My blog about my wargaming activities. I collect a lot of 15mm miniatures for the American War of Independence and so collect a lot of rules for this period. I started miniatures with Napoleonics, so I have a number of armies in 6mm and 15mm figures for skirmishing. I have15mm WW II figures that I use for Flames of War, Memoir '44, and someday, Poor Bloody Infantry. Finally there is my on-again, off-again relationship with paper soldiers that I sometimes write about.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Infantry Aces Cassino Game 02

For my second game in the Infantry Aces Cassino campaign I decided to mix it up a bit. I wanted to ensure that I was the defender* so I took the Cassino Fortifications option. This required that I purchase a Turret and two HMG Nests or HMG Pillboxes, at a minimum, for 110 points. At that cost I would lose a Weapons platoon, but gain a "fortifications platoon" (i.e. a set of fortifications that count as a platoon for deployment and victory point purposes).

* To be perfectly honest the idea of attacking and assaulting with Confident Trained platoons of seven teams seems like a no-win situation, especially against Veteran Allied troops.

My new list was as follows:
  • Company HQ with CiC and 2iC and no options
  • Two Platoons of 3 Squads of Reichsgrenadiers each and no options
  • HMG Platoon of 2 Sections
  • Panzer II Turret
  • Two HMG Nests
  • Three Trench sections
This still gives me four full platoons (one being the fortifications platoon) and six HMGs! Granted, I do not have a mortar platoon, but I don't see it as being as valuable when defending, especially as I would be paying for smoke that I would probably never use. The trenches were purchased simply because I had 15 points left over. Other options are one trench and one barbed wire or a bunch of panzerknackers that have the side effect of converting my command teams from Rifle/MG to SMG, which I did not want to do.

The Opponent

Don was to fight me with his 3rd Infantry Division company from Devils and Dogs. I knew about this list as he had used it two weeks prior against a different opponent,. Although he had lost with it, I am sure I would also have lost, given the mission and terrain he was forced to play, so I wasn't discounting his list in any way. His list was:
  • Company HQ with CiC and 2iC
  • Assault Platoon of 2 Squads and having two flamethrowers but no other options
  • Rifle Platoon of 2 Squads and no options
  • Weapons Platoon of 2 LMG teams and 3 60mm Mortar teams
I was looking forward to seeing just how well the 60mm mortars performed, given the comment Mike (at Battlefront) made about it being his favorite artillery piece. Would its 3+ firepower be enough to overcome the disadvantage of no smoke bombardment (or even smoke rounds)? I should also point out that Don did not combat attach the LMGs to the Combat Platoons, but kept them with the mortars.

The Mission

Per the campaign rules we are using, Don rolled up the mission and terrain (using the Mediterranean chart) and came up with No Retreat and the following map.


Excuse the "checkerboard" effect. That was simply used to measure out where the terrain would be placed. Each smaller square is 6". At the top left of the picture is a farm house with stone walls. In the top right are two olive groves in front of a rocky hill. In the bottom left was an ancient ruins (rubble). And in the bottom right is a stream with a ford. This was a very sparse board, rolled randomly.

As we were fighting in the valley, there were no significant scenario-specific rules to worry about.

The Deployment

As this was No Retreat I would get 1/2 of my platoons on board (2), of which 1 could be in ambush, and the remaining (2) in Reserve. As the fortifications count as a platoon for deployment, that was the one on-board platoon not in ambush. I decided to have a Grenadier platoon in ambush, leaving the second Grenadier platoon and the HMG platoon in Reserve.

I looked over the board (before objectives were placed) and decided that I would more than likely put my ambushing Grenadiers in the olive grove, to cover any objectives placed on that half of the board, and use my fortifications to cover the half of the board that was relatively open.


In hindsight only one of the HMG Nests should have been on the right flank. I should have moved the HMG Nest farthest on the right to the left, covering the approach around the olive grove. Due to the turret's placement Don swung wide around the grove to stay out of its fire.

Don's deployment was to place his Assault Platoon in the first wave facing the olive grove and the Rifle Platoon in the second wave. The Weapons Platoon with the three 60mm mortars and two LMGs were placed, out of range, facing the fortifications. From there he could bombard the turret and the very end of the olive grove.


The Game

The Americans started off their attack by sitting and bombarding with the 60mm mortars, in order to soften up the Germans prior to the infantry's assault. He failed to have any effect for two turns.

After the fruitless bombardment he started his advance with his infantry. Because of the stream he was unable to Move At The Double, so he had to slog his way around outside of the range of the turret. When I finally sprung my ambush (in the olive grove) I stupidly put one where it could be bombarded by the 60mm mortars and the template would also cover my CiC (Infantry Ace). So in my subsequent turn I ended up moving them out of their foxholes and retreating behind the olive groves.


The ambush went well, allowing me to blast the Assault Platoon. Don's infantry saves did not go well and he lost two teams. Although he was able to take out one of my teams with a flamethrower, my (pinned) defensive fire combined with Don's poor saves allowed me to break his platoon (he failed morale on the first roll).

With that, Don pulled back his Rifle Platoon and decided to try and soften my Grenadiers in the olive grove with his mortars before going in again. It was at this point that Don realized the difference between 60mm mortars and the 81mm mortars he typically uses: AT 1 versus AT 2. With an AT of 1 he stood no chance of penetrating the top armor of my turret. And because I had no other targets around, and you cannot target a Nest with a bombardment, he had no way to hit the HMG Nests.

But, it was too late as all of my reserves came on turn 5, charging forward and moving towards the fortifications and looking like they would attack the Weapons Platoon. Don tried one last bombardment against the reserves, failed to range in, and conceded.


