Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Double, double toil and trouble...

After last time's familiarity of getting crushed at Combat Commander, we jumped into the monsterness of MMP's Devil's Cauldron (BGG). I'm a great fan of Market-Garden games, one of my favorite campaigns of WWII (inasmuch as one can ever talk about being a fan, or having a favorite, of situations where people died), so I'd been waiting for this one to come out for some time. However, a couple of my regular gaming partners had expressed doubts about the game, or, rather, its Panzer Command roots, a game which I'd never played. Anyway, after taking a few weeks with the rules, Eric and I finally got it onto the table for a run through.

First a short briefing on how the game works. The turn revolves around the action chit draws, there being one chit per formation, one divisional activation chit per, umm, division, and one direct command chit per side. (In the scenarios with only partial formations/divisions some of these chits are not used.) The formation chit allows units of that formation to move, attack, rally, all the usual stuff. You can pay a command point to perform a second action, which must be different from the first. The divisional command chit is kinda like a strategic phase (with units not able to fire, assault or move into a fire zone), except that a command point may be spent to perform a second action that may be combat oriented. The final chit, direct command, is just that, allowing a single action to be taken by any units, at the cost of a command point, but it's the only chit that allows coordinated operations by units from multiple formations.

As might be expected from a low level game, there is opportunity fire in reaction to activations within a unit's Fire Zone, but it requires a Troop Quality check (TQ - roll <= the rating on the counter, d10) before being allowed to do this, and other operations. Each unit has fire, assault and defense ratings, the latter being a modifier to the fire strength, other modifiers being added/subtracted for terrain, range, and unit status. Any d10 result <= the final fire strength is a hit, 9 being an automatic miss, 0 automatic hit. The roll also dictates the combat result - the higher the roll the more severe the results, which are in terms of cohesion hits, suppression and step losses, with different charts for the different types of fire (AT, HE, mortar, etc.) and the defensive class (armored/unarmored). There is also indirect fire for artillery and mortars, which also includes fairly simplistic rules for line of sight and battery access.

We were both feeling a little unsure of the rules (me more so) so we started out with the first, introductory, scenario as a joint effort to figure out some of the mechanisms. That done, we felt a little more confident that we had a handle on how it worked, so moved onto the next introductory scenario. Eric offered to take the Germans as I'd played them almost exclusively in our last few games, and I was more than happy to take the combined elements of 82nd Airborne and Guards Armored to attempt the capture of the Nijmegen bridges.

The scenario starts with the 504th PIR storming across the Wahl, as the Guards try to force the bridges from the other side. The landings went well as all 3 companies passed their Troop Quality checks and spread out on the far shore. Things did not go so well for Guards armored, however, as their fire on the defenders in front of the road bridge had no effect, and they moved to contact with the railroad bridge defenders.

Subsequent activations saw 504PIR force the weak defenders from the fortified VP hex beyond the Wahl, capture the other end of the railroad bridge, and move towards the road bridge. Meanwhile, the Brits continued to show that they had bent rifles and wobbly artillery gunsights and they continued to miss multiple rolls for fire. Even worse, I kept missing TQ rolls, even for units with '7' TQ ratings, and missed 4 out of 5 artillery access rolls (TQ=5). Combined, this allowed Eric to totally eliminated one of the Guards motorized units (TQ=5, Fire=6) at the road bridge in fire and assault. (In contrast, through the entire game I managed to kill a single zero-step unit that gets automatically eliminated in an assault and a couple of TQ=2 units, despite many more fires and assaults.)

In the second turn the 504thPIR formation chit came out early, and they proceeded to rush the railroad bridge, pushing the defenders back with no casualties on either side, but their other assault saw Eric 'I need a 0 to hit anything, oh look another 0!' roll like a demon. Most of the German chits came out early, which allowed him to place lots of artillery barrage markers, which reduce fire and TQ ratings. Once more the Guards aren't able to match the success of the 504thPIR and their attacks and assaults all fizzle into nothing. In the end I've captured the VP hex, control 1 bridge and the other is contested, for a draw.

OK, so that was only the 2 introductory scenarios, and perhaps a little early to offer a final verdict on the game. There are a few more scenarios, ranging from intermediate to advanced, and a couple of campaign games. So, what did I like and dislike?

Overall, the game flows well enough, but it took a while to get comfortable with the actual mechanisms because the rules are a bit of a mess. There are two rule books, one a bit chatty, and the other a more summarized version. Trouble is, the chatty one makes it difficult to find things, and the summary one misses a few things. There aren't enough examples, and in a couple of cases the examples are wrong, or don't fully explain what they're doing, which modifiers are used, etc. I can appreciate what they're trying to achieve, but they fall short of the mark. I also don't like that the glossary at the back of the rule book describes the term, but then doesn't give rule references so you can look up how the rules use the term.

The maps are pretty to look at, but I found the absence of hex sides to take some getting used to. (It uses only the hex corners over most of the map.) Plus, having the terrain indicated by a central hex dot means that you have to keep moving units to confirm the correct terrain type, as the symbol visible at the edge may not be representative of the actual terrain type. The counters are very nicely detailed (and a good size), but the decision to deviate from the usual unit symbiology and use national symbols for, for example, artillery, means you've got to remember two sets of symbols, and this will get worse as they introduce more games using the same system. (The stated intention is to use the symbiology of the unit's nationality, so you're going to have to remember which of several different symbol represent artillery rather than mortars.)

