Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Vietnam: Operation Starlite (Part 2)

In my previous report on the Vietnam scenario, Operation Starlite, the US Marines had just uncovered and eliminated a VC political support section near Chu Lai.  With that out of the way, the Americans now have bigger fish to fry as they attempt to hunt down and destroy an entire VC regiment.  Reports have indicated that the unit has pulled back inland towards the more rugged terrain.  The rest of the Marines in Quang Ngai province are about to come down hard on the enemy.

Casualties are evacuated by helicopter during Operation Starlite.  August 1965.

Search and Destroy #2

The US player declares a Search and Destroy operation in which the rest of the available Marine battalions (2/4 Marines in hex 5118 and 1st Marines in hex 5220) and the HQ will participate.  He then chooses 4921 as the Target Hex.  All available support is on call for this operation  - the 4 air points, the cruiser, and the airmobile point.

Marines target 4921 for Search and Destroy mission.

2/4 Marines move from Chu Lai in towards the west, ending its movement in 4921.  We don't have enough available air points for an interdiction mission so the plan is to use it for close air support instead.

The Alert

The VC now get an alert roll.  The roll is 2 and the current terrain modifier is 3, which comes to 5.  The scenario's rules modify the VC movement by minus 2 for a total of 3 MPA.  The VC unit slips into the cultivated hex directly to the north in 4920.  It may be a stupid mistake to have a Marine battalion take on an entire VC regiment but I have faith in air power to help even up the odds a bit here.

The VC regiment is alerted and slips north to hex 4920.


The USMC combat strength is 3 while the VC has a strength of 8 (6 inherent +2 for its artillery).  The combat is taking place in cultivated terrain, which offers no real modifiers for either side.  All 4 points of air power are assigned to help the Marines in their attack (this becomes the equivalent of 2 artillery points due to a non-free fire zone), which boosts the total combat strength of the Marines to a total of 5.  The combat ratio is still at a 1:2, which will result in a -2 modifier on the combat roll.

We roll a six-sided die for the combat results and get a 5, which is modified to 3.  It's time to determine casualties.  We check the combat table and look at the column which corresponds to the combat strength of each side, modified by the enemy's support.  Checking for the Americans, we look under the 4 to 7.5 column and find a "0" on the left side of the slash for the attacker.  The Americans take no casualties.

The VC have a combat strength of 6 modified by 2 (for the American air support) so we're looking under the "8 to 13.5" column and on the right side of the slash, we get a 0 for the defender.  This round of combat ends and no one has taken any casualties.  Interestingly, the Americans have lost one air point in the battle.  I guess some Phantoms got shot down on their way back from the target.

Retreat and Pursuit

Now the VC unit gets a chance (entirely up to the VC player's discretion) to retreat its full Movement Point Allowance (of 4 MP).  It moves into 5020, a cultivated terrain hex.

VC Regiment retreats into 5020 as the Marines pursue.

The 2/4 Marines now get a chance to pursue.  The Movement Point Allowance of the pursuing units is determined by the combat result of the previous battle (which was a zero) and the pursuit allowance modifier for the unit (+3) for a total of 3 Movement Points.  The 2/4 unit moves into hex 5020 along with the VC regiment.  Because this move cost 2 MP of our 3 MPA for Pursuit, the unused 1 movement point can be used to increase the combat die roll for the attacker.  The American player wants a higher combat odds ratio against the VC regiment so we decide to move in the 3/7 Marines from the east.  They move to 5120, adjacent to the VC regiment's hex so it can participate in the upcoming combat.

2/4 in same hex as VC regiment while 3/7 moves in adjacent to help with pursuit.  Cruiser adds in support.

This time, we can throw in the 6 points from the cruiser as support for the Americans.  This results in a 9:8 or 1:1 combat odds ratio with a +1 pursuit bonus modifier to the roll.

