Tuesday, May 26, 2009

AAR: ASL8 The Fugitives

... or A Very Long AAR for a Quite Long Game, complete with Pink Floyd allusion

Mark Carter

Russians: Mark Carter
Germans: Walter Eardley

At the beginning let me thank Nick for hosting a great day of gaming. The turn out from Austin was welcome as well so thanks for coming to town Eric, Matt and Zeb. It was a great time.

My opponent and mentor once again was Walter. Walter is a blast to play with and has been a terrific teacher in the games he has played with me. It takes a great deal of patience and I certainly thank him for it. In spite of the time this game took, we had a good time playing it and hope some of that fun comes through in the text of this AAR.

We played The Fugitives (ASL 8 from BV) and at nine turns it was indeed a long time.

The gist of the scenario is that it's the last few days of the war in Europe and the Russians are surrounding Berlin. Some of the German army is trying to breakout to the west to reach the Americans and British so that they don't fall into the arms of Ivan.

Their breakout is made difficult by more than the Russian fighters: they have to cross a canal by bridges that are on the roads to the west, and to make matters more dire, the streets are choked with building debris and humanity fleeing the war. According to the scenario, in the end, their armor rode up and over the bridges, running over the civilians cramming the roads. In terms of the game, this is reflected in reduced road movement rate which made for slow going. To make matters worse for the Germans, they are suffering from ammo shortage. The conditions are the Germans need to exit 33 VP off the west end of the game board by the end of their ninth turn. ROAR shows the game favored the Russians so Walter kindly gave them to me.

The length of time it took to play this is probably due to several reasons besides the number of turns. One of them, and not the least, was Walter teaching me about my options and DRMs and assisting me with some of my tactical options, however I did make my own calls. Other reasons for the time were the scenario is basically a fighting withdrawal delaying action for the Russians, followed by a stand off at the bridges on the canal. Coupled with the reduced road movement and the Germans dealing with concealed Russians with dummies in the eastern edge of the board added up to a game in this case of ten hours. (ROAR estimated time is 9.2 hours so we did ok)

The Russian 2nd Guards Tank Army set up on both sides of the canal with the eastern group consisting of five first line squads, one 8-1 leader, a medium and a light and six ? counters. Two groups can be HIP. On the western side of the canal, the Russians set up with three box-E squads, and four first line squads, a 8-0, a 7-0, a heavy and a light. To be set also is a 57LL with squad which of course can be emplaced and HIPed. Reinforcements with elites, a 9-1 leader a LMG, and happily a T-34 arrive on the west edge on turn five.

The German remnants of the Muencheberg Panzer Division come in during the first three turns along a choice of three road locations coming from the east. There are a total of 18 squads of first line, second line and conscript squads. They also have two halftracks, a StuGIII, a Pz IVJ, an armored car and three trucks. They also get three light MGs, two medium MGs and a lot of leaders. There were a 9-2, a 9-1, 2x 8-1, 3x 8-0 and 7-0.

At set up, the Russian player rubbles at the ground level six non-adjacent, buildings with second levels. Then at the beginning of play get to add two more rubble counters at ground level adjacent to those first six by die roll. This gives an amount of variety to the board and allows the Russian to try to block key road hexes with rubble.

In the first four turns it is pre-twilight and no FFMO is in effect with 1 TEM. Also for the first two turns, the Russian troops west of the bridge cannot move unless it is to rout.

Trying to climb all the way into the ASL full rules boat I must admit that I studied for this game over many days. I wanted to use this scenario as an opportunity understand the terrain I would see and how to deal with rubble, street fighting, firelanes, LOS with hedges and bridges and tank movement, and review of how to use concealment. I also worked hard to remember the lessons had by playing with Rick and John over the last few games to remember how to fight a withdrawal and maximize my use of concealment and then to set up a last line of defense at the bridges.

After all that time I felt that I knew were the Germans might go, and working on my defensive strategy, had worked out where to put the rubble to channel the Germans into my set up. A lot of work went into that. Guess what: I didn't know what I was doing; surprised?

Walter was kind enough to send me a note the night before the game asking if I had used my time wisely preparing and to remind me that rubble in a building location with a second level meant one with a stairwell and, oh, by the way, don't forget the orchard hexes have roads so the Gun can't be emplaced there.

DOH!! Ok, so all that work went down the drain at about 9pm the night before the game. `Second level building' equals three story building newbie! My rubble plans had to be totally changed. My selected Gun location was down the tubes as well. I told Walter I hadn't studied so much for anything since my college thermodynamics II class final and he suggested I go find a kegger instead. At the time, I totally agreed with him. I decided to just take one look at it in the morning, make the call and just go with it.

Ok, so finally we get to game day, Nick's, and the set up. I worked on shutting down the northern-most road as I felt the best approach for the Germans was the southern road anyway due to covering terrain and buildings with two bridges relatively close to each other. With a little encouragement I hoped he would stick with that plan and not venture to my poorly defended northern flank. I set up the LMG HIP in 20K2 wooden building, and the medium with 8-1 in 20G1 stone house. I spread out some dummies and my squads around while favoring real squads on the southern approach.