As for the actual rules, they seem to work and provide a reasonable simulation, to my perspective, of the interactions of units and combat outcomes. Units don't get to freely operate without impact from close enemy units, and those enemy units don't automatically get to respond. This means that regular infantry, which has a range of only a single hex, can't opportunity fire on an enemy unit moving adjacent.

There was only one area where I thought there was a rules hole. Consider 3 hexes, adjacent to each other in a triangle, let's call them 'A', 'B', and 'C'. If a unit moves from A to B, then an enemy unit in C has the possibility of opportunity fire whilst it's still in hex A. (Opportunity fire is executed where the unit initiates the action, so the fire is executed while the moving unit is in the starting hex, not the ending hex.) However, if that unit is assaulting a unit in B (i.e. still attempting to move from A to B), then the unit in C does not get an opportunity fire (explicitly denied in the rules). It doesn't seem right that in both cases the unit is moving from A to B, but opportunity fire is only allowed in the one case. This becomes especially critical when considered with the previous point about range, as it now means that the enemy unit can move into A, not being subjected to opportunity fire, and then assault into B, with the unit in C having to idly stand by and watch their buddies get stomped.

However, this situation happened only once in our game, and I'm not sure how much of a deal it would be in a full game, so it may not be a big deal.

I'm certainly interested in trying more of DC, and I'd like to try one of the bigger scenarios, or even the campaign game. However, the question is whether, given the choice, I'd prefer to play DC or one of the OCS games. Hmm, tough choice, but at the moment I'm still very enamored of OCS, and it would get the nod.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

A Combat Commander Ambush

(Yes, I know Mike's post has been up for a few days. I have refrained from reading it before posting mine, as usual.)

It was my choice for gaming last Monday, and I hadn't played any Combat Commander for a while. After our last OCS-fest, my brain had been turned to mush, so learning something new wasn't a good option. Also, I'd just received the new Panzer Grenadier Arctic Front Deluxe expansion, so I thought a little Winter War gaming might be interesting. That led me to choose scenario 20 from CC: Mediterranean. Finns ambushing Ruskies in the woods.

Mike decided he wanted to be the allies for a change, and took the Russians. They have to deploy along a road meandering from one corner to its opposite. The Finns can deploy only in the woods. This scenario is a bit interesting in that they decided to model the Finnish fighting spirit (“Sissu”) by allowing them to discard one card on their turn even when they issue an order. They're the only nationality in the game (to this point) to have that ability. Given that they're required to use the Axis Minors deck (one of the two worst in the game) and can only discard two cards normally, this seemed like an intriguing tweak. It certainly allowed me to keep active as the Finns – I rarely gave up board initiative.

Mike stretched out his forces, I decided to deploy entirely on one side of his forces, and we got started. My first two or three turns saw hardly any cards in my hand worth using – mostly artillery (useless in this scenario), command confusion, and rout/recover cards. Given that 90% of our forces were not in sight of each other at start, move cards were critical at first. My primary focus at the start of the game was to block the exit point of the road on my side of the board. Once I actually got a move card, that's what I did. That allowed me to focus a little more on attempting to separate and defeat Russian pockets individually, and that's basically how the game went. I'd hide in the woods until I got Advance cards (preferably with Ambushes) and then assault. Mike never came in to get me, nor retreated to the other side of the road.

This was, by far, the most one-sided game of Combat Commander I've ever played. By the third or fourth time trigger, Mike was near the surrender point, and after a pretty solid comeback attempt (eliminating four or five of my units over the span of a handful of turns) hit his surrender point just as we were reaching the first sudden death time trigger. I think the score at that point was something like 33 in my favor. It was ugly. It was rewarding in that I was able to formulate a plan and execute it, but it wasn't much as far as an entertaining game.

Now, having looked up some of the comments on BGG regarding this scenario, it seems to go this way if you don't try for exit points as the Russians. Which Mike never did. When I asked him about it, he didn't think he could do that. (The default is that you can always do that unless the scenario says otherwise, but I guess Mike thought it was the reverse.) So that meant he pretty much didn't stand a chance in this one. (For comparison, the Finns are specifically prohibited from exiting the board until all the Russian weapons are off-map.)


From my perspective, this game hates Mike. Everybody's got one out there, and I think CC is Mike's. (Mine is Age of Steam.) If you go back through Mike's blog searching for session reports of him playing Combat Commander, it's nearly all bad results. Historically bad results. It has nothing to do with his legendarily bad dice, either. I think it's one of those nana-woowoo self-perpetuating thoughts kind of things. (Either that, or there's some major rules Mike has wrong in his head that have never come up – like the exit points thing I mentioned above.) Chad Jensen (designer of CC) has said that doing well in this game, in a large part, is a combination of coming up with unusual ideas and passing your personal morale check. Failing the latter makes the former much harder.

I could see that happening when we played Monday night. Once he started having trouble getting cards for what he wanted to do, the idea of doing other things wasn't going to come, and Mike seemed locked into the idea that the only way to play the scenario was to slug it out. Now, it's entirely possible that the entire game was a case of the cards in his hand being mistimed with the situation on the board, and that's all he actually could do.