The American player rolls a 5, which is modified to 6.  We check out the casualty result by looking along the 6 line and cross referencing each side's combat strength plus enemy support.  The VC regiment suffers 2 hits while the Marines take 1.  The VC have 4 replacement points, so they use two of them to keep the regiment intact.  The Americans use up 1 of their replacement points to cover their casualties.

The turn is over and the VC regiment has managed to survive.   This scenario ends up as a win for the VC.

Some Final Thoughts

This was my very first game of Vietnam 1965 - 1975.  Wow!  There is so much going on here in terms of rules and the fluidity of the operational situation but I really enjoyed it.  The VC are incredibly slippery thanks to their alert movement ability.

By sending out lone battalions of Marines to find and attack an entire regiment, the Americans used a really risky approach to the whole operation.  I was definitely relying on support to be able to even the odds a bit (which it did in the end) but I really needed way more support and ground units moving in there and getting dirty in order to really defeat the VC.

I was hoping to get enough of a pursuit modifier in my first battle with the VC regiment so I could airmobilize the HQ and send it into battle with the rest of the Marines.  Unfortunately, things didn't happen that way and the best I could do was rush the 3/7 Marines in there and call in lots of naval fire support.  Speaking of which, I should have used the naval fire for interdiction in the previous operation and saved the 2/12 artillery for ground support in this one.  That would have brought much more firepower to bear against the VC regiment.

If I had to do this operation over again,  I would have sent in 3/7 with the HQ in the same hex as the VC right away and moved up the 2/4 Marines adjacent in order to help with post-combat pursuit.  With both Marine regiments attacking along with the air support, naval gunfire, and HQ artillery, this may have been enough to defeat the VC regiment.  As it turned out, we had a running gun battle across the province that didn't do much in the end.  I'll have to try this scenario again and see how different approaches might work out.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Vietnam: Operation Starlite (Part 1)

"Operation Starlite" is the first scenario for Victory Games' Vietnam: 1965 - 1975 (1984).  The scenario is based on the historical battle between the Vietcong and the United States Marine Corps in the province of Quang Ngai in August 1965.  It marked a significant point in the beginning of the war as the battle here was the first wholly American effort of this size.  Through some clever planning and careful coordination among air, naval, and ground forces, the Americans held the initiative in the battle and delivered a significant blow to the 1st VC Regiment by the end of the operation.

The Forces

This particular scenario allows the players to examine the "what if" situation where the VC get a little more time to get out of the Americans' way at the start.  The VC player has two units in this short scenario - a Political Section and a VC regiment.  The American player gets the 7th Marines (Regimental HQ and 3/7) along with the 3rd Marines (both the 3/3 and 2/4) and a battalion from the 2/12 Marine Artillery Regiment.

Opening US setup - Operation Starlite

The 3rd Marines with the 2/12 artillery start off in the port at 5118 right near the city of Chu Lai (which would later become a major Marine base in the area).  The 1st Marines start off just north of Quang Ngai in 5220.

The VC can deploy in either 5219 or 5320.  I've decided to place both units in 5219 to get them a little further from the coast and give them a slightly better chance at escape.

The VC Regiment and Political Section are both deployed in 5219.  

The Plan

The plan here is for the US player to conduct a Search and Destroy operation against the VC. The terrain around here consists of roads and cultivated hexes, which is easy enough to move through (cost of 1 MP for foot).  Over to the west, it starts getting mountainous with some forested hills and a bit of jungle.  If the VC can be prevented from getting into this tougher terrain, the US will probably do just fine here.  The US player has some air (4 points) and naval gunfire (6 points from a cruiser), which will probably be used for interdiction to help keep the VC from getting too far away.

The NLF player simply wants his VC regiment to survive.  The scenario only lasts one turn so this is really a situation where the VC will just be evading the US efforts for as long as humanly possible.  The Political Section may need to be sacrificed to keep the regiment from being targeted.  In this game, the VC playing pieces are kept face down so the US player never quite knows what he's going to find until he hunts down a VC unit and the fight begins in earnest.

