Thursday, March 31, 2011

Commands & Colors: Ancients (GMT) ~ "The Battle of Akragas"

Game: Commands and Colors: Ancients (GMT)
Scenario: The Battle of Akragas - 406BC
Participants: Rikk "The Pirate" M, Myself
Time: Sat, Mar 26th 7.30PM - 8.45PM (Tempe, Arizona)

I got Rikk a copy of CCA to retaliate as he had out of the blue purchased Dominion and Dominion: Seaside for me. The little rascal! I was pretty excited as previously mentioned I am a big fan of CCA (and CCN for that matter) and was very happy to share it with Rikk. He had played it once or twice while he was visiting me out here in STL. As that was several years ago, we spent the first few minutes going over the rules.

We started with the first scenario, the Battle of Akragas. We rolled for sides and I got the Carthaginian's with the Pirate getting the Syracuan's. This scenario is a small one with only 5 blocks needed to win. My force has two chariots as the main feature, behind the chariots I have a Light Infantry, Light Bow and Light Cavalry group covering the main line of one Heavy Infantry unit, two Medium Infantry's and four Auxilia's. I have two leaders and a 5 card hand.

The Battle of Akragas - 406BC
Rikk's Syracusian force is centered on four Heavy Infantry units. The main line is covered by a screen of light units (2xLB, 1xL & 1xLC) as well as a Medium Cavalry unit and two leaders. There are two leaders and the hand size is 6.
Chariots forward!

I believe I started with the Mounted Charge card in my hand, which was a blessing. I opened with a furious charge by my two chariots as well as my LC. Chariots only have two blocks, thus they are easy to kill, but they have a big punch, attacking with 4 dice and defending with 3. I had the additional battle die due to the Mounted Charge card so I was rolling 5 dice in these opening attacks. It was a massacre, when the dust settled, Rikk was down two H units and one leader with a third H having retreated with only one block remaining. Thus I had a three victory block leading in the first couple of card plays. I was not being kind to my gracious host!

"Wow, you're a good player!" - Rikk M

Rikk eventually got the two chariots, but not before I got the one Heavy Infantry unit that had fled. Rikk wisely blocked my retreat on one of the chariots...a nice move for a rookie player. Once my chariots were spent I had four victory blocks to Rikk's two, I only needed one for the win. Rikk regrouped his line setting up a Line Command card play. I was also grouping my Infantry together in the middle as I had a Double Time card up my sleeve. As soon as Rikk's line was in range I played this and got three Infantry units crashing into his center. I got the last victory block for the win.

Victory in the Center

We had a good laugh over my amazing dice and card combination with the chariots. Another hour well spent with CCA.

"Yes, I am number 1!" ;)

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Sword of Rome (GMT)

Game: Sword of Rome (GMT)
Scenario: 4-Player
Participants: John P, Rikk "Uncle Silkie" M, Chuck "Chazzy Chaz" W, Myself
Time: Fri, Mar 25th 6.00PM - 10.00PM

In a highly unusual move, Rikk (my oldest and dearest friend) decided to purchase SoR and introduce it to his gaming group in Arizona where he lives. He and I would talk about the game off and on. Recently with our playing it here in STL he finally decided to take the plunge. I believe he and his group has played it two or three times and enjoyed it. They have played it 4-player most of all, much like we have locally. I think we are only just a step or two ahead of them on the learning curve.

As I mentioned the last time we played SoR, I am still missing something around 'getting' this game. It surely is fun to play, but our experiences with it have nearly all been player usually ends up making a king maker decision once he's down on his luck (i.e. he's getting beat up by another player). The other thing we've seen is one player getting ahead of the others (again we have really only played the 4-player game locally) and finds himself getting attacked by the other three players. I was left wanting to play the game with a new set of people to see what we are missing, or in fact was this the normal state of play for this game.

Rikk decided to organize and host a 4-player game, kicking off my long weekend back in Arizona. All of us had played the game at least a couple of times and had roughly the same level of rules knowledge. We rolled for sides and I got the Gauls, Rikk was the Greeks with Chazzy as the E/S player and John getting Romans. In my previous playings I had played everyone except the Gauls so I was pretty excited. The Gauls face a tough choice of going after the E/S player (and thus making him very vulnerable to the Romans) or electing to hold back (and thus limiting the Gauls options for getting VP's).
Chuck "Chazzy-Chaz" and Rikk get ready to start

My initial hand had Brennus in it so this was my first card play. I didn't have any cards to activate the Carthaginians, so my ability to mess with Rikk's Greeks was limited on the first run. Things started off slowly with Chazzy (E/S) offering me an alliance after John's Romans started to misbehave. Rikk or John activated the TA Gauls, taking a red city and costing me a VP on the first turn. The Romans built a city while the Greeks added support and started to look closely at taking all of Sicily.

