Sunday, November 25, 2018

EVACUATE THE BEACHES

     All right, Gallipoli. I give up. You win.
     I've started the Historical Helles Campaign Scenario three times now -- not to mention the intro scenarios -- and I just don't have what it takes to play this game.


     It's not just that it's complex. I like that. It's that the rules are poorly organized. And when you do find what you're looking for -- and that usually entails scouring the entire two rulebooks to piece together all the bits and bobs that go into each action you're trying to execute -- it's written in such a way that you simply can't understand what it's trying to say.
     As far as the rules themselves go, the Orders system is poorly integrated into the game. Orders, Objectives, Routes of March and Battalions in Support all need massive streamlining, a major undertaking that cannot be fixed with a few forum posts or emails. It's a re-do.
     Just like some of the sentences in the rules. They are unfixable. It's like "Nope. Try again. In English this time."

Ridges and elevation contours. The LOS rules are among the most opaque in the game. 
     Just to show you what it takes to play this game, here's an example. (This occurred at W Beach, if you're following along at home.)
     The British stack just captured a Beach hex trench. They're fired at, fail a morale check and are now "confused." They are subsequently fired at again, so they "hide" inside the hex (they're taking cover inside the trench) which makes them immune to fire. Next turn, W Beach is Activated. Here's what happened:

1) The units spend an Officer Point (OP) to Rally. This costs 3 MPs (1/2 their allotment). They remove their confused marker, but they are still Hiding.
2) They spend another OP to take a MC to see if they can Assault the adjacent hex. They pass.
3) They come out of hiding to move.
4) They take Opportunity Fire for coming out of hiding. They survive.
5) The stack moves into the enemy hex.
6) The moving stacks now takes 0-range Opp Fire.
7) They survive and place an Assault marker.

     Not really so bad...once you know it. But, for me, this represents about three play sessions of effort to piece together. You have to consult the OP rules, Rally rules, Move to Assault, Hiding, Trenches and Opp fire. Half the damn rulebook to move one hex. And I still don't know if a stack that loses a step has to take 1 MC or 2. (1 for the fire itself and 1 for the loss. I think that's right but the rules never say so specifically, typical of the entire rules.)
     You also have to work out for yourself the benefits of moving units individually as opposed to stacks by combing through various rules to glean clues on the matter. (It costs 1 OP per Assault, so you're multiplying OP costs [bad] but you're assaulting in Waves [good]. But you're on your own figuring this out as the rules never specifically address it.)

BAD ENGLISH

     Here's an example of what you're up against with these rules. Let's say you want to delay the landing of one of your units. 


     Good ol' 103.6.3: "Visualize the streams of landing units as a queue." Awesome, I know what a queue is! Let's read on...."a replacement use of Beach Capacity...?" I don't think those words mean what you think they mean. Let me rephrase that: I don't know what the hell you're talking about! And you started out so well, too, with the queue analogy and all. Read on from there and your eyes just start to glaze over. (Go ahead, try it. I dare you.)
     But wait! There's more:


     We turn the page to find the rest of the delayed landing rules. I honestly don't think I've ever made it all the way through that paragraph. 
     I think what it all boils down to is this: Every beach has a Beach Capacity. When you delay landing a unit this turn, it bumps one of the units from  next turn. 
     There's a little more to it than that, but there shouldn't be. Streamline, simplify. Know what is necessary and what ain't. Complicated Landing Delay rules ain't. I don't care how much of a grognard you are! 
     You literally have to diagram some sentences to understand them. Try this one, from the Line of Sight rules:


     You can see some of my own scrawlings trying to make sense of this thing. The word "Otherwise" simply doesn't belong, but that's the only actual correction I can make. Delete the whole damn thing and try again, James Joyce. Remember: You don't have to say everything in one sentence. You don't need slashes, and/ors, parantheses etc etc. Simple declarative sentences. Who do you think you are? William Faulkner?


     I leave you with this. See the bold CFAC heading? Read along and you will see that all will be explained in 103.16. Awesome. Now, locate your "Game Book," not the "Series Rules." Oh, where did I put that? Ah, here it is. Thumb through, 103.13 ... 103.14 ... 103.15 ... 
     103.16 does not exist. 
     How do I get out of this chicken outfit, anyway?