I'm going to walk through the opening moves of the scenario slowly because I'm rather new to the game and this will help me to learn it.  It might also help to give you an idea of how the game works if you've never played it.

Initial Phases:  Turn 1

We start off with the support phase and note the levels of support available for the US player.  As stated before, we've got the cruiser, 4 air points, and 1 airmobile point.  We also have 4 replacement points in case we take any losses with our Marine ground units.

Next is the Special Operations Designation Phase where either side can opt to put their units on hold or patrol operations.  Neither player chooses to do so.

After that is the Strategic Movement Phase.  Both sides can choose to move their units very long distances in this phase but since we're focused on one province here, there are no other units to pull in from other areas of the country.

The next step is the Operations Phase.  This is really the heart of the game.  Both players get a chance to assign their units to an operation such as Search and Destroy, Clear and Secure, Bombardment, etc.  The NLF (National Liberation Front) player gets to choose whether he or the US player will go first here.  Since the VC are trying to get away from an overwhelmingly large US force, it would be a good idea for the NLF to go first and try to escape.

The NLF decides to assign the VC to a Search and Destroy operation (assigned to a notional target - this really just gets them moving away from the Americans within the parameters of the game and scenario).  The VC units have only 4 movement points (down from their usual 6 MPs) due to the fact that they are not used to the fast reaction time of the Americans.  One of the units moves to 5019 while the other goes to 5020.  The NLF gives the operations over to the American player.

Unidentified VC units run west from hex 5219.  End of NLF operations.

US Search and Destroy

Now the American player declares a Search and Destroy operation and attempts to find and eliminate the  VC regiment operating in the area. The 3/3 Marines and the 2/12 arty are assigned to the operation.  The target hex will be 5019, since it's closest to our operating American units.  So whatever is sitting in 5019, be it a tiny helpless political support unit or an entire regiment is going to be our target unit.

The first thing the American player needs to do is declare any support that he will use in the operation.  Since we don't know yet what we're really dealing with in terms of enemy unit strength, we'll wait until next round to use the support.

The 3/3 Marines move southwest of their current position and end up in the same hex as the mystery VC unit.  A couple of things now happen and this illustrates the reactive and fluid nature of the game's mechanics.

First of all, the VC in the non-target hex gets a reaction move at its full MP allowance since an enemy unit ended its movement adjacent to it.

VC unit moves from 5020 to forested hills in 4921 as reaction move.
Now the Americans get to add in some offensive interdiction.  The 2/12 artillery fires on the 5019 hex.  The arty has a firepower of 7, but this is reduced to 3.5 because this province is not a free-fire zone.  The result is that an interdiction marker of "1" is placed on 5019.  As a result, leaving the hex will require +1 MP for all units (even friendly ones).

The VC and Alert Movement

The VC in 5019 now get an alert roll, which may allow them to move out of the hex and escape from the 3/3 Marines.  The Movement Points available to an alert unit are determined by a straight d6 roll added to the Movement Point requirement for the terrain in which the unit is currently sitting.  If there were ARVN units involved in the attack, the VC would get a +1 bonus, which is how the game reflects how the VC had thoroughly infiltrated the ARVN units during the war.  We roll a "2" and add it to the "1" for cultivated hex and the final Alert MP is a 3.

Normally, the VC could move out of the enemy occupied hex by paying 2 MPs in 5019 and entering the cultivated hex in 5120 for 1 MP (a total of 3 MP).  However, the interdiction artillery mission tacks on an extra 1 MP to leave 5019, which makes moving away from the American unit impossible.  The VC could disperse at this point, simply evaporating into the surrounding countryside and avoiding a fight altogether but in this scenario, that would mean a US win.  So the VC unit is pinned down and must fight the Americans.

And behind door number 3...