Chazzy, happy about his Alliance with the Trustworthy Gauls

With my alliance with the Estonians, Rikk and John were working together, just short of an alliance (at least initially). There weren't many battles in the first few turns. I dealt with the TA Gauls, retaking my city and leaving a minor leader and 4 CU's up there to discourage any further TA activations. They (the TA Gauls) had lost all three of their CU's so I knew I would have a few turns reprieve. Meanwhile the Greeks and Carthage were messing with each other, both John (Rome) and I were activating the Carthaginian units to keep the Greeks in check. I also lead a 10 CU Army all the way down (through Samnite territory) once the Greeks moved against them (Samnites) and took out one other their Red VP tribal locations. This caused Rikk to pull his Greek invaders out of Samnite lands and move to intercept Brennus and try and save his city from Gaelic atrocities.

John's Romans mistreating the Etruscans

This move caused me to high tail it back up the boot as I didn't want to risk loosing a battle and having to retreat. That would have cost me my army for sure as I was not allied with the Samnites (at the time), just the Etruscans. Johns Romans were starting to get the upper have against the Etruscans while continuing to poop out CU producing cities. Greece was able to defeat the Carthage forces in Sicily (getting the VP city) thus Rikk shot up the VP chart around turn 3. Rome was flat but had the largest army of all of us while Chucks E/S forces were slowly loosing ground against Roman and Greek aggression.

We broke the game on turn 5. One of us moved the Volsci out of Roman territory to try and take a Greek city as by then Rikk was starting to run away with it. We missed the movement restrictions on the Volsci and compounded it an impulse or two later by someone else activating them and attacking a Roman city. At this point we collectively decided to call it as there was no real easy way to undo what had been done and we thought that Rikk or John's Romans (huge army by this time) were very close to a victory with the rest of us only getting to decide which one would get the win (sigh).

My desire to see how the rest of the world played SoR was thus left unquenched, although I am now leaning towards thinking that sticking with TNW when we are looking for a 4-player non-Euro to play is the way to go. The exception here is that I would like to see what a 5-player game of SoR feels like. Our thinking is that with a 5th player to counter the 2v2 aspect of the game it might prove interesting. I should add though that we had a good time with many shenanigans and laughing all around the table.

Dominion (Rio Grande Games)

Since the night was still sort of young we decided to break out Dominion. I will talk about this game in another post as we played it a few more times over the course of the weekend (and I like it very much).

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Ukraine '43 (GMT) ~ "Campaign Game" Part 3

Game: Ukraine '43 (GMT)
Scenario: Campaign Game
Participants: Bob H, Myself
Time: Sunday, Mar 20th ~ 2.30PM - 5.45PM

One of the challenges we have in a game like this is knowing how we are doing against the victory conditions. The scenario (the CG) is 20 turns long. Each turn there is a min/max number of VP's needed (for the Russian player) in order to win or lose. We also have the historical record to compare against. Neither one of us has a real clear memory of the last time we played the CG so we are left with the above metrics to guide us in know how we are doing in the over all context of winning or loosing the game. When I sat down to do my turn prior to Bobs arrival, I found that I was starting to have doubts. When we finished for the day, I was pretty sure that the game is still in the air, however Bob is certainly doing better after this last session then in his prior two.

Turn 6
Kharkov Sector, start of RT6

The line West of Kharkov is turning into Bobs main effort as he's given up in the far North and will do the same at the end of this turn following a disastrous attack lead by Zhukov in the South. Lets start in the South. I had been able to extract the two Infantry Divisions from the Donets pocket at the end of the last session due to the 3PDs stubborn defense in a key hex. I pull the 3PD back into the main line and slip one of the withdrawing ID's into the hex to maintain the fortifications. Bobs attacks in the Primary combat phase are uneventful (EX & C), except that he's slowly grinding me down. The 3PD takes a hit and I am happy that I moved the two divisions that arrived on turn 5 as reinforcements into the area as I now need them to hold the line. Bobs attack on hex 5323 during the secondary combat phase was a disaster. Zhukov was leading it, thus we had a 1-1 / 2 attack. The first result was a EX + 1/1, the 2nd roll (Z allows re-rolls on EX and C results) yielded a AR + 1/-. Thus Bob lost 5 steps and was Disrupted with the rest of his attacking forces (those that were left at least).

