Tuesday, May 30, 2017

BCS -- Indeed! But what does the "C" stand for?

     Back in 1995, I designed and published a computer wargame called Combat Command. It was a company scale WWII game at 500 yds per hex and 4 hour turns. In addition to the on-map companies, there were also "off-map" heavy  weapons units you could attach to your primary combat units. You could move them around from unit to unit as you liked, but they never actually appeared on the map. An AT gun section could be placed with one company, a mortar team with another. Cut down on counter clutter. One review of this first iteration of the game called it "ball-breakingly complex." Regrettably, I took this out of Combat Command 2 for simplicity's sake -- and to ensure that a man this eloquent might have the chance to reproduce. We can only hope!)
     So I was intrigued when I first dove into The Gamers' "Battalion Combat Series" only to find so much verbiage, rulebook space and, ultimately, confusion surrounding this very same idea. Let's just say I'm very glad I don't have to push millions of counters depicting platoons, squads and individual men around the board ad infinitum. But for crying out loud! It's not that this is anything mind-blowingly original or even ball-breakingly complex. It's just very poorly -- very poorly -- explained.
     What The Gamers seem really good at is coming up with cute little terms for otherwise common elements, elements that would be easy to understand if not for the cute little terms. "Crossing the Streams" is just embarrassing. Do I have to say that during play? "Double-Tap." "Some call this a Double Tap," snickers the rulebook. Oh, please. Just write the damn rules, would ya. Cringe-worthy, the whole damn thing -- including the chest-thumping, self-aggrandizing, narcissistic Design Notes. If you have to point out your own accomplishments, maybe they aren't really worth mentioning.
     What The Gamers does not do well, is explain how to play this game. For example, you've spent the last half hour preparing for your first "Engagement." So you look up "Engagement." There it is. Rule section 7.1. Wonderful, you think. Everything I need to know about Engagements right here in good ol' 7.1. Sure enough, you find explanations of  Support Engagements and other kinds of Engagements, but before you're through you just happen to notice something called "Stopping Engagements" in the ZOC rules, 6.0, completely unreferenced in "7.1 Engagements." Turns out, you've been engaged in a Stopping Engagement without even knowing it.

Single Tapped Objectives, a PrepDef and a Target Dropped. Yeah, me neither.

     Okay, got that sorted out. Now, you take your shot and get a "Target Dropped" result. Awesome! I love when something happens in a new game. I consult the Engagement Table only to find no explanations of the combat results. I assume this whole "dropping" business has something to do with the Support of the attacked unit by the supporting tank destroyers, similar to Combat Command, only more ball-breakingly incomprehensible, apparently.
     So I look up Support, section 9.2 There I find two types of Drops. (I'm starting to glance up at the baseball game on TV now more and more. The Cardinals are on.) Okay, back to section 9.2. I think the unit is Temporarily Dropping its Support. Maybe the Support is Dropping the unit. I dunno. Dropping is a pretty cute term, like when your insurance company "drops" you. What it means in military parlance, I'm not sure. So I read up on Permanent and Temporary Droppage, but I'm not exactly sure of the distinction. It is clear that you can mark Temporary Droppage if you want to. Or not. Whatever's your bag, man. One thing's for certain, as it's highlighted in red: the unit has to have a "Support Establishment Safe Path."
     Now, if ever there was a term that needed a cute little catch-phrase, it's this one. (Was that a crack of the bat I heard?)
     Anyway, I still don't know what this means. So I go looking for "Support Establishment Safe Path." In the glossary, I look up "Support." Nope. "Establishment." Nope. "Safe Path." Ah, it might be here. Four or five paragraphs and a bunch of bullet points. Looks promising. No mention -- until the second-to-last bullet point. There I find the magical words "Support Establishment." But that's it. No explanation. I guess we're just supposed to know that a Safe Path is a Safe Path is a Safe Path.
     I wonder if the runner was safe at second? To hell with this torture. Go Cards, Go!!

Friday, May 19, 2017

ON THE DNIEPER


     Some highlights of my most recent game of Barbarossa: Kiev to Rostov.

Overview of the early action.
Dneprovsk (sp?) area. Unit under the "Out of Supply" markers are German. Under the "Emergency" markers are Russians. The Out-of-Supply side has cut off the Emergency side. An emergency indeed! The Russians tend to surrender when cut off.
Kherson area. The city is surrounded. Russian divisions watch helplessly from the south side of the river.
Cherkassy. The Germans attacked here fast and hard, moving right to the gates of the city before the Soviets knew what hit them. A single armored train unit defends the RR bridge.
Soviets put up a pontoon bridge to save the defenders. They attack but fail to dislodge the Germans.