Now, Mike's a good player. And I'd wager he beats me ¾ of the time despite the best efforts of his legendarily bad dice. So, it's a tad unusual to see this, unless it's just THAT game for him. Time will tell, I'm sure.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Back to CC

It was a long time since we'd played Combat Commander, so after our OCS Sicily extravaganza I suggested we get back to something simpler for our next effort. Eric picked CC:M #20, A March in December. After playing the Axis for the past few OCS games I chose to play the Russians, and Eric the Finnish.

The scenario has the Russians set up along a road, the Finnish setting up in the woods one hex removed from the roads. We both have the same number of squads (15), although the Finns have boxed firepower (useful in melee), longer range (4 versus 3), boxed range (useful for spray fire), higher movement (6 versus 4) and a higher broken morale value (9 versus 6). We both have 3 leaders, with the same ratings except for morale with his being 10/9/8 versus my 8/7/6. The Finns have some Molotov Cocktails, and the Russians have a pair of MMGs. The main Finnish advantages are mobility and morale. I guess the Russian advantage is the MMGs, but in heavily wooded terrain it's not much of an advantage.

The game opens with Eric advancing north and south. I try to fire, but even with fire groups I'm firing on a negative balance - his morale/defensive modifiers are greater than my firepower - and I don't get much effect. Any effect I do get comes from using a strong fire group and 3 Hand Grenades/Sustained Fire cards, but he has a Recover in hand so we're back to where we were. Given that we're the same in firepower I try a different tactic and Advance to melee. Except I've forgotten that he gets an extra point for boxed firepower. However, that's only a single point of difference, but I can't make it up in either melee and lose two squads.

The game progresses in that aspect, as I slowly lose squads to no response. I do get the occasional opportunity, breaking his squad and good leader in a woods/road hex, adjacent to 2 squads, but can't find a Fire or Advance card to take advantage of it, and he retreats out of range. Generally when I break a squad Eric has a recover card in hand, and with a morale of 9 and in woods, that's a morale of 11, and a pretty much automatic recovery. That's the way the game goes. I fire, he recovers. He fires, I break and lose a unit to an advance or second break as I can't recover, and soon enough he's turned an initial 4VPs on my side to around 40VPs on his side. The only bright spot in the whole game is late on when I draw a sequence of Advance/Ambush cards in following turns and roll up his right flank, removing a leader and 3 squads. However, in the mean time he's rolling up my right flank as my squad and MMG in a foxhole is broken then forced to retreat as it can't roll 7 or less in 4 Recover cards played. Finally, the game is over as the Russians hit their Surrender level, with the VP still around 30+ after I'd got it down to around 20.

Not a fun scenario for the Russians, as all the advantages lie with the Finns, firepower, morale, position. However, I did forget that I could get points for exiting the board, and burned numerous Move cards for little effect, but I'm not sure what that would have done. The sole objective that came out was double points for eliminated units, which contributed to the large margin of victory, the control of objective hexes counting for nothing except the sole event that came out, and that from Eric's deck. The only event that helped me was a broken squad reinforcement, which I could have exited if I'd know that I got points for it, but I was only playing to the drawn objective chits.

Maybe we need to try this one again with the Russians just running, because they certainly can't stand around to get pummeled. Then again, I'd probably draw an event that had all moving squads trip over their laces and break.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

OCS Sicily - Thoughts

OCS, as a game system, continues to totally impress me. Every time we extend our knowledge of the system the additions fit in without screwing with everything else, and just work. This time it was the whole naval component, from ships to amphibious landings and beach assaults. Pretty straight forward, although with all the landings it does take time.

Mid way through the 8th turn (07/22/1943) (we stopped after the Allied player turn) how was the game progressing? According to the scenario set ups for the next turn (24th), the Allies should have been in Palermo with the US 2nd Arm., and driving through the middle of the island, with the Brits getting as far as the south of Catania. In our game the US had barely pushed west of Porto Empedocle, and only as far as Naro, 15 miles inland. In the east the Brits hadn't got as far as Augusta. Overall, about as far as they'd got by 07/12 in the original campaign, so I was feeling pretty good about that, and my position in general. However, as with a lot of these games, it can all go wrong pretty quickly, and there was still a lot of game to go. Especially with so many weak Italian units around, and even more so when all it would take is a bad surrender roll for complete divisions to disappear.

This is a big game, no doubt about it. Eric felt that perhaps we bit off more than we could chew, but this has been my favorite OCS game so far. Primarily, I think, because we were involved in the whole campaign, and had total control over where and how the battle was fought. In previous games we've had set ups defined, which kind of forced the nature of the game. Here I dictated where and how I defended, and Eric had the choice of where to land, so the game felt less scripted. (OK, we started with the suggestions from Operations Magazine, but I fiddled a little, and there's a few things I'd change for a second go, but I hope you get the point I'm trying to make.)

Yes, there was a lot to think about, but that's fine, and I certainly didn't find time dragging during Eric's turns, although I generally used that time to catch up with my notes on what had happened, and his plans were usually more clear cut so his moves took less time anyway. I must admit that I did rush myself a little in a couple of places (especially in the turn that Eric mentioned, which was turn 7 not 6, where I missed that a couple of units were out of trace supply, with no SP access to eat off the map, which had me totally pissed at my own stupidity), as I was very conscious of taking a long time on my turns. But there was a lot to make decisions on: fall back or hold; where to fall back to; how to fall back; where to place those units in the new line; do I want to reallocate my divisions; what about a reserve; when to commit a reserve; any opportunities to take advantage of, and are they worth the risk; what about supply. All in all a big puzzle, with lots to think about. And I really like that sort of puzzle.

