Sunday, November 22, 2015

Unconditional Surrender! The Main Event - Part 4

Here is my final playthrough report of Sal Vasta's Unconditional Surrender! World War 2 in Europe from GMT.

August and September 1942:  The Germans quickly send their repatriated forces from the French campaign over to the eastern front. Soldiers and tanks are strapped to trains and shot off towards Poland or Hungary to try and prevent the Soviet hordes from getting much further into Eastern Europe. The western Allies reel in shock from losing France last month but they do buy back their Surprise Attack marker for 20 production points, which is a start. The BEF is pulled from Greece and docks in British-controlled Libya, waiting for the signal to invade southern Europe. Meanwhile, the Soviets are pushing masses of men and tanks west into Eastern Europe and making fast gains despite the renewed German defensive strength here. Warsaw is lost to Soviet infantry and the German infantry units in central Poland are getting surrounded by Soviet regulars. Despite the win against France, it looks like Germany is bound to lose to the Soviets and sooner rather than later.

September 1942 - The Soviets are closing in very rapidly now.
October 1942: The Germans continue to suffer mightily during the strategic warfare phase. It has now lost its maximum number of factories and production has basically come to a standstill. Undaunted, Germany rushes garrisons and panzers over to the west in France to halt any invasion by the Americans and British. The use of these units over on the west as a deterrence comes at a costly price in the east. The Soviets consolidate their gains and, despite the severe weather, keep pushing the Germans back and threatening their supply lines. Bomber Command hits Frankfurt and Bremen, further hurting the German war machine. It seems the end is no doubt in sight for the Germans very soon.

November 1942:  Germany has consolidated its holdings in northern France now and has a pretty impressive number of units ready to repel the western faction should they go for an amphibious invasion. Over on the other side of the board, the Germans are slowly getting pushed back through Eastern Europe.  They lack the production to go on any major offensives but their defenses hold fairly tightly despite losing a unit and getting pushed back a little bit here and there. Sarajevo falls to the Soviets and Yugoslavia is now liberated. Two Soviet tank units are west of Warsaw, poised to smash the Germans when better weather comes. For now, though, winter has only just begun and it looks like it will be mighty cold for everyone.

The Soviets slowly push the Germans back in Eastern Europe.

Germans have some forces in France to keep the western allies at bay.

December 1942: Disaster strikes as the Soviets begin to envelop the southern flank of the Germans in Hungary. There are just so many Soviet units now compared to German units. The +2 bonus for the Germans is no longer paying off very well as the Soviets have the production and manpower to make massed attacks and gamble on their success. For every successful defensive roll made by the German player, another one is failed. German units are getting surrounded and destroyed at a rate of one or two per turn. The severe weather is helping to delay the Soviet advance but come the spring, the Germans will be facing a completely different Soviet army from two years before. Elite shock units and tank divisions are being fielded by the Soviets at alarming speed.

January 1943:  The Germans manage to make a couple of nice attacks along the eastern front, even getting close enough to threaten the supply lines of several Soviet units in Romania.  The offensive gets bogged down in the poor weather, however, and the Germans find themselves with several units behind enemy lines and out of supply by the end of the Axis Operations Phase. The Soviets take the opportunity to clean them up as they pass through northern Yugoslavia and reach the Sava River southeast of Zagreb. The Allies, seeing the Soviets make rapid advances through Eastern Europe, decide to get in the game anyway they can. The Brits in North Africa make an amphibious invasion in southern Italy. It is not enough to cause any major panic for the Germans yet but it is the start of something. When the weather improves, the Allies can look more seriously into making a landing somewhere in France.

Jan 1943: The Brits land in Italy while the Soviets make rapid gains through Yugoslavia.

