Saturday, March 27, 2010

AAR: RPT28 - The Polozkov Push

Nick Drinkwater

German: Nick Drinkwater [ELR 4, SAN 2]
Russian: Tom Gillis [ELR 4 SAN 2]

In what turned out to be my final ASL game in Houston, Tom and myself faced off in this nice little meeting encounter from the Rally Point pack of scenarios. I was officially in transit between the USA and Angola, living in a hotel room in South Houston with one wife and two black cats, as our house was now empty and all our belongings had been packed away ready for shipping and storage. In this strange netherworld existence with a ton of cowboys, rednecks, pig pokers, mutton busters and other rodeo participants, I thought my chances of any more ASL were effectively nil. But then, to my surprise and at very short notice, Mrs D announces she has arranged lunch followed by a spa visit for something female and alien called a "mani-pedi" and that I was hence free to entertain myself and not get in the way of important girl-stuff.

So then, I have 8 hours of 'Nick-time' to kill in Houston - I know, let's call Mr G and see if he's up for some ASL...and bingo, yes he is! As I am sans all ASL gear, I leave it to Tom to make the scenario choice and he came up trumps as always with this excellent 5.5 turn job from the Rally Point packs. What was nice and different about this scenario was that it was a meeting engagement on Boards 44 and 17 and that no set-up defense was required. Instead the Russian strike force (7 x T34M43 and 2 x SU-85 with 10 very lightly armed squads) entered first to which the German response force (3 Panthers, 2 x MkIVs, 2 half-tracks and 7 landser squads) would manoeuvre to counter them. To win the Russians needed to exit 30VP off the German entry board edge, but interestingly this would drop by 3CVP for each Panther that was destroyed.

The game was played across the width of the two boards so the Russians have a very broad front to manoeuvre in but their exit corridor is restricted to within the D and DD hexrows of the board edge to keep the Russian assault centered and stop board edge creeps. On the German half of the play area, two small hill overlays provide opportunities for the Germans to get hulldown with their Panthers and also to funnel the Russian attacks into three corridors - down the middle between the two hills, or left or right of the two hills, or some combination therein. As the Germans come on second, they get the luxury of being able to see which way the Russians are aiming for and respond and apportion their forces accordingly. The problem for both sides is that to simulate poor road conditions, all AFV must use an extra 1/2 MP for each open ground or road hex they enter - the impact of this is to stop the Russian tanks from moving across a whole of board 17 in Turn 1 and hence deny the Germans the two hills. However, this also makes German AFV entry setup critical as you really need to plan those turn 1 moves carefully to make sure you achieve the optimum positions. Interesting conundrums here.

Other issues we both needed to be aware of were the TK numbers of our tanks - my being outnumbered almost 2:1 was equalled by the fact that any hit by a Panther guaranteed instant death (TK of 23 vs 11 AF), but Tom's weaker guns (13 and 17TK) were going to need a lot of help or APCR (14 and 19TK respectively) to dent my Panthers in return. Clearly, the MkIV vs T34 matchup was marginally more favorable for Tom (17 TK vs 11 AF as opposed to 13TK vs 6 AF), but ideally he was going to need to be in flank or side shot positions for kills - something that might be harder for Tom to achieve than normal due to the movement point restrictions. In terms of morale, Tom's infantry were either the par of (4-4-7) or better than mine (4-5-8) and more numerous (10 squads vs. 7) and he had one more leader than I did, but of course, I have lots of that lovely late war German tank-killing goodness (and a Shrek) so the Russians better beware. In return, I was more MG-rich than him, and with the two half-tracks, I had some mobile firemen too to rush in and plug any gaps that may appear in the defense. All in all, this is very much a really equal match of more numerous Russians against technically superior but outnumbered Germans - something that was apparently quite common in Eastern Europe in the middle of 1944 or so I understand.

Tom opted for a "he can't defend everything, everywhere" approach which ended up consisting of a schwerpunkt of rider-bearing T34s down each flank while the assault guns pushed up the middle - in an early sign of the way this was going to go, two of Tom's 4-5-8 riders failed orchard-enforced bailouts which also saw the demise of their sole ATR. Other riders merely pinned but Tom was still pushing on nicely, despite the restrictions of the poor ground quality - being aware of CE status to improve MP benefits on roads is critical in this scenario.