More Hindsight

After watching the next game (which will be my next Infantry Aces blog entry), Don indicated that he should have probably fought on. There was no time limit on the game, so a combination of Veteran status versus Trained might have produced an advantage in a firefight, had he dug in within rifle range. But, I think the odds were against him and the decision to stop a good one. I was going to throw 2D6 per team to his 1D6, unless he could keep me pinned. With a CiC within command distance, my Confident troops stood a 75% chance of unpinning, so I think the odds were on my side. And that is not even counting that I had two platoons of Grenadiers and one of HMGs to bring to bear (although they were heading towards the Weapons Platoon to silence those mortars and get rid on the primary source for pinning). If he were to have played it out, the place to have stopped would have been after the attack on the mortars reached a conclusion. If I would have spent myself on the attack and failed, it would have made sense to stay in the game. But if I had destroyed the mortars, the game would have been over, save for outrageous luck.

I need a lot more practice with fortification placement.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Infantry Aces Cassino Game 01

After Action Report for Infantry Aces Cassino Game 01

So, for my first game in the Infantry Aces Cassino campaign I played Bill Bushong, who was playing US Rifles (Italy). I was playing the Reichsgrenadiers, so it was a bit of a switch; the US were the Veterans while the Germans had the Trained troops.

Never having played this list, but having played plenty of straight-leg German Grenadiers, even of the Confident Trained variety (the Fusilierkompanie from Earth and Steel), this wasn't really a stretch for me. In fact, it allowed me to blow the dust off of troops I had painted, but never actually used before: the HMG platoon! Here was my list:
  • Company HQ with Panzerschreck
  • Grenadier Platoon (3 Squads)
  • Grenadier Platoon (3 Squads)
  • HMG Platoon
  • Mortar Platoon
This allowed me four platoons to the enemy's three platoons, which were:
  • Company HQ
  • Rifle Platoon (3 Squads?)
  • Rifle Platoon (2 Squads?)
  • Mortar Platoon (4 81mm mortars?)
Unfortunately, I am not really sure about their composition, except:
  • The mortars never re-rolled hits or misses, so there should have been 3-5 of them, which would have been 2 mortar sections.
  • If he had 2 mortar sections, one of the rifle platoons had to be understrength.
  • The rifle platoon under the 2iC was eaten up faster, and I really did not get any more hits or kills against it than against the other, but it started checking morale after the first volley and assault.
So, I think that was the composition. (We were all too disorganized to do something like hand each other lists or anything...)

Bill and I played the Town Route, so we ended up fighting at The Barracks. We rolled mission and got Fighting Withdrawal, with me as the Defender. It would be a Night Attack also. Here is the map of the board, which was 4' x 4'.


First off, you can see that Bill's terrain is just awesome. The Germans are at the bottom of the picture and the Americans are at the top. (This is actually after the first turn's movement, which explains why the American troops are so far forward and the hands are in the picture.)

I had to deploy everything first, except the ambushing platoon (one of the Grenadier platoons with the attached Panzerschreck team) and the Company HQ. I placed my mortars in the back squarely surrounding the center objective (a building, per the special scenario rules). Bill placed two objective markers, one on each flank. (These are, unfortunately, out of the picture. Our little photographer didn't think they were important. The left objective never came into play. The right objective is within 4" of the olive grove in the lower right-center of the picture, on the hill.)

My intent was to put the ambushing platoon in the vineyard, as I was sure that Bill would head for that spot given that it was the "hole" in my deployment. I placed the deployed Grenadier platoon in the town, with some elements dug-in filling the gap between the stream and the vineyard. Behind this platoon I carefully placed the CiC within 4" of where I believed the enemy assault on the town would land and also within Command Distance of the HMG platoon. Thus, when the building got assaulted, the CiC would suck in the dug-in HMG platoon into the assault, allowing them to open up with Defensive Fire. It would be sweet.

The plan started executing exactly as I expected. I stayed Gone to Ground and the enemy mortars could not spot me through the cloudy night. The first US Rifle platoon came up and opened fire on my troops and did not achieve any result.
I should point out that Bill noted that had he not fired, I would have had to roll to spot his troops in my following turn, making it possible for me to not be able to fire my mortars and HMG platoon at his surviving Rifle platoon. Good point to consider, for those that do not play Night Attack rules that often. Only shoot if you really think you can get a good result. In his case he had 9 teams firing Automatic Rifles (or a Bazooka) at Trained troops, Concealed and Gone to Ground, so he had 33% chance to hit with each, or about 3 hits, shy of the 5 needed to pin me.

The situation began to unravel for me when the enemy moved in to assault. It was at this point – and not during deployment – that I noticed that the wall facing the direction the enemy was coming from did not have any openings. This caused Bill to shift his troops laterally to go around the building and reach an opening, and this took the assaulting teams just out of 4" range (by a fraction of 1/8th of an inch!) of my CiC, meaning my HMG platoon did not get to join in on Defensive Fire! (It must have been a damn cloud that suddenly crossed in front of the moon and caused my HMG gunners to all look the other way!)

The Grenadier platoon fired (7 stands/14 shots) and with a 33% for each to hit, rather than getting five hits – slightly above the average 4.67 hits – I got four, denying me the ability to throw the US assault back. (Bill did, however, oblige and fail to save three of those four hits.) The assault went in, a few hits made it, and I failed Motivation in order to Counterattack.

