Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Owlcon AAR: SP 76 Flaming of the Guard

Nick Drinkwater

German Player [ELR 4, SAN 3]: Matt Schwoebel
British Player [ELR 4, SAN 4]: Nick Drinkwater

This is a fun scenario. I really enjoyed this one and would recommend it to anyone to play. There are several great little challenges to overcome in this for both players, lots of fun toys for either side and it should come down to a nice close little denouement around the main cross-roads in the village.

My opponent in this was Matt Schwoebel, always fun and always a good test - I've played Matt four times now and I've shaded him in three of these but all of these games have been really close and they've all come down to the last turn, and in each of them, either of us could have won at the death, so I was fully expecting this one to go the distance and be a squeaker. I wasn't to be disappointed.

The appeal of this scenario is that the Germans are for once meeting their match, and then some. Yes, they receive the two flamethrowers and the five (yes, five) Panthers but here they really are going to need them as these Brits are strong-men armed indeed. To keep those five cats at bay, they have been issued with a basic Sherman, two Fireflies and most impressive of all, two 17lb AT guns with the mighty 2ROF - four tubes that have a basic TK of 23 which can whack a Panther with some ease, and also the option to find APDS to raise that kill to a 25. These Panthers had better beware indeed and they will need to be handled carefully as they will swiftly go down to quality British gunnery if given the chance.

The action is set on two half-boards of 42 and 49 set up to create a straggling village that lines the main village street in a north-south direction. There are several large stone buildings on either side of the road but adjacent to it are two east-west lateral roads that form important intersections within the village. The first of these is in the northern part of the village and is surrounded by woods, brush orchards and hedges together with some of the village's more isolated houses. The orchards in particular could form a good if not somewhat obvious place to put a hidden HIP gun but it will dominate the ENE and Northern entry routes of the Germans. The other E-W lateral road forms a significant cross-roads in the core of the village surrounded by prominent stone, often multi-hex houses and this could easily form the fall-back core of any late game British defense. East of the N-S road is a walled, multi-level stone building complex that can dominate German entry routes from the eastern side if the British so-choose, just to the south of the Board 42 hill-orchard-wall complex, another natural entry point for the Germans.

To win, the Germans must have at least one Good Order mobile Panther within four hexes of 49H9 and ensure that there are less than 10 VP worth of unbroken British infantry in building hexes adjacent to the Board 42/49 north-south village road - and note that being in melee (and hence not in good order) is not being penalised for once. To achieve this, as well as the five Panthers and two flamethrowers, the Germans receive a very tasty mixed elite and 1st line infantry company with MG and PSk support together with some hard-hitting leadership (10-2, two 8-1s and an 8-0) but they will need this as their opponents are elite and in stone buildings - always a tough task to dig out. They do also receive some tactical flexibility in their set-up in that they can enter from the entire eastern side of the game area, as well as half of the north and south sides too, so there may be opportunities to indulge in some encirclements with the Panthers, once the location of the two lethal AT Guns is known.

Facing this Germanic juggernaut is a tough group of British hombres - an armour reinforced company of Irish Guards with lethal anti-tank support. As mentioned, the two Fireflies are clearly useful against the Panthers but their HE7 limits their anti-infantry uses; they do receive a basic Sherman to help on that front. They have also been issued a Bren Carrier MMGB and the first task for that will be to strip the MG out of it and drop it into the hands of the awesome 9-2. In addition, they have a couple of Piats for AT defense and a couple of 8-1 leaders to help the slowly retracting fallback defense I am intending to apply.

I debated hard about defending the big eastern stone building hard but I was concerned that I may get isolated from the main part of the village and surrounded by any Germans driving down the road from the north and then picked off at my leisure, so I leave just a couple of squads in there to try and delay the Germans for a couple of turns, but with no expectations they would still be there at scenario end. Instead the bulk of the defenders were placed in the roadside buildings lining the west side of the road in positions to threaten and defend the two crossroad positions. One of the Fireflies was placed in a building in the SE portion of the village to support the two outlying squads in the eastern building complex. The other was held back in reserve with the Sherman to be a reactionary force poised in the west to respond to German armour threats as and where they develop. One AT Gun was placed into the more wooded northern crossroads orchards and the other was tucked into a building where it could totally dominate the open field approaches on the southern half of Board 49.

That second placement became very sweet when I saw Matt line up three Panthers on the southern road entry hex...juicy targets here we come! Unwittingly, Matt duly rolled the three Panthers on first - they didn't know what had hit them (literally as I didn't drop concealment and kept rate) and all three were smoking by the end of German Turn 1 Defensive Fire as I managed to finish off the last one with a turret shot, the other two having gone down in Turn 1 to a kill, immobilization and a shock (then killed). Matt even missed driving through my bore-sighted hex but it didn't matter to these dead-eye shots. Sweet!! This was a massive blow and now Matt had to really take no risks with his surviving Panthers as he had to keep at least one alive in the central area to fulfill the VC.

Matt's eastern attacks came on the SE area (held up hard by my eastern building defenders) and through the wall-hill-orchard area of board 42 (with both the other two Panthers, MMG and his 10-2). He luckily swerved to the left of the other HIP AT Gun and its bore-sighted hex, so these guys kept hidden and bided their time and waited for other targets appear. Finally he brought a couple of concealed stacks from the north to threaten the northern Board 42 crossroads - and what a threat they were as they stripped down to reveal both FTs dealing a case of tough fiery love.

