Saturday, July 19, 2008

AAR: AP34 Bocage Blockage

Jack O'Quin

Americans: Jack O'Quin
Germans: Jim Martin

Jim Martin and I played this scenario from the new Action Pack 4 at the Austin game day last Saturday.

For me, the appeal of this scenario is as an introduction to bocage rules [B9.5] and tactics. The date is 17 June, 1944, when the allies are trying to cope with the unanticipated difficulties of that uniquely Norman terrain feature. No special equipment, like the Cullen "rhino" device, was available yet. Instead, the US player must choose two of four support elements: assault engineers with four demo charges, three .50-cal heavy machine guns, two modules of 100+mm OBA, or a pair of M4 Sherman tanks. Making those choices and then figuring out how to use them mirrors in ASL terms the challenge facing Allied infantry commanders.

That was exactly what I wanted to do, so Jim graciously let me take the Americans. I chose the assault engineer and armor support groups. By SSR, those engineers can breach bocage hex-sides with DC using the B23.711 row house rules. I figured that was a good way to get armor though the hedgerows. The Americans only have six turns to take three of the four stone buildings, so they need to move quickly, which is hard to do in the bocage. The .50-cal machine gun support group, would provide lots of firepower, but lines of sight are short and those guns would move slowly in this terrain. Similarly, I figured the OBA would take too long to call in and might get in my own way during a close-range battle.

I gave two of the four DC's to 8-0 and 7-0 leaders, taking advantage of their faster movement. Then, in the turn one RPh, I recombined a pair of 347 assault engineer half-squads into a 667, with smoke exponent 5.

Jim's setup was strong in the middle along hex row Q, where boards 55 and 54 meet. The six-squad German force can't be strong everywhere. Since it looked somewhat weaker on my right flank, I decided to make my main attack there.

Jim had a 467 squad defending the 54R1 stone building, at the front left edge of the German setup area. The Americans took it in turn one using the engineer halftrack to VBM freeze the squad, then running a strong infantry platoon and one of the tanks up behind it. The defending 467 broke in the AFPh, but was able to route to the woods behind, because there were no Americans in position to interdict the row Q road. I sent another platoon along the opposite board edge to threaten the 55P8 stone building. A 60mm mortar and one of the tanks took up overwatch positions along the row V hedges, while a third platoon closed on the 54T3 wooden building. The 667 advanced into 54S4, gaining Wall Advantage and then concealment [B9.55] behind that corner of the central bocage field.

In German turn one Prep Fire, the 81mm mortar opened fire from its HIP location in Q6. Technically, it should have been revealed when my 667 in S4 gained WA in the previous APh, but that didn't matter. We were both becoming more familiar with the peculiarities of bocage while playing. I was lucky the mortar needed to change covered arc: although Jim rolled a hit, the colored die of 3 did not maintain ROF due to NT CA change penalties [C2.5]. My squad survived the ensuing 8+1 on the IFT, and was very happy not to get more of the same.

Jim's mortar placement totally surprised me, but it really makes good sense. Although generally one of the most powerful weapons in the ASL arsenal, short lines of sight make it hard to use in this scenario. The level one board 55 hills are all completely blocked by woods, bocage and in-season orchards, so the usual sites are worthless. The board 55 road from I4 to Q8 is an obvious possibility. But, with ROF 3, a minimum range of 2 hexes and bocage TEM of only +1 against indirect fire, this mortar can make almost any bocage field difficult for infantry to approach.

In turn 2, an American tank placed WP smoke on the road in Q8, where the drift would cover Jim's mortar. By SSR, there is a mild breeze from the east, making this tactic more effective. My 667 skulked back to the T3 building to avoid getting smashed in defensive fire before the smoke could drift in the AFPh. Defensive fire from the 467/LMG in R5 caused a morale check, but the 667 rolled a 2, became fanatic and created a hero. The 7-0 passed his DC to the hero, and they advanced back into S4 at the end of the turn, gaining concealment in the bocage against the 81mm mortar now covered with drifting smoke.

