Thursday, January 21, 2010

AAR: BFP67 Coke Hill - response

Zeb Doyle

John, thanks a lot for taking the time to write up an AAR and for the kind words. Although I don't think you missed or omitted anything, I'd like to respond with my view of the action and give my own idea of the balance. So, here's my official BFP-67 Coke Hill AAR:

It all started with a white-knuckle drive from Austin to Houston on Friday. The plan was to spend the evening giving our own Nick Drinkwater a bon voyage before the oil industry drags him off to Angola, and then spend Saturday dicing John into oblivion. Things didn't start so well due to a delayed start and a pouring rainstorm following me all the way to Nick's house, but at least I arrived in one piece. The evening didn't improve, with Nick dragging me off to see Avatar, and afterward trying to convince me that the movie is a complex allegory about the American exploitation of the West and its indigenous people (for those who don't know, Nick is British and loves to tweak his American cousins about it). I swiftly reclaimed the moral high ground by pointing out that Avatar is clearly about the depredations of his own beloved oil industry. Forced to the defensive by my superior logic and wit, Nick quickly shifted gears to an asinine discussion of how to represent the final battle scene in the movie using ASL:

"So, the big hammer-head rhino thingies, are they more like a Panther or a Tiger?"
"Uh...I don't really care"
"No, no, wait, I've got it...Sherman jumbos are perfect for them. OK, and on to the Navi...obviously heroes, but I think their inherent range is greater than four, don't you? Oooh, and they need ROF, definitely!!! Two or three for the ROF???"
"Still not caring..."

I was never so happy when the sun came out Saturday morning and we headed out to actually play some real ASL. BFP-67 is a really good-looking scenario designed by Chas Smith and out of the just released Blood and Jungle pack. It's set in Borneo, 1945, and the attacking Aussies are trying in seven turns to capture eight level two hill hexes on board 50 and then move 24 EVP onto or north of hexrow U. They have plenty of troops to do this, with 14 elite squads, OBA support, and three Matildas, including a very nasty flame-spouting variant (I love the name Grond for this, BTW).

This is no simple mop-up mission, however; the Japanese may be at their end of their tether, but they still have plenty of teeth. Seven squads and four crews are supported by a 10-2 leader, a .50cal HMG, 2x DC, 2x MMG, a 75mn ART gun, several pillboxes, trenches, mines, and panjis. Factor in the jungle terrain, the lavish late-war availability of THHs and possibility of A-T Set DCs, and it's really a dream scenario for anyone that likes to construct intricate Japanese defenses. That certainly includes me, and so I was really looking forward to the game.

So, all excited, I showed up, greeted John, pulled out the required gear, and then hit the first of several speed bumps that was to doom me to defeat. Although we'd arranged to play days earlier, John wanted to be as fair as possible and roll for sides. Given that he's a relative PTO newbie, and I love playing the Japanese, I probably should have simply claimed that side and prepared a set up. Instead, we waited until that morning, the dice spoke and gave me the defense, and I set up with the clock ticking away in the background.

This was actually a fairly minor factor in the game, but I mention it because I disagree with John's assessment that the scenario has a somewhat pro-Australian tilt. As it turned out, I had bigger problems and even having an unlimited amount of time to prepare would only have slightly improved things for me. That's because my last ASL game was in June, and I was super duper rusty. As an especially embarrassing example, I thought long and hard about what to do with my DCs. Using one as a AT-Set DC per G1.6121 would be cool, especially since the Aussie tanks are 7 EVP each, can almost satisfy that part of the VC by themselves, are extremely difficult for the Japanese to deal with, and there are lots of road hexes. However, after some quick thinking, I arrived at what I thought was an even more clever plan.

Looking at board 50, the gully makes it very hard, especially for armor, to get to the back hill without using the V5 bridge. I'd just use my 10-2 to quickly set the DC, drop the bridge, and then the double crest-line created by the gully and the level one hills would prevent the nasty Matildas from crossing anywhere but on the most remote flanks. I could put all kinds of weapons back there and keep them safe from the 32FP mobile flame-tank! Even if I'd been right about the rules, I then only put the .50 cal on that side of the gully. The ART gun, in particular was way too far forward, and would have done much better on the far side of the gully as well. That's how I ended up picking a bad plan and only following half-way through on it. Did I mention I was rusty?

At any rate, I made a few other minor gaffes during set-up with my squad placements, but I'm sure you're all getting tired of my whining, and so I'll try to focus on the positive. I was happy with my pillboxes in level two hill hexes in X2 and X3, each one guarded by HIP units and covered by panji and mines. The overall plan was to keep the .50 cal and 10-2 in the rear, chopping up the Aussies as much as possible and the rest of my covering force just running out the clock via delay tactics. I wasn't optimistic about taking out a tank and so I figured John would achieve the EVP target. My real hope of victory was to hide the pillboxes until late in the game. Hopefully at that point, the Aussies wouldn't have the time to clear out both the guarding units and the pillbox units and advance inside to actually Control every last level two hex.

