Saturday, July 5, 2008


After last week's last minute cancellation, we got Devil's Cauldron back on the table for a second go, picking The Empire Strikes Back scenario. Eric wanted to try attacking, and I was perfectly fine with giving him the opportunity, so he took the Germans and me the Americans.

The scenario is in the early part of the Market-Garden operation, and sees a sizable German attack on the 82nd's drop/landing zones (LZ) to the south west of Nijmegen, which are critical for bringing in additional troops and supplies. The victory conditions require the Germans to have 2 or more undisrupted units in the LZ areas, while also advancing towards Mook, which threatens the potential link up with the British XXX corps, having to occupy one of the town hexes at any point in the game, and continue to occupy one hex to the SW of Mook at game end. If the German manages none of these then the US player wins, any other result going to a tie-breaker, which is dependent on US step losses, 2 or fewer and the US player wins, more being a German win.

Note there’s no reference to German losses anywhere in that previous paragraph. And that’s the problem with this scenario, the German player doesn’t need to make any effort to simulate history, he just aims to kill steps, regardless of his own losses. He still has to ensure that he meets at least one of the conditions, but maintaining a couple of units undisrupted anywhere in the LZ areas is pretty easy. The only Allied response to that is to run away, or at least out of range, but that doesn’t seem right either.

In our game we had the usual wacky stuff. I managed to miss 3 Troop Quality (TQ) checks for ‘7’ rating units (i.e. I needed to roll anything except an 8 or 9) in a row, then later rolled 3 ‘0’ in a row for my air strikes, causing step losses for each, although they really didn’t really affect the outcome at all. Although the first was a bit scary as two of those TQ rolls were when being assaulted, opportunity fire in the first stage and then for standing/running away. Fortunately there were no Germans able to take advantage of my bugging out. Eric managed to roll poorly for his Dispatch Points, and ended up with none at all, which prevented him from buying any formation markers at all, having to use only the divisional activation and direct command chits. (That’s a lesson learned – don’t run down your Dispatch Points too much.)

It all came down to the last chit drawn, in the end, and the 50/50 roll that Eric would get to play it. (Unlike other scenarios, where the final chit to be drawn from the cup isn’t played, there’s a roll to see if it is played.) He did, and fired on my unit already with a step loss and 2 cohesion hits, managing to get another cohesion hit that caused the game winning third step loss.

However, all this ignores the basic initial fact: I didn’t read the victory conditions, and thought that I had to defend the LZ areas. I was a little mislead by the scenario introduction, which made great play of the 82nd defending the LZ areas, and only ejecting the Germans only moments before the air drop took place. So my initial set up and first turn or two was with the aim of doing just that. Then I read the Victory Conditions (VC) and my units that went diving up the road from Mook went smartly about face and dashed back.

By that time my engineer unit that I’d set up at the forward edge had been eliminated in the first fire attacks (with a 20% kill chance), and I had another unit next to him that was now facing dangerous opp fire if it tried to retire. (This was the same unit that was eventually to lose both steps for the loss.) By the end of the game, The Germans had lost 9 steps to my 3, but there is nothing about German losses, so the loss was mine.

OK, two plays under the belt now, any further thoughts? The game is OK. Not great, but it certainly isn’t bad. We played in around 3 hours, still with a lot of pfutzing with the rulebook, partly because we couldn’t remember rules, and partly trying to find stuff without a decent ToC/Index. Mostly the game system works fine, although there are two areas that still rankle.

The first is the rule about opp fire and assaulting. If you have an attacking unit adjacent to your defending unit, and that attacking unit moves from that hex to another adjacent hex then your defending unit gets a chance at opp fire. (It has to pass a TQ to actually fire.) However, if there is another defending unit in that destination hex, i.e. the enemy unit is assaulting, then you do not get a chance at opp fire, your unit just has to stand and watch as their buddies get jumped on. One argument I’ve read for it is to do with range, but if they can opp fire when the target is moving, then they obviously have the range, so that argument doesn’t hold. Another is that they’re afraid to cause friendly fire, and I think that is a better argument, but ultimately I think it’s bogus, as well. Put in a fire modifier, but not having them fire at all is weak.

The second is the combat results table. TDC uses the strength of the attack as the ‘to hit’ number and effect. The higher the attack strength, the higher the chance of getting a result, and the higher the roll, the better the result. Roll too high, and your attack misses. Roll low and you get a weak result, which are in terms of suppression, cohesion, step loss and elimination. It’s a pretty decent way to handle hits and effect in one go, although it’s not new. However, it also has the ‘0 is always a hit’ caveat, which is also a decent concept, and means that even the worst attack has the chance of doing something. However, on a few of the weapons classes, a ‘0’ gives you a step loss result, rather than just the weakest possible result. Now that lucky hit becomes even more critical, as the ‘0’ not only gets you a result on a weak attack, but gets you the second strongest result possible. I’d be tempted to make that a ‘C?’ result instead: a TQ check, failure giving a cohesion hit. To reward a miniscule attack with a step loss is just too strong.

Other than that the game progresses, the system is fairly simple and straightforward, although the rule book makes it seem a lot more complex. A few gamers have complained about the counters, finding them a bit too busy, but I think they’re OK. Not wonderful, just OK. I definitely don’t like the different national symbols for artillery and other tube weapons, but I guess I’ll get used to it. It would be harder if I was going to get the desert-based game in the series, as it introduces Italian and French, and another two sets of symbols to learn.

Speaking of the series, what of the other half of Market-Garden, Where Eagles Dare? I’m still kinda on the fence about it. I currently have it on pre-order, and I guess I’m more likely to get it than not, but I can see me canceling my order. I’m going to have to play a couple more times to get a better feel for the system, and to see if all the scenarios have similarly wacky game-causing victory conditions. At least I’ll read them next time......

1 comment:

Mike said...

I've been cogitating on TDC, and I've come up with another thing I don't like about the game - it doesn't deal in any way with being able to reinforce a position and withdraw the original defenders.

e.g. your squad gets a little beat, losing a step (say), or at least a couple of cohesion levels. If it stays, it runs the risk of getting assaulted, or just fired on for loss. If it tries to disengage, it runs the risk of opportunity fire, and a similar loss.

A lot of games allow you to move in a reinforcing unit, and allow it to cover the weakened unit as it retires. Not so in TDC, as the retiring unit is still subject to opp fire, and in fire/assault the attacker gets to choose the unit it fires at, and you can't choose the stronger unit to cover. The only hope is to suppress the enemy unit(s) either by fire or arty.

Hmmm, if I keep cogitating like this I'll cogitate myself right off the pre-order list for WED.