Faced with this broad punch attack, I opted to utilise the two hills to match Tom's attacks as best I can, but plan carefully for position and use the hills to my advantage. Each small hill received a Panther and MkIV wingman plus infantry support, after attempting but failing to get hull-down advantage with the Panthers. The spare Panther plus the two half-tracks went into the middle to be a reserve force that could be used where needed. On the right flank, the MkIV sat in the brush between two woods to keep any Russian tanks that felt like being a bit frisky in a deadly cross-fire.

My turn 1 manoeuvring meant that I had one T-34 on the left flank stuck in a hole with nowhere to go - scratch one T-34 from long-range Panther gunnery. The position of the Panther on the right hand hill meant that Tom's T-34s over there had to manoeuvre away from the deadly 75LL Gun, but this put him in the cross-hairs of my MkIV. Feeling confident that I would get one of the T34s in defensive fire, Tom responded with one of those classic Gillisian throwaway shots, rolling a bounding fire improbable critical and that was the end of my MkIV. So at the end of Russian Turn 2, it was 1 vs 1 on tank knockouts - killer. This one was a jaw dropper I can tell you.

On the left flank, on the appearance of the Panther, the T34 gaggle over there swerved right (like a school of minnows fearing the approach of a barricuda) and tried to manoeuvre through woods and along the side of the left hand hill. However, again the MP restrictions came out to bite Tom again as he could get past my behemoths far enough to get rear shots and enforce more turret spin penalties on me. At the same time, Tom tried to repeatedly run some infantry up to my forward Panther and fix his attention with some CC threats, but they ended up riddled by landser, CMG and BMG bullets. In my return shots on Turn 2, my MkIV spun and knocked out one of his T-34s with a tasty side shot and the Panther then addled insult to injury by spinning and then destroying the second T34 on a flukey intensive fire shot. A bit lucky but it was definitely needed as I was about to be swamped.

I thought that this effectively stopped Tom's attack on the left side for a while, him being reduced to infantry probes which my scant defenders could easily delay for the time being. But of course, it wouldn't be Tom unless he had some death and glory moments, and so he pushed on with yet another T-34 and out of nowhere pulled out another bounding fire shot (one where I chose not to DFF as I thought he'd never get me with bounding fire) and whacked my MkIV from behind. A bit of poor play by me and another real choker. 3 vs 2 on tank kills, but still no Panthers dead yet.

However, things shortly afterwards got even uglier when, having failed to find 85L APCR, Tom found another snakes from a bounding fire AP shot on my left hand Panther - we thought this was a miss, but just at the last moment, he remembered this was his 8-1 AL which made the shot a hit instead of a miss...the second of Tom's throwaway miracle hits in the game and I was down my third tank - and critically he only needed to get 27CVP off for the win. 3 vs 3 on tank deaths and I'm now even more horribly outnumbered. This was definitely the ugly point of the game for me. Unreal - all my left hand side armour was dead, two T-34s were over there to take advantage of this and they only really needed to worry about low odds, long-range faust shots now.

On the right flank, the early loss of the MkIV had upset my plan and Tom was now locally 4:1 up in tanks on me - this was not good and unless I reinforced, Tom might easily sacrifice a T34 to take on my Panther and then run 2 or 3 of his other tanks off, and at 8CVP a piece, he could be over half-way or better to his VC by the end of Turn 3. So, my reserve Panther had rumbled over there to help out and keep the Russians in an ugly cross-fire position. This meant the middle part of the board was effectively open to a run by Tom's SU-85s but they might still be taking some shots at long range from the Panthers if they dared to.

Tom, ever the optimist, tried to do just this and switched the direction of his attack. A couple of infantry squads made a mad open ground and drew fire from my few right-hand defenders and this opened a gap for a T-34 to make a dash, free of fausts. He almost pulled it off as well as my Panther missed with his first shot, but with a very brave intensive fire attempt, I toasted him from behind on his last hex before exit. It was a huge moment in the game and I had to think long and hard as a broken Panther gun would have been catastrophic, and Tom had played this one really well putting all the really hard decisions back on to me - the best thing you can do as the attacker. But I got lucky, Tom didn't, and it paid off handsomely for me for once.