Although my CiC was more than 4" away from an assaulting team, he was within 4" of one of my Grenadier teams, so I had a choice to make: throw the CiC in for the Motivation re-roll, or let them break off. I chose to throw the CiC in. The re-roll succeeded and I was able to bring the US platoon down to 2 teams plus the attached US 2iC. They made their Motivation roll, counterattacked and the hit that went against my CiC killed him. I rolled Motivation to counterattack again and failed. I then had to roll platoon morale after the assault and also failed. (I had now failed three Motivation tests and the US passed their three. Granted, different odds.) I was now down one platoon, and it was only turn 2!
In hindsight I should probably have broken off rather than getting a re-roll. I say that not because of the result I got, but because of the situation that would have been had I done that. The US platoon was the weaker one of 8 teams and it had already lost 3 teams from Defensive Fire, leaving 5 teams plus the 2iC. As there were three buildings in the town (I only had two in my possession), all six teams probably could have fit inside them.
I, on the other hand, would be pinned outside in the open with 5 teams of my own, but well within the protection of the dug-in HMG platoon. Next turn I could attach the CiC during the Starting Step and use him to help rally the pinned troops (75% chance, with the re-roll). The Grenadiers would them Go to Ground, forcing the US to start the process all over again.
Assuming the US Rifles were able to unpin, the next assault's defensive fire would be 18-24 dice from the HMG (I cannot remember whether one of the HMG teams would be able to bear) and 5-10 dice from the Grenadiers. The wild card, however, would have been the US mortars. With the US CiC and 2iC both so far forward, the odds are they could have called in the mortar fire. Then, there would be whether the mortars could range in. (Bill did not have luck with that for several turns.) Finally, could be place a template on both platoons (probably, as they would have been inter-mixed from the assault break-off) and achieve hits on them? As I said, the US mortars would have been the wild card to this scenario.
With my platoon routed, the crippled US Rifle platoon (2 teams plus the 2iC) entered the town. In my turn following I opened up with the mortars and got a lucky kill (visibility, ranged in, hit, he failed save, I made a '6' firepower roll!), causing him to check, and he failed, causing them to rout.

Meanwhile, on the right flank, my Grenadiers popped their ambush at the edge of the vineyard and let loose with the weapons into the advancing US Rifle team (3 Squads, plus the CiC). I was able to pin the platoon and achieve another three kills from that volley. (Something about Bill and missing infantry saves in threes!) But, they quickly rallied and kept coming. They assaulted and my defensive fire took its toll, but again failed to pin. (This time I had 12 dice from Rifle/MGs, 2 from a Panzerschreck, and 6 from an HMG team, but I still only got four hits! Bill failed to save an impressive number again.)


In this picture, the Americans are at the bottom and the Germans at the top, after being pushed back.

This time, however, the assault tore into my guys pretty badly. I failed the counterattack roll, of course, and had to break-off. The US assaulted again, this time with fewer dice coming at it (as my platoon failed to rally from being pinned too), but whittling them down to 2 teams and the CiC. (Sound familiar?) As for my platoon, after failing to counterattack, failing to unpin in its turn, then failing to counterattack when assaulted again, it failed it platoon morale and ran. I was now down two platoons, leaving me with the 2iC, the HMG platoon, and the mortar platoon when...
It was at this point that I misread the Strategic Withdrawal mission rule. I thought that you accrued one delay counter for each platoon you had, and when it reached 5, you pulled a platoon off. Rather, it was one delay counter per turn under 5 platoons and when platoons + delay equalled 5, you pulled a platoon off. It was this error – my error – that caused me to pull a platoon off. As the mortars were sitting on an objective and the HMG platoon was (mostly) on the flank opposite the US Rifle platoon, I chose to pull off the HMG platoon.
With the second Grenadier platoon gone, the US Rifles marched straight to the flank objective unopposed, one-half turn before I could pull off that particular one.


In the picture you can see my 2iC in the upper right, the mortar observer in the upper center, and the mortar platoon just sitting there, on the wrong objective, in the upper left.

My only chance was for my 2iC to shoot one of the US Rifle teams and hope Bill's bad luck for infantry saves held, forcing a morale check, and hopefully having him fail. (Okay, not likely given they were Veterans and had an attached CiC.) But all calculations were for naught; I failed to hit.

In hindsight I could have teamed the 2iC and the Mortar Observer and together they could have assaulted. Not good odds, but it was a chance of success greater than 0%! But, coulda' shoulda' woulda'!
So, a lot of rules mistakes on my part, but I don't think it would have changed the game. The big mistake, however, was tactical, and it was not deploying the HMG platoon close enough so it could defensive fire on turn 2 and then not moving the mortar team to cover the right objective at the end of the game. I just did not "see" it. It was definitely out of mind. Ah well!

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Ideas for Song of Blades Engine

I am getting a hankering for some skirmish gaming again, so I started thinking about Ganesha Games' Song of Blades and Heroes (SoBH) engine (e.g. also Flying Lead, Song of Drums and Shakos, etc.) and some of the enhancements I had been considering.

Dice Pools

I recently purchased the Die Fighting rules from Bob Jones and Repique Rules and there were some interesting mechanics in those rules that I thought could apply to the SoBH engine. Basically, Die Fighting uses the concept of dice allocation and dice pools to represent the abstract concepts of 'heart' and 'fatigue'. From the rules:
Think of these dice as elements of energy, of wisdom, boldness, courage, reliability, morale. Every army at the start of a battle possesses a cache of such intangibles spread over the quality of its troops and the effectiveness of its leaders. Every time that army commands or acts, it expends some of that supply.
In Die Fighting, a commander may direct his troops toward any objective with any action standard to the historical period. And while action are resolved through a roll of dice, what's not standard is that once rolled those particular dice are lost for the rest of the game. Not to worry, your army has a large supply of dice – of heart, if you will – and will be able to act and resolve future die rolls without problem. Until, that is, there are no dice left.
Basically put, you start out with a certain number of dice – a large number – and each time you roll those dice you throw them into a bucket, never to be used again for that game. (Okay, what you really do is keep count of the number of dice you throw and once you throw a certain number, you have no more to throw. You have lost.)

So, how to apply that concept to SoBH? The idea is that the more dice thrown, the harder the player is pushing the troops, whether the dice roll succeeds or not. If I am throwing three dice per figure, then adding an additional die for melee combat, I am pushing the troops hard, wearing them out, fatiguing them, stressing them. To me, using a dice pool seems like an excellent way to track stress and fatigue for a warband.

