Sunday, February 19, 2012

1914 Twilight in the East (GMT) ~ 29.7 The Battle of Ivangorod

Game: 1914 Twilight in the East
Publisher: GMT Games
Scenario: "The Battle of Ivangorod"
Participants: Bob H, Myself
Time: Sun 2/19, 2.00PM - 4.00PM

1914 Twilight in the East is one of my favorite games. Bob pushed me to play it back in 2008 and it was an easy sell once I got it and looked it over. The game takes a previous WWI game system and improves on it. It's a Division level game covering the entire Eastern Front in the first few months of the Great War. Hexes are five miles and cover the length of the front from Eastern Prussia to Romania. The maps are fantastic, they are highly detailed and very pleasing on the eyes. The counters are equally pleasing and convey a large amount of information. Bob and I have played the Tannenberg scenario many times and the Galicia scenario once.

Recently the designer (Michael Resch) published a Journal which, among other things contained several new scenarios. Bob and I selected the tiny "Battle of Ivangorod" scenario to reacquaint ourselves with the game after more then a year away from it. The Journal can be had here directly from the designer. It's a full color professional product filled with some excellent analysis and history covering the period the game is involved in. This scenario is intended as a starter in that it is very light on some of the rules overhead the game contains, choosing to focus on the fighting around Ivangorod in October of 1914.

Starting positions
The scenario opens with the Austro-Hungarians assaulting the Russian bridgehead across the Vistula River near Ivangorod. The AH player is the attacker and has to push the Russians back. The victory conditions count the number of hexes on the West side of the River for victory subtracting the number of Prepared Attacks made by the AH player, the AH side needs to get the Russians down to six or less to get a win. As I mentioned the special rules eliminate several of the systems found in the normal game making it very easy for new or inexperienced players to get a grip on the basics of movement and combat. The AH have two strong Corps in play supported by one attached German Division. The Russians have components of two Army's on the map (4th and 9th) with a couple three Corps in each of these Armies). The Army boundary is right in the middle of the Russian position somewhat limiting what the Russian player can do as he has to keep units from each army on their side of the boundary. Bob naturally was the AH player, giving me the Russians. The scenario is only 1.5 turns long with the AH player going first, then the Russians and then one more AH half turn.
Bob makes his first turn Moves
The set up has the Russians a bit more spread out with some of the units back across the River. The scenario also takes place in the fall so we'll be using that CRT and associated terrain costs, in the Fall the CRT is harder on the attacker and movement is more costly then scenarios that take place in the Summer. Bob opens the game with two Prepared Attacks. A Prepared Attack costs the attacking player 3 movement points while giving the attacker a one column shirt on the CRT. Additionally units that are subject to a PA are unable to move during the counter movement phase. Perhaps its a good time to give an overview of the games mechanics.

End of AH Movement, 1st turn

End of Russian Counter-Movement phase, 1st turn
A normal half turn (normally the Russian player with go first, but not in thus scenario) will have the phasing player move first. Each unit may use its full allotment of MPs (normally 7) and has the option to force march to gain an additional 3MPs. During movement, the phasing player will place attack and prepared attack markers. Then the non-phasing player will conduct reaction movement. This allows him to move any of his units that he wishes half their movement allotment (usually 3.5MPs), force marching is also allowed for the reacting player. The reacting player can place attack markers also, but in not allowed to place prepared attacks in his reaction movement.

The phasing player then conducts all of his combats followed by the non-phasing player. Combat is a multi-step process. The attacker will determine the odds, there are various column shifts that can apply for both the attacker and defender then the dice are rolled. Once the result is determined you then determine losses with each player rolling on another chart to see have many (if any) steps were lost and to generate a modifier to use on the final step. Artillery weighs in on this step by adding a modifier to the die roll. The column you use to roll on is based on how big the battle is, there are 4 sizes from less than two divisions to massive 6+ division battles. Lastly each side will roll on the Effectiveness chart (or take a moral check if your an ASL player). This tests each one of your forces effectiveness (moral/organization) taking into account retreats and casualties. If you roll badly you might have to retreat suddenly after stopping the attack on the CRT. The game tracks each units effectiveness individually and continuous combat will eventually catch up to you.

Initial AH attacks, turn 1

After the Combat phase, turn 1
Bob opens by launching to Prepared Attacks on two of my lone divisions. He closes in with the rest of his units. During my reaction move I am able (via force marching) to reinforce the 61r division with the 21/3CN unit. I am unable to reinforce the other attack against the 75r. The attack against the 61r & 21/3CN goes very well despite it being a 2-1 when Bob rolls a 2 (2d6), I retreat two hexes, take two steps losses and each units losses a EL level. The battle is costly for Bob and he takes the same losses as I do (2 steps and -1EL). Bobs 2nd attack goes well (3-1 this time) sending the 75th back two hexes. The result of this has my 52'd Division out of supply at the start of my next turn. I should point out that we did not take 5 steps off of the 75th Division like we should have per the scenario instructions.

End of Russian Movement Phase, 2nd turn

End of AH Counter-Movement phase, 2nd turn
My movement phase sees me launch my own set of PA's (despite the advice given in the analysis of the scenario) as well as getting the remaining divisions on this side of the Vistula. Bob counters with an attack of his own while reinforcing (again via force march) one of my PA's. My attack in the South with the 25th Corps does nothing but cost my Corp an EL level and each of us a step lost. I do not push him out of the hex. The attack on the German 3gd is equally inconclusive with neither side causing or taking losses or EL. My last PA against his 1st Corps (12 & 46) again fails to dislodge him but I came out better inflicting two steps lost to my one with each of us loosing an EL. Bob's lone attack is a disaster. He has two divisions (14 & 33) from his 5th Corp attacking my 61 reserve division (2-1). He blows the EL check at the end and looses 2 EL and has to retreat one hex. This is a good example of why I like the combat system so much in this game as it models both the strength of the two sides but also thier effectiveness and you sometimes see some really interesting results come from a fairly normal 2-1 attack. My out of supply unit forces Bob to retreat out of the way, costing one of his units another hex that he'll have to make up in his upcoming turn.

Start of Last turn
Russian EL chart
At the start of Bob's next turn (and the scenario's last) we are sitting at a net of 10VPs. Thus Bob needs to take two hexes while making at least two PA's to get a win. I will have my counter movement phase and any attacks that I can put up to counter him with. For Bob there isn't much to do but send in the troops again, he makes two PA's, one against the OOS (52nd) division in the middle and the other against the shaken 25th Corps. During my counter move I launch two attacks while reinforcing the OOS division with a division from the 16th Corps.

End of AH movement, last turn

End of Russian counter-movement, last turn

Bob starts off with the attack against the 47th and 52nd (oos). This is a big 5-division battle, Bob has three attacking from two hexes (all from the same Corps) against my two. The odds are 1-1 and go to 2-1 for the PA. Bob rolls well on the attack and pushes me out of the hex. Losses are light (1 step ea) but when we roll for effectiveness Bob blows one of the rolls sending two of his divisions retreating back one hex with 2 EL lost. Thankfully his other division keeps its cool and is able to advance in and take the hex.

An Example of the Combat process
His second attack goes much better and pushes the 25th Corps back, forcing them to run back across the Vistula in the process. Thus he's taken his two hexes and launched two PA's, he'll win if he can survive my two (counter) attacks. The Germans again brush aside my assault by the 17th Corps with each side taking one step lost and no EL. My last attack pits the 14th Corps against a lone AH division. I fail to take the hex on the CRT and Bob finishes the game with another 2, this time on the EL check and his division stands giving him the win.