Southern Russian Subsequent Combat phase, RT6

I see an opportunity to hit back here. I line up the 2SS along with some supporting units and make a 3-1/1 attack. It fails miserably with a C. However as we shall see next turn, Bob at least is done for now in the South.
The line breaks, West of Kharkov

Meanwhile in the North the situation is still very fluid. Bob has made penetrations 5-6 hexes in and I have holes in my line that I cannot fill, Bob is having a little trouble keeping his mechanized units in fuel. Bobs attacks in this region are good (DR + 1/1, DRX, EX, EX) bleeding me dry. My line looks good behind a river but Bob cracks that line and I am again forced to fall back. Near Kharkov Bob continues to grind me down getting a hex or two closer.

2SS fails to push Zhukov back

Counter-attack to keep the line open near Kharkov
Bob's Comments:

I continue my attacks in the South with Zhukov in an attempt to grind the Germans down, the initial attack goes well but the exploitation attack with Zhukov is a disaster with the loss of 5 steps.  I'm disappointed but low odds attacks using Zhukov will be bloody.  North West of Karkov the German line seems to be week and I decide to go all out.  I breakthrough in this area and get across the river line.  Unfortunately this area is devoid of rail lines and this will come back to haunt me but at the time i felt that a major breakout had been achieved.  I continue my attrition attacks North of Kharkov with some success.  In the South 3rd SS counter attacks but a poor roll limits there advance.  I was surprised at the ability of 3rd SS to get a 3-1 attack but with my sucess in the North it didn't register in my pea brain.

Turn 7

I now have one division isolated in the South. The sector quiets down this turn quite a bit as Bob pulls Zhukov out and gets him on the road to Kharkov. I shorten my line and lose a couple of VP cites while I too start to pull some mech units out of the line to send them North to help stem the mounting disaster West of Kharkov.

Start of RT7
Bob is able to put together an amazing string of attacks this turn. He makes six attacks over the course of the turn (4P, 2S) and all but one are either DR1s or DRXs, the one was an EX (a win for him). It's worth noting that only the first two were 3-1 or better, the rest of the attacks this turn are 2-1 to 1-1, all forcing me to yield ground, lose troops and at almost no cost to Bob. I lose 5 steps to Bobs 1 this turn (the dice gods are repaying me for turn 1).

Despite this I am able to move an impressive force into the Kharkov sector in my half of the turn. Bob has clearly lost interest in the South for now, instead focusing all of his replacements/reinforcements and artillery and air into the Kharkov front. I continue to fall back, shrinking my line and getting some units out of harms way (reducing the threat of them being cut off) around the city.

A big counter stroke by the Germans to keep Kharkov from encirclement

The 1TK is far in front of Bobs supporting troops and I think long and hard on counter attacking it. In the end I have no choice, I am down to a three hex depth in back of Kharkov, I can't let him cut the city off (yet at least) as I still have too many steps there that I cannot afford to lose. The attack is a failure, 4-1/2, I roll a 1 (EX & -/-), and we trade steps. At least I didn't lose more units as I am very thin now and need every step.

Turn 8

I'm sure Bobs mouth was watering as he did his turn 8. I had assembled a huge force of mechanized units to relieve Kharkov and they totally gacked the attack. Now Bob is able to set up his counter attack. The turns are not taking as long now as we both are really only fighting in this one sector and the rest of the map sees little action. The weather turns overcast, causing more drama in the air game. I might add that this is the first time we had to look up and use the weather rules and I really like what Mr. S has done here with us rolling for each air unit. A very snappy rules mechanic that feels very right.

Russian Attacks, turn 8 (Primary)
Bobs troops are in fine form again this turn (he's rolled nothing but 5s or 6s) and he again pushes me back with losses I cannot afford to lose. All four attacks are either DR/DR1 or EX. I flee, loosing three steps to his two. We stopped here and for some reason I didn't take pictures, but I know that my line is a mess and I am gonna have a hard time keeping Kharkov open. Here are the results of the last two turns of combats:

An Impressive couple of turns for Bobs Russians

Bob's Comments:

Because of my success NW of Kharkov I move Zhukov North to reinforce what I believe to be a major breakthrough and because of the enormous losses suffered last turn I need to rebuild in this area.  I continue to attack North and West of Kharkov and get some very good die rolls, I believe that I am one or two turns from ripping the entire front open and racing to the Dneiper.  During his turn Steve sends most of his mobile forces to the North to deal with my two Tank armies.  He does counter attack 1st Tank Army with little effect, once again he is able to get good odds against my spearhead.

So now, getting back to the point I raised at the top of the post, how are we doing? Both of us would say that while these last two turns have seen some impressive advances for Bob, I'm not sure that I feel like I am totally out of it. According to the VP maker (and the sudden death VC's) Bob is right in the middle. We assume that this near historical performance. From what we know of the campaign we are at some point soon going to see me having to abandon this line and make a run for the Dnieper. Knowing this is helping me keep my spirits up along with not knowing if one side or the other is in the process of a blowout. Both of us are still very much engaged in the game and can't wait to sit down at the table again.

