Thursday, November 29, 2018

The Road to Bremen - rules calls

I thought it might be useful to capture here some of the rules decisions we've made in playing the Road to Bremen mini-campaign.  I'll update this as we go along.

Panzerfausts – Which model of Panzerfaust is reasonable to use?  Panzerfaust 100 was certainly in use but I understand it hadn’t completely replaced Panzerfaust 60.  My suggestion is that the Germans get Panzerfaust 60 in all scenarios except the one in which they choose the Panzerfaust dump as a support option, where they get the 100.

Raised roads – On Table 2, the roads are described as raised above the low-lying, boggy fields.  These are not high embankments so I suggest the following.  The roads do not block line of sight from one side to the other.  However, infantry (not vehicles or AT guns) deployed immediately behind or moving along the far edge of a raised road get the benefit of light cover against fire coming across the road.
Volkssturm - The campaign rules make it clear that Volkssturm don't get the minus on their roll for Force Morale that Green troops usually would.  Other than that they are silent. Clearly these aren't highly trained professionals with weeks of recent experience on the field of battle.  In a case of "Don't as I do; do as I say" I'd recommend treating them as Green when shot at.  I believe Mark aka The Tactical painter gave them 5 Command Dice and I did likewise.

Wednesday, November 28, 2018

The Road to Bremen - Table 1, Game 2

The second action in our Chain of Command mini-campaign The Road to Bremen saw Jamie again defending a small hamlet with just two squads of Volkssturm.  

In the previous battle on this table, my first platoon got quite a beating. 

In my defence we’d declared the Volkssturm to be Average, rather than Green, troops so they could easily stand up against my British in a straight fire-fight.  This time I was determined to make sure they didn’t face a straight fire-fight.  I comforted myself that Jamie was unlikely to roll another six. I surely wouldn’t have to face them at Force Morale of 11 again. 

Hah!  A six it was.  Clearly these Volkssturm are utterly convinced by the Goebbels’ propaganda and determined to sell themselves dearly for the Fatherland.

My own force morale was slightly better this time (nine rather than eight) but I managed to roll only one bonus move at the start of the Patrol Phase.  It wasn’t looking good so far.

I wasn’t able, this time, to establish a Jump Off Point in the village.  By the end of the Patrol Phase I had one JOP about a third of the way along each table flank and one next to the road on my table edge.  Jamie had one either side of the road at the back of the village and one on the table edge alongside the actual “Road to Bremen”.

Jump Off Points - British yellow, German black
For this game I knew what I was up against and I decided to field my No.2 platoon, leaving  No.1 platoon to lick its wounds.  One of the advantages the British have in this mini-campaign is the ability to rotate platoons in and out of the lead position as the situation demands. 

I had 19 points of support and chose a Comet tank, a pre-game bombardment, a Carrier Section (I thought it best to have some extra bodies), and a mortar battery in support. We’ll come back to that pre-game bombardment later.

No.2 Platoon are led by Lt Robert Fox-Hill.  This young man (he’s only 20) is from Leeds and hasn’t so far managed to fit in with the other officers in the mess. The Colonel feels that he’s “Not quite the right sort of chap – after all he plays the wrong code of Rugby!”

The game began with Jamie building up Chain of Command points but deciding not to deploy any troops at first.

I started off with the Comet coming on at the road and immediately going on Overwatch.  I wasn’t going to get caught out again by Fritz’s Panzerfausts.  The 2” mortar team deployed next to the tank.

Jamie then deployed, as he had done previously, a section in the red-roofed cottage to the rear right (as I looked at it).  This, we knew, put the apothecary’s shop between him and the tank if the latter remained on the road (which it probably should, given the boggy ground on either side).

I then introduced Cpl Jones’s section on my left.  He was out sight of Jamie’s first squad and I hoped to draw him into deploying the second on his right flank such that I could defeat each in succession.  Sergeant Street (SL) went in with Jones’s lads to keep them motivated.

The danger now was that Jamie could use his central position to concentrate against my left flank attack.  I’d have to threaten on the other flank too.  Cpl Keeling’s section deployed from the right flank JOP.  They were a bit exposed but I planned to cover them with smoke from the 2” mortar and maybe from the off-table mortars.