Final Positions, end of scenario
So this is a great little scenario for learning the game or getting used to it after some time away. We are next going to go back to our favorite scenario and play Tannenberg.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Strafexpedition 1916 (Europa Simulazioni) ~ Scenario 1, "The Drive on Pasubio"

Game: Strafexpedition 1916
Publisher: Europa Simulazioni
Scenario: #1 "The drive on Pasubio"
Participants: Bob H, Myself
Time: Thu, Jan 19th 7.00PM - 9.30PM
         Thu, Feb 2nd 7.00PM - 9.00PM
         Sun, Feb 5th 3.00PM - 5.00PM

Were it not for Bob's eclectic taste in games I would never have even known about a game like Strafexpedition (SE). Bob has always had a thing for games on the Austo-Hungarian Empire (not that there are a lot of them), as well as for games covering WWI. Bob let me know that he'd received this game earlier in the year and said it was one that he's like to play. Since I could hardly refuse his request as he's ever willing to try out games that I'm interested in, I ordered the game from the publisher and did my bit to support the European wargame economy.

When game arrived a couple weeks later I dived into the rules. I was pretty impressed. The rules are well written and very accessible. The game covers the Spring Offensive the AH unleashed on the unsuspecting Italians in the Alps around Trentino. The Austrians were trying to cut off the larger Italian forces further east by attacking here. Most of the Italian Offensive operations were further East. The game comes with a couple page article on the actual operation which I found very valuable and well written. The designer also takes a page up talking about his design process and the history of the game, again I found this very interesting.

The games scale is 900 meters per hex with units being Battalions of Infantry and Batteries of Artillery. There are also leader counters that are used to activate a formation (usually Brigades) during the turn. There are also Fortress counters. There are two maps covering the area of operations. There are five scenarios starting with a very small introductory scenario with a couple of one map  scenarios and of course the campaign that features the entire operation (May-June, 1916).

Italians set up, AH stating to set up

As I mentioned the rules read very nicely and after reading them I was even more interested in trying out the game. Prior to our playing of this scenario we set up the small intro scenario and played through that one. A turn consists of getting reinforcements and supply, then allocating that supply to your leaders (Brigades) and then rolling for initiative. Each player rolls a die and adds in the number of supply points that he has allocated for the turn. Once the initiative is determined that player will then select from one of his supplied leaders and place that leader on the map, this allows him to activate units of that Brigade for movement and combat. The amount of supply allocated determines how much artillery that leader may use over the course of its activation.

Bobs initial attacks on my left on turn 1

After Combat

Combat is very straight forward and takes little time to resolve. The attacker opens with a bombardment, selecting various artillery units that are in range and that have not yet fired during the turn then rolls on the bombardment table. This table will cause units disorder, losses and can also destroy trenches. Once the bombardment is over the defender can then defensive fire with available adjacent units and artillery that has not yet defensive fired for the turn. Most Infantry units have a machine gun factor (the small number in the middle of the two other numbers) that he uses to resolve defensive fire, artillery can also help out on defense albeit at a fraction of its normal strength. After defensive fire is resolved the attacker then makes his assault on the hex with remaining units, with a limit of two units (or less depending on the terrain) per hex. You will often see the attacker assign more then two units to one attack so that he'll have a choice of which units to actually use in the assault as some of his attacking units will get shot up prior to the attack. It is this assault that can force a defender from the hex allowing the attacker to move in.

Bobs assigned supply to his leaders

Once that leader has moved/fought all of his units, the player with the initiative will then select another leader to activate until he's used all of his supplied leaders. The defender can attempt to preempt the attackers activations as well. In our game this rarely seemed like something to consider. The non-initiative player will then activate his supplied leaders. Once he's done the initiative player will move all the rest of his units (those that were not activated previously) followed by the non-initiative player. Supply is then checked and replacement steps are placed on the map.

I liked the rules and how interactive they were, I wasn't expecting something like this from a operational WWI game. We decided that Bob would be the AH player in our first 'real' playing of the game. In looking over the scenario we looked at the map and the starting locations and how many victory points Bob would need to get a win. It looked like a tough one as he's really got to make a lot of progress over the course of the five turns of the scenario.

