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Monday, September 28, 2015

NY National Guard in Germany 1985

1985 - Germany. A brigade of NY National Guard, ordered from what was essentially garrison duty to a rear position near the front lines is told that the enemy has broken through. Despite outdated equipment, they are about to face the might of the Soviet Union.

This is Cold War Commander, a 6mm game where each stand is a platoon and the emphasis is on combined arms. Something with which I am decidedly inexperienced, as it turns out.

Once again hosted by the gracious Michael, whose generous offers of chips fell on deaf ears, we're playing on the same board as last time, with the same troops, and the intent to finish the game. Matt couldn't make it, so I'm responsible for the whole American force this time.

Further, we added some recon elements to the mix, and each chose a secret major or minor objective.

There were two things I particularly enjoyed about this game, and both dealt with the hard to simulate "Fog of War". Firstly, I just love secret objectives. You have your objectives, but you also theoretically want to stop your opponent from achieving theirs, if you can figure out what it is in time. The second is that we used scheduled artillery.  I scheduled targets (terrain features) for the first four rounds, figuring I would be unable to predict what happened after that.  That kind of guesswork made things interesting.

My objectives were pretty consistent with each other. The major objective was to take the town, and the secondary was to take the small village on the other end of the road from the town.  Ok, so NATO command wants the NY National Guard to take and hold the towns against the Soviet breakthrough. No problem.  But what are the Soviets up to?

My strategy - deploy my tanks in line to move directly at the two objectives.  The left, near the small village, was the most open area. Last game, I managed to mangle the Soviet armor by holding and firing down that long open corridor. I was hoping to do so again.

My other tank company was deployed on the road to the town, hoping to use the activation advantage of the road, which I managed to consistently use throughout the game this time. My armored transports and Battalion commander were between the two armored companies, giving me a mobile reserve and hopefully protecting the more delicate carriers and the infantry inside.

Unfortunately for me, the Soviets went first. Their tanks pressed forward into the village, which worried me.  Was that their objective as well? It would be a pain to try to drive them out of it if they took it first.   Behind them was an array of armored carriers with deadly AT missiles, and to the right the overall commanders AA assets and AT groups.

On my turn, my scheduled artillery hit nothing, as the Soviets moved further than I expected them to. Mike had rolled well for his activations. I rolled significantly less well, something that would be a theme of this game!  On my first turn I was only able to activate a single group of infantry carriers, everything else stayed off board.

The Soviets moved their tanks forward, but kept their carriers where they were.  On my second turn, my tanks deployed, moving and shooting, but were interrupted by opportunity fire from the Soviet tanks. Could have been worse.

Mike had set his tanks up well. One group facing off with my tanks, the other covering an open area that I'd have to cross on the way to the town.

Both my tanks on the right and the carriers would have to cross that zone.

In fact, one group of carriers was already there. The tanks killed the flanking carrier, and the infantry inside. I really need to guard those better - it hurts to lose 2 units at once.

Worse though is what happened to the tanks on the left. Opening fire on the Soviet tanks, they took deadly opportunity fire from the missile-wielding carries across the table from them. Three tanks destroyed!  There was just no way that single tank platoon could hold off the entire group of Soviets that had deployed on the left.

There was some return fire, and the Soviets lost a single tank.

While they destroyed another one trying to make a run for the village.

The good thing about losing that tank is that the Soviets burned their chance to fire, so my carriers were able to cross the gap and position themselves to occupy the town.

Meanwhile, I call on my air assets to deal with the Soviet armor.  It manages to keep their heads down at least.

Meanwhile, I bring on my AT group of "Dragons", and they manage to damage, but not kill another tank.

Realizing that the left cannot hold, I turn my second group of carriers towards the main town.  I would temporarily cede the small village, hoping to take it by charging down the road once the main town was occupied.

First I'd need air cover to keep the tankers from taking opportunity fire. My Air Control unit calls in the bomber.  Bomber, you're coming in a little wide of target, you might want to- OH GOD NO!!

I rolled boxcars, causing the bomber to target my own troops, killing my own AT platoon. How have I offended thee, O Dice Gods?