(In fact it reminded me a lot of our attempt to play Drang Nach Osten when at college. I had the map mounted to the wall of my dorm room by Blu-Tak, and would stare at it for hours, planning lines of attack, potential moves, likely responses, and counters to those responses. My opponent, playing the Soviets, would come in and do the same, thinking for ages and moving a few counters. We didn't get too far, but I really enjoyed it.)

It was in the rushing that I made mistakes. A unit out of position here. Forgetting to move a replacement unit there. Missing an air base refit. Lots of little (and a few not so little!) things, but I'm sure we were both missing little things, so they even out over the game. However, I was getting towards a limit on the size of game that I'd like to address for the time taken. As Eric said, we got through 7.5 turns in around 16-17 hours of gaming, around 2 hours per turn, although that did include a large period of down time discussing how to barrage naval units. I'd say that I occupied way more than 50% of that time, but I think the Axis player has more to think about than the Allied player, so that shouldn't come as a surprise. (Unlike our Race for Tunis game, where the Axis defender has an easier time of it, and the onus is on the attacker, in my view.)

It would be interesting to try one of the Case Blue scenarios to see how that feels in comparison to Sicily. More counters to handle, but would the front lines be denser and more static such that there are actually fewer decisions to make and the game is actually easier/quicker to play? Often those games with fewer units are harder to play because each unit and its position is more critical to your success, but perhaps may be more satisfying. (I think this touches on the same issues we had with Red Vengeance over Defiant Russia.)

Getting back to my preference for Sicily over DAK2-Gazala, it would be really interesting to try the full DAK2 campaign game and see whether I still preferred Sicily. Now that would be an undertaking!

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Never go in against a Sicilian when death is on the line!

Last weekend, Mike and I got together for a big project – OCS Sicily, the full campaign including the landings. Our first plan was to play this over a week-long retreat in the summer, but it's not looking like I'm going to be able to attend that. So, as we both had the weekend free thanks to my cashing in some familial karma points, we decided to give it a start. Back when we first decided we were going to embark on this, Mike had volunteered to take the Axis defense, so we each already knew what posture we were going to take.

Back in Operations #43, (which is available on Magweb) a set of articles was published that looked at the historical campaign and translated it to how you might organize it in the game. I sent Mike a copy of the Axis article from that set, and I worked on the Allied. I figured having this base to work from would save a lot of time as planning that invasion is highly complex and we were going to need all the time-saving measures we could manage in order to make significant progress.

We had initially discussed using the scenario that starts immediately after the initial landings, but since part of what we're doing is learning how the system works, it would have been rather silly to skip the landings. We'd never done anything to this point that involved Naval, and the Sicily campaign exercises the naval rules like no other game in the system.

I don't know how closely Mike adhered to the article I sent him, but I did notice that there were some things in the distribution of forces on the Allied side that didn't work in the 4.0 rules, and I didn't actually notice it until after I had begun the invasion. That slowed me down a bit. (The technical issue is that transports and supply cannot be landed in any fashion that requires either a roll on the landing table or a contested beach assault. Essentially, you have to control a port before you can land transports or supplies making it difficult to bring transports on in the initial wave. This is something I'd change next time I play. I may have wasted four or five brigades worth of space on my landing craft in that initial wave by taking transports along.)

Historically, the Allies had heavily bombarded the island ports before landing, and then invaded in two separate, though rather close, sectors. The British and Canadians landed near Punta della Correnti in the far southeastern tip of the island and then north up the eastern coast. The Americans landed along the beaches between Licata and Capo Scaramia on the eastern half of the southern coast. That leaves a gap around 25 miles (about 10 or so hexes) between the two landing forces. Fortunately, this gap is lightly defended, and one of the initial goals of the invasion is to link up the Canadians to the Americans to bridge that gap.

The initial island defense looked something like this (all pictures are taken from the north looking south, and are hotlinks to larger versions. This particular image has callouts.):

(ignore those two tall stacks in the water south of the island. Mike took the picture just after I started moving stacks from the Floating Forces box towards the island.)

The initial British and Canadian landings went well. The Americans, not so much. The 1st Inf division in particular failed miserably in taking Gela. Historically, this was the location of the strongest Allied counterattack, so I guess it's close to what happened, just a bit early.

The paradrops, however, were just as much of a disaster as they were historically. The British attempted to land five units. Three made it. One landed in the water, and one landed on an enemy unit. The American attempt at landing was intercepted and completely repulsed by an Axis fighter squadron. No American paradrop support arrived.

The end of turn 1 positions can be seen in the east here:

and in the west here:

Turn 2 began the slow process of establishing a beachhead, claiming more space, and getting supplies to the island to fuel the advance. As nearly all the initial landing troops are foot, they didn't need supplies to move, but any combats or defenses had to be paid for. This was aided by two of the Italian Coastal Divisions surrendering on first contact, nearly completely opening up the corner of the island to British and Canadian advances. So, there was a steady cautious move forward.