Now we reveal the VC unit in the hex.  I'm playing this solitaire so I'm going to randomly determine which unit it is by just rolling a die.  1-3 is the regiment, 4-6 is the political section.  We get a 6 so the 3/3 Marines eliminate the VC political section.  The operation ends.  The interdiction marker in 5019 is removed.  The 3/3 and the artillery is declared ops complete.

The first Search and Destroy operation is successful and the units involved are declared ops complete.

Now it's time to get that lone VC regiment operating to the west!  I'll be updating shortly with the results.  If any of you veteran Vietnam players see any mistakes, please let me know in the comments!  Thanks for reading.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Gulf Strike - Scenario 1 - Turn 2 (Part 2)

Some readers were curious about how the rest of the turn played out for the Iranians as they attempted to clean out Kuwait and hit out at Saudi Arabia.  Let's do this!

Iranian AH-1 Cobras at the ready in Gulf Strike - Scenario 1.

For the first part of turn 2, Iran's air force hammered on the Saudis, who had blundered by predicating their entire defense plans around their early warning aircraft (which was promptly shot down by Iran at the beginning of the turn).  With Saudi Arabia's air force blinded and the ground units at the front out of supply, the Iranian player licked his chops as the battle on the ground continued.  Here's how things stood before the ground forces engaged.

Turn 2 - First Action Stage

The Iranian player wants primarily to eliminate the remaining Kuwaiti units without any casualties this turn while forcing back the Saudi ground forces from this clearing operation.  The first thing Iran does is send in an armored division and a brigade coupled with a pair of AH-1 Cobra attack helicopters to completely eliminate the Kuwaiti 3rd Mechanized Brigade.  Both Cobra units made their bombardment rolls and the use of artillery to back up the attack against the Kuwaitis sealed the deal and the Kuwaiti unit was gone from the map in short order.

Kuwait's 2nd Armored Brigade had been protecting the road to the west of the capital for the past two days and its efforts at defending against both an Iranian armored and mechanized division were Herculean.  But luck could only hold out so long as the Iranians repositioned their forces for a deliberate assault against the proud but badly damaged Kuwaitis.  A huge combined push at the cost of over 20 supply points helped the Iranians deal out the defenders and by the end of the First Action Stage, the road to Kuwait City was wide open with only an HQ and an MP brigade to defend the capital from Iran's onslaught.

With the Saudi ground forces out of position, Iran took advantage of the situation by shoving an armored division straight south towards the Saudi 2nd Armored and 4th Mech Brigade stacked together right near the Kuwaiti border in hex 0547.  A hasty attack by the Iranians resulted in 2 hits to the Saudis, which was negated by withdrawing the unit further to the south.  The Saudis were happy to pull back their unit as this put them back in supply.  The attacking Iranians, on the other hand, made a half-hearted pursuit as they were now stretched to the limit of their own supply lines.

Aftermath of attacks in Turn 2:  General position and situation of units at end of turn.

The immense cost of all this combined air and ground offensive in the early stages of turn 2 was nearly 30 supply points, depleting the Iranian supply reserves to dangerously low levels (around 10 supply points).  A transport truck unit was used to move the Iranian supply depot from Basra towards the border with Kuwait but it was going to take until next turn for Iran's military to reconfigure its supplies to deal with the unexpectedly rapid advance south.  The Iranians had little choice but to wait for supply to catch up and spend the rest of the turn helplessly watching as the Saudis pulled back the rest of their forces towards their supply depot to the south and towards more favorably defensive terrain.

If I had to project ahead a bit, I would say things are going to probably continue to go well for Iran for the next several turns depending on the luck of its air force to keep neutralizing the enemy's ability to counterattack.  With very few losses in the early stages of the game, it will really be up to the Americans to prevent an Iran/Soviet victory here.  Most importantly, the Americans (who will enter the game on turn 7) will have to contend with keeping their carriers safe from Soviet Backfire bombers while at the same time using offensive air power (B-52s and A-6 Intruders) to keep Iran from pushing over the rest of the dominoes on the Arabian peninsula.  It would be a very tough job for the US but made slightly easier by the fact that the Soviets are currently tied down in Afghanistan and will have fewer sorties available with which to hit the US carriers and supply head.

