point and using all my assets.Meanwhile, John did use all of his. Nice work by him, and he also did a fantastic job handling my whining and frustration over the dice. Apologies for that, John.

At that point, I was frustrated and mentally fried, but had an opportunity to play Nick. Those chances don't come along often and so I jumped at it since he's such a great opponent. I pulled out The Green House, an interesting odd-ball scenario I'd had my eye on for quite a while. It looked like it would be perfect for an occasion like this, where we only had three hours to play and were already a bit winded from a full day of ASL. The dice gave me the defending Japanese, and again I was happy, figuring I could just sit, roll dice, react to Nick's moves, and not really have to think. This time, that didn't work out so well for me. The scenario itself is interesting, but not as cool as it looks on the card (IMO). There's lots of silliness, like having HMG and 81mm MTR teams enter, spend three turns running into position, one turn firing, and then throwing down the weapons for a last turn charge into the VC areas. Nick played his usual masterful game while I sat there and brooded over the previous scenario. So stupid of me, and our game came down to Nick firing a 2+0 at my Japanese 4-4-7. Nick needed a pin or K/ and failed MC to win, and rolled the six for a PTC, which I promptly failed. That was another lame finish for me, and after the game Nick pointed out if I'd used the tunnel that my pillbox came with, I could have automatically won at the end, so I couldn't even lay some of the blame on the dice here.

At that point, dazed, battered, and beaten, I staggered away from OwlCon and found myself wandering the desolate streets of Houston at two in the morning. I was just trying to wind down enough to sleep, but ended up in a bustling tapas bar somewhere. I got some food and drinks and, despite the insanely loud salsa music, was just starting to feel better when I got the bill and realized that my tequila shots were each $9. Ouch. From there, I went straight back to the hotel before I could hurt myself any more and lay down until the sun came up and I headed back to OwlCon.

I stumbled in bleary-eyed and exhausted, looking for another game of ASL, if only to take my mind off the braised ox-tails and Moroccan meat pies doing the flamenco in my belly, and was met by a very chipper Walter informing me that I was playing Brian Roundhill in the championship. I'm still not sure how this happened, since my 4-2 record was looking pretty weak, but maybe the ToT German Rare Vehicles pack and the mint Journal #2 that I slipped to Walter ahead of time came into play here. At any rate, I was feeling horrible, but I was in the finals. I twisted Brian's arm a bit to play a Friendly Fire scenario and he was nice enough to let me go with FrF22 Wunderwaffe. I really like the FrF stuff, as I've said before, and I think they are perfect for championship games: they play as fast as Schwerpunkpt but have way more depth.

As it turned out, Wunderwaffe had a bit too much depth for us to handle. The dice gave me the attacking Russians, and this was yet another case where that roll probably determined the victor. The Germans have some good tools in this scenario and a 50% chance of winning (IMO), but after one playing it seems like they need nerves of steel and a set up that cedes a lot of the VC area to the Soviets. That's not real obvious looking at the card, and so Brian went with a very up-front defense to guard everything that really played into my hands. Even in my befuddled state, I was able to blunder onto the board, lose only one tank to each of the 75LL squeeze-bore guns, and use the remaining armor to chew the German infantry up. It helped that his 9-2/MMG stack only ever pinned my 4-4-7s sitting in woods hexes and that his 4-6-8s pretty much all broke on the first shot and never rallied. Despite Brian's poor luck, I managed to arrange an exciting finish by forgetting I had to capture ten building hexes and playing almost the whole game thinking I only needed eight. Only on my last turn did I realize my mistake, and had to engage in a bit of a scramble to get the last two. This last-turn panic was only intensified by the fact that my sniper counter covered up a building I could otherwise have easily captured. In a great bit of sportsmanship, Brian would have given me that hex, and thus the game, but that was going too far, even for me, and I instead managed to grab the tenth hex honestly for the win. Great scenario, great opponent (Brian is a great sport and is one of the few guys in TX that teaches me new rules every time I play him), and I was triumphantly crowned OwlCon Champion!

