Monday, July 27, 2009

AAR: RPT14 Keitel & Cox

Nick Drinkwater

German (SS) Player [ELR 5, SAN 2]: Mark Carter
American Player [ELR 4, SAN 2]: Nick Drinkwater

Mark and myself hooked up with this one as a last minute substitution for our original all-infantry choice as Mark wanted to practice more both as the defender and get some more practice in using AFVs. This 4.5 turn scenario out of the second Rally Point pack appealed as it had a Tiger(!) and a couple of Shermans stiffening an attack by 10 x 6-6-6s to eject a bunch of 7 x 5-4-8s from a stone Italian town in mid 1944. The scenario is set width-wise on one of the new SK boards and for victory, the US have to ensure that they control three multi-hex buildings that span the middle third of the board AND prevent the Tiger (with functioning MA) from being within four hexes of a central crossroads (hex Q5). These are pretty tough VC for the US, as they have a lot to do to dig out tough defenders in ideal terrain and also be successful in a game of cat and mouse with the Tiger - ROAR currently has this as 4:17 US to German, probably reflecting the problems of playing with Shermans against a markedly superior tank AND clearing three stone buildings in 4.5 turns.

To help Mark, we had a thorough discussion on all aspects of the units that has been provided, particularly with respect to the merits of the armour assets and also the importance on understanding the key issue of timing and the pace of the defense vs the required victory conditions. As it stressed in the VC that the US will lose if the Tiger is in the correct area with a functioning MA at game end, Mark quickly grasped the huge potential of the game winning aspect of this one piece and its need to be preserved. This was reinforced when he saw the problems of having M4A1 Shermans with their 75s - base To Kill of 14 will be bouncing off the 14/11 frontal armour on almost every shot and even side shots would need a six. Of course, the reverse was not true as any shot from the 88L was going to blowtorch through my tanks. Hence the Tiger was going to pose a problem for me, compounded by the better Tiger morale and the presence of the sN to throw out smoke when needed to get out of a sticky position. Mark swiftly picked up the nuances of all these aspects in the pre-game chat, but we also took time to make sure that the one saving grace of the Shermans was noted: the white square nature of the ROF of 1 which offered the potential for both improved gun duel chances and the chance for multiple hits, particularly threatening if the Shermans could be manoeuvred successfully to do the "dance of death" on the solo Tiger. More on this anon!

Mark swiftly set up a forward defense with the bulk of his troops stiffened by a line of LMGs and MMGs at the rear, covering the main lateral road I was going to need to cross. Setup meant that I was also setting up onboard and in this case, I had the advantage of setting up second - with Mark's forward defense I was able to deny concealment to 70% of his force at the cost of two revealed half-squads myself, and was able to place a menacing "?" stack within two hexes of the most forward of his troops. I also tasked my Bazooka squad to run forward on my left flank to start to threaten his Tiger and get him moving from its rear area position.

Turn 1 was completely ugly for me as Mark's first shots of the game were 2, 5 and 4, and of course being 6-6-6s I went rolling backwards on both my left flank and centres and I swiftly had 3.5 squads broken on Turn 1, including my only MMG and bazooka squads. Luckily my right flank concealed 'creep' stayed intact and the two Shermans were still healthy as it otherwise it could all have been over very quickly. By the end of Turn 2, I had been able to crush the two squads and leader Mark had on my right flank through concealed ambush and CC so things had started to even up a bit, even though I couldn't rally a unit for squat (including and especially annoying the Bazooka squad). A key move also happened in Turn 2 when a 7-0 went berserk on a rally - this was looking disastrous for me, but actually turned out really well as he charged Mark's MMG team tasked with solely holding out in his left rear defense line. Just before he went on his mad dash, I was able to dump a Sherman WP shell on top of the MG nest and this was meant my 7-0 survived his dash for glory and completely locked up his MG unit. I was thus able to get a 6-6-6 into the berserk CC location unscathed and the first victory house was mine. However, I still had two to go and the problem of the Tiger to solve and time was running out and still all of my first turn morale check failures stubbornly refused to rally.

