Monday, June 1, 2009

A Mighty Endeavor too Far

After our OCS Case Blue game, we were going to get in a quick practice for our planned WBC-W The Mighty Endeavor game. This is another of The Gamers' (now MMP) SCS games, a series I'm liking more and more each time I play. So much so, in fact, that I've picked up all the SCS games recently, except for Drive On Paris, which is comparatively rare and mucho expensive.

However, this WBC-W has been cursed, and Eric was another casualty, changing jobs around it such that our TME game was cancelled. Rather than lose it altogether, we decided to extend our practice into a full game. Of course, this meant that our several sessions required to play it would take place over an extended time, as we would have to skip the week of the event and the weeks either side (Eric needs to acquire brownie points). So it was that we played two evening sessions,then picked it back up this last week, four weeks later.

TME covers the entire western European theater, from the north to the south of France, and from the west of France all the way into the western part of Germany. This means that the scale is several times larger (or is that smaller?) than other SCS games, with units being divisions and hexes representing 15 miles. It says something for the system that it can handle the various scales with ease.

The thing that I immediately liked about TME is that the Allied player has the flexibility to choose his own landing zones. The various potential beaches are rated for how good they are for landings, in terms of initial landing and follow-up strengths, and the Allied player has 6 invasion beach tokens. Each beach that's invaded takes a token, that counts for landing units for a fixed number of turns. Once all 6 tokens have been used, no more landings are allowed. So the Allied player has several competing requirements. Landing in strength is important, but so is having access to ports (for future supply and landing of units), and not being too far away from Germany is also important. All very intriguing.

Of course, the Axis player has no idea where the landings are going to come, so has to balance the response to the current landings with maintaining flexibility to cover future landings. So the Axis player doesn't really make much in the way of plans, having to respond to what the Allied player does. All very, very intriguing.

In our game I played the Axis, as Eric wanted to do the attacking since I was doing the attacking in our WBC-W OCS game, which was good with me. The main landings came in Normandy, with Eric using 3 of his 6 beachhead markers. I defended the bocage as best I could, but wasn't doing any attacks as those were some freaky big stacks he was pushing around.

Around turn 6 or so Eric had pushed out of the bocage. I was really concerned with his paratroopers landing in behind me and preventing retreats, so I was trying to defend in some depth, which is never a bad idea, anyway. He's also landed in the south with 2 more of his precious beachhead markers, and in south-west France with the last one. This allowed me the freedom to release all my forces guarding potential landing sites, focusing on the main one in Normandy.

At the end of the first session, I committed my main panzer divisions, which I'd been holding in reserve on an attack on his line. this was rather ill-advised, but in truth I was becoming a little bored as we were about a quarter way through the game and I hadn't made a single attack yet. However, things went really badly (I believe I rolled '3' on two dice), and I ended up with all my armor in a very precarious situation.

Over the intervening week between the two sessions I could see all the possible permutations on how Eric could surround and totally wipe out pretty much the entire panzer component of the Axis forces. However, at the start of the second session Eric either didn't see the options or chose not to be too aggressive, and I was able to extricate them in good shape.

In the north I commenced a steady fall back to the very defensible Seine and Paris, building strong defenses. I was nipping at the edges, and managed to take out a couple of armored divisions that he'd pushed forward too far, unsupported. Eric had captured Cherbourg, but was hurting for a second port to replace his soon to disappear last beachhead. Fortunately (well, for him, anyway!) he captured Le Havre, but I mustered my panzers and attacked along the coast, removing two or his armored divisions in the overrun. However, it was at this point that Eric spotted that we'd been playing the overruns wrongly up to this point, allowing units to overrun multiple times, rather than ending their turn at the conclusion of the overrun, succeed or fail. (Too much playing OCS.) This left my panzers hung out to dry, unable to take advantage of the successful overrun to recapture Le Havre, nor move back to the safety of their own lines.

Meanwhile, in the south, Eric was making slow progress up the valleys, as the lack of mobility through the rough terrain allowed my few units to hold him up. The dice weren't helping him in any way, though, as he continually rolled poorly.