OK, so there wasn't any sense of triumph. I really had no business playing in the finals at all and my blunders in my game with Brian were super-pathetic. So, Toreki and Brian, if you guys want to get Walter's permission and play a game at some point to determine the true king of Houston, please go for it! Nick also has a good claim, as I think he finished 3-0 and beat me along the way. There are probably some other people out there who are also more deserving after my three game crash and burn sequence. If no one cares to step up, I'll happily act as place-holder for the championship until next time but the crown definitely slipped out of my hand this year.

I'm sure I've sounded pretty whiny and sorry for myself throughout this AAR, so let me close by reiterating what a great time OwlCon was. As I was heading home, hanging my head and mulling over my losses, I realized that even if I had known ahead of time exactly how the weekend was going to play out, I still would have done it in a heartbeat. Even if I could have changed something, it would be to have played even more ASL, so I could have gotten games in against David Stanaway, Ken, Tom, Rob, Roy, and everyone else I missed...It was great to see all of you, and I can't wait until next time!

Thanks for reading,


Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Battle of the Bulge Product Review

Zeb Doyle

I got asked at OwlCon about Battle of the Bulge ASL products and so here's a brief rundown of the stuff I have. I've only mentioned stuff that is 100% Bulge, and will skip over KGP I and KGP II since there's lots of info on those. That pretty much just leaves third-party publishers like CH and Lone Canuck. This is a very brief run-down; if anyone has more questions about any specific product, just ask!

Euro-Pack II: The Battle of the Bulge has the following scenarios:

EP10 Leapfrog

Germans attacking Americans. The Germans get 21 Volksgrenadier squads, the Americans start with a single squad, six guns, and later get 3 more squads, 3 Shermans, and a pair of meatchoppers.

EP12 Bloody Christmas!

Another big force of Volksgrenadiers attacking 7-4-7s from the 101st Airborne, guns, and tanks. A night scenario.

EP20 Trojan Horses

Eleven SS 5-4-8s and five Panthers attack four American squad equivalents, 4x .50cal, two 76L AT guns bolstered by mines and OBA.

EP45 Red On White

Americans attacking Fallschirmjagers (a few 5-4-8s and a lot of 4-4-7s). Both sides have optional reinforcements that alter the VC, which is interesting.

EP52 Time For Lunch

A weird-looking scenario, with ten American 2-2-6 HSs and a bunch of immobilized tanks defending against 4x 6-5-8 SS troopers and a group of PzIVHs, Panthers, and HTs. It uses a bunch of KGP SSRs.

EP53 Fuel Depot #2

Another odd-ball, this is a four turn scenario where the American secretly picks an all-HIP force. Four 6-5-8s, Pumas, and HTs then probe forward, trying to score CVP, exit, and unHIP American units. Interesting way to simulate a recon mission, I guess. A bunch of KGP SSRs are in effect for this one.

EP54 Devils In The Graveyard

Also using KGP SSRs, this has SS with a Panther and PzIV attacking five 6-6-6s, an AT gun, and four Shermans.

EP62 Down The Road

Again with the KGP SSRs, here we have two columns in a meeting engagement. The US gets lots of Shermans, the SS gets lots of HTs, a few AT guns, and a King Tiger. This scenario uses a map, ASLN#1, that doesn't come with the pack but can supposedly be downloaded from the CH site (never tried myself, so don't know if true or how the map looks).

Overall, this pack looks slightly more interesting than I remembered, but there's probably only two or three I'd play out of here and nothing that really jumps out. Just my subjective opinion, of course, and if one has a special interest in the Bulge and is willing to deal with the KGP SSRs and so forth, it's probably worth the $12 or so you can get it for.

Next up, also from CH, are 'Devils In The Woods' and 'Sudden Full Contact,' which run about $20 each and come with their own historical maps. I'm a huge fan of HASL maps, but haven't actually played any scenarios from either of these packs. You get twenty scenarios between the two of them, more than I feel like detailing right now (lazy, I know!), but many of them are very small (like three squads and a leader against two squads, two tanks, and a leader small!). There are a few scenarios in here that look cool, so the packs aren't completely uninteresting, but both come with a lengthy list of SSRs so there's a bit of a learning curve before just jumping in and playing. On the plus side, several of these scenarios have pretty interesting VC and variable/random OBS, which is cool.