Mark kept the pressure on by keeping my Baz team DM through movement of the Tiger (but wisely not using his MA on a wasteful shot after a discussion) and then pushed him back to a position where he could support the defense of his rear right house, the most difficult for the US to attack. Turn 3 saw him start to fold the defense backwards to the far side of the lateral road, but I was able to pin then destroy a half-squad while he was doing that - he had now lost 3.5 squads but I only about 5 squads in positions to effect the outcome of the game and the Tiger was still alive. In my Turn 4, I was able to eliminate another SS squad in CC (gotta love that 6 to 5 CC odds) and most importantly I saw an opportunity to threaten the Tiger from opposite sides with some cautious lateral manoeuvring of a Sherman. This was a bit risky as it meant I had to unbutton for some road bonus points and also I needed to risk an ESB for an extra half MP to get me in the perfect position, but this left me with a snakey 9 hex LOS through two orchards to the back hull of the now motion and sN smokey Tiger. At the same time, I pushed the other Sherman against the direct opposite facing of the Tiger to snap shut both sides of the vice.

In German Turn 4, Mark's last outboard infantry units were shot down when trying to retreat and he was left with a solo concealed 548 in the last victory building and the Tiger vs approximately 5 of my squads and the two encircling Shermans. We had a long discussion about the options open to the Tiger from here. If it could survive the two incoming Sherman shots it would probably mean victory for Mark as I would be left doing the chasing and needing bounding fire shots in my last turn for the win. If it stayed, however, I would still need to pull out some good shooting as Mark had smartly rotated the TCA opposite to the Tiger's VCA, meaning that both of my Shermans could still yet hit one part of the superior 11/14 armour rather than the 8 rear armour facing. If he wanted to escape there was also a chance he would fall victim to a 9-1 led streetfighting attempt (5 to Immobolize, 4 To Kill assuming PAATC was passed), but this was unlikely. As he was in Motion, shooting first at a Sherman was a possible but not great option, as I was always able to out gun-duel him first, so another sN attempt and then move was deemed to be the best bet. Mark was able to get the Smoke down so my sneaky Sherman was looking for a 5 To Hit and hopefully a 2,2 would come up as that would be a multiple hit in the Tiger's rear, as opposed to a single shot on its frontal turret. Roll the dice....and yes, you guessed it right, I called it correctly - a 2,2 was smiling back at me! Needing a 7 To Kill from the two attempts, I rolled two 3,3s in succession and Mr Tiger and his crew were very dead.

The concealed 548 was the last hope for victory but these went down to the first shot they took when Mark's dice hurt him some more and they failed a 1MC. Game over and a win for the good guys.

Mark played this scenario well and I hope he picked up some useful ideas and thoughts on how to defend, particularly during short scenarios when the need to really thick tactically about the opponents VC and his timing is critical. This scenario with its low AFV numbers also demonstrated the importance with vehicles to always try and keep in mind that its not necessarily what your opponent is doing with his tank this turn that you need to worry about - its where and how he'll be placed next turn to impact you which is the key thing. This takes some thought and I'm still on the learning curve on that one myself - I think it is this ability that makes the difference in armoured play (for example and this is a long list) that the Matts, Mikes, Jeffs and Zebs of this world possess.

So a fun ans small learning scenario played on the scarily 'open' SK boards with no hedges and walls to duck behind. I think ROAR's number of 4:17 is a poor reflection of this scenario and I do wander if that is more a reflection of the inexperience new players have when trying to use Shermans against a big cat. The Germans can be quite brittle, and Mark agreed that they may be better set up in a rear defense next time, as once one or two units succumb early to the US, there are a lot of opportunities for them infiltrate and surround outlying SS defenders who won't be able to get back and hang tough for the final turn defense. Mark's enthusiasm for the game is infectious and he's a willing learner and I would encourage anyone to play him as they will have fun! Also, thanks Mark for acting as host - wonderful to come and visit you and great burgers and beer man!

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