Tuesday, April 29, 2008

AAR: ESG25 Road Out Of Rangoon

Zeb Doyle

British: Zeb Doyle
Japanese: Matt Schwoebel

It's always rather amusing how some ASLers have strong preferences for certain styles of scenarios or for a particular nationality. Matt Schwoebel, for example, is the biggest fan of Gurkhas I've ever had the pleasure of playing against. So, I figured that ESG25 Road Out Of Rangoon would be a great scenario for our next match. It's a 1942 Burmese jungle scenario with some cut-off British forces trying to push through a thin screen of Japanese and escape. There's guns for both sides, armor for both sides, and oh yes, one of the most powerful Gurkha force ever seen in ASL. You can imagine my surprise when Matt agreed to play the scenario and then took the Japanese.

Road Out Of Rangoon is a good-looking scenario that takes place on boards 34 and 37. Both maps are have a lot of jungle, but while board 34 is almost completely covered, board 37 is more open with a fair amount of palm trees as well. The Japanese get one road-block, a 75mm ART piece, and roughly six squad-equivalents on each map as well as three reinforcing Ha-Gos on turn three. The British get six 4-5-7s and a 9-2 entering on board 37 and a great Gurkha force on board 34 of five 6-4-8s, three 4-5-8s, a 10-2, a 9-2, an 8-0, and a hero. Additionally, four Stuarts and two trucks towing 94mm guns enter on either board. All in all, it's a very interesting match-up of forces, with some great leadership for the Commonwealth. The stealthy Japanese are really in their element with all the jungle though, and their 75mm guns pack a 12TK which can be very painful for the 4AF Stuarts.

The longer I looked at the situation, the more I understood why Matt took the Japanese. The Commonwealth wins either by clearing two roadblocks or by clearing one roadblock and exiting 25CVP off the far edge. The scenario is only 6.5 turns long, and although the Japanese have to set up fairly far back, the overall math still wasn't too encouraging. To clear a well-placed roadblock on board 34, even after running forward as far as possible on the first turn, Gurkha Force would have to average three hexes per turn for the rest of the game down a dense-jungle road in order to have a single clearance roll. That didn't seem likely even for 10-2 led 6-4-8s, so I starting thinking about the other possible VC.

Over on the more open board 37, the terrain dictates a more forward placement for the roadblock. Here, the first turn rush is also easy enough, and leaves the British only six to eight hexes away from the fortification with six turns remaining. Of course, the EVP requirement still looms large, and although the Stuarts are worth 20 points, you still have to come up with another five points which will have to cover 18 hexes in six turns even after the first turn rush. That seems depressingly similar to the three hexes a turn the Gurkha force would have to average, but on board 37 the numerous palm trees offer the potential for faster movement, and the trucks can also try to load up some infantry and make a dash during the end-game. It still looked tricky, but I figured it was my best option. Just to try and be extra cunning, I decided that I'd also bring the board 34 Gurkha force over to board 37 as soon as possible to bolster the attack there. That had the disadvantage of signaling which VC I'd selected, but I could also avoid throwing those awesome 6-4-8s away on a useless objective.

Things started out well for me over the first two turns. Everyone ran forward as far as possible on turn one, just as planned, and then I shifted the Gurkhas onto board 37 while the British continued to push forward. Matt countered by trying to shift his board 34 troops over as well, but they'd been set up to defend, not to move, and so I was able to steal a march on them. Even better, all the Japanese HIP units were on board 34 and Matt popped them up as part of the shift. Fighting without fear of any Japanese traps was pretty nice. Finally, the ART piece on that side of the map was rendered useless as well, so I'd call the shift a success.