The other ASL product I have that centers on the Bulge is the Lone Canuck's Wacht Am Rhein. This pack is $16 for sixteen scenarios, and is much more standard ASL than the tiny/odd CH scenarios. The Wacht Am Rhein stuff also has many fewer SSRs and the scenario size is, on average, much bigger, especially when it comes to armor. WAR15 Glimpse Of The Meuse, for example, has the defending Germans with 12 squads and 9 AFVs. while the attacking Americans get 18 squads and 20 AFVs. I've considered playing a lot of these, but have never quite got around to it although some do look like a lot of fun.

Finally, I just remembered there's also Baraque De Fraiture. This is long out of print and was by the now-defunct Frontline Productions, but CH just bought up the rights and did a 'new, improved' version two. Assuming CH didn't mess this up too much (a big assumption!), this is highly recommended. It comes with a historical map and some very good scenarios, including a nice mix of small, medium, and monster. Sadly, I only have the original and so can't really comment on the next generation CH version. At $40 for 9 scenarios, it's well worth it if it retains the quality of the original but a ripoff if it doesn't. Tough call here.

Overall (and disregarding Baraque De Fraiture) , if you could only get one and were just looking for more scenarios, Wacht Am Rhein is the easy choice. If you don't mind tiny, odd-ball scenarios and like historic maps, the CH stuff is worth checking out too, and if you want a blend of the two, the Euro-Pack II (also available from CH) probably works.

I hope this helps, and again, I'm happy to provide further details or answer more questions on the products. Happy gaming!


Sunday, February 10, 2008

AAR: SP103 For Whom The Bells Toll

Zeb Doyle

Germans: Stephane Graciet
Americans: Zeb Doyle

Here's another AAR from my last Houston foray: This time I got a rare chance to play Stephane, a French import who, according to our club records, spends most of his time playing Nick. I figured that was typical European snobbery, with the men from across the pond thinking they were too good for us 'Colonials', and so I went into the game undecided on whether to take the high road and show Nick and Stephane that Americans can play good ASL too, or to give into my baser instincts and engage in an afternoon of French bashing, no matter how unwarranted it might be. I would have had some great ammunition if we'd played the game just a few days later. The story of the rogue Parisian trader Jerome Kerviel was just coming out and so I was unaware of the byzantine French labor laws that forbid the firing of employees who rack up a record-setting $7.2bn of losses via unauthorized trades. As it was, lacking that particular arrow in my quiver, I left the touchy subject of the thirty-five hour work week and all the ensuing ramifications alone and confined my obnoxiousness to shouting "Army Strong!" whenever my American paratroopers passed a morale check...

We'd originally wanted to play RBF50 A Perfect Match, but four Deluxe boards was a bit more than the available space could handle and so we settled on SP103 For Whom The Bells Toll instead. This scenario takes place about a week after D-Day in Normandy, and revolves around a German force trying to maintain good order units in at least two of four specific buildings on board 12. The scenario had been on my play-list for a while because the situation looked so interesting. The Germans start with just a platoon in the board 12 village and have to fend off eight 7-4-7s and a 9-2 entering turn one, another platoon of paras on turn two, and then a half-company of 6-6-7s and six Shermans on turn three. The initial German force has a difficult task trying to slow this array of American awesomeness and is bolstered only on turn three by eleven SS squads and six assorted StuGs, StuHs, and Marders. Both sides have tough decisions to make throughout, with the Americans racing to get into the village before the German reinforcements arrive. It's 6.5 fun turns of meeting engagement with the added amusement of getting to overrun the garrison.

