Sunday, April 05, 2009

AAR: AP22 Ghost Riders

Matt Schwoebel

Germans: Eric Gerstenberg
Russians: Matt Schwoebel

Winning and losing in ASL can be all about the pre-game preparation. So when I invited Eric the Gberg over on a Friday Night to drink beer and pick a scenario for Saturday morning, I made sure to stock the fridge with tempting, quality beer. We drank and looked through scenarios eventually settling on Ghost Riders. After looking at ROAR (favored Russians 25-16), the boards and tough victory conditions, we decided the German/Italian player should get the balance. As Eric stumbled out the door, we agreed to roll for sides the next morning.

Ghost Riders uses two half-boards 11 and Y with hexrows A-Q playable and is 6.5 turns long. It features a combined German and Italian force attacking Russians in winter (Ground Snow, Winter Camouflage) during January 1943. The Axis player must control 22 out of 26 buildings (all wooden by SSR) on Board Y at game end. Most the Axis force sets up on the Board 11 hill and includes 10 x 4-4-7 squads, 2 x 75mm* crewed ART guns, and 5 MGs (1 heavy, 1 medium, 3 light) with good leadership (9-1, 8-1, 7-0). They receive two reinforcement groups. One Italian group with an 8-0 and 3 x 3-4-6 squads entering on Turn 1 behind the hill (east edge). Also entering from the east is the German elite force of an 8-0, 3 x 5-4-8 riders, 2 x Mark IVF2s (75L armed) and a Mark IIIJ (50L armed). This German groups normally enters on Turn 2, but with the balance given entered on Turn 1.

The Russian defender sets up anywhere on Board Y which features a forest with a few buildings behind it on the left side (defender's perspective) and a spread out village to the center-right with one tight group of 6 single-hex buildings on the defender's right flank. The Russian player has 12 squads (1 x 4-5-8, 9 x 4-4-7, 2 x 4-2-6), 3 leaders (one 8-1 & two 8-0s), 5 MGs (1 heavy, 1 medium, 3 light), 2 ATR, 14 concealment counters, and 4 AT mine factors. On Turn 4 they receive a reinforcement group from the south (defender's right) with 9-1, 3 x 6-2-8 riders, and 3 x T-34 M41 tanks.

Eric arrived almost on time (miraculously) power downing an energy drink and looking ready for a long nap instead of an ASL slugfest. We rolled for sides and I received the Russians. Looking over Board Y, I decided to concentrate my defense on the right edge Festung of 6 buildings (Q6 was an open ground overlay). My goal was to delay his attackers and ideally make him work for the 4 buildings (1 on an overlay in F9) behind the left side forest. Holding 5 buildings would mean victory for the People's Revolution. The Festung had several squads including an 8-1, 4-5-8, HMG combo. It had the added advantage of being where my Turn 4 reinforcements came in. The forest contained just two 4-2-6 squads initially. The rest of my force was positioned behind the first road in buildings including the MMG in J3 with nice sight lines to hit any infantry in open ground. I mostly used the ? to conceal real units, but also put one stack of 3 dummies in an up-front building (L3) to threaten more open ground approaches. Searching for good AT mine spots, I found 5 non-bypass bottleneck hexes for tanks to drive through (H2, K1, M1, O1 and Q2). I placed 2 factors in the H2 crossroads to prevent the tanks from moving down the forest road and 2 factors in the O1 hex the most direct route to the Festung. All roads were unpaved.

The two 75* (non-emplaced by SSR) were set-up by Eric on the edge of the Board 11 hill in hexes E1 and C2. Eric's attack on Turn 1 consisted of moving infantry into position. He took advantage of winter camouflage to assault move - advance and stay concealed. The 3 tanks drove up onto the hill and unloaded their 5-4-8 riders. A decent amount of forest, hedges, walls and buildings restricted LOS between Boards 11 and Y. That said with opening prep fire it became apparent that my nice Festung had the disadvantage of being in LOS of both 75* guns. Eric also created an Italian kill stack with 9-1, 2 x 4-4-7s, HMG, and MMG. My leader directed HMG tried answering these treats but with little success or rate.