Current step losses are 64 lost for the Russians to 44 lost for the Germans.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Commands & Colors: Ancients (GMT) ~ "Cirta - 203 BC"

Game: Commands & Colors: Ancients (GMT)
Scenario: Cirta - 203BC
Participants: Joe "YJ" C, Myself
Time: Friday, Mar 18th ~ 6.30PM - 8.30PM

Since its release several years ago, the CCA (aka "Big Boy Blocks") system has become a favorite. If I were to list my top five favorite games, CCA would easily make the list. This game for me scratches a different itch then say ASL or something like U43. It's fast, exciting, ascetically pleasing and always entertaining. Yet despite it's lite-ness there is a enough depth to make it interesting. It's also a bit of a silly dice game, but in this case it works very well. Each scenario usually takes an hour, plus 15-20 minutes getting it set up. We usually play two scenario's on the nights that we play it.

HeavyD and I have played through the entire first two games and are into the 2nd expansion (there are three). The scenarios for me are mostly not something I remember or even think much about afterwords...its what happens while we're playing that stays with me. Recently we played our first game of CCN, the Napoleonic game by the same designer, the esteemed Mr. Richard Borg. CCN is also a fantastic game, taking the system Mr. Borg uses here and nicely alters it to handle the changing nature of Napoleonic warfare.

Prior to play
So last Friday's game with YJ was a scenario that we pulled out of the C3i magazine and one that neither of us had played. We rolled for sides and I got the Romans. YJ got the Numidian side. The scenario is on the smaller side with no terrain. The Romans have three Medium Infantry units in the center with three Light skirmishers in front of them. The right flank has three Light cavalry units and a leader. My left flank is where my panzer division sits, here I have three Medium Cavalry units accompanied by a leader.

Opening skirmishing on the Right

YJ's Numidians are a larger, but much lighter force. He has one Medium Infantry and four Auxilia units in the center covered by three Light Infantry skirmishers. His right has four Light Cavalry units and a leader while his left has another four Light Cavalry units sans the leader. The Romans have 6 command cards while the Numidians only have 4. The first player to five victory blocks ("treats" in local parlance) is the winner, thus this is really a short and quick battle, not a lot of room for 2nd and thirds chances.

Well, that didn't quite work out as I had planned!

My opening hand was heavy on light forces cards, with a couple of line and center orders in it. I decided to try and burn through some of the light cards to see if I could get some nice cards that would allow my medium cavalry units a couple turns of sustained activations. My thinking was that I could win the game on my left with a few good cards. After some opening ranged fire, I pulled back my LC on the right even with my center. I had pulled a couple cards now where I felt like I could move my left into striking range, take the ranged fire and then move in for the kill.

YJ counter-attacks on my right

YJ's was mostly sitting back and reacting at this point. Where I in his shoes with only four cards and nearly all my troops light, I would be doing the same. My initial move on my left went ok. YJ mostly withdrew when I engaged in melee, but after the initial withdrawals he was out of board space and vulnerable to retreats taking out units. After this initial clash on the left, YJ counter attacked and took out two of my three units, one to ranged fire and another to melee. I was suddenly left with one MC on the left, but I had I think at this point three treats.
The Roman Center double times into Battle

YJ countered this by advancing in the middle and on the left. I reunited my leader with my remaining MC and went in for the kill (not getting it of course with some bad rolling). I had been sitting on a pair of cards that would allow me to rapidly engage with my Medium infantry in the center. After YJ moved up with his force, I was able to quickly get me main line of infantry engages with his. The fight in the center didn't last long and soon I had the needed 5 treats.

Both of us were itching to get back to Rift (new PC MMORPG, aka WOW version 2.0) so we decided to call it a night.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Ukraine '43 (GMT) ~ "Campaign Game" Part 2

Game: Ukraine '43 (GMT)
Scenario: Campaign Game
Participants: Bob H, Myself
Time: Sunday, Mar 13th ~ 2.30PM - 5.00PM

The weather in St Louis decided to remind us that Winter still had one or two more swings left this past Sunday as Bob and I returned to U43. As I sat down to do my turn prior to Bob getting here I found that I wasn't entirely unhappy with how the first couple of turns had went. Bobs dice had been very bad throughout the entire first two turns and he had taken twice as many losses as I had. One thing that we had blown was that I failed to reduce 4 mechanized steps prior to play (this represents the Kursk losses yet made good). So as I took these now I found that there was a small up side, it took a couple of my Panzer Corps from 4 steps to three, thus getting me back on the magnitude 1 column. To date my Panzer Corps had not done much except plug lines and get in Bobs way when he tried to widen a hole in the exploitation phase.