Since John has already done a great job of describing the action, I won't be too detailed here. The opening phase saw the Aussies coming on and picking off two of my squads I'd left too far forwards. Some lucky CC rolls for me allowed me to trade bodies pretty equally, but I didn't slow John down at all and he was rightfully happy to kill Japanese at a one-to-one ratio. Meanwhile, my genius idea of blowing the bridge wasn't going so well. Needing a five or less on one die to place the DC (using a squad and the 10-2), I rolled a six and my best leader was kept away from the .50 cal post for a key turn yelling at a bunch of fumble-fingered wanna-be bridge blowers

This was especially annoying as John started to push over the Y6-Y7 hill going for my gun. The .50 cal squeezed off a shot, and would have kept ROF but with the 10-2 MIA they Cowered. That opened up my gun to far too many targets and it was overrun by a Matilda and then swarmed by a platoon of Aussie infantry. This was one of John's two really bad moves of the game in my mind: the gun was in the open and he advanced some concealed infantry in using the cover of the tank. Had he dropped concealment, my crew would have had a non-HtH 1:2 on one squad or something equally pathetic. As it was, the concealed infantry forced an ambush roll, albeit only with a -1 drm in my favor. I didn't get it, and my crew went down quietly as expected, but a 1:6 -2 HtH ambush attack looking for a 6 on the whole stack would have been pretty fun...

As the game wore on, a little bit of the 'non-average' luck occurred that John mentioned in his AAR. None of it was too material though; certainly watching him pull seven straight black cards for his OBA as he went after concealed targets was frustrating, but a series of high scatter rolls and the constricted jungle terrain meant he only ever got one mission off all game anyway. I also had a HS sitting next to an unsupported Matilda fail four straight THH rolls before watching the unscathed tank drive away. That was certainly frustrating as well, but not that unlikely, and I would have needed another good roll even had a THH appeared. Likewise, a Mild Breeze springing up allowed the Matilda sDs to generate some massive smoke screens, but by that point there were just too many Aussies for me to handle. In reality, most of the mid-game consisted of John doing a great job of taking apart my poor set-up and grinding down my Japanese.

By the end game, my brain slowly started to emerge from its self-imposed ASL hibernation and I belatedly remembered that B10.52 prohibits vehicles from crossing double-crest lines, but then goes on to mention that gullies aren't crest-lines. Oooops! If John wanted to, the Matildas could cross the stream despite my bridge-dropping tricks. At this point I realized I'd tried to be far too clever...not going for an A-T Set DC had been a criminal omission. With my prospects dimming by the second, I watched John continue his masterful attack. The .50 cal got smoked in by a MTR, the flame belching Matilda continued to run rampant, and large amounts of Aussie infantry converged on my pillboxes.

At that point, my remaining tricks and traps went off pretty well. Advancing against difficult terrain across a panji hexside into a jungle location containing a HIP Japanese unit is a recipe for disaster. The only problem was that my screening forces hadn't slowed and attrited John's troops enough, and I ended up needing him to advance a huge stack into CC for me to try to get with a good roll. Sadly for the suspense level of the game, he did a great job managing his risk with the infantry and never even gave me the opportunity. In fact, aside from a gratuitous Matilda ESB check that made my eyes go very wide and was his second bad move of the game, John used his position of strength to take me almost completely out of the game. When his avenging infantry peeled back the pillbox guards and finally attacked my Japanese actually huddled in their pillboxes, and I didn't get a miraculous CC result, it was all over on turn five of seven. Ouch!

Well, when I screw up that badly and still have a good time, it speaks very well of both the opponent and the scenario. I want to congratulate John on a convincing win. If my AAR has read like it was written by Paul Carell with a "I lost, he didn't win" style, that's only because I don't want to knock the scenario. I think it was my mistakes and not any balance problems that turned John's well-earned win into a blowout and has him thinking it might be pro-Aussie. For the numerous whiny reasons listed above, I disagree and feel that a solid Japanese set-up has a very good chance of victory.

That brings me to just a few brief scenario comments. The card portrayed a very interesting situation, with a powerful Australian force confronting a very entrenched foe. The Japanese, however, have enough tools at their disposal that it shouldn't devolve into a bug hunt (obviously, with a decent set-up!). Having played it, I still think that's the case. It's a situation where both sides can throw some punches, does a nice job of showing off the respective combatants approach to battle, and offers a lot of fun without being so meaty you can't easily play it in a day. Because of all that, I recommend it....but be sure to read up on A-T Set DCs first and then use one!

Thanks again to John for playing, and thanks to you for reading,


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