Friday, March 29, 2024

Just a week to Crisis Point

This time next week I'll hopefully be setting up the terrain for my Stary Boleslav game at Crisis Point. 

At this stage I'm pretty much ready in terms of game design and sorting out the models I need. I've knocked up some fleeing civilians:


And I've created some more markers to avoid the need to use the little cardboard ones that come with the TacWWII rules.

Instead the main job at the moment is cooking. I'm feeding 18 people at lunchtime on two consecutive days. The great advantage of switching Crisis Point to the village hall is that we have access to a fully fitted kitchen. 

Rather than spend time cooking each day I'll be reheating previously frozen meals. So far I've done two vegetarian curries, two big pans of scouse, and a massive chilli con carne. 

The chilli - it's a powerful one!

Cooking on the day will be limited to large quantities of rice to supplement the various bread products I'll be acquiring the day before.

Crisis Point has been such a focus of all my efforts over the last few weeks that other stuff has go one hold. Don't worry about the absence of updates on the Muddy River Blues campaign. That'll be up and running again once Crisis Point is out of the way.


Wednesday, March 20, 2024

Stary Boleslav - more preparation

Preparation for the Stary Boleslav game continues. The Czechoslovak players have chosen their support options and the Soviet players are well on with theirs. This gives me the chance to start sorting out the models for the various units.

I don't think it's giving away too much important intelligence when I say that the picture below shows a large proportion of the Soviet forces.


One of the Motor Rifle Battalions needs a few more trucks. At least one of the players can provide these but I'm also running off a few with the 3D printer in case of last minute cancellations.


Another MRB was just one short of the requisite number of trucks. I decided it was not impossible that in 1948 they might have kept a single SdKfz 251/1 captured during the Great Patriotic War. 


The two Soviet player teams are submitting their competing choices for support elements. When that process is done I'll print off a couple of sheets to organise those additional units.
 
It's fascinating to see what the Soviet teams are picking. I can't wait to see how the choices play into their plans on the day. I shall be urging all of the players to remember that "A piss-poor plan violently executed is better than no plan at all!"


Thursday, March 14, 2024

Stary Boleslav - plan of action

With less than a month to go before Crisis Point 2024 I'm well on the way to having everything in place to run my game Stary Boleslav, 1948. It's a game for 4 to 8 players set during a fictional Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1948. 

This game sees two Soviet command teams racing to be the first to reach the Czechoslovak city of Stary Boleslav. For the winner there’s the prospect of being awarded the Order of Suvorov (Second Class), while for the loser there’s the very real possibility of being appointed to command the security detachment of a chemical weapons research facility. In Kazakhstan!

Meanwhile the Czechoslovak command team will be tasked with defending two major highways converging on the city. But with what forces? The political situation is confused. Have pro-Soviet elements been successfully purged from the Czechoslovak Army? 

We’ll be using the TacWWII fast play grand tactical rules. They are easy to learn - no previous experience necessary and put players firmly in the seat of the brigade commander while still giving a decent impression what’s happening right down to platoon level.

Having a whole weekend available should allow us to play the game properly. Too often with just a Saturday afternoon (or a club evening) available we rush to get a game set up and running. This inevitably means we skimp on things like writing orders, pre-plotting artillery targets or even having a proper plan of attack. We can also end up calling a halt when one or more players' time runs out rather than when we've reached a genuine conclusion to the battle.

This time I hope to fight the action to a conclusion. This means:

Preparation

I'm trying to cover as much as possible before Crisis Point weekend. This means getting the two sides (three really) to pick their optional supports in advance. emails are currently flying back and forth and it's interesting to see which choices are being made.

In addition, I set up a little pre-game political phase for the Czechoslovaks. I rolled three six-sided dice and told the Czechoslovak players the scores. They knew that 1 was bad and 6 good. I asked them to allocate the dice as "political effort" in three areas - "Intelligence", "Purging Communists from the military", and "Seeking Western support". I can't share the results at this stage but I can tell you that results have impacted things like troop quality, deployment and weapons availability.

When the weekend rolls around I hope to start early on Saturday with the tables laid out and mapped in detail and the forces laid out on unit sheets.


Scenario Balancing

Any attack-versus-defence scenario needs time pressure if it's not to degenerate into a static shooting match where the attacker tries to destroy any visible enemy units before daring to advance. But how much time should we allow the attackers? This is where the race-between-rival-attackers approach comes in. By awarding the win to the first Soviet brigade to reach the objective city of Stary Boleslav we set a time pressure that has nothing to do with the umpire's estimate of what constitutes "fast enough".

