Saturday, March 24, 2012

Advanced Squad Leader (MMP) ~ "Gabriel's Horn" AP75

Game: Advanced Squad Leader (MMP)
Scenario: "Gabriel's Horn"
Publication: Action Pack 8
Participants: Jim "HeavyD", Myself
Time: Sat, 3/3 ~ 11.00AM - 3.30PM

HeavyD and I have been on an ASL shame cycle. Each of us has had a scenario we would have liked to forget. I started it off by misreading the SSR's to AP78 "Crossfire". This was uncovered on the 3rd turn and I promptly threw in the towel as it was a catastrophic misread. I thought that the row house black bars were not there, making each row house a cluster of single hex buildings. This prompted me to set up based on this and it wasn't until the third turn that my error was uncovered. HeavyD followed up on our next try while playing "Point d'Appui" (U5) by performing one of the most interesting assaults using half tracks and squads. It was a spectacular failure and we stopped on the second turn. Despite these two failed attempts at playing ASL at a competent level we are both fully infected with ASL fever and thus selected another scenario from AP8 for our next scheduled game. 

It was my turn to pick and I selected "Gabriel's Horn". This is a medium sized scenario with an impressive ROAR record (9 to 9 when we played it). As with the other scenario's in this Action Pack, it's got interesting and somewhat complex victory conditions. HeavyD and I are both a fan of these even though they increase the risk of us failing the Victory Condition Task Check which can occasionally lead to a embarrassingly short game. This scenario has the US player as the defender. There are two groups of Americans of roughly Company size. One group sets up on hill hexes of board 5A (one of the new maps that came with the pack) while the other Company sets up in the town (board 60) about a half a map away. Each Company is a mix of 1st line and Green units with a good assortment of support weapons and fairly average leadership. The Company that sets up on the hill can set up in Foxholes. The Germans have a little more than a dozen squads (4-6-8 and 4-6-7), good leadership and average support weapons. This infantry force is supported by four StuG's that enter the board on turn 2. The German player also has a module of 80mm OBA directed by an off board observer. 

The Victory Conditions tell us that its going to be a bug hunt and the American player is the Bugs. The Germans have to control all of the level three hill hexes on board 5a as well as controlling three more three-hex stone buildings on board 60 then the Americans. Then Germans also have to score twice as many CVP's then the Americans. Simple right? My ASL self confidence was low so prior to the game I Googled the scenario and read through several AAR's (something I don't usually do until after I play a scenario) and found some good ones. These helped my get my bearings while at the same time presenting several different options for each player.

Set Up
HeavyD set up first. He elected to put the Company on the hills together on one hill instead of spreading them out (to the extent that the set up will allow). The Company in the town is more restricted in their set up and thus they were tightly packed in the center of the town. The Germans can set up Concealed (regardless of terrain) at least two hexes away from the hill top American Company. It's pretty clear that I am going to have to take down the hill based Company first and then clear out some of the town. I liked HeavyD's set up, I didn't want to risk setting up too far away on some of the level 3 hexes because I would be too far away from the action. His set up thus forced me to set up mostly in open ground down slope from him. I selected two sides from which to attack and set up the other third of my force to make a run into the town on the first turn. I knew that I wanted to send some troops into the town to force him to defend it and to distract that group from supporting the defense of the hill with their two mortars. I planned on having the StuG's arrive on the North side of the map to help crack the hill (as needed) while also going straight towards the town. 

Start of American Turn 1
German Advance on the Hill (Turn 1)

I started off by realizing that I failed to make use of the preregistered hex and my ASL id plummeted! I recovered though as my AR didn't drift off map and I drew a black card. The two MMG based fire groups I had set up broke their targets but others remained good order so I was forced to play it extremely cautiously during my movement phase. I was able to get into Melee on one of the foxholes while I mostly did one hex assault moves for the rest of my force. HeavyD's return fire broke only one of my squads. My other group ran their buts off towards the town. They were able to get into the town unobserved and via the advance phase make good progress. 

Cat and Mouse in the Town on the Hill (turn 2)

German Artillery impacting the American Defenses (turn 2)
 HeavyD's turn saw him shift a couple of squads over to support the two that were facing my tired group in the town. The mortars in the town didn't have any good targets to fire on so HeavyD started to move them down the hill into better terrain to get an LOS on to the hill and allow them to fire (because they started mostly in buildings). On the hill HeavyD was able to break some of my troops while the Melee failed to produce a victor.  My OBA came down nicely on the North side of his defenses and did some serious damage with a CH on one hex. HeavyD was able to rally most of his broken guys though.

