Friday, March 06, 2009

AAR: SP79 The Mius Trap

.... or "My Owlcon adventure continues..."

Zeb Doyle

Russians: Zeb Doyle
Germans: Rob Burton

After my very fun game against Ken, Walter matched me up with Rob Burton and we decided to head to the East Front for some mid-war action in SP79 The Mius Trap. This Schwerpunkt scenario caught our eye for several reasons; it's reasonably sized, features some interesting VC, and takes takes place shortly after the Kursk offensive in 1943 thus offering up some of the neat armor match-ups so common to that period. Rob and I have played several similar combined-arms clashes in the past and always had a great time, so this looked like a perfect scenario for us.

The Mius Trap (and spare me the Disney and Mickey jokes, please. Walter watched us play and he already told all of them) is 6.5 turns long, with the Russians defending the two flat and mostly featureless hills of board 11. They must, by SSR, place three foxholes on each hill and at game end, the Germans have to control all the foxholes and buildings on one hill and at least one foxhole/building on the other hill. This sounds (and is) simple enough, but makes for a lot of fun and guessing about your opponent's intent during play. The Germans get twelve squads and decent leadership (including a 9-2) right off the bat, plus four StuG IIIGs and another four squads on turn two. The Russians start with just six squads and a single leader, get four T-70s and four squads on turn two, and then three T-34 M41s and three 4-5-8s on turn three. This stream of reinforcements for both sides mean that you can attempt to disguise your intentions about which hill you are really going for just a bit or (in the case of the Soviets) react and send more troops to any trouble spots. One complication here is that all the reinforcing Russian infantry must enter as Riders, and since three of the T-70s are radioless by SSR, it's very tough to split up those troops. All-in-all, it's a very interesting situation and a lot more thought-provoking than some of the 'pack your troops into the VC building' scenarios.

Instead, both sides have some serious and fun challenges. The two hill masses are both fairly wide open with only hedges to interfere with LOS. The right hill (from the Russian perspective) has a large grain field, while the left hill does have a small patch of woods. Overall then, there's almost no cover and broken units will likely have to rout completely off the hill to find rally terrain. This forces both sides to think long and hard about how to position their infantry as those brokies may waste several precious turns getting back to the action. This could be huge, especially if it happens on the hill that's not getting the main push and thus has fewer troops dedicated to it. Even though the infantry is vital for actually capturing or holding those foxholes, the wide-open LOS and low TEM environment dictate that the armor will also play a huge role, so let's look at that next.

The kings of the battlefield are the four German StuGs with their small size, black TH, good frontal armor and that hard-hitting 75L. They even get a pair of armor leaders for extra fun. In a shoot-out though the front facings, they'll dominate the Russians, as a hit equals a kill against the T-70s and the net 6TK or 9TK (hull/turret) against the T-34s stacks up well against the Russian net 5TK (for the 76L) or net 2TK (for the 45L). The further the range, the better for the Germans, as those black TH and the ability to go CE tilt the odds even further towards the StuGs. Obviously, the Russians want to avoid the shoot-out and turn it into a knife-fight instead. Getting onto the StuG flanks allows access to that weak 3AF and uses the lack of a turret against them. Close-in fighting also makes the Russian APCR much nastier, and since all the Soviet armor has A6 (due to Guards status and C8.2), it's a very real threat. APCR kicks the 76L TK up to 17 and the 45L up to 15, very respectable numbers even against the StuGs frontal armor. Finally, the Russians have the advantage of speed and numbers. Seven total tanks (and three with 17MP) against the four German assault guns mean the Soviets have a very good chance of getting some of those tasty flank shots.

I can't remember if Rob wanted the Germans or if we diced for sides, but I ended up with the Russians and started putting together a defense. Obviously, the foxholes are key and I set most of them as far away from the Germans as possible. This meant they were on the very edge of the hill and any unit I had in them could cross the crest line and get out of LOS if needed. That also put my rally terrain much closer to the foxholes and would make broken Germans either low crawl or rout far far away. I did try to get clever with one foxhole, putting it in the middle of the woods clump on the left hill. That was about the only area on the entire map where I could skulk, the StuGs couldn't get at it, and I also had some ideas about sucking the Germans in and then tying them down with pointblank fire and CC. Since I only started with six squads and one leader, I didn't fancy going toe-to-toe with Rob's 9-2 and MMG, so my troops were all set up back on the hills with no LOS to the German set-up area. That did abdicate all initiative to the other side, but I figured the concealment gain and force preservation would mitigate that somewhat.

Rob was all over the total freedom of movement, and soon there were large stacks of Germans headed towards my hills. The entire initial force charged towards my left hill, while the reinforcing StuGs and infantry went towards my right. In response, I sent my turn two wave of T-70s and riflemen towards my left to respond to Rob. I soon had seven squads and four tanks in that area facing twelve German squads, while the right saw my three squads facing four 4-6-7s and the StuGs. There had been no real action to this point, as my Russians were hiding as best they could. Really, the most interesting development to this point was Rob mentioning that he was exhausted from staying up until 3AM the previous night with Eric playing drinking games.