Where the umpire's estimate does become relevant is in the relative strength of attackers and defenders. If I make the Czechoslovak forces too strong, the race between Soviet detachments won't matter; they'll both be bogged down unable to break through the initial enemy line. 

There's probably no substitute for experience and what the Germans call Fingerspitzengef├╝hl in this case.  All I can say is that every time I've thought to myself, "Maybe I've made the Czechoslovak forces too weak", I've stifled that thought. Far better to have the game end early and have to set up another game to fill time than to end the weekend with both Soviet teams frustrated by their inability to get close to victory and the Czechs bored by fighting a successful static defence.

Another way we'll balance attack and defence and encourage mobile warfare is is by restricting the defenders' deployment options. Details are still confidential, of course, but "political and logistic issues" mean that they won't be able to stack the front line with defending battalions.

Managing the Battle

Experience shows that having two or more players sharing command of the same force slows play down. Neither player wants to be seen to dominate the decision-making process so every decision gets discussed in excruciating detail. 

The obvious solution would be to divide the player teams such that one player runs the front-line battalions and the other looks after reserves, artillery assets and air support. I do plan to do that but it might not be much fun for the guy who gets to play staff officer. So that approach will be modified. 

Firstly the roles of "staff officer" and "front-line commander" will swap as soon as the advancing forces move from the first table to the second. 

Secondly, in addition to his administrative duties, the staff officer will be responsible for movement and die rolling for an element of the front-line force. This way when he takes over command he'll have a handle on the rules and a feel for the relative strengths of units. 

Learning the Rules

This is a tricky aspect. Only I and one of the players have tried TacWWII previously. Fortunately I've been able to share my version 1.5 adaptation of the rules in advice. Depending on progress with the above we may be able to get in a little teach-in before we start the game proper.



Monday, March 11, 2024

New arrival

The stand-alone version of Shot, Steel and Stone arrived from Amazon today.


I've been experimenting with these rules for a few years, since they were first published as a chapter in Henry's The Wargaming Compendium. I hope they can become my rules of choice for using my 6mm scale Great Northern War collection.

Up to now usage has been limited because of (a) the inconvenience of using the rules from within Henry's brick-like book and (b) some uncertainty about the wording of the rules.

My considered assessment is that the rules will work fine if you get to learn them directly from Henry or from someone who's played with him at, say, the Ayton gaming weekends. Learning them in isolation from the rules-as-written is more of a challenge.

Fortunately, though, Henry has started a series of Youtube videos demonstrating the rules in use. Building on these, I've exchanged some messages with the author and taken on the unofficial role of "dumb user"; identifying confusing parts of the rules and trying to reword them as a way of resting my understanding. I figure if I can say "Here's an alternative wording, is that what you meant?" we might be able to arrive at a helpful FAQ document.

After we get Crisis Point out of the way I hope we can get the forces of Zheltarus, Yesilkara, Tservonsk, and Bl├ąland onto the wargames table for a proper game.

Wednesday, March 6, 2024

Czechoslovakia 1948 - HQ units

My game for Crisis Point this year needs two Czechoslovak tactical HQ units to represent the location of the two player teams' command posts.

I had a couple of spare OPp3Ns (or as you probably know them SdKfz251/1s) left over so I knocked up these yesterday.  I cut down some Heroics and Ros gun crew and/or command figures to ride in the rear compartments and added a few Soviet infantry to decorate the bases.



Although I'll be using them with the TacWWII rules, the basing style is derived from, and will work well with, Blitzkrieg Commander

My intention for TacWWII is to treat the HQ stands like Jeep-mounted infantry in the standard rules. When in Bold Attack or March Mode they are targeted as if the depicted vehicle. In other modes they are spotted and shot at as if infantry.

Monday, March 4, 2024

TacWWII demo - Blatno

With a load of new players signed up to play TacWWII at Crisis Point in early April, I thought it might be useful to do a bit of a rules run though here.

I set up a table with some typical terrain.


Seen above (from the western end of the table) we have the "main highway" running to the town of Blatno at the far end. At the end of a dirt road is the small settlement of Dobruska next to the yellow wheatfield. 

Czechoslovak 11th Tank Battalion in Cromwell IVs with a couple of recce platoons in M5 Stuarts is attacking from the west. Meanwhile the headquarters unit of a Soviet Division's Forward Detachment in moving through Blatno.

