Monday, June 30, 2008

Plenty of 'starting experience'

Thanks to my wife’s cat Sam (I will no longer claim him), I’ve made some interesting discoveries about “Island of Death.” The game has certainly re-kindled my interest in APL’s “Red Steel” system – but that’s not the point.

Because of all the variability built into the game’s opening mechanisms, it has an incredible amount of replayability. Owing to a couple of table-top escapades by Sam the Cat, I’ve now gone through the opening day of the hypothetical invasion of Malta three times. And the starting positions delivered by the amphibious landing and air drop mechanisms have been quite different on each re-start.

[A quick note about the cat. He’s still alive, despite his depredations of the sacred hexgrid. He only assaults the Big Table when he gets locked in my office for the day and, unfortunately, I managed to lock him in twice before figuring out where he had established his new hiding place. The second time he came very close to expending another cat-life, but then I discovered the four missing counters on the seat of my office chair. Not quite sure how they got there in unchewed condition, but there you have it.]

In solitaire play, the beach landing zones and air drop zones are chosen pretty much at random. Selection is weighted toward a couple of favored spots, but otherwise it’s tough for the defenders to outguess the dice in their opening deployment.

Unless the Luftwaffe and the Regia Marina are wildly successful in knocking out coastal guns on the first turn, the two Italian infantry divisions that hit the beaches are going to take fairly heavy casualties. The assaulting companies have to survive the coastal guns, and then each company that lands has to make a Landing Loss roll and then survive any Waterline Combat initiated by adjacent Allied units. It’s potentially bloody business.

Each division has six infantry battalions, and they’re generally going to attempt to get three or four of those ashore in the initial landings. The Italians also have six companies of marines that can be assigned to either division. Plus they need to get their divisional HQ ashore fairly rapidly. Potentially, the Italians can put 30 steps ashore in the initial landings. If 20 of those land safely, I think they’re doing pretty well.

The airdrops are even more wildly variable. The solitaire drop table has five target hexes, basically spread at intervals east-west across the island. Each airborne formation targets one of those hexes, then more-or-less randomizes the location of their Drop Zone Marker by using the air drop scatter table.

Quite frankly, when you start rolling on the scatter table – crap goes everywhere. Some of the battalion-sized serials land intact and pretty close to the DZ. Others scatter into individual companies that get dumped all over the map. Including into the drink, which is very bad for the Axis.

The results of the air drops, in particular, are critical for the Axis. Their parachute troops are the primary bad-asses they need to take the island. Italian paratroops typically have a +2 morale advantage over the Allies, and the German guys have a +3 advantage. In a game where each point of morale advantage translates into a column shift on the CRT, those are pretty important guys not to dump into the Med.

My three starts of the game have each yielded different Axis loss results. In one of them, they took just 15 steps of losses. In another, they lost 17 steps. In my latest they had some particular problems with air transport navigation (apparently) and lost 21 steps before the beginning of the Allied response.

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