Recently I asked a question on about how many turns the 'average' SoBH game lasted. So far it is sounding like at about 10 turns. So let's start with that number: 10 turns. Now we have to figure out the number of dice thrown 'on average' in a turn and let that be our starting dice pool. If I ask that question I am sure the universal response will be "It depends", so rather than asking it I think I just simply need to pick a number and give it a try. If the average turn has five figures rolling on average two dice per turn, for 10 turns, that gives a warband 100 dice to start. Seems like as good a number as any!

One concept that exists in Die Fighting, that would be good to carry over, is the use of Leadership dice. These are essentially a certain number of dice that the player can use every turn, due to the presence of leaders. As they are free and renewable, they are very powerful, so should be used sparingly. At first blush I was simply thinking of giving a side one Leadership die for having a Leader, and an additional die for having an NCO.

Another interesting concept are free dice, which are simply dice you get to use that do not come from your dice pool, but are also not renewable. Usually these are granted for situations, but could also be used in lieu of combat modifiers. For example, a weapon might require you could throw one die from the dice pool and grant an additional free die when used in melee. You would then take the die of your choice to resolve that melee.

One final note: the dice use are not just for activations. As you roll dice to fight, those consume the dice in the pool too. (If you are fighting, you are getting stressed and fatigued.) So, if your opponent attacks you, the die you roll to oppose his roll comes from your dice pool. So you can use dice in your opponent's turn.

Everyone Gets a Chance

Another idea I have been toying with is how to give everyone on a side a chance to activate, but not take away the risk the player faces by pushing his troops too hard (i.e. there needs to be a consequence to rolling maximum dice all of the time). Currently, when a figure turns over, it is typically not that character that suffers as much as those that did not even get a chance to activate. The penalty largely falls on them.

My idea is to denote who failed two or more times, but allow the side to continue activating and turn over only once everyone on one side has had the chance to activate and either activated or failed with no allowable actions. So, where's the penalty? The following turn, all figures that 'turned over' cannot act at all. In essence they lose their next turn.

If you think this might be a bookkeeping nightmare, I think a simple marker on those that turned over will suffice. And when the next turn occurs, rather than activating the marker is removed. For those that don't like markers, I think you simply need to use innocuous ones. A small disc with grass or flock on it can be used to indicate that a figure has already activated for the turn (these would be removed at the end of the turn after all figures have had the chance to activate), while a small disc with a couple of rocks on it can be used to indicate that the figure will lose their next turn. During their next turn, the player would simply replace all rock tokens with grass tokens at the start of the turn, then start activating the remaining figures.

I think this change will make low Quality troops much more viable as warband members. Granted, it might change the game entirely, shifting the balance from using a few high-Quality troops  to using hordes of low-Quality troops, but only time and testing will tell how drastic the shift is.

Interrupt

The Flying Lead rules have an Overwatch rule that allows a player to 'spend' two actions in his own turn in order to spend one action firing in his opponent's turn (with a number of caveats and clauses, of course). I was thinking about such a rule that allows a player to interrupt his opponents' turn, but during that turn. So, for example, Player A finishes moving a figure, indicates that he will attempt to activate another figure and Player B calls interrupt in order to attempt to activate one of his own figures first. As with Overwatch, there has to be a penalty for that flexibility, so I would suggest the loss of one action (e.g. if you rolled two successes, you only get to use one; three successes would garner two actions, etc.). Note that the loss of an action does not mean it counts as a failure, only that one of the successes does not produce an action. Once you have completed the interrupt, you would place a token showing you lose your next turn (as you have taken it during your opponent's turn, after all).

Of course, you don't want people interrupting and recklessly rolling three dice with no consequence, so in addition to the loss of one action, if they roll two or more failures, they 'fumble', taking an additional token showing they lose an additional turn. Thus, on their following turn, only one 'lose a turn' token would be removed, leaving one to be removed the turn after that.

I Choose ...

One final option to try, which would be in lieu of the Interrupt optional rule above, would be to use the activation sequence of This Very Ground. In that game players alternate making activation decisions. However, the twist is that a player can either choose to activate a figure of their own, or have their opponent attempt to activate a specific figure of theirs. Once all figures from both sides have had a chance to activate, the next turn starts (and all 'moved this turn' tokens are removed followed by exchanging one 'lose a turn' token per figure for a 'moved this turn' token).

It is possible to use this rule in conjunction with the Interrupt optional rule – the This Very Ground rules allow for a figure that already acted to interrupt, but at a much lower chance to activate – but I think it would probably be a bad idea. But who know? Maybe for a future game.

Liquitex Matte Medium versus Matte Varnish

Liquitex makes two matte products: matte medium and matte varnish.  Both products are designed to flatten the finish of your paint, but they actually produce different results.


Matte Medium lists that it:
  • Creates a matte non-reflective finish.
  • Dries translucent and matte.
  • Increases translucency, adhesion, and paint flow.
  • Provides a permanent, non-yellowing, flexible, and water resistant coat when dry.
Note that some of these properties (increased translucency, adhesion, and flow) come about by mixing the medium with acrylic paint, not by covering a painted, dried figure with medium.

Matte Varnish lists that it:
  • Provides a permanent varnish to protect surfaces.
  • Establishes an even, non-glare matte finish.
  • Protects against UV damage.
  • Reduces color intensity.
  • Provides a permanent, non-yellowing, flexible, and water resistant coat when dry.
The language between the two is similar, but the results are not. The Matte Medium has a greater tendency to whiten (ever so slightly) after drying, and will have a slightly shiny finish than the Matte Varnish. The Matte Medium is also much thicker, so does not flow as well, causing it to pool more readily in creases (which probably accounts for its increased tendency to whiten).