The mid-game consisted of my British force grinding down the original board 37 defenders. I had a 9-2/2xMMG/2x 4-5-7 stack that did great work dishing out 8+0 and 16+0 shots all game long, but Matt did a nice job keeping me from turning his flank and holding me back from the roadblock. Meanwhile, my Gurkhas were butting heads with the board 37 ART gun, which was in a very nice spot. Flanked by bamboo, with several hexes of palm tree hindrances in front, it had a pretty good LOS and was enough to keep my Stuarts at bay. I sent a 6-4-8 to hunt down a supporting Japanese squad nearby while the rest of my troops tried to whittle it down with prep and defensive fire while advancing ever closer.

This was easier said than done; the palm tree hindrances and dense jungle stacking and FG restrictions meant the best shot I could get at three hexes was a 16+2, not bad but not great against an 8ML step-reducing crew. As I tried to close the range by pushing through the palm trees, my fire got somewhat more effective, but now the return fire from the ART piece was just deadly, with acquisition and point-blank range offset by a meager hindrance. My dice ended up going crazy, with my 10-2 battle-hardening to a heroic 10-3, my 9-2 turning into a 10-2, and a 6-4-8 becoming fanatic and generating a hero. I also rolled a few boxcars on MCs for my squads, though, and ended up taking heavy losses before the gun finally went down on turn four, along with all the Japanese who had shifted over from board 34.

That opened things up a lot for my Stuarts, which had spent most of the game hiding from the gun's 12TK, but with only three turns left in the game and an intact roadblock in my way, things were still looking grim. I pushed forward as much as possible on turn five, taking advantage of the weakening Japanese defense, and managed to get a single 4-5-7 adjacent to the roadblock. Here, I caught a huge break by rolling the required 3 on the first clearance DR and actually managing to remove the key fortification in record time! In the Commonwealth rear area, preparations for a last turn dash commenced and the trucks were hastily loaded up with crews, leaders, and anything else with a high EVP value.

Matt was playing his usual great game, however, and had prudently dropped a 2-2-8 with an MMG back down the road for just such an eventuality. He also had his three HA-GO tanks parked in good blocking spots, and his stout defense earlier had put my infantry in positions where they were no threat to exit. Despite my stellar luck in clearing the roadblock, he was still in excellent position for the win. I ended up having to throw caution to the winds and use my Stuarts to aggressively seek out and challenge the Japanese armor. Meanwhile, my remaining infantry surged forward to push the few remaining Japanese squads away from the road. I ended up killing one of Matt's HA-GOs but also malfunctioned an MA and his 2-2-8/MMG goalie was just impossible to get to. This set up an anticlimactic turn seven in which my Stuarts engaged in some hapless and harmless BFF before driving off. The two trucks then sped down the road, but the MMG and Japanese tanks were too much for them and neither survived to exit. Matt ended up with a well-deserved win and I walked away having destroyed the roadblock and having exited 19 of the required 25VP.

Overall, it was a fun scenario that does a great job capturing the desperation the cut-off Commonwealth troops must have felt while trying to evacuate. As far as balance goes, I feel that it's rather more difficult for the Commonwealth. Most of the East Side Gamer scenarios seem designed to be played in a very set-piece patterned fashion, and Road Out Of Rangoon is no exception. I tried to break that pattern with the Gurkha board-shift and it's possible I tilted the scenario against me. I've also failed in this AAR to mention that both Commonwealth forces have two DCs, which of course can be used for clearing roadblocks and some may argue that also tips the balance away from the Japanese.

Because of these factors, the jury is still out for me concerning just how hard this is on the Commonwealth, but I was well aware of the DC clearance possibilities from the beginning, I really do think the Gurkha shift helped me a moderate amount, and I still feel that the attacker really has his work cut out for him in this one. The time-line is so demanding that just one or two bad rolls (especially clearing the roadblocks) can knock you right out of the game. In my playing, rolling that three on my clearance DR really kept me in it, and the ending still wasn't that close. Final verdict: fun scenario, I like the combined arms early PTO action, but I might give the Commonwealth the balance or even an extra turn.

Thanks to Matt for being a great opponent and thanks to you for reading.


