ASL – Slamming of the Door

We had another ASL Sunday, and an opportunity to play out another fine scenario, Slamming of the Door (#129). There, ill equipped Germans meet vast Russian horde with armored support. Given the early war situation, neither side has tanks that result one shot – one kill situations so there ought to be some nice armor activity as well.

As usual, game had twists and turns where for a moment both sides thought to have upper hand, and the bitter fighting raged on till the very end. I played this one long, long ago with SL and it still is a blast.

Slamming the door - 1

Germans retreated to the delay positions on the far edge.

German setup was a wide and not very deep one. My opponent elected to set up Close to the only realistically defensive position as close to his perimeter in the row 8. He then, immediately pulled back towards to the board edge to buy time, and seemingly avoid being surrounded by the Russian T-26 tanks.

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Preparing for the Human Ware on the right, just under the SR… There were no other way to avoid being pounded by 80mm mortars, and to cross the opening.

My plan on the other hand was to make sure two things, firstly that I’d have a commissar (one just has to love the way commissars work in ASL). Secondly that the Germans could not just walk away and reverse the positions because of one sided attack. Thirdly, to make sure that commissar had sufficient forces under his disposal to make human wave over the open area on the right. Yes, I figured no other way to cross the opening but human wave, and some tank support. Later I figured out that there is indeed another way as well.

Slamming the door - 3

Human wave concluded, and German tank suffered from MOL equipped infantry. Russians lost two of their own to the enemy fire. Commissar leading from the front.

Initial moves were to get into position and then to pull off the wave. Plan was somewhat compromised by timely appearance of the German AFV and impending FFE looming above. Wave did caught the German defenders by surprise, and while my wave received much more fire than I thought it would (most with dreaded FFNAM/FFMO), I got quite few troops through with the commissar. They then made short work of the target enemy, and gained a solid footing in the back row. Remaining Germans retreated back.

Slamming the door - 4

Russian momentum stalled…

While traditional Russian tactics were employed, the tank battle was evolving. Germans found in a hard way that tank with no MG is not a best weapon against dedicated Russian squad with molotov cocktail. Keeping their front armors towards the Russian 45L guns, there was slim chance of destroying Stug IIIB:s – until one Russian tank got a critical hit through. Remaining German AFV placed itself to excellent defensive position and for a moment it seemed that the Russians would indeed lose – casualties continued to mount, and on the left, there was well protected opening that needed to be crossed.

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And started to mount casualties…

Tension grew…

Right there and then, at the very eve of the disaster – when most Russians were broken, happened something extraordinary. Single Russian squad on the left had had enough. They went berserk and charged over the fields in suicidal frenzy. Every conceivable unit fired at the berserk but they dodged every single bullet and entered into close combat. Winning that, they then went for the stationary German Stug IIIB, but failed to destroy it. While the immediate gain was limited, the longer term one was not.

Slamming the door - 6

Until the finest moment… and the berserk!

Because everyone in sight fired the berserk squad, an opening was created for everyone else to follow. That single heroic berserk on the last turn changed the whole game, and from the jaws of defeat, victory was drawn. Another excellent game.

Slamming the door - 7

Battle raged on in close quarters. Some prisoners were taken but before that, both Russian T26’s were shot to pieces.

Germans made one big mistake and one smaller one – OBA was not used in it’s full effect, and it would have changed the outcome significantly. It is absolutely necessary  to have close infantry support for tanks that have no MG’s given the close proximity of the enemy infantry.

Russians made so many tactical mistakes, that I won’t even count them… However, the commissar is happy about the outcome. 🙂

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ASL – Comissar’s House

Recently there was an opportunity to enter Comissar’s House. A legendary Stalingrad scenario of bloody street fighting in terms of ASL. All things needed for both sides feeling the pain are there: German assault engineers, DC’s, flamethrowers and one strong fortified building for Russians. Every hex has a cost – every building has a price tag in it. Playing Russians I had a plan to retreat slowly but steadily back to my fortress, forcing Germans to bleed for every single hex they entered.Comissars House - 1

To that end, my final reserve was set up in the fortified building, consisting of last resort – commissar and 6-2-8 squads that were pretty good at keeping the nearby streets empty of enemy presence. Instead of deploying machine guns in the fortified location, I decided to have some nasty fire lanes for Germans to pass – it did mean that I would of course lose the MG’s deployed in that purpose eventually, but this way they would buy time. Additionally, and here’s the surprise, I would make the Chemist shop a trap that surely attracted attention, and behind that I would mass up considerable force that could take it from the German hands at the end of game when majority of the German heavy FP forces were engaged with he Comissar’s house. Assault force totaling 10 squads were slowly withdrawn from the Chemist house perimeter to safe location waiting to strike the decisive blow against the German flank.Comissars House - 3

Germans came in guns blazing, thinking that the superior firepower and good leadership was everything that was needed to make Russians collapse. Indeed, on paper it shows that it could. They were severely mistaken. True that the initial advances went in relatively fast and it seemed for the Germans that Russians were forced away from their positions. However, every encounter that ended up with eliminated Russian squad, German Assault Engineers paid for. Chemist shop fell relatively easily, but it delayed the advance quite a bit and not everyone defending it was eliminated.  Significant force departed from the Chemist’s House in good order. The garden between the Chemist shop and Comissar’s house became German burial ground and only few Germans ever walked away from it.Comissars House - 2

Eventually the heavy casualties started to tell and after suicidal and failed attempt to breach the Comissar’s house by heroic 10-2 leader, Germany conceded defeat. There were simply not enough time to breach and clean the defense.