Over in the south west, Eric managed to capture Bordeaux, and the vital port, but he then vacated it, allowing me to sneak in the back door and recapture it. I tried to get smart and used that unit to move north, and Eric promptly re-recaptured it. When he thought it was safe he moved out again, but I was still in range and snuck back in again! Wild. Eventually Eric abandoned that area of the board, moving his units north, but I'd learned my lesson and wasn't taking that bait, leaving my unit to protect it.

And that was the end of the second session, taking us up to the end of turn 13. At this point I'm feeling pretty confident, as I feel I've got a very strong and defensible line in the north that's going to be real hard for him to crack. My weak spots are the south and the southern end of my line. Some quick success in the south could see my defenses unravel pretty quickly, and if he moves the focus to swing around the south of my Seine/Paris line rather than try to bludgeon his way through it could get ugly quickly. However, with very few active ports he doesn't have a lot of flexibility, so I should be able to pick up on any change of focus quickly enough to respond before it becomes a serious threat. Except for those panzers.

Here's some pics of the situation at the end of turn 13:

And so to our third session. This was the session in which pretty much nothing went Eric's way. His air support table rolls sucked. His combat rolls sucked. Except, oddly enough, in the south, where he reversed the rolls from the previous session, and had all his best dice rolls there, starting to seriously push me back.

In the north, his first move was to secure Le Havre, rather than attempt to remove my panzer threat. We traded a couple of hexes back and forth, as my panzers stacked up to get a decent odds column and I rolled averagely, which is all that's needed for the German player in my position. Eric made no more than one hex per turn progress, which meant that he was going to struggle to score any points, let alone the 25 he needed for a draw. With only 8 turns left he'd had enough and we wrapped it up. Here's the final position:

This is one of those games where I don't really feel I did much for the win. The only real decisions are when to stay and when to bug out to the next defense line. Mostly I feel I got these decisions right, although the stack of dead Axis units might say otherwise, but they were pretty much all weak units. Perhaps the telling statistic is that at the end of turn 17 I had 1 panzer and 1 mechanized unit in my dead pile, all the rest being on the map, and mostly at full strength. Where I did trip up, I feel, was in not pressing enough in the first few turns. Looking at those big stacks of Allied units, especially in bocage, I didn't attempt any attacks, but the combat table is very favorable to the Axis player. I'm not sure that trading steps is a good move for the Axis player, however, but trying to push the Allied stacks off their beach-heads seems like a good move.

I do think that I was helped tremendously by a couple of things that Eric did. First, in the first couple of turns I learned the power of an Allied air drop behind my lines. Cutting off retreats helps with step losses on retreats, but, even more importantly, the brutal supply rules for the Axis (EZoCs are not negated by friendly units) makes getting surrounded a bad thing, as units attrition away after the second turn of being OoS. So, I was very relieved to find that all his airborne divisions were in the dead pile, and he wasn't using his replacements to rebuild them.

Second, he burned his 6 beachhead markers very quickly, and using up that last one allowed me to release all the units protecting possible follow-on invasions to build a solid line. Keeping at least one beachhead marker available for another invasion is, I believe, critical for keeping the Axis player off balance.

I just thought of a third thing. The Allies need to keep the pressure on the Axis player, so he's having to defend on all fronts. Whilst Eric suffered for a large period of time with few ports with which to activate HQs for attack, I think the Allied player needs to be attacking in a lot more places than the one or two select attacks (at high odds) that Eric made. In my view (and, not having played as the Allies, I could be way off base here) I think that the Allies should be making 3 2:1 attacks rather than 1 6:1 attack. Sure, there's the chance of some bad rolls, but the Allied player needs to give himself the chance of getting that good result that causes a breakthrough, rather than allowing the game to stagnate into WWI type trench warfare. (I think that was the issue with the Afrika II SCS game I played recently - we were both too timid on attacks, and it really did feel more like WWI than the cut and thrust of the desert.)

Overall, this wasn't my favorite SCS game of the ones I've played. The Axis player doesn't have a lot to do other than run away from defense point to defense point, but, once again, that may have been a factor of the way our game developed. Either way up, that isn't to say that I didn't enjoy it, and for a large part of the early game I was metaphorically chewing my finger nails at the situation. As the game wore on I was feeling more confident, but I always felt that I was just a couple of bad (or good, from Eric's perspective) dice rolls away from a disaster. I'd certainly like to give this one another go, and it's on my list for a future session. This time I get to be the Allies, to see if I can do any better.

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