The Soviet HQ starts off with the command platoon (represented by a T-34/85 on a 30mm square base and a ZIS-3 76mm gun towed by a truck. Attached is a company of engineers in trucks. 

With the umpire's agreement the Soviet commander has attached his gun platoon to the engineer company. This serves two purposes. Firstly it gives the engineers some supporting firepower whilst allowing the HQ to manoeuvre freely and secondly a one-element HQ company doesn't need to take company morale tests. A bit game-y perhaps but there you have it.

Each battalion (and the Forward Detachment HQ is treated as one) needs orders. These can be simple enough to be written on the back of a business card.



Note that the orders do not need to specify the Mode(s) in which the battalion's companies are operating.

Our little game is very simple - no artillery or aircraft and all units are Tac 6, Normal Morale. Let's get on with...

Game turn 1

The Czechoslovak battalion starts with the recce company up front on the highway followed by the second tank company and the HQ, all in March Mode. The first company is on the left in Bold Attack Mode.


The Stuarts (Fast Tracked) have an 11cm move increment on roads. In March Mode out of contact with the enemy (no one's in a position to shoot at them) they get five move increments giving them a total road move of 55cm!


The Cromwells of 1st company (also Fast Tracked) get two move increments of 8cm moving cross-country.


Meanwhile in Blatno, the Soviet traffic jam encounters a demolished culvert over an impassible marshy area. 


Ordinarily the HQ, in March Mode, would have to make a minimum of two move increments. however, in this case it encounters the blockage after a single increment. With an unexpected change of direction required we make a Tac roll.

The HQ's Tac score is 6 so we need to roll 6 or higher on a D10. The result is a 2 so the HQ stops in place. Behind the HQ the engineer company also fails its Tac roll so a traffic jam forms behind the HQ.

Game turn 2

Both sides move, Tac rolls are failed all over the place, let's move on.

Game turn 3

Things don't get any better for the Soviets. The HQ unit tries to make a Tac roll to move into Bold Attack Mode. This roll would also cover the option to change direction. Unfortunately another roll of 2 means they automatically go into Confused Mode. Confused Mode allows movement of zero to one increment. This allows the HQ to stay in place in front of the broken culvert.

The engineers also try to go into Bold Attack. This would give them two move increments to move up to the culvert (dismounting from their trucks is free at the start of an increment). Of course the Soviets are unable to roll a six or higher and they go into Confused Mode instead. This gives them one increment. They dismount and start to move forward.

Meanwhile the Czechoslovaks continue to advance. The recce company fails its Tac roll to change mode and is forced into Confused Mode. The rest of the battalion is more fortunate however and starts to deploy either side of the road with the HQ swinging around to the right:


At this point the Czechoslovak Cromwells of 2nd company on the road are about 50cm from the T-34/85 platoon that forms the Forward Detachment HQ. 

A 2nd company Cromwell on the road (far left) faces the T-34/85 platoon
of the Soviet Forward Detachment HQ (right)

Spotting a vehicle unit in the open in clear weather is listed as "80/40" in Section 10 of the rules - Detection and Location. In other words if you pass your Location Phase Tac roll you can spot an enemy vehicle unit up to 80cm range, if you fail you can only see it up to 40cm.

At this point the Tac rolls are crucial. The Czechoslovak company fails its Tac roll (rolling a five when it needed six or better) but the Soviet HQ succeeds (they actually rolled a seven this time)! The Soviets can see the Czechoslovaks but the reverse is not true.

The Soviet HQ is in Confused Mode (the spotting Tac roll was the first it's succeeded with all game!) so it shoots in Fire Phase C. At 50cm range an 85mm tank gun has stats of "10/6". The stats are expressed as "soft/hard" - the 10 is the factor against soft targets, the 6 against armoured targets. So the T-34 needs a 6+ to hit. However, we need to deduct the target's armour of 2 so the Soviets need an 8+ to affect the target. 

The die roll is a 10! How the worm has turned! The target number (N) was 8 and the result is N+2. This gives a kill against an armoured unit. The Cromwell platoon is knocked out!

To the left of the target unit is another platoon of Cromwells (by the point of the "BA" marker in the picture above). If they were able to fire in Fire Phase D they would get a return shot (firing units are visible at double range) but in Bold Attack Mode you only get to fire in Fire Phase B. There's therefore no more firing and we come to the Morale Phase.