Northern Shoulder, start of Turn 3
The Southern Front, start of Turn 3

Turn 3

Bob moved Zhukov in NE of Stalino to try and compress the bulge in his line. I had kept a corridor open here with heavy reinforcements and two of my three Panzer Corps. I wanted to make him pay the price in attacking the fortified line for as long as possible. The Donets River was also aiding me in this effort as it slowed Bobs reinforcement North of the little Bulge. Sure enough in his opening attack in this region he paid a heavy price for the hex, loosing four steps to my two.

Zhukov Opens the Turn in the South

Bob also had several attacks NE of Kharkov. These either bled my line units or forced them back off this initial line. This also triggered my pulling back the three Infantry Divisions holding the tri-angled River line directly East of Kharkov, somewhat shortening my line. Bob also made several attacks near Sumi. This sector was getting interesting as he was able to get the 5TK back into supply and in turn put my 327ID out of supply. Sumi fell yielding a VP to Bob, but the line North of Sumi sustained an attack and I was able to get some fortifications built.
Turn 3 Russian Attacks Around Kharkov
Bob's Comments:

I continue my attacks with Zhukov in the south.  Steve has sent reinforcements to this area which is fine with me as that means less in the more important area around Kharkov to the North. I take heavy casualties but steadily grind away.  To the North East of Kharkov I force Steve back and move ever closer to the City.  Because of the poor results last turn I am unable to exploit my success West of Kharkov.  A lucky die roll at Sumi results in its fall giving me needed VP's.  Steve is not voluntarily giving up any fortified zone hexes making attacks very bloody.

Turn 4

With the fall of Sumi in the North I am now hard pressed to keep my line intact. Bob is able to push me out of Byelopoly, the site of some German heroics on turn 2. Bob is unable to eliminate the surrounded 327th though. Bob pushes out and I see my first chance to hit back in my turn. I attack with the 48Pz and force a reduced Russian Infantry Corps to flee. The 327 starts its breakout and in my subsequent combat phase I widen the hole in Bobs line. The Luftwaffe comes to the aid of the 327th and I am able to get them back in supply, avoiding an isolation roll and setting back Bobs offensive tempo in this sector of the front (I think at least).

The situation at the start of German Turn 4
Counter-Attack; the 48Pz opens the line allowing the 327th ID to escape
Meanwhile near Stalino we have some serious drama. Bob tries to cut off the remaining two Infantry Divisions in the Donets Bulge with a concerted attack on the 3rd PD. The attack fails and the 3rd is able to erect fortifications. Had this attack succeeded I would have been in trouble here, having two ID's cut off.

3rd PD keeps the pocket open under intense pressure
Bob's Comments:

Steve's counter attack around Sumi is effective and he is able to get the 327th Inf out of danger.  In the South I attempt to isolate two German infantry divisions with an attack on the 3rd Panzer, the dice fail me again.  Had this been successful I think things in the South would have opened up quite a bit.

Turn 5

Things finally start to loosen up for Bob in the North. My line North of Kharkov starts to fail and Bob makes some good progress here. I rush the GD in to help hold this key city. Bob is able to extract his revenge on the 327th ID, eliminating it in his primary combat phase

Turn 5 Russian Attacks
Kharkov Sector at the end of Russian Turn 5
Bob has completely kicked my off the starting line from Kharkov all the way North. Thus sector of the front is very fluid now. I do have some strong units in and around Kharkov at least.

Meanwhile in the South, the reduction of the Donets Pocket continues. I am able to pull the 46th and 333rd IDs back through the gap held open by the 3rd PD. Here it feels like I am hanging on by my fingernails.

The Donets Pocket being reduced
Bobs has caught up in the casualty department, currently he's lost 45 steps to my 27. I have lost then 17 steps in the last three turns, up dramatically over the first two turns where I had only lost 10 steps. The dice were fairly even this time around as well. Bob is clear of the line in the North and will soon be clear of it in parts of the South. He's given up on the extreme Southern front, moving the few mechanized units there up North where he's broken my line. We get together tomorrow night to continue.

Bob's Comments:

North of Kharkov I make some nice progress and send the Germans back toward the City.  I also make progress North West of Kharkov and feel that I am very close to a breakthrough.  In the Donets region i continue to close the bulge but my lack of success last turn will make any breakthrough difficult.  In the German phase Steve has sent some powerful units to the Kharkov area signaling that he will not give up the City without a hard fight.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Advanced Squad Leader (MMP) ~ "The Sooner the Better" [J91]

Game: ASL
Scenario: The Sooner the Better [J91]
Participants: Joe "YJ" C, Myself
Time: Saturday, Mar 12th ~ 1.00PM - 6.00PM

YJ's weekends have been hijacked for the next 6 weeks or so. Thus we had this one Saturday to play some ASL before he goes into non-weekend mode for a month and a half. Our plan was to start the Kursk mini-CG, but I decided to put that on hold until he had some space on weekends. With the release of the map pack, I wanted to get back to the desert, so I started looking at some of the recent desert scenario's released in the past few Journals. Some of the first ones I found, while about the right size suffered from imbalanced ROAR scores, then in Journal 6 I found this gem. It is nearly even on ROAR and surprisingly light on desert SSR's and terrain thus making it a bit easier on YJ as this will be his first desert scenario.