Turn 2 was still very cautious for me. In the town I carefully advanced using the stone buildings and concealment where I could. We were almost even on squads here so I was only trying to tie up his guys and didn't want to invoke anything too risky at this point in the scenario. I needed this force to still be around in a couple turns when (hopefully) my other group will be coming over from the hill. I sent three of the StuG's towards the town. I regretted this as I spent my last stop MP as it occurred to me that one lucky mortar shot would yield HeavyD 6 or so CVP's that I would then have to double to stay in front. The odds were good though as my StuG's were only a few hexes away shooting at HeavyD's mortar crews in the +1 TEM cactus terrain. This also prevented him from supporting his forces on the hill. 

Start of American turn 2

Turn 2 was lively on the Hill. My OBA continued to perform well as I adjusted fire one hex over and blasted another couple of hexes worth of HeavyD's defenses. My Southern section suffered a couple of broken squads but I was able to clear the Melee hex giving me LOS to the whole top of the hill. I was also able to get a squad into the foxholes on the other side of the hill as well. Lastly I sent one of the StuG's up the hill and would be on position to drive right up on top on the next turn as I had broken his squads that had BAZ's. He's was down to only a couple good order units and routing was becoming very difficult for him. HeavyD's 2nd turn went well for him in the town. He was able to break a couple of my squads. My StuG's broke both of the mortar crews though and they routed up and into the town.

Hill Overrun (Turn 3)

Turn 3 saw the American defenses on the hill broken. I was able to break most of the defenders with Prep Fire and drove the StuG up on the hill cementing the collapse by forcing most of the broken units to surrender. I shifted the OBA over to the town where I drew a black card (after drawing a red). I had a good rally phase on this side and was able to re balance the situation there. I even started to turn his flank as well. With the collapse of the hills defenses and the progress I made in the town HeavyD conceded. I had 4 complete turns left to just take a couple of the buildings having already met the other two victory conditions.

Game End Positions (End of German Turn 3)

Both of us were a little relieved that is appears like we are coming out of our collective ASL funk. My OBA really turned the tide on the Hill getting two CH's. This hastened the collapse of the defenses there and sealed Heavy's fate there. I also had a very good Rally phase on turn three getting nearly all of my broken guys back in the town. While I wouldn't call this and outright dicing, they certainly helped my cause. Both of us felt like we both played a fairly good game and we also agreed that this is a tightly balanced scenario.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

1914 Twilight in the East (GMT) ~ 29.5 "The Tannenberg Campaign"

Game: 1914 Twilight in the East
Publisher: GMT Games
Scenario: "The Tannenberg Campaign"
Participants: Bob H, Myself
Time: Sun, Feb 26th ~ 2.00PM - 5.00PM
         Sun, Mar 4th ~ 2.00PM - 5.00PM

At long last, our return to Tannenberg. This game and specifically this scenario has already provided many hours of enjoyment for both Bob and I. We have played this scenario at least three time, and have seen each side win, sometimes in dramatic fashion. This is a game that both of us really like and one that is smack in the middle of our collective wheel house. Bob is attracted to anything that features the Austo-Hungarian Empire. I find the tightly written rules and competitive nature of the game appealing. The artwork is first rate as well. I have read 6-8 books on WWI that I would likely not have read had I not played this game. So it is with these high expectations that we start another playing of Tannenberg. 

For those that are not familiar with Tannenberg (and I was one of these prior to this game) it is an amazing piece of history filled with drama and huge consequences. The campaign opens with the Russian 1st Army set to invade Prussia while the 2nd Army hurriedly tries to get into the action further South. The Russians outnumber the Germans but this is deceiving as your average German Division is quite a lot more potent then it's Russian counterpart. The Russian player is also saddled with the pre-war Strategic Objectives which greatly restrict the movement of the two Russian Armies. However once the Russian 2nd Army gets into the fight the German player will have his hands full if he hasn't dealt a strong blow to the 1st Army. 

