Saturday, February 21, 2009

Bitter at first, but with a nice aftertaste

Mike and I finished off our Bitter End game this week. We had both left the table the prior week with an “eh” feeling, but were curious how things would continue flowing.

The one rule I didn't go into last week was same-hex combat. When your final combat result number is a zero, the attacker has the opportunity to advance into the same hex with the defender. If he chooses to, the defender can then either retreat one hex or fight back, this time as the attacker. You keep going back and forth until only one side has forces left in the hex. The kicker on this mode of combat is that while normal retreat rules apply (i.e. each unit loses a step if they retreat into an enemy ZOC) the ZOCs of the units that moved into the combat hex do not count. Both of us managed to squeeze units through the lines with this rule, though Mike's effort had a larger effect on the game.

In the past, when a game has initially given me a “meh” first impression, continued play has not improved things much. I've come to rely on my first impressions a lot and they've steered me well.

I'm happy to admit that this time, I was wrong.

The more we played, the issues I detailed last week just seemed to hit the back burner. We were getting into the flow of the game, and weren't being surprised by things as much. There's still some oddities in this game, but in the end they mostly work. It is nice to see different approaches to things, instead of just another generic hex-n-counter game. Yet, it's mostly familiar enough that it doesn't take a completely different approach when playing.

I certainly made some first-time errors during play. I underestimated how far many of his troops could move, and on three separate occasions left holes for him to get through that cut supply. Experience with the game would certainly curtail those mistakes. We called the game after 4.5 turns when it was very obvious I wasn't going to fulfill the German victory conditions by the end of the 6th turn. Particularly since the Russians were getting a stack of reinforcements in turn 5 that would be coming in north of the Danube – the hammer onto the anvil.

Here's the final situation looking at things from the Russian Left around to the Russian Right.

The red cities are mandatory for German victory, and two of the three blue ones must be taken as well. (One of the cities is circled in two of the photos.) I'm obviously not getting there in two more turns.

Now, I'd use the short scenario included in the game to learn it. First playing, assume six hours or so. (depending on how long it takes you to think through your turns) I'm very curious how this would play in a full campaign situation. Particularly since the victory conditions are completely different. Instead of a “capture two cities and two more out of these three” style victory, it's VP based with various cites worth differing points for each side. Also, Budapest is no longer the sideshow it is in the short scenario. Just a matter of when. It's probably a full-weekend game to play the entire scenario.

The relief of Budapest is about as under-gamed as any situation on the eastern front you can find. Probably for no small matter that it happened at the same time as the Battle of the Bulge. While we were playing, I noticed the game had a definite “bulge-ish” feel to it. Germans conduct a surprise attack, it fizzles out, and they try to hold on to whatever they can. The difference, of course, is the garrison of Budapest being the target of the offensive instead of it being an attempt to split the Allied forces. The terrain is also nasty to fight through – there's loads of defensible spots, and the ZOC rules make it difficult to exploit small holes – they've got to be pretty big.

I'd recommend trying this one out – there are some odd bits in the rules that may chafe the wrong way, but I discovered they really do work out over time. Just give it more than one shot, as you'll likely be thinking “oh, I should have done that a lot differently” and the German side, in particular has not one extra unit to lose.

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