Sunday, April 20, 2008

AAR: NQNG6 One Eye To The West

Scott Bell

Russian: Scott Bell
German: Dan Preston

Dan and I decided to report this scenario together as each turn unfolds in order to provide a direct assessment as the scenario unfolds. In brief, this scenario takes place in Vienna very late in the war (1945). The Russians are moving North at full speed, and the German SS are attempting to halt their advance. The Germans defend two bridges over which the Russians must cross (at least one of the bridges).

Turn 1:

Russian: I have moved all of my units aggressively towards the river and am poised for a crossing over the Eastern most bridge. The Western bridge is gaurded by a Tiger II tank, so I have decided to stay away from that bridge and focus my efforts on the Eastern bridge. Dan had a 20L gun gaurding the road upon which the bridge lies (over which I must cross). I circled a Sherman tank around the Eastern edge of the board and managed to break the crew that was manning that gun. I also managed to break a half-squad that was directly adjacent to the bridge on the opposite side of the river. I am poised to cross the bridge in force. With the 20L gun silenced (at least temporarily), I have increased my chances for a successful crossing, however the Tiger II has a long shot across the road that runs west to east on the board. I must cross that road to get to the eastern bridge, so the dash will be perilous.

German: The Germans are perilously threadbare. The Russians have 18 squads with excellent leadership, and the Germans have a total of seven. I am outnumbered in tanks 5 to 2. I can maybe hold one bridge but not 2. I planned a gambit move to lay smoke with the Tiger on the far left bridge, plant the DC, then route away and hope my 9-1 can rally the engineer squad with a 7 in a safe building to the rear. However, the Tiger threw a track on startup, and is now defending his own bridge with a LOS to the other one. The infantry moved away to help defend the other bridge. With my quad 20 unmanned, it is only a matter of time before the Russians force their way across. After they're over the river in force, they can afford to ignore my armored pillbox. My scant reinforcements CXed up the road to provide a backstop, and the remaining infantry are fading away from the crossing point to avoid getting creamed in the upcoming Russian prep fire.

Turn 2:

Russian: Dan did a good job of laying resid fire on the one hex that I needed to get across the Eastern bridge. It proved to be costly in that I overloaded that hex with broken squads causing substantial movement (overstacking) penalties. Therefore, his resid fire effectively cost me a turn, which is what he wanted to do. I am however in position on the next turn to cross the bridge to the other side of the river. Once I accomplish this, I can fan out and get out of the narrow passageway that has me bottled up. I still face the imobilized King Tiger on the west bridge that has a good firelane across the road that I must cross to get to the bridge. I am not across yet, but I am hoping for the best (next turn). Dan has fallen back with the rest of his force to the third (victory point) board, where it is apparent he intends to make a stand. His intent will be to keep me from getting onto that 3rd (north most) board, in order to deprive me of victory points. One interesting final note, was that I made the mistake of trying a subsequent shot at a broken SS half-squad that battle-hardened it and created a leader. It has now remanned the 20L gun. This was a big mistake on my part. I can only hope that I can rectify it here shortly without costing too much time. I need to move past that area quickly, and now it appears that I will be held up somewhat. I am hoping to cover some ground on my next move, which will be very important.

German: The (miraculously) remanned quad 20 will soak up some prep fire from Scott's units, which means that they won't be moving over towards board 45. The immobile King Tiger on the other bridge remains an impediment to the victory parade waiting to cross over to the west bank. He will either have to try and slip past it, or destroy it. Once his units begin moving across that bridge, he can ignore it entirely. My surviving units have fallen back to board 45, and re-established a defensive line to wait for Herr Barkmann's arrival. Having another tank will hopefully swing the odds back in my favor. It will take his units at least another turn to reach the next line, and I hope to be ready. The German 9-1 and engineers who laid the residual fire on the bridge approach were broken and routed back, and should rally this turn. With any kind of luck, they should be in a position to resist the oncoming Red wave, or at least fall back to safety.