Kherson taken! A German recon unit crosses a bridge in the east. The Soviets end up destroying it -- from the German side! For the Motherland!
Fuel shortages hamper the German offensive.
Both bridges at Cherkassy are captured intact!

A later overview.
Germans and Romanians cross the Dneiper!
The German bridgehead at Cherkassy. Looks like a breakout is imminent. Don't count on it.
Reinforcements arrive in the north. Another front, another stalemate.
Eventually, this will be the Kiev Pocket.
     This is a pretty slow-moving affair. The game inches forward one hex at a time. A single turn (German and Soviet player turns combined) took me about 4 hours. That's a lot of work for very little gain. I'm starting to get some mud turns now, too. This is a good, quality game, but life's too short, folks. I think I've played this game more than all my others combined. At this point, though, I'm played out. I cancelled my pre-orders on the new edition(s). I still have Crimea to play. I think that'll about do me for the East Front series.
     Pros: High quality production. Great, clean rules. A complex and deeply immersive experience.
     Cons: Slow, slow, slow. Two-day turns should be 4 or 5. 1D10 makes combat results virtually random. Horrid player community (what else is new?).
     See the "Game Ratings" for my final thoughts.

Sunday, May 7, 2017

A RIVER TOO FAR

     Here is my recent playing of the Beyond the Rhine Grand Campaign. I played this over the space of about 2 weeks.
     On the northern flank, I tried to follow history as much as possible (within the limits of my knowledge). Mainly, I wanted to get the US 2nd Armored Division and the 1st and 9th Infantry Divisions to Aachen as quickly as possible. They were delayed at Liege and the defense congealed at Aachen to such an extent that duplicating history is impossible. In reality, the German commander at Aachen had written a surrender letter to the Americans. It was intercepted by the Germans and the general (I forget his name...Schwerin maybe) was shipped to Italy. The Germans said later that there was nothing stopping the US from simply walking unopposed into Aachen and they couldn't understand why they didn't. Not so in this game.
     Not criticizing, just sayin.
     For the Germans, I strove to keep their Panzer and Panzergrenadier Divisions stacked and in reserve where possible for counterattacking. If nothing else, it made the Allied player nervous and more cautious than he would have been had the Nazis adopted a strictly passive defense. This paid dividends near Liege when 10 SS Pz destroyed an entire armored division combat command.
     In retrospect, the 10th SS should have hit the US armor and then retreated immediately. Instead, they got lucky and weathered a couple of US air attacks while in open ground and were able to save themselves on a future turn. It's important for the Axis player not to spend a lot of unnecessary time adjacent to American units due to the danger posed by spotted air attacks.
     As always, I tend to do what I think will most piss off the other side, which sometimes makes me play over-aggressively. It doesn't always work out, but it keeps the game lively. The move by 4th armored toward the German left took even me by surprise. I usually move the 5th AD, but saw that open area in the south and couldn't resist taking a shot.
     At this point, I ended the game. I wanted to launch Market-Garden, but misread a rule and missed my chance on the Sept 19 turn, but it looked like a losing proposition anyway, even with the Germans unprepared for it. Once the British armor breaches the canal, the Germans are naturally drawn to the area where the paratroopers are going to land. The armor has to be at Eindhoven by the time the drop is made. That just means that the Germans will be there too. Should have given the supply to Patton. Anyway, I'm ready to review this game and what I've seen of this system so far. Look for that in the future.

The northern sector. 2 and 3 Armored overrun German defenders near Namur and race for Liege. An SS division is threatened with being cut off in the forest. The Brits move their armor into the open terrain north of Brussels.

In a surprise move, the US 4th Armored Division advances toward the German left flank near Nancy.

A close-up of the 4th Armored's move. Aside from an understrength 21st Panzer, there is nothing here but empty space.

The entire 4-map playing surface.

The German's respond to the 4th. The 21st Pz and 15 PzG Divs assume blocking positions.

The SS escape the trap in the forest. Lots of fancy footwork was required to keep them supplied and on the move.

The 10th SS Pz Division gives the overextended US 2AD a bloody nose near Liege. Note the heavy German concentration around Aachen.
This shows the position of the US 2AD just before the attack by the 10 SS Pz (per previous picture).

British armor awaiting supplies to move out in force.
Final Dispositions. The British armor is across the Albert Canal. Squint and you can see it.

The Germans are on borrowed time on their left. US and French forces converge from west and south. The Germans spend each turn trying to extricate themselves from one bad situation after another.