This scenario is ideal for learning everything about this system. The Campaign is a very manageable one map affair with a fairly low counter density. The Campaign also puts heavy emphasis, indeed stresses many of the games operation themes (supply in particular). You will become a railroad baron at the same time that you master the art of an early 20th Century quartermaster. Unlike the vast majority of operational scale games I have played, you will open your thought process thinking about repairing RR tracks and what your supply line needs to look like at the end of the turn. Once you have considered these options you are then able to think about committing you Divisions to Battle. The German player is under constant pressure on two fronts, trying to hold off two Russian Armies with too few units. The Russian player has to operate within the restrictions of his Strategic Objectives while at the same time extending his supply lines far enough to support his advancing units. The game is nothing at all what I would have expected in a Division level game covering WWI. This Campaign does an amazing job at capturing this drama in equal amounts for each player. 

At Set up with Army Objective highlighted

As I was the German player the last time we played, I took the reigns of the Russians. Having just played the excellent "Battle of Ivangorod" scenario (replay here) from the recently published Journal (also highly recommended) I was amazed at how rusty I still felt as we sat down and began. This coming after spending a good amount of time re-reading the rules as well. As the rust started to give way, recollections of prior games started to creep back into my consciousness. In our prior game the Russians were dealt a catastrophic defeat very early in the game that they were unable to recover from. This was weighing heavily in the opening turns and as a result we both played a very conservative first three turns. 

Opening (turns 1-3)

1st Army Opening Positions

Before I start on the narrative it is important to talk about supply as it drives everything in the game. In order for a unit (generally Divisions) to be in full supply (and thus able to use its Artillery) is has to be within range of its Corps supply train unit. Each Corps usually contains two and sometimes three Divisions. Each Corps has a supply train counter, the counter represents the Corps supply hub. In order for a Division to use its Artillery in a battle, is HAS to have access to a supplied Corps train. A Division without Artillery is at a severe disadvantage as Artillery drives losses in the combat process. Corps Trains need to be within range of an Army Depot. Each Army usually has two, a major and minor. The major depot allows unlimited AP (artillery ammunition) while a minor only allows 4 APs per turn to flow through it. A Corps fighting a battle in which one or both/all of its Divisions is fighting and using their inherent Artillery will use one AP point. Army Depots are restricted to RR lines, they can only move along RR lines over the course of a turn (at most 12 hexes). In order for a depot to move further then that it has to pack up and move, causing it to be unable to provide supply for two turns after it has relocated. Further complicating the situation are the two sides different RR gauges. Each player has a limited supply of RR engineer points that he can use to convert track over to his sides use. You are forced to pay close attention to this in order to plan a successful campaign. Most of the time I am spending at least as much time if not more thinking about supply and RR lines then I am about moving units and fighting. Don't confuse this long description with dissatisfaction with the mechanics, to me (and Bob) this is one of the best parts of the game.
1st Army, start of turn 2

Start of Turn 2

The 1st Army is best suited in the opening turns to start off being aggressive. I elected to play it safe and make sure that I advanced my supply lines along so that I would be able to concentrate my forces against Bobs. Two of the Russian 1st Army Corps (2 and 4) start further South then the rest of the Army and are tied much closer to the limited rail lines located there. In the North I had two Corps (3 & 26) that start very close to the main rail lines and are very close to the 1st German Corps. In prior games we usually see some fighting here in the opening turns, but Bob and I were having none of it this time. We were both very slow in this area. I focused on marching the 2nd and 4th Corps closer to the main line of advance, leaving the other two Corps basically in place while I moved in the two Corps from the South. The Corps train units are not allowed to force march so its very easy for the Infantry to run far in front of the trains and this can lead to trouble. 

13th and 6th Corps start out across the Swamps

2nd Army Minor Depot redeploys to support the 1st and 15th Corps Advance

The 2nd Army is in worse shape then the 1st Army. First off it doesn't even move on the first turn, then most of its Corps trains have an incomplete-2 marker on them. This limits their range until you spend a turn reducing the marker, in all it takes two entire turns for the trains to loose these markers and be operating at full efficiency. The terrain in the 2nd Army's area is also very restrictive. There is a big gap between your units and the Germans. The terrain is either swampy or mixed (swamp/rough/woods). There is only one rail line that leads towards the Army's objective yet most of the Army starts 8-12 hexes away from this RR line. As I had done in prior games I moved the 2nd Army's minor Depot over to this line as soon as I could. I send two Corps (13 & 6) into the swamps in a direct line to the nearest Strategic Objective. The other two Corps (1 & 15) advanced along this rail line leading towards Tannenberg. 

