Tuesday, May 10, 2016

No Retreat: Italian Front Historical Campaign, Turn 1 Week 1, Allied Turn

Back at last, just didn't have the time or energy prior to my surgery to do much on this front. I'm through recovery, eight weeks out of surgery as of today, and pretty much back to my normal routine.

After spending a bit of time trying various games out, I've settled on giving No Retreat! The Italian Front my attention for a long term game I'll do a prolonged session report on. The game has gotten some negative buzz due to what I consider unrealistic expectations from the gamer community, and as such is lacking in an extended example of play or tutorials on some of the less obvious subsystems, so I figure I can help with that through a combined session report/clinic.

Note that this is my first play through at this level, I'm sure to make many mistakes, but will note when I've done so and will rewind where realistic, leave on the map where not. 

I am playing the Historical Campaign to limit some of the choices I would otherwise make, and I think this is a better option for solo play anyway. I will be playing both sides to the best of my ability, but focusing on decisions for the aggressive side at any given point, randomize for card plays for the defensive side if there is ambiguity as to the best course. I will be using all of the advanced rules.

The first turn give a clinic on how to do an invasion, so I'll cover that now. First, you'll want some gas in your tank, so it's a good thinking that you start with a lot of supply, 25 points. That's really good, as you will need 20 just to cover four weeks of campaigning this month. The other five can be banked or saved up for the future. I think saving those five is a great idea, the alternative would be to spend it on Combat Supply. I will go into much greater detail on how Allied Port Supply works in a future post, just know for now that I'm being conservative with what I have.

The first thing we do is draw cards, and I get some good ones for the Allies, mainly the Naval Supremacy which gives all invading units one shift to the right in all combats. I'm not sure if this includes the US paradrop, I played it as if it was not invading. They also get the Naval Outflank card that allows for an extra surprise invasion hex later in the month.The Axis get a hand of crap, and end up giving the Operation Shingle card to the Allies, although they do get a replacement card and a Reserve point, so that's good. About all they have is one battle card that allows a reroll,

Alexander doesn't use his redraw ability at this point, as the first card is worth keeping. 

This is an excellent time to discuss the way the rules are written, how that makes learning the game both more and less difficult, and how best to approach a game with a given rules philosophy.

The No Retreat franchise started at Victory Point Games, Alan Emerich's small publishing imprint. Anyone familiar with Totaller Krieg, Alan's magnum opus, knows that he likes rules that are laid out to follow the sequence of play. This allows a gamer new to a title to simply follow the rules as the game progresses without needing to necessarily read them in advance, although it's always good to at least take a gander at the sequence of play ahead of time. Where this philosophy falls down is when there's a lot of chrome and/or systems that affect multiple phases of play. The remedy, as seen in TK, is to provide learning scenarios that introduce you to some of the more elaborate mechanisms. With NRIF, the remedy is bothe the Huskey scenario and the extended example of lay that takes you through a couple of weeks of the first turn, as well as another example that details assaulting a strong defensive line, as will occur occasionally in any game on the Italian Front.

NRIF uses this exact rules philosophy, which is no surprise as the designer, Carl Paradis, has a high opinion of Alan's work, and also published his first game with Alan as developer. As such, the rules layout is extremely similar to that of TK, almost note for note. I am good with this, but it does mean a certain amount of pain while learning the game. To be fair, any complex system such as a war game, especially one with such a unique system as NR, is going to have some conceptual pain, you just work through it to get to the play. In this case, the biggest broad spectrum issues are Invasions and Allied Supply. I will cover the Invasion issues here.

For Huskey, there are no requirements to start an invasion, which is defined as units coming in from the sea. For every other invasion, you need to play an event card that has the silhouette of a combat ship on it. There are other limitations on invasions which I will not go into here, it is enough to understand that you can't just land units up and down the coast when you feel like it.

You also can't land where you feel like landing, you have to choose Landing Zones, identified by all sea hexes with arrows in them. You need to bring both CW and US units to the party, as everyone wants a piece of the glory. You also need to define up to two areas of contiguous LZ hexes. The example in the playbook shows the two zones and I stuck with those for my play through. 

To start the invasion, you also need to have Landing markers available. The Allies have seven of these at the start of the game, and so can have up to seven LZ hexes involved. The example uses six with the idea that maybe you can make an extra invasion later in the month as a surprise, and in fact my Allies got an event card that allows that. You place your Landing markers on your LZ hexes in the Deployment phase, when you are moving units in and out of reserve boxes, but you don't place actual units just yet. I used the spaces used in the example.

The next step happens during the Movement phase. You can "move" units from the reserve box to LZ hexes with Landing markers at a cost of three MP, and if not in an EZOC they can continue moving onto land as normal. If the LZ is in an EZOC, you have to leave the unit there. So long as you are not in the final week of a month, these units may end up sitting at sea if the EZOC isn't eliminated, but that's not necessarily a bad thing. Units fight as per the usual combat rules, and may or may not advance onto the beaches. Note that you cannot move or deploy a unit into an LZ hex unless there is a Landing marker in it.

You can also drop paratroops or land commandos as well during invasions, I won't get into those systems at this time.

Once units have fought, during the Reserve Phase the Landing markers can be moved onto the beach hexes their arrows point to and flipped to their Beachhead side to provide supply for the units on land. You don't need to supply units still in LZ hexes, and you don't need to have a  Landing marker in an LZ to keep a unit there until the end of the month, but you do need the Landing marker there to move a unit from Reserves during the Movement phase. You will generally want to convert Landing markers unless they would be vulnerable to an enemy attack. Also note that units in LZs tend to be more vulnerable to attack as well.

At the end of the months, during the Final Supply Phase any remaining unconverted Landing markers go back to the holding box and any units still on LZ hexes go to the Shattered Units box, so be sure and get everyone on dry land before the month ends.

On to the actual game!

I don't have a pic from the initial invasion, but it was very similar to the example in the playbook. By and large, the Allies had an excellent first week, with the US mech unit even getting a second combat opportunity and the US paratroopers surviving their drop. The British commando unit even managed to take Syracuse, although the Italian unit there wasn't brittle and could have take a step loss instead on the D result and prevented advancing. As we will see later on, it is critical for both the US and UK to take a port hex in order to gain Port Supply for the next turn. I'm a bit confused as to whether or not the Port Supply requires each faction of the Allies to have their own port, as in the standard rules, or if one port can supply both Us and UK units. 

Here is a pic of the end of the Allied turn, I have left the deploying units that came on in the Reserve phase on LZs to better show the converted beachhead markers. Once there is sufficient port supply, these will deploy back off of the board for use in the next invasion. Not shown is the Itslian Armistice box, which is on the Finito Benito space as the Allies have taken a Port.


The Axis will be on the defensive, trying to prevent the Allies from taking a second port or from getting closer to Messina. Ideally, the Allies should take the island in two turns at the most, the sooner the better so that they can get their landing markers back and prepare for Avalanche on the mainland.

Next up, I'll move along a bit more quickly as there won't be a lot of things to explain, and we should get through a good part of the month.

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