I have always liked desert scenarios. I've played nearly all of them (those being released prior to the last ten years or so) at least once, some several times. Thus it only took a bit of a rules refresh to bring me up to speed. Prior to the scenario I took YJ through the main differences in desert scenarios (rout exceptions primarily) as well as the two terrain types (hamada and scrub) and their effects in this scenario. Also, as the scenario takes place in April '41 the Germans are treated as having red MP's.

After set up
Our scenario finds the Germans trying to take Tobruk in the spring of 1941. The scenario opens the morning after the Australians let the 8th MG battalion and roughly a battalion from the 5th armored regiment drive into their lines, only to fine themselves (the Germans) surrounded and out gunned the next morning. Thus the Germans are trying the exit the ring of fortified locations surrounding Tobruk. The Commonwealth forces have to score 40 more DVPs then the Germans to win. German units are able to exit off the South edge of board 28 and not be counted as losses.  The German infantry sets up in the open in some abandoned sangars with the German armor entering the North edge of the board on turn one. The Australians have two strong points in the path of the fleeing Afrika Corps units. The German armor (2 Pz IVE's, 6 Pz IIIG's and 6 Pz IIIH's) is being chased by a glorious force of six Matilda II's and some A13 support tanks. There are also two pursuing groups of Infantry that enter the board, one of these containing two 2pdr Portee's (40L ATG's mounted on the backs of lorries). The Australian strong points are lacking in AT weapons sans a couple of ATRs and one module of 80MM OBA. There is light dust (+1d6 *.5 FRD) which allows vehicle dust. Other then that there are no other special rules of note.

Prior to the start of Turn 1

We rolled for sides and I got the Germans. I had no idea what to expect. I had spent all of my pre-game sauce focusing on re-reading the desert rules, making sure I knew how the Portee's worked again and setting everything up. Thus when I sat down to roll the first WCDR was the first real chance I had to focus on the VC's, this is usually a sure sign that I am in trouble. When I did start thinking about the VC's the first thing that jumped out at me was that I was not going to kill any Matilda's; they have 11 frontal armor and 8 on the side/rear. Most of my tanks are sporting 50's (TK# 11) so my odds in a tank on tank fight are nonexistent. Also his lovely Matilda's are slow, with an MA of 9 while my tanks are going 13. I also knew that if I drove off all of my armor without loosing any, there weren't 40 DVP's worth of German Infantry remaining on the map.

Turn 1: Oh what a sight!

The German Armor Arrives
I entered my armor in a big group, trying to cover every ones rear end in vehicle dust. I elected to keep them together as at this time my thinking was that I would use them to cover my infantry's advance on one of the strong points. I also elected to keep them in motion making it harder for YJ to get hits. I immediatly didn't like how I set up my un-possessed guns. I should have spread them out between my infantry and my armor instead of on the side of my Infantry's starting location (they must set up un-possessed and > 2 hexes from any German MMC). Also it occurred to me that even should I man them I am going to have a hard time hitting anything at the range they were from any enemy units considering the light dust (from +1 to +3 LV on each shot) and that I was unqualified to use them (as I had no crews). In the end I chose to man them as the gun shield would at least give me some shelter and it would make is harder for YJ to take them out should he decide to do that.

YJ entered the Matilda's and stopped; acquiring six of my tanks in his advance fire phase. One of his MMG's went on a tear and broke my HMG and one of the MMG squads. But more importantly, he was not able to make radio contact at all (my turn or his). I was deathly afraid of that OBA and quite relieved when he didn't make contact.

End of Turn 1

Turn 2: The flight continues...

I decide to break off two tanks to interdict his reinforcement group with the Portee's. This I regret as soon as his turn begins as its getting clearer that should I get all my tanks off (unlikely as that is) I can get a win. With the radio not bringing any OBA down on turn one this now seems like my best plan. As it turns out, the two tanks did draw his attention, but I put them too close and he's able to rush them with his infantry, slipping the Portee's by unharmed. We also realized that YJ forgot to enter his turn one infantry, which we bring on this turn.