Stephane wanted to defend and nestled his initial platoon down in the village with good LOS to my entry areas. Getting onto the board is probably the biggest challenge for the Americans in this one as they have to cross a good deal of open ground. A convenient gully and the 3 smoke exponent for the 7-4-7s offers a bit of relief, but the paras will still have to weather a lot of -2 shots on their way in. So, I started the game by deploying a lot and running all-out for that gully! Stephane opened up, laying down presky resid counters and doing everything he could to slow me. His dice were all over the map, killing a half-squad with a snakes but then boxcarring out an LMG, and over the first two turns I was able to get into pretty good position on the outskirts of the village.

That brought us to turn three and a major decision point. I was on the verge of smashing my way into the village and had another wave of troops entering, including six Shermans, but had to begin to consider what Stephane might do with his six AFVs and eleven SS squads in his next turn. I had the German squads outnumbered 11 to 3 at this point and my units were sitting in stone buildings instead of running through the open, so I certainly had the initiative. Going back to Carl's comments on the list a few days ago, though, he made a great point when he mentioned it can become increasing difficult in the mid-game to figure out what to do and that's what happened to me here. Although I was in a stronger position in turn three than turn one, the best way to continue the attack was far from obvious and I made some sub-optimal decisions that ended up really hurting me. For example, I decided to send all six of my Shermans to cut off the reinforcing SS armor. I easily could have placed just four of my tanks in that role and sent the remaining two to support my infantry with WP and smoke in the village assault. A few more decisions along these lines resulted in a number of broken American squads and really slowed my attack.

On the other side of the map, Stephane was playing very well indeed and my loss of the initiative was due as much to his efforts as mine. The initial platoon of Germans finally fell in a series of CC attacks, but they bought more than enough time for the SS reinforcements to enter and take up some very strong defensive positions. The battle now split into infantry against infantry in the heart of the village and tanks against assault guns on the periphery. My paras slowly ground forward but pushing against equal numbers of SS was much slower going than beating up the platoon of landsers....meanwhile, my Shermans were able to use some sneaky LOS to claim a StuG and a Marder and my 60mm MTR left another Marder Shocked, immobilized, and useless. Stephane got his revenge with the armor leader from hell, who twice drove calmly up to a Sherman, survived all defensive fire, and then torched my tank in the AFPh. That made the armor battle much more even than I cared for and although I'd managed to clear two of the VC buildings, I still had to kick a lot of Germans out of another. At this point, I'd completely lost the initiative; Stephane's stout defense would force me for the rest of the game to make moves I had to make, not moves I wanted to make.

So, with two turns left, I kicked off the assault on the third building. I had a lot of paratroopers available, but they had to come through open ground and orchards against SS firepower. I belatedly pulled my tanks into the village to support the attack, and a lot of VBM freeze took place, aided greatly by the fact that Stephane's troops had no PFs by SSR. With the armor support, a few of my men actually made it into the building. During the German player turn, the assault guns rumbled into town while some SS infantry tried unsuccessfully to reinforce the VC building. Lots of wild stuff happened, including the return of Stephane's crazy dice. He boxcarred an important StuH shot and thus essentially lost another AFV, but then rolled an MC snakes on a broken HS/MMG combo that went Berserk...the unit still wasn't Good Order and so didn't count toward the VC, but would be a real thorn in my side. As I started my last turn, it was looking grim. In the building, Stephane had two SS squads, the Berserk HS, and a second GO HS all in different locations. One of the SS squads was frozen by a Motion tank, but everyone else was free to fire.My troops pushed forward, but failed on their smoke rolls and mostly went down in a flurry of fire and resid. The Berserk HS earned his keep, FPFing multiple times until an unlucky roll of 11 melted his MMG and killed him off. The freezing Sherman was torched by a StuG, although my last remaining tank survived several shots to freeze up another German squad. When the dust settled, I had my 9-2/747 advancing onto a HS, two squads advancing onto an SS squad frozen by a tank, and two 9-1 leaders who were all that was left to try and tie up the last SS squad.

