Sunday, May 31, 2009

The path ahead

OK, time to take stock of where we are, and my thoughts on Eric's recent post. Over the past year, or so, Eric and I have blitzed through a lot of new games. I'm actually kinda stunned that we managed to be pretty much playing a new game each week. For someone who isn't good at reading rules and learning a new game (uh, that's me, in case there was any doubt) I've found it quite hard to keep up the pace, and on more than one occasion I've had to rely far more than is reasonable on Eric to learn the rules and effectively teach me. At least I can say that when we've sat down to play the game has been (mostly) effectively prepared from a components-wise. (We've been playing at my place as it's an easier environment without young kids, and I can even leave games up for a week or two, so I've, willingly, taken on the task of providing and preparing the games.)

Over that time we've found some great games, and some not so great games. We've found games where we have different views (I really liked The Devil's Cauldron, despite the rules; Eric doesn't care for it), but mostly our tastes are the same. So now it's time to throttle back a little and revisit some of these games and take a little more time with them.

As Eric says, this means that we will spend several evenings on a single game, possibly playing it multiple times, so our rate of completed game posts will slow down. We'll be doing more ongoing session reports, and the posts will likely contain more insight into what our strategies and thought processes are, rather than on components and general feel.

I'd really like to get back to these games:

OCS - completing Sicily, and perhaps Korea
SCS - TME again, and more from this series, which I'm very fond of
Bitter End - with the revised retreat rule, this is a high priority
Conflict of Heroes - getting deeper into the scenarios, including tanks
CDGs - Shifting Sands, PoG, PuG, and more (oh, my!)
Musket & Pike - OK, we haven't played this here, but we've played a few scenarios before TSttC

And that should keep us busy for quite a while into the future, especially if we tackle a large OCS game based on one evening per week. I'm certainly very excited about our schedule. There are so many great games out there at the moment, and I want to play all of them. Now!

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Update on current projects and the near future

I'm partway through writing about Mike and my adventures south of Rostov, but I've just started a new job and have had way less time than I expected in getting the post finished in a manner I like.

I just wanted to get something up here so you didn't think we'd completely disappeared on you.

Mike and I will spend likely the next two weeks finishing up our The Mighty Endeavor campaign. That's worth a post or two right there. Then I've got a surprise I'm springing on Mike. It's a well-regarded single-evening game I've never spoken about to him. We'll see if he likes it.

After that we're going to change things up a bit.

The original intent of the blog was to play games we could complete in an evening. We got into a cycle where we were learning new games nearly every week, and frankly we weren't giving them the attention they deserved. This was showing in the amount of mental energy we were spending during the games on just keeping the rules straight. This came at the expense of paying attention to what was actually going on and providing a coherent session report. Even the reviews portions of the (well at least my) posts were suffering due to this effect.

The other major issue is that, over time, both Mike and I have found our interests shifting to larger, more involved games.

Partly as a result of this, Mike has gotten things set up at his place so he can keep at least two games of decent size set up for weeks at a time. What we're going to start doing is play some bigger campaigns that will take many weeks to complete.

Our current plan is something like the following:
  • Tonight and next week: Finish The Mighty Endeavor
  • June 11: The Surprise
  • June 18 + a few weeks: Finish the Sicily Campaign we started last year. (I've got this game stored in an ingenious system I stole from an old issue of Operations - I'll write about that system some time in the future.
  • Next: Most likely the OCS Korea Campaign. This might be Burma, or it might be something completely different.

As progress on these games will be in small numbers of turns per evening, I intend to spend at least a portion of many posts explaining portions of OCS. These will cover the basics and will be geared for players who may have seen many of these games sitting near the top of the BoardGameGeek Wargames Top 100 list and wondered what all the buzz is about and why the games are so highly rated. I'm also likely to post off-cycle a few times as ideas hit me. As we've been quiet the last few weeks, I think this is a good time to institute a "post as the mood fits" rather than a sort-of-strictly-weekly schedule.