From here on out, I'll be putting quite a bit of energy into learning and talking about Vietnam: 1965 to 1975 although some day, I'll definitely come back to Gulf Strike, which I've grown to admire and enjoy immensely.  Once you experience how nicely everything works together in the system, you can really see Mark Herman's gem of a game shine through.  Thanks for reading and if any of you Gulf Strike players out there see any mistakes I've made, please feel free to let me know.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Gulf Strike - Scenario 1 - Turn 2

Last turn, the Iranians pushed into Kuwait and eliminated the Kuwaiti 1st Armored Brigade while the 2nd Armored Brigade put up a surprisingly stiff defense against overwhelming odds.  The Kuwaiti player, with his air force completely obliterated, had no chance of holding out much longer against the Iranian armored divisions that were quickly knocking on the doorstep of Kuwait City, help by a single regiment of Kuwaiti Military Police and an HQ unit.  The Kuwaitis moved their 3rd Mechanized Brigade up north to help delay the Iranian 6th Mechanized and 4th Armored Divisions.

Turn 2 began and the Gulf Council nations were now in the game.  In the Global Political Phase, I surprisingly managed to roll a "10" and an event occurred.  Rolling a "7", the table result showed that the Soviets were having major problems in Afghanistan right now and this would drain their supplies each turn from Supply Source "C", which didn't affect anything because the Soviets draw through Supply Source "D" (representing Iranian cities) for this game .  Of more concern, however, was that the Soviet air bases in Afghanistan would have their number of available sorties halved until a division was sent into Afghanistan as a garrison .for the rest of the game.  Unfortunately, I won't be able to fix this mess until the Soviets are activated in Game Turn 7.

The Saudis set their special forces units to the west in reserve mode and set their air force on interception missions.  The Saudi AWACS was sent up in hex 1259 right between the Saudi air bases.  The Saudi ability to detect Iranian aircraft could be the crucial difference between a successful defense or becoming just another Kuwait.  The Iranians didn't change up too much in the early stages, putting a mechanized division and an armored division in reserve and keeping the bulk of their air force on offensive missions.

Ground forces setup near Kuwait/Saudi border

In the Naval Movement Determination Phase, the Iranian player got 4 Naval Movement Points and the Gulf Council player got a measly 1 point.

The first act of the Iranian air force is to attempt to shoot down the Saudi AWACS.  Given the superior detection ability of the AWACS and the ample number of F-15s in the Saudi arsenal, I put up the Iranian fighters with faint hope of an early victory.  Two F-4 units took off from Basra and headed straight south.  The AWACS attempted a detection at 21 hexes away and rolled a 9 - no luck.  The Iranian F-4s pushed on towards the AWACS, which got another attempt to detect at 15 hexes but a roll of 10 meant that the Iranian air units were still undetected.  At 5 hexes away, the Saudi AWACS finally detected the incoming planes but it was too late.  I had positioned the AWACS one hex too far to the north.  A pair of F-5s units were scrambled from Al Kubar air base and rushed to intercept.  The Iranian F-4 units arrived in the AWACS hex and shot it down.  The Saudis get another AWACS in play next turn but for now, their detection capability is severely hampered.

Iranian F-4s about to shoot down a Saudi AWACS as F-5s arrive too late for an intercept.
After the AWACS was shot down, the F-5s decided to engage the Iranian Phantoms anyway. Both sides detect each other but no one scores any hits in the combat and the planes return to base (the Iranians need to land at Bushehr because of low fuel).

