Tuesday, May 24, 2011

WBC West 2011 - Day 5

It was now Thursday, and time for what I considered to be the high point of the week - 2nd Fleet with a robust scenario and four players (Chuck, Alex, Matt R, and myself). I had chosen scenario 8, which has a mixed UK/US set of forces guarding a convoy headed for Holy Loch (the big points, but a long way away) or Reykjavik (the small points, but close and fairly safe). Chuck and Matt took the NATO forces, with Chuck taking the US while Matt took the UK, while Alex and I took the Soviets, each of us with a "carrier" surface group of goodly size, Alex on sub duty and me as air marshall. The Soviet subs started out all over the south end of the map, while the surface groups were located at various points along the Norwegian coast and the air forces all up on the Kola Peninsula. Alex and Chuck had been playing the game over the past few weeks, while I had gotten in a game of 5th Fleet with Chuck a couple of months ago. It was Matt's first game, and he did well considering that my instruction consisted almost exclusively of the turn sequence and how detection worked (including my almost correct player aid that I'd prepared the week before).

We played using the printed rules for 2nd Fleet rather than try to dig up all of the necessary units from the various games, and I think this is the best way to proceed in the future. There are some significant changes from game to game in the series, and if you play regularly that can screw you up, but in general I think that since it's a hypothetical conflict and, other than air operations and defense, the systems have never really been tested to do what they were designed to do, so the actual capabilities for the most part remain on paper. That's the story I'm sticking with, anyway.

The biggest problem the Soviets face in this scenario is how to protect their recon forces in the southern end of the map during the Strategic Air Segment. I'd forgotten that the recon units were treated as a group, and had thought that by simply moving four units to the British Isles Zone that I'd have no problem finding someone to detect. As such, they got bounced and we were at a severe disadvantage the first two turns. We'd have been much better off going for onesie-twosie detections in various zones and focusing on picking off the convoys instead of prepping to attack the small UK task forces in their home waters.

What we finally figured out we should be doing was getting our surface groups down into the British Isles zone by the end of turn 3, then using our carrier interceptors to cover the recon missions in that zone. Even though Matt and Chuck put up a pretty good air cover in the zone, we managed to bounce them along with ourselves and get good intel. That changed the game for us in a big way.

My air wing had mixed success in it's tactical missions. On the first turn, I did a lot of bombing in Norway (and one attempt in Reykjavik, which convinced Chuck to use those interceptors for CAP rather than strategic use), and had good success that first three turns (one day), gaining 15 VP. I even got one Badger down to the south end of the map and sunk a transport, which was a surprise to the NATO forces. That's kind of the other half of the game (the first half being detection and how you get there) - you can't cover everything, so you have to make choices. NATO sent the Rooseveldt carrier group (not a big group, but that air wing is as capable as the entire Soviet air force in this scenario when it comes down to it and when it's in the right area) around the north side of Iceland, and my thought was that they were going to neutralize the bombing of Norway (which ended up being safe after those first three turns as I couldn't hit *anything*), seeing as I'd gained 15 points in a couple of turns. As it was, that force got nervous about a couple of Soviet subs in the area and hung out off the north coast of Iceland, where they ceased to be a major part of operations for the late stages of the game. Just like in real life, naval commanders get nervous about committing the big target that they can't afford to lose. Amazing how 12 VP can do that in a game like this.

In the end, Alex's front surface group, more or less identical to mine (but a little more capable in the SSM department) took most of NATO's fury, and by the late game there wasn't much left of it. However, that left my group ample room to get in and start causing serious problems for the remaining convoys, as did Alex's subs. Our last turn was turn 7, and at that point the sole remaining convoy was surrounded and down to only four of it's original thirteen ships and NATO had no chance of getting enough points without sinking every ship we had and they conceded.

Lessons learned, at least for me - a threat in being is better than the actual attack if it reduces the capabilities of your opponent. OK, I knew that one, but it was applied well here. The Soviets are a force that is intended to get stuck in to the fight as quickly as possible, but at the same time appropriate forces are critical to success. Case in point, having some fighter cover for recon at long range, which is what the surface groups are there for right up to the point where they can start shooting their long range SSMs. Finally, identify the big-ticket items in terms of VP, which in our case were the merchantmen. While they were only worth 3VP each to us, at the same time they denied 1 to 4VP for our opponent, and thus were really worth between 4 and 7VP, matched only by the Rooseveldt at 12VP and the UK carriers and guided-missile cruisers at 4VP each, not to mention the UK/Iceland airbases which were worth 4VP as well.

I was a bit surprised that the game took so long to play - we finished up around 5pm after starting around 9am - but there is a lot to think about when you have to consider which arm of your forces to activate at a given time. No question that the game was more fun with teams, especially when the dice went terribly cold (as they did for us for the most part during the second day of three turns) and you could blame your partner. It was also fun to hash out strategy. I was very fortunate to have Alex as a partner, as he has developed his analytical skills quite a bit over the past few years and is now a formidable, if still a bit inexperienced, wargamer. I think we are going to try to take on a larger-scale scenario if we can next year, probably using the 5th or 7th Fleet set, which will allow for teams of three easily, which will probably be divvied up by either nationalities or by area of the map. A big success, and the only reason this wasn't the high point of the week for me was because we had so much fun playing Fighting Formations a couple of days before.

Our night time game was Wealth of Nations, which was the first play for all of us but Tex, who played using the first edition rules. I could see how the original ruleset, which limited purchases and sales to a single cube during the Trade phase and forced a sell-off at the end that took as long as the preceding game, was a bust, but the revised rules with the limit improved to three cubes bought/sold and a streamlined endgame were more than acceptable. While most economic games tend to take me a while to understand (and WoN was no exception), I did well once I got past the initial confusion of what I needed to use. The War Clouds expansion, which includes military rules that we did not play with (and thankfully so, the game we complex enough with a first play without them), they did include a very useful planning sheet that I used extensively that helped me understand the process much more quickly and with much less brain burn.

For those who haven't played, WoN is at it's heart a simple economic game where you need certain resources to produce other resources that allow you to build up your infrastructure so that you can produce more of the initial resources and start the whole thing over again. Each resource has it's own market where prices rise as demand increases and drop as demand decreases. It's capitalism in it's purest form, even to the extent that there will be limitations as to how much of a given resource can be produced on a global level as the production tiles run out. I enjoyed the game, although economic games are not the sort of thing I typically reach for first, and I'm looking forward to giving it another try with the military rules at some point in the future. I'm glad I purchased a copy, even happier I got the War Clouds expansion (which also changes up the initial Industrial and Commerce "packages" that bootstrap the game). I'm even looking forward to trying it two-player to see how well it works. Considering that Container left me a little cold, this is high praise indeed.

The results? Chuck spanked us all, going immediately for a large banking complex. I came in second, despite not making enough of an effort to leverage my large initial cash position - I took one loan the entire game whereas others took multiple loans. Not far behind me were Matt ("I see how it is...") and Tex ("If you don't take loans, you lose"). A good game, despite the warpage to the central board and the strange attempts to differentiate the different player colors exclusively through flavor rather than any special mutant powers.

And that was Thursday.

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