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.

No comments: