Tuesday, February 28, 2017

SOMETIMES THE BAR GETS YOU

     Something that has always bugged me about Clash of Arms' Battles from the Age of Reason (BAR) is that it does not depict realistic unit frontages. In fact, it's the only game I know of whose units do not fit into the map hexes (and I don't mean physically). It's the strangest thing. It's not like the designer found 100-yard scale map hexes laying around and then had to find a use for them. Presumably, the game was designed from the ground up with its subject matter in mind. I mean, you have to believe that, right? The hexes could have been whatever the designer needed them to be to accommodate the majority of the units. And yet, the hexes are too friggin' small.
     But the units are intended to be "extended" into the next hex, you say. Yes, but then they're too large.
     Here's the ugly truth: A standard frontage for a 700-man Prussian infantry battalion is about 150 yards. The game only allows 100-yard and 200-yard unit frontages -- a Goldilocks compromise, either too small or too large. A true WTF moment in gaming.
     It makes it hard for me to want to play this thing. I mean, c'mon man, it's flawed at its very foundation. But here's the problem: I own Kolin, Fontenoy, Lobositz and Prague. The last three cost me over $200 and Kolin $40 (in 1996 money). I didn't fork over that kind of cash because I enjoy complaining about stuff. I am going to play these, dammit!
     But I'm not going to use Frederick's army to play some quasi-Napoleonic battle game. No sir. I've put on my mod hat and I'm going to work. Hopefully, what I come up with will be just right.

Step Up to the BAR, Boys!

     Alrighty, then....
      In my upcoming game of Lobositz, I plan on having each of my Prussian battalions occupy "2" hexes at all times. I put "2" in quotations marks because they're actually occupying a hex-and-a-half. The unit will exert 5 Strength Points in one hex and the remainder in the second (up to 5 more). In addition, any hex containing fewer than 5 SPs can be occupied up to that limit by SPs of another unit.
     The following picture shows how this will work. Basically, what you're looking at here are two battalions occupying 3 hexes (300 yards -- in essence 150 yards of frontage each). Unit 1 exerts 5 SPs in the hex to the left of the hexspine it straddles, and 2 more in the adjacent hex. Unit 2 is a mirror image. I'm allowing 5 SPs to fire out of a hex, so this arrangement depicts the Prussian infantry as they were intended to be used. The SPs in the three hexes are in a 5-4-5 arrangement, allowing for each unit's full firepower.




     Similarly, I'm allowing a maximum of 6 cavalry SPs to occupy a hex. Many of the Prussian cavalry are 8-SP units (400 men each), and they will be split, similarly to the infantry, 6-2. This will hopefully force the player to use his 18th-century armies according to the tactics of the day. Currently, the game encourages infantry and cavalry to run around the field in mini-attack columns, using only half their firepower and attacking everything in sight with cold steel. Not cool. (Look, a pun!) And definitely NOT the 18th-century battlefield.
     I'm anal about some things. This is one of them.

The Prussian deployment at Lobositz.
DIGITAL DER GROSSE
      I actually prefer playing this game on Vassal because of the unit labeling function. No big stacks of counters. You can see in the picture below how I've labeled my units. "3/5" indicates that the unit has 3 SPs in the hex to its left and 5 to the right. The hex with the greater number of SPs is always the hex occupied by the unit marker. That's the plan, anyway.

     Wouldn't it have been easier to just use 150-yard hexes, though? I mean, for crying' out loud! They could have cut the rulebook in half, for starters.
     Oh, well. You play the game you've been dealt. Time to get at it.

Monday, February 27, 2017

RETREAT FROM MOSCOW

     In my last post, I was attempting to offer an alternative to the bang-your-head-against-the-wall strategy the Germans pursued historically at the Battle of Mtsensk. I thought I had achieved that, and had a good time doing it, too. The only problem? It totally won't work.
     Why? One word: Supply. I screwed up the supply rules in that Trails (those dashed roads you see on the map) cannot act as supply roads, contrary to my belief. This means that my German attack on the Russian left flank will quickly run out of gas, literally.
     As you can see in the pic, the German supply line will only reach to the little red circles I've drawn on the map. The supply line is shown by a red dashed line. The German line of attack is shown in green. A couple problems here. A) The attack should have been made against the Russian AT unit on the road (there were more guys there at the time of the attack, which is why I bypassed them). The route I chose goes across an unbridged stream, verboten to supply lines; and B) Even without the Russian AT unit blocking the trail, an intact supply line is not going to take me very far anyway. You might be able to get away with operating with Low Fuel, but not without supplies.

     So what we're left with is a situation where the German force is completely tied to the main road for supply reasons. That means full-on, full frontal, head-against-wall pointless attacks on the fortified Russian position. 
     So I went ahead and tried it and was predictably repulsed. I felt like Sam Elliott in Gettysburg. I saw it coming from a mile away, but the damn game was making me do it. (Sometimes you get the bar, sometimes the bar gets you. Oh, wait. That's Sam Elliott in The Big Lebowski. Whatever, I just like Sam Elliott.)
     Some games are like that. The Battles from the Age of Reason game, Fontenoy, has the Dutch flinging themselves on French bayonets for no good reason. (The game oughtta be called Battles from the Age of No Good Reason.)

The Dutch are arrayed along the bottom of the picture. The French are the ones in the redoubts and behind the earthworks. They are also of superior quality and more numerous. Spoiler alert: The French win!
       So I looked ahead in the Roads to Moscow package and what I see in all four of the scenarios are dug-in Russians along a single supply road. Happy bludgeoning!
     What made Vance von Borries' game Kasserine so good was that there were lots of options for both players at almost every stage of the battle. It only occasionally bogs down into a toe-to-toe slugfest. But these moments are short-lived. Mostly it's a game where both players are sure to have plenty of surprises for their opponent. I love the rules of Roads, as I do another von Boories' game Barbarossa: Kiev to Rostov, but the situations they simulate are poorly chosen, if you ask me. Great games mired in abysmal scenarios.
     The upshot of all this? I've suddenly lost my enthusiasm for Roads to Moscow. I think it's time to retreat.
     Bring on the next!

For real this time -- and I mean it!

Saturday, February 25, 2017

Baby Steps to Moscow

FIRST STEP ON THE ROAD TO MOSCOW

     I've just started my latest game, GMT's Roads to Moscow. This game is one in a 2-game series -- the other title being Roads to Leningrad -- by a guy who has to be my favorite game designer, Vance von Borries (which always makes me think of Spinal Tap). I'd played Vance's earlier game Kasserine and rate it one of my favorites. In fact, the Roads to... series is virtually identical to Kasserine so it has a dual virtue: not only do I know I already like it, but I already know the rules, too.

     Still, it sat on my table for a while before I could muster up the will to tackle it. It was "Scenario 1: Drive on Mtensk" that was putting me off. It seemed like such a hopeless situation for the Germans. At first glance, it appears that they must fling themselves against a strong Soviet position with little hope of cracking it. Reading the historical account of the battle lends no encouragement, either. The Germans were easily repulsed -- and I was repulsed at the idea of repeating this stupidity.
     But there is a solution (besides putting the game away and never looking at it again). You just have to think outside the box a little.
     As an exclusively solitaire gamer (I like it best that way, thank you very much), I've developed a method of play that I find oddly, almost distressingly, enjoyable: when considering a move, I try to envision what would most piss off my opponent and I do that. Turns out, I'm actually pretty good at that. I absolutely hate me sometimes.
     So here I present to you my opening German moves on the Drive to Mtensk.

     Purple: KG Eberbach. Pink: KG Saucken.
     Eberbach is supposed to bash his head against the Soviet strongpoints on the main road along the stream. Instead, in a surprise move, Saucken -- not Eberbach -- takes the first Activation and makes straight for the Russian defenses. This pins them in place. After Saucken is in position, Eberbach moves toward the Russian left flank.


     The Russians react by pulling their armor away from Saucken and toward the threat to the flank. I don't think they have much choice. Both German KGs are extremely powerful, so both must be dealt with. Once the Russian armor, HQ and Leader unit (shown by the "BG1" counter) are gone, Saucken calls for an assault on the main Soviet strongpoint. Basically, the Russians have had to divide their strength when what they wanted to do was to concentrate it, obviously. The fact that I, as the Russian player, had to split my forces discomfited me, to say the least. (Damn me! ...shakes fist...)

     The attack: With fewer command points now available, the Russians fail their Combat Air Support coordination roll, have no units to react into the attacked hex and also fail a No Retreat attempt. They use their HQ to coordinate artillery, which succeeds. Pulling the Russian reserve forces away from this sector has borne some major fruitski for the German player (me).
     Oh, I should mention. KG Saucken is operating on Low Fuel because I used all my fuel during the first activation, moving both KGs at top speed. The main effect of Saucken's lack of fuel during this attack is a -1 ER rating, easily overcome. I have three HQ units and I use them to coordinate air support (see the 2 Stuka units at the ready in the picture above) and also artillery and the ground units. It's all good.
     The attack goes in....





     My homemade combat sheet. If you can follow my scrawlings, you'll see that the attack goes in at 2:1 odds, with -4 DRM (actually -3, since the ER Differential is really only 1, due to Low Fuel, but it didn't matter to the outcome). The die roll is a 3, modified by -3, resulting in a D2R result (Defender lose 2 steps and Retreat).



     The Soviets retreat one hex, the Germans advance one hex. With its next activation, Eberbach will attack with Low Fuel and try to get between the Soviet main position and BG1.
     A most satisfying outcome. The first time I tried this scenario, I followed history and just went straight down the main road -- and met exactly the same result. This time, it looks like I've got the Rooskies on the run. See you in Mtensk! (How many times have you heard that?)

