Thursday, December 11, 2008

DSDF hits the Marne

Eric proposed that we play a WW1 game to commemorate the ending of the war, and I suggested that we combine it with a longer, multi-session game report, as our sessions to this point have either been games that fit into a single evening session or our mega-long-term OCS Sicily game. I proposed that we try the new MMP release, Rock of the Marne (BGG entry), and Eric deemed it a good idea. So, for the past few evenings (4 to be precise) we've been slogging through RotM.

RotM is the latest in the SCS series, which has a simpler rule-set than some wargames, with the emphasis on playability, but not to the total detriment of the specific situation and chrome. It has certain similarities to other WW1 games in the series, especially in the limited breakdown counters available to spread the divisions out a little more. These breakdowns give a couple of extra MPs (for the Allied player) or reduced costs for moving into ZoCs, no overrun costs, and gaining exploitation movement (for the German player).

However, unlike Operation Michael in the same series, RotM doesn't provide a specific phase in the game in which to breakdown and recombine, but each division can breakdown immediately prior to moving in the movement phase, and then recombine at the end of its move. This means that as long as you have a few breakdown units available, there is a limited number of breakdown units for each player, you can use and reuse them as each division moves. Pretty big for the German player, and just feels a bit 'gamey'.

These two combine to give a totally ahistorical representation of the campaign. As seen from Eric's earlier post, his Germans attacked pretty much all along the line and just poured through, and I spent most of the early game just falling back. After the first turn the trenches were pretty much useless, as Eric just drove through and I had to fall back or face encirclement.

However, a large part of the game, including the end result, suffered greatly from the DSDF, a term coined by another of our gaming buddies, Doug, and which long-term readers will be familiar with by now. (For new readers, that's the Deansian Statistical Distortion Field. Basically any game that I play, that features dice (or any luck determining feature, it's not really only attributable to dice), will feature wacky outcomes way to the end of the bell curve. Whilst this normally works against me, in the (very) occasional game it works in my favor. Ask Chris about our FAB: Bulge game. Incidentally, I played FAB: Bulge with Eric recently. I got about as far in 7 turns as Chris did in 4.)

This game had it in spades. Early on, I used my Allied aircraft on CAP to intercept the German planes, a successful interception allowing the Allied player to not only negate the German 2 column right-shift on the CRT, but to replace it with a 2 column left-shift. A fairly major change in any single combat. The basic chance for a successful interception is to roll 7 or more on 2 d6, i.e. ~60%. In the first several turns I made 6 interception attempts, and missed every single one of them, which is somewhere off the 1% end of the bell curve. Making even 3 of those would have gone a long way to helping prevent the rather one-sided nature of the early game. (In contrast, Eric made 2 interception attempts, and scored them both, one even high enough to cause a step loss. In my 7 total attempts I rolled low enough to lose 2 steps from my own aircraft.)

Then again, Eric was rolling like a demon in the early part. 10s and 11s were appearing regularly, especially, it seemed, on the low odds attacks, which meant whole stacks of units disappeared, leaving gaping holes everywhere. Naturally these were rapidly exploited by his StossPanzerTruppen. His HQ recovery rolls saw him get most of them back in the early turns (and 90% in turn 5, all but 1 roll being higher than 5, another low probability outcome), although he suffered later on when the recovery number went up to 8 (i.e. he had to roll 9 or higher to recover the HQ).

Despite all this, at the start of the Allied turn 14, the points were 13-12 in my favor, when I made an attack on another 2VP hex, but rolled '2'. This not only eliminated most of my units, it also retreated the remaining unit from another VP hex, which Eric promptly moved into, and was enough to win the game. This was the only result that could have done it, as Eric didn't have any HQs that could provide supply for an attack. I tried to take any VP hex in my turn, but a combination of failed HQ recovery rolls and being unable to roll a '10' or higher in any of the 4 combats for VP spaces gave Eric the game.

(The game in pictures is here.)

In the post-game discussion we noticed that there was one HQ I could have used for another attack on a VP space in that final turn, as the attacking divisions were not tied to any particular corps HQ, and, just for kicks, I rolled. An '11'. That would have been enough to win the game, 11-9. Sigh.

I could go further into the details (like turns where my several combats rolls averaged 4.5, and Eric's averaged 8.5), but you get the general picture. Which is all to say that it's real hard to get a good feel for a game where it's as whacked up as this one. However, some things were readily apparent.

Firstly, the whole breakdown think needed rethinking. Being able to ripple the same breakdown units through each divisional movement just seems wrong. In fact there has recently been a rules change to address this, but rather than just take the same approach as Operation Michael (separate breakdown/recombine phases) they've introduced an even more complex version of the existing rule. Sheesh.

Second, is those very breakdown troops are way too strong for the Germans. Giving them reduced ZoC movement costs, no overrun costs and exploit movement makes them crazy strong. Yes there are limited numbers of counters, but they're pretty much unstoppable. The only thing that stopped Eric from taking Paris was that Paris wasn't on the map to take.

Next, the CRT is a bit too aggressive on the defender results at the upper level, with whole divisions just disappearing in one combat. This means that holes can be blown in defenses, and the German breakdowns units (aka StossTruppen) just pour through, which gives it more of a feel of WW2 'Blitzkrieg' armor operations than WW1. (In fact, at times, it felt more like WW2 desert warfare than the recent game of Afrika II I played with Chuck, which felt more like WW1 trench warfare.)

Certainly the breakdown rule change will make for a considerably different game, but is there enough there to make us want to try it again? Hmm, not so sure, but with so many other games out there to be played, it's going to have a hard fight to make it onto the table. The jury remains out.

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