 

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A Game of Maria

Maria is one of those games that have rather interesting flow and some interesting mechanics. The beef of the game is military conquest spiced up with walk on a diplomatic slackline. Our first three player outing turned out to be rather long, but eventful and interesting. Beginning was slow because of the acclimatization on the board, pieces, the politics and their long term implications. Initially none of the powers were particularly aggressive, albeit it was pretty evident what needed to be done to accomplish victory – it was just hard to figure out how to grab the enemy cities without compromising own territory and armies.

Maria first war - 1

Everyone was way too afraid of overextension – a thing which kicks back in military themed games usually pretty badly. To prevent overextension, everybody tried to do two things at the same time – protect own domains, and skirmish on the front lines without realizing that the best opportunity to play out the game of attrition is at the beginning. Few turns in, and it becomes increasingly difficult to fight battles with favorable odds. Several turns more and the Franco-Prussian inactivity shows and Austrian hand becomes so strong that it can do two things, draft armies in numbers unmatched by opposition and have hand sufficiently strong to strike decisive blow first in one front and then with gracious help of interior lines, before another power can pull coup d’état.

Late in game Pragmatic faction decided to have non-aggression pact with France to slow down the Austrian juggernaut. This was however too little too late, the squabble between the west had already dented both sides and was especially hard on France in their war of two fronts. Prussia on the other hand tried war of limited gains until Austria kicked Saxony out of the alliance pushing Fredrik into ill fated rampage. So, result was outstanding Victory for Maria Theresa who by now concentrated her efforts for the only thing that was necessary – not losing battles she could not possibly lose.

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Reviews of Obscure but Interesting Games XVII – Buffalo Wings

Buffalo Wings.png

While waiting for the release of JD Webster’s Wings of the Motherland, Against the Odds published magazine game about the Finnish aviation under name of Buffalo Wings.

This little minigame is more of a return to the relative simplicity of the Against the Reich and Achtung! Spitfire than expansion to the evolved system introduced in the Whistling Death. Wings of the Motherland will follow the path of the Whistling Death. However, Buffalo Wing’s simplified flight system is interesting.

Buffalo Wings offer a quick peek to the world of the Fighting Wings system, not unlike ASL SK series. It is accomplished without burdening players with all the load that the whole system carries. Rulebook of Buffalo Wings – only few pages long covers all the necessary bits and pieces needed for entertaining and decent aerial combat. Counters and map are very nice quality and the plane data sheets are written in sight of the full system and they are fully exchangeable. Additionally, the magazine including the game contains several interesting articles that treat the subject matter and give depth to the game. All in all, Against the Odds have done very good job there.

Subject matter is obscure and rarely touched in the aviation wargaming. It is interesting to see it happening and coverage is quite comprehensive. Planes available for both sides provide good mix to fight over, ranging from dogfights to bombing raids.

The modeling of the flight – if you are used to the Fighting Wings system is somewhat counterintuitive and requires a bit of learning curve to unlearn everything and then do it in a way that the very basic set of rules say. Turning allowed to single direction during the turn, inhibited banking requirements and completely different pitch determination system make the experience taxing if gotten used to the full system. They are also much more restrictive if compared to the rules edition that came with Whistling Death. By no means Buffalo Wings rules are even close to the middle ground. I can’t help thinking that too much was simplified.

Buffalo Wings offer nice entry to the Fighting Wings system for anyone that is afraid (unjustifiably or justifiably) that the full system is too complex or too hard to learn or visualize. If, however already familiar with the system it is probably easier just to use the newest ruleset and go with that. All the components support either approach. In either case, Buffalo Wings has offered interesting situations to play over the northern skies and shed light to the aerial conflict that is not well known.

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Reviews of Obscure but Interesting Games XVI – Desert Steel

desert-steelOn the series of Obscure but Interesting Games it is time to have a look towards North Africa, and stay firmly on sand. Admittedly, because I missed the era of PanzerBlitz by some unacceptable margin (of course I played PanzerBlitz few times, so it is not that I would be entirely out of touch). GMT’s Panzer, another take on the similar level is a story untold. I always wanted to have a game that would concentrate on the armored combat in North Africa, and went out and got myself a copy of West End Games Desert Steel. That said, I do have ASL tuck up somewhere now with the North African stuff, but that does not really count – besides ASL is hardly obscure game.

