Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Tunis race

One of the things that Eric and I have talked about for some time has been doing a larger game, with one of the Operational Combat Series (OCS) games being top of the list. These are detailed treatments of various battles or segments of WWII, mostly at the battalion/regiment level, and including a heavy emphasis on logistics. Several of the games are of the monster category, e.g. the struggles in Russia, or in the desert, featuring multiple maps, more counters than you can shake a stick at, and requiring a dedication that the average adult wargamer is unlikely to be able to commit to, short of a serious lottery win. The smaller ones, and various scenarios from the big ones too, however, are eminently playable.

With my new-found (re-)interest in wargames, I've been looking for the games that really hit the twin spots of an interesting subject, and are also good games, especially looking for game series that allow me to learn one set of rules and use them in multiple games. So far the Columbia Front series, GMT's Glory series, Avalanche's Defiant Russia/Strange Defeat, and FAB (OK, only one play so far, but I was seriously impressed with it) have really hit the spot for me. But I've still had an interest for something more, and from reading the rules for OCS I was fascinated with the series/system. The rules just seemed to cover everything in a very simple way, it just clicks into place.

After pushing the various games, scenarios and options back and fore, we settled on the Race For Tunis scenario from Tunisia. I'm not normally a desert fan, but this looked more intriguing, but, perhaps more importantly, it's fairly readily available on eBay and so was a cheap entry into the system, and not too much loss if I didn't like it. (Although, to be quite honest, I almost included OCS in my top ten wargames, just from reading the rules, I was that taken with them.) So, the day finally came, and Eric and I sat down, with the random draw giving me the Axis forces.

(Pics of the game are available here.)

My initial reaction on looking over the available forces in the scenario were 'Gulp, that's not much to work with.' A few puny Italian and German March battalions, and a couple of decent armor units. I decided that the first line of defense would be in passes of the low hills running north/south along the Djebel Abiod (D.A.) - Bedja road (34.27-36.22 on the map), particularly 34.27, 36.25, and 36.22-23. Mountains guarded either side of each pass, except for the very southern position, which had rough and a river. Good enough.

Eric won the initiative in the first turn (Nov 15th, 1942), and moved aggressively forward, pressing up to my line in the north and south. However, I immediately returned the favor, attacking at Bedja, and was rewarded with killing the unit there, and, even more importantly, capturing his supplies that he'd moved forward. I had been lucky enough in the attack to gain an exploitation, and used that to attack his other force there. However, they were stronger than I'd expected (or, perhaps, hoped) and I was lucky to not get off too badly. A good start.

Winning the initiative in the next turn (Nov 19th) allowed me to go first and strengthen my defenses, before he was in good position to attack, as well as retake the hills I'd had to evacuate in the previous turn's failed attack. The weather had closed in, and without being able to use his superior air strength I managed to survive his attacks.

The 22nd again saw the Axis win the initiative, and the weather clear up. I continue to build up, and use an artillery barrage to disorganize (DG from now on) his main force at Bedja. This just focused Allied attention on D.A. and my forces were subjected to a massive air strike causing a DG, and the follow-up attack causes my first loss. Fortunately, the Allies had an option on a loss, and chose to retreat, which meant I could ignore my option.

However, the 26th saw the Allies win the initiative, and with good weather they pressed home their advantage, killing my armor unit at D.A. and forcing a big retreat. However, the Allies don't strike at Bedja, perhaps due to supply issues. Either way up, I'm not liking my position and fighting on two fronts at the same time would be one front too much. The Axis turn is one of trying to rebuild a new defensive line. I'd landed two armor units from 10Pz in the previous turn, and they were rushed to the front line, much as I wanted to keep them as a reserve. However, I also was able to land another two armor units in Bizerte this turn, so at least I had something to fall back on.

The 29th saw more good weather, and although I won the initiative, I let the Allies go first, more from a fear of them gaining another double turn than anything else. The Allies change their focus, forcing the pass in the middle (36.25) and kicking me off the hills at Bedja. However, in doing so he's left his northern flank weak and hanging out to dry and I seize the opportunity. I fuel up 10PZ and force my way up the coast road.