February 1943:  Poor weather brings much of the central fighting to a standstill. The Germans use the cold weather to do a strategic move down to Rome to shore up defenses against the mini-British invasion. On the eastern front, a panzer unit that is surrounded near Warsaw makes a very nice breakout and in the south, the Germans are still managing to hang on to Hungary. The Soviets are pushing many many counters up north from Yugoslavia, however, and are quickly able to surround pockets of German resistance. When the frozen ground begins to thaw, it might not be so easy to hold off all those angry Russians.

March 1943: The poor weather continues throughout most of Europe. The Germans have made good efforts to stabilize their eastern front lines but for every unit that arrives, there is some kind of setback. Budapest falls this turn after a concentrated assault.  The Hungarians are knocked out of the war. Not much else happens. The Germans are getting better at preserving their scarce production points for crucial movements and refuse to waste them on any foolish gambles. The Soviets, on the other hand, are learning that quantity matters only so much and that in the poor weather, even massed infantry and tank tactics have their limits against a dug-in and well-trained enemy.

April 1943: The Allies get their wish and the weather for the Mild Zone is fair this month. That means it is time for spring offensives against Germany to begin. The Germans have managed to keep their sorties down through wise conservation of production in the previous couple of turns. This month, they try some limited operations near Warsaw just to rack up the Soviet air sorties for defense rather than offense. This strategy sort of works. The Soviets make very limited gains in this part of the line (although they do manage to push a German infantry unit back west to Danzig). In the south, however, the Germans continue to take losses and the overwhelming number of Russian units pressing on this part of the line causes the major reversals. Zagreb falls and there are Soviets lined all the way up to the Italian border. Meanwhile, over in the west, the 1st Canadian and an American Task Force make an amphibious landing in and around the French port city of Brest where they quickly seize the port and follow up with the capture of Nantes.  German will is down to 13 right now and it looks like the end is nigh.

Canadians and Americans make an amphibious landing in the undefended port city of Brest.

May 1943:  The Germans try for one last vainglorious push, an offensive aimed at breaking the back of the Soviet army. Two panzer armies and three infantry units are sent into the Yugoslav/Hungarian part of the Soviet line and, thanks to German airpower, start cutting a swath through the Soviet units. By the time it is finished, no less than 4 Soviet units are destroyed, two of them elite. Three other units are reduced. The Germans use their last move to try for Zagreb and cut off the supply line for dozens of Soviet units but the attack on the city fails and the final panzer unit is now sitting out of supply, surrounded by Soviet units. To save the German line, an infantry unit from west of Budapest is brought down south to try and fill the gap left in the south. This leaves the rest of the front in a precarious position so a general withdraw happens, all the way back to Vienna in the center and just west of Danzig in the north. The Germans spend all of their production reforming the line along the eastern front. Nothing is left for defending against the invasion in the west.

During the Allied turn, the Americans and Canadians move inland from the west French coastline. The 1st Canadian armored unit destroys a German infantry unit west of Paris while the Americans liberate Cherbourg and Le Havre. The British pull their garrison from Gibralter up to fortify the port in Nantes. They have another armored unit sitting in Plymouth and send a convoy up there to bring it in next turn.

The Soviets absolutely hammer the Germans. The panzer unit sitting east of Zagreb is quickly eliminated. The Soviets push back along the entire front, using a Surprise Attack marker to make real inroads and capture Vienna. The German panzers in the north of the line are sent back too. With only 4 German will left, I really doubt the game will last beyond next turn.

May 1943: The Soviets hammer back at the Germans.

June 1943:  The final battle is here. The Germans attempt another Bulge-like attack in the south of the east front but they do not have the airpower to sustain the offensive, which peters out early. The remaining Germans are forced to withdraw yet again and form a line in Italy in Germany. The Americans and British arrive in France with reinforcements. A British armored unit liberates Paris while the Americans try to take Calais but find it tough going against a Panzer field unit. The Soviets take Trieste and then cross over the Danube into Germany proper. A Shock unit pushes back Germans west of Vienna and Dresden is taken. The rest of the Soviet army plummets through the gap and are within 50 miles of an undefended Berlin when the Germans decide they have had enough. The Will marker has hit zero and the Germans have surrendered.  Deep down in a bunker in Berlin, a gunshot rings out and the free world rejoices.

