Saturday, April 8, 2017


     I just got through Turn 3 of Operation Mercury, my first night turn. Not hugely eventful. The Germans continue to consolidate their forces and attack wherever the odds are good. They are especially eager to get an airfield, Maleme in particular. The sooner they can start flying in reinforcements (and supply), the better.
     The Allies get a bonus for attacking at night -- and they did with not so good results. They might want to go strictly defensive from now on. Those German paratroopers with their 8 Efficiency ratings are nasty tough.
     The losses for the turn: Germans -1 step; Allies -2. Most combat resulted in Fatigue for one or both sides.

The Heraklion Sector. The Germans are strong on both flanks. The airfield is to the right. Tough sledding here, though.
Naval Operations map, night of day one. A British task force bombards German positions near Maleme airfield. The rest of the navy awaits the German convoys. All units are undetected at this point.
Left-center of pic: The Germans take the city of Reitmo (6 VPs). Otherwise known as Low-Hanging Fruit. Australian troops have cordoned off the airfield.
Only some freak die rolls have saved Maleme airfield from capture. This is where the Germans are strongest. They have split the Allied defense in two.
My attempt at an overview. From left to right: Maleme, Reitmo, Heraklion. Wasn't Maleme a song by Rod Stewart?
German aircraft on search missions at first light of Turn 4. They can search 5 sea zones, but extra aircraft assist in three of them. 
All British task forces are detected, but one. Send in the Stukas!
INCOMING! Stukas dive from the clouds onto the Gloucester, a light cruiser.
The CL is damaged!
For the Allies, surface detection fails to find any Germans. An air search reveals one of the convoys. Gulp! Almost made it through! Incidentally, one of those markers is a decoy.
The ensuing surface action is not pretty. The convoy carries 11 steps of ground units. 5 are lost. The units in the top row are okay, those on the bottom are now indeed on the bottom -- as in Davy Jones' Locker. Yeah, THAT bottom! And that's with the Brits rolling poorly, too. And now that it has been detected, the convoy will have to endure another turn of this. Maybe it can hit the beaches with some supplies still intact. But I think its days (hours) are numbered.
On the bright side for the Germans, a DD is damaged in the battle. Two-of-three ships in TF B are now damaged. Back to Alexandria for repairs. Blood in the water for the Luftwaffe!

Thursday, April 6, 2017


      It's the end of Turn 2 of my current game of Barbarossa: Kiev to Rostov and I've learned something. Namely that you have to be careful with this rulebook. It makes a number of very subtle distinctions without necessarily drawing attention to them.
     Through repeated playings, it only gradually dawned on me that, first, motorized units were allowed to cross major rivers without a bridge and then only later that supply wagons were allowed to cross as well. Why, thought I, this changes everything! And it does. My initial confusion stems from this rule: "Armored units, all artillery units, and MSU's with orange MA can cross a major river only at a bridge." And that's the end of the matter.
     Sure it seems simple enough, but this is just one of a million rules and exceptions to rules. By the time my bleary eyes saw this, my brain read: "Red Box MA units, artillery units and MSU's can't cross except at a bridge."
     Here's the problem. All Armored units are motorized (Red Box MA), but not all motorized units are Armored. And MSU's come in two varieties, Truck and Wagon. I've never stopped to ponder their differently colored MA before. But it's true: Trucks are orange (bad); Wagons are white (good). (The rules might have mentioned this by saying something like -- oh, I don't know -- TRUCKS can't cross!)
     So there are subtle distinctions here, distinctions that make a definite difference. The upshot is that motorized infantry and recon units can cross -- and they can take wagons (I mean "MSU's with white MA's") with them.
     The other thing to watch out for are Zones of Control. There are actually 4 varieties: Your standard "uncontested" ZOC, a "contested" ZOC (friendly and enemy ZOC in the same hex), ZOC in a hex with a friendly unit, and a ZOC negated by the presence of a friendly unit in the same hex. I'm not making this up. (There are even more when you take into account terrain and weather. Don't get me started!)
     You see, here's the deal: supply lines can travel through EZOC hexes that also contain friendly units, but when you're considering the Soviet Surrender rules, the line need only be free of uncontested ZOCs, strictly verboten for supply lines. I'm confused just writing about it.
     Now that I'm aware of it, though, maybe some of these rules will finally stick. I have a particularly hard time with the river crossing rules. I don't know why.
     Anyway, let's get on with the game.