An F-4 unit takes off from Shiraz and heads straight for the Saudi coastline.  A Saudi frigate parked at Ras Tanura detects the enemy plane at 8 hexes out after rolling a "1".  The Saudis now have a choice to either intercept or let the plane go. One of the great things about Gulf Strike is that you're never sure what kind of  mission an incoming enemy plane is on.  Players secretly place mission markers underneath their plane so there's a guessing element as to whether you're intercepting a strike package or if you're sending your fighters into a trap meant to lure them out.  Since I'm playing this thing solitaire, I make a roll in these situations to determine whether or not any intercepting planes are scrambled and what kind of mission the enemy is undergoing.

The Saudis decide to try and intercept the incoming F-4 with a Lightning.  The F-4 detects the Lightning and the mission is revealed - it's a strike package.  The Saudi Lightnings get a free shot at the Iranian Phantoms and a "6" is rolled.  It's a miss and the Lightnings return to base.  The Iranian Phantoms continue their mission and attempt a bombing run on the Saudi frigate at Ras Tanura.  The anti-air defenses fail to down the aircraft and the Phantom gets a successful Bombardment roll of "2".  The frigate fails its ECM check and takes the hit.  What a mess for the Saudis so far.

Saudi Lightning about to attempt an intercept on incoming Iranian F-4 Phantoms on a strike mission vs. frigate (hex 2055)
The Iranian Air Force decides that now is a good time to start eliminating other countries' naval capacity now that they're all in port and unable to do much right now.  An F-4 is dispatched from Bushehr air base and it attacks the sole Fast Attack Craft unit docked in a Bahrain's port.  The unit detects the incoming air unit but is unable to do much about it.  The Iranian Phantoms score a hit on the FAC and it is sunk.  So much for Bahrain's navy.

With Saudi air detection gone, it's time to weigh our options for the coming ground attack on the frontline Saudi units.  We have four Iranian air units left on offensive air missions - a pair of F-4 units and another pair of AH-1 attack helicopters.  We could opt to directly bomb the ground units at a slight risk to our aircraft.  We could also try to directly destroy their supply depot sitting vulnerable (with only a transport unit to defend it) in hex 0755.  It's not a bad option either and it might work well in delivering a considerable blow to the Saudis.  However, an even better option seems to be sending a pair of interdiction missions to bomb the road just north of the depot, which would put the armored divisions in 0947 and 0547 out of supply range (beyond 20 MPs).  It's a risk-free option since there are no air defense or ground units in either hex so a pair of F-4s are sent out from Ahvaz and one hits 0753 while the other hits 0754.

Iranian F-4 Phantoms run interdiction on the road north of the Saudi supply depot.  Several Saudi ground units are SOL.
Now that the Saudi ground units are out of supply, they face several negative consequences.  Their combat strengths are halved, they cannot declare combat nor can they be repaired.  Out of supply units also suffer one hit during the End Stage of the turn (unless this would eliminate them).

That's it for all the air I want to throw in right now.  All of this has cost the Iranians 8 supply points.  Since we received an extra 20 supply points at the beginning of the turn, we still have plenty left right now (44 supply points total).  We're still in the First Initiative Segment and the Iranians have moved some naval forces and the bulk of their air force.  The only thing left to do is to get the guys on the ground moving and declaring combat.  We'll take care of that in a future post.

Wow, what a total fiasco for the Saudis!  The problem was that I got way too arrogant with the AWACS and built my entire defensive strategy around the presence of early detection and the ability to scramble lots of aircraft.  Unfortunately, the AWACS failed some pretty crucial detection attempts (with some desperately bad rolls) and was placed just a bit too far in the danger zone.  The Iranian player managed to take it down and the rest of the segment was basically a turkey shoot for the Iranian Air Force, which could hit targets with impunity.  The most punishing blow for the Saudis was the interdiction mission that put pretty much their entire ground force out of supply!

Next up: The Iranian ground forces attempt to mop up in Kuwait and the invasion of Saudi Arabia begins!