Friday, March 11, 2011

Long Time No See, And How Five Dierolls Made Me Want To Sell My EFS Collection

I've been sick a lot lately. Chest cold that lasts about 10 days, then turns into a sinus infection for about 15 days, then 3 days of feeling good.

Then the chest cold comes back.

Getting a little old being on day 40 of this. As you can imagine, I may be a little cranky.

So it was that I was thrilled to have my good friend Mike over to play a little Barbarossa: Kiev to Rostov. I'd played a couple of the small scenarios from the EFS series from GMT Games, none of which used the supply rules, so I was looking forward to trying out the On To Rostov scenario (#6) which sticks the Germans out at the *very* end of their logistical chain along the Black Sea/Sea of Azov, and expects them to get into Rostov, in the mud, with relatively little supply, with most of the units holding their flank not only out of supply, but with no way to get them *back* in supply without using up those really important MSUs that you need to attack effectively.

It's not a really pretty picture for the Germans, but I was game.

And then I started rolling the die.

Here's the thing about EFS, at least the small to moderate scenarios. You generally want to have MSUs around to attack with, but there are a pretty limited number, and in this specific scenario you need to at least be able to interdict one critical Soviet HQ in order to be able to have some operational flexibility and actually attack from time to time *without* the supply. Even then you are pushing the limits of your supply line as you move forward, and taking Rostov will be no help.

So I go hard against said HQ, sending two bombers, one a Stuka which is harder for the enemy AA to hit, and an Italian fighter just in case the Russians get feisty. Which they don't. And the Russian AA, which has about a 20-40% chance of shooting down each aircraft, hits both bombers (damaging one), which means this really good HQ is going to allow a lot of bad things to happen to my later ground attack, although it's not the end of the world.

No, the end of the world is rolling high on all three of my attacks at 3-1 or better odds. In this game, rolling high is generally bad for the attacker during combat. Rolling four 8-9-10 results out of five is not likely, but very possible. And I did it.

In five dierolls, the scenario was all but over. Five rolls.

I've commented on chaos factors in wargames before. Having lots of rolls is good because it tends to spread out the probability curve. My problem wasn't that I was making poor choices, my problem was that I couldn't even get started because the first five rolls were terrible. The best result killed two Soviet steps, but no retreat and so I couldn't get across the river.

Over the next three turns, I took a grand total of four hexes. Four total, and I lost five steps in the process while the Russians lost another two. And I never did successfully interdict that damned HQ.

And here's the problem. When a game like those in the EFS system force the attacker to focus their efforts, in this case because of the penalties for attacking without Attack Supply, you end up with relatively few die rolls. Your odds of a statistical outlier *leap* upward in this case, because every roll is fairly critical. Yes, most wargames have critical rolls, but there's enough going on that you should have enough that they spread out well. In my case, all five rolls were critical. And all went south, and at that point you might as well just start over.

Me, I'm not sure I'm willing to start over. After spending something like 10 hours prepping to play this game, it was all but over in one. I even got Dry weather in the second turn, and no better results. When I resorted to unsupplied attacks, it got worse.

There's a word for this sort of game. "Fragile".

The game comes with seven scenarios, of which two use small maps and are intended for teaching the game. Three more take up two or more maps, something I can only leave on my table for limited amounts of time and at about 90 minutes per turn a 20 turn game is just not in the cards. That leaves two one-mappers, one of which relies on a super-heavy artillery unit, which isn't even near the main action, to get a certain number of successes against the Soviets guarding the Perekop Peninsula. When I played that scenario, I did really well with my Germans but the arty couldn't hit the broad side of an isthmus. Literally.

I really want to like this game. Yeah, it's fiddly. Every type of weather changes things dramatically and changes a bunch of rules. Trying to remember which types of movement are possible in which weather types with which types of units requires a full 8.5"x11" play aid, not counting the Terrain Effects Chart. And don't even get me started on trying to figure out how replacements work, and the Germans didn't even *get* replacements in any of the scenarios I've played.

What the game does have is a pretty cool, if involved, asymmetrical sequence of play, Soviet HQs whose operational status plays a huge roll in their army's effectiveness, good mechanisms that force you to make hard decisions about operational tempo and focus, and a really good ruleset (which it should be by the sixth game).

What it doesn't have is robustness. Two games that went south not because of poor play, but because of poor rolling. And it didn't take a whole lot of rolling. When five rolls can determine the outcome of a scenario (and that happened to me in two full-map scenarios) one has to wonder if making a game like this a lifestyle choice similar to ASL is a good idea. At least ASL fits on a table and plays out in a couple of nights at most.

But really? Five bad rolls (of which one wasn't really bad, per se, just not the result I was hoping for - there was just no retreat result at all)? And the game is more or less over once the Soviets have a chance to fill in the gap? That's just a game that can't tolerate statistical outliers well.

I plan to give the system one more try now that I have most of the mechanisms under my belt, probably the Odessa scenario from the latest set, Crimea. It's a little guy, though, and I'm still very worried that a few bad rolls and it's done will lead to the series going into my sell pile. Fortunately, it's sought after (although sadly I never got AGC, and my Typhoon maps are laminated), so they have some value.

A real shame, this is a game I wanted desperately to work for those times when I do have the table space for a big game.

Perhaps worse was that Mike never rolled an attack the entire game. He didn't need to. My dice killed my units as effectively as anything he had on the map.

1 comment:

Mike said...

I've had similar unsatisfactory experiences with several of the larger games, where the scenarios are so focused that they become fragile. Unfortunately, that seems a 'feature' of the larger games. Due to their scale you need the multi-map scenarios to get the full flavor of the games and tactical/operational options.

However, given their size, if you don't have the space to leave a larger scenario set up, the small scenarios are all you're left with. At that point you have to question whether they're worth holding onto. I think I'll keep mine, so you'll always have a copy available if you get the itch to play.