Still, I wasn't out of the fire yet. My ground level Panther was all shot out, and only my eastern hill Panther was still alive and un-fired - using another T-34, he manoeuvred onto the hill to force me to spin, and afraid of a BFF shot from the side by the Russian, I fired off and missed. However, in another critical moment, I kept rate and managed to roast him on extra MP to scratch my second T-34 of the turn - another huge moment and it was now 5 vs 3 on tank casualties. Then, in probably the biggest move of the entire game, I risked all and intensive fired the Panther yet again and mashed the motion SU-85 that had swung into my sights in the central play area, armour leader and all. A very risky shot, but my gunnery was good, my luck was in and I was riding it bareback!! This was all pretty gruesome for Tom - he had tried every manoeuvring trick in the book and pushed me really hard on all the tough decisions, but at the end of it all, I still had both Panthers left at the cost of three smokin' Russian wrecks. Three intensive fire choices and three kills...huge risks but huge payoffs!

This left a lot for Tom to do, but he wasn't out of the game yet - he still had three tanks left and if he got all three off, all he needed to run off from his infantry was a squad and a half, a task that probably wouldn't be too hard as there was a big exit area and not many defenders to cover it. Tom managed to get one T-34 off past some flailing impotent faust attempts, but his other SU-85 went down to more long range Panther gunnery. Finally his last T-34 was surrounded by landsers and disappeared in a puff of faust smoke. Game over and a convincing win for the men from Munich.

I really liked this scenario, obviously helped by the fact that my dice were hot and shooting sure, but it is a rare example of a meeting scenario where tank manoeuvring is the king. Apart from the Panther shots, there are no sure kills for the all the other tanks and we both suffered several dull 'thonks' from bouncing AP rounds, all of which is part of the beauty of this design, and quite rare for a 1944 eastern front setting. The Germans need to work hard for their positions and to make their tank superiority count, but you do really feel the pressure when one of your precious panzers goes down. The Russians have options here, but the fact that the German's move second, means that much chess-like move and counter move will be happening here. Even if the Russians go with a super big punch, the Germans can easily plan to defend against this and the soft ground conditions mean that re-positioning to try a different approach or defense route gets a bit trickier. Very much recommended and one for armour aficionados everywhere.

That's it from a warm and balmy Luanda. Hope all of you have good gaming while I'm gone! I'm off to the beach for a beer...!

Monday, March 15, 2010

AAR: SP153 The Wrong Side of Victory (Response)

Chris Buehler

I’ll add a few comments to what Tom wrote about our playing of “The Wrong Side of Victory” (SP153 from Schwerpunkt 13). ROAR currently lists this scenario as fairly even 13 to 11 in favor of the Japanese. I don’t have the scenario card handy but IIRC, this 6.5 turn scenario features a reinforced company of Japanese (2 elite, 7 1st line, and 8 2nd line squads) attacking a company of the King’s African Rifles (12 2nd line squads) who had 2 Humbar armored car, 2 squad, LMG, and 9-2 reinforcement group arrive on turn 3. The scenario is set in 1945 Burma but PTO terrain is not in effect with the exception of kunai replacing the grain. Tom and I had been discussing playing a scenario over the last week. We recently finished the 17D scenario of our VotG CG2 where Tom has Germans and had been attacking my Russians. Anyway, Tom wanted to defend and I wanted to play some PTO since I haven’t played much PTO and it’s been years since I last played a PTO scenario (2 or 3 years ago I had the US Marines in “Sea of Tranquility” against Walter’s Japanese cavemen). On a side note, Tom will have plenty of opportunities to defend in the VotG CG2 17N Russian night counterattack.

Back to SP153, the VC were the side with more infantry VP within a given area which was roughly 20 hexes from the Japanese set-up area. The terrain (half boards 5, 32, 36, and 47) was a mix of woods, kunai, and open ground with some small hills. So while I had some cover to work with it comes at a cost of an expenditure of additional MF. Tom’s set up was more concentrated on the northern half of the map, clearly intending to deny the shortest route (in hexes) with the most cover. My assault was up the middle and along the Southern flank. Turn 1 featured my squads running through woods to forward positions where they would LOS to the enemy. During turns 2 and 3, Tom did a nice job of delaying my advance – some nice rolling helped. However, the tide slowly turned and I was able to close on, break, and eliminate some Africans for failure to route. Each of our last turns was a mad dash for the victory area with Tom able to win 14 VPs to 12. I’ll note that Tom was wise to keep his 9-2 near the victory area but he also KIA’d a Japanese 447 trying to scramble across the sunken road on my last turn that ended up being the difference. I was counting on those sons of Nippon to perhaps take a few casualties (red stripe) but move past Tom’s squad into the victory area. Another Japanese half squad came up one hex short.