I crossed my fingers, advanced my units, and commented that I'd need a supremely lucky CCPh to win. At this point, Stephane committed an act of superb sportsmanship by noticing and pointing out to me another German halfsquad that had on his last turn infiltrated back into the first VC building I had captured. The HS was under several other counters, including a bypassing StuH and a level marker, and we'd just lost track of it in all the excitement. I had two adjacent squads that could have advanced onto it and Stephane was gracious enough to allow me to do that, after weathering a harmless AFPh shot from the HS. Had Stephane kept his mouth shut, he would have guaranteed himself a win, and I greatly appreciate his sportsmanship. Such gracious gestures are too seldom rewarded, however, and that was the case here. I easily won the CC with my two squads against his HS, and my 9-2/7-4-7 were also able to kill off the second HS. That left Stephane with two more excellent-odds CCs, either one of which would win him the game. The first had the VBM freezing Sherman in the location and gave the SS squad a -3 Ambush drm...of course, there was no ambush, and the unit ended locked in Melee with two American MMCs. That brought us to the other ridiculous CC, with my two 9-1s against his SS squad. Chanting "Army of Two!" over and over, I rolled the dice and the two leaders actually ambushed and killed off Stepane's entire squad for a wild American comeback win.

Looking back over this AAR, I see I've done a very poor job of conveying what an emotional roller coaster it was and how many swings of fate occurred. It was one of those ASL experiences where, for eight hours, you're transported to a different plane of existence and is so much fun you can't wait to do it again. Rather than keep typing then, I'll just finish here by saying that SP103 For Whom The Bells Toll is a very enjoyable scenario, and I now see why Nick tries so hard to monopolize Stephane's gaming time. Clever people, those Europeans...

Thanks for reading, and thanks again to Stephane, who has mastered both the spirit and the letter of the rules.


Wednesday, February 06, 2008

AAR: BC10 Groff's Grief

Zeb Doyle

Americans: Tom Gillis
NKPA: Zeb Doyle

On a recent trip to Houston, I found myself at the house of Tom Gillis out of excuses and without another opponent in sight. Gillis calls me the Artful Dodger for all the times I've ducked him over the years, but this time I was well and truly trapped. We sat down to play BC10 Groff's Grief, a smallish 5.5 turn scenario that takes place on three Deluxe boards. If I had to endure one of Tom's painful beatings, at least I could make the experience brief...

The action takes place in Seoul, Korea, 1950, and features a company of twelve 7-6-8 Marines engaged in some nasty street-fighting. The Leathernecks have to go roughly ten hexes and capture six building hexes. They get to start on-map, setting up on some dominant level-two hill locations that overlook the all level-one buildings (by SSR) of Seoul, and have a nice allotment of MMGs, 60mm MTRs, DCs, BAZs as well as
the support of two Pershing tanks. All in all, it's a very nice force with the typical high FP and ML you'd expect. Meanwhile, the NKPA is represented by pre-1942 Russians, and get twelve assorted squads ranging from 6-2-8s down to 4-4-7s. The ELR of 2 is a bit of a weak spot, but the SSRs add some HIP, commissar potential, Tank Hunter Heroes, and Dare-Death squads. The SW allotment isn't quite as generous as the Marines, but an HMG, MMG, some DCs, and two 57LL AT guns give the Koreans some serious punch of their own. Being numerically equal is also a big edge for the Koreans, allowing them to go for the 'wall of bodies' defense that often works so well in the tight confines of the Deluxe boards.

Mr. Gillis expressed a preference for the Marines and I, not being one to anger an 800lb gorilla in his own home, began setting up the Koreans. Unfortunately for my cardboard soldiers, I did a pretty poor job of positioning them. One 57LL was wasted in a
'clever' spot and never ended up firing a shot. I also put my HMG off to one side and my MMG where it could cover the level two hills in the Marine set-up area. Given those hills were twelve hexes away, long range for my MMG but normal range for the heavy, this was a pretty stupid decision. Worst of all, I put enough troops up front that it would be painful to lose them, but not enough to be sure of covering each other. I had some silly idea that backstopping these pickets with my commissar was good enough, and so I went into the first turn with a warm and fuzzy but entirely false sense of security.