June 1943: The British, Americans, and Canadians continue with the liberation of France
June 1943: The Soviets close in on an undefended Berlin. German national will reaches zero this turn.

Conclusion:  Wow, what to say... I know I got a lot of the rules wrong but I got enough right to make it fairly close to a "real" game of USE.  Having finished this game after months of playing, I am both happy to move on to something new but a bit sad that the epic storyline that unfolded before me each night is now over. The Germans were probably screwed from the very early part of the game and some very bad choices about timing and field tactics ended up causing an early loss. I absolutely did not expect France to fall in '42 like it did and I was left stunned by the consequences. It looked like the Germans finally had something go right for them in the war but it was simply too late.  The Soviets were much too strong at that point and had such a decisive advantage in the field that it didn't matter. Also, the ramping up of strategic bombing really hosed the Germans.

By the end of the game, I had heaps of eliminated German units in my eliminated box that I simply could do not get back in the game. I was unable to use my air assets and it seemed like every time I did, it just meant another 3 production down the tube for minimal gain. I notice that the most fun and the best success I had as the Germans was when I let loose and tried lots of crazy gambles - some of which suprisingly paid off. Perhaps if I had done more of that, especially during the invasion of Russia, I might have been able to get something going. If you've read through all four parts of my blog entry for this, thanks for staying tuned in! I have other projects on the go at the moment so I'll be taking a bit of a break from blogging for now but I hope to be back sometime soon.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Unconditional Surrender!: The Main Event - Part 3

Here is my account of how things went in part three of my ongoing playthrough report of Sal Vasta's Unconditional Surrender! World War 2 in Europe. Enjoy!

August 1941: The turn starts off with so much promise for the Germans but ends in disaster. In the Soviet Union, the Germans manage to isolate Kiev but fail to take the city itself despite repeated attacks. The result is a Soviet unit that is out of supply and sitting to the northeast of Kiev. Romanian and Bulgarian armies are rushed south to try and hold off the approaching Russians. In the west, the Germans charge south around the Maginot Line (the French had pulled out one of their eastern-most units last turn to help defend along the Rhone River). The Germans take Strasbourg and then Dijon. A German panzer unit in the south eliminates a French unit and is in Vichy before the end of the turn. Three French cities fall before the German army and it starts to look really bad for France. 

During the western faction's turn, however, some very good rolls lead to French elite military units pushing the Germans back from Lille and near the border with southern Belgium. By the end of the turn, only the city of Sedan is in German hands in the north. In the south, an elite unit manages to rush down from near Paris, and eliminate a German garrison unit in Dijon.Vichy is surrounded by three French units and assaulted to no avail. That's fine. Unless it manages a breakout, the panzer unit in Vichy will be in low supply next turn and be more vulnerable to attack. The French spend their supply mobilizing a tank unit in Toulouse. Oh yeah, the French also sent their air unit from North Africa and based it in Toulouse as well.

Over on the eastern front, things have gone from bad to worse for the Germans during the Soviet faction's phase. They have pushed back in force against the Bulgarians and Romanians in the south.A Soviet unit got lucky by isolating and attacking an out of supply German panzer unit near Kiev and happened to reduce it in combat. During the No Supply Phase, the German unit is eliminated. In the north, there are small gains by Soviet units. Three German armies will find themselves soon low on supply unless they can pull back and reform a defensive line. Otherwise, the Russians will be in Berlin by early next year.

Eastern Front Aug '41: Germans in huge trouble here. Soviets on the move.

Western Front Aug '41: French kickin' all sorts of Nazi butt. North is all French but things still undecided in the south.