Thursday, November 22, 2018

NOT FAID AWAY

Faid Pass -- Prelude to Kasserine

     Vance von Borries' 2001 game Kasserine just might be my all-time favorite. Twilight in the East might make a strong claim to that title, but Kasserine's going to be hard to beat. I really love the situation and the distinct challenges faced by each side. The Germans rely on unit quality and speed, while the Allies must skillfully trade space for time while attempting to defend multiple, widely-separated objectives. It's a lot of fun and the rules reward skillful play (despite the heavy dose of luck involved in the game's unfortunate 1D10). 

Rommel towers over the battlefield.
     The most important rule in the game: The Germans can willingly put themselves out of supply, while the Allies cannot. Coupled with weak ZOCs, this has a huge impact on the game and largely governs each sides' decision-making. 
     I plan on playing the full campaign soon. But first, I wanted to re-acquaint myself with the game via the introductory scenario, "Faid Pass," presented here for your edification and entertainment.


The Plan: Isolate Faid Pass (circled), cutting its supply and blocking US reinforcements from launching a counterattack. The pass will be easier to take once the supply is cut. 
American P-39s and German FW-190s attempt air strikes. Both fail. Air power will play virtually no role in the battle to come (due to poor coordination). 
The opening attacks are plotted.
The French defenders are eliminated. 
Panzers exploit into the French rear, cutting the main supply roads and threatening secondary objective Sidi Bou Zid.
Americans arrive, but approach the Germans with some trepidation. A strong armored infantry battalion enters SBZ. It will not fall easily. Make the Germans sweat a little, I say.
The French are cut off.
Germans prepare an attack on Sidi Bou Zid.

The attack fails to dislodge the arminf, but it is reduced to half-strength. 
Sidi Bou Zid is the first objective to fall into German hands. (Those are a couple of Italian units west of Faid.)
The American counterattack. Shermans backed by plenty of artillery. (The third objective is the mountain hex under the "Emergency" supply marker. It is occupied by a French recon unit. The American's current position will re-open its supply line.)
The counterattack ends miserably for the Americans. They go on the defensive behind a wadi. However, their right flank is wide open. 

More reinforcements! 

The Americans solidify their defense and reopen the supply line to the French recon unit. They need to break through to Faid, though. It is now Out of Supply. Not good. 
An American A-20 scores a hit on a German stack. 
With artillery and Close Air Support, the Germans attack Faid Pass. 
Faid hangs on by the skin of its teeth. The Americans launch a major attack.
Failure!
The Germans take Faid. 
     The Germans win by taking 2 of the three objectives. Having played this game before, I think I played both sides well. The Americans have to be ever vigilant about their flanks, not allowing any German mechanized units to creep into their rear. 
     The Germans also have a huge advantage in their ability to react into defending hexes. The Americans prevented this by launching attacks on units that would otherwise have been free to reinforce the attacker's main objective, which in this case was Sidi Bou Zid. Only a bad die roll prevented its capture. As for Faid Pass, once in German hands, I think retaking it is out of the question. 
     Kasserine next! Rommel, you magnificent bastard! Bring on the Afrika Korps!


Monday, November 19, 2018

DOT...DOT...DOT

     I've always wanted to do a "dot...dot...dot..." column. That's what a columnist does when he's feeling lazy and doesn't want to put the effort required to -- you know -- form complete thoughts and sentences. Pesky formalities -- all of it! Anyway, the following are my thoughts. Otherwise known as a little bit about a lot of things, or a little bit about a few things, or something like that. It's Monday, Dream Babies! Cut me some slack.

MAYBE PRODUCTION VALUES ARE ENOUGH

     I know a thing or two about wargame development and wargamers. First things first: most wargamers are collectors not players. I remember a conversation I had with a well-known computer wargame developer who was rightfully proud of the AI he had created for his artistically-challenged game. He pointed out that not a single reviewer ever said a word about the AI. (News flash: not a single reviewer played the game for more than 10 minutes. When producing a game, you better put all the awesome right up front or nobody's ever gonna see it. The rest might as well just be "All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy..." over and over again a thousand times. And that's not just reviewers; that goes for "players," too. I mean "collectors.") 
     He learned what everyone else learned, many of us the hard way. People say they want X-Y-Z. But they only say that to make themselves seem like substantial, serious people. What they really want is beautiful graphics and overall bigness. (This is where The Gamers gets it right. I fell for it. Hey, anybody want to buy some lightly used games?) The importance of the game itself is not only secondary -- it is non-existent. 