The American HT bypassed the woods in 55P1, VBM freezing the concealed unit there. To me, this gap looked just wide enough to permit vehicular bypass. Jim concurred, but I doubt he had noticed that possibility during setup. I recommend that both players agree on this crucial feature before starting, since it strongly affects both the American plan and the German defense. Looking at it again today with no Plexiglas covering the board, I now have doubts. Plexiglas makes the space appear wider, because one can see open ground underneath the counter from both sides. Without it, the gap looks too narrow.

American infantry on the right flank tried to cross the road in row Q using smoke grenades, failing twice, but succeeding on their third attempt. That last unit was able to assault move safely to Q1, then advance into 55P1, where the defender was revealed as a dummy in the CCPh. More infantry advanced into the row Q road, adjacent to the row P woods.

American infantry on the left flank closed up with the row R hedges. The large German stack in the P8 stone building held their fire, retaining concealment. But, American defensive fire eliminated the dummy stack in the P9 wooden building.

Since the German 81mm mortar was covered with smoke, Jim dismantled it in his PFPh, preparing to move back, only to have my 667 break the crew in defensive fire. Another stack retreated from Q4 back to the next field, while the 467/LMG continued to hold tough in R5. Unable to break the American infantry, it took some stiff return fire, but created a hero of its own on a Heat of Battle roll.

In turn 3, American infantry and armor poured through the gap on their right. The 347/DC in P1 double timed to L0, then placed a DC on the L0/K1 bocage hexside, successfully breaching it [B23.711] in the AFPh. The HT moved to M1 and the other tank to O1 in bypass of the bocage hexside. The center platoon moved into Q4 and P3, flanking the main defensive position and advancing into P4. The platoon on the left infiltrated into Q10, P10 and O10, flanking the P8 building. One 666 advanced adjacent, into the P9 building.

In their ensuing PFPh, the Germans in P8 finally opened fire with a 9-1, 467/HMG stack, breaking the adjacent 666 with a 20+1, but not retaining ROF. This squad failed its ELR, but survived and later routed to N10. Jim's tough 467/LMG in R5 advanced to S6, threatening to retake the stone building in R1, which was inadequately protected. Luckily, defensive fire broke them. They routed to T10, which was bad for the forward motion of my attack.

In turn 4, one Sherman moved to T6, covering the road leading to P8. A squad of the left flank platoon, moved concealed back to S10, then advanced into CC and captured the broken 467 in T10, which was unable to route away.

The right flank force moved up to threaten J3, gaining WA in J2 and advancing a conceal hero/DC into K3, where they were attacked by a 6 FP minefield, but to no effect. The HT moved to H3, where its machine gun could cover the road leading back to O8. The other Sherman moved through the bocage breach to K1 in support of this attack.

Jim's half-squad with PSK in the J3 stone building prep fired at my unit behind the wall in J2, but the backblast broke them, putting another victory building within my grasp. A lucky shot from the tank in T6 broke and casualty reduced the squad manning the HMG in P8, putting a third victory location within reach.

In turn 5, American infantry closed in on T6 from both sides. To make sure of this victory hex, the 8-0 placed a DC, killing the remaining defenders. Still concerned about the remaining German mines, one squad moved into O4 and did a Search, which revealed AT mines there, a good placement for the Germans.

Meanwhile, the HT did his VBM freeze trick on the defenders of the H5 stone building. US infantry moved adjacent. The hero ran from the K3 minefield to G5 and placed his DC in H5, breaking the defenders in the AFPh. The tank in K1 moved up to cover the road from I4 to Q8.

At this point, the Americans had all four stone buildings. Jim gamely counterattacked with the few remaining German units, but American firepower was too strong. At the end of turn 5, he conceded.

This scenario offers plenty of challenges for both sides. It looks tough for the Americans because they have a long way to go in tight terrain. But, the Germans have only a small force to hold them. In our game, the decisive moment came in turn 3, when a large American force broke through along the west board edge. That kept the Germans from falling back, unhinged their strong central position, and allowed the Americans to attack the J3 stone building a turn or two sooner than expected. Otherwise, they would likely have run out of time. If the players decide that 55P1 does not allow vehicular bypass, then the scenario looks even harder for the Americans.