Jamie put his second squad into the orchard behind the inn and opened fire on Cpl Jones’s section.  The British were on overwatch and returned fire. They just about got the better of the first exchange of fire. 

With only two squads, Jamie was limited in what he could do.  He brought on his Senior leader in the red-roofed cottage, and then used him to move the section forward to the apothecary’s shop, clearly intending that to be the keystone of his defence.  I’d already taken the chance of moving the Comet into the filed so it could target either building.

At about this point we realised that we’d both forgotten to take account of the British pregame bombardment when the Germans were deploying.  On the fly we decided to say the British had an Adjutant instead.

There now followed a brief period during which casualties were heavy and Force Morale plummeted on both sides. 

On my left, the accuracy of the Bren proved its worth.  A couple of lucky bursts of fire took out the MG42 team and killed the Volkssturm Junior Leader.  The remainder of the squad were soon in full retreat and Jones’s section were on their tails.  Jamie’s Force Morale was down to nine so at least we were now level!

Routing Volkssturm
However, on my right things weren’t looking good.  Jamie had played a Chain of Command die to end the turn and remove all of my carefully laid smoke screen. The Volkssturm Senior Leader’s presence meant that my exposed left flank section was taking heavy casualties.  I decided to send a second section in to reinforce them – at least the hits would be shared between more men!

Unfortunately, this just gave the Germans the opportunity to do more damage!  A single burst of fire from the MG42 and a handful of rifles wiped out Cpl Keeling’s Bren team and killed both Junior Leaders!  Suddenly my Force Morale dropped to four and I had the remnants of two sections in the open, under fire, and leaderless!

The aftermath of that MG42 burst
Showing considerable initiative, Lieutenant Fox-Hill leapt into a carrier on the road (the Carrier Section had arrived but done little so far for lack of appropriate Command Dice) and sped off across the boggy field towards the debacle.

Meanwhile, Cpl Jones’s section had advanced to the rear of the orchard and onto the German Jump off Point.  Not satisfied with this, Jones pushed his rifle team around to the rear of the village and onto another JOP!  I played a Chain of Command die, captured both JOPs, and reduced Jamie’s Force Morale to four.

Cpl Jones's men capture their first Jump Off Point
Sergeant Street, meanwhile, sprinted off up the Road to Bremen to capture the final JOP!

The battle then settled down into an extended firefight – Jamie’s guys firing from the rear windows of the apothecary’s shop at Lt Fox-Hill and his little cluster of pinned riflemen, now reorganised into a single team. The tank and Jones’s section fired at the Germans through opposite ends of the building! 

At some point in all this I managed to complete, and spend, a second CoC die, again to end the turn.  The loss of his last JoP (coinciding approximately with a wound to his remaining JL) reduced Jamie’s Force Morale to two.  By this stage the men in the apothecary’s shop were pinned and it was only a matter of time before accumulated shock broke them giving a narrow and bloody win to the British!

It was a quarter past midnight by the time we finished so we tidied up quickly and left post-game paperwork for the following evening.
What this game taught me was that it doesn't matter how much additional support you've got, if you haven't got the command dice they aren't going to be much use. With just two units, Jamie was almost guaranteed to be able to act at full effect in each phase.  I, on the other hand, made almost no use of the carrier section and never got to deploy my off-table mortars at all.  Any 1s that came up on the command dice were too desperately needed elsewhere!  

Thursday, November 15, 2018

The Road to Bremen - Table 1, Game 1

Jamie and I have been working over the last few weeks towards being able to play The Road to Bremen - a Chain of Command mini-campaign set in northwest German during the last weeks of World War Two.  The plan is to play on Monday evenings while the lady of the house is out at her community choir.

Last night we played the first action, in which Lieutenant Tom "Pudding" Lane's platoon attacked a German village surrounded by low-lying, boggy fields.  On all of the maps in this campaign, the British will be attacking from the left.  Those grey-brown fields are likely to cause any vehicle crossing them to bog down.