The photos below show two stands. Both have been block painted then washed with Magic Wash (a mixture of paint and Future Acrylic Floor Polish). This creates a shine over the figure, which is strongest where the wash's color pools. The figure on the left has received a single coat of Matte Varnish, while that on the right has not. Although it is hard to see (because the camera tries to take out the reflection and shine), the white dots in the dark pools of wash are reflections, indicating shiny spots in the paint job. The figures on the left show a large reduction in those reflections, including toning down the darkness of the wash itself. Looking at the second figure from the right on both stands gives you a good representation of how the Matte Varnish helps mute the shine and dark.


I have tried several matte finishes and this is the best so far, as far as having a lower chance of whitening, being easy to apply with a brush, and producing a matte, as opposed to a satin, finish.

Infantry Aces

Well, last Saturday Don and I started in the Infantry Aces campaign being run through the Tucson Flames of War group on Facebook. He played 3rd Infantry Division from Devils and Dogs and I played Reichsgrenadiers from Cassino. I was really hoping  to play Confident Trained US Rifles, but that just did not happen due to a mix-up. Oh well. I can always start over, I suppose. Only the loss of a single game (which I will report on later).

The basic campaign mechanism is simple: there are three rounds (called 'turns' by Battlefront, for some reason). During each round you can play as many games as you can squeeze in, making your infantry ace better (generally it will take only two or three games to get your medal) and accruing victories for your side (Axis or Allies). In this campaign each round is defined as a month, so all games played in July count as Turn 1, all in August as Turn 2, and all in September as Turn 3.

Turn 1 games have the limitation of being 500 point lists, with no Support selections allowed (with the exception of fortifications, if allowed in your list), nor any Tank or Transport teams. These games are also played on a 4' x 3' table.

Turn 2 uses 700 point lists, allows Support selections, but still does not allow vehicles in the list. Games go back up to using a 6' x 4' table. A big gotcha' is that only Combat and Weapons platoons can take objectives.

Turn 3 uses a 900 point list and finally allows a single platoon of up to five vehicles. Still, only Combat and Weapons platoons can take objectives.

The player can switch up his units within the list between every game, but cannot switch the list being used (e.g. if you use the "US Rifle Company" list from Festung Europa, you must stick with that list for the entire campaign; only the composition of the list changes). This is good because it provides continuity between games, even if all losses are automatically replaced each time.

The rules for playing a game are pretty easy. Pick someone to game with, see if you can agree as to which route (Mountain, Valley, or City) the battle occurs in (roll off if not), roll the mission (largely determined by the route where the battle occurs), play the mission with the special campaign rules (again, largely determined by the route where the battle occurs), and record the result.

So, how does the game change using the Infantry Aces rules? For starters, with no Support selections and no vehicles, most infantry will start moving much more freely in the open, given that you have no fear of vehicles coming along, machine-gunning and assaulting you. Assaults will win the day, as before, but with no vehicles, HMG teams and Snipers suddenly look a lot more viable to play.

The What Would Patton Do guys postulated that Infantry Aces is actually not aimed at the newcomers, but rather at injecting some fresh play into the games of the old hands, primarily because of the emphasis on assault, which is not something you want to throw at a beginner with few games under his belt. I definitely agree with that thought. Infantry Aces games will be much more nuanced than your larger games and will probably go slower than you expect, primarily because if you blow it when you only have three or four platoons, you probably cannot recover unless your opponent has also lost an equivalent amount.

So, bone up on your assault rules, start reading about how to use independent teams to draw other units into assault, and start blowing the dust off of those HMG and Sniper teams!

Wednesday, July 06, 2011

Feedback from the last battle report

I posted links to the last battle report on The Miniatures Page and the Flames of War forum and got some really good feedback, most of which was "you should still fear the Strelkovy (just not that list)". As the discussions are sort of scattered across the bitstream, I thought I would collect some of it here.

First the terrain setup. I admit that due to my recent purchase of the Gale Force 9 river sets I really wanted to put them into play. Given that I had a fork piece, and enough footage, I put a creek on both deployment areas, making it a little more "fair" that both sides had it. As has been pointed out, that is a bit more advantageous for the King Tigers. When Don made that comment after the game, I sort of poo-poo'ed the comment as his Strelkovy really had no way of killing my tanks unless I got bailed first, etc.

In hindsight I can see that it did matter. Not being able to double time meant that to cross the two feet of No Man's Land he would have to spend four turns rather than two double-timing. As the main killer was the Panzerwerfer unit, and not the Konigstiger, and bombardments don't cause double casualties against double-timing troops, that probably would have been a safer ploy for the Soviets.

Most of the comments were centered around what the Strelkovy should have brought to the table. Again, I think it was understood by both Don and I that using Strelkovy as an "air and artillery delivery platform" would definitely be a winning strategy, but that was not the point. The idea was to win with an infantry horde list; one that someone might take to an all-comer's tournament.

I know the What Would Patton Do guys advocate taking air - hell, I do too - but not everyone does, especially at 1,500 points. Besides, the Shturmoviks are something like 200+ points if what Don told me is correct. As for going heavy on artillery: I'll have to do more research on the Army Lists board on the Flames of War forum and see what a tournament-worthy 1,500 point Strelkovy list looks like.

As for the flamethrowers, only Don can tell you why he did not purchase them. I suspect, because he bought the army painted, that he does not have the figures. That said, everyone agreed that flamethrowers were the way to go. The Soviet flamethrowers are also a little beefier having a ROF of '4'. This is sort of like the German Panzerschreck teams versus the smaller Tank Hunter teams, which also use the panzerschreck, but have different stats. Guess that is why they are 90 points for two teams (if I remember correctly from looking at the Fortress Europe book).

