Monday, July 24, 2006

Nothing quite like a trip to the desert

My apologies for the slight interruption in this blog’s progress in detailing the fall of Berlin at the squad level. But everybody needs a vacation every once in a while – so we’re back and typing after a week-long visit to Arizona.

Of course, no trip to Arizona is complete without a visit to the Grand Canyon. So we trooped from Sedona up to the South Rim for a day and let Juanco chase after all of the wildlife he could spot. Here is a typical vacation moment as Junior Destructo Man tries to capture a squirrel.

Everything with four legs was fair game. He called them all “kit-kat”, since that’s what he calls the four-legged critter at home. The only one he actually managed to get his hands on, fortunately, was a rather well-behaved furry mop of a little dog. Both boy and dog survived the close encounter without a bruise or scratch.

The adventure included a Friday night trip to Chase Field, where we watched the Diamondbacks beat the Rockies. Nice ballpark, although I can do without the 118 degree summer heat in Phoenix. Needless to say, they didn’t turn off the air conditioning and roll back the stadium roof that night. It was still 100 outside when we walked back to the hotel (three blocks away) around 9:30. Any way you slice it, that’s just too damned hot.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

ATS Berlin: Time out for a holiday

The battle for Berlin is underway on The Big Table – but there’s going to be a slight delay in the proceedings. The driving force behind the game – that being me – will be off on vacation for the next ten days.

Being a typical game geek, I’m planning to lug along at least one set of game rules for some light reading while I’m gone. I might even put into action my plan to take along a rules set for one of the Command at Sea games with the notion of actually playing a small game by plotting ship positions on a piece of graph paper. That’s pretty ambitious, though, so no promises there.

Last time I took a ‘real’ vacation and carried along a serious set of game rules, the whole project turned out pretty messy. I spent one morning at our condo in Princeville sitting out on the porch reading through the “Dirtside II” minis rules. I left them sitting on the table out there in the afternoon when we took off to play some golf and – as luck would have it – a windblown rainstorm swept down from Mt. Waialeale that afternoon and drenched everything. The drenching included our roofed-in back porch, so the rules got a solid soaking. I was able to eventually salvage everything into readable condition, but it wasn’t a happy sight.

I no longer leave valuable printed material sitting out. Yeah, yeah, we’re off to Sedona and it seldom comes a drenching there – but I know leaving something out where it could get wet would be the ultimate wargaming raindance.

This will be our first trip (since the trip back from Guatemala last November) with Junior Destructo Man. At nearly 16 months now, he’s quite a bit more mobile. So it will be, um, interesting to see how he takes to nearly 5 hours of air travel.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

ATS Berlin: A look at Scenario 1

Strange Defeat has gone up on the shelf for now. Next on the table: Scenario 1 “Moabit Mayhem” from ATS Berlin: Red Vengeance. I’ve poked around at a couple of the Berlin scenarios in the past, but this time I’m keeping score.

A digisnap from the pre-game appears below. It’s the German setup for the scenario before flipping the weapons to the their FOW sides and applying any Full Cover markers. The Germans also get some reinforcements in the form of a parachute infantry platoon on turn three. The big white tile spacers on the map mark the scenario boundaries.

The Soviets mob onto the map from the west. In eight turns, they have to control three of the four buildings where the Germans are setup in order to win the game. They’ve got a horde of infantry, some assault guns and a couple of pieces of direct-firing artillery to work with.

Even for experienced ATS hands, the Berlin scenarios present some very special challenges. The urban landforms are more peculiar than those found in the various Stalingrad scenarios, for example, which means a thorough reading of the battlefield walkaround in the scenario book is extremely important. In scenario 1, there’s also an SSR that subjects any Russian unit within four hexes of the Spree to possible sniper fire (depending on LOS conditions).

The Germans here have chosen to contest a couple of the buildings with only Volksturm squads, which are generally pretty iffy in their performance. Defense of the warehouse along the river has been given to a parachute platoon, supported by a MMG. Defense of the railway station has also been leavened with some paras.

The basic idea is for the Volksturm defenders of the prison and what I’ll call the “office building” (J12) to delay the Soviets and inflict as many casualties as possible. The Germans need to hold or contest two of the four buildings by game’s end, and the two buildings where they’ll make their stand are the rail station and the customs yard.