TALKING THE TALK

     Since when did the common abbreviation for "Disorganized" become "DG?" I found it amusing when I first saw this in OCS -- the usual culprit for wargaming weirdness. That it has now appeared again in Saipan, the Bloody Rock I can only attribute to "barking dog syndrome." One neighborhood mutt (Dean Essig) starts in and pretty soon the whole stinkin' block erupts in a cacophony of dog-noise.
     "DG" for "Disorganized?" Really? That's what we're going with now? Why not "DO?" At least that would make some kind of sense. Why not "DI?" After all, the word has two Is, but only one G. How about "DD?" First and last. Idea: If that's the only organizational state in the game that begins with D, why not just "D?" If words are not your thang, how about just a cool little graphic? It could become the new international symbol for all things that resemble my desk.
      A lot of these sorts of language games are nothing more than a form of narcissistic manipulation. I'm not going to speak your up-is-down language, pal. The blissfully ignorant go right along, though. "Hey, I wonder what's under this tilted-up box? Hey, this stick seems to be holding the box up...And what's this? A string tied to the stick...?" 

Have these units been Dis-Gorged? Are they Do-Gooders? Diligent Gentlemen?

     While we're on the topic of language, I lived through the rise (and fall) of computer wargaming throughout the 90s. Back then, people would talk about their desire for top-notch graphics and sound. But they wore trenchcoats with their hats pulled down over their eyes and went in through the back door. (Remember the days of shame? Oh, man we could use some of that ol' sweet roll today, couldn't we?)
     As a mere consumer and player (I was never a collector), I dropped out of the wargaming world sometime in '91. (Yes, I went pro.) When I re-emerged 22 years later, I found these same people expressing their same shallow preferences, only without the shame. How did they manage this trick? There is nothing a little alteration of the language cannot cure. The new name for their shallowness was "immersion." Some neighborhood mutt must have come up with this one while I wasn't looking. They were no longer "graphics whores," you see. They were only interested in an "immersive" experience -- meaning graphics, sound, music, animation...everything but the game itself. Nothing new under the sun, Jack. (Or as my friend in Puerto Rico would say: "Hack. Hay as in Hack.")
     

A WILLING SLAVE TO VASSAL

     It's almost 2019. By now, I thought there would have been many manual wargames produced exclusively through an electronic medium like Vassal. These games would be cheap to produce, and would do away with many of the limitations of physical wargames (like stacks of info counters, etc.). 

My liege! I be your vassal.
Why not? You could probably find a volunteer artist, and you could do the rest of the work yourself. I guarantee we'd have a whole slew of better games than we have today. Nobody would make any money. But is that really why we do this?

A FUNNY THING HAPPENED ON THE WAY TO THE FORUM

     So why isn't anyone laughing? In fact, what I hear is far from laughter. I hear someone kicking and screaming all the way into the 21st century. 
     Okay so I experienced a little schadenfreude when CSW's archaic forum blew up last year and I experienced a belly laugh of the first order when I heard the CSW brass express a desire to preserve that useless fossil as-is. OMG, I still LOL at the thought of it! (Just FYI.) 

The folks at CSW are rightfully concerned about Y2k -- but looking forward to all the hover-cars.
      In fact, in my last post there (Ah, I still remember where I was when the forum went down), I was asking some guy "in the business" why they just don't start their own forums? Why rely on this creaky old relic, which looks like you might need a Compuserve or GEnie account to get it to work? (Oh, and the aging folks in the miniatures gaming world use Yahoo Groups to communicate -- and many of those are operated as "Closed Groups!" WTF? I mean, truly, WTF?)
     The response, of course, was stony silence. Crickets... It's the way of the wargame world, I guess. (Just wait till one of these guys is asked a hard question! Code Blue! Code Blue!
      Now, the CSW guy was faced with possibly having to (GASP!!) upgrade his forum software! He was breathlessly issuing almost hourly updates as to the forum reconstruction progress. Presumably, the entire wargaming world was holding itself in collective limbo over this earth-shattering development. (Breaking News: Generalisimo Francisco Franco is still dead.)
     Seems to me, the wargaming community would have been better served by spending the last 20 years developing some kind of coherent modern gaming community. 
     Is that even possible? I dunno. Lots of retards on CSW. I suppose it is nice to have them all in one place for easy avoidance. Maybe that's its true purpose.

