Wednesday, November 07, 2007

For treadheads: ATS Stonne Heights

Another item that arrived near the Big Table during blog off-season was the ATS title Ghosts at the Meuse: The Battle for the Stonne Heights. This one is another complete boxed game and features the fighting for the town of Stonne, France in 1940.

Of all of the battles big and small during the German’s 1940 invasion of France, Stonne is one that seems to attract a lot of attention. It has a number of historical points in its favor, I suppose. It was a tooth-and-nail struggle in which the French fought the Germans to a standstill. The terrain is interesting. It was a mixed-arms affair that featured a considerable amount of armor on both sides. The German attack was spear-headed by the troops of the Grossdeutschland regiment, a formation that generated a lot of ‘ink’ in Nazi propaganda at the time.

Also, over the last 15 years or so the historical view (in American eyes) of the 1940 campaign in France has been revised away from the ‘pop history’ view of unstoppable Nazi war machine versus totally incompetent surrender monkeys. These revisions toward a more accurate overview have generated new interest in the campaign from American wargamers – which is pretty much the market force that drives which topics appear in print.

Some years ago, Stonne was the topic of The Gamers’ Tactical Combat Series game GD (Grossdeutschland) ’40. It was an interesting, well-researched game that suffered to a degree from the game system’s inability to successfully mesh armored operations with infantry. A less interesting treatment of Stonne appeared a couple of years back as the issue game in Vae Victis magazine, a French-language gaming publication.

Critical Hit – the publishers of ATS – produced a Stonne 1940 module for Advanced Squad Leader some years back, and this new ATS title is an outgrowth of that project (fairly obvious, since Pedro Ramis gets the design credit in both games).

The cartography is updated from the earlier ASL module and uses a larger sized hexgrid in order to accommodate the larger ATS counter size. It does a nice job of capturing the ruggedness of the terrain in the immediate vicinity of Stonne. In this game the focus is entirely on the fighting in the environs of the town, which means the players won’t necessarily get a feel for the ‘big picture’ of Stonne’s dominating heights with regards to the Meuse valley.

Ghosts at the Meuse also introduces the 1940 French order of battle into ATS. It’s a generous countermix that certainly includes more stuff than you’ll ever use in a single scenario. For treadheads, I’m sure the centerpiece of the OOB is the French B-1 tank.

The appearance of the B-1 certainly provide ample opportunity for the ‘what if’ crowd to get their jollies by matching the French heavy against the general more lightweight German tanks of 1940. Unfortunately, while the B-1 may have carried more armor than the German AFVs and fielded a good gun (for the time), French operational doctrine just wasn’t up to snuff.

A couple of Stonne scenarios actually made it onto the Big Table before the summer caught up with me. I didn’t set up any of the ‘big’ scenarios, but it seems to be a well-done kit with forces that match up well and provide an interesting look at a pivotal fight in the 1940 campaign.

No comments: