Friday, 2 June 2017

The Hedghog of Piepsk

I did actually manage to get a game in during May although only just.  My mother-in-law has been very poorly and has been in hospital for the past 3 or 4 weeks, necessitating daily visits to keep up her spirits and also those of my father-in-law too.  Fingers crossed she is on the mend now although I suspect there will be more twists and turns before she gets home.

The game I did manage on the penultimate day of May was my third game of Squad Leader.  This time I chose Scenario 4, entitled "The Hedgehog of Piepsk", which was all about a weak company of German infantry holding onto an isolated village strongpoint in 1941 Central Russia against a Russian force four times their size.  I could have chosen Scenario 3 which was a combination of the first two scenarios but I could not face it. There was going to be rather too many counters on the table for it to be solo-playable and I had found the original scenarios to be rather claustrophobic.  I am sure the original combatants in Stalingrad might have agreed although for rather more personal reasons!

Scenario 4 used boards 2 to 4, which I had never used before.  And in the way in which Squad Leader builds up the rules used a scenario at a time, this one brought in the use of off table artillery for the first time.

Squad Leader with wide open spaces - I quite like the mapboards
It also brought in the rules for hidden placement which could have been rather challenging for solo play.  Instead of following the rules of noting down the grid references of the hidden German forces, I simply allowed the Russians to move first and then place the Germans on the table, reasoning that my lack of experience of the rules would be unlikely to unbalance the scenario too much.  I also decided that once I had placed a unit I would not move it again, thereby limiting my ability to continually fiddle with the deployment.

The game seemed to progress pretty well.  It demonstrated (again!) that moving infantry in the open would quickly lead to heavy losses.  It also showed for the first time how potent machine guns could be in their ability to engage several hexes at once in their line of sight - the crowded streets of Stalingrad had result in engagements at close range and there had been little opportunity to see the "penetration" of machine gun fire.  This scenario also showed how important leadership is in Squad Leader, in particular to get broken infantry back up and moving or at least under cover.  In the game, the Russians quickly lost two of their three leaders which meant their assault on the village in the middle of the right hand board (see the photo) quickly ground to a halt as units were broken and could not be rallied.

The game ended in a clear German victory, although if some of the Russian dice rolls had been a little kinder things would have been a bit closer.  I quite enjoyed the game and I am looking forward to getting to the rules for armour in the near future.  Using more of the mapboards was a welcome change of Squad Leader scenery.

Wednesday, 3 May 2017

The Tractor Works

I played my second game of Squad Leader on Monday. It was the scenario of The Tractor Works in which a crack unit of German assault engineers had to capture and hold the said works amidst the ruin of Stalingrad before the Russian counterattack could sweep them away. This scenario introduced explosive charges and flamethrowers. It also added concealment, which was a bit tricky to play solo.

The game was a bit of a slugfest which saw the German assault defeated thanks to a series of quite awful dice rolls. I finished it early when it was pretty clear the Russians were going to win. The game was OK but it would be nice to get to the armoured rules where things may become more expansive than claustrophobic street fighting.

Sunday, 23 April 2017

Squad Leader Revisited

I had said that I would look again at original Squad Leader as one of my 6 by 6 Challenge games.  This is very much a classic game of World War II infantry combat, according to Boardgame Geek it was first published in 1977.  I have the final 4th edition of 1980.

It is very much a tactical combat game that I am sure traces back to miniatures games rather than a more conventional boardgame reliant on rolling odds on a combat results table (CRT) or at least as I remember from the early to mid 1980s.  Indeed a quick search on the internet shows that there are Squad Leader in Miniature to enable the game to be taken from the board to the table using miniatures. As the blurb on the box says, this is a board wargame system rather than a set game and this makes it quite attractive from a replayability standpoint.

I had decided to play the first 6 scenarios from Squad Leader but then I came across a fan site which referred to a "Tactical Training Series" (TTS) which is a series of 6 scenarios to help newcomers learn how to manoeuvre and fight - apparently the game as written does not quite do this.  This looked attractive but then I decided to stick to my original plan.  I had played the first scenario "The Guards Counterattack" about three times over the years, played the second scenario about once and had managed to go no further.  This time I had to get to at least scenario 3!

The game set up for the first scenario - I was surprised at how small it was
I will not give a blow by blow account of the battle.  Suffice to say it was a bit of an infantry slog in the ruins of Stalingrad.  The Russians had the better of it overall and scored a narrow victory.  It certainly showed the benefit of hard cover and the dangers of running in the open across lines of fire.  I quite enjoyed it even though there was an inevitably large amount of rules referrals and some mistakes - I did not quite use the leadership modifiers right in firing for example. And here's to playing the second scenario!

Friday, 21 April 2017

The Scots Campaign in England - the last battle

So what was happening to the north while Lord Cottar was successfully extricating his army from the grip of the Parliamentary forces?  As mentioned before, in a dastardly English trick the Commonwealth Navy had transported the New Model Army for a direct attack north of the border.  All that could face them was a scratch Scottish force that was deployed in three lines in blocking positions at the river, between the impenetrable forests and finally on top of the hill.  If the Scots could hold the English here long enough, Cottar's army could return in time to throw the English back.