WHAT ARE THE ODDS OF YOU GETTING OUT OF HERE WITH THAT JACKET ON?

     If you said "Better than average," you're wrong. According to Barbarossa: Kiev to Rostov (for some reason, I always think "Milan to Minsk"), the real answer is "who the hell knows?"
     Which begs another question: "Then why am I working so hard?"

Bad, Bad Leroy Brown looks on. I actually understand the reference. Does that make me old?
     It's not just this game's 1D10 die roll. There's actually nothing wrong with that. It's the blasted CRT that has total victory at one end and dismal failure at the other, and all points in between -- and not necessarily is any particular order. 
     Here are the combat results from turn 1 of my last game. These are all Germans attacking Soviets. I'll show the odds, the drm, the die roll and the result. (+ drms are good for the defender.) Failed Attacks are in color.

1) 3:1 (+1) DR9 Result: R*/-
2) 5:1 (+1) DR1 Result: -/3R
3) 3:1 (+2) DR10 Result: 1*/2
4) 3:2 (-1) DR8 Result: R/-
5) 2:1 (-1) DR2 Result: -/2R
6) 2:1 (-1) DR7 Result: 1*/R
7) 3:1 (-2) DR3 Result: -/3R
8) 2:1 (+1) DR10 Result: 1R/-

     The Attacks that failed were:
3:1; 3:1; 3:2; 2:1; 2:1
     The Attacks that succeeded were:
5:1; 2:1; 3:1. 
     The Germans cannot afford to lose many troops; the Soviets can. Any result with a * is devastating to the German -- it denotes armor and/or engineer loss.
     As you can see, the die roll is the #1 factor in all these combats. So why did I just spend the last hour setting up all these attacks and painstakingly allotting air and artillery support? That's an hour of my life I'll never get back. 
     Incidentally, the losing die rolls were: 9, 10, 8, 7 and 10.
     The winning (for the attacker): 1, 2, 3. 
     Anybody see a pattern?

     Until next time, Dream Babies, don't take any wooden nickels.

Saturday, November 3, 2018

TANNENBERG, 8-10

     The Russian 2nd Army makes gains and is then routed from VP hexes Osterode and Allenstein. Russian 1st Army regroups and attacks across the river in an effort to take Insterberg. The Russian 10th Army is formed and takes over the Lotzen sector.

German 1st Reserve Corps takes out the Russian 6th Corps, which has been stuck in those woods throughout the game. 
The southern half of the Russian 1st Army is totally routed by the 17th Corps. Their Army Depot had to relocate. These guys are pretty much finished. 
Russian 1st Army assembles for an all-out attack on Insterberg. The attack will come across a river. Coming to bolster the defense are German West Front reinforcements, the 1st Corps and the 17th.  
Russian 20th Corps attacks first, forces a German stack to retreat and then is itself routed by a flank attack from three sides. Both divisions are flipped to their half-strength side. 
Meanwhile, the Russians take and lose Osterode when the German 11th Corps arrives from the Western Front. The Russian 23rd Corps takes Allenstein (5 big VPs) when it rolls snake eyes on a 2:1 attack. 
The Russian 1st Army attack goes badly awry. 
Russian 10th Army arrives. The entire 10th Army front is defended by a single German reserve division. 
The German retake Allenstein in a decisive way. 11th Corps now advances to the south in pursuit of the demoralized foe. It's the only way to keep routing enemy units from regrouping and renewing their attack. 
     I may be ready to call the game. At the end of turn 10, the Russians lead by a single VP. So it's still anyone's ballgame, but I think the Germans are just too strong. It doesn't seem like much on paper, but the German 11-Effectiveness Corps have a huge advantage over the Russian 10s.
     Actually, I've become a little burnt out on the game. Weaknesses are starting to show themselves and some aspects of play are starting to annoy. That's just the nature of the beast. Every game is a set of complex rules, rinsed and repeated 100 times. Somewhere in the rinse-and-repeat cycle, things start to lose their luster.
     If I were to fault anything in this superb game, it would be the ease with which divisions can overcome Demoralization and get themselves right back into the fight. When you take into account Movement Phases and Counter-Movement Phases, a unit can recover in three turns. Also, casualties are very low compared to the historical record.
     If anyone cares, I would recommend curtailing the Counter-Movement Phases by allowing only units in the proximity of the enemy to move, and disallowing CEL recovery during same. This would vastly simplify the game and speed up play immensely. I realize the game is 10 years old and sequels have already been released, so what I think is moot.
     I'll leave the game set up in case the spirit moves me, but I'm moving on to other things.