Crossing the gap anyway, my infantry dismount into the fields, while the other group moves into the town, taking the objective.

Meanwhile the Soviets abandon the small village and start moving towards my table edge in a mass. Ah, I see. Exiting 50% of your forces off the opposite edge was one of the possible objectives, and that's clearly what my opponent is trying to do.  Not that I have any forces in the area that could stop them.   But just look at all those tanks and carriers (with infantry inside) bunched up so close together!  Isn't that just asking for a bomber to come make their lives difficult?  My forward air controller dials up support...

NO GOD NO NOT AGAIN WHY OH WHY!?!  This time, my 5th columnist forward air controller destroys the HUMVEE that had carried the dead dragons, and blessedly, himself as well. Good riddance to that damnable Communist traitor! Unfortunately, this friendly fire (3 units!!!) has pushed me right near my break point.

Things are getting desperate. The Soviets are poised to exit, completing one of their two objectives (the other still unknown), and I've taken one of my two objectives which seems safe from Soviet counterattack. My senior commander is able to activate the remaining tank platoons to make a charge at the now empty small village for my secondary objective. I should note that on the right side none of my company commanders have managed to activate at all. My senior commander is doing all of the work. The company commanders are actually still near my table edge where they came on, and where they will remain until the end it seems...

My second carrier group moves towards the town and loses a mortar team to artillery fire.

I decide on a risky move. I need to get infantry to the second village. I order the infantry holding the main objective back into their transport and down the road, while the second carrier group moves up to replace them. There should be enough time left (6 our of 8 turns so far) to occupy both objectives and maybe squeak out a draw or possibly a win if the Soviets fail their second objective.

It's dangerous to move in a column like this, but keeping everyone on the road greatly increases the chance of my overall commander activating these units. Clearly I can't rely on my company commanders...

Meanwhile the Soviets move through a narrow gap between wooded areas towards their exit.

And they call up their air assets. An attack helicopter flies up, using the village's buildings for cover from my AA units.  Uh oh...

Only another mortar team is killed, but the tanks are scattered into the fields and suppressed. The carriers continue to advance.
 Meanwhile the other group of infantry re-secures the main objective.

Soviet artillery deploys smoke in front of my single remaining tank on the left, screening their withdrawal. Not that that one tank platoon could do much anyway...

With the traitorous air observer dead, it falls to my senior commander to call in the air strikes. Using recon, he does so, suppressing those tanks and allowing the carriers to move into the small village.

The infantry take the secondary objective.

But that damned helicopter doesn't let up!  Moving into the 8th turn, the Soviets reveal the depth of my mistakes. I should have really held back in the larger village more than I did. Leaving only the minimum needed, I brought everything forward to support the charge towards the small village, in case the Soviet tanks turned around to engage. I inadvertently set up a kill zone right in the open, and gave my opponent a target-rich environment. All I needed to do was hold on and not break on the last turn. I started turn 7 already at my break point, and had to roll on turn 7 to simply not run away. If I could do it again on turn 8, I might even pull off a costly victory...

But my mistake sealed my defeat. With the enemy HQ and AT assets in sight of the road, they were able to call in a helicopter air strike, then artillery, then an AT attack to absolutely wreck the American vehicles which had pushed forward in such strength. The loss of four more units put me at about 150% of my breakpoint, meaning I needed a 4 or less on 2d6 to even get my last turn and hold my ground. The dice gods, clearly angry over some previous infraction, would not allow such a roll, and the American forces withdrew from their two objectives in defeat.

The two Soviet objectives had been to exit 50% of their forces off my table edge, and take less than 50% casualties, both of which they handily attained. With the Americans breaking on the last turn, I lost both objectives, and the result is a total Soviet victory. A sad day for freedom-loving people everywhere.

