Sunday, August 2, 2009

One-sided Sicily

OK, it took over a year, but we have played the OCS Sicily: Triumph and Folly campaign game to a conclusion. We both blogged the first part of the game (Eric's take, my take part 1, part 2, part 3, thoughts), and then put it away for a while. We had another weekend session, which we didn't blog, after which I wasn't overly interested in continuing it. Having got past the initial landings and the counter-attacks, it had settled down to the grind, with the Allies doing all the advancing and attacking, and the Axis forces defending and just taking it.

After coming back from the WBC-W event Eric and I discussed what we wanted to do with this blog, and what games we wanted to do it with. It was then that I proposed that we get Sicily back on the table and play it to a conclusion. My motivation was more so that we could say we had played the whole game, start to finish, than I was really looking forward to actually playing it. Don't get me wrong, however, and interpret this as any disillusionment with OCS; it firmly remains my favorite game system of all time. Period. No ifs or buts.

Before much more ado, though, a quick discussion on the game end and victory conditions. The game ends as soon as the Allies capture Messina, Palermo and Syracuse, and is won or lost from VPs in three areas. First, the Axis player scores 1VP for each turn beyond the August 8th turn until the game ends, i.e. the longer they can hold out the more VPs scored. The game automatically ends on the August 29th turn, so there are a maximum of 12 VPs to be earned here.

Second, the Axis player also scores points for extricating German combat units from Sicily, to Italy and then off the board, in a range from -7Vps to +7VPs. The former is achieved if only 12 or fewer German units are evacuated by the end of the game. From 13 units onwards, stepping in increments of 2 units and 2 VPs, the Axis player moves up the chart, with 19-20 units scoring 0VPs, 21-22 scoring +1, etc. And units can't be evacuated before August 10th. Note it's combat units only - artillery units and HQs don't count. This is kinda surprising, as I would have thought that being able to escape with equipment would be a good thing.

Third, the Axis player scores 1VP for each ship damaged, or 2VPs for each ship sunk, but this is relatively hard to achieve, as a ship can only get a single DG in a player turn, and it requires 2 DG results to score a damage. When Eric took a double turn late in the game I focussed my air units on his ships in my turn, putting two into DG, and then got the initiative roll to attack them again, getting the second DG required for damage.

A minor Axis win is a net 10-12 VPs, a major win, 13+VPs, and a draw 6-9VPs. Anything less is an Allied win, of one sort or another, but I'm not interested in them, because I'm the Axis and we don't talk about no dirty, stinking Allied win.

So the Axis game is one of balance. Too much emphasis on a strong line to keep the Allies out of Messina (likely the last city to fall) means not enough units are evacuated, and a large negative modifier. Evacuating too much too soon means risking an Allied breakthrough. Either one leads to an Allied win.

When we last left our intrepid gamers, 7 turns of the game had gone by. The Allies were landed in strength, had stabilized their beach heads and were pushing forward. The deployment had followed history, with the Brits pushing up the east coast and the Americans doing the big end-around to capture the western end of the island. The Brits had started the grind towards Mt. Etna and the north east.

The landings had gone fairly well for the Commonwealth forces, but the Americans had a tough time. I had concentrated most of my force on the Americans, and for a short time entertained thoughts of throwing them off the beach at Gela. Concentrating on the Americans did mean I gave the Commonwealth an easier time, but they didn't feel to be pressing too hard. So, by the time he was getting off the beaches and linking up, Eric was behind schedule. The story continues....

Then we hit the middle game, where the Commonwealth forces were driving over the relatively open terrain, before hitting the constricting paths around Mt. Etna. It was here, if anywhere, that I feel I played my poorest. I defended too often in open terrain, and could have been subject to a lot of losses. I should have been falling back to the rougher terrain more quickly, rather than defending in the open. I pfaffed around with my defenses, and didn't have a coherent plan. However, and fortunately for me, this is where I feel Eric also played his poorest, as he had an opportunity to take advantage of my weak defensive positions and really press the attack with the Brits. Some concentrated attacks, with lots of reserves to back them up, could have been just the ticket to blow a hole in my lines and start bagging some serious German losses. Perhaps having just set the game up, we were both getting to grips with the position. Perhaps he hadn't enough supply. But this was the time when I was most subject to a breakthrough.

Meanwhile the Americans were making slow, but steady, progress in the west. Trouble is, the Allies can't afford slow and steady. More dramatic action was needed, and a few times Eric declined to attack when at low odds, despite having large AR modifiers. On more than one occasion I was surprised to be handed the turn, expecting the Americans to keep up the tempo.