I did have a few highlights. I was pretty effective with delivering smoke from my 3 knee mortars until all 3 ran out of both smoke and WP rounds. I had a successful bonzai charge through smoke to close and kill a half-squad in CC. I had a tank-hunter-hero that 6ed the ATMM roll but then snaked the CC roll for style points to turn one of Tom’s Humbars into a burning wreck. I dropped a DC on Tom’s broken 9-1 (Lt. Snow), MMG, and broken 447 before they could route away, killing the 447 and wounding Lt. Snow. While he was routing away and trying to block my path, I executed an infantry overrun on Lt. Snow to put him out of his misery.

Overall, it was a great scenario and one that I recommend. Tom played a great game and earned a hard fought win.


AAR: SP153 The Wrong Side of Victory

Tom Gillis

British: Tom Gillis
Japanese: Chris Buehler

My East Africans pulled a very close one out against Chris's Japanese in 'wrong side of victory'...winner had to have more infantry VPs within a certain distance of a (supposed) water hole on bd 32...I had 14, Chris had 12! Chris had a tank hunter hero blow one of my two Humbar IV ACs to kingdom come, (flamed.) And my other malf'd his MA and 6'd the repair role. For not playing the Japanese very much Chris did great. Even with me having ALL the rolls go my way for the first two turns Chris was in it to the end. The difference being I never sent my reinforcing 9-2 into the battle but had him hunker near the VC area...It turned out to be the correct strategy as he was the difference in VPs...My 9-1 Lt Snow held out on a left flank hill with a 447/mmg for just long enough to delay Chris the vital movement phases to get more troops into the VC area. Lt Snow and all his men perished of course but the time delay may have been the clinch...I deployed the max, (two 447s) at game star t and then deployed by rally phase one more so I had lots of troops to defend my line. Even so Chris killed at least 2 1/2 squads worth of Kenyans for FTR...Those sons of nippon are fast! Actually, mostly by pure luck, I won most of the CCs tho...

I rated it an 8 on ROAR...a must play...


Monday, March 08, 2010

AAR: FT124 Deadly Sleigh Ride

Zeb Doyle

White Russians: Zeb Doyle
Red Russians: Sam Tyson

The Austin Game day went off well, thanks to Rick stepping up after Mike S. had to back out. Thanks, Rick! We didn't have a huge turnout, but those that could make it really enjoyed the hospitality. Highlights included Eric's paradropping Germans being slaughtered before they could pick up their weapons canisters by David Hailey's British in ASL97 A Desperate Affair, Brian Roundhill's Japanese coming up just short against David Longstreet's Gurkhas in J9 A Stiff Fight, and best of all, Rick working to get some new blood into the hobby by playing a neighborhood kid in an ASLSK scenario (although knowing Rick, he probably diced him AND sleezed him and sent him home in tears).

As for myself, I had the pleasure of crossing blades with Sam Tyson in FT124 Deadly Sleigh Ride. This scenario is from the Franc Tireur Out of the Cellar pack 4, and covers the Russian Civil War. Based on the whole two scenarios from the pack I've played, I'd highly recommend it to anyone interested in ASL off the beaten path. The pack has lots of interesting situations and (IMO) really hits the sweet spot of having just enough SSRs to make it unique and give it a good feel without bogging down in tons of chrome and extraneous detail. If you had the vanilla but good for tournament Schwerpunkt scenarios at one end of the spectrum, and the Operation Chariot chrome-fest at the other, this would be somewhere in the middle.