Having taken a loss, the Czechoslovak second tank company needs to take a company morale test. The only relevant modifier is that the unit has lost one third of its elements: "If 21-40% of unit lost: -2"

The Czechoslovak player roll a d10 and, oh dear, gets a one! This gives a total of -1, which gives a "Retire" result. The second company will need to make a full March Mode move away from the enemy next turn. 

In addition, because the Czechoslovak battalion has a company with a Retire result, they must take a Battalion Morale Test.

The only relevant modifier here is "-1 Company Retiring". A die roll of 8 means the battalion is OK to continue its attack.

Game turn 4

The Soviets continue to be unable to make Tac rolls when it comes to changing Mode! The engineers continue to edge forward in Confused Mode while the T-34 platoon continues to watch over the road.


In the background you can see that the engineers' trucks have pulled off the road to give room for the truck towing the 76mm gun to come through.

The remaining two platoons of the Czechoslovak 2nd tank company have pulled back three move increments as a result of the Retire morale result while 1st company has reached the road to Dobruska.


The Czechoslovak recce company passed its Tac roll to move into Deliberate Attack Mode. This will enable them to make one move up to the hedge and then get off two shots.

The single tree is just for decoration by the way - we ignore it for line-of-sight purposes.

Spotting time - the two M5s are 30cm away from the T-34/85. They see it automatically up to 40cm but being behind the hedge they are spotted as "Vehicle in cover = 40/20". Of course the Soviet commander rolls a 4 and fails but on this occasion it won't matter as I suddenly realise the fire factors of the 37mm gun at this range is "10/-" - it can't hurt an armoured target! They have however, located the enemy unit, which could be helpful next turn.

We now need to make another morale test for the retreating tank company. They're still at -2 for their percentage losses and a die roll of 7 gives a total of 5 = "OK". They will stop retiring and start the new turn in Confused Mode.

Game turn 5

We start off with the Order Transmission Phase and one of my version 1.5 additions to the TacWWII rules. The M5s having located the enemy can attempt to communicate with their headquarters. This takes a Tac roll and having two recce elements they get two rolls. They both pass but you only get one benefit - the tank battalion's HQ goes from Tac 6 to Tac 5 for this turn.

In the movement phase things at last begin to improve for the Soviets. Both mode change Tac rolls succeed. The HQ goes into Deliberate Attack and moves an increment to the right leaving room for the engineers to move onto the culvert. Having made it into Bold Attack Mode they do this with two move increments.


In addition, the 76mm gun is now deployed on the road.

The mode change Tac rolls continued with the recce company moving into Defence Mode.


The recce company can see the Soviet field gun battery deployed in front of Blatno. It's the only unit they have any chance of damaging and even then it's slim chance. They get to shoot first as in Defence Mode they shoot in phases A and C. The target number is 10 vs a soft target so their results of 1 and 7 are ineffective in phase A.

In phase B the T-34/85 shoots. The firepower factor is "9/4" and as the M5 is an armoured target, the 4 applies. The dice roll will be modified by -1 for target in cover and -1 for the M5's armour rating. The T-34 therefore needs a 6 or better. The Soviet player rolls a 7. This "N+1" result means that the M5 is Neutralised. More on this later.

Meanwhile also in phase B the 76mm gun shoots at the other M5. It's rated "9/5" at this range so with the same modifiers it needs a 7. A 5 is rolled for a miss.

We now move on to phase C. In Defence Mode the M5s would be able to shoot again but one of them is Neutralised so doesn't. The remaining M5 rolls a 3 and misses.

In phase D the T-34 (in Deliberate Attack) can fire again, whereas the 76mm (in Bold Attack) can't. Targeting the other M5, the Soviet player rolls an 8 for N+2 and a kill!

We'll now need to make a Company Morale Test for the recce company. The count as 100% lost as Neutralised elements are lost for Morale purposes. That gives a -6 modifier to the roll. The -1 for "in cover" helps slightly for a net -5 modifier. A roll of 6 gives a net result of 1 or "Halt". Could be worse; at least a Battalion Test isn't required as a result.

After the morale test there's a chance for the Neutralised platoon to recover. This requires a successful Tac roll. Sadly a 5 isn't enough so the surviving M5 platoon will remain inactive throughout the next turn.

And we'll stop it there. The Czechoslovak player needs to work out a way to concentrate the fire of his remaining Cromwells to even things up and perhaps get a lucky hit on the T-34.

I hope this was helpful. Let me know if you have any questions.