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.

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