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!


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