September 1941: The Germans continue their retreat on the eastern front. Bulgarian and Romanian units take the brunt of the hits. The Soviets are hitting everywhere now all at once. In the very south, they have entered Romania and in the very north, they are almost in Eastern Poland again. The Germans were forced to pull back their line this turn. Now it is all about delaying tactics. The Germans make some gains in southern France. The panzer unit stuck in Vichy breaks out of the city's encirclement and joins the rest of the Germans just west of the Rhone. Two French armies are destroyed by German attacks. The Germans decide to keep pushing their luck by going for an attack on Toulouse, which fails. The French scramble a bit but manage to form a defense while they attack the Germans in the north. The city of Sedan goes back to the French after several mobile attacks and now the Germans in the north have fallen back to Belgium. The Germans manage to mobilize two panzer units this turn so they are not completely dead yet. Anyone's guess who will make it to Berlin first.

French retake Vichy and Germans can't quite take down Toulouse. Germans in north pushed back to Belgium.
The Germans face overwhelming numbers on the eastern front.
October 1941: Severe weather in the Mild zone prevents much from happening this turn. The German attack on Toulouse is called off and the German units in the south of France line up west of the Rhone in hopes of better fighting weather. In the north, a German infantry unit reinforces Belgium and the French are unable to do much about it except reshuffle their lines a bit. There is no chance of a successful advance this month so they stay put. We get poor weather in the Cold zone and the Soviets push against the Germans in the south, capturing Kishinev. The Soviets have now officially gotten a toe-hold in Eastern Europe. Assaults to the north do very little. By the end of the turn, the Germans have mobilized two armies and earmark them for service along the eastern front.

November 1941: The Germans have two panzer units mobilized at the start of this turn. Deciding not to waste precious resources on frivolous attacks, they are put near the frontlines but not in the fighting. The winter months will be used to take up defensive positions, recover fighting strength, and then push through counterattacks when the weather clears up. Inevitably, this involves giving up a bit of ground. Vilnius falls to the Russians on the east front and now the fighting is well inside Eastern Poland. In France, the Germans to the west of the Rhone are pushed back a little but nothing of any real consequence is lost or gained by either side.

Germans lose a little ground in the south of France - November '41.

The eastern front in Nov. '41. Germans lose Vilnius.

December 1941:  At the end of the last turn, we find out that the USA will enter the war in January of '42. The Germans use strategic movement to get another infantry unit to the eastern front. Meanwhile, the Germans leave both fronts alone for pure defense this turn. Production is used to bring down the number of sorties on aircraft in hopes of building momentum for a counterattack. The Americans place their first fleet in Eastern North America. The Soviets attempt a handful of assaults that don't go anywhere and actually result in attacker attrition. By the end of the month, everyone is caught in a stalemate.

January 1942: The new year begins with severe weather in both the cold and mild zone, bringing offensives to a standstill. The Soviets put one of their new Shock armies into action, however, and it pushes back a German unit from the east of Lvov. Strategic warfare is starting to hurt the Germans and the UK is slowly recovering from lost production with Lend Lease from the USA and Commonwealth support. The United States has already mobilized a fleet and two convoys and the southern European coastline is looking very vulnerable to amphibious attacks right now. The entry of the Americans could be the key to a hasty end to the war after more than two years of solid fighting without much result.

February & March 1942: I combined both of these months because not much happened in these months. Severe weather in all zones keeps the fighting to a minimum. Both sides have managed to get their sortie numbers to zero. Event boxes on the country cards are brimming full with nice shiny new toys like heavy artillery for the Germans. The Soviets now have mobilized four elite units and have two tank divisions earmarked for mobilization in April. The French and British are undecided about whether to wait for the Americans to conduct an invasion of southern Europe. There are plenty of fresh units in North Africa to help cause a problem for the Germans but probably not enough to just knock them out of the war. The weather makes the entire topic of amphibious landings an academic one anyways. Delay is the order of the day.