In the west, not so much. I still hadn't taken Gela, and needed to bring in supplies and reinforcements to secure the beachhead. So progress was small.

End of turn 2 positions are here in the east

and here in the west.

Turn three was more of turn 2. Things weren't progressing as quickly as I would have liked, and I was having a hard time not stepping on my own toes in the east. The path up the coast to Syracuse is narrow and moderately well defended leading to something of a traffic jam, but not quite up to Battle of the Bulge proportions. I also lost half my remaining landing craft during the reinforcement phase of this turn. (They get pulled out to prepare for the Salerno landings.)

End of turn 3 positions are here in the east

and here in the west.

Turn 4 saw the Axis essentially abandon Syracuse. One small unit was left behind in the port. I also decided I had enough supply to land the 2nd Armored Division west of Licata. I thought quite a bit on the prior turn whether to land them west of Licata (as I decided) or in the gap between Licata and Gela. However, as Mike was slowly abandoning his active defence of the Gela area, I decided to land west and begin threatening the western end of the island. This had the advantage of also taking Porto Empedocle which (after some minor repairs yet to be performed) will give yet another entry port for land supplies and units.

End of turn 4 positions are here in the east

and here in the west.

Turn 5 began the major Commonwealth advance in the gap between landing areas. Mike had begun abandoning the heights and my advances were finally allowing some breathing room down by the coast. In particular I now had full control of the primary road (hwy 115) from Syracuse to Licata. This would help greatly in supply delivery.

End of turn 5 positions are here in the east

and here in the west.

Turn 6 saw one major incident – Mike found and exploited a gap northeast of Gela that allowed him to run a small unit behind the Canadian line and shut down the airbases behind the lines. The remainder of the turn was small steady advances along most of the front. The 2nd Armored was performing well and was clearing space along the beach.

End of turn 6 positions are here in the east

and here in the west.

Turn 7 was mostly resupply. I finally cleared that small unit out of Syracuse and now have access to that port.

Mike forgot to take photos of the final state before we logged the positions and tore down.

I'm in the process of entering the positions into Vassal, and we'll be able to continue the game at a later date. Which we most definitely will.

After we finished turn 7, Mike looked up Driving to Messina scenario which begins two days later than the point at which we quit. Significantly more territory had been gained in the real campaign than I had been able to carve out so far. I'm probably ½ to 2/3 as far as the Allies had gotten by July 21. I've also got a few more losses than the historical campaign. So, it's not looking great from my point of view, but if I can slow down his retreats off the island, I should do okay.

How did I feel about this session? First, we didn't get any where near as far into the scenario as I had hoped. We ended up averaging around 2.5 hours per turn. There are a few reasons for this. The first two-three turns are going to take a long time because the landings simply take a long time to resolve. There's a lot to do, both in the preparations for the landings, and resolving the landings themselves. Of course, more familiarity with the naval rules would help, but not THAT much.

This was also, by far, the largest OCS scenario we've attempted to date, and may have been a bit more than we were expecting. I know Mike admitted to having problems keeping his brain around the whole thing while not forgetting critical issues. (For example, he accidentally left a couple units out of supply around turn 6 or so and lost them both due to attrition.) His job was pretty tough, though, as he didn't really know where I would be coming from on landings beyond the first wave, and he's got interesting decisions on when to stay and fight and when to pull back to the next defensive line.

It wasn't as bad from my perspective as I had clear-cut objectives. My issues were more tactical in nature. Trying to keep from stepping on my own toes in the east, keeping everyone supplied, etc. I know I wasn't as diligent about doing fighter sweeps and such to keep my air units operating at peak efficiency as I should have been. My primary job from this point in the campaign is to establish my supply net and determine where the next primary offensive should be.

I think this campaign is the largest piece of OCS I'd want to attempt as a 2-person, face-to-face venture. If we tried anything bigger (say, one of the mid-sized scenarios from Case Blue) I'd want to run it as a four-player game, minimum. One of the drawbacks of OCS is downtime. There can be significant amounts of time when the other player is moving before you get to your reaction phase. Mike and I briefly talked about doing OCS as a chit-pull kind of mechanism, but I think there would be major integration issues with other parts of the game mostly related to unit and aircraft states (mostly when DG results are cleaned up or how frequently you can reactivate aircraft. There's likely other things as well.)

I'm a big fan of OCS. I love the system and will always be looking for opportunities to play. However, I'll readily admit that this wasn't my favorite session so far. I definitely felt at times that we had bitten off more than we could chew, and by the time we were done playing I was done for a while. It wasn't like the last couple playings where I couldn't wait to get it back on the table. Next OCS may or may not be a continuation of Sicily, but it'll be happening again. I'm thinking maybe something small from Case Blue might be in order. We may just continue Sicily via Vassal once Mike gets comfortable with that system.

OCS Sicily - part 3

Turn 4 - 07/15/1943

Here’s the position at the start of the turn:


The Allies won the initiative roll, and Eric chooses to go first. He makes a new landing in the US sector to the west of my units, which I was afraid might happen. I'd let the following Italian divisions lag the Germans and had left some coast exposed behind the main German defensive line. Even worse, this gap also separated the KG-Ens units from their HQ, definitely a bad mistake. Sure enough the HQ gets eliminated, and I've got a real bad situation on my hands.