I decide to park the two Pz IV's and set up the SMOKE shot for turn three, the rest of my armor I keep in motion covered in dust, sans the two unfortunate tanks that I send off to interdict the Portee's. None of my infantry rallies as YJ is keeping them DM with his MMG's in the strong points.

Wild Aussie's

On YJ's turn, he again elects to shoot the Matilda's instead of moving them up. He breaks his second MA and takes out one the my tanks near his infantry. My remaining tank has its hands full as YJ charges it with all of his infantry from that group. The Portee's drive past the tanks and head for one of the strong points. The radio comes to life and an ominous SR lands several hundred yards from my formation. The late arriving Infantry force makes a bee-line straight at a couple of my trailing tanks trying to take them out in CC (and failing).

End of Turn 2

I am upbeat at the end of the turn as my armor is at least now in striking range of the strong points and I have not lost any of my main force of tanks aside from the two I foolishly broke off the slow his infantry down. I am starting to think that YJ has made a grave error in stopping the Matilda's as the farther I get from him the harder its getting to get good TH numbers as he is shooting 40L's at 15-20+ hexes and that range will continue to widen on the next turn.

Turn 3: The pipe breaks...

Finally I am able to shot back! My sole remaining Interdicting tank survives CC immobile, occupying two or three of YJ's squads in Melee. The other falls to Matilda fire. I manage to SMOKE the MMG in the pillbox and rush a couple of tanks near this strong point, I send three tanks at the other SP, where the radio is. The Portee's shot at and miss these moves and so I decide to run a tank over there to chew them up. One of my guns breaks as my Infantry try to use it without success.


YJ's other group of infantry fail to harm me in CC and these tanks turn and gleefully overrun these units. There are not many occasions in my ASL career where I can recall doing three overrun attacks in one turn, much less two of them with one tank. YJ's stout Aussie's hold up well though with only one of the stacks breaking. But the other three squads in this area are in mortal danger as I am now parked close to him and will be able to machine gun him on his upcoming turn.

However, the back breaker for YJ was his radio breaking in his Defensive fire phase. This radio was really his only remaining AT deterrent on this side of the map at this point. We both now see that keeping the Matilda's stationary for the first two turns was a critical mistake. At the ranges my armor is at now I am nearly impossible to hit given the his small gun size, vehicle dust and finally the light dust. When the radio broke, so did YJ's personal morale. Coincidentally, a pipe in the basement also broke around this time so we were distracted for a while dealing with running water!
End of German Movement, turn 3

I am not entirely sure the scenario was lost when the radio broke, but I knew that if I were in his shoes I would have given thought to throwing in the towel as he did. I was in position to start tearing up the near strong point with close range tank fire, allowing my Infantry to emerge from their holes and start making for the strong point. The two Portee's were also in danger. I would likely get one in advancing fire and most likely take the 2nd one out in the following turn (granted he would have likely taken out a tank or two in his prep). The real issue though was that it was starting to look very difficult at this point for YJ to get near the +40 DVP differential that he needed. I was close to him now and was going to start taking out his infantry, he had nothing on this side of the map to threaten my armor. The Matilda's were at least two turns, but more likely three turns away given their slow speed. By then the scenario would be over.

I can see why this one is even on ROAR. I would happily play either side again. The trick is that the British need to keep the Matilda's moving, forcing the German armor to either flee or stop and help the infantry, exposing themselves to the oncoming Matilda's. I certainly made my share of mistakes as well.

This is really an interesting scenario, like most of the desert scenarios I have played. I hope to take YJ back to some of those old desert classics from the original British module in the coming months, but the arrival today of the latest Journal and Action Pack are going to be big distractions.

Monday, March 14, 2011

PQ-17 (GMT) ~ "XIII. PQ-9/10: Before the Storm "

Game: PQ-17
Scenario: "XIII. PQ-9/10: Before the Storm"
Participants: Jim "HeavyD" D, Myself
Time: Friday, Mar 11th ~ 6.30PM - 9.30PM

Tonight, HeavyD and I sat down to play our second game of PQ-17. We had played it about a month ago, the first time that either of us had played this game. We played one of the scenario's published in C3i called "PQ-9/10: Before the Storm". This is a smaller scenario that the designer has used to teach the game at events. It depicts the peaceful passage of a convoy to Murmansk in February 1942. Historically the Germans did not attack the convoy. The scenario has daylight turns and night turns (one each day) thus allowing the German and Allied players the chance to do air operations. This is defiantly the right choice for people learning the system to be their second scenario.