The Drive on Pasubio

All of my Italians start entrenched (at least those on the front line) which is nice because there are some big holes in my line. I had little behind these front line units other then some militia battalions and these were of low quality and without machine guns. I had a decent amount of artillery but little supply available in the opening turns to make use of it other then for the occasional defensive fire support. I get reinforcements on on turn 2 as well as turn 4, additionally I start getting supply points beginning on the 2nd turn which I need to start to entrench as you cannot entrench unless you are assigned a supply point.

Bob during his 2nd turn

Italian 2nd Turn
 Bobs first turn was mixed, he had some good attacks and there were others where he wasn't able to take the hex. As this was our first real playing we really had no idea this early in the game to tell how one side was faring over the other. On my right where the terrain is the heaviest I had some key hexes hold out that created a bit of a traffic jam for Bob as some of his not alpine troops couldn't cross or pass certain rough hexes. On the left where the terrain is a little flatter I was getting smashed. My center which starts with the fewest units had some units cut off as well. I did little in my half of the first turn as most of my guys were roughed up or too far behind the line to lend assistance. Most of my artillery just sat there being unable to move or fire (lack of supply) offensively on the first turn.

Bob's AH attackers on turn 3 on my Right

Bob's attackers clear the road to Posina

I got reinforcements on the second turn as well as starting to receive supply points. I got about a brigade's worth of troops on my left. Bob was starting to get a little better at attacking on turn two. He was learning that fewer attacks with more artillery support was the preferred method. We also discovered another cool feature of the rules in how artillery can limit supply roads. This would prove an interesting mini game as I would often debate on leaving an artillery unit in a very dangerous position in order to cover Bobs supply roads knowing that I would likely loose the unit but I could often put a group of units out of supply by doing so. Another this we picked up on was that in order for an attack to keep going you will have to rotate units in the attack as attacking leads to much disruption and attacking with a disrupted unit is asking for trouble. The defender will also (when he can) want to send units a couple hexes back to try and reorganize before sending them back up into the line.

Bob's mounts as attack on my Right

...and is pushed back

Bobs attacks on my left continued but when my reinforcements showed up it started to look like he'd have a hard time taking the VP hexes in this area. In the middle Bob blew big holes in my lines but then ran out of supply as he was unable to supply his lead units, thus the attacks started to funnel down the roads on this side of the map. On my right Bob was starting to clear the initial line and make some progress. I had taken a lot of losses and he was able to make some nice progress. On my far right he was again slowed by poor performance on his attacks.

Turn 3, Bob moving...Yellow dice are the VP hexes

The road to Valmorbia...turn 4
 Turn 3 saw these deeper road based penetrations expand. Most of the last lingering units on the front line were now gone having either been eliminated or reduced by lack of supply. But the clock was ticking and Bob had only taken 3-5 VPs thus far.

By turn 4 we were seeing that Bob was behind the curve as it was looking like he would run out of time before he'd get the VPs he needed for a win. I also got the last of my reinforcements this time on the right, which was exactly where I needed them most. Bob got close to Posina here and this was where he would win it if he could be getting to the VP locations before I could with my reinforcements. Bob also lunged down the road towards Valmorbia on my left. I had only some militia here and quickly reinforced this area.

My Italian's counter Bob's move

As it was getting late we took a close look at the Victory situation at the end of the fourth turn and decided that it would be nearly impossible for Bob to get the needed VPs for a win. He was essentially playing for a draw at this point so we decided to call it a game at this point.

End of turn 4

All in all I was pretty impressed with the game, it was a lot more fun then I expected and was pretty interactive for a battalion level game. The one sided nature of the scenario however means that the defender has to basically get smashed for five turns in this scenario. The campaign game which is much larger will see the Italians have a chance for some counterattacking.