Talking with Mike afterwards, he commiserated with my really terrible dice rolls (one of my worst sessions for dice ever) this game and talked tactics and rules. It was a great time, and we both agree that one of the tough things about Cold War Commander is the difficulty in extracting forces under fire, something that is central to American doctrine in real life. The way opportunity fire works, it becomes very hard to maneuver.  To make a Chain of Command comparison, it is as if all of your forces are on overwatch all the time.  Still, it was an enjoyable game with good company and I'll play it again.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Battletech: Alpha Strike Playthrough

I do love me some Battletech. It's actually one of the first games of this type I ever played, way back in my freshmen year of High School. It's a wonderfully clunky mass of rules, much like the mechs themselves. A game of with two mechs can easily go two hours, if the damage is evenly distributed and you don't lose too many limbs.

Hence Alpha Strike, a sort of quick play rule set meant to get in a quick game with multiple mechs.  Just about everything is abbreviated in these rules, and Fritz and I were looking forward to trying it to compare with the regular game.

We took 150 points each, Fritz buying 5 mechs and me buying 6.  A game this size would probably take 3 or 4 hours in the regular rules. We finished in a little over 1.

I deployed my mechs in a line, with my heavy mechs directly across from the more concentrated enemy (left) and my fast light mechs on the right.

Fritz kept his force together in tight formation.

Movement was simplified, like everything else, but moving mechs are still harder to hit.

Terrain, however, seemed a bit less important.

Especially water terrain, of which there were several pieces on the board. My initial strategy was to get my heavy mech to water to help with heat management. Guess what, that's not something you have to worry about in Alpha Strike, so water is useless. Instead of carefully choosing which weapons to fire (and when to fire all of them and spike your heat), only some mechs (strangely in my case the lighter ones) could overclock their weapons at all, accumulating a point of heat for an extra point of damage. They could safely do this three times, but at that point you can just stop. Heat just isn't a problem in this game.

Fritz brought one of his mechs out away from the others to deal with my light mechs which were flanking him. I began to concentrate my fire on that single mech, but it's hard to hit from longer ranges.

Then, he returns fire, and one-shots my weakest mech. In Alpha Strike, there's no rolling for where damage is, no limbs being blown off, no head shots, etc. There are critical hits, but honestly, they didn't really do anything for this game as they're very mild in outcome. In this instance, the mech shooting at me did 5 damage (flat) if it hit, while my mech had 2 armor and 2 internal structure, meaning it went down straight. Then again, the mech only cost 15 points...

And while he wasted fire on that puny mech, my Jenner ran around to his rear. Rear armor isn't easier to penetrate in Alpha Strike, instead the attacking mech does an extra point in damage.

With four mechs concentrating fire, Fritz loses his first mech.

His heavies remain on the left.

My flanking motion seems to be working...

Getting my Jenner completely around the back of his heavy mechs, we begin to slug it out at point blank range. No punching mechs in Alpha Strike though...

I win a series of initiative rolls which really give me the edge, getting my mechs behind Fritz's. Initiative is very important in regular battletech as well. It might be even more so in Alpha Strike.

We dance around each other, armor points falling on all sides.

As Fritz's mechs start falling, winning initiative really starts to matter - in fact it snowballs. If I win, he has to move a mech first, after which we alternate. But if I have two mechs more than him, I'm moving two after he's finished his moves, allowing me optimal placement.

After all, if I'm behind you, I can shoot at you but you can't shoot at me...

Fritz's heavy stays on the table edge, the only place I can't outmaneuver him.

But in the end, he goes down.

As does another.

One mech remaining, which I now have surrounded.

And it goes down.  Mechs go down much quicker in Alpha Strike.

So, the verdict?  Some of my favorite parts are stripped out of this version - especially the tension of getting hit and no knowing immediately how bad and to what systems. Also, heat management and choosing between weapons is an essential part of the original game. That said, it was still more or less Battletech, and having so many mechs on the board allowed for entirely different tactics to emerge. But the real selling point was the time it took (or didn't take) to play it. We were able to squeeze in a very enjoyable game of Battletech after a game of All Quiet on the Martian Front and still had time to spare.

So in the end, I'd have to say that I enjoyed Alpha Strike, but it's not so much a replacement as another, less intense, way to play a great game. If you love Battletech and want a quick pick-up game of it, then give Alpha Strike a try.