As both the British player and the umpire, I know more than I should about the German options but for any given scenario I only know what broad kind of unit I am to face.  In this case it was an understrength Volkssturm platoon.  What, if anything, they would be reinforced with was a mystery.

We've switched the campaign around slightly because my late war British collection is focussed on 11th Armoured Division so Shermans and Kangaroos were replaced by Comets and halftracks in my reinforcement charts.  I rolled the maximum level of support and took a Comet tank, a mortar battery, a medical orderly, and, I think, the battalion adjutant.

The patrol phase went reasonably well and I managed to get a jump off point into the garden behind the thatched cottage, one in the ploughed field quite high up the left side of the table and a third by the road leading onto the table from my edge.  Jamie had one behind each of the further houses and his third on his baseline.

With a significant advantage in Force Morale (11 to 8) Jamie went first and deployed a squad in the house at the back of the village to the right of the road (from a British point of view).  This was an advantageous position because the angle of the road meant the apothecary’s shop was in the way. Any British armour moving up the road would be unable to target them without venturing into the buggy fields.

As my first squad moved forward from the jump-off point on the left side of the table, I used the mortar observer and the 2” light mortar team to begin blocking Jamie’s line of sight to my deployment areas.

Jamie sat on his hands and left me to it.

It quickly became clear that the forward observer, deployed from the left flank jump off point, was in a position from which he’d struggle to put the barrage anywhere other than right at the front of the village.   The 2” mortar team, meanwhile, were in a position on the road from which they could only really add smoke to an area that would already be blocked by the barrage.  Clearly I hadn’t thought this through at all.

Never mind, I could get another section into action and I did so, deploying it again from the left hand JoP.  I could have put a section into the thatched cottage but that would have put it into a straight firefight with the Volkssturm squad in the the house over the road.  Experience has shown that going up against a squad with an MG42 when you only have a Bren is not a great idea.

I also got the mortars firing and brought down a nicely positioned barrage on the village.  in the picture below you can see the British first and second sections moving up from the left-hand Jump-off Point.  A German squad is moving around the back of the village to oppose them.

I’d just got the mortars firing, when Jamie rolled three sixes and ended the turn.

By this time my first section was on the edge of the village.  It didn’t look safe to start trying to bring down another barrage in the cramped quarters of the village.

The 2” mortar was available, though, so I should be able to bring down one of the team’s precious HE rounds against the Germans moving against me.  Except of course I rolled snake-eyes and the 2” was out of ammo!

So I tried pushing forward with the second section (and eventually the third) but the dice weren't kind and I found it very hard to coordinate the advance.  My first squad was pinned and the close terrain made it hard to find a decent way to concentrate fire on the Germans.

At this point I made the latest in string of bad decisions.  I brought on my Comet tank.

With one German squad hiding in a building and the other in the open but both on the opposite side of the village, the tank wasn't exactly able to influence matters.  My continued ability to throw nothing but fours and fives meant that I was building up Chain of Command points but I wasn't getting the Comet into action.

Evventually, however, a couple of phases with three rolled allowed me to bring the tank into a position where it could fire (to no great effect) on the Germans in the village.

Of course that put it within Panzerfaust range. It now emerged that Jamie had chosen the Panzerfaust dump as his only support option on this table.

A couple of brave men ran out into the street and Jamie rolled an adequate number of fives and sixes. My saves were nowhere near enough and the tank was knocked out.  The only slight chink of daylight was that the tank didn't explode so I didn't lose the Junior Leader as well as the support element.

However, with time ticking on and with my force morale down to 4 against Jamie's eleven (I'd earlier had a leader slightly wounded and Bren wiped out by MG42 fire under the control of Jamie's platoon commander) I decided to withdraw and try again another day.

So first blood to the Germans.  Given the difference in force morale, all of their casualties will be back in the next action while the British will be down seven men!  The only advantage I have is that I now know what I'm facing when we fight this action again.

In retrospect, I perhaps should have made the Volkssturm Green troops, which would have given me a better chance in a straight firefight.  On the other hand I realised afterwards that the British don't get the mortar battery the first time a table is played (not that it helped me at all).