It was pointed out that I also got the odds wrong on the flamethrowers chance to destroy a Konigstiger. As I typically play veteran Germans I used their skill, rather than the typical Trained rating the "standard" Strelkovy had. Here is how I calculate odds; if someone sees a flaw, please let me know, as I want to get the math right. The chance to hit with a single shot is 4+ or 1/2 chance. That hit will destroy the Konigstiger on a '6', so that is 1/6 chance. Combine the two odds and it is a 1/2 * 1/6 or 1/12 or roughly 8% chance to hit and destroy the Konigstiger with a single shot. But, because I have more than one shot, and I only need one of those shots to hit and destroy, I look at the odds of missing all four shots. If the chance to hit and destroy is 8%, the chance to not hit and destroy is 92%. The chance to miss all four times would thus be 92% * 92% * 92% * 92%. That makes about 72% chance to miss all four times, whether missing the hit roll, or making the hit roll but missing the destroy roll. If there is 72% to completely miss, that makes a 28% chance to destroy the Konigstiger, having four shots at it. Again, if anyone sees that I am doing it totally wrong (very possible given how much I slept in my mathematics classes), please let me know. I want to get it right. If that number is correct, 28% is a pretty respectable number. But, it is still too low in odds to count on.

As I look back at my tank assaulting "career" in Flames of War, almost all of the kills came from bailing the tanks by some means and then assaulting with the infantry. Of course, it was all a matter of timing and support. If the enemy were bailed out, but I had no infantry within range to immediately assault, they had a chance to re-mount before I could get there. Ultimately it came down waiting for the right moment and not rushing things. Which bring me to...

"Patience is a virtue in wargaming." There was an interesting article in Battlegames magazine this month about how rules have changed over time and essentially changed the "generalship" experience for players. Part of that article was about how we have been pushing games to be faster and faster. I read some of the threads on the Flames of War forum, or listen to some of the What Would Patton Do podcasts, and there is frequent mention of "well sure, that would work if you have infinite time" or "that won't work given a time limit". The emphasis is clearly there in Flames of War to reach a conclusion relatively quickly. I suppose it is a product of our times.

Don and I have had some 1,500 and 1,750 point Flames of War games that have gone four or more hours. One game we left setup and played the conclusion the following weekend. Personally, I find these sorts of games more pleasing, which is probably why I gravitate towards solo gaming and lower aggression (or counter-punch) lists. I think this is why the Konigstiger list is so fun for me right now; it is very much a list requiring patience. Acting hastily, before everything is prepared, can get your few, precious resources eliminated. That is what makes games with that list tense and exciting. Your list is tough, but it can be cracked, and when it does crack, it is probably going to unravel.

Readers of the blog have probably noticed that I have tried several formats for battle reports. This last one has gotten the most comment, and all positive. To be honest, it is probably the least amount of work of all that I have tried. I think my next report will be the maps and symbols, as I have them in the last report, with some pertinent action shots sprinkled through. (Assuming I remember to bring my camera, and take some pictures. Sometimes I get caught up in the heat of battle...) I think I prefer reporting on the "phases" of the battle, rather than a turn-by-turn format, which I personally find harder to follow. Let me know what you think.

Monday, July 04, 2011

Königstiger versus Strelkovy

As I reported on my last blog entry, I asked Don to kick my teeth in by running an Soviet infantry horde against my Königstiger list. First, the list. I struggled mightily trying to decide whether to buy an AA platoon and a infantry platoon or two infantry platoons. I finally decided that I just needed to see if I could hold an objective with the armored AA platoon or not, plus it was insurance in case Don double-crossed me when he said he would not bring air support. :^)

I also decided that it was not fair to force Don to use an Eastern Front list – which for the most part has not had its points adjusted the way Earth and Steel has – while I got to use the cheaper Western Front list. That meant my Königstigers were a little more expensive. I always thought it was because they did not have the Unreliable rule, but it is mostly because the Eastern Front Königstigers have a Front Armor of 15! (Actually, I did not think twice about needing that extra frontal armor, figuring that any tanks Don purchased would be heading for my flanks.)

Here was my list:
  • Company Commander in Königstiger (Henschel) - two Tiger Ace skills
  • Platoon of one Königstiger (Henschel) - one Tiger Ace skill
  • Platoon of one Königstiger (Henschel) - one Tiger Ace skill
  • Panzergrenadier platoon with 2 squads, panzerfaust upgrade, and field cars
  • Schwere Panzer Anti-Aircraft Gun platoon with 2 Unarmored Sd Kfz 7/1 (Quad 2cm)
  • Armored Rocket Launcher Battery with 3 Panzerwerfer 42 and extra crews
The big change was losing one armored AA team and the Bergepanther recovery vehicle. Using motorized Panzergrenadiers gave me five teams, rather than four with the Schwere Panzer Pioneers. In the end, the latter did not matter.

Don's list was:
  • Strelkovy Battalion Command
  • Strelkovy Company with Komissar
  • Strelkovy Company with Komissar
  • Maxsim HMG Company
  • Light Anti-Tank Gun Platoon
  • Field Artillery Battery with 76mm Field Guns and 122mm Howitzers
  • ISU-122 Platoon (of 3)
Six Soviet unit against my five small units!

The Scenario

The idea for this scenario sprang from my desire to face my fears. I figured that a Königstiger list would do very poorly against a Soviet Strelkovy horde. I mentioned on day to Don that I wanted to play against them – even though I knew I would get beaten badly – because sometimes you need to know just how bad it can get. Don, of course, said he would be more than willing to oblige as it would allow him to finally get to use those Strelkovy that have been sitting in the box.

The mission was Free-For-All, ensuring all Soviet troops would be on at the start, and 1,500 points per side. That smaller point total meant that I could not have everything I wanted (like an AA platoon and two infantry platoons and air support), so I would have to make hard choices.

I knew that Don would attack, no matter whether he rolled attacker or defender, and I figured he would not bring air support, because he likes his points on the board.

The Board

I purchased four boxes of Gale Force 9 rivers, so I just had to use them. The creek (not river...) came on the board in two places, had a ford on each branch, then merged at a split and went off the board. Although I have not put the grass on the pieces yet, they really look good. They may be expensive (I got the four sets for $80; 20% off), but they are flexible and lay flat. Really top notch product.