April 1942: The weather is severe in the Mild and Cold zones but fair in the Warm zone. The Germans make a couple of fruitless attacks on both fronts but nothing comes out of it. The Soviets are unable to make any headway but do rearrange their lines by sending up elite units to the front. The big news this turn is that the French and British use the weather to conduct amphibious landings from North Africa. The Brits land in Greece, taking Athens. The French land in Rome, liberating Italy. This is extremely worrying for the Germans since their supply lines can be threatened. Even though the invasion force is small, it can still wreak havoc on Germany. The USSR mobilizes two tank units at the end of the turn.

May 1942:  Wow. The turn starts off with some pretty amazing stuff happening. The German war machine really kicks into action with the arrival of nice spring weather. On the western front, the Germans push through with some very risky attacks and succeed beyond their wildest dreams. France nearly collapses from the losses. Calais is taken as is Sedan. Three French army units are eliminated and the Germans take no losses. One of the elite French units near the border with Belgium finds itself surrounded and nearly out of supply unless it can break through. The Germans even take a swing at Paris -- but fail to connect. Down south, the French are forced to retreat north towards Dijon and west towards Vichy. The Germans kept pushing on the front, nearly bringing France to its knees (4 will left by the end of the German activation). Some German units have been pushed too far and are out of supply, however, so the French might take full advantage to lean back into the Germans.

May 1942 - the western front after the German operations phase (and before the supply check)...

With two German units caught deep in northeast France with low supply, the French and British get to work in their operations phase. An elite mobile French unit wallops the Germans in Calais and liberates the port city. Meanwhile, the BEF finally gets off its keester and sends its men down to clear the Germans from the outskirts of Paris. This is achieved with the use of Tank events markers and the RAF. Two reduced French units are rushed towards the border with Belgium to shore up the French defenses and they will be restored to full strength in the Replacements Phase. Down south, the French manage to push back a German unit west of Marseilles while an infantry unit is sent to help defend Vichy and a mobile unit moves up to help defend Dijon against the German panzers and infantry near the city. France is safe for another turn.

May 1942 - The French strike back!

The Germans have tried to balance their reckless attack into France by adopting a cautious defensive withdrawal in the east. The Germans have pulled back into Eastern Europe and taken up position along rivers and in cities. Some units have been left back in the withdrawal, trapped by the massive numbers of Soviets pushing west.

May '42: The Germans have pulled back (taken after the Axis Operations Phase ended)

The Soviets fill in the gaps left by the retreating Germans and try several fruitless attacks but don't get anywhere. The Soviet infantry is still not enough to really deal a killing blow to the Germans anywhere along the line. Even the Romanians are able to hold their own in a vicious assault by an elite Soviet unit. attacking Constanta.

Things are really changing now, however. The Germans are starting to hurt for production and only managed to reduce the sorties on two air units during the replacements phase. The Soviets manage all their replacements and end up mobilizing two full strength tank units. Bomber Command comes online during the mobilization phase and is based in Birmingham. Without enough fighters on the western front to intercept the bombers, the German cities are left wide open for strategic bombing. The only real choice left for the Germans is to shift its air support from the east front over to the west, which is exactly what the Soviets are hoping for. The only good news for the Germans is that the much-hyped amphibious invasion of Greece and Italy have not amounted to much. Neither allied force has had enough resources to make any real headway. The Germans get the Economic Reform marker during the End of Turn phase, which will slowly boost the economy in the coming turns but it may not be enough to stop the oncoming tide of steel.

June 1942:  The month begins poorly for the Germans as they take two hits in the Strategic Warfare phase and are at 3 Factories Lost. Surely this is just a sign of things to come now that Bomber Command is operational. Despite this setback, however, the Germans make their own luck with crazed attacks into France, gambling big with their units and often winning. A Panzer unit near Dijon kicks a French elite mobile unit out of the way and circles west around Vichy.