Speaking of interesting situations, FT124 Deadly Sleigh Ride has a historical introduction and aftermath that sounds like it's right out of a movie. The Supreme Regent of the White Russians has been betrayed by the Czech Legion, which has handed him over to the Red Army in exchange for safe passage out of Russia. A faction of the White Army, led by their best general, rushes to attack the town where the Regent is held, but attracts the attention of another Red Army group, which immediately commences a pursuit. In ASL terms, this works out to a small Red Army garrison on board 12, a big White Army force attacking across a steppe board, and then a big Red Army force entering behind the White Army and also attacking across the steppes. At game end, the Whites win if they control most of the board 12 town, and since there are all kinds of cavalry and sleighs and wagons and wagons with mounted guns and such, it ends up being a very entertaining swirling fight with a flavor I can only describe as "pre-internal combustion engine Mad Max."

Sam ended with the Reds and put together a very nice defense. He got a lot of HIP stuff and a choice of which units to take on the defense, so it was pretty hard for me to figure out what I was facing and where it was. However, the Whites have a big numerical advantage to start the game and so I pretty much ran straight at the town, hoping not to get hurt too badly. This didn't work very well...Sam had all his HIP guys in good spots (I like finding HIP stuff, but not when it comes at the cost of turning my DC-carrying 4-4-7 cavalry unit into a broken 1-3-7 with no DC) and he also rolled a ton of threes. For a while, it seemed like every single 1-2 or 2-2 he fired turned into a KIA or K/ that ELRed my unit. I was getting pretty frustrated, especially when he killed some sleighs with really low-odd shots but my SAN was also three and that started to work over Sam's backfield, breaking some key units and wounding one of his three leaders.

As I pushed forward, leaving a trail of bloody and broken conscripts behind me, Sam unveiled his guns and (importantly) started rolling 11s. Pretty soon, he'd lost two of his three guns and two of his three MMGs (all B11) to his bad dice, and it was now his turn to feel frustrated. That really took the pressure off me, and allowed my White Russians to push into the outskirts of town and capture Sam's last MMG and gun just as the wave of pursuing Red Army units arrived in my rear. That really put me back in a tricky position. I had a CVP cap that I was uncomfortably close to after the first few bloody turns, and had a bunch of wagons, sleighs, and guns that were threatened by Sam's reinforcements and that I couldn't allow to be captured. At the same time, the clock was ticking, and my battered forces still had a lot of buildings to take and weren't making much headway in the town.

Thankfully, I'd left my White Russian general in the rear, along with some MMGs and machine-gun carts. The general was historically suffering from frostbite, but apparently was a pretty formidable leader. This is represented by an SSR that has him as a 10-3 leader that must be in a sleigh or machine-gun cart he cannot voluntarily abandon, which is annoying, but he can direct fire and use his leadership DRM as if a hero out to any range, which is pretty cool. That combination of fragility and immense power makes him difficult to use in attacking the town, since he's extremely vulnerable to MMG and gunfire, but perfect for slaughtering Red Army guys coming across the steppes. A series of 16-2 and -3 attacks, along with a ton of very timely ROF, pretty much made hash of Sam's reinforcements and should have cheered me right up.

Back in the town, though, things weren't going so well. Sam had gone back to rolling threes, and so every attempted Dash further into the town was bloodily rejected. Even worse, on the one flank where things were going well, I ran into the halfsquad from hell. This thorn in my side started life as a full squad, got encircled, shrugged off several decent IFT attacks (6+1, 8+0, etc), was Meleed by a squad, killed it and was only CR'd in return, grabbed an LMG and mowed down two squads with it, was Meleed by a HS, while in the Melee was encircled again, survived an 8+1 and a 12+0 attack, rolled snakes in the Melee to kill my HS and generate a leader and Withdraw to a spot where he could kill yet another squad of mine for FTR. I could hardly believe it when finally a 3-4-7/hero combo were able to kill him off in CC.

With only a few turns remaining, and the HS from hell finally gone, my sniper woke back up and broke a few more of Sam's troops. That was tough luck on him, since the garrison had been pretty whittled down, and every remaining unit was pretty important. When the sniper got really lucky and took out Sam's 8-1 (by far his best leader) and the squad with it on the LLMC, I was suddenly in good shape. Rallying those guys was almost impossible too, since they were all conscripts at this point, and Sam only had a wounded 6+1 and an 8+1 commissar remaining for leaders. It was pretty funny, albeit in a pathetic way, watching the 6+1 try to rally a 5ML conscript squad. Sam would roll a 5 and get all excited, before realizing that wasn't actually good enough. Even better was when he actually rolled snake-eyes on the rally; the resulting HOB roll was Disruption. This little performance naturally got Sam even more frustrated than I'd been earlier, and with my MMGs and war wagons redeploying from the slaughter on the steppes and into the town, he decided to concede on turn six of eight.

