Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Advanced Squad Leader (MMP) ~ "The Devil's free to have a try" [FB2]

Game: Advanced Squad Leader (MMP)
Scenario: FB2 - "The Devil's free to have a Try"
Publication: Festung Budapest, Historical Module 8
Participants: Jim "HeavyD" D, Myself
Time:  Fri, 12/21 ~ 7.00PM - 10.00PM
          Sat, 12/22 ~ 2PM - 7.00PM

The second scenario in Festung Budapest is much like the first. The Russians are still trying to gain a foothold on the map, they are back making another attempt after the one depicted in the first scenario failed.  Even though the map is the same and we see the same core forces involved in this one its very different in character then the first scenario. This one is longer, the Victory Conditions are multiple choice and there are a few new units on each side. The Germans make an appearance as well. As I attacked in our first foray into FB, this time I will defend. 

As I mentioned, the VC's are very different in this scenario. Gone is the requirement to clear the EmRR line, instead we have six options for the attacking Russian player to make use of. The first two are controlling important buildings (C30 and E29) fairly close to the entry area. The third option is to control three hexes (F32, F35 & I32) which contain burnt out wrecks and 1S Foxholes. These are the wrecks from the first scenario, the first two are either on or near the EmRR with the third back near the tennis courts (I love that after 20+ years of playing ASL, I am finally able to play on a map that has Tennis courts!!!). The fourth condition involves controlling 10 of 16 building hexes in an area of the map, essentially the buildings behind the EmRR bordering the park. The fifth condition requires the Russian player to eliminate the Hungarian 75L AT Gun. Lastly the Russians can amass 22 CVP worth to fulfill the last Victory Condition. We are seeing this sort of VC in more and more scenario's being published these days and I have to say that I am a fan of it. By creating variable VC's the designer creates yet another level to work in both before the game and during it. It allows the attacker the flexibility to change course mid game and creates quite an interesting puzzle for the defending player to manage through set up and then throughout the scenario. 

Axis Set Up
When I finished setting up, I really liked what I had done. A turn into the game I felt like I really could have done better. More on this later. There are some very subtle set up restrictions in play here and both the attacker and defender are well advised to pay very close attention to what can set up and where. In our game this played a key role in how things played out. Let's start with the main Hungarian force, they can set up essentially like they could in the first scenario, that is on or North of hexrow M and on East of the A35-J39 hex grain. In short they can set up anywhere in the defending playing area. This force consist of 6 4-4-7, 4 3-4-7 squads, three 2-2-7 crews led by a 9-1, 8-1 and a 7-0. There are THREE MMG(g)'s in this force as well as an LMG, PSK and six concealment counters. The Hungarians have an 75L ATG (one of the VC objectives), 81 MTR and a 40L AA gun as well as a Roadblock, 4 Trenches 3 Wire and 18AP + 2 AT mine factors. There is a second group of Hungarians (Central Hungarist Combat group) of 2 5-2-6 squads and a 7-0 leader. These units can set up on/South of hex row J (further behind the front if you will). Lastly there is a German force of five squads (2 4-6-7, 3 4-4-7), two leaders (8-1, 8-0) ANOTHER MMG, LMG and PSK as well as four concealment counters. This force has to set up within three hexes of D29 (around the first two VC buildings [C30 & E29]). Importantly they cannot set up ADJACENT to any Hungarian unit/SW/Gun. 

After both players set up
Hindsight tells me that I set up to fight the last War (i.e. the first scenario) and not the one that was actually going to take place. Thus I placed my wire in the Orchard in front of the EmRR and most of my hidden mines in buildings (with dummies) along the West Edge of the map (G37 & I38) along with my 2 AT mines which were in H38. I set up the 5-2-6s behind this area as well as the 40L AA gun (on a hill with a nice view of the park). I placed MMG's in 2nd level building hexes ringing the park along with the 81 MTR (in a rooftop location). I concentrated most of the Hungarian Infantry around the train station in G31. Across the street from them I placed the Germans in and around the two VC locations. I also placed the two fortified building locations here as well. The last thing I did was place the 75L in D28 which is behind the German starting area and has great LOS covering the approaches to those two locations. I put the Trenches in this area as well to enable getting around in the buildings as the Trenches connect to adjacent building via FB SSR. By setting up like this I had placed many of my eggs (VC conditions) in one area of the map. I didn't really consider this while doing it, I just liked the way the set up felt and again was thinking that HeavyD's main effort would be across the EmRR and into the Park which of course makes no sense when you consider the VC's.