My Happy Place. That's "Twilight in the East" on the far table, "Gallipoli 1915" in the center and "Great Battles of the ACW" on the near table. Spent some quality time with "Gallipoli" last night. So far, it seems to be an awesome game, but highly complex. The ACW urge just hit me in the last couple days. I'm relearning the game with a scenario from "Dead of Winter," (stupid titles are a Berg trademark -- I'll have to play past my aversion to that guy to enjoy the ACW games -- not easy) and will set up the Battles of Cedar and South Mountains from "Twin Peaks" (the stupidest title of all) when I'm ready to roll. Full coverage of each to come!

Saturday, October 27, 2018

TANNENBERG 4-7

     I fell a little behind in my Battle of Tannenberg playthrough this week as I took a couple days off to learn Gallipoli. Since starting the battle, I've played at least one player turn per day. While the gameplay itself is not too difficult, the decision-making definitely is. Sometimes I sits and plays, and sometimes I just sits and thinks. So far it has been an awesome experience.
     In fact, I believe I'm ready to declare Twilight in the East the best wargame I've ever played -- and that goes all the way back to the early 80s.
     I know, I know...That sounds like your typical "ooh, shiny!" reaction, but there's nothing particularly shiny about this game. The color scheme is drab, the artwork is certainly nothing to write home about and the play aids definitely fall in the plain-Jane category. I've set it up probably three or four times over the past year only to tear it down again, unplayed, for various reasons. I've worked hard at this game and studied the history to boot. So my assessment -- though it sounds like the "Epitome of Hyperbole" (see Brian Regan) has been hard-won. Yes, I'm saying it: "Best. Game. Ever." And I'm sticking to that.
    What is so awesome about it is this: at least in the Tannenberg scenario, every decision for both sides seems monumental. Every turn seems like a game-breaker. As the German, you have to shift your corps back and forth between fronts and timing is everything. Do you spend one more turn going for the killshot? Or do you railroad a corps to the other front? Or is it already too late? This is a challenge, to say the least.
     Well, let's have a look at the proceedings...

In the east, the German 17th Corps takes the offensive. In the west, the Germans are on the defensive.

As the 17th pushes south, the Russian 4th Corps finds itself in a bit of a pickle. The Russians here are in full retreat. They have abandoned their Strategic Plan in order to pull back and reorganize.

The Russian 2nd Army is still under the restrictions of their Strategic Plan. Any advances must be toward their objectives, even if its flanks are exposed.
A division of the Russian 4th escapes encirclement. But it is badly mauled. 
The Russian units circled in orange are spent. They must retreat. One unit of the German 17th corps retreats to recover, while the other is joined by the 3rd Reserve Division to finish off the last viable Russian division in this sector. Circled in red above is the German 1st Reserve Corps shipping off to the other front. 

Meanwhile, having recovered from their earlier defeat, the rest of Russian 1st Army advances on the skeleton force the Germans left behind to guard the approaches to Konigsberg. They hold along a river line (the Angerapp, I believe). 
A division of the Russian 13th Corps is cut off but not isolated. It can receive no Artillery Ammo or supply and will have to pull back ASAP. The German 1st Reserve begins to arrive by rail to the north. 

INTERMISSION. In case you were wondering what is the best medicine, Dr. Phibes says: "Revenge!" Here the lovely Vulnavia is about to give the Abominable One a little sugar. 
20th Corps attacks the Russian 15th and drives it back, but not without cost. One 20th corps division is forced to retreat as well and is now demoralized. The 1st Reserve arrives in force. 
The Russians have nothing left now. But the German 17th is spent, too. I think the Russians are going to have to evacuate this area -- and that means moving the First Supply Depot, putting this front, and these corps, out of action. 
But the next big battle looms...