Wednesday, February 27, 2008

The 'Burbs

Originally, this was to be called "going Downtown", but since we only got about eight turns into the game for a variety of reasons, I figure we only made it to the inner burbs at best. Chris took on the wily Vietnamese, while I ran a USN raid on a target to be disclosed later.

Downtown is a wargame unlike any other I've played. There is a certain amount of pre-planning, but each side has much different choices to make. The US player randomly selects a target, which usually selects a branch of service that will attack, figures out what planes will be available for the attack, then plots the route to the target and back, although only a subset of the raid's aircraft will be bound by this path.

The DRV player, on the other hand, knows exactly what he has to work with, but not where. Given the potential targets and the political and doctrine limitations, he places SAM sites, upgrades or adds AAA, makes some of those AAA sites radar-enhanced with Fire Can units, and finally adds defensive aircraft. All of these elements have their role in the game, so just because the DRV player has to do a bit more planning doesn't mean that they have no choices during the game.

Because of other things interrupting gaming time, we only got about halfway into the scenario over around four hours. There was still a lot of lookup of rules as this was our first full-on raid (the previous games have been learning scenarios that add in SAMs or simple bombing runs). This was our first game with standoff jamming, with SEAD forces to go SAM hunting, and the first time we'd actually gone through the entire pre-raid process in it's entirety. As such, there are many little nuggets of rules that require you to look through the rules from time to time. For what it's worth, in general we've been able to find rules fairly quickly, although I have to admit I've made a study of them and feel pretty good about my grasp of the system (if not the practice).

My raid started out well enough. First out was the F-8C's whose job it was to provide protection from the MiGs that were sure to show up. It's an interesting rule that allows the DRV player to add points for aircraft in exchange for VP, so you never know what you're going to face when you get over the mainland. Also out early were the standoff jamming aircraft, which are providing mediocre but essential services - hey, 5% is 5%, and there is some potential for it creeping up to 10% or more in some cases. As they say in the service, any 'trons are good 'trons.

Chris put a lot of his SAMs in Haiphong, which spent quite a bit of time acquiring my MiG CAP to no good effect. Fewer missiles to go after me later on, I guess. I'm not sure how effective that strategy is - the MiG CAP can't really do much good against the SAMs, having no air-to-ground capability other than strafing, but it would be nice to have them out of the way so that the MiGs have an open route to the strike force. That's where the action really is - even if you don't actually hit a bomber, you might freak the entire mission out enough that they all abort, and that's as good as a mission kill in this game.

So it was that when Chris went after my MiG CAP aggressively, I wasn't going to complain. Seeing as MiGs can stick around on the deck and be virtually undetectable, I forced the issue by bringing my CAP down to the deck and going for visual ID. That worked well enough to goad him into attacking my CAP, with the effective result of one MiG-21 shot down and a MiG-17 crippled, with all other flights I'm aware of disordered and unable to attack the important aircraft, the bombers.

In the meantime, my SEAD forces entered the board, tasked with taking out SAMs and making the route in safe for the bombers. I'm not sure how you do this effectively, other than to shut down enemy radars with ARM launches (it takes them on average three turns to come back online), and to bomb the rest. The problem is, of course, that you only have four actual strikes you can make on the SAM locations with bombs or rockets, so you have to pick carefully and hold your ARMs back until you can force several of them to shut down at once. This may be the trickiest part of the system, as timing is as important as it gets.

As of the end of turn 8, I had managed to shut down three radars with a Shrike ARM, but they all came back online quickly (the better to miss their actual shots, as Chris says). I did nail one SAM with rockets from an Armed Escort F-8C, but now the plane is essentially useless for anything but strafing and risking getting hit by AAA fire. One A-4E has two Shrike remaining with the intent to try to shut down as many of the Haiphong SAMs as possible.

We were just starting turn 8 at this point, and Chris had to leave, but we intend to finish up this weekend if possible. My strike force arrives shortly, although I suspect at this point that it's all about SAMs and AAA and very little to do with air combat. I have at least four VP in the bank from shot down MiGs and SAMs, with potentially a couple more if his crippled MiG can't get home, but I've seen what dedicated AAA can do to a flight of aircraft, and it ain't pretty. Also, if I have a target hex with more than one target, it just makes things that much harder to achieve. On the plus side, it looks like my BDA will have a relatively easy time of it, assuming most of the SAMs are out of ammo or close to it.

Part two to come, when we break out of Subdivisions and head In The City.

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