Monday, June 23, 2008

AAR: TT12 Signal Hill

Zeb Doyle

Zeb Doyle : Japanese
Matt Schwoebel : Austrailians

In a rare but fun Tuesday night fight, Matt Schwoebel and I squared off in a game of TT12 Signal Hill. This scenario is from HoB's Tropic Thunder pack, which is a set of twelve scenarios featuring some very late war fighting between the Japanese and Australians in Balikpapan. The scenario pack itself has a fair amount of errata (easily accessible on the HoB site), scenarios that range from tiny to medium in size, and some cave fighting, so it's not likely to be a product high on the acquisition list for most people. However, there are some fun and interesting-looking PTO scenarios in the pack, so if that's your cup of tea, it's certainly worth checking it out.

TT12 Signal Hill caught my eye because it was a good size to play on a weeknight (25 total squads, 2 tanks, 6.5 turns) and offered some interesting options for both sides. Despite the scenario name, there isn't actually a hill involved and instead has a force of Australians trying to fight the long way across two deluxe city maps and exit at least 22 CVP off the other edge. Schwoebel decided to lead the attack and got a company of 4-5-8s equipped with LMGs and supported by two Matildas, one of which carries a 32FP FT as an MA. That put me in charge of the Japanese: a company of assorted first and second line squads, a 70mm INF gun, a DC, an HMG, and two MMGs. Overall, the two forces are pretty evenly matched numerically. The Aussies, with the FT and the Stealth, prefer to take the fight close-in while the Japanese are going to try and use their machine guns and ROF to do their damage from a distance. Finally, the Aussies have 49 total CVP in their force so the VC requirement of 22 doesn't seem too steep. It should be noted though that 14 CVP come from the two Matildas, and although they are almost invulnerable to the Japanese 70mm INF gun, a lucky THH or street-fighting attack can make the Australian task extremely difficult.

The scenario starts with a fun little pre-game sequence where both sides alternately place a bunch of shell-hole counters across the map and can then randomly reposition a few of them. It's amusing trying to alter the battlefield to your advantage and then redeploying your opponent's shell-holes to (hopefully) lame positions, almost like playing a small Euro game as a warm-up to ASL. I tried to erase a bunch of jungle to open up some LOS while Matt rubbled a bunch of buildings to constrict it, but in the end nothing too significant happened. I then set up my troops, over half of whom were HIP due to SSR. Everyone was pretty evenly distributed across the map with a lot of units far forward to try and slow the Aussie assault as soon as possible. The INF gun actually went way up front in a jungle hex where it would be tough to approach. I back-stopped it with a knee-mortar, figuring that if Matt did try to deal with the gun position, I'd get some air-burst shots on his troops. The only other real trap I came up with was to use the DC as a set AT mine. It was the first time I'd ever tried that, but given the constrictive Deluxe terrain and the vast amount of rubble we'd created pre-game to constrict things even more, it seemed like a worthwhile gambit.

The game opened with Matt charging out of his corner and unleashing a flurry of body blows. He trapped a forward 3-4-7 and eliminated it in CC. Elsewhere, my INF gun was also overrun after it gacked several shots at point-blank bore-sighted targets. That was pretty disappointing, and a stack of Aussies ended up in Melee with the gun crew. In my PFPh, things only became more irritating when my knee MTR opened up on the gun position. This was the exact situation I'd envisioned pregame, with shells dropping on my step-reducing emplaced crew and the air-burst exposed Australians, but the MTR team had left their WP at home and was just as inaccurate as the INF gun crew at hitting bore-sighted targets. In the ensuing CCPh, my gun was taken out and my first trap came up empty.

Over the next turn or so, the punching was fast and furious. My 10-1/HMG combo lived up to the pre-match hype and went on some nice rate tears, killing a few Aussie squads with repeated 6-1 shots as they attempted to cross the streets. Meanwhile, Matt landed a pair of close-in hay-makers with his flame-throwing Matilda. I lost a 4-4-7 and a 2-2-8/MMG on rolls that were so low they started fires. This was really the defining sequence of the fight because I couldn't continue to absorb punishment like that for long. However, the fires rapidly blazed up and started to spread, cutting off the middle of the board and sending smoke swirling everywhere. Things rapidly came to a head as the death-dealing Matilda rolled toward its next target and blundered into my set AT mine...

It was now my chance to land a punishing haymaker, but my second trap failed as miserably as the first when the THH botched his TC to trigger the mine. That bit of bad fate knocked me down for a ten-count and I was busy lamenting my fate when Matt reminded me what a crazy game this can be by rolling an 11 on his next FT attack. That ended the Waltzing Matilda threat by X-ing out the weapon, and also Recalled the tank since it was also the MA. Just like that, seven precious VP were eliminated and I was back in the fight. Even worse for Matt, the aftermath of the FT attacks lingered on for the rest of the game, with the spreading fires and smoke severely hampering his ability to maneuver on the already cramped Deluxe boards.

Thanks to the blazes, the Australians were now forced to largely channel their attack down just one map, with a width of five or six hexes. At this point, I had Matt trapped in a corner and was able to make the fight very conservative and really limit his ability to maneuver. The drifting smoke made it very easy to reposition my troops in depth, voluntarily break when he came adjacent, and then quickly rally and move back forward, limiting the Aussie attack to gains of only a hex or two per turn. Matt did a great job given the circumstances and took advantage of every mistake I made, but I got every roll I needed and in the end I was able to tie him up until the bell rang. If memory serves, he ended up getting eleven or so of the required 22 points in what was an interesting but not great game.

Interesting but not great also sums up my thoughts on the scenario as well. The Matildas are vital for the Aussies as exit points, but the tight terrain, the set AT mine, and the THHs are almost certain to claim at least one. Matt wasn't too aggressive with his non-FT Matilda and it still had to survive several THH/CC attempts to get off-map. Meanwhile, the auto-death attacks from the FT tank are also vital to clear out the step-reducing Japanese, but the X11 MA makes it very scary to use since a single poor roll effectively kills the tank. Although there's a lot to like about the scenario, like the pre-game shellhole placement and the PTO city-fight, too much depends on the Matildas, especially the FT one. If I were to play it again, I think a good fix would be to SSR that the loss of the FT doesn't cause Recall. That would have put Matt around 17 of the required 22 EVP and made for a much better game. The Aussie player will still have to be very careful with his armor, but should even things up a lot. The official balance is to lower the required EVP total to 19, which obviously helps but doesn't fix the current gaminess with the FT. At the moment, TT12 Signal Hill is 6 Australian wins to 12 Japanese wins on ROAR, so either way a bit of help probably isn't amiss.

Thanks to Matt for a very enjoyable Tuesday and for great sportsmanship even after getting stuck with the tougher side, and thanks to you for reading!


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