As it was, I was able to fall back in good order on all fronts without suffering much in the way of German losses, keeping a solid depth of units. I managed to get a few replacements, which helped, but I don't think I was over the average roll.

The latter part of the game became pretty much a grind. Eric came around both sides of Mt. Etna, but didn't achieve a breakthrough on either side, although with only a 2- or 3-hex path there wasn't huge chance of that. On the coast there were some good successes with barrages, taking out steps, but often the follow-up attack rolled weakly and was unable to take advantage. Several times having reserves would have allowed advantage of the few successes, pressing onto my second line, but Eric didn't make great use of his available reserve markers. It was here that I used most of my reserves, either with artillery units to break up his attacking stacks, or to add fresh steps to the defenders of likely combats. Mostly both.

The other side of Mt. Etna saw Eric's attacks implode on a series of weak rolls late on in the game, although they were fairly low odds attacks against some strong defense. However, by this time the game was well advanced and Eric really had to start pressing, taking the risks that bit him in the butt big time. After that, this front was quiet, and I was able to shift forces to the coast, although I'd been starting to do that before his attacks failed, as he was now attacking up a single road, with mountains to each side, and I was confident that I had enough strength to hold him at bay.

Over on the other side, the Americans finally took Palermo and had started driving along the northern coast, having cut the island in two, although with only a 1-hex path of usable terrain it was more of a walk than a drive. Some more distinctly average rolls didn't allow for much progress, especially as I had a procession of units to choke him up with.

And so it went until we had got far enough that we had a winner. The victory, in the end, went the way of the Axis forces, as we stopped the game when about to start the August 22nd turn, 4 turns from the end, and declared a major Axis victory. At that point I had scored 7VPs from game turns and I had 3VPs from damaged ships. I had 15 units exited, with 3 more to move off-map that turn, and another 4 ready to cross the straits. That means in 2 more turns I would have had 21 units off, for 1VP, 9VPs from turns and 3VPs from ships, for a total of 13VPs, enough for a major Axis victory, and there was no way that Eric was going to break through and end the game before that happened. In fact it was looking increasingly unlikely that he'd get to Messina before the game ended, and it's possible that I could have ended the game with 15-20VPs.

Here's the ending position:

(And here's a page of turn by turn pics for those interested.)

So, how did my game pan out? Rather unsurprisingly, my aim was to defend strongly initially, and then switch over to a gradually collapsing front towards Messina. As always with this sort of strategy, the timing of the switch is the critical factor, and her I think I got it mostly right. Overall, I'd say I achieved my objectives, although I did hang around too long in the open terrain in the east. There were a couple times there that I had to scramble to form a line, but mostly things went to plan. I was most concerned about an early drive by the Americans to split the island in two, isolating my Fallschirmjaeger division, and a lot of units that wouldn't be evacuated. However, it never materialized, and they were able to dash for safety.

As usual in these sorts of games, there was a certain amount of dice wackiness going on. Like the puny Italian fighter that took on the might of the Allied air forces and emerged victorious. Eric's seemingly unerring ability to make his flak rolls, and my total lack of same. A coastal unit managing to fend off a couple of American armored battalions. (A whole bunch of snake eyes on combat will do that for you.) In our evening sessions my artillery was either on (never rolled less than an 8) or off (couldn't even roll a 6). Overall, though, I don't think either of us really rolled against the curve, but in certain areas it did add up. e.g. I think Eric's replacement rolls were a full pip (or was it two?) below average. (I should really start recording these things.)

Overall I'm in two minds over Sicily as a game. Sure it's an interesting situation, and using the landing rules certainly makes for a different OCS game. However, this is a rather one-sided gaming situation after the first few turns. In fact over the second weekend session and all the 5 or 6 evenings it took to get to completion I performed not a single ground combat. Not one. I bobbed; I weaved; I used some artillery; I stood my ground; I got beat up; I retreated. But no ground combats. Now, whilst there is a certain challenge in executing a good defense (which can sometimes be harder than attacking), I certainly prefer a game where the defending side has some opportunity for offensive operations. (In this vein MMP's A Victory Lost (BGG entry) is a good example. Even though the Axis are heavily on the defensive, they still have some decent punch, and are very able to deliver a good blow if the Soviet player stretches a little too far.) However, all that said, I think I'd do it again, as at least I'd know what to expect.

I'll post a few thoughts on OCS separately. Meanwhile, onto the next game!

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