That was the narrative behind the 6th and final scenario in this leg of the 6 by 6 Challenge.  Scenario 26 - Triple Line had been previously randomly selected from One Hour Wargames and the game was again set up on the chessboard with minimum paper terrain.  In this scenario, the winner was whoever held the hill on the northern edge of the battlefield on the 15th and final turn of the game.  The twist here was that the Scots could not move (but they could fire) unless an English unit came within 2 inches (half an infantry move) of a Scottish unit.
The battlefield at the start of the 1st turn. The English to the south are deployed just off the playing surface which is the 6 by 6 grid.
With the Scots handicapped by an inability to move it looked like a foregone conclusion for the English to win.  The English set up to maximise their firepower from the infantry in order to clear the bridge without letting the Scots move.  To begin with things worked well, especially as the English appeared to have been practicing hard at their firing.  However, the effect of the bridge and the lack of manoeuvring space between the river and the 2nd Scottish line without triggering a move caused a hold up in the English crossing the river in force.  And the Scots themselves were also well equipped with shot and powder to the extent they threatened to put a serious dent in the English progress, further hampered by the charge of the Scots lancers.

However, numbers told, especially in the numbers of 5s and 6s thrown by the English to eventually destroy their opponents.  And so it was the English occupied the hill on the 14th turn to win the game.

The good thing about OHW are the finely balanced scenarios and the approach to quickly and randomly setting up forces to give a different tactical challenge each time.   The rules themselves are "crude but effective" and calling them crude is rather unfair - simple might be a better word.

I have enjoyed the narrative story-telling side of the linked scenarios and will no doubt return to this again in the future.  But now I must turn my attention to the 3rd leg of my 6 by 6 Challenge - will it be the venerable Squad Leader or the rather more recent Memoir 44?

Tuesday, 18 April 2017

Holding the Gap

As I mentioned in my last post, the "miniaturised" version of OHW had proved to be quite successful to the extent that I turned round and played another game straight away.  This time it was scenario 24 - Bottleneck.

With the loss at Connor's Bluff, Cottar's Scottish army was chased back to the Scottish borders before they could find a place to turn in an effort to hold the rampaging Parliamentary army.  Cottar had found the ideal battlefield whereby his outnumbered force could defeat the English.

The battlefield at turn 1 - The Scots are based just to the north of the wood and lake, except for the Highlanders in the forest.  The English are just off the playing area looking to force their way up the road as well as sweep around the lake. 
The Scots had 4 units to the English 6. To win they had  to have at least one unit within 4 inches (2 squares) of the road by the end of turn 15.  The swordsmen (Highlanders) are hidden in the forest which is impassable to the English.

The battle unfolded in two parts.  The English charge up the road was blocked by some exceptional firing by the Scottish regiment that was based on the road.  The English had led with their own swordsmen who, while good at hand to hand, had no firepower and, worse, blocked the firing of the supporting three infantry regiments.  The swordsmen were quickly despatched and the following infantry regiment was also sent reeling back before the next regiment could finally see off the resilient Scots.

The English worked their way around the lake on the east flank, where the cavalry charged the Scottish reiters. In a close run fight, the reiters were just victorious thanks to the damage inflicted by firing before contact.  This success was short-lived as the English eastern infantry regiment closed the range and sent them routing through firepower.

The crisis point
The crisis point of the battle was reached with the English threatening the last Scottish unit in the open.  However, the Scots were clearly experienced and well provisioned with shot as they continued to shoot down the English regiments who were clearly  worn from the long pursuit north (ie they threw too many ones which either resulted in little damage or the loss of firepower).

The game ended with the Scots still holding the road and the Highlanders emerging from the forest to confirm the victory.

This miniaturised OHW game also ran quickly with seemingly no loss of fidelity from the original rules.  I know this seems to reduce OHW almost to the level of a boardgame but it worked pretty well for me.

Monday, 17 April 2017

The Scots Make a Stand at Connor's Bluff

When I last left the Scottish forces under the command of the newly ennobled Lord Cottar they had had an unbroken string of successes against the Parliamentary forces of the north and west midlands.  However, thanks to a typically underhanded English trick, instead of facing the victorious Scots in a straight fight, the Lord Protector had instead embarked the New Model Army onto the Commonwealth fleet and had headed north into Scotland on a punitive expedition.  Cottar's army needed to head north and quickly!

This is the back story to the fourth engagement in my loosely connected campaign of 6 battles taken from the book "One Hour Wargames" set in the time of the English Civil Wars.  This time around I had selected scenario 20 - Fighting Retreat which had the Scots retreating north before an on-rushing Parliamentarian army.  The Scots had only 4 units while the English had the more standard 6.  The aim of the game was to be in possession of the hill on the northern edge at the end of the 15th turn.