Turn 3:

Russian: I made decent progress with regards to getting close to the "victory point" board. This is where Dan has drawn his line in the sand. He has to stop me here, before I get to the buildings. I have to get to the buildings while controlling my losses in the process. During this turn, I killed a fanatic german half-squad in close combat (with overwhelming numbers of 6-2-8's). I also killed a hero. However, these units were revived due to my own error, so I just cleaned up my own mess. It cost me a small amount of time in the process, though I was not set back too much. I have now passed the Tiger II, and while it does still guard Dan's western flank, it has now been bypassed. The fact that it is immobilized helps me, but the positioning of the tank is quite good. It will significantly inhibit any efforts on my part to sweep with a left hook, costing me valuable time in the process. Dan (as always) has done a good job of falling back on defense. The presence of panzerfausts ('45) with German SS makes it impossible to get behind him. Dan is delaying for time, and has fallen back into good fire positions. Finally, the tank duel appears to be slightly in my favor at this point, due to his Panther being his only mobile tank. The tank duel may go a long ways towards determining the winner.

German: Not much has moved this turn. My 9-1 and engineer squad finally ran to safety on board 45 after rallying. They now guard my right flank, and are some of my best remaining units. My infantry has fanned out and concealed itself in the most forward buildings of board 45. My main intent is to put fire on any Russian infantry units trying to move past me in the open, that is, make them lose more time moving up. I will then attempt to fade back and deny them fire opportunities at me, while I remain concealed. Skulking helps. Sooner or later I will have to fight. Herr Barkmann finally arrived with his Panther, and guards the left flank. Sooner or later the Reds will have to come after him. My aim now is to run the Russians out of time.

Turn 4:

Russian: I made good progress in this turn. My atttack followed two strategies. First, I sucessfully used my squads in the middle of the board to impede Dan's SS squads (1/2 of his infantry force) from moving to the North edge of the board where he would try to get in front of me. Second, I have managed to get my squads into superior forward fire positions to where it will be costly for Dan to stay and fight, due to my substantial numerical superiority.

German: Not much moved this turn. I tried to shift some infantry over to my left flank, in order to put down some fire on Scott's encroaching infantry horde. I was only partly successful, due to his tanks having a bead on the streets I wanted to use to shift over. I managed to shift my 9-1 with engineer and charge into that direction, but they had to take the long way around. Meanwhile, I have only a small amount of fire to bring onto the Russian infantry when they try to come through into the open. I am also denied the use of the street in the center by Scott's super stack with his 10-2 and 3 458 squads. The tanks are already aquired on the buildings to the other side, so some of my best infantry is effectively pinned in place. The Panther remains the bulwark of defense on my left flank.

Turn 5:

Russian: Now I am in position for victory points. I am at a place where I can advance into the positions that I need to to win. The last line of defense for Dan is a Panther tank. While it is in a good position, I am close enough to where I can bring infantry heat upon it (street fighting), and the Panther won't have a lot of help from SS squads which are not in position. Dan is now (in my opinion) at a place where he almost needs to go on the offensive in order to root me out. He does not have the necessary force to do this. Therefore, I have backed off the gas (figuratively), and am taking less risk. I am where I need to be, and will be able to drop some serious firepower on the SS if they stay in their current positions.

German: I am now falling back from my front line positions to reinforce the wall-building festung on my left flank. Most of the rest of my infantry are already in position there, hindered by Scott's malf-gun IS-2 which audaciously parked in my midst. My Panther moved into its final hull-down position to fight it out with this reckless Russian beast, hits but does not kill it. Meanwhile, German infantry takes up residence underneath the Panther, and my MMG squad must fall back from its front line position. It assault moves into the orchard road adjacent to the Russian tank, and in the CCPh moves in and kills it with an ATMM. That threat dispatched, I now build up my defense around the wall and building complex. One lone SS squad holds the southern approach, and I fear that its contribution will be lacking. I am short of infantry, but I need to be strong somewhere.

