Saturday, December 5, 2009

Not your father's Bastogne

In our ongoing wait for table space to get started with our OCS Korea (BGG entry) game, I proposed The Gamers' SCS game Bastogne (BGG entry). Eric and Chuck had played through the first few turns and had raved about it, so I was intrigued and we had the opportunity. Win-win baby!

Although nominally part of the SCS range of games, Bastogne changes quite a few of the major rules. The main move-fight-exploit turn sequence is still there, but there are quite a few additions and changes to the various systems.

  • Road movement phase: An additional movement phase, just prior to the regular movement phase; any unit that starts on a road (of any description, including railroad) and isn't in a ZoC has 3MPs; each MP can take the unit as far as it wants until it either changes to a different type of road, or encounters another friendly unit; moving units are not allowed to enter a ZoC
  • Artillery: Artillery units may fire ranged barrages; there are two types of artillery, yellow, which requires the expenditure of (limited) ammo, and white, which fires for free; artillery has a hit number, most 4 in the case of yellow, and 2 for white, and rolling this number or below is a hit and causes the target to become Disorganized (DG); after achieving a hit, it's possible for the barrage to cause a step loss in addition, 4-6 for a yellow unit, 6 for a white, and 5-6 for an '88'; all artillery barrages have to be spotted, which means the target has to be adjacent to a friendly unit
  • Air: The Allied player can get Air Support, starting on turn 6, the number of air strikes being a d6; they don't need a spotter or ammo, but otherwise act like yellow artillery
  • Barrage phases: There are two barrage phases, one in each player turn; however, only Allied air units may fire in the Allied barrage phase, and all may barrage in the German player turn

The turn sequence is:

Allied Player Turn:

  • Reinforcements
  • Road March
  • US Barrage (air only)
  • Movement
  • Combat
  • Exploit

German Player Turn:

  • Reinforcements/Removals
  • Road March
  • Movement
  • DG Removal
  • US Barrage (all units)
  • German Barrage
  • Combat
  • Exploit

The Road March is the one that's hardest to get used to. Units can zip from place to place really quickly, and a clever German player can keep some of his armor units on the roads in reserve and relocate them to the other side of the map in a twinkle. This makes holding the intersections and road choke points of vital importance. Miss a road and suddenly the enemy is in your back field, as the other player has 3 movement phases in a row with no chance to react. And some of these armored units have 14 of 16 MPs to spend per phase. That's a lot of freaky movement potential, with nothing the other player can do about it. He can only watch as all these units drive on by, and then take another exploit movement to drive some more. I find this a little much to stomach, and I think there should have been some sort of reaction/reserve phase to allow some way to mitigate it. Either that or reduce the movement allowances.

Also note that there's no supply phase, which is because there are no supply rules in the game. You can stick a unit miles behind enemy lines with no worries about trying to maintain a line of communication or getting more food and ammo to them. OK, the scale is 1 turn per day, but I still think that leads to sticking a single unit behind lines just to disrupt movement, which I find to be rather gamey and not the way units would be handled.

Victory is determined by the number of VPs that the German player collects, which is in three different ways. First, he gains point for how much strength each of the four main formations have when they are removed. At or near their initial strength gains 2VPs, around 25% step losses earns 1VP, and around 50% step losses gains 0VPs for that formation. So the German player can't just use them in a reckless manner. Of course, these are the main armored force that the German player gets, so he can't afford to keep them sitting around doing nothing.

Second, is the opening of the routes, to the north, south, and straight through, Bastogne, earning 5, 4, and 8VPs, respectively. If the Allied player retains any combat units (not artillery, and not units from the reinforcing 3rd army late in the game) in good order on the route, then that route is closed and the German player gains no VPS for it. These are only determined at the very end of the game, after the German turn.

Finally, the German player also gains 2VPs if he has any steps in any hex of Bastogne (there are 6 of them) at the end of the US player's turn. There is no requirement to maintain a line of communication or anything, so a suicide run can be useful.

The German player requires 12 or more points to score a minor win.

In our game I played the US, and Eric took the Germans. The early game proved to be very slow, as I did a good job, I believe, of holding the vital roads, and slowly collapsing back towards Bastogne. During this time it was with no help from my artillery, as I hit on no more than 1 in 2 shots with my yellow artillery, with only 2-3 step losses. In the mean time my armor units were dashing back and fore, nipping any incursions that Eric might have made, including the odd single unit that broke through the lines.

Up until the final session, turns 8 through 10, I felt I was in good shape. Eric had scored only 4 VPs from his removed formations, and it was looking increasingly like he wouldn't be able to open any of the routes.

And then the DSDF kicked in, but you fully expected that. On turn 8, I believe it was, Eric went on an artillery frenzy, hitting around 7 out of 8 50% rolls, 3 out of 4 33% rolls and 2 out of 2 66% rolls. I almost ran out of 'DG' markers. In the same turn I missed both my critical 66% barrages. The former was followed up by lots of successful low-odds combats (one roll below 7 in 10 attempts), which decimated my available forces, and the latter allowed the combat to open an exploit path for him to stick a unit in Bastogne.

Turn 9 saw both my air strikes miss their 50% hit rolls in Bastogne, although I was able to clear the single step unit out in a combat, but only at the cost of another step loss to me. I put a unit with two steps into Bastogne to protect it. But Eric ran a unit up and scored 4 out of 4 50% rolls to score two hits and two step losses, and kill it in one go with a pair of yellow artillery units. He runs more units into Bastogne, which I can't clear out, to score 2VPs, and then DGs all my units on the road (and there weren't many of them left) to claim route B for 8VPs and the win.

Wow, talk about a reversal. Eric scored the perfect storm of die rolls as I missed all mine and he scored all his, although turn 8 was probably the real killer, as I just plain ran out of units to cover all the roads. My reinforcements only made it on the final turn as I couldn't roll the 33% nor 50% on turns 8 and 9 respectively, although I'm not sure they would have made a huge difference.

Overall, a fairly interesting game, and one I'd be more than willing to try it again, as it's a good puzzle. A totally different feel than all the other SCS games I've played. The US player has to be careful parsing the map, and can't afford to miss a road. However, something needs to be done about that movement phasing/MA and lack of supply. As it is, the ability to just buzz about in three movement phases with no way of responding doesn't feel right, and it allows the German player far too much ability to indulge in suicide missions in the hope that the dice go kindly and he can score some points or disrupt the US movement.

Due to the upcoming holiday period Eric and I have agreed to postpone the OCS Korea until the new year, when we can get a clear swing at it. I've had to cancel the past couple of weeks due to various things, and on the calendar will be another go at Worthington Games' Prussia's Defiant Stand (BGG entry, Eric's take, my take), a first attempt at the new GMT The Caucasus Campaign (BGG entry), which leaves a single evening before the holiday.

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