I also broke out all of my trees. Some were really too small, but we used them as "one-story" trees (so someone in the second story of a building could see over them to a target that was also elevated one story). There were three wooded areas and I decided not to lay felt our foam down to define the area, but rather just simply put down an outline of trees to show the boundaries. That made the table look much nicer. I think it is about time to get more or the tall evergreens from China...

Don brought his roads, hills, buildings, ruins, and walls. Although I tend not to like those hills, they really are probably better for gaming than mine. The are a simple, tall block that has a steep sided slope. They are tall enough to block line of sight to pretty much everything, including a Königstiger; they are that tall.

The roads added a nice touch to the village, but really played no part in the game. Same with the walls and buildings. They were all on the Soviet side of the board and Don deployed away from them.


The board above shows the Soviet side at the top and the German side at the bottom. The Soviet objectives are shown in red, while the German objectives are shown in blue. The woods are medium green, the hills olive green. The creek is shown in light blue with the fords in the lightest blue. The small cream squares represent standing crops, which provide concealment for infantry and gun teams, but not for vehicles larger than a Jeep. The reddish squares are buildings and the tan ribbon is the road. No walls are shown as they played no significant role in the game (but they looked nice).

Pre-Deployment Discussion

As we were going over terrain and troops (the "Talk") it starting becoming clear that Don was going to have a problem. I think he thought I was going to have a 14 armor (pretty natural, because I kept talking about it when discussing my last game against Matt) so was as surprised as I was when I told him the Eastern Front Königstigers had a frontal armor of 15. He brought three ISU-122s and their anti-tank was only a 15, so he had to get them on my flank if he was to do anything.

Also, his anti-tank guns were so weak that there was no way for them to penetrate even my side armor. (Although he did admit that they were there to kill my armored AA or some expected panzergrenadier half-tracks.) That meant he had no anti-tank assets that could take care of me frontally, and only three that could get me from the side. The greatest threat came from the one battery, that could get me from the top (they had a anti-tank of '4' against my top armor of '2'). The roll of a '1' could penetrate my armor, and a '2' could bail me.

Setup

Don won the roll for attacker, and thus got to select the baseline. He also had to start deploying first, but naturally, I had fewer platoons.

Objective placement was interesting because we both avoided one flank and placed one objective in the center (in line with the fords) and the second on the same flank as each other.


My Tiger Aces rolls were: Company Commander re-roll misses and Motivation 2+; left platoon re-roll misses; and center platoon rate of fire 3.

The basic battle plan was to follow the advice posted on the Tactica Königstiger  thread on the Flames of War forum: shred the enemy from long range for as long as possible and then move in and take the objective. The main thing was to be patient and not rush to the attack. The "problem" with this tactic, or so I thought, is that this list would not have enough firepower to stop the infantry swarm, and they would just run over me like army ants. But, that was the whole point of running this game, to see how the list handled the situation.

With an objective to defend in the center (behind a ford), and one on the left flank (behind a creek), I decided to post the infantry in the surrounding terrain in the center, as I felt that the main attack would be going after that objective. The center Königstiger was hiding in the tree line, dominating the center lanes of attack. I felt that it would be better to have the faster gunner firing there as that Königstiger was unlikely to be moving until the end game.

The left flank Königstiger sat behind the river, ostensibly guarding the left objective from the Strelkovy company that would be advancing on that attack axis, but also getting a good cross-fire on any ISUs trying to sneak up on the center by using the woods a cover.

My Company Commander posted between the other two Königstigers, ready to shift to either objective that would be threatened. In the event of an advance, it could support the attack on either objective.

The Panzerwerfers were on my far right flank. That meant it would have a harder time getting to the back field on the left flank, but had excellent cover and could use the platoon's commander to provide an alternate spotting position. The primary observer position was in the center woods, beside the center Königstiger.

Finally, my armored AA platoon was in the center, behind full cover and out of sight, should the Soviets get first turn. I knew that Don was going to try and target them, as they would be a pretty easy VP if I got careless.

The Soviet setup was to stretch a single Strelkovy Company across half of the board with HMGs in front and artillery behind in support. The ISUs were to move to my right flank and work around to the rear. The second Strelkovy Company was to attack across a narrow front and capture the objective on my left flank. The anti-tank guns would defend their objective, keeping my armored AA platoon and motorized Panzergrenadier platoon away.

The Game

Don won the roll to move first. He started off by pushing his infantry forward, all across the board. The artillery observer doubled onto the hill so he could get a good look at the German line. As his ISUs were all the way to the rear (out of range, in case I had first turn), they had to plow through the ford and naturally one of the tanks bogged.

The Panzerwerfers found their mark right at the start and pounded the center Strelkovy company and the Maxsim HMG company, killing teams from both and pinning them down.  I was lucky and killed the Komissar with a rocket on the first shot. Meanwhile the Königstigers simply lobbed shells into the Strelkovy and the enemy battery (which were barely in range). The armored AA moved up on my left flank in order to strafe the Strelkovy defending the town, along with the Königstiger on that flank.

The Soviets struggled and were unable to unpin, especially without a Komissar to harangue them, so they continued to weather the storm from the rockets, losing more stands. (Don was really doing bad with infantry saves in the beginning.) Slowly the ISUs moved forward, but in the interim I had pinned the Soviet artillery with a stray rocket, so again they could not counter-bombard me.

Eventually the Soviet shrugged off the effects of pinning and started to move forward again. However, it was a bit too late by that time. The rockets started finding their mark and and the Maxsims started dying in droves. It was too much for them and they broke and fled. At this point both Strelkovy companies decided to pull back and dig in (which it took a couple of turns to perform).