In a further twist I decided to do this game in miniature.  Normally a game of OHW takes place on a 3 foot square table and the units I use are 3 DBx bases wide by 2 deep.  However, both the kitchen and dining tables were otherwise engaged and I didn't fancy the floor, so instead I decided to adopt an idea I had read on Shaun Travers's blog in which he had played a OHW game on a 30cm square tile.  In my case I used a chessboard on which the squares are 2 inches per side.  Therefore, using a 6 by 6 grid (quite apt for the 6 by 6 Challenge!) from the board and only one base per unit I could scale everything down by two thirds.  With some terrain swiftly cut from paper and glued to the board with Bluetac the set up looked like this:

The position at the start of turn 1 - the Scots are on the board at the bridges across the river.  The key hill - Connor's Bluff - is to the north.  The English are massed just off the 6x6 playing area
The play progressed pretty quickly, the chess grid helping speed up the game as not everything needed measuring (eg infantry can move 2 inches per turn = 1 square) although care needed to be taken not to guess too much over the diagonals.  In short, the Scots decided to hold the river line on the west flank, while sending an infantry regiment to hold the hill.  on the east flank an infantry regiment took up a blocking position between the central marsh and the eastern wood, while the reiters acted as a mobile firepower reserve.  The Parliamentarians pressed quickly up to and across the river, hoping to use their reiters to soften up the Scots with their firepower.  Thanks to some superlative shooting on the Scots western flank (some good dice rolls!) one of the English regiments was destroyed while the other was allowed across to allow the Scots reiters to have their turn (and try to eat up the turn counter).  This proved to be a critical error as the English east flank, despite having been held up for a time, managed to break through.
The Scots are victorious in the west but lose out in the east
The English cavalry finally got across the river and into contact, successfully defeating the Scots reiters but falling foul of the supporting infantry.  But this had enabled the two remaining English infantry regiments to close on the Scots on Connor's Bluff and by the end of turn 13 out of 15, had carried the day.

This was yet another finely balanced scenario which had within in it some interesting challenges in terms of choice of strategy.  Using the smaller board and units also worked well and I was able play another game directly afterwards.  I quite liked the basic looking terrain - it reminded me of the pictures in Featherstone's "Battles with Model Soldiers" - although may be next time I would try some printed terrain from or similar.  I suspect I will be returning to this sort of format again in the future!

Friday, 14 April 2017

Four Against Darkness - The Final Chapter?

The band of brave adventurers had escaped from the lair of the fire demon having rescued the High Priestess but had then been ambushed by more demons of the Darkness.  Although they had been beaten off, a Parthian shot had left the High Priestess mortally wounded.  With her dying breath she gave the party a clue as to where to find a powerful relic but had further charged them that only through peaceful means could the relic be recovered.

For this adventure I decided to up-gun all the minions and bosses by a level to make them a bit tougher for the party.  I also decided to make the party follow the "Let peace be your way" quest to make it more challenging, reasoning that the High Priestess was from a peaceful religion.  Completing a quest would result in am Epic Reward, ideal for a powerful relic.

I decided to use a smaller map size to force a shorter game
The party dived into the darkness and quickly confronted an animated statue which was quickly despatched.  It was the first Boss of the game.  Despite giving the goblins in the next room the opportunity to parley, they decided to fight and were quickly put to the sword.

Doubling back the adventurers came across a shambling Mummy.  It became clear that this was the master of the dungeon complex (ie I rolled 6 to which I added 1 for the statue which meant it was the Final Boss - already!).  Another short sharp fight followed but ended when Zandemar fried the Mummy with a lightning bolt, gaining a level as the result.  A couple of corridors later they came across a couple of orcs who were happy to be bribed (it was either that or a very quick death), resulting in the first peaceful event of the game.  A couple of rooms later, having despatched some aggressive fungi folk, the party was then able to bribe some goblins to look the other way.  A tough fight with half a dozen vampire frogs left Albanac bloody and bruised but otherwise victorious. Th party then came across an Iron Eater which quickly lived up to its name by devouring the heavy armour of both Albanac and Uthacar before being defeated.

The adventurers had now reached a dead end and doubled-back.  They returned to the room where they had bribed the two orcs who had been joined by a solitary troll (I rolled a wandering monster) who was itching for a fight.  However, Zandemar, now a level 5 wizard, stepped forward and sent all three minions to sleep, completing the quest.  The relic was magically revealed to the party as a Shield of Warning, which Albanac took (he had no armour following the encounter with the iron eater).  They then worked their way out of the dungeon without further mishap.

By the end of the series of adventures, all the characters were at Level 4 except for Zandemar who was Level 5.  I have enjoyed playing 4AD and the addition of The 9Qs did add a little to the end.  The game is a good way to while away an hour or two and will benefit also from "the deeper levels addendum" when it comes out.  However, I don't think I will be exploring it further.  This completes my first set of 6 games for the 6 by 6 Challenge.  Only another 27 to go!