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!


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