Things picked up a bit on turn three, but it rapidly became apparent that Rob was rather the worse for wear after the night's festivities. I've written before that ASL is a cruel mistress who punishes even the slightest mistake, and that held true once again. It's not that Rob make any major mistakes, or even many minor ones. However, when a few of your units are even a single hex out of position and this happens repeatedly turn after turn, it's almost impossible to avoid defeat. The seeming insignificance of Rob's miscues are why I can't point to anything specific (and are, incidentally, why I think it's so hard to get good at this game) but his attack into the woods-patch on the left hill bogged down with heavy casualties. This, along with my T-70s pestering the German infantry, caused Rob to react by swinging two StuGs over from the right-hand hill in support. Here, he made the one mistake I can point at, by parking the two assault guns where a hedge really limited their mutual LOS. They could still cover each other a bit, but there were some big blind spots for my turn three reinforcing T-34s to exploit.

After puzzling over just how to take advantage of the situation, I decided to send in two T-70s first and see what happened. Well, what happened was that Rob, needing a six TH, torched the first tank with a CH, keeping rate. Hmmm...was the fatigue just a ploy? Was Rob playing me for a fool? I decided not to mess around with the second T-70 and drove right into the lead StuG's location, staying in motion and locking it down. There were no good choices for the Germans here, and Rob elected to hold his fire. I then drove my first two T-34s up to the action, leaving them in the blind spot of the wing-man StuG. Deciding the CH had just been luck, I got frisky with my last T-34 and drove it far into the rear, DMing some broken Germans along the way and ending up in LOS of the wing-man SuG but hull-down behind a wall. Rob opted to take that shot, even though it required spinning the AFV a few hexspines, and rolled the required 3TH...but it was a hull hit and the shell slammed harmlessly into the wall. My return AFPh went one better. I rolled the needed 3 to hit him and then a 5 for an immobilization. Ouch.

That left the lead StuG really hung out to dry, and Rob elected to try and drive him away in his turn four. That didn't work so well, and although I burned through all my APCR shooting at it, the StuG was destroyed. The immobilized StuG was hit in the rear by an ATR and another lucky roll for me (net 5TK) knocked it out completely. Trading half of Rob's armor for a single T-70 was obviously huge; the two assault guns were slightly misplayed when placed where they couldn't quite cover each other, but I'd still been very lucky. At this point, you think I'd be in great shape, but that wasn't quite the case. As you may recall, my set-up had placed a single foxhole on the left hill in a clump of woods, and Rob had finally captured it. He didn't have all twelve squads that he'd started with, but enough landsers remained to stuff any possible counter-attack. So, if Rob could take the three foxholes on the right-side hill, he'd still pull out a win. Over on that side, we now both had four squads, along with the last two StuGs, far too even a match-up for my taste.

At this point, I was kicking myself for my perceived 'cleverness' in placing that one foxhole where tanks couldn't get at it. Instead, my remaining six AFVs would have to try and ride to the rescue on the right-hand hill. They wasted a turn maneuvering towards it, during which a 5-4-8 looking for a Iron Cross torched a T-70 via a placed DC. Meanwhile, Rob's remaining StuGs blasted two of my squads out of their foxholes and laid down some smoke rounds to cover the approach of his infantry. By the end of my turn five, my tanks were finally in position to influence the action on the right-hand hill, but I was down to two squads trying to guard one last foxhole. It was going to be close.

Close, that is, until Rob rolled up some Gusts at the start of his turn six and all that nice smoke he'd placed vanished. That was a horrible piece of luck, and although he coaxed one more smoke round out of his StuGs, the German infantry would now be forced to cross open ground to get that last foxhole. The only real choice was whether to maneuver a bit for position and try the rush on the last half turn of the game or to charge in right away. Well, Rob is a man of decisive action and decided to take the foxhole then and there. It was a tough decision and I'm not sure there was a right answer, but in the end a last desperate charge of a 9-1/4-6-7 was stopped just short of the foxhole by a 4-2 CMG shot from a T-34. Both units broke and with all the other German infantry in the area broken as well from earlier rushes, the Soviets got the win.

It was another fun game against a great opponent, and had the gust not intervened, the German infantry would have had a corridor of smoke covering them as they made their turn six rush. At that point, the game likely would have gone down to a CC in the foxhole, and the Russians would have been the ones facing a series of difficult decisions on their last player turn. The scenario itself was quite enjoyable, and plays out in a more interesting fashion than the impression you get just looking at the card. I have to tip my hat to Rob for handling his rough luck and my great dice with a shrug and a smile. Now that I think about it, this is the second scenario we've played where the weather was a huge swing factor. I pulled out a victory by the barest of margins in ASL119 Ancient Feud only because I rolled up a mild breeze on the very first turn. Sorry about that Rob, and maybe next time we should play a scenario with no smoke in it! Finally, this was another game in which I learned a valuable life lesson: never play drinking games with Eric.

Thanks for reading,


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