Turn 2 was similar with the tanks freed from their infantry burden attempting to move into threatening positions and Axis infantry slithering forward. Both of his vital 75L armed Mark IVs ran into my minefields and immobilized. It really was tough to avoid jumping up and down in glee. Eric's C'est La Vie life attitude resulted in him passing a personal morale check. The tank in O1 at least had an LOS to the Festung and the one in H2 stared at my MMG stack. I moved an LMG toting 4-4-7 into the forest to help stop the sinuous wave. Another 4-4-7 with an ATR almost took a shot at the immobilized Mark IV at the crossroads, but decided against valor and moved into the forest still concealed.

In Turn 3 the Axis force started taking its first buildings on the edge of town and pushed into the forest. The 3 ? counters in L3 took repeated fire from Eric's kill stack for 3 fire phases before revealing themselves as a single drunken conscript consuming homemade vodka. Some units in the Festung were broken by the 75* gun fire and 75L fire from an immobilized Mark IV, but they could withdrawal out of LOS to rally in N6. At some point here my MMG stack was broken and left that heavy equipment behind.

In Turn 4 Eric continued pressing forward with infantry and I was forced back in both the forest and left side of town. After finding my minefields through the most painful method, Eric deviously placed the 50L Mark III in hex Q2 where it could both see my rally hex of N6 and also down the board edge that my T-34 with rider reinforcements would enter. Russian reinforcements entered to cheers of the defenders. The Mark III failed to eliminate the tanks or strip off their riders. One 6-2-8 with the 9-1 joined the Festung defenders. The other two squads were dropped off in buildings L7 and K8 to keep Eric from turning the flank and approaching the Festung from two sides.

In Turn 5 the pressure intensified with all of the left half of town (center of Board Y) in Eric's hands and some of his squads were pushing out of the forest into buildings. Both of my 4-2-6 forest defenders deserve special merit for their successful 8 flat shots against advancing Axis who considered them dummie stacks. My Festung defense force was in increasingly poor shape with the Italian HMG/MMG stack, two 75* guns, 75L tank, and 50L tank doing continuous damage. The T-34 tanks at this point went on a rampage. Some of the Axis infantry was in the open advancing toward the Festung. I used the T-34s to flatten these groups with overrun and point blank MG shots and also to DM any broken units. Eric's 50L Mark III failed to get APCR and had limited use against frontal T-34 armor. At this point a 6-2-8 managed to retake hex K6.

In Axis Turn 6 one of the T-34s was destroyed by the immobilized Mark IV in O1 (this Mark IV would then be destroyed in defensive fire by another T-34). Eric attempted to move his Mark III out of harm's way and his last mobile tank was destroyed. A Russian conscript squad behind the forest mass in B6 again defeated the attacker's moving to take that building. Eric attempted to push forward toward the Festung, but the T-34 attack in Turn 5 had decimated his infantry and DMed otherwise rally-possible infantry. When this attack failed, Eric surveyed the battlefield before Russian Turn 6 with only one movement phase available to him. The situation was grim for the Axis. The Russians controlled 6 Festung buildings (M6, N5, N6, O6, P5, P6), 4 buildings on the outskirts of the Festung (K6, L7, K8), one in the far corner (O10), and the forest edge conscript held building (B6). Only two - L7 and O10 - were unoccupied by Russian units. With no mobile AFVs and only 3 or 4 squads left unbroken, Eric threw in the towel. It is a rare day when Eric surrenders a turn early. He is renowned for tenacious comebacks against the odds.

Ghost Riders is a fun, challenging scenario. It is tough on the attacking Axis and I believe giving the balance to the Axis makes it a fair fight. Overall I played the Russian defense well and made good set-up and strategy decisions. Eric attacked with gusto and had the misfortune of immobilizing his best anti-tank AFVs on mines. About the only criticism I had during our post-game review was his dropping off of the 5-4-8 squads on the hill in Turn 1. I think they would be better placed being driven to the far forest edge and dropped off there on Turn 2, then swinging behind this woods belt to take the far buildings, corner any Russian units in the forest and eventually attack the Festung from the flank.

Thanks for reading!!

Matt Schwoebel

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