West of the canal I used what I hoped would be a bit more misdirection. On the second level of a church under concealment I had three counters which I hoped would look like a MG nest for my heavy due to the commanding LOS it had from that location. What I actually had there was a weak leader, a first line squad and the light. Just to be sure I put an elite in a house across the street next to the northern bridge exit hex figuring that once I could see the Germans commit to the southern route I could hustle him back to the fight.

Meanwhile I put my heavy with an 8-0 leader in 23 N9 to both watch out for a rush to the middle bridge and also to be able to lay down a firelane to one of the southern bridge exit hexes. The 57LL and its squad I emplaced and HIPed in the stone building in M8 pointing O8, which had a commanding LOS to the entrance hex of that same bridge which was directly lined up with the southern road.

The most effective strategy I did was totally unintended. Following the Plano storage label file on the Texas ASL site, my box of Germans was co-habitating with the gray Finns from BV3. "GAH! What are these, Italians??" Also one of my `Russian' leaders was a Partisan graphic (what do _I_ know?). This neophyte sloppiness turned out to be something Walter just could not bear to behold. To be fair, he was nice about it, but he was actually quite disgusted.

Fine teachers can be so long suffering and are worthy of our deepest respect.

The Germans entered with the first group first and so on through the first three turns. They came in the middle road and the southernmost road. The going was slow as they felt their way along, suspicious of the HIP units as my ? markers moved around in a spectral way skulking and shifting. (Thanks for the skulking lessons Johnny) My objective was to delay the Germans as long as possible. No need to fire until it was necessary.

A careless maneuver and a Russian squad was sighted and lost ? momentarily only to duck into the gloom of the trees behind another building in the twilight and regain ? at the end of the turn. The Germans saw a real Russian! – or was it? The cardboard squares actually looked and moved what looked like scared, furtively looking left, then right, then inching across the street as the ? just faded back into a new position like a mirage. This was a lot of fun I have to admit.

The AFVs hung back entering into these streets filled with panicked civilians and lined with dark stone houses – I had dropped the suggestion that I had been reading up on street fighting `accidentally' in an email the night before. Heh. The German crew in the StuG dug around for smoke and found none. A handmade counter with `no smoke' handwritten on a blank gray Finn counter was handed over as Walter set his jaw, but said nothing as he placed the abomination on the StuG. The turn counter moved on.

The Germans rightly surmised where a HIP unit `should' be and moved in closer. Fire waited until it was bumped by a HS. The LMG nest was discovered along with PBF. Resid on the road. Another group came across the road, SFF, and resid on the road. Stacks built adjacent preparing for the rush. FPF and resid on the road, and again. The piled up resid on all the road hexes at the bottleneck of the roads stopped all the trucks and a road jam formed. In the AFPh the squad was broken by a massive FG which placed encirclement on our brave comrades who routed through a small escape path to a last hideout in the trees. They were chased by a half track or two and some capturing squads bent upon harsh interrogation techniques. Defensives were compromised, but the brave men told no tales (due to distance and lack of LOS).

In the meantime, perhaps thinking the best fortifications were now on the northern road, a big juicy stack complete with squads, leaders, MGs jaunted down the southern road trying to make up some time. Too much to resist.

The MMG HIP hideout with the 8-1 opened up on the group FFNAM two hexes away on their side. One squad pinned. The rest escaped! "Nyet!" These poor Russian soldiers ran for the southern most bridge between the houses but a miraculous, snakey LOS nailed them in the back as they ran for their friends across the canal. They found their way into a building and were forced to rout upstairs as the enemy filled the ground floor. During this interchange a HOB leader came forward but was not able to prevent these brave men from going berserk and charging the fiends downstairs to a pitiful end.

Another marooned Russian squad had been expertly chased down to the woods in 23FF2 and was being surrounded by German conscripts.

Ok, now the sun is up so FFMO is back on, it's turn five and the men in gray, oops I mean blue, are intent in getting across the canal as they holed up behind the hedge in 20X1 eyeing the stone building directly across the bridge.

By now the Germans were fairly committed to the southern pair of bridges and the Russian troops manning the northern bridge were being hustled south to join the impeding fight carrying their LMG with them.

Also the T-34 entered the game and swung up the Russian right side and parked on the road at 23FF6 looking at 23EE5. This gave it LOS to the bridge entry hex BB4 as well as the enemy squads surrounding his comrades in the woods across the canal.

A massive mistake was made by the Russians then. A skulk maneuver was forgotten about for the defenders of the bridge in the stone building and wow did the Germans open up with a massive firepower shot on their DFPh. BOX CARS! Ammo shortage! Ouch. That was the most devastating blow to the Germans all game to that point. Random MG breakage and squad replacements. I seem to remember a yatzee in there somewhere, too.

