Friday, October 10, 2008

AAR: PBP 28 - Peningkibaru Push

Nick Drinkwater

Australian [ELR 4, SAN 3]: Zeb Doyle
Japanese [ELR 3, SAN 3]: Nick Drinkwater

A fast playing but challenging "meet then hold" scenario from the dying days of the war in Borneo that has a really interesting beginning in which the two players roll to see who moves first, both starting from offboard. The winner of the dice-off gets to dash on first and grab a majority of victory locations and then they try and prevent the opposition from ejecting them by game's end. Both sides need to look hard at their entry options and movement factors for this Turn 1 phase as this opening move is very critical to how the rest of the game is going to play out.

The scenario is set on Board 42 and PTO light jungle is in effect together with all roads being present, all buildings being wooden and some being huts. VP are awarded for each building/hut hex (12) but 3 VP are also up for grabs for whoever controls a single Japanese pillbox (PB) at game end; the side with the majority of VP is the winner (8 or more). The Japanese places the PB and mines on board close to the central village crossroads prior to deciding who moves first, so they need to locate this in a location where it will not be isolated in Australian territory at game end. Note that for the turn one moves, the Australians (only) are limited to no double time on Turn 1.

The Japanese receive an understrength company for this consisting of eight 447s, the usual SW and a couple of average leaders (though there is a 9-1) thrown in too and a couple of DC so there is potential for THH and DC heroes too. As well as placing the Pillbox, the Japanese have to place a 4IFE 25LL AA Gun in the PB and they receive a crew to man this. They also get to place three known 6FP minefields within 4 hexes of the G5 crossroads. In contrast the Aussies get a couple of -1 leaders and seven 458s plus LMG help and most critically a bunker-busting MkII Matilda with 40L Gun and HE of 9, and the really fun Matilda I CS tank, which in this scenario, has limited (depletion 9) Smoke and unlimited HE by SSR. That is a nice tough little force and easily equal in quality to their Japanese opponents.

Whoever wins the initial 'go-first' dice-off will have a massive impact on this scenario which ultimately adds to its replayability - a player could conceivably play four very separate scenarios as either the attacker or defender for both nationalities and all four games could play out quite differently - this is a very cool scenario in that respect alone aided by the fact that it is quite short (six turns) and could be played in 2-3 hours.

In our game, I rolled for the Japanese and I also rolled to move first. As a result of this, I spent some little time just trying to work out movement permutations with leader and road bonuses to grab as many of the victory buildings as I could in the initial move and advance, as well as 'tagging' a couple of the rear buildings at the back with a half-squad to ensure I controlled them. In addition, I ran the crew up to enter the PB and reclaim the abandoned AA Gun - the 4FP 3ROF AA Gun would be quite a tasty firepower boost in this against the Australians. I pushed a leader directed stack hard up the left side of the board to snag two of the forward-most buildings which would also offer me some enfilading opportunities against any Australians who were pushing straight through the middle part of the board directly at the PB-dominated crossroads.

The PB was set back one hex from the G5 crossroads on the main entry road, being flanked by an adjacent house on the left and hedged palm plantation on the right. Concealed squads were left in these two to form the main strongpoint of the defense. One other small stack of a squad and a half pushed up the right to ensure I snagged the final house on that side, south of the main EW bisecting road. Minefields were used to try and funnel the Australians through some more open kill zones, although, in hindsight, they could be really helpful to screen the pillbox too.

As Zeb was now effectively 'attacker', he pushed everything down the middle of the board using armoured assault to try and put pressure on me across the board. Still feeling somewhat nervous of bad die rolling after the nightmares of the previous game (Buck 9), I was pleasantly pleased to break two squads on my first shots of the game and even get a nice firelane up and running. Almost got really lucky with a sniper off the bat, but that merely 'small' stunned the CS Matilda - but this all helped.

Things started to even out a little in the next turn or so as Zeb got the odd stripe but what was impressive is that Zeb never once gave me a good opportunity to activate either a THH or a DC hero, always able to keep a 1-hex safety zone of open ground between me and him and usually with a -1 leader helping too. Also, his dice warned up nicely too as he was able to generate two fanatics and two heroes - grrrr...but, all in all, he was definitely behind the curve a little at this point. On my right flank, I had a squad which refused to go down quietly and, for being CR'ed itself, took out a whole 458 in CC (not H2H originally) and then the survivors did the same to another Aussie half-squad.