     The northern sector. Starting at the top and working our way down: The German have made inroads toward Kiev, a major objective. The main thing here is that German units are now adjacent to the city so any units in the adjacent city hex must roll for surrender every turn. Small chance, but the Huns'll take it.
     The next down is Kanev, an area of major effort by the Germans. The Soviet defense is stubborn. He keeps armored trains in the combat hexes to take step losses. Demoralizing for the Germans to use up all their precious supply only to kill off a couple of 1-SP armored trains.
     The area with the gray star, Cherkassy, is where the Germans are having the most success. Two Russian units in this area have surrendered and the strongpoints have been cut off. They will suffer deterioration and disappear after the next turn.
     The blue arrow shows where the Germans historically crossed the Dneiper (the "D" is silent).
     The last area is where the Germans have had the least success. A counterattack by a Soviet tank division cost the Krauts a full Panzer regiment. Given the paucity of German replacements, that really hurt.

     Things are a lot brighter in the south. The Germans will cross in strength this coming turn. Once this area is fully supplied (along the route of the green line) the armor will cross too.

     The Cherkassy area in close-up. The Russian strongpoints have been neutralized and the SS units, given enough supply, can cross the river any time now. Once that happens, the Russians will have no choice but to pull back lest their bridges be captured from behind. Now, that would be embarrassing.
     Incidentally, the 2-2-7 AA unit in the upper left corner of the map can infiltrate onto the Russian cavalry stack's flank, thereby cutting them off from the bridge in their rear, their only lifeline. Notice, however, that once the cavalry pulls back a hex, only its supply line will be cut, but it won't have to roll for surrender. Remember contested vs uncontested ZOC's? (You weren't really paying attention, were you?)
     It could be a good turn here for the Germans. (The green line shows the future German supply road. They'll need it.)


     I decided to give "End of Empire" another chance. So I re-started the French & Indian War scenario (the main one, a one-mapper). I got to 1757 and decided to call it quits.
     The game has beautiful components and demands to be played. But it's just too simple. It looks good in pictures. The strategic situation looks intriguing. The game should be awesome. But it just isn't. I can see where it might be a fun diversion for a couple of guys on a Saturday afternoon (I think you could probably play the entire F&I War in a single session), but as a solo game, there's just no "there" there. It's a little like what playing Risk solo might be like. I just conquered Ukraine. But so what? Here, it's "I just invaded Nova Scotia. Wake me when something interesting happens."

The three main "theaters" of action in my game. The frontier campaigns against Forts Pitt, Frontenac and Niagara have knocked the Indians out of the war. The English want to invade Nova Scotia, but the French fleet denies them. They tried once earlier and were repulsed. The game photographs better than it plays.
The French have a firm grasp of Nova Scotia.
British forces mass in New York awaiting the appearance of the fleet.
The Montreal front. Montcalm makes the place unassailable - at least for now.
A little closer look. 
British dawdling (failing initiative rolls) has allowed the French to reinforce Frontenac.
Braddock is master of the frontier. Outnumbered 10:1, Niagara will fall very shortly. The Indians have been taken out of the war. Sounds sort of exciting, doesn't it? It's not really...


     The game room's been hopping lately.
     First of all, after suffering through King George's War in End of Empire, I started the French & Indian War with high hopes. A successful French invasion of Nova Scotia was a promising start. But then the game bogged down. I finally packed it up entirely. I'm ready to draw some conclusions about End of Empire.

An extremely attractive game fails to conceal one little problem....
     It's boring as hell.
     The British ended up launching a low-odds attack on Montreal -- just for something to do. Otherwise, it was looking like a Mexican stand-off on the Canadian border.
     The problem is, the game is just too simple. Maybe what it needs is a more detailed treatment of politics and/or logistics to keep it interesting. Maybe a more detailed Indian/frontier war treatment would help, too. I dunno. As it is, it all seems a little too simple and, ultimately, a little pointless.


     A devastating turn for the Germans. The dice rolls couldn't have been better for the Russians....or worse for the Germans.
     The infantry battle in the center of the map features Russian first line units (4-4-7s) vs German SS units (6-5-8), yet it is the Russians who come out on top -- mainly thanks to a run of IFT rolls of 5 or less (4 of them, IIRC). That's bad enough, but the German rolled 11s on his MCs. Two of them.
     The Russian tank behind the wall leads a charmed life. The German tank on the hill hit it at least 3 times. However, each "hit" was considered a hull hit. Since the Russian is behind a wall, hull hits count as misses. The German tank was lucky, too. Return fire from the T-34 merely immobilized it. The next shot will probably take it out altogether.
     Meanwhile, two Russian tanks race unhindered around the German left flank.
     Worst of all for Jerry, however, was that he lost his Panther, his ace in the hole. Here, the German luck couldn't have gotten any worse. After surviving a Close Combat assault in the road by a Russian 6-2-8 squad, the Panther trundled down the road on the trail of two Russian T-34s, whose main armament can barely scratch the Panther's heavy armor.