If the Volksturm guys do their jobs, they should absorb enough of the initial assault to give the German reinforcements time to get into position. The para platoon that arrives on turn 3 can enter anywhere on the east edge, so they have some flexibility on where they’ll commit. They can reinforce the rail station easiest, so that’s a likely course of action. If the Reds quickly clear the prison but then get sloppy, the paras can counter-attack to take or contest that location. They might even be able to reinforce the customs yard, but that might prove tricky depending on how the Soviets can cover the approaches with opportunity fire.

Although the Germans have no tanks in this scenario, the Russian tanks just can’t go charging around the map. Two Volksturm tank-killer teams lurk on the map, and the German OOB also includes two panzerschrecks and six panzerfaust single-shot weapons.

The Red Army of Workers and Peasants have their work cut out for them.

Monday, July 03, 2006

Strange Defeat: One more try

A final look, for now, at Avalanche’s Strange Defeat, this time sans le chat. Managed to get in two games over the weekend.

The Germans won both games. I suspect in both cases that the Allies were over-aggressive, but finding a successful strategy for them is difficult.

In the first game, the Allies adopted a more spread-out approach. Their defenses deployed fairly dispersed, mostly one unit per hex with a few of the “AA” deployment group added for stiffening where allowed.

The dispersed deployment keeps the German armor from trying to ‘ooze’ the French defense, but it I think it opens up the Allies to defeat in detail. My thoughts on it are that the best chance the Allies have of inflicting step losses is when they’re defending. A good German player will always have an armor unit of some type stacked with his spearheads to gain the ‘Allies attack at half strength against armor stacks’ advantage – which means French counter-attacks frequently just bounce off.

Also, the bucket o’dice combat system punishes small stacks by making them easy to overwhelm. A German attack that scores three ‘hits’ will eliminate a single unit (two step) stack, but the same attack can be absorbed with a single step loss and a two-hex retreat by a larger stack.

At any rate, the dispersed defense seemed only to delay things. The Germans sort of stupidly pressed a frontal attack against the Belgians along the Dyle, which cost them some unnecessary infantry casualties. The Germans ended up bagging them eventually, but suffered from a few French/British counter-attacks in the process. Most of the BEF evacuated via Operation Dynamo, although once again the courageous French Gen. Piroux and his boys got whacked in the process.

Axis forces coming out of the Ardennes chopped up the dispersed defense facing them with a series of armor-led blasts that drove to Chalons by turn four. The Germans opted to not attack any of the Maginot forts, reckoning that picking up three or four additional Political Points wasn’t really worth running the risk of facing the defender advantage (hit on 5 or 6) of the forts.

On turn 5 the BEF evacuated via Dynamo and the French were down to a hand full of units defending in front of Paris. The PP index stood at -23 with little prospect of improvement for the French, which pretty much ended things.

In the second game, the French opted for a slightly different defense approach. Where possible they stacked defending units in groups of four or five steps. This left a few hexes uncovered except by ZOC, but it also forced the Germans to attack into stacks that would be rolling 9-12 dice against their panzer spearheads.

It worked for a little bit, I think. The Germans decided to take out the northern-most of the Maginot fortifications, which the Allies had stacked with 6 steps of defenders (two French fortress units and the BEF 51st Division). Both sides rolled a bunch of hits. One German infantry corps was wiped out and two more reduced – but the Germans rolled seven hits with some like 24 dice and wiped out all three units in one go. That was something like an 8 PP swing right there. Argh.

The Germans were loathe to commit panzer/motorized units to attacks against the bigger stacks without infantry support, and the jockeying around left them open to a couple of counter-attacks. The Allies managed to set up one good counter-attack in Belgium, which fizzled when they rolled 14 dice and got only 1 hit.

The turning point, I think, was a large French counterattack just west of Sedan. The Germans had driven Guderian and two panzer corps forward without infantry support, and the French managed to put them out of supply. But that attack failed even more miserably. They rolled no hits on 18 friggin’ dice, while the defending Germans rolled two hits with 6 dice. Had that attack succeeded, I think the Allies would have had a chance at winning the game. But, c’est la guerre. The counter-attacking British in Belgium then got chopped to bits and Ie called the game after turn 5 with the PP index standing at -26 and set to plunge even lower.

I think that will wrap up my investigation of Strange Defeat for now. More games beg for table space. Details shortly.