Then things get even worse. I go to use my reserve artillery to barrage the Brits aiming to attack south of Syracuse, but Eric thinks I've already attacked them with air barrage. We must really be getting tired (we've been going for about 8-10 hours) because I've got no clue who I did/didn't attack, so let it ride. (I did my air barrages first, east to west, so by the time I get to the artillery barrage some little time has passed.) This means that he makes a successful attack and gains a foothold over the river. Only after do I figure out that it was the next stack I'd air barraged, but it's too late. The attack gains exploitation, and he also attacks into the outskirts of Syracuse, getting another good result, and I compound the earlier mistakes by losing a unit rather than retreating. (As I decided to fall back in my turn this was an especially bad decision.)

I'd also made the mistake of defending in the rough to the north of Ragusa, thinking it was Very Close terrain, when I should have defended further back in the mountains. That costs me another unit.

Here’s the position at the end of the Allied turn:


In my turn in the east, on the coast I retire my left flank a little to the low hills along the coast, but keep my right flank on the river. I'm starting to think about falling back to the next river, although I'm going to have to endure a turn or two defending in the open, which I'm not hopeful about. I pull back to the mountains in the middle, and all along the US sector it's time to find a good defensive line.

End of turn 4 position:


Not a good turn for me. Over on the right, things are looking really scary. KG-Ens is going to have problems keeping in supply with no HQ, and my KG-Flrd HQ is looking very exposed. There are only a scattering of weak Italian coastal divisions holding 2nd Arm. from running around the entire western coast, and as I'm 2 from 2 in my surrender rolls for coastal divisions it could all go pear shaped in very short order. (I've made 6 surrender rolls so far, losing 2 coastal divisions and the Syracuse coastal artillery, winning 3 coastal artillery. I'd have gladly swapped one of the coastal artillery units for one of the divisions.) That landing behind my front line has really put me off balance. Nice move, Eric. (Curse your eyes!)

At this point we call an end to the first day's play. We probably started around 1030, ended around 2200, and broke for lunch and dinner for around 1.5 hours.

Turn 5 - 07/17/1943

The Allies win the initiative and Eric elects to go first. I'm quite happy with that decision as I think a double move could be truly disastrous for my prospects. Eric grinds forward with the Brits, but the US forces don't press as much as I'd expected them to. Perhaps he has more supply issues than I'd expected, which I'm so disappointed to hear, if true. (NOT!)

I get pushed out of the hills on the coast in the east, so I take that as a hint that it's time to start falling back.

In the west he captures Porto Empedocle, and assaults my adjacent unit. The surrender roll for Assta division goes my way, which means that I have some units to hold the west with, although it's one of the smaller coastal divisions. However, he takes an 'o' result and chooses to retreat, leaving the port open and containing 2T.

Here’s the position at the end of the Allied turn:


My turn sees me move a couple of Italian units to the river at Augusta, ready for falling back next turn. Otherwise I just do a gradual fall back through the mountains, linking up the east and west sectors with HG division. In the west his retreat from Porto Empedocle seems like an invitation, so I march right in and capture 1T. (You have to roll on the Supply Dump capture table, which gives you a percentage of the supply that you capture.) The rest of the Italians are trying to get there, but I don't want to spend a lot of supply on fuel, so they keep walking slowly. Otherwise it's just finding some good defensive terrain to fall back to. Otherwise, I'm just falling back and trying to keep a line.

End of turn 5 position:


Turn 6 - 07/19/1943

Once again Eric wins the initiative roll and elects to go first. His air barrage roll is another 1, two in a row and he's rolled either 5 or 1 in every turn. On the east coast I DG his units in my reaction phase, so no combat for you, but I lose a unit to a box cars naval barrage roll. In the middle I lose the Italian unit at Chiaramonte Gulfi, as he gets a great roll with exploitation, which he uses to follow up with another great result to remove the HG armor unit behind it. (The 4-4-8 unit in 45.20.) In the west he presses forward, but not too aggressively. He attempts to take Porto Empedocle, but I DG his units on my side of the river, and he decides not to risk the river assault. (With at least a 3-1 and +4 for the Action Rating drm I was expecting him to attack, as attacker surprise was quite likely, and even without it the drm ensures that it would have to be a pretty bad roll to not get a decent result. The likelihood of both rolls being crummy made it worth the risk.

Here’s the position at the end of the Allied turn:


My turn is fairly simple. I continue to hold along the eastern coast, and air barrage his guys into DG, so he won't be doing much there next turn. Over in the other areas I've got a semi-decent line, so just tweak it to make it as good as possible. To the west I've got a reasonable line behind the river, although it's mostly held by a new Italian coastal division, so I'm risking another bad surrender roll.

End of turn 6 position:


I'm beginning to consider abandoning the west of the island, focussing on falling back towards Messina in a controlled manner, giving up space for time. I'm thinking of defending along the river line at a3233-3831 as a starting point, and moving back from there, Kind of like a swing door, hinged on the eastern coast. Once I get into the mountainous area around Etna it should help, as his movement will be severely curtailed.