With multiple American support group options, "Bocage Blockage" offers considerable replay value. There are six different two-group combinations out of four choices, giving a kind of rock-paper-scissors feel to this game. Should the Germans defend against armor or artillery? Things would go very differently in an attack using the artillery or .50-cal machine guns. But, I like the way armor and DC breaches worked together, and would be very tempted to combine those units again.


Sunday, July 06, 2008

AAR: FF11 Out of Ethiopia

Nick Drinkwater

British Player [SAN 3, ELR 3]: Nick Drinkwater
Italian Player [SAN 4, ELR4]: Tom Gillis

Tom and me hooked up for a second time this week for an afternoon of ASL. Our first foray was a disaster as we took a brief spin through the Friendly Fire Scenario Adolf's Amateurs where, after two turns, I declared victory after crushing 8VP of Tom's Russians, and we both declared it a huge limping fido...imagine our dismay 24 hours later when we realised we'd completely screwed the pooch on the victory conditions and made a massive mistake. We declared the game null and void...and judgement on this scenario is reserved for another day.

The problem we now had is that we were now really pushed for time, so I suggested, with a huge amount of trepidation, that we try something from the famous "set up and play" pack Fire Fights. "Trepidation" as these scenarios being so small can be dicey, and there are definitely some serious balance issues on some of the scenarios - my previous foray into this territory had been fairly horrible with two stabs at "The Hunted", just to double-check that the Germans cannot possibly win. However, with an acceptance that fate may be whimsical in this, we opted for "Out of Ethiopia", a 1941 desert scenario set during the Italian invasion of British Somaliland.

The appeal of the Fire Fights packs is that they are all generally short to very short, come with their own pre-printed half-board (many of which can be added to existing boards), and are designed to be played in an evening. This particular one is a 'Take the Hill' scenario, where three and a half second-rate British squads are holed up on a stony knoll, with a LMG, ATR and importantly a 40L AT Gun (under low ammo), and a 9-1 and 8-1, and a Rolls Royce armoured car (with a mighty ATR and rear firing MG). They receive sangars for all units and a couple of wires to make the top of the hill a tough place to assault - to win the Italians need to take the three Level 3 & 4 hexes.

As the scenario is only 5 turns long and there is little subtlety in the VC, I hunkered down with a solid hilltop defence and waited for the inevitable. Both sides receive random reinforcements for Turn 1 - Tom pulled a squad-leader-MG combo, my luck was to get assistance from two wholesome 436s! Oooh, can't wait...The Italians have a mixed battlegroup of 5 L3s, a batch of trucks, 5 x 346s and a squad and a half of 447s (engineers), various leaders, MGs and a very critical unit, a flame thrower. Light dust is in effect, so a quick review of the various DLV, hammada and scrub rules and we were away. Note there are some important errata in effect for this one: the Brits receive a crew for their gun (!), the board is inverted with respect to setup on the card and there are some terrain clarifications.

With only the board width to play with, Tom came on with the tanks leading with platoon movement and throwing up some dust, but they hadn't reckoned with the dead-eye shooting of the British AT Gun. Despite their opponents being very small and moving, they quickly punched holes through two of them, and the third was shocked on a great result from the Boys ATR! Tom's flanking infantry were quickly dispatched by some excellent shooting by the 9-1 and LMG and things were starting to go wrong quickly for Tom. However, as is the very nature of these small and a little bit dicey games, a hot sniper broke my summit 447 and I was suddenly MG-less - a huge result.

The Italians continued to grind on upwards and Tom started the FT on its fun, and with some motion dust and smart manoeuvring causing the break and surrender of my speed-bump 8-1 and a 447, and things really got interesting when a second sniper recalled my luxury crowd-control car! However, Tom missed a chance to FTR a 447 due to truck and platoon movement intricacies and his lowly infantry continued to struggle against the myriad -1 and 0 shots - I just pulled the front of my tin hats down a bit further, gritted my teeth and continued being stoic.

