Tuesday, December 06, 2011

AE:TK - Fall of France Lessons Learned

I got the chance to run the A.3 scenario with my friend Eric on Monday morning, playing the West, and had a few thoughts on the scenario:

  • The Maginot Line is hard to get through in no small part because of the shifts from terrain and the fortress units, so it becomes a matter of attrition which the Axis does not have time to do. Metz in particular can simply be reinforced at least one step per turn. While breaking this line would almost certainly result in the conquest of France, it will probably take more than three turns to do so.  
  • Antwerp/Brussels (VASSAL module has a slightly different map than the new edition, so a slightly different arrangement of cities) is a bit of a trap if the Axis plays a Blitz marker on it. This will force a retreat which will screw up the northern end of the line. Note that I did this in my playthrough. As such, it's important for the Western Allies player to garrison Paris with at least three or four steps to avoid a quick breakthrough by a couple of big units that might push through Calais.
  • Alternatively, you could leave a single unit in Paris and retreat the whole stack into that city. You're going to lose any Belgian steps anyway, might as well burn it for overstacking at the end of the segment. 
  • Know some of the "smaller" rules, such as road/rail being slower for multistep units, no more than one minor nation allowed in a hex unless using an Exp unit, shifts for fortress units, Axis Minor Country Occupation conditional events, how the Naval Warfare Delay Box differs from the normal Delay box.
  • Understand the sequence of play and how some replacements come at the start of the turn and some come at the end. 
  • Contesting a support unit means that both units will come back a turn faster, assuming the same die roll to place it on the turn track. Sometimes it's better to let the unit place successfully and not come back than to contest and have the unit come back. 
  • While not important in this game because of length, anything you can do to improve your delay roll and hurt your opponent's can make a big difference. 
  • High odds are good for eliminations, but if you just want to be pushing back your opponent and are not as concerned with causing step losses, 3-1 is nearly as good as long as you can advance one or two hexes at a time. You need 6-1 odds to start pushing back faster or causing more losses. You want 9-1 if you don't want to take steps yourself. 
  • As the Axis, you really need to be able to place the Blitz marker in Paris at some point in order to force the units there out. Anything else won't get it done unless you completely overwhelm the French in your first attack. 
  • I really like this game.
In our game, Eric tried to breach the Maginot Line at Metz (and to some extent to the south) with some success. He didn't see being able to succeed without taking Metz, although the inability of those units to attack effectively more or less turns the hexes into impassible mountains that don't require much to keep those units tied down. He also didn't do much against Amsterdam/Rotterdam in his first attack and that may be an OK choice as the hexes around Rotterdam aren't all that important and even one 3-5-2 infantry will tie down that hex effectively. Remember though that the Allies will get a minor step that can be used for BH and to place in Am/Rot that could move out and screw up supply lines, although this is a step the French won't have. I think it best to take out BH early and just not worry about it, but I'm sure others have had different experiences. 

My next step is rereading the ruleset and playing the West Front one map game (at least in part), and then soloing the East front map. I'm making this choice because I recognize the most difficult part of the game to fully understand is the use of option cards, and these scenarios narrow those choices down to a level I think I can manage, especially with all of the changes to the deck made with every play, both in terms of cards you can play and cards that are out. Eric and I discussed an app or website that could do this, although since I'm trying to learn iPad coding I may do this for iDevices, and it would be a good sized project for me to take on. I'll let you know if that ever happens. 

Thanks to Eric for a good game. It was especially fun to see how a non-historical strategy worked out against the French, even if this one didn't go so well. TK seems to be an excellent vehicle for What-If's and counterfactual exploration at a manageable level.

1 comment:

Eric said...

And thanks to you for good company!

One comment you made as we were wrapping things up struck a chord: there aren't a whole lot of strategic games that have such fascinating puzzles to solve. I love that aspect of AE:TK.

While this scenario didn't have the "strategic feel," it was extremely satisfying in the way some of the small OCS scenarios satisfy. The attacker has a puzzle to solve, and at first blush it looks impossible. Over time, you can work it out, and if the results fall your way, you'll solve the puzzle.

The key to these puzzles frequently involves being aggressive to the point of being uncomfortable about it. Had I taken that Brussels breakthrough all the way to Paris as you suggested after the fact, this very well could have been an Axis win. Knowing the supply rules back and forth is the key to this: those rules limit how aggressive you can be.

An interesting thing happened to me today as I was taking the game down: I didn't want to put it away. I can't remember the last time I felt that way about a game.

I'll be taking a look at the western one-map scenario as well. I'm Barbarossa-d out for a while, so I'm going to let the eastern scenario sit. I'd be more than happy to spend a day at WBC-West playing the western scenario.

I've also started compiling the card deck data. The Western deck is pretty straightforward: there are only a couple places where a particular card choice invalidates options further down the line. Axis and Russian deck data to come.

As far as our particular session went, there are a couple things I'd probably do differently next time: First, I'd be much more careful planning my combination phase the turn before. Turn 2 is the time to be doing that, and you almost have to be thinking two turns ahead for that.

Second, you need to find a balance between combining armored units and spreading them out in order to qualify for exploitation moves. And you're not going to get to Paris without an exploitation or three. The drawback here is you're going to lose armored steps faster when they're spread out. Knowing how future card plays let you replenish those steps is going to have an impact here.

Next time I play through this attack, I'll probably still bypass Amsterdam, but this time I'd delay attacking Metz. I spent a bit more effort than I probably should banging up against the Maginot Line. Do the historical thing and screen/bypass/surround.

Thanks again for the game - that was the most fun I've had wargaming in a while.