The ISUs, however, saw an opportunity to strike at my Panzerwerfers and lessen some of their infantry's misery. After each bombardment, and when I made a successful Stormtrooper move, I would nudge the Panzerwerfers towards the center, allowing them to help defend the center objective. As it turned out, I probably made that move prematurely as the ISUs now had a bead on them. Three shots range out and ... three misses. (I think Don rolled a '1', '2', and a '2'.) Now that the ISUs were exposed, the Königstigers made short work of them, taking out the entire platoon in a turn. (It really helps having a Königstiger with a rate of fire of 3, plus a company commander that can re-roll misses.)


The artillery was starting to have some effect – although in hindsight it was rather negligible due to Don's horrendous rolling for ranging in (over the course of the game he failed to range in three times, each of three attempts) – pinning my Panzergrenadiers and rattling the roofs of my Königstiger and Panzerwerfers. That forced me to start concentrating on taking out the observer. However, after two rocket bombardments and numerous 8.8cm rounds from the Königstiger, he was still alive and well. (That must account for his inability to range in fire, however!) When the last of the smoke cleared, the Company Commander crossed the creek and assaulted the observer, wiping his out.

Meanwhile, on the left flank, the armored AA had moved to the creek line and blasted all exposed Strelkovy, stopping their advance cold. At this point Don pulled back and dug in. The AA and the Königstiger advanced across the creek, occasionally pausing as they got stuck in the mud, and chased the Strelkovy down. Although the Königstiger had little to fear from the infantry or the anti-tank guns, one of the AA was destroyed as it rounded the corner of a building. (The unit passed morale, however.)


Just as my Panzergrenadiers started mounting their trucks in order to make the trek across the center, in preparation for the assault on the center objective, Don decided to call the game, realizing that I was going to slowly pick off his units and he really did not have anything to stop me. At that point we started talking the game over and trying to figure out what happened, and what the Soviets can do to beat this list.

So, What Happened?

The main problem with the list was that there were really only two units that could kill a Königstiger: the artillery and the ISU-122. Let's go over each unit.
  • Strelkovy Company: by itself, a Strelkovy Company has no real integral anti-tank assets. Each stand has Tank Assault 2, which against a Top Armor of 2, means it can do nothing. When I played Shawn, he added the PTRD anti-tank rifle and the flamethrowers to the mix (at great expense). Let's look at those:
    • The PTRD anti-tank rifle is AT 5, which has no chance against the Side Armor of a Königstiger, which is an 8. In assault they are a Tank Assault 3, which gives them 16% chance to force the Königstiger to bail out, effectively killing it, unless it is defended by another unit. That said, I have a tendency to call priority target against Gun teams when firing at Strelkovy, specifically to kill off the PTRD when they are present.
    • The flamethrower cannot fire in defensive fire so it is really only effective against a Königstiger when it is shooting. A flamethrower gets two shots, even when moving, and hits with a skill test, so has a 67% of hitting with each shot. Each shot that hits, in turn, has a 16% chance of destroying the Königstiger. Thus, the chance of destroying the Königstiger is about 30%. That is not bad. Two flamethrowers just might have the Strelkovy chasing the Königstiger off of an objective if they aren't wiped out first. (More on that later.)
  • ISU-122: with an AT of 15 and the Königstiger having a Front Armor of 15, the ISU-122 has not chance of taking out a Königstiger frontally. It must get onto its' flank. With the ISU-122 being a Slow Tank, just as the Königstiger is, that is going to be a tough misson. Even so, once the ISU-122 gets on the flank it will typically have a 50% chance to hit and an 83% chance to kill (42% chance total), so the Königstiger's destruction on the first (moving) shot is by no means assured. The odds are pretty high that unless the ISUs are using covered approaches, the Königstiger will take them out before they arrive on the flank.
  • 122mm Howtizers: with an AT of 4, going against the Top Armor of a Königstiger, these guns stand a chance of killing them (16% to penetrate and 67% chance to destroy, or about 11% total), once they range in and hit. The odds lower slightly if you add in the field guns to the bombardment, but you increase the chance of hitting.
  • SU-100: with an AT of 16, this assault gun has a 14% chance of bailing a Königstiger when it hits. This is okay, but does not do much unless there is an infantry unit ready to pounce on the bailed tank in assault.
  • Shturmovik: with an AT of 12 going against the Top Armor of the Königstiger, air support remains one of the best means for taking a Königstiger out. The problem, of course, is getting the aircraft and ranging in. Anti-aircraft can upset the aircraft's plans, but it cannot be counted on to protect all of the Königstigers on the field; at best it can protect only two at once. With a top-of-the-line aircraft using cannons, it has a 33% chance of killing a Königstiger outright, after it has successfully ranged in. (That makes you think, doesn't it?)
  • 152mm Artillery: with an AT of 5 going against the Top Armor, and a FP of 2+, if these guns range in and hit successfully, the hit will have a 28% chance of destroying the Königstiger. The good thing for the Germans is that the Soviets have to spend a lot of points to get artillery this powerful (they have to buy the 122mm howitzers first).
Unless I am missing something, the Strelkovy don't look like a good match-up to the Königstiger list, other than as an air support and artillery delivery platform. Even then, you are not really playing the list, but the support.

As Don put it, "yeah you may win these games with the Königstiger, but I won all of the others where the Königstigers aren't at". I would probably agree.

So, my fear of Strelkovy is lessened. They have been beaten with Gepanzerte Panzergrenadiers and with Königstigers, but the Grenadiers lost, badly. Maybe it is time to look at them again ... with fortifications! :^)

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Huachuca City, Arizona, United States
I am 50 yrs old now. I bought a house in Huachuca City, AZ (although I have a townhouse in Houston, TX and a small home in Tucson, AZ) working on a contract for "the next two years" that is going on five years now. To while away the hours I like to wargame -- with wooden, lead, and sometimes paper miniatures -- usually solo. Although I am a 'rules junkie', I almost always use rules of my own (I like to build upon others' ideas, but it seems like there is always something "missing" or "wrong").