Monday, August 3, 2009

Sicily Post-Mortem

So, after all's said and done, what are my thoughts on Sicily? I'm likely rambling below, so bear with me. Mike posted a link in his last post to all the game images, so if you want to follow the progress, you've got the source material right there.

I was pretty happy when Mike suggested returning it to the table after a long layoff. The point at which we'd left the game looked pretty ambiguous as to the final victor (at least to my untrained eye) and I hate leaving things in uncertain states. That said, I knew it wasn't going to be very interesting from Mike's perspective, as the majority of his game from that point on was going to be figuring out when to flip the switch from defending to evacuating. The rest was playing defense in rough terrain while maintaining supply lines. Not all that exciting.

First off, we were rather ambitious, er, naïve, er, something in tackling the landings in our first attempt. I can pretty much guarantee rules were botched during that. There are some unique features in nearly every OCS game, but the amphibious assault rules are by far the most extensive, and cause repercussions throughout the remainder of the campaign. Get off to a slow start, and you'll have trouble winning.

That said, running the landings was very instructive from my side as the Allies. I attempted to use the historical setup and initial goals as much as possible. Of course no plan survives first contact with the enemy and this was no exception. This game will certainly teach you how to keep separation in your multi-unit formations. I'd have to go back and look at some of the pictures, but my recollection was that I spent a turn or even three early on doing a lot of reorganization work separating my divisions that had been jumbled during the landings.

I had general “this is this group's first objective” strategies, but more detail would have been better. I'd even recommend printing out a copy of the map (extracted from the Vassal module) and drawing out planned advances for each division after the landings. In fact, I'd recommend doing that before starting any OCS campaign as the attacker. Not only does it make the game go faster (as you know what you're attempting to do) but it forces you to learn your available forces early.

The quickest way to lose a wargame is to not have a plan. Even a bad plan is better than no plan.

It is amazing to me how much more I felt like I knew OCS after Mike and I restarted than when we first began this venture. The intervening plays of DAK2 and Case Blue cemented a lot of things into my mind. Plus, in Sicily, you'll feel like you can try anything because you actually have supply to pull off many of your plans. Case Blue? Not so much... That's a game that'll teach you how to run an offensive on fumes, duct tape, and silly putty.

How is Sicily as an OCS game? Well, it's unique in a couple respects – it's the only amphibious invasion in the system, and it's the only game set on an island. (At least until the Crimea add-on comes for Case Blue.) There's no edge-of-the-world issues, no worrying about off-map movement, etc. The game really highlights the competitive nature of the US vs. Commonwealth forces, and the US Air Force vs. Army as well. What you can do is frequently hampered by one of those dysfunctional relationships.

However, after the landings are settled, and the drives north and west have commenced, it's not a very interesting game for the Axis. You fight with whatever Italians don't immediately surrender, use the Germans in required amounts until the window opens to begin evacuations and then bug out. Harass when you can, find an new defensive line when you can't. Deny, delay. There aren't all that many opportunities to attack after the first quarter of the game or so.

There simply aren't many WWII campaigns where both sides get attack possibilities. At least of short duration. The exceptions are probably North Africa and Burma. In nearly every other theatre, it was one side hammering on the other until the other side recovered and returned the blows (East Front) or the other side capitulated (France '40 AND '44, Italy, etc.)

Sicily's been unavailable at retail for a long time, now. As a result, prices have started to climb. It's worth the money if:

  • You're an OCS nut and don't have it yet

  • You've got a defensive specialist in your gaming group

  • Sicily is particularly interesting to you.

And there's a lot of reason for that final point. It's the largest amphibious invasion of all time in terms of men landed and frontage assaulted. It's the subject of Rick Atkinson's latest book Day of Battle. (Which I still need to read, btw.) It's the 2nd major test of the US army in the war after Operation Torch, and the lessons learned on Sicily would be carried forth to Normandy a year later.

Plus, Sicily and Hube's Pocket are probably the shortest campaign games in the series so far. So it's VERY playable. I think we spent a total of 50 hours on the campaign, and we're not the fastest players on the planet. One more evening likely would have gotten us to the full campaign end.

Plus, it's one of only four 2-map OCS games. (Tunisia, Hube's Pocket, and Burma being the others.)

So, if those points do it for you, see if you can grab a copy for a reasonable price. Just remember that the Axis game isn't entirely interesting in this one unless you really like defense.

OCS Tips

I've put a couple tactical tips into my last two posts, and I'll certainly be coming up with more over time. A few that come to mind right now are:

If you're attacking, and you're comfortable with your supply situation, you're not being aggressive enough.

While pacing an offensive to match your supply lines is what the overall commanders typically want, it's not the way the most effective commanders operated in WWII. Look at Patton's drive across France, Rommel's desert operations, and Guderian on the Eastern Front. These guys pushed HARD and forced the action when they got there – the supplies eventually arrived in enough quantity to support the advance (well, with the possible exception of Rommel).

Use reserve mode frequently.

I'll admit right up front that this is my weakest part of OCS play. I'd love to see an article in Operations (hint hint) that details a variety of effective uses of Reserve Mode. My tip last week was Mike's putting artillery in reserve to slow likely attacks from me once a solid front line developed. If you've got your forces organized properly, putting armor in the back line on reserve for use in the exploitation phase is obvious primary use.

If you've got off-map box resources, use them. Every turn.

These resources usually have no supply cost and can't be touched by the enemy, so use them heavily. Don't neglect them just because they're out of the main field of vision.

That's a few for now - I'll have more over time. Keep your eyes peeled :)

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