Sunday, June 19, 2011

Fighting Formations Replay - Scenario 7

I got together with new wargaming buddy Tripp to teach him Fighting Formations. At long last I think I'm starting to figure this game out, or at the very least I'm starting to see what I do wrong.

Scenario 7 is the companion to Scenario 6, which Eric and I played at WBC West a month ago. Both cover the same action on the same day, just different flanks. Scenario 5 puts the entire situation together on two maps, but we didn't have the time to play that out. These are pretty good learning scenarios for the experienced wargamer, especially those who are familiar with tactical games set during WW2 (Combat Commander, Conflict of Heroes, ASL) - not too many units, a good mix of guns, men, and tanks, some fortifications and sighting markers (which are roadblocks and hidden units), and not too much crazy terrain. As such, 7 is slightly better than 6 because there are no elevation changes, which always make my head hurt.

The situation is interesting. As in S6, the Germans need to take objectives and the Soviets need to kill Germans. The map features a river with swampy banks and a large forest mass in the center of the map extending up from the south like a tombstone, channelling where vehicles can go into two real axes - the road running between the forest and the river to the east, and through a small town and across rough terrain to the west. Tripp chose to defend with his two T-34 tanks to the west (although I missed that he had set up in some illegal terrain with one of the tanks - no woods for you!), and put his AT gun and AP MG (which was not really an effective weapon against tanks) to the east. In the center, at the northernmost apex of the forest "tombstone" was the only bridge in the area, and the road was literally the *only* way you could get vehicles to the SE corner of the map.

To take on these two sets of objectives, I set up my own large MG42 so that it was just out of range of his big MG in the east, but that required that the MG was set up so that I could only attack a very few of his units and not his AT gun at all. Meanwhile, I set up three groups of Grenadiers to cross the swampy river (which required lots of Advance actions) to penetrate the tombstone forest, from the bridge area down to near where the road emerged from the forest in the SE. On the western flank, I put the four tank platoons each with a grenadier platoon to carry them into the town fight. Once they had gotten into town and I'd wiped out his T-34s, the plan was to wheel two of the platoons to the east and proceed down the road once I'd taken the bridge.

I began with a Medium barrage in the SE to try to soften up his big MG post, which had a nice fire lane going straight down the river, but failed to do more than inflict a single weak hit. I followed up with an attempt at laying smoke via a light barrage, but it fell too far south to be useful. Stuka attacks to the west were less than useful as well. In fact, by the end of the first turn, I had not only barely advanced in the west, I'd done almost nothing in the center and east, and Tripp had found a rather nice place to situate one of his T-34's so that I was going to have relatively little chance to shoot at it. With his superior armor (but weaker guns) he was going to be able to hang out and make my life difficult.

Turn two went better for me, and I was able to get several grenadiers across the river and into the tombstone woods. I quickly realized that getting to the back objectives was going to be nearly impossible traveling through the woods as I'd be limited to three hexes per activation, so once I figured out that all Tripp had in the center objective was some wire, I left one grenadier there and sent the rest east, which was the correct choice as he had a lot of sighting markers near the objective where the road leaves the forest. They would scout that area for hidden units in anticipation of the tanks moving in that direction.

Meanwhile, in the west I realized that the best way to penetrate the town was to get the infantry there via the small woods to the west of the town. In fact, that would have been a very good idea from the start - use the tanks to get the infantry there where they could bypass the town and take the westernmost objective, then flank the T-34's with the heavy ATR I'd gotten as my initial random card or create close combat with the tank in the town hex. Tripp, however, pulled his townie tank back so that wasn't going to work. He brought a rifle platoon up into the woods to guard that flank and we started to get a lot of firepower going which finally forced the issue there. I managed to take the west objective and knock out both tanks (after losing three of my own) and his KV-1's were crossing the stream to the south.

At this point, I'd gotten my three single tanks (why I did not muster them into a single tank platoon I do not know) and we were getting pretty close to the point where I was going to need to take one more objective to get the VP's to 0, which would be a win for the Germans as Tripp had given up the Fate card to save a tank earlier (successfully). For reasons that will elude me until my dying day, I moved both a single tank *and* an infantry platoon into the space, which Tripp then chopped into mincemeat with all of his HE attacks, giving him an additional 3VP. He would have had two shots at the tank, one poor odds and one effectively impossible odds, and I would have won had the SD roll gone my way. Which it did.

At this point, even though it lost me the game, I accepted the roll as my own personal time limit had run out.

I learned several things from playing this game, and I am *starting* to feel like there is a chance I could play competently in the future. Here's what I learned:

  • Put a unit in an entrenchment in every objective hex on the map. At the very least put some wire there so that units have to use the right type of order to enter it. I took all three objective hexes with no more than wire in my way. Much better to force your opponent to fight for the important hexes, as those tanks can *fly* across the battlefield. 
  • Use the terrain. I was both really smart and really dumb about the use of the forest for infantry to move through to get close to objectives. The tombstone was smart, the western small forest took too many turns to figure out it's best use. I think Tripp would have been better served putting hidden units (and false sightings) on the periphery of the forest to keep me guessing. I think the roadblock would have been better served blocking the east-west road as it was the *only* path for the panzers to get east. While a demolition asset would have allowed me to break it up, that would have ended up forcing me to dig for that card and using up a lot of initiative in the process. 
  • I think the first turn is almost better spent in this scenario for the Germans building up assets. You start with some good ones, but you really need APCR to take out the T-34's effectively. Without question, you don't have much time as the Germans so more effective shots are critical.Limit use of your command early on and then make the first big push on turn 2. At that point you'll get better shots when you take them rather than hoping to get a lucky break on a six point differential between the Pz AP rating and the T-34 armor. Use light barrages for smoke to allow your units to advance across the river (which they'll need to do - swamp costs 6MP for leg and rivers are a +3, so you can only get across many of them through an advance action). 
  • Mass your fire. I finally knocked out his tanks when I was able to take multiple shots at them, although it took quite a while to finally get them. While the game doesn't have group fire, having a bunch of shots, especially with APCR ammo, will take out a unit very quickly.
  • That bridge is key. It needs defending to allow you to make a better decision about where to bring in your reinforcements as the Soviets. 
  • Think about what moving into a given space will do in terms of victory points. Not considering this carefully cost me the game. 
  • Snipers are something that you have to take into account more or less constantly, although in our game they were ineffective in terms of actually hobbling command. They do drive behavior, though, and you don't want to be caught with all of your command on the board when your opponent gets the die. At one point I had four command on the board when Tripp made a roll, which fortunately missed, but could have hurt a bit. 
This was Tripp's first game, and I think he had a good time playing it. I sure did. Thanks for being a great host!

One other note: we used the Random Event optional rule to mix things up a bit. I think we each got one small buff as a result, but most of the events were not of any serious effect. I recommend these if you like a battlefield that is changing on you, or if you want to make more of a game of who has initiative (not just who get's last ups) at the very end of the turn, as often that player gets the benefit (not always, though). The results are wacky, so if you want more of a chess-board experience stay away from them. 

I am now extremely interested in giving Scenario 5, the one that covers both S6 and S7, a try in the relatively near future. It would make for a very cool multiplayer gamer as well, with each player responsible for a particular part of the battlefield and one player the overall commander to make the choice of orders. Could be a lot of fun...

1 comment:

Tripp said...

A great game and a great time. Your takeaways are good ones, why didn't I put the entrenchments in the victory point hexes?!