If there are specific features of OCS (or for that matter any game we've posted about in the past) you'd like to see me cover, please speak up. We'll be sure and cover them when able.

We're closing in on 2.5 years of Two Sides posts, and I thank you guys for sticking with us over time. This blog is a blast to write and every comment we get or link we discover keeps us fueled for more.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Sorry, Germany, No Oil for You.

Okay, so when I said the character of the blog was going to change over these last few weeks, I really didn't mean for it to go dark... life intervenes sometimes, and I've had a devil of a time finding the mental bandwidth to get this post finished.

That doesn't mean Mike and I weren't playing during the downtime, though. In fact, we got most of the way through an OCS scenario, and we've started The Mighty Endeavor's campaign game. Mike and I will be talking about TME in our next posts, but this one is about the Edge of the World scenario Mike and I played over three evenings.

This is the first scenario listed in the Case Blue scenario book. 25 turns, one map. The engagement starts small and builds over time as the Germans (and Russians to some extent) keep feeding units into the battle for Grozny and the oil fields nearby.

The black circles indicate the Axis victory areas.

We chose this scenario as a warmup as it's essentially the Drive for Oil scenario we'll be playing at WBC-W in miniature. The Germans are coming in from the northwest, and to win are trying to take Grozny, the oil fields next to Grozny, and Ordzhonikidzi in the south. The Russians win by denying the Germans and at least contesting Grozny. Anything else is a draw.

Originally, we'd chosen sides on the assumption that I'd be defending in Drive for Oil, and attacking in TME. As it turns out, I'm not going to be able to make it out to WBC-W as early as expected, so our TME game at WBC-W is off. But it's certainly educational to be defending against a strong, but resource-starved, enemy.

Mike and my experience with OCS to this point has been Sicily, DAK2, and Tunisia. All somewhat older games in the system and supply in those games is a bit more plentiful than it is in Case Blue. The first thing we realized is that it's a severe adjustment getting used to the restricted supply in this game.

As an example, it takes 1SP to fuel a panzer division until the end of your turn. It costs 1/4 SP (1T) for each step that attacks. The Germans start with 1SP on the map, and can expect to get about 2SP/turn. (each turn you roll two dice, < 4 you get 1SP, > 10 you get 3SP, otherwise 2SP. Which you have to truck into position.) Over the course of the scenario, the Germans get 5SP on full trucks as well. That's 56 SP or so for the entire game. Better be careful how you spend it.

In contrast, the Russians start with 5SP, have the same odds on arriving supplies, and don't get any with reinforcements. So, they should end up with 55SP during the game. About equal. They'll probably spend 6-8 SP building hedgehogs to protect Grozny and Ordzho, but don't have much armor at all that requires fueling. Defending is also cheaper (max 1/2 SP, or 2T in defense). So, the onus is definitely on the Germans to time their fights well and make sure they've got supply when and where they need it.

In our game, Mike sent the 23rd Panzer Division south to take Ordzho. I early on decided that attempting to do anything with Pyatigorsk in the west was a waste of time and let Mike spend the supply taking the town. If I recall, he basically surrounded the town and let them starve which they eventually did. Sort of a non-event, but still it tied up his units for a while. And time lets me build up defenses.

The general flow of the game went something like this:

After the panzers reached Ordzho, there was a fair amount of bickering over the Russian supply line extending south. At one point, I'd mistakenly let him block the supply line and I rolled extremely poorly for out-of-supply attrition. The roll would have eliminated the entire garrison. Mike let me reroll as this was a learning game and that would have caused major problems for me early on. Thinking back, though, I don't believe I'd checked for eating off the map, and I believe I had enough supply in the town to do so.

The remainder of Mike's forces headed further east to try to take Grozny. He mostly funneled the reinforcements that came from the north this direction as well. My goal here was to create a defensive line north of Grozny using the rivers where possible, but avoiding encirclement. The rail line east is a major supply route for the Russians and must be protected. Fortunately, the Terek river is impassable near Grozny except at the two road bridges and the one rail bridge at Gudermes. ZOCs do cross rivers, though, so the stretch where the rail line comes close to the south bank of the Terek must be protected.

