Friday, December 12, 2008

Results at the Marne

Mike and I finished up our Rock of the Marne game last week with the final three turns. As expected, this only took us a couple hours as we maneuvered for the final VPs we thought we could reach. I'll post the final positions and let you know I ended up winning 12-11.

I took Chalons-sur-Marne for 6VP, and two roads leading off the southern edge of the map for 3 more VP each.

Mike took Chateau-Thierry (3), Fere-en-Tarden (2), Soissons (2), an Aisne bridgehead (2), and Bois Meuniere (2).

There were some significant runs of bad dice in this game. It's a definite poster child for “all dice rolls are not created equal.” Yes, the total may have ended up average (Mike was logging this, but I don't actually know what the totals were) but there are some VERY high leverage rolls. Probably the most important are the HQ replenishment rolls. If you do poorly on those, you're not going to get very far in this game. Both sides have the onus of attack placed on them for significant stretches of the game, and not having any attack supply hamstrings your efforts.

Now, my thoughts on the game.

Our biggest concern had been with the “monkey-drill” associated with the breakdown regiments. This has since been fixed with errata, but not in the way I expected. Operation Michael has a breakdown phase before movement, and a reassembly phase after exploitation. The fix to Rock of the Marne makes you do all your breakdown/reassembly before any divisions are moved, and only breakdown regiments that have not moved yet can reassemble. This significantly changes the game from the rules as printed.

I was originally concerned about the VP hex placement, then I realized that having nearly all the German VPs at the south edge of the board forces the German player into a decision around turn 7: they can either turn it into a race for VPs and a high-scoring game, or pull back, play defense, and try to win ugly. I decided on the former, and it worked out for me. (Though, had one or two die rolls gone the other way, Mike wins.)

I have a number of other concerns, but I realized they all come down to the structure of the CRT.

First, trenches seem to have very little effect. Technically, they shift you left 2 columns when your attacking a unit in a trench and halve the distance of any retreats. But, given the minor differences in the columns of the CRT, it doesn't make much practical difference. (For example, the 4:1 column rolling a 7 is A2D3 – attacker takes two step losses, defender takes three. The 2:1 column gives the same die roll an A3D2 result. A lone division is going to be dead no matter what.) After seeing what was happening to units in the trenches, we pretty much abandoned them. Mike pulled south in the eastern sector, and I pulled east out of the trenches in the way of the counter-attack.

I also think the CRT is too bloody. If I was playing the Germans again in the initial turn, I'd try something like this:

1.Break down every division in the easternmost trench line.
2.As there's no “minimum attack strength” rule, attack with solo regiments against every solo unit in the French trenches from Reims east. (out of 36 possible die roll results, 6 will lose to regiment to no effect, 27 will reduce the enemy at the cost of the regiment, and 3 will eliminate the division and reduce the regiment.) There's 12 solo divisions and 6 solo regiments in that general area at the start. You will certainly open up gaps.

Given the lack of a minimum strength for attack, later in the game it makes a lot of sense to send solo reduced regiments up against any assembled division you can find on its own. You're going to lose the regiment, but the enemy will lose 0.92 steps on average. But, since 1 divisional step = 3 regimental steps, you actually come out ahead. And, if it's a reduced division, you'll eliminate it 30 out of 36 times.

I'm curious to run a simulation of this, but let's say you're lone reduced division is being chased down by 3 other divisions. You break down your division into three reduced regiments, and send each after a separate division. You will lose your one reduced division, but you'll take out somewhere around three divisional steps in the process. Occasionally, you'll take out full-strength divisions, but it's likely at least one of those chasers was reduced. And he's probably gone now on top of any other losses you can inflict. (Given average dice, which certainly were not in evidence during this game.)

My impression of WWI combat was that the defender had a severe advantage, and it required a 3:1 superiority to have any real chance at success. The results the CRT give seem to be the opposite, and reward well-timed “suicide” attacks. Given the German superiority in numbers (something like 54 divisions to 37 at the start with 30 regiments available in the pool to the French 18) it's just a matter of grinding down the French, given enough attack supply.

Ah, yes. The other big concern. I appreciate what the difficulty in replenishing HQs is supposed to represent. The attack could only be maintained for so long. But, the random nature of replenishment means you are at the mercy of die rolls late in the game. (Mike, in particular, had his counter attack across the north edge of the map stall out because he couldn't get HQs replenished.) It also has the effect of shaping the German attack. They will push further wherever attack supply appears.

Late in our game, I was having little luck getting HQs to replenish. (In the 2nd half of the game, you must roll a 9 or higher to be successful. However, Mike had taken out six HQ units over the span of two turns. As those come back replenished into any controlled town and/or with a unit permanently assigned to them, you can pretty much choose where to place them. As this isn't something you want your enemy doing, you're actually DIScouraged from taking out enemy HQs as two turns later, they'll come back where they're most needed. Again, this seems counter intuitive.

It also had the side effect of my sort of exploiting the supply rules. Each bridge across the Marne can only support one HQ, and unsupplied HQs cannot replenish. They can, however, fuel an attack one last time if they're replenished when they go out of supply. As there's no restriction on replacing the Hqs south of the Marne, I just kept funneling them down there, and I probably had eight or nine Hqs placed south of the Marne with only three usable bridges.

Looking back at all these concerns, I'd probably do two things now that the breakdown rule has been fixed. I'd institute a minimum attack strength. (something like you couldn't initiate an attack that would start off the left end of the CRT.) Alternatively, make units defending in their own trenches ignore the first step loss against them. Also, I'd consider making German HQs placed back in play south of the Marne roll to replenish unless a bridge exists to support them. Of course, lots of testing on these changes would be needed, and for all I know they may have been proposed at some point but discarded.

All this being said, Mike and I did enjoy the game. There were tough decisions to make, even with playing the incorrect breakdown rules. The game came down to the very end as the 12-11 score indicates. And now that they've fixed the breakdowns, I'm looking to try this again to see if my CRT concerns are still valid. I think it's a good game, but I'm not sure how historical it really is. Our total play time was around 12.5-13 hours, but I think it's a 10-hour campaign game when all's said and done.

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