The Russians have a very nice force in this scenario. Again it is much like the one from FB1 but with some major enhancements. The force is based on 19 squads (3 6-2-8 Assault Engineers, 7 4-5-8, 8 4-4-7 and 2 2-4-8 HS). This force is led by an amazing 5 leaders (9-2, 2 8-1, 8-0 & 7-0) with 4 LMG, a FT and DC. The SUs are back (SU-76M x4) but there is now a  OT-34 (A T-34 w/ FT) to help out the SUs. The Russians also have a one mission SMOKE OBA mission led by an off board observer, something that was lacking in the first scenario and which proved decisive in this one. This force enters in the same corner as the Russians entered in FB1. 

A Very Conservative Opening

After seeing HeavyD's set up and the seeing the first half of the turn take place, I was amazed at how cautious he was being. It was him after all that was sitting in my seat a couple weeks ago defending this same ground as I made my entry with the Russians. What I learned in that game was that I was WAY TOO CAUTIOUS in the first couple of turns which cost me the game. HeavyD and I talked about this at the end of that game and I wrote about it in detail in my post on that game. At one point I even asked him if he read it as I thought he was going way to slow (he did read it). Now granted I have 4 MMGs and an 81 on a roof that can see nearly every hex he's moving on into but I am also suffering from Ammo Shortage level 3 this time around. This means that most of my SW will break on an 11 and X on a 12. They are also harder to repair. My squads degrade on an 11 or 12 as well. With all of the Russian leadership (how often do you get to say that when talking about Russian leadership in ASL scenarios?) the Russians need to press and offer up some -2 shots to get the Axis to start shooting. You have the leaders to rally your breaks and with every shot there is a chance that its that MMG's last. So, little happened in the first Russian turn, HeavyD kept all of his AFVs off the map and only advanced three hexes total. I took some shots, broke a couple squads and even broke an MMG (which I repaired int he next Rally Phase). My half of turn 1 went by fast with little happening. 

Axis turn 1
Turn 2 see's HeavyD set up his armor to enter. We see another amazingly slow paced advance, very cautious. He parks the SUs in front of the EmRR and they all start banging away at the 81 on the roof. The OT-34 drives in bypass towards the German positions, HeavyD does get a few squads across the street in the direction of the Germans again. Ominously, the SR lands right in front of my German positions and doesn't drift much at all. I think if HeavyD was able to simply place the SR on the map anywhere he wanted he would be within a hex or two of where it landed. Either during my Defensive fire or in my subsequent Prep phase, I break the mini-death star HeavyD has in hex C35 sending the 9-2 routing back along with several squads. In the Rally phase of turn three this 9-2 BH's and is reborn as a 10-2 who I will now call Lord Vader. 

Start of Axis turn 2

Into the Smoke

Turn 3 opens with the OBA coming down right on target, right in front of my German positions. HeavyD takes advantage of this and runs into it, the Surgeon General be damned. He also drives the OT-34 next to one of the VC buildings and leaves it in motion (having used all of its MPs to get there). I retain my concealment with the Germans as there's no sense in shooting into the smoke. I do however start to see the folly of my set up. I now see that with the smoke where it is and the light casualties that HeavyD has thus far taken that I do in fact have something to worry about. He is going to be able to advance into CC with many of my Germans at good odds. The fortified locations should delay this by only for a turn as he's got the majority of his force over here. My defensive fire does yield results though as I eliminate one SU and little stun another. HeavyD does get a hit on the 81 though and the crew breaks. I am down one MMG lost with another broken. The one the Germans had was hauled off by its squad when Lord Vader zapped them the turn before. Still HeavyD is being cautious with the rest of his forces. Additionally, HeavyD adjusts his OBA creating a little more smoke which helps him cover the street allowing him to get next to the Hungarians covering the station.  