Despite the early losses, Matt kept pushing on hard especially through the hill-orchard complex area. The two Panthers took up safe positions behind walls here to wait and see what else would be revealed by the infantry attack. Unfortunately Matt's south-eastern attacks into the village ground to a halt as my two outlying squads and 8-1 and LMG just refused to budge. Matt pushed both the Flamethrower units forward to the south through the orchards looking for targets but I pulled back any broken units I had to offer no real targets for a turn or two. Ultimately my HIP Gun was walked into and 'found' but Matt's 4-6-8 survived the 4-2 shot from the crew merely broken. Luckily, I had managed to disrupt Matt's 4-6-8 and 10-2 stack with some timely breaks and that relieved the pressure in that area a little for a while.

In the mid game, I moved a Firefly to play a duel of hull-down chicken with one of the Panthers. I apparently won this with an Intensive Fire Turret hit, but I should really have lost this as Matt had hit me with a snakes. We mis-played this one though as we'd originally called it a miss, as we'd forgotten this was actually a critical hit, irrespective of hull-down status - we thought it hit the wall, and so, I offered to scratch my Firefly as well as his Panther. It was a big move and a big mistake on both our parts and I thought this was the least I could do in this situation. This did create a hole for Matt to push a couple of squads into the eastern building complex from his 10-2 orchard-hill area assault as his ESE entry team had been completely stopped at this point. The other key thing was this meant that Matt now had no real margin for error with his other Panther - it had to be kept alive and out of harms way.

Eventually, the continuous German infantry pressure continued to tell and it was the flamethrowers which were making the difference. Matt continued to roll 12 flat or 12+1 sixes and sevens against my outlying defenders and they had to fall back to the main crossroads strongpoint where the 9-2 with his MG was now in charge with a bunch of concealed squads. In the end, it all came down to the last two player turns of the game. In a huge Prep Fire spraying fire shot, I kept rate with the 9-2 and MG at an adjacent 8-0 with a FT and at a squad at one hex range. On the first shot, the 8-0 merely pinned whilst the 468 broke after I rolled a timely 3, but the follow up rate "5' caused a 1-check which saw the breaking of the 8-0 too. Huge, huge. huge as the two units that could really swing the game with single shots were both removed, and failed to subsequently rally in the last German turn.

A huge hot sniper which then came and broke a 4-6-8 at the back of building helped me a lot as well as it meant that Matt would not be able to DM three of my squads in the strongpoint with defensive fire. Finally, I shoved the surviving Firefly into the hex between the 10-2, MMG and 468 and my killstack, but failed to find and SM6 smoke cover - this was backed up by the Sherman which was placed the adjacent road hex to dominate with tank shells and MGs any infantry trying to get into the last building in the last turn. Finally, I moved my now spare AT Gun crew into an adjacent hex and then stacked as much infantry as I could in the neighbouring buildings to make sure I entered the last turn with over 18VP in place.

In my CC phase, Matt was able to survive an ambush by my concealed squad and then killed them in return with another squad to take away some of my precious infantry VPs, but I still had 14VP of infantry units left in the buildings. Matt had to break some of these but his 10-2 /MMG gacked its roll with a ten and all of Matt's other desperate moves to get into the victory buildings ended up in piles of twitching bodies in the streets.

Good game this one and a lot of fun. Despite the early shock of the Panther carnage, Matt kept pressing and pressing and while the two flamethrowers were working, I was never comfortable as it would just take one or two grim rolls to change everything. I was pleased that I played the end-game with the two tanks well to make it really hard for Matt, but ultimately it really came down to the very timely sniper and the brilliant 9-2 MG rate spraying fire shot that was probably the difference. Rolling low helps and Matt was just not helped by some horrible dice luck. Good fun and I look forward to the next time we meet.

Matt sent the following comments through and I agree 100% with them. He really played a solid game after the horror show of the first turn and his tactics were right - just a little unlucky with some of the key rolls at key moments!

"Hey Nick,

I have been pondering our last game, usually waking up from a dead sleep screaming. I think the one biggish mistake I made with the 3 Panthers entering really should have cost me 1 tank. I only had 3 hexes or so until out-of-sight freedom from the 76LL of death. Your low roll streak there really hurt. The surviving 2 Panthers could have then threatened that flank. I call us even for my 50L rate streak last time! Even I say! The critical also cost me, since we traded tanks where if I had remembered the rule I would have had 2 tanks at the end. One would have VBM sleeze freezed your big stack, of course :-). And I needed just one sub-par roll against the FTs... You played a master defense, as usual. I'm proud that I came back enough through infantry play and some good ideas on the initial attack to make a game of it. If you ignore the 3 Panthers, I think my plan was solid. The goal was to pressure your 9-2 held building from front while FTs hit it from the flank. If I had to do it over again...

1) The stack on your far right flank that attacked near the gully had 2 squads and an 8-0. It stalled for quite some time, largely due to the lack of Panther support (may they rest in peace). Instead, I would have one squad add umph to the attack against the frontline multihex building. The other squad and leader would be added to the flank FT attack group.

2) I should have brought all 5 Panthers in together and let the infantry feel forward. Maybe lose one to your left flank 76LL.


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