      The Panther comes into view around the edge of the woods. The first T-34 turns its turret and fires. A miss, but it retains ROF. Confident that the T-34 can't touch it, the Panther calmly spends a MP to stop. The T-34 fires again. SNAKE EYES! A critical hit. The Panther is reduced to a burning wreck.
     In essence, game over.
     The only good thing to happen to the German this turn was a Panzerschreck kill of a T-34 in the road and a quick reaction by the German infantry to the Russian infantry advance over the hill.
     But without any way to take out the Russian tanks, I think it's game over. When the German truck convoy arrives next turn, it'll be a turkey shoot.
     Fun scenario.


     This scenario has started off much better than the last one, that's for sure. Tough strategic decision for the French right off the bat.
     General Dieskau and 26 total SP of inf/art spread over 6 units arrives on turn 1 via sea transport. That means you can place him in any friendly port. A defensive-minded player -- and probably a wise player -- would drop him in Quebec (circled on the map). I wanted to ensure lots of action, though, so I landed him in Nova Scotia instead. (2)3SP inf/art units occupy the French ports on the north and south coasts, while Diesku and 20 SP attack Halifax. The British failed on their turn to reinforce the city, and failed again to React during the French move. Diesku takes Halifax easily for the loss of 1 step.
     The British now have no overseas supply capability (per special rule regarding Halifax) and, once the French take Grand Pre (2 hexes to the north of Halifax), the Brits will have to retake Nova Scotia to fulfill their victory conditions, certainly a time-consuming proposition, if nothing else.
     Of course, victory is that much closer in Canada, though. Hopefully, for the French, the conquest of Nova Scotia will go quickly and he can move Diesku to Quebec ASAP.
     For the British, Gov Shirley marches north and takes Crown Point. He probably won't be able to go much farther than that, though. You really need 4:1 odds when attacking forts, and he just doesn't have the strength to go after Montreal.
     Off the map to the west, General Braddock failed his initiative roll and does not march on Duquesne as planned. Students of history will count him lucky.  
     The British would like to take Oswego, too, for Indian recruitment purposes. But that will have to wait. The Oneida will certainly pay for burning Fort Stanwix.
    This one's off to a good start.

The arrows show the offensive action. Quebec City is circled in French blue. It might have been wiser for Diesku to land there. In the west, another circle shows where I'm using a Blaze counter from Squad Leader to depict a destroyed outpost. This is from Earl Dixon's Indian house rules. Thanks, Earl!


     Okay, well that was boring as hell. You can see by the pic below that turn 12 or 13 (or whatever it was) looks a lot like turn 1.

Wake me when this thing starts...
     From an historical perspective, I appreciate the inaction. But even the historically-minded can only take so much. The strategic thrust of the scenario (King George's War, if you remember) is really quite simple. As the British, do nothing until your fleet arrives (no sooner than turn 7), then use it to invade Louisburg. Once that is taken (it's guaranteed), use your provincial infantry to take Crown Point by turn 27, garrison it with a regular unit, and it's game over.
     Unfortunately for me Gov Shirley missed Initiative roll after Initiative roll, meaning no amphibious invasion of Louisburg. When he did succeed, he rolled a 1 in combat and had to skedaddle back to Boston. 
     It's a learning scenario, a sort of "value-added" thing, according to the game's designer. Game designers need to be careful about these value-added deals. I made that mistake way back when with my computer game Combat Command. It came with a butt-load of scenarios. Just because I could, I threw in a little throw-away that took place around Heraklion in Crete. If I recall, it was virtually impossible for the Germans to win. But what the hell? The game came with some massive and varied scenarios covering Sicily, Italy, the Ardennes, D-Day etc etc. Little did I know that this little throw-away became the focal point of whatever AAR's players posted, probably just because it was a small learning scenario. Long story short, it didn't really highlight the strength of the game. I never dreamed anybody would actually, you know, play it.
     Such is the sad case of the King George's War scenario (and the War of Jenkins' Ear scenario, too, for that matter). New players are likely to try it first due to it's relatively small size -- and it leaves a bad taste in one's mouth.
     I've had similar misgivings about miniatures rules that don't include decent scenarios, or scenarios at all. If you like historical battles, you have to design them yourself. Every game then becomes a discouraging playtest session that doesn't exactly highlight the strengths of the game in question.
     In the End of Empire Designer's Notes, the designer says his favorite scenario is the Main French and Indian War scenario. So I've set that up. No more messing around. I'm going straight to the best now.
F&I War, using only the north map. Note all the reinforcements on the TRT. Hopefully, this scenario is a little more exciting than the KGW.