Turn 7 - 07/21/1943

Same as last turn, Eric wins the initiative, elects to go first, and rolls a 1 for his air barrages. (Pretty neat trick, but you still have some way to rival my trick of rolling 1 5 times in a row for my commands in our Clash for a Continent game! :) Once more he presses forward, although the eastern coast is pretty stacked already. He tries to fly in some SPs, but my Italian fighter takes out two fighters flying cover (I rolled 8+ twice in a row!) and the two transports, all for a loss to boot! The same unit then intercepts the sole air barrage, taking out a Spitfire flying cover (-1 drm!) and the rest of the barraging aircraft! Let's hear it for the Italian Air Force, W00T!

However, it's not all going my way, as he barrages, attacks and kills the Tiger unit in the middle, then finally captures Porto Empedocle. Both combats gain exploitation, but he choses not to use the one in the middle. However, the one to the west is a different matter, as 2nd Arm dash forward to attack a unit of Aosta coastal division, which promptly surrenders. Yay, I'm now down 3 out of 4 division surrender rolls, and it's the weakest one that survived. That's going to make defense of the western side of the island even more of a challenge, and giving it up to focus on the east is making even more sense.

Here’s the position at the end of the Allied turn:


In my turn I continue to try to adjust my lines, falling back on the eastern coast to the next river. However, we've got a hard limit of 1730 to start clearing up, and I rush my turn, not spotting that I've left a couple of units of the Italian Livno division out of supply in the middle. They both fail their rolls, and I lose two precious ground units. Next time I'll not try to go as quickly and make sure my supply lines are safe, and to heck with trying to get another turn in.

As part of the rushing, and annoyance on my part, I forget to take pictures.

Turn 8 - 07/21/1943

Eric once again goes first, and it's more of the same as he presses forward. (I'm working from memory here, so I'm not clear on exactly what happened in this last turn.) We're pretty close to the mandatory clear up time, so I decline to risk another turn like the last one, and we call a halt after his turn. Eric starts recording positions and putting each stack of counters into an ice tray (a trick he learned from somewhere) as we plan to come back to this at a later stage. He's part way through before I think about the camera, so no more pics at all. :(

We intend to get it back on the table for another go, so I'll make sure to take pics before we start. I'll put my thoughts on the game into a separate post.

OCS Sicily - Part 2

Turn 2 - 07/12/1943

Here’s the position at the end of the first turn:



I win the initiative roll and am faced with a hard decision: do I go first to improve my position and try to prevent him from moving, and risk a potentially killer double turn, or let him take a turn and hope to be able to benefit from a double turn myself. In the end I elect to go first, as there are a few things I want to do before he gets a chance to move. Things like protect my air base at Licata, recover a good line. Plus, I'm still stronger on air, so now is my best chance to inflict losses on his air units. Let's hope that decision doesn't come back to bite me.

In the east I use the river line to the south of Syracuse as my anchor, using the Italian Napoli division to hold the inland road. In the west I'm a little more aggressive, and put pressure on the Gela area where the initial landings were weak. However, in my combat I can't get the 6 or higher (no modifiers, so I blew another 70% roll) that would remove his sole unit and save the Gela area. Dang! That would have caused him serious issues in hooking up his beachheads. The only other thing of note is that in my 4 air barrages he rolled 2 hits. (A flak hit requires a modified 11, and I don't believe he had any modifiers.)

At the end of my turn it looks like this:



In his turn, Eric tries to drop some paras behind my line, just to the south of Niscemi, but I win the air interception (no modifier, needed 8+) to remove his air cover, then proceed to make mincemeat of the transports, forcing them all to abort with loss! (A loss requires a 5/6 roll.) A stunning result.

Other than that, the expected ship load of units arrive successfully. He presses around the Syracuse area, (using his single allowed air barrage - he rolls each turn for the allowed number of air barrages) but my artillery comes out of reserve and DGs him, so there is no combat.

The end of turn 2 has the situation like this:



Turn 3 - 07/14/1943

Once again, I win the initiative roll, and have another tough choice on who goes first. In the east most of his strength is still off to the south after landing, and will take a turn or two to get to the front line. In the US sector I'm more concerned. On my left he's strong, but all my units are in reserve, so I have flexibility to respond to his actions. In the middle I'm weaker, but so is he. On the right he has a big stack in Licata that scares me, but I don't really know what it contains. On the plus side, his lack of air barrage capability last turn has my fighters still all active, ready to create mayhem and (hopefully!) disrupt his air barrages. All things considered, I decide to let Eric go first.

In the end he didn't push forward as much as I'd expected. 1st Arm. pushed eastwards towards Comiso and the air base there, but otherwise there wasn't any movement, especially towards the west. In the east the expected moves were seen.

My air barrages go well, until he rolls 3 consecutive 50/50 interception wins for loss. I did well last turn, so perhaps I can't complain. I still get some good DG results, which should spoil his combats. Hah! Fat chance, as he rolls like a demon, with every combat gaining good surprise or a combat roll of 10+. Over on the right of the US sector, he needs an 11+ to gain surprise (I'm on +1 modifier for Action Rating) and proceeds to roll box cars, converting his weak attack into something decent. Pah! These remove my coastal artillery at gela, and a unit threatening his Gela/Licata link up. He continues the good rolls into his exploitation, killing another of my good units.