Turn 6:

Russian: Dan surprised me somewhat with the speed in which he was able to swing around in front of me. It was a good move and he fortified his final line of defense in a very strong manner. Unfortunately for him, it was one turn too late. My strategy had delayed him just enough to get myself into my ideal positions before he could get into his. He needed to attack me as I approached the victory hexes. I had already moved (for the most part) into hexes adjacent to victory hexes, meaning that I only needed to sit pat and advance in at the end of the game. What was significant about this, was that Dan, who needed to be the defensive player, suddenly needed to become the offensive player to root me out, and he lacked the squads to do that. I was patient and was prepared to let him try to force me out of my strong positions, which was nearly impossible due to my superiority in numbers. Dan had succeeded in reducing my area of advance to a choke point. However, he needed for me to engage him, so that he could inflict losses and reduce my available victory points. I realized this, and rather than engaging him, I took at least half of my force and swung out left (West) and got myself into a position to be able to advance into victory hexes all along the front, especially further West (away from his choke point). I would equate the end game for the Germans, to trying to plug too many holes in the dam. I spread out, putting myself into a position to advance all along the front. Dan did not have the necessary forces to spread out, ensuring a Russian victory. On a final note, we had an interesting final engagement. Dan's Panther got into a good hull down position. I sacrificed a Sherman to get Dan to fire. He took it out, but flamed it causing smoke. He had no choice but to shoot at the Sherman, because it was going to get into a position to get a good side shot on him otherwise. As a result of the sacrifice, and with the help of the smoke, I was able to move my JS-II into a frontal hull down position, a nd took out the Panther during the advance fire phase. At this point, Dan conceded.


Final Analysis:

German: This game became far more difficult when that King Tiger threw a track on startup. The key to the German victory is to delay the Russians as long as possible. They absolutely need to hold the Reds at the two chokepoints on the board, namely the crossing points. The Russians are too strong and too numerous to try to fight it out on board 45 for more than a couple of turns. Blowing one bridge is very important. The Germans have enough juice to hold one crossing, but not two. The key to victory in the end game is to make the Russians set up to assault or move up, then fade away while keeping the German force intact. The Germans only have 7 squads and one crew, and the Russians have 18 squads. The Germans simply cannot go head to head. Concerning the tank battle, the Tiger reigns supreme because it can kill anything the Russians have. The Panther is also useful, but cannot stand up for very long against the IS-2 tanks. The Shermans alone are no match for either one, but have superior machine guns and gunnery. Also Smoke capability and special ammo make them a threat if they work as a team. Overall, I would give the Russians a slim edge on this one, if only on sheer numbers and firepower.

Russian: This game became advantage Russian early on, in that I was able to cross the bridge with minimal losses. This combined with the Tiger II becoming imobilized and a panzerfaust being a dud (which should have been a sure kill on one of my Shermans), got me off to a good start. I malfed a JS-II later, but this loss was minimal compared to that Tiger II becoming imobilized. Finally, the game was determined in my favor due to the fact that Dan had to defend a long front as I proceeded towards the victory conditions. This caused him to have to spread out to defend the front's entire length. Combining this with the use of my tanks and infantry to cut off his shifting his forces to the point of my final attack by delaying the shift by one turn, enabled me to get get to the victory line before him. Dan made a good tactical effort of it at the end, but my getting to the ideal fire positions before him, sealed his fate. I ended up winning rather handily in victory points, however, had his Tiger II not immobilized, we both agree this could have come down to the wire. The rest of my tanks were able to effectively gang up on the Panther at the games end. I would agree with Dan's assessment of a slim edge to the Russians on this one, but I would be very interested to see the impact of a mobile Tiger II during the end game. It was a lot of fun.