Oh and finally, the big error on my part.  I had a full Chain of Command dice at the end; I should have used it to interrupt and machine-gun the two guys who ran out in front of my tank!

The British CO's opinion is -1 and the men are equally unhappy with Lieutenant Lane's performance so far.

Friday, November 9, 2018

The Miller Told His Tale

I spent my commute yesterday listening to the latest episode of The Miller’s Tale – a Wargaming Podcast. 
Prior to this Summer, Mike Whitaker was a fixture on the Meeples and Miniatures podcast.  I enjoyed his contributions for their dry wit and I was disappointed when Meeples host Neil Shuck announced a change of line-up that saw Mike excluded henceforth.

All is not lost, however, as Mike has now resurrected his own podcast, The Miller’s Tale.  I understand Mike lives in a converted mill, hence the title (though I suspect given Mike’s musican interests there may be a hint of Procul Harum in there too).
The latest edition has Mike giving a considered review of the Too Fat Lardies company-level WW2 game I Ain’t Been Shot Mum. As a Lardies fan who hasn’t yet played that game I was interested to hear his views. 

OK, so IABSM’s ground-scale is pretty much spot on for 1/300th scale models?  At first, I thought, “Ooh it would be interesting to have a go at these rules using my 6mm collection”.  However, it becomes apparent from the number of individual figures in a section is important and that you need to remove individual figures as casualties occur.  I’m not sure I’d want to be fielding individually based 6mm tall figures; it’s easy enough to lose 20mm figures among the undergrowth on a well-detailed table.

I agree with Mike that some degree of uncertainty for the commander is a key part of any enjoyable wargame.  His description of “chess with tanks” for a game that doesn’t have restrictions on players’ ability to command their model troops, strikes me as right on the nose.  I’m slightly concerned that IABSM way go a little too far the other way, for me, in this regard. 

I wasn’t happy with the same company’s version 1 of Sharp Practice as it seemed that an unfortunate run of card play could completely ruin a player’s day (and indeed an umpire’s scenario).  And don’t get me started on that damned annoying remember-to-count-the-ones-and-sixes mechanism for random events.  I’m a little concerned that IABSM (being a generation older than Chain of Command and SP2) may suffer from some of the same issues.

That aside, IABSM may be worth a look.  I just need to ask myself, do I want a company-level game?

At the moment I can run reinforced platoon-level games with Chain of Command or Arc of Fire.  I can run Battalion- to Brigade Level games with Tac WW2 and Brigade-plus games with Blitzkrieg Commander.  Beyond that I suppose I could use Megablitz but I’ve no great wish to go that big.

So, there is potentially a company-sized gap in the middle there but do I want to run company-a-side games?  Well certainly not if it’s going to involve investing in a new scale but if I could use 6mm…?  Maybe, but I don’t immediately feel the urge.

It was good, though, to hear a review from someone who has been playing a set of rules for some time.  I’d urge Mike to go on doing this.  If I had access to podcasting hardware I ought to think about doing something similar for Arc of Fire.

I really enjoyed the episode and, given Mike’s general focus on historical gaming, I think it’s not unlikely that The Miller’s Tale could become my favourite wargames podcast.


Thursday, November 1, 2018

Fiasco Purchases

It was Fiasco last weekend and Jamie and I had our usual visit, although this year he wasn't coming from York and I didn't end up driving him back there afterwards (MA course being over).

I was fairly restrained in my purchases.  Apart from a bottle of paint and a single Celtic warrior from a scrabble box, my only purchases were these two houses.

They're 20mm MDF; a house and a shop from a company called Dave's Wargames.

I haven't come across this guy previously but at eight quid a shot they seemed too good to pass up, particularly as I want some buildings for a forthcoming Chain of Command campaign covering the fighting for Bremen in 1945.

They don't come with instructions and I found a couple of points where I suddenly discovered I was in the process of going wrong but in no case did I end up cocking up too badly.

As you can see I've added some Green Stuff to remove those annoying lugs poking through the roof.  The next step, I think, is to add some timbering and render to make these guys look more Westphalian.