Position at the end of Allied turn:



In my turn I started to pull back in the US sector. However, I did mount one attack at Gela, managing to roll really well and removing a Ranger and a regular infantry battalion on a Ao1DL1o1 result. In the east I pretty much just hung tight, as I was in a good defensive position. However, I did start pulling the Italian Napoli division back along the main road, heading for the hills.

Position at the end of turn 3:



OK, that didn't go as badly as it could have, so giving him the double turn here was a decent option. The Brits have been held at Syracuse for another turn with no loss. In the US sector he's not very strong, but there are still units offshore, so they could cause me trouble. I don't think I can hold him from linking up for another turn, so it may be time to bug out. The Brits and US units are starting to link up in the middle, so time to withdraw from that area as well. Yep, time to chuck it in reverse!

Friday, May 9, 2008

OCS Sicily - Part 1

In another of our larger, OCS games, Eric and I got together to try Sicily: Triumph and Folly, based on the July/August 1943 Allied invasion. Once more I was the Axis player, and Eric was the Allies. We had originally planned this game for a yearly week-long wargaming extravaganza, but Eric's schedule nixed that idea. I had an open weekend, so proposed that as an alternative, and Eric's wife was kind enough to allow him to come out and play, especially as we planned it for the full weekend.

For deployment, I had planned to use the sample Axis deployment that Eric found on ConsimWorld, but come the allotted time on Saturday morning, I found that it only covered 4 of the 12 beach landing zones (the main Allied landing zones). So, my morning was a scramble to come up with a deployment before Eric arrived. As such, I'm not sure I picked good locations for all my units, but as they were all outside the landing areas it really didn't matter a huge amount, and they weren't doing a whole lot of movement, anyway. For the variable placement units, I try to angle them towards the likely landing areas, but also trying to keep no more than 1RE to a hex in order not to present a good target for air barrages. Here’s my initial deployment:

South-east corner

South coast

East coast

West island

North-east corner


(Future pics will focus on the first two areas, where all the action occurs, and I'll refer to them as east and west, although the latter is really the south beach.)

In the pre-game actions, Eric rolled for damage to the ports. Some had only light damage, others extensive, but 3 of the 4 with light damage were in his immediate landing areas, and would give him a good base for expansion and landing SPs. Those heavily damaged were my main ports on the eastern coast. Nice planning Eric!

The fun starts with the Brits landing on the east coast from the south-east corner through just south of Syracuse. 1st Airborne lands just south over the river from Syracuse, with the sole unit north of the river drifting into the sea (leaving its 1T SP to land in the open!) and the AT unit landing near an Italian division. He also captures the air base there after winning a fighter sweep (even air ratings, so a 40% chance of losing), I miss a 60% interception roll (with a +1 on my rating, we both abort on the modified 7) and the flak misses (with a +4 modifier, required 7+). In the west, the Americans land at Scoglitti, Gela and Licata.

His naval bombardments DG most of my units that are facing a Beach Assault (BA), however he misses the units at Gela. (I miss my first 4 air interceptions, 3 of them with a +1 modifier, not being able to roll higher than a net 7 in any of them.) All his BAs go well, except for Gela, where he gets repulsed after a nasty surprise roll. As part of the combats I roll for the two Italian coastal divisions (206th in the south-east corner, and 207th, facing the US at Licata and to the west.), and both decide to give up. (Each coastal division and artillery has to roll the first time they’re involved in combat, with a 50% chance of being removed. Yes, the entire division, in one go. Can seriously dent your line!) This is a big blow, as these are the two biggest coastal divisions, and it gives him complete and easy control of the entire south-east corner of the island without even the semblance of a fight.

In my turn I start moving towards the beaches to try to contain the landings and possibly set up some counter-attacks. There’s a lot to decide as I need to figure out where to commit the divisions. I try a few air barrages, missing all but 1, but succeed with an artillery barrage against the US troops at Gela.

I have only the one combat, removing the exposed 1st Airborne AT unit.

Here’s the position at the end of the first turn:



At the end of the turn, I’m quite concerned. The entire south east is defended by a single puny 1-3-6 armor unit. I’d hoped to be able to hold him up a little more than that. In the US sector he hasn’t been able to link up his beach-heads, due to my unexpected success at Gela, but the road is open to the west for a large flanking maneuver, with only weak Italian troops to stop him.

During the turn we had an extended discussion on coastal artillery, and that they don’t get to fire on the landing craft, as they sail up, land, and sail away out of range before the artillery can do anything. (Hey, I'm the defender, so, of course, it's not good!) It was only at the end of the day’s play that I found the relevant section of rules (hidden in the Naval Power section), which has coastal artillery treated like naval units, allowing them to fire once per game turn in any barrage phase (air/naval, combat, exploitation or reaction) without requiring a Reserve marker. This still would not have allowed them to fire on those landing craft not making a BA (which I still think is wrong), but at least being able to fire on those who are making a BA is something for the attacking player to be concerned about, as a DG will certainly cramp their chances of assaulting successfully. Who knows what effect it would have had on our game, but it would probably have made the landings harder. It's hard to create naval casualties, as only a real high roll will give you a hit, rather than a DG result. Individual DG results get removed as normal, but a second DG result gives a hit, so the secret is to either have multiple coastal artillery units fire (naval fires are targeted individually, rather than aggregated into a single fire like other barrages) or to also use air units, to get those multiple DG results.