During the middle section of the game, Mike repeatedly failed at taking Ordzho (in significant part because my bombers kept getting DG results on possible key attacking stacks, and in part due to bad die rolling) and pushed all the way down to just above the north bank of the Terek at one point. I had been rather frugal with my supply, though, and managed some (rather expensive) counter-attacks to push him back to Chervlennaya and further. This relieved the pressure on the rail line to Grozny and put him in a severe bind.

As we moved into the second half of the game, things were turning my way. While I still felt I was hanging on by a thread, Mike was getting some pretty bad die rolls trying to take Ordzho, and spent a large amount of supply to no real effect. He was starting to see that it was taking him nearly 3 turns to recover from a failed assault on the city enough to attempt again. Time was running short for him.

Meanwhile, there wasn't a whole lot happening over at Grozny as Mike was using most of his supply trying to take Ordzho. I was fortifying my defensive line when possible trying to create the best defensive position I could. I'd also placed hedgehogs in Grozny and Ordzho to help out with the defense.

We called the game at the end of September. (That was after 16 turns, with the full month of October – 9 more turns – to play.) It was pretty clear at this point that there was no way Mike was going to be able to reach the Axis objectives given my defensive position and his supply situation. He probably had, at best, three more attempts at Ordzho before even getting to Grozny, and I was able to fly in enough supply to keep the garrison there eating off the map, thus alleviating any severe supply issues.

So, what did we learn?

First, I'm not sure Mike should have sent the Panzer Division as the primary assault force on Ordzho. They're 1/2 strength attacking the city, and cost supply to maneuver back into position should an assault fail. (Which they inevitably will given the likely hedgehog being built there.) Granted, the Axis doesn't have much non-armored attack strength in this scenario, but I think it needs to be sent down there when available. Even if it takes 10 turns. In fact, I'd probably take Ordzho last – screen it with whatever is available and concentrate on Grozny.

The Axis armor is better used, in my opinion, in forcing the Russians to stretch out their defensive line north of Grozny. They can reposition VERY quickly and the Russians must protect the rail line heading southeast to Makhachkala. One Panzer Division can head east, while the other either heads down the road north of Ordzho threatening both cities or heads to the north edge of Grozny looking for weakened spots caused by the defensive line being stretched east to protect supply.

The Russians, meanwhile, need to fortify with hedgehogs and use their air superiority as much as possible. Protect the supply lines and fly supply into Ordzho every turn. You'll be trucking supply up from the South Box as much as possible, and shipping the rest via rail. Counter-attacks are going to be expensive due to the number of multi-step infantry divisions you've got, but you'll need to pull a few off to relieve pressure on critical points. The bridge crossings over the Terek cannot be lost or you're in for a world of supply hurt. Finally, do whatever you can to delay and bleed supply from the Axis. He's got a tighter budget than you and time's on your side

We did play one rule wrong that I can recall. Units can either enter or leave the South Box in a single turn, but not both. That slows down the amount of supply the Russians can truck north from what I was doing early on, and pretty much guarantees using rail cap every turn to get supplies into Grozny.

Over those three nights of play, I estimate we put in 9 or 10 hours of real play time. The first night was broken up by a bit of teaching session for Chris and Doug who'd stopped by to watch, and it always takes a little bit to get back into the flow of play after being away for a week. This scenario does give you a real feel for the issues the two sides are facing in the overall campaign, however – long distances to be covered by the Axis with little fuel, and loads of Russians to slog through once you get there. The Russians are making do with poor-quality, limited mobility troops (some have only 1 movement point in combat mode) but there's certainly a lot of them.

As the scenario starts with a small number of troops on the map and builds up, it's a great way to get your feet wet with Case Blue. I'd estimate 10-12 hours of play time if done in a single sitting, and possibly less once you get to the point of knowing how it'll end up a few turns early as we did.