Next, a combined assault by two armies on the city with heavy artillery, air, and tanks ends up with the French city falling. French will falls by 3 (one extra loss due to eliminated French unit) and suddenly it looks like the Germans might be able to take France after all. They send a mobile unit from Marseilles to try and destroy the reduced French unit south of Paris but the rolls are not there. An attack on Dijon nearly causes a French retreat but they stand strong and keep the city.

June 1942: The end of the Axis Operations Phase. France is bloody but unbowed.

The question remains whether the French will use this opportunity to sweep behind the German lines or play it safe and rush units west to protect the remainder of their cities from the Germans unexpected advance.  The Germans on the other hand, have overplayed their hand and now several of their units in France are in a low supply state and are now at -2 DRM for combat. With the British to help out and some unused tank markers available, now might be a good time to deliver a devastating blow to the Germans and punish them for their arrogance.

Over on the eastern front, the Germans try to rescue two units that are cut off from supply. A large-scale withdraw during the last turn had left the eastern front in a slightly better defensive position but there were a couple of units up near Latvia that needed rescuing this turn as a result. The German and Bulgarian units manage a couple of successful attacks against the Soviets but end up out of supply at the end of the turn. Not even a very good push by a German panzer unit is enough to do the job. In the end, the Germans have spent a huge amount of air resources on what may be a lost cause.

June 1942 - 2 Axis units try to break out near Latvia but fail and are out of supply.
The Western faction goes and the French and British work together in the north.  The BEF attacks into Belgium and clears the Germans from Antwerp then advances into Brussels. French infantry along the Maginot Line come out of their fort and help another French unit eliminate the Germans sitting in Sedan. Another French unit takes up positions in Antwerp. The Germans have a single lonely infantry unit guarding the gates to Germany in the north. Meanwhile, the French rearrange their infantry to contain the German advance in the south. If the panzers around Vichy are not stopped, they could get to Paris and the cities along the west coast, which would cause a French collapse! We are still not out of the woods here yet.  The British also take this opportunity to bomb Bremen, Hamburg, Hanover, Leipzig, Berlin, and Frankfurt.

June 1942: The French and British enter Belgium while keeping the Germans locked down in the south.

The Soviets manage to eliminate the two isolated enemy units near Latvia and my cat walked all over the faction card so I have no idea what the current German willpower is but 29 seems about right so yeah, let's go with that. The Bulgarian will goes down one as well. In the south, the Soviets make some good advances. They get the Romanians out of Constanta and a supply convoy from Sevastapol arrives to keep two Soviet units in supply, one in Romania and the other in Bulgaria. Assaults along the front fail to make much headway but the Germans use up much of their precious airpower in their defense. It will be hard to replace it.

July 1942:  The war has definitely turned out of Germany's favor. It lost two more factories during the Strategic Warfare Phase this turn, bringing it up to 5 factories lost for the first time in the entire game. The British economy has recovered completely thanks to Lend-Lease and Commonwealth Factories. The Soviets are pumping out at full capacity with 40 production points per turn.

The Germans spend the turn reorganizing their defensive lines. During the Strategic Movement Phase, a German panzer army is pulled back from the eastern to the western front to keep the British and French out of Germany. But things look still look dire. Germany is losing ground everywhere now.

German units are pulled back from Belgium to help keep Germany's western border protected. A desperate attack on Dijon will dictate whether Germany tries yet another crazy offensive in southern France or lick its wounds and retreat back to a line of supply. Despite using tanks and air support, the Germans just can't manage it and Dijon remains in French hands. In the south of France, the panzers and infantry that made so many huge gains last turn are forced to come east to secure a supply source. The Romanians pull back towards their own borders and the Bulgarians rush to protect their cities from falling to the Soviet army, now breathing down the Bulgarians' collective necks.Although it looks like German is safe from the western faction for now, the Soviets will only need a bit of luck to make some gains in the field this turn.