I can't fault him for the decision, since I was in pretty good shape, but I was sad to see the game end. It was a very fun scenario for both of us, even with a much higher than normal frustration factor. That mixture of fun and frustration seemed to fit the situation pretty well. After all, it's a brutal civil war, and what you're fighting over is just some frosty chunk of steppe way out in the wastelands of far east Russia. It's like getting into a knock-down, drag-out brawl with your brother over a half-bottle of vodka. Win or lose, you're not going to end up feeling good. Getting back to the scenario, along with the high fun factor, I think the balance is pretty good too. It felt to me like our wild dice mostly canceled out, as did our mistakes.

Quickly going over those: the Red Army has the option to Battle Harden units during set up, although at a cost in VC. Since two of the three Red Army leaders are a 6+1 and a 8+1, I think it's important to BH at least those two to try and avoid Sam's late-game rally problems. Sam also set up his pillboxes with a great field of fire covering the steppes. Since the White Army has such a superiority at the start, I was able to capture them and really channel the Red Army reinforcements coming in on the same board. This isn't nearly as much of a no-brainer as battle-hardening the leaders, since the MMGs there really did chop me up, but I'd at least throw some wire on the pillboxes to make them more defensible if you do want them there.. For myself, I attacked on too broad a front. It worked well at the start in finding everything, but then my offensive stalled out pretty much everywhere, and I had to get lucky with Sam breaking both guns on my left flank to get things going again. I also did a pretty poor job preparing for the Red Army reinforcements, leaving a lot of equipment in spots where it could potentially get captured for lots of CVP. It was lucky the pillboxes were positioned to channel Sam's poor boys onto my 10-3 Darth Vader. That's a good example of our mistakes canceling the end, my force proved slightly more resilient and that was the difference. One other point: obviously all these comments are made with the benefit of hindsight, and are in no way a knock on Sam.

Anyway, this was supposed to be a quick game day report, so I'll stop here with one lastl recommendation for FT124 Deadly Sleigh Ride. It's a fun Mad Max romp that also requires a good amount of thought and offers a unique ASL situation. Thanks again to Sam and Rick for making game day happen for me, and thanks to you for reading!


Monday, March 01, 2010

AAR: DASL A - To The Last Man (Part I)

John Hyler

Russian: Mark Carter
German: John Hyler


That was the sound of Mark Carter's first-ever (I believe) crit/dud DR sequence. It came in turn 2 or 3 of our scenario, DASL-A, To The Last Man. One of his JS-IIs got the critical hit with its 120L gun. The doubling of FP made it a 48, or a heavy payload -2DRM on the 36+ column. That, coupled with the -3 from the reversed building TEM made for a 36 down 5 DR for Mark. Anything but a dud would have rubbled the hex, perhaps starting a chain reaction rubbling of adjacent building hexes. Alas for Mark, his dice betrayed him with a 12. Amidst the hooting, he took it with great equanimity. Welcome to the club, Mark.

Among other difficulties, his leader who was manning the field phone broke due to 9-2 directed MG fire. After rallying and moving back into the hex where the field phone was located, at least three unsuccessful attempts were made to recover the phone (Brrrring....Brrrrrring) before finally finding it, only to draw a red card.

We made it through four turns, with my Germans holding off and attriting Mark's forces on one side. While Mark's forces are holding a leg, Matt Zajac's Russian Guards are inexorably working their way from the other side of the board where my forces are fighting a rearguard action. I made a bad mistake in my turn 4, voluntarily breaking a squad w/LMG that was in a factory hex. He failed the interdiction DR. I should have kept them there to die, while delaying Matt's Russians. Now, Matt has an unimpeded advance into the first factory, and an easier timetable to attempt to capture the required number of buildings. Stupid...stupid.

We have had a lot of fun thus far, all of us enjoying the scenario immensely. I am in the process of recording the positions to resume the carnage at a later date with Russian 5.