Decision to acquire Desert Steel was influenced by the owner of said PanzerBlitz – a game that I found quite interesting but could not get at the time. Of course, same individual happened to be also one of few opponents in Desert Steel and I seem to recall that he was not entirely against the system.

So, once I got the copy, it saw disproportional table time and almost escapes my why that was so. Then I realized that this title was, by far, one of the more interesting of West End Games offerings, and I would lie if I would say that I didn’t like it. Incredibly fast pace of the game provided good investment/fun. There were some, minor issues with the art department – especially the British side of things (some of the artwork was borderline terrible, and some counter art was outright unreadable). As far as unique systems were concerned, Tank Leader – and especially Desert Steel was concerned were backed with unique – at least at the time.

First of all, Desert Steel was a fast paced game, secondly if was much more about command and control than many of the other period games – a feature that I like, or dislike greatly depending the way of execution. In desert steel the command and control was precisely the thing that kept the whole afloat. Unlike some other adaptations of CCC, it did not stall the game. Command and control was in fact, such strong part of the game that several battles started to go out of hand almost immediately. Of course, these were nearly always self made issues. It was a very nice system that flowed fluently and many times I thought that the biggest problem with the game was that the scenarios were too short.

Good grief, how many times has that thought coming up when playing at least moderately serious wargames?

Desert Steel may well be one of the titles that would be interesting to see surface once more in complete remake (yes, the art needs updating, and remade counters are available but some of the rules need updating too). I would like to see complete remake and not only because my copy of the game was lost during the Great Purge – a time when many games found their way out of my bookshelf.

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What would life be without…

asl pocketYou may have guessed right the latest acquisition. Or not. ASL pocket edition is book for people with very large pockets and long journeys. Unfortunately my own three ring binder is separated from my current location by more than thousand miles, along with rest of the ASL stuff. Some of which is remarkably rare these days.

Talking of which, since recovery flight would be much cheaper than replacing them, I should probably embark to the journey to save my ASL. Anyway. Since I have not heard the place being drowned underwater, nor burned to ground I could assume with some margin that it is safe. Only spiders may have kept company to the counters – I hope.

So, since ASL has sneaked it’s way to my table after over decade of slumber, I found it necessary to refresh my memory. Admittedly I do remember more than I thought that I do, but still there are few things here and there that require refreshing. Not really into buying another three ring binder, I thought to be sneaky and have just the lightest rulebook available and sit on someone else’s table. Good news are that there are always lack of opponents for ASL. Proportionally more people have the system and no opponents in vicinity than those that do not have the system that would like to play.

So, while waiting to get my own copies back, I can hone my skills and have some reading along the way. I think that not bad deal. That said, I could have the book only as a statement of the power of the Index.

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Reviews of Obscure but Interesting Games XV – Bomb Alley

bomb-alleySecond World War at Sea: Bomb Alley is a game that had interesting mechanics and even more interesting subject, but unfortunately fell into victim to unthinkably bad execution. Perhaps the odd square based map instead of hexes should have ring a warning bell in my head but it did not (regardless of what people say, there is no benefit in the chosen way map reference grid is made, it is just visually odd). Map art was dull, while counters were actually quite nice.

System relies on plotted secret movement, much like Flat Top, and include search, chase, and aviation. So the elements are there. Additionally rules were quite simple, and scenario book comprehensive.

Several attempts were made to play the game, and while most of them ended up in proper conclusion, there seemed to be more beef in the scenarios than in the game itself. Situations that scenarios represent were interesting, but somehow the execution of scenario did not meet the reality when pieces were put on table. We pondered for a moment that maybe we played something wrong, or we were just so inept on the secretly plotted movements, but that was not the case. The system is just broken – at least partially.

What we figured out was that the system is flawed by design and it tries to add complexity where there should be none. First is the whole circumstances. Mediterranean is filled with potential bases for aircraft and surface ships such as Battleships really did not contribute much besides of standing AA batteries in harbours. So, why is it that the game has incredibly record keeping heavy surface battle system that is neither realistic, not fast enough to have satisfactory results?

Then, there is the question of air operations – good, or borderline fantastic ideas there, but then the air operations are so inefficient that there are too many occasions (if your german air ops even get off the ground) that the whole air operation has no power to punch enemy even theoretically. So all the effort and time spent in plotting most undetectable course over the Mediterranean just turned into action of pointless futility because there were at the end no realistic ground of fear from the opposition.

Might have as well sailed through the ‘gauntlet’ with all lights lit in perfect daylight without any fear of harm coming to the ships.

Bomb Alley would need to figure out what it actually attempts to accomplish. Currently there are good and interesting mechanics that are bogged down by ill design choices that add nothing else but bookkeeping. Air strike management, limited fuel, day/night, pre-plotted movement, search, submarine, minefield and all those are very good things.

Surface battle is way too cumbersome and hard to manage and does not produce accurate nor realistic results and air strike procedure is so impotent that title does not live up to it’s name.

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