Start of Russian turn 3

The Smoke comes in right on target

Turn 4 opens with a lot of Russians standing around in the smoke. HeavyD does move the SUs up onto the EmRR. Also its clear now that most of my fortifications and mines set up on my left are going to be wasted as HeavyD shifts more of his guys over towards the smoke. He only leaves a few squads in this area to go after the one wreck that is sitting on the EmRR hex. I have a couple of concealed squads in this area. I start to move some of my forces over to support his main thrust and they get shot up on some good dice as HeavyD now has LOS into the park. As the turn end's he goes into CC with two hexes and wins both of them (Vader's hex and the German trench line...what a great idea it was to dig these Trenches for the Russians to use in assaulting my damn buildings!). My half of turn 4 is a mess. My AA gun goes to low ammo, during the movement phase I get zapped again by Vader as I try and move some more Hungarians into the German buildings. The SMOKE is still there and I don't have many firing options. 

Russian turn 4

The Smoke Lifts

Start of Russian turn 5
Russian fire clears out the fortified buildings

The OT-34 is lit up via PF

At the top of turn 5 all of HeavyD's SMOKE will depart. I am still in the two front fortified buildings, but when the SMOKE lifts HeavyD will be standing next to me in the street with a mass of squads with nothing better to do the Prep into those two buildings. I am down to three MMGs, with only two of them on Level 2 hexes back from the front line. HeavyD is close to getting four of the VC's, although he is still unaware of how close to the ATG he is and at this point in the game I am starting to think that leaving it HIP will be the play. 

The Russian Prep fire opens with HeavyD eliminating or breaking the units in the two fortified locations, this was expected. What wasn't expected was the spectacular amount of carnage that Lord Vader and his Death Star stack was able to prosecute with only two LMG's. These LMG's maintained rate three times and wrecked three hexes worth of defenders in and around the train station. It was amazing. The dice Gods were in fair mode though that day as I was able to get HeavyD's OT-34 on an adgacent motion shot with my 9-1 leader, thus sealing my 75L ATG to staying hidden for as long at possible so as to deny HeavyD the chance to get it and fulfill a VC. My 81 Mortar X's out in the Defensive final phase as well. However some long range MMG fire does thin the heard standing about in the street as well and this helps because things we starting to slip off the edge on that side of the map. My half of turn 5 if mostly us shooting at each other with me doing a little skulking. On my left things start to look up when I take out a squad in CC but then one of the SUs gets an improbable hit on the hex next to one of the wrecks and this hurts because I am really pinned down on this side. 

Start of Russian turn 6
Turn 6 dawns and I am feeling pretty low. It feels like HeavyD has it down at this point. He has taken the two buildings in the German set up area (2 VC's), he is also close to getting the three hexes with the wrecks in them (for a third VC). He just needs one more. The Gun is still HIP and he hasn't mentioned it or really done an searching, so I feel like he's not really thinking about this. Getting the 10 of 16 building hexes in and around the park seems like a stretch at this late stage in the game so his last option is CVP, which he doesn't have that many of to date (4-5 squads eliminated in CC). Still, some good CC results and some determined searching to find the HIP gun and the gig is up. Not to mention the fact that he's been smashing my guys around for the last couple turns. I am amazed then during his turn when he is again very passive. He seems to be looking for hexes that he can get into CC with and there are not many of those that he can get to easily. I use his passiveness to move some guys up close the the wreck in next to the tennis courts. I am also able to get a HS down from a 2nd level location where its MMG had died and run him over next to one of the fortified locations that HeavyD was using as a rally hospital, then forces him to route out and I get back in the location (albeit temporarily as I am a CX 1-3-7 and there are still many angry Russian squads about). 

Ending Positions
Turn 7 is the last turn, its sinking in now that HeavyD isn't going to be able to get that fourth VC. After the Prep fire phase HeavyD throws in the towel. Although this scenario featured the same terrain and a very similar force pool (but of course larger) its strikingly different than the first scenario. First off as the Russian you have more time and more options. You can even change your plan mid-game if you find you need to. The SMOKE barrage is big and hard to defend against, you just have to sit there and take it. Again I think that the Russian player was way too passive, despite us both learning that in the first scenario. Those five Russian leaders are telling to me, they allow the Russian player to be very aggressive because where ever he breaks he's going to have a leader close by to Rally. Additionally, the Russian player can afford to take losses as long as he's pushing in on the VC's, the ammo shortage make the defender that much more brittle.

So after two scenario's played from Festung Budapest we are both very pleased with what we've seen. We are now refreshing our Night Rules to take on the next scenario.