Friday, February 24, 2017

BLAZING CHARIOTS

     I've put my other projects on hold  while I once again hit the boards. Boardgames, that is. My interests seem to ebb and flow and right now my enthusiasm for minis and sports games has ebbed a bit, while my interest in historical wargaming, cardboard-style, seems to have hit new heights. After a short hiatus, all the games seem new again.
     To start off, after several refresher sessions with the rules, I got "Barbarossa: Kiev to Rostov" back on the table. This is an interesting game. I love everything about it -- the highly complex rules, the beautiful components, the history... Yes, I love everything about it -- except actually playing it. Now I remember why I abandoned the campaign game I had started over the summer. The game devolves into a stalemate pretty quickly. The chariots don't exactly blaze in this one.


     The culprit here is that is just too easy to defend. An attacker has to attack EVERY unit in its ZOC, making it virtually impossible to accomplish much of anything in any given turn.
     Here are some examples from a recent playing of "Scenario 6: To Rostov."

The situation a couple turns in. All the victory points are at the top of the map. It's basically a fight for the city of Rostov.
This only looks like a breakthrough. If that 3-2-9 recon bn stack wants to launch an attack, it will have to take on four defending hexes, 5 attack factors vs 9 defense. The 2-2-7 stack could launch some suicidal 1:1 attacks to help out, but that would still leave the 3-2-9 with a couple of 1:1 attacks of its own. The German could apply some Close Air Support and artillery to help, but there's little to do here but retreat. To the right (south), outside of Rostov, the 5-6-7 is in little better shape. The same with the 3-1-7 stack. These guys are going nowhere fast. There is simply not enough supply available to accomplish any of this anyway.
The situation is better in the lower portion of the map (west). The German infantry is free to roam, but there are no VPs in this area and the attack will soon run out of steam. The Soviets get stronger as the game progresses while the Germans have no replacements and few reinforcements. (The purple troops are Italian.)
     I dunno about this game. Forcing the attacker to attack every unit in its ZOC sort of goes against everything you've ever learned about offensive warfare. The benefit of attacking, supposedly, is your ability to concentrate against a single point. Maybe I'm doing something wrong, but every attack in this game is made on a broad -- and I mean BROAD -- front. Not exactly blitzkrieg warfare.
     In addition, forcing the player into multiple attacks uses up lots of supply, more than is available. In the 3-2-9 example above, a plausible offensive would require three or four separate attacks costing three or four attack supply points. The German player is generally lucky to have one supply point, forget four. Basically, once a defenses congeals in an area, it's all over for the attacker.
     Even if it is historically accurate, it's not a very fun game. The turns are too complex and time-consuming for so little to happen. Maybe if turns were 1 week instead of 2 days things would play out a little more interestingly. Oh well....This one goes on the shelf.

     Moving back in time about 3500 years.....


     Now, these chariots blaze. I burn hot and cold on this game, too. I'm burning hot right now, though. After a few turns of the Astarpa River scenario (Arzawans vs Hittites), I'm having a great time.

Hittites in blue, Arzawans in orange. The Light Chariots of each side surge forward. The Hittites definitely have the advantage in this battle.

The Arzawans swing across the front to strike at the Hittite light chariots. Possibly a mistake for the Arzawans. The Hittite heavies are poised to hit the lights in the flank.

And they do, scattering the Arzawan LCs, but taking cohesion hits in the process.
Taking the initiative, the Arzawan heavy chariots surge into the gap and slam into the Hittites. Their charge saves the light chariots from certain destruction.
Two Hittite units are routed. The heavies are now engaged. But who will win the next activation?
The god of fortune favors the Arzawans! The light chariots go next and hightail it out of trouble to the east, away from the Hittite heavies. Arzawan infantry advance, daring the Hittite chariots to attack them. (Spoiler: they won't dare.)
While the heavy chariots duke it out in the center, both sides' lights chase each other east across the desert, flinging arrows as they go.
The Hittites finish off the Arzawan heavy chariots and race away from the infantry. The field is now open for the ground-pounders to settle matters. The Hittites have their sights set on the Arzawan flank and rear now!
Routed units have piled up around the  Arzwan standard. Lots of potential VPs for the Hittites -- if they can get to them before they rally.
     An exciting game so far, if a little unbalanced. I think it was clear from the git-go who was going to win this battle, and I see no stopping the Hittites now. The Arzawan infantry can try to swing to their left to protect the standard. But will it be enough to save them?

     To be continued.....

    Here's what's on the docket in coming game sessions:

The Battle of Stones River, 1862-63. Regimental scale American Civil War. In hand now, learning the rules. On the table soon.
Single battle ziplock game from Revolution Games. In transit to my headquarters.
Sister game of Hastings above.
A game I've been looking at for a long time.
    The two "1066" games and "Washington's Crossing" were part of Revolution Games' Year-End Sale. Having been one myself and knowing what it's like, I do what I can to support smaller publishers. I can't wait to get my hands on these games.

Oh, and here's a strategy tip for the Washington game:


     Until next time: Bomb's Away, Dream Babies!