1st Dec, and it gets better for the Axis, as they win the initiative and choose to go first. (No brainer, really.) I continue to force my way up the coast road with the armor, capturing Tabarka and some trucks, killing some replacements and an HQ, and forcing him to consume a lot of supply that would have been used to attack me. I also started squeezing through the mountains gaps between his forces, threatening to cut them off from supply. The question now is what retribution he's going to bring down on me. In the end, not much. His air barrages miss, and he surely is suffering from a lack of supply as the expected counter-attacks fail to materialize. In fact he withdraws from the hills in front of Bedja.

5th Dec see the first (and only) mud turn. I'm more than happy to see it, as it allows me to reinforce Tabarka, and move in more supply to replace my heavy expenditures of the previous couple of turns.

The 8th sees the return of good weather and Allied initiative. And Allied attacks, as the expected counter attacks materialize both north and south. His artillery barrage in the north is too successful, as it kills my armor unit, preventing him from doing a combat and any potential exploitation. In the south 1st Arm.'s attack is flanked as they are taken by surprise. (Eric rolls defensive surprise, for a large negative shift.) I'm left with a big decision to make. The bees are really beginning to buzz around Tabarka, and given that I can only bring in 1SP of supply or reinforcements per turn, I'm not confident of holding on. Given that his attack has cut off the land supply route I decide to cut my losses and withdraw, rescuing 10Pz Mech that I'd shipped into Tabarka in the previous turn, leaving a speed bump Italian unit. I think that I achieved my goals with the move. I caught him by surprise, forcing him to move more onto the defensive and to recapture Tabarka, eating up time and supply that could have been better used in the drive to capture VP locations. It cost me a couple of armor units, but I think it was a good trade from my perspective. In the south I continue to press, squeezing into those gaps, and threatening. I also made a sweep around the southern end of the line via Le Kef, attacking his armor replacement units. However, I'd forgotten to move up my supplies, and the attack was somewhat blunted by being out of supply, but it was another threat to his rear areas. (It's the unit with the blue OoS marker, just above the British HQ unit.)

(Note, if you're looking at the pics that go along with this, there is one unit that hasn't yet moved at the end of GT8 - the reserve unit in 39.26, which moves up to 36.25. This is a critical move for the next turn.)

12th Dec, and initiative returns to the Axis who make good use of the double turn to attack the exposed Allied artillery around Bedja. With high action rating modifiers, the artillery are taken by surprise, forcing a large gap in the Allied lines in the south, as the remaining Allied forces have transferred their attention north. The remains of 1st Arm are barraged by artillery and disorganized, which renders them mostly impotent in their turn.

With the 15th still giving good weather and Axis initiative (and it was getting quite late) we decided to call it a day there. With only 5 more turns, having captured none of their VP objectives, requiring 3 for a win, and being nowhere near capturing even 1, the Allies were not in a good position, with the Axis only needed to protect their position to secure the win. They've still got ample reserves in Sicily, and have the shipping/air transport to deploy and supply them. Alternatively, and more in keeping with a longer game, they can continue their push in the south, cutting off 1st Arm and beginning to threaten the Allied rear areas.

So, after all that, my thoughts? Simply 'Wow!'. Or, rather, 'WOW!' What a game, the time just flew past. We took our time over the first couple of turns, learning the mechanisms, with me especially talking through moves to ensure that I was getting the rules correct. This worked great for me, as by the end I wasn't needing to focus on how to do things, but could focus on what I wanted to do. I found the rules pretty simple in practice, yet yielding a game with a very different tempo to most games. Rather than the grind, grind, grind of most games, there was a build, prepare, attack, recover, that required planning and forethought. My attack along the coast caught Eric totally off-guard and in poor position to respond immediately. Both these elements strike me as a far more realistic representation of the ebb and flow of operational combat than any other game I've played. Combine that with the limited intelligence from not knowing what each stack contains and I think this is as good a consim gaming gets.

For the longest time I could never understand the ASL gamers who played nothing else. However, having played OCS, I now feel I understand better where they're coming from, as I could be the same way with OCS.

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