German dice were exchanged for new ones as potential candidates were put through an elaborate and well thought through interview and audition process. The dice rolling box top from SK1 (another jinx) was moved to the other side of the board to change the luck for the Germans.

Turn Six: things get exciting.

On the southernmost bridge the armored car made a dash for it, crossing the BB5 bridge and racing for the west. A squad with a LMG in CC9 opened up with AP rounds and destroyed the car with a couple of well-timed low rolls. Scratch one AFV.

In preparation for an assault, the PzIVJ, which still had the potential for smoke was in 23W2 eyeing the potential for LOS from a Gun emplaced somewhere. Maybe the road along the canal was a risk? He looked around for smoke, and he found none either. Another handwritten `no smoke' on a gray counter was handed over for the PzIV.

The StuGIII with its own shameful Finn counter for `no smoke' had enough by this time and charged across the X3 bridge ignoring the LOS potential from the north and moved forward to the stone building and its defenders.

He was moving to X6: the famous sleaze freeze! "Walter, your not going to freeze my guys are you?" Reply: "You think??". The StuG did a bypass in the hex and stopped.

I revealed two Russian elite squads with a 9-1 "Partisan" (grrr) leader who helped one pass his PAATC. Reaction fire!

(Cue Pink Floyd:)

"Bleating and babbling we fell on his neck with a scream: Yeeah..hahahaha!!" More even better-timed low rolls. Scratch one StuG.

The PzIVJ said "that's about enough of that" and popped over the hedge onto W3 and turned and moved to enter the bridge moving to X2 and turned to X3 preparing to move to the bridge. Just then, out of building straight down the road in M8, a 57LL opened up into the side of the Panzer, blowing its turret 30 feet into the air as flames burst forth on the entrance to the X3 bridge, scattering soldiers and civilians alike into pandemonium.

Scratch the third AFV in the turn. Wow.

Having mowed down the brave Russian squad in FF2, a German conscript made some faust attempts and couldn't get them. Rather than focusing on him, my tank which had focused in turn five on a tasty stack in BB3 now turned to gain acquisition on the bridge entry hex BB4 and laying down resid.

In turn seven the German found the faust he needed and nailed my T-34 returning the favor to the Russians for their maltreatment of his vehicles the turn before. By this time however the LMG squad which had been up in the church at set up had made its way all the way down to a building in AA10 guarding the exit off the board.

Emboldened by the flaming T-34, drum beats were heard across the canal from the stone buildings where the well known Eardley/German rallying cry of "WOO-HOO!" was heard over and over as guns were reloaded and uniforms straightened.

German squads tried moving across the bridges now, desperate to get moving with few turns left. The 57LL continued to lay down resid on the X2 entry hex, the elites in the stone building X6 laid down firepower on the bridge itself and then, for some German guys who made it across all that to X4, finally the HIP HMG nest opened up a firelane on them from N9. One of the squads was driven berserk. He charged the nest the next turn and fell where he was as the firelane reopened in turn 9.

After the tank on the southern bridge had been flamed by the faust, a truck and two halftracks with some battle worn troops made a dash across the BB5 bridge and the halftracks ran a hooking end-around some buildings and eventually off the board for 22 points. The truck simply ran straight down the road trying to draw fire but it only represented one point, so firepower was withheld for the squads on foot.

The German squads at X3 were mostly broken and back in the woods by X0 and mathematically out of game.

The squads on the BB5 bridge charged and ran into 24 down 2 firepower from PBP in CC7 on the exit hex on BB6 laying down 12 resid. Unfortunately for the Germans, the Russian roll on the 24 down 2 shot was not good enough to KIA enough squads leaving a bunch of broken guys laying around. Therefore the remaining Germans squads dashing across with leaders would have to pay an extra point due to overstacking in BB6 and did not have enough movement points to get off the board. 22, still less than the 33 needed.

Game over. WHEW! 10 Hours.

The scenario in ROAR favors the Russians and no balance was used so Walter had a tough task. At the end of the day, the most difficult thing for the Germans was probably the ammo shortage. It almost didn't pay for the Germans to fire.

Walter advised me all through this thing especially on how to best utilize firepower from the Gun and using smart Acquisition strategy he showed me. He also helped through all the AFV burn ups. The armored car was dispatched because he said, `you know the LMG can take that thing out if you roll right'. He also helped me through the Reaction Fire sequence on the StuG and of course which ammo type to use to blow up his PzIV, etc. He's the one who counted up the 22 points he had and pointed out the unlikelihood of getting 33 off (meaning let the halftracks go, prevent the other squads from moving). I'm under no illusion who the real player is. Gloves off, I'm toast.

He certainly succeeded in giving a new guy a more in depth run through an interesting scenario and I thank him for it.

Concerning a scenario analysis, I think I'll just leave that to Walter. He has some interesting comments to make about this BV game related to newer releases but it would sound silly for me to repeat them since he's the one who understands it.

At the time, and for 24 hours afterwards, I felt drained and a bit exhausted but it was a great time. Thanks Walter.


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