In the centre, another MAD CC (mutually assured destruction) meant that we both lost a squad but also meant one of my DC was now waiting to be picked up, which Zeb duly did with his hero. After some untimely pinning from my 9-1 and 447 on my left, and a missed -2 ambush roll (HOW many times does this happen to me?) he proceeded to bomb their ass down to a wounded leader and a halfquad who went down in a subsequent normal CC - hoisted by my own petard. My supporting squad in the hex behind also lost concealment on some lowly 2+2 shot and then also got shredded and wounded by low rolling Australians. All annoying but they'd actually done their job by delaying a lot of Zeb's squads. So things were looking good by now (Turn 4 of 5)...I actually had nine of the fifteen available VP in the bag.

At the beginning of my last turn I was able to self-rally a critically needed half-squad who then recaptured one of Zeb's backfield buildings by CX-ing uninterrupted up the right hand side. Up to 10VP now, and I was facing Zeb's last turn still with 2.5 squads, the crew and the gun protecting the crossroads, pillbox and single building there. All looking good, especially as Zeb's Matilda had missed four shots in a row with AP ammo against the PB occupants. My last mortar was now out of Smoke and WP which was annoying but I dominated the approach routes and I was very confident.

And then Zeb showed me why he is better than me at this game. Like me, he thought he was almost out of the running now, but he'd been able to see what he needed to do and been planning for it for a turn while I was merely left reacting. First up, he fired the fruitless Matilda one more time at the PB - again his low rolling got him out of trouble just at the right moment and he found a much needed 4 which was now a critical hit on the PB occupants. As the crew were still in possession of the gun, that meant they were eliminated with no further rolling needed and the PB was now open to visitors of an antipodean nature.

Next he used the co-axial on my two concealed units in the adjacent house and rolled a very timely three - an NMC. OK, no sweat here - both the squad and the half-squad passed but both rolled sevens to pin. That was huge as now my guys were only going to get a single Final Fire shot at the adjacent road and Pillbox hexes. A massive, massive result and unfortunately my dice going bad just at the critical moment YET again. Next he shoved the other Matilda into the hedged bamboo plantation on the east of the PB where my only other squad was located. Could they find a THH? Of course not and now they were fixed by selection limits too. Finally he moved a leader then the hero then a half-squad onto the PB hex and also grabbed wall-advantage (where were the minefields now?). My single shot was now a 4 flat against the leader to leave a 2 RF in the hex neither of which did anything to anyone - the Pillbox was now conquered, I was down to 7VP and somehow I had lost.

I had been fairly badly mauled by dice in the earlier games, but I was completely pole-axed by this, and genuinely had nothing to say for some minutes. Of course, Zeb had played it perfectly and I had missed some critical moves in the final two turns, but the double sucker punch of Zeb's 4 & 3 allied to my two 7s for the two pins was simply....well, words cannot describe how I felt at that point. It literally took about three hours for the shock of this one to wear off, and I am still feeling a little numb at the thought of it all two weeks later as I write this. I just could not believe this had happened again.

Almost any other results combination would have meant I had won this - a five on the PB shot would have been a normal hit, and the crew would have survived. Even striping of my two support units would have been better than pinning as at least I would have got more FP down on the critical hexes and left more threatening residual in the approach hexes. The Smoke from my mortar ran out just at the wrong moment the turn before as I was trying to a) smoke in the tank to make him move (and hence no crit) and b) make the movement of the Australians infantry move harder.

But worst of all, Zeb saw the end-game opportunity and I just missed it till it was too late. Even with the loss of the Mortar Smoke, I should have dropped the gun in the PB in the last turn - then any crit on me was most likely solely going to make my crew stripe rather than being completely eliminated from the gun crit. I also should have grabbed wall advantage with all my units which would have meant no cover for any of the Aussies in their approach, whether I was pinned or not.

I'd played this game pretty much as well as I could up till that last Prep and Movement sequence, but even then Zeb needed that four or less to make it all happen - without that he was going to have to come and get me out of the last house in CC and I was six FP to the good, but of course Pinning was a complete nightmare of a result even for that. What can I say? Outplayed and outdiced on two moves in the finale of the game.

Well played again Mr. Doyle - I see now why he is the Master as he'd seen all of this and played for it whereas I, the grasshopper....hadn't.

So all in all, a great session of ASL, but a very bruising one and I came away with a 0-3 record. On the Singling CG, I'd played OK but had learnt some hard lessons so that was OK; on the Buckeye Scenario, my own horrible dice allied to Zeb's hot ones had destroyed me in a very painful fashion, but the last game was an ultimate defeat from the clutches of victory and a very hard experience to live through. Not easy to bear this last one.

Guess I know the Pillbox rules now though.

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