Saturday, June 13, 2009

AAR: FF10 Blackjack Is Back

Matt Schwoebel

Attacker: Matt Schwoebel (Americans)
Defender: Scott Bell (Germans)

The June Austin game day at Brian Roundhill’s house was at maximum capacity. Almost everyone was warming up for the much anticipated June CTASL tournament. Knowing I could not attend this august event due to family commitments, I wanted to play a fun scenario against a challenging opponent. Scott Bell came all the way from San Antonio to answer the call to arms. As he pulled out pages of notes and an already determined defender’s set-up, I had flashbacks to playing another hyper-organized member of the San Antonio group, one Carl Kusch. We had picked in advance a good game day sized combined arms scenario – the revamped version of FF-10 Blackjack Is Back.

This scenario is played during the winter of 1945 on the Western Front with ground snow and overcast conditions (plus an SSR treating rain as falling snow and Winter Camouflage for all). The German SS defenders have a mixed quality force with 3 x 6-5-8 squads, 8 x 4-4-7 squads, 3 leaders (2 x 8-1 and a 7-0) and 6 concealment counters. Their support weapons include 2 x MMG, 2 x LMG and a PSK. The combined arms factor is dominated by 2 Panthers (PzVG), plus a StuG IIIG (L). The American elite attacking force has 10 x 6-6-7 squads, 3 leaders (9-2, 8-1, 7-0), 2 x MMG, 2 x 60mm mortars, 3 x BAZ45 and a DC. American armor is impressive with a M26 Pershing, 2 x M4A3(76)W Shermans, and 2 x M4A3 Shermans (misprinted on the scenario card with 13 movement factors – not the correct 15). Most importantly, the Americans have a 9-1 armor leader and 2 gyrostabilizers with one in the Pershing! Add in elite status giving one better APCR rating and then the 90L and 2 x 76L guns become quite deadly even to the frontal armor of the Panthers. The
Germans are ELR 2 (underlined by SSR) with SAN 3 and the Americans are ELR 4 with SAN 2.

Scott Bell whipped out his laptop and began setting up. I read the victory conditions three times to make sure I got them straight in my brain – at this point just beginning to be caffeinated. Blackjack Is Back has VP earned by casualties (both sides) and exiting from 4 possible east edge road hexes (Americans only). The American attacker has two options to win – gaining 30 VP at ANY point in the game (automatic condition) or having at least 12 VP more than the SS at the end of the 6 turn game. Exit VP do not include
crew units (i.e. crews not in a vehicle).

Boards 21 and 22 with hexrows A-P are in play. From the attacker perspective, Board 22 is on the left and Board 21 is on the right with row A on the western edge closest for both boards. The German SS player sets up units on or east of hexrow F. The American player sets up on or west of hexrow C, but has the option of bringing AFVs onboard from the West edge on any turn (though all on the same turn). All multi-hex, non-factory buildings have 2 levels and inherent stairwells in every hex.

From my attacker perspective, the terrain is quite mixed with plenty of buildings along the roads for Panzerfaust wielding infantry to create blazing wrecks. On the left flank Board 22 significant terrain includes a 7-hex factory (by SSR) on the left front, a roadless village cluster in the center-right and an area in the left back cut-off by a frozen stream with one bridge & a few buildings behind the stream. Two exit road hexes are behind this stream. Board 21 on the right flank is best known for its large cemetery. Several large buildings dominate the front half of the board with the back half including the cemetery in the center with a road exit hex on either side of it.

The German defender must defend a fairly broad front. Scott positioned most of his infantry just forward of center in a roughly even skirmish line across the two board widths. Few gaps were more than one hex away from Panzerfaust toting infantry and most of the squads were not in line-of-sight of the American set-up area (deftly avoiding potential kill stack shots). A couple of squads were posted in the far back corners near exit hexes. All three tanks (concealed) were positioned near exit hexes at the back of the board (within 2 hexes of the board edge). Wisely done, I believe the easiest way for the German player to lose this scenario would be to set-up the Panthers too far forward allowing stabilized American tanks to flank them. I positioned the Americans more left of center primarily on Board 22 and decided to push straight up the middle of the German defense come what may. All tanks were onboard. My strategy was more-or-less to see how Scott reacted, take advantage if I could and then try to exit my armor for the immediate 30 total VP win (Pershing 10 EVP with leader, 2 x 76L Shermans 7 EVP each, 2 x 75 Shermans 6 EVP each for 36 EVP total).

Because of the nature of the terrain, potential exit victory conditions and resulting spread out defense, 3 German squads took the brunt of the American attack on turns 1 and 2. My squads moved ahead of the armor, pushed into the 22G4 factory and occupied a front only 8 hexes wide from the seam between boards to the factory. I took some breaks from German fire, while Scott slowly fell back in the center. My right flank was threatened as German infantry units were shifting towards my left-of-center attack. The Germans in the left rear stayed in position to keep me away from the two exit hexes behind the stream/bridge. SS armor stayed ominously quiet near the exit hexes and did not get lured towards the American schwerpunkt. Victory points at the start of Turn 3 were few and even. I had lost a half squad attempting to rally and Scott a squad for failure to rout.