I enjoyed our playing of the last scenario. As mentioned it was the first time we played this game and we were both busy figuring out the mechanics of the game. I was the German player in that scenario and once I got the mechanics of the searching down, it went very quickly. Essentially I would move, search and then if I had a convoy/task group spotted and U-boats in position (they cannot move and attack in the same turn) I would attempt to make an attack. This would require another search (a card draw) and then we'd roll on a couple of charts to get the results. The subs could sometimes attack first, other times the escorts are able to attack first and perhaps thwart the subs attack all depending on the situation (represented by modifiers). I might have gotten one or two hits that night and I don't recall any destroyed U-boats. As the scenario took place during near total darkness the Luftwaffe was not a factor aside from the abstracted search units (the game abstracts air search nicely using various zones for this).

The game after set up
One thing HeavyD and I both did since our last playing was to re-read the whole rulebook. I had only skimmed the surface combat section last time as I knew that there was no chance of having a surface engagement. I also paid close attention to air combat mechanics as in this scenario air units represent my main force, aside from 5 or so U-Boats and a small chance that the Tirpitz would make an appearance via random event. Based on HeavyD's reaction, I was expecting the surface rules to be much more complicated then they actually were. Essentially each player places his units on a battle board in various lanes and shots, then if the engagement continues, some units can move within these lanes and you have another round of combat. A pretty nice method and again heavily influenced by modifies and various other things. The Germans were skittish of loosing their few remaining heavy surface assets in this phase of the war and as such there are many conditions that have to be met to allow the Germans to fight a pitched battle. Thus most of the time the German players main threat comes from the air and underneath the waves.

This scenario, specifically designed to bring players into the game starts after the "pre-game" stuff has taken place. This means that you skip a phase where the Allied player will plot his movement (he still does in this scenario) and then move for 3-4 turns rolling only for weather and other random events. The purpose here is to help speed through the phase where the Allies are queuing up and leaving port...all this makes sense and I'm glad the designer chose to approach it this way in lieu of opening each game with 3-4 really boring turns. This scenario only has one convoy en route to the USSR and no returning convoy heading the other way, which you will have in most of your PQ-17 scenarios (or campaign games for that matter).
PQ-9 Moves North
Thus we are starting with a very scripted situation with little room for the players to make any major decisions. I am speaking mostly about the German side, I really only had 4 subs at sea and 4-5 air units at my disposal for most of the game. I did have a few destroyers in port that I could have sailed with, but the Allied player starts with an overwhelming escort force, including two BB's (KGV & Duke of York) and one CV (Victorious) as well as several heavy and light cruisers and a half dozen DD's plus other escorts. Both sides know where the convoy starts and where its going, so the dummy blocks don't add much fog of war. The Allied player has a couple more decisions to deal with but these are also fairly marginal and don't seem to add very much tension or excitement to the scenario (for instance when to turn the heavy escorts around to return to Iceland and turn over the protection to the Russian based escorts).

Sadly, I lost interest almost immediately. I never felt engaged by the game. I didn't feel like any of the decisions I made had much of an impact on the outcome. It seems like its all very scripted and that the player is really just lining it up and watching the show. Sort of like those old "electric football" games that those of us of a certain age will remember. You set up your stuff, move it where its supposed to go and see what happens. I had little interest in what happened. The book I am reading about the Arctic Campaign was much more engaging then the game, and all I have to do is read the book (and use my imagination of course)! HeavyD seemed to come alight at the thought of the Tirpitz sailing (I actually rolled the random event to trigger this) but by then I just wanted it to be over. We got through around ten turns without either side making an attack. I started to play Angry Birds on my phone after awhile it got that bad. When the Convoy was a couple of turns away from making port we stopped as he'd sailed past my U-boats and we knew they would not likely be able to get into position to make an attack.

Convoy sighted
Thus this will be the last time I have PQ-17 on the table. I had similar reactions to "Downtown" and "The Burning Blue". I think very highly of both of those games and what they accomplish through their enlightening treatment of their subjects (Downtown is the air war over North Vietnam, Burning Blue is the Battle of Britain) but as games they didn't hold my attention once I had the systems down. Its very much the same with PQ-17. I admire the design and am very glad that HeavyD and I played it a couple times, but in the end there isn't much here to make me want to come back and play the game over and over again. I want to at least think that I as a player have something to add to the experience. I felt none of that here.

Now, I know that the designer is working on other historical situations for this system. I can see this system being highly effective say for example covering the Guadalcanal campaign or some of the campaigns in the Med in the early war. Guadalcanal especially seems like it would be perfect for this system and I would be first in line to P500 that title. I am happy that I spent the time I did with the game though. As mentioned I bought and am reading several books on the campaign and these are quite good. I'm also glad I spent the time learning the game as it does a great job of getting you into the situation, making you aware of the challenges both sides faced during the campaign. This for me is one of the big reasons I game, to get this context around the history that I am so taken with. PQ-17 certainly does that in spades. So I hope that Mr. Janiec is hard at work on volume two of this series as I'll be back for it.