Opening Salvo, 1st Division attacks a lone Brigade

It wasn't until the third turn that we saw our first Prepared Attack. This happened in the 2nd Army's area as the 13th Corps emerged from crossing the swamp to destroy a German brigade. When I made these attacks I was at the very limit of my supply line. Bob rushed the 20th Corps into the area quickly and launched his own attack against the 13th.  In the 1st Army sector, the 2nd and 4th Corps were starting to close in with the rest of the Army and I started to finally advance across the boarder into Prussia. Bob only had two Corps (1 & 17) in the area and slowly pulled back not wanting to give battle. 

Battle is Joined (turns 4 & 5)

The 2nd Army's 1st Corps is making good time advancing on Osterode. Bob nearest Corps is over facing my 13th and 6th Corps who have emerged from the swamps and engaged them. I am able to run up and attack a couple of Brigades in the rough terrain a couple hexes South of Osterode and push them back. The 6th Corps on the 2nd Army's right takes up the fight after the 13th is badly shaken by its attacks on the German 20th Corps (I failed my EL checks). In the center of 2nd Army's area the 15th (the pink guys) are making good progress to towards Allenstien (an objective of the 2nd Army). Bob trains in a Corps (1R) to this area from the 1st Army's front and suddenly I am uncomfortable about how exposed the 15th is. Its all in at this point and I should be able to make attacks on two of the three 2nd Army objective next turn. 

2nd Army, Combat phase turn 4

1st Army, end of turn 4

In the 1st Army's front Bob is digging in behind a river line a few hexes in front of Intersberg (the 1st Army's Objective). When he shifts the 1R Corps South to face the 2nd Army I am left with a 3-1 advantage in Corps. I have my Cavalry ranging North of the main line of advance pushing Bobs Cavalry back and trying to drive off an approaching Brigade marching down to reinforce his lines. I have a couple more Divisions arriving and marching to the front as well. I will have little choice but to launch frontal attacks on his dug in troops behind the river line, but that's ok as I have more troops and am hopping to grind him down. 

Start of turn 5

Turn 5 is very busy on both fronts. In the South, 2nd Army is attacking two of its three Strategic Objective. I only need to occupy one of these to meet my plan for the 2nd and score some nice VPs. More importantly this will lift the restriction on my movement. While an Army is under Strategic Objectives its combat units are restricted in their movement, if they move they must move AT LEAST ONE HEX closer the an Army objective. Thus once you get close to your objective you are really tied to them and lack any room to maneuver. Bob on the other hand is free to run around as he sees fit. 

2nd Army launches two 3-1 attacks on Objective hexes

1st Army starts to assault the trench line

Bobs reaction movement phase see's him detrain the 1R Corps and make a lunge at the 15th Corps 8th Division. I have left this unit back to cover the Corps train and I am glad I did and its looking like Bob is planning on going after it. My two attacks on the Strategic Objectives (Allenstien and Osterode) are stopped cold despite 3-1 odds. I merely needed to roll a six or less on 2d6 to have taken one of the two hexes. 

Bob quickly gets the 1R Corps into action on the flank of 15th Corps

Bob flanks and routes the 2nd Corps on the 1st Army's left
 On Bobs next turn he unloads a division near Osterode and pushes one of the 1st Corps Divisions back one hex. The 1R Corps attacks my 8th Division (15C) which is only two hexes away from its Corps train. The 8th holds thankfully with neither inflicting much damage.

The 1st Army's front is not without drama either. My attacks on Bobs two dug in Divisions don't do much except cost me men and EL level. Bob counters by sending his 1st Corps around my Southern line and attacking the 2nd Corps. This was a close one as Bob could have force marched after my Crops train but instead chose to attack the two Divisions. I would have gone after the train as that would have really caused me some problems that would likely have forced me to abandon my Strategic plan earlier that I would have wanted to. The attack goes well and I am forced to retreat two hexes taking some heavy losses in the process. My reaction movement allowed me to move the two trains in the area out of immediate danger though. My Calvary gets into some trouble on the right side of 1st Army's line and a couple of brigades have to high tail it out of there in a hurry as Bob's lone Brigade from the North lunges in. 

We stopped here for the day. Each of my Army's are either adjacent to or a couple hexes away from their objectives while at the same time facing threatening flanking movements. The next couple turns should be very exciting for both of us.

End of Turn 5