Turn 3 turned out to be important for one vital help to the attacker – snow started to fall and continued to fall for the rest of the game. This LV hindrance made moving in the open and dashing across streets much easier on the American. For my half turn, I pushed a couple of squads onto Board 21 and consolidated my hold on the center-right village of Board 22. In Scott’s half turn he ran units from the far back right of the game area into the graveyard to protect his tank just right of center near the road exit hex.

The situation at the start of Turn 4 included was thus. Scott had a strong position guarding the stream bridge with 2 squads backed up by a tank. The center for him had been pushed back with 2 squads hiding out at the edges and another crossing the frozen stream to assist them. Along the road closest to the board seams on Board 21, Scott had strengthened his position with 4 squads adjacent to the road in a large building and the cemetery. Two tanks blocked both road exits on Board 21. One remaining half-squad was annoyingly behind my lines towards the front of Board 21. My American attackers were positioned in force in the center of the play area. All five tanks were as yet unscathed. A few squads were across the board seem road and contending with German defenders.

The start of Turn 4 I decided to make a rapid shift to the right, mainly with AFVs, towards the far right exit hex on Board 21 now guarded by a lone German tank. I calculated in two turns I could exit all five tanks (or any 4 if the probable Panther took out one) for the win. In response Scott would have only one defender turn to reposition. This was the new plan… The shift was fairly successful with squads following the armor into position. Both sides took losses this turn including in infantry melee. I tried to keep a tank and squad on the board seam road to fire down it and prevent German squads from crossing back over. With American armor being aggressively used and pushed to the fore, the Germans failed to successfully gain or accurately shoot Panzerfausts. My armor was now largely just in front of the cemetery and the large building dominating it especially around the traffic circle. Scott moved infantry closer to blocking positions in the cemetery, but could not completely strip defenders from the board seam exit hex for fear of another shift.

And then I decided to be careful.

Scott had moved too much infantry into PF range and I feared losing more tanks than I could afford. If the 30 VP immediate win failed, I still needed to maintain a 12 VP advantage to win at game end. Turn 5 saw me put WP round in front of the German tank blocking my targeted exit hex. I consolidated my armor around the traffic circle with both 75 Shermans in motion, both 76L Shermans guarding against a German armored attack from the front and the Pershing in motion with a 3-4-7 half squad toting a bazooka as riders as the rearward most tank. I ran infantry at Scott’s infantry in the graveyard. A bazooka wielding squad attempted to get in position behind the center German AFV, but was broken by German fire. The battle was now getting bloody. All 8 AFVs remained on the board in mint condition, but the infantry had taken losses on both sides. VP total (all CVP) was something like 7 for the Germans and 9 for the American – a slim margin for me.

It was now the fateful German Turn 5. Americans were in position to run AFVs off the board for the win on Turn 6. A few American squads lingered in the center and within exit striking distance. Scott had some powerful assets to repulse my exit attempt, but lady luck would need to be on his side. A half-squad, the pesky one, had positioned itself two hexes behind my Pershing. Looking hungrily at this prized target, they first got a PF and missed the shot and then failed on their second attempt to find one. The German infantry in the cemetery was chewed up and German infantry in the center could not get into position in one turn. Looking at the odds of a Panther behind smoke attempting to stop 5 American tanks from exiting, Scott decided it was time for both of his Panthers to come out and play.

ASL can be a stressful experience. This was one such occasion. The Panther formerly blocking the far right road exit hex drove straight at the American armor. My first 76L Sherman attempted APCR and failed, then attempted a regular shot at its frontal armor and failed. Scott’s first Panther then curved down the road and stopped in front of my second 76L Sherman. Both shot at each other without success (again no APCR), but a stopped Panther would likely result in a dead Sherman on my Turn 6.

Next the center of the board Panther rumbled towards the rear of my position. Scott’s second Panther drove right up behind my Pershing. It would be a gun duel. Fortunately at this point Mike Seningen was watching the end game with delight and encyclopedic rules knowledge at hand (or perhaps mind). The Pershing turned its turret (the poor BAZ half-squad successfully jumped off the in motion tank) and the Panther stopped adjacent on its last MF. The modifiers for the gun duel were even. Lowest roll shoots first. Finding the first round, the Panther missed its bounding fire shot by one (ominously maintaining rate of fire), but successfully broke the unfortunate BAZ infantry with machineguns. A miss by one, the falling snow had saved me. The in-motion Pershing then missed with its first fire shot. In defensive final fire I decided to intensive fire before Scott could advancing fire. The Pershing with an armored leader, stabilized gun and APCR (base 27 to kill, 30 adjacent) is an awesome, dreadful thing. The second shot with APCR found its mark and obliterated the Panther.

At this point, Scott graciously conceded. I had about 18 VP. Driving two tanks off the board against no opposition would win the game for me immediately. The likelihood his other Panther would survive with two American tanks (both with stabilized guns) capable of maneuvering behind it were remote (meaning one exited tank would win). Of course if the Panther-Pershing duel or the PF shots had gone the other way, I would have been in a hurtful position. Scott would have had two Panthers in position against 4 Shermans (neither of the 76L armed ones having APCR) and the VP lead.

It was a great, close game against a skilled opponent during a crowded Austin game day. What more could one ask for (strippers basking in attendance of our supreme intellects aside)? Thanks for reading.
Matt Schwoebel

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