Tom's eagle eye zeroed in on the weak spots I'd missed and proceeded to set up a monster firegroup of three squads, three MMGs, and a 9-2 on the forward hill hex. These units would make my life miserable all game long by throwing 20+1 and 30+1 shots at anything that moved. They were flanked by the two MTR teams, while everyone else lined up to move
out and confront the Koreans in the forward positions. The first part of the game was a bit of a disaster for me, with Tom's good dice compounding the problems of my crummy set up. The 9-2 Godzilla stack smashed one of my 4-4-7s, a BAZ shot needing a 4TH scored an 8+0 K/3 on another squad, and my forward positions all ended up being killed for FTR. Only the commissar survived by voluntarily breaking and ignominiously routing to the rear. Tom did a great job here, using the big firebase as a hammer and then sending swarms of DC-toting HSs forward to finish me off. It was a textbook attack and I had no real answer.

Things evened back up over turns three and four. Tom's dice cooled a bit, and although the Godzilla stack continued to punish me, his other attacks started to come up empty. I also managed to create a hero and send a 6-2-8 Fanatic with some good rolls, and my HIP squad popped up in a good spot to slow the attack. Overall though, the biggest
factor in the mid-game was a major loss of aggression in Tom's game. He had a chance to DM my commissar which would likely have resulted in the death of that SMC. Several times, I was able to bait Marine squads into taking relatively poor shots at units assault moving in buildings, freeing other previously trapped Koreans to safely fall back across potentially deadly open streets. Finally, the HS/DC blitz, which had been so effective in the first few turns slowed way down, with assault movement more prevalent than double-timing. The end result of Tom's cooling dice, my Heat Of Battle, and the slower pace of attack, was to allow my beleaguered NKPA units to escape relatively intact and to take up very strong positions for the endgame.

This lack of aggression was interesting because I saw something similar occur in Tom's game of Cadets and Cadre with Nick. In both cases, he had his opponent on the ropes and eased up a bit with victory in sight. In both
cases, it came back to cost him. I mention this not to single Tom out or anything, but because I see similar situations come up a lot with other players as well and I think it's worth commenting on: when your opponent is down, kick him! It's just a game and no one will actually mind. If you aren't ruthless during play, you can be assured that the broken squad in the corner will rally or the stray crew will sneak onto the hill and survive the 6+0 for the win. The players I've seen this happen to do well early and avoid bad moves, but just don't quite have it in them to bring the hammer down and thus make the endgame very hard for themselves. So, Tom, my advice to you is to stop being such a nice guy...across the ASL board anyway!

At any rate, Tom's mid-game kindness more than made up for my crummy set up and his work was cut out for him during the end-game. Godzilla continued to smash my defense apart, but my commissar was finally unbroken and in position and was able to rally the NKPA units as fast as they
broke. I'd been able to retreat without losing too many more troops, and so could activate the dreaded 'wall of bodies' defense. This left the Marines feeling some time pressure, and Tom responded like a champ by laying down infantry smoke to move forward to the six VC hexes. The turning point came when a Pershing drove into a building to freeze my MMG squad. The bog roll was a six on the colored die, and the bamboo floor collapsed, sending the Pershing into the cellar. That wasn't too horrible for Tom, as his crew survived, but my MMG then went on a rate tear, killing the crew outright and retaining ROF. That big piece of luck was a major set back, because Tom couldn't get any smoke into the adjacent open ground hex and the MMG was in such an important spot it really needed to be dealt with that turn. The MMG squad ended up surviving and that changed the turn six action from a potentially tight end game into a situation where a very unfortunate 7-6-8
needed to survive a 20-2 shot to
have any hope of victory. As you might expect, the squad didn't pass the ensuing MC and the game ended with a solid NKPA win after a very close early and mid-game.

Overall, it was a fun and fast-playing scenario I'd try again as either side. The monster Marines are always fun to play, but the NKPA has a fair amount of firepower too and lots of tricks and traps to even things up (even if Tom did kill all my Dare-Death squads before I could use them!). I hope you all enjoyed reading this, and Tom, if you are planning to unleash some Jekyll and Hyde ASL action at OwlCon, please save any newfound pit bull aggression for someone else...I've got my excuses all lined up this time!

Thanks for reading,

Zeb aka The Artful Dodger