The end game in Turn 5 was swift when it came - the remnants of Tom's infantry tried to push on and were at the very base of the victory hill looking for a game winning advance, but an 8-1 got hung on the wire, and most crucially of all, Tom's engineers broke for the second time and they were taken out of the equation - the -1 for using the FT is really tough for Italians in the desert. Now it was left to a couple of squads to do the business, but they all failed under the last defensive fire shot of the game and we were done - but it was close and a squeaker!

So a winner in the pack after all - good fun this one. Yes, it could be horribly dicey with some early turn weirdness, but we both felt we were both in it all the way yet still hanging on desperately and that is always a good sign. I got lucky at the end with a couple of low roll shots and my dust mods were low at crucial points so I was able to hang on tight for a very squeaky victory. Worth playing and some fun if you have only have 3 hours to play and you're don't mind weird luck swings to throw up some odd results.

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

AAR: RPT-9 Shelling the Sivash

Nick Drinkwater

Romanian / German [ELR 3, SAN 3]: Nick Drinkwater
Russian / Partisan [ELR 4/5, SAN 3]: Tom Gillis

Tom's on his summer vacation right now and is looking to fill his idle hours with some serious gaming - luckily I was able to snag him for a week night's gaming from this small/medium scenario from the first Rally Point pack - this is my third outing from this pack, having already squeaked a narrow win against Tom in Cadets & Cadre and then been hammered by Ken in a very one-sided playing of the Ferenc Josef Barracks. This one, set in the Crimea in April 1944, sets a screen of fairly good Romanians with very thinly stretched German support behind them against a mobile late war Russian battle-group. To keep the Axis on their toes, the Russians receive Turn 3 reinforcements in the form of three Partisan squads that can come on from any board edge - this is to help the Russians in their VC of enabling 8 infantry only to exit from a narrow 5-hex wide corridor at the back of Half-Board 49.

The Romanians start this scenario as the front, folding defense - they have three 447s, a couple of 347s, a MMG, LMG, a hero and a 9-1 leader - as its April 44, they have also been issued with newly oiled 1-hex range Panzerfausts to keep the Russian tanks honest. They also receive a stack of "?" which I scatter around in a none too clever way up front on Board 17 to try and put a crimp in Tom's on-board entry manoeuvres - the rest (including a hidden 50L Pak) are placed centrally at the board seam to try and cover both flanks, ut also to be able to fallback gradually onto their German backbone.

Behind these poor sods, the Germans are stretched in the thinnest of lines in the transitional part of Board 49 where country meets town to make the Russian assault across the open ground deadly - ploughed fields are in effect and these are absolutely lethal on attacking infantry and easy to defend and there's a lot of them in play here. I keep both vehicles fairly central as I am conscious that to lose either my Marder or my Stug to an assaulting concealed partisan creeping on at the board edge would be criminal - they also receive a 237 each as infantry support. I place my 467, 9-1 and MMG in one of the back exit buildings of Board 49 - its job is to lay a lateral firelane down across the Russian exit corridor, but also to survive and dispatch any sneaky concealed partisans that may advance in and try their arm at CC to tie my guys up whilst their colleagues 'do a runner'. This MMG will be covered by a mutually supporting equivalent from the Turn 2 reinforcements to double up on this exit gambit when they arrive.

The Russians have approximately 8 458s and a couple of 447s coming on in two waves, with exceptional Russian leadership (9-2, 9-1, 7-0), a couple of machine guns and a mighty FT to add some oomph in the end game assault against possible German MG nests in stone buildings. They also receive a tasty SU 122 which they will need for some Smoke to cross all that open ground, and in Turn 2, two T34 M43s. Recognising that he has 7 movement phases to cross a straight line distance of 20 contested, open ground hexes, Tom sees the need for speed and pushes his SU 122 and riders down the far west flank looking for gaps in the almost diaphanous defence. Unluckily for Tom, he offers me a flank shot at range to my 50L - that misses finding the APCR by one (four when I needed a three), but in a rare but welcome spate of good rolling, I find a 5 and then a 6 to scratch the Assault Gun - the crew do get out but its a great start for me. The bulk of Tom's attackers push on through the centre and east where they run up against an immovable object of for once, rock hard Romanians.

On this eastern flank, the two T34s push up here to approximately hexrow 6-7 where they start to threaten the first of the Germans near the Board seam - in response, I move the Marder over to cover the eastern side where there is a lot of open ground and ploughed fields to cross, passing a gettable ESB roll to stop behind a hedge. I'm also banking on the fact that at 7 hexes or more, the odds are slightly better in my favour as I am CE, (Tom isn't) and I'm on black To Hit numbers (Tom isn't). I survive Tom's defensive fire and having acquired him, I managed to shock him on my next turns Defensive Fire...unluckily for Tom, the T34 doesn't come back from this - scratch two of the three Russian tanks.

To up the pace a bit, Tom tries to push a 458 down the centre adjacent to my gun crew, but I manage to break them. I immediately follow this up with with a 4-2 shot in prep fire from the hero with a 347 I managed to pin the 9-1 and break the 458 and FT he is with that are immediately adjacent to Tom's first broken 458. With two broken elites in the open, I gamble that this is just too good an opportunity to miss so I get the running shoes on for my other 347 to try and enforce a massive 2 squad FTR. At this point, the vagaries of the space and long open LOS available on Board 49 kick in as Tom is able to nail these athletes with a 1-2 shot from the Partisans LMG 11 hexes away - ouch! Still not wanting to lose this opportunity, I decide to move my Marder up to get them to FTR instead...the crew survive a pin from a long distance shot and I am able scratch two of Tom's 458s for FTR - absolutely massive in the scope of the game.

Even more crucially, Tom's pinned 9-1 leader rolls a 6 the next turn when he tries but fails to retrieve the FT - this was huge as my Marder would have been toast if he'd picked it up. Instead, he tried to run his 7-0 over to retrieve it, but he broke and was also also killed on FTR: that was now 5 CVP not getting off the Board. Now things get really desperate - Tom has to break my unyielding line of stalwart defenders and so jumps into CC with a 237 German half squad with a Partisan and leader, a 12-1 CC attempt vs my now wounded hero and a 1-2 stab of his 9-1 leader vs my 50L Gun crew. Amazingly, he rolls a 12 with the Partisans so I escape, the hero ambushes the three squads trying to kill him so withdraws and I whack the forlorn 9-1 for two more CVP not getting off the board. Tom calls it quits when I destroy his last T34 with another side shot from my Romanian 50L AT dead-eyes - he's now without armour support, has lost about 30% of his potential escaping infantry force and is now still about 10-15 hexes away from the exit corridor with only three movement phases left - he'll also have to still beat off my outlying defenders, and then run the gauntlet of two 9-1 directed MMG fire-lanes in Open Ground with his single 9-2 leader to assist - never gonna happen.

I played this solidly with only one bone-headed move (when I unnecessarily relocated my MMG and 9-1 and they suffered at the hands of a coaxial shot from a T34) - the move to kill the two squads in FTR was really handy as it cost Tom a lot of units and also the loss of his one weapon that can make a big difference to small and fragile defences, the FT. Tom was unlucky with the first off hot-rolls to destroy the SU-122 as he really needed that big-gun and its Smoke in the end-game, but we've all had that happen! I think with the amount of open ground in this, the Russians are going to struggle a little bit on this, especially with the paucity of their Smoke resources, but equally, one or two key MC failures by the Romanians could see the dam burst and the Russians pouring through. The correct use of the Partisans may be key, especially if they are needed to soak up defensive fire shots in the end-game or otherwise occupy defending MG nests, to hence allow other units to escape.

Anyway, we're onto something meatier this Thursday: "Fireteams". It promises to be a monster!