July '42: Germans pull back in southern France.

July '42: The Germans try to rearrange their lines, abandoning their allies in Eastern Europe.

The French and British continue their counteroffensive into the Low Countries, liberating Holland and Belgium before kicking the Germans out of Dusseldorf.  Ladies and gentleman, we are finally in Germany proper.  In the south, a French armored division makes some headway across the Rhone and is just north or Marseilles. The Germans cannot get any mileage out of their fighters in the city because of carrier strikes by the British.

July 1942 - The British and French liberate the Low Countries and take their first German city.

Over in the east, things are even more dire for the Germans. The Soviets take Bucharest, Varna, and Sofia all in one fell swoop. Romania and Bulgaria collapse and there is absolutely nothing except for a handful of Hungarian garrisons protecting the way to Berlin.

July 1942 - Romania and Bulgaria collapse. The way is paved for the Red Army.

August 1942: Well, just when you think you have it all sorted out, something happens to completely change the course of the game. The turn starts off with Germany getting continually hammered by Strategic Warfare (7 factories lost now). During the German turn, the Panzers in the south of France make a last desperate bid. They force the French to retreat from Dijon and take the city. A mobile unit is sent up to make an assault on Paris with air support, heavy artillery, and tanks to help out. The mobile unit takes the city and France is knocked out of the war in a stunning upset! Units are pulled back toward Germany to help with preparations for the Soviet assault. I guess I got way too cocky with the British/French push into the Low Countries.

During the Soviet turn, the Russians allow their infantry to catch up to the tanks in the south and the infantry move west to meet the new German defensive line, running north-south through central Poland. A German infantry unit is eliminated near Cernauti. All Russian cities are now back in Soviet hands at this point. The Germans have lost 6 of the 8 will they gained from the conquest of France. Can the Germans hold out until the end of 1946? It looks doubtful but then again it seemed pretty doubtful only one turn ago that they could make it to the end of 1942.

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Big Heart, Tiny Battle: An Interview with Mary Holland Russell

Following up from my interview with Mark H. Walker about Flying Pig Games, I recently had a chance to talk with Mary Holland Russell, the head honcho over at his other gaming company, Tiny Battle Publishing, Mary was kind enough to take some time from her very hectic schedule to answer my questions and here's what she had to say:

HaH: Tell us a little about yourself and how you came to be involved with Tiny Battle Publishing.

MHR: My husband is the editor of Yaah! magazine. Mark Walker asked Tom to recommend someone to run Tiny Battle, and he threw my name out there. I don't have a wargaming background, but I have a lot of business experience and have dealt with creative types in the past.

HaH: What are your own gaming interests?  Do you have a favorite game or era that you prefer?  Any favorite designers?

MHR: I got into modern gaming by playing Eurogames, train games and D&D. Outside of the games we publish through Tiny Battle, most of my gaming still falls into those categories, some of my favorite games are Dominion, Le Havre, Chicago Express, TransEuropa, Puerto Rico, Pandemic, Forbidden Desert, Sushi Go, Dead of Winter, and so many more. I also play video games and I especially like open world games such as Fallout, Elder Scrolls, Infamous, and Borderlands, but I also like other games such as Ratchet and Clank, Bio-Shock, Diablo, and Little Big Planet. I have diverse and eclectic tastes.

Tom Russell's Blood on the Alma (photo by Hipshot)

I got into wargames because my husband started designing wargames and he needed a playtester who was available 24/7. I really enjoyed playtesting his game Alma (his very first wargame) and breaking it. That's basically what I was "hired" to do, break his games. I love history so I don't have a favorite era, but as far as the war games go, I prefer battle-level and operational games. I enjoy mostly Columbia block games (I once trounced Tom--the Scottish player-- so badly in Hammer of the Scots, poor William Wallace was dead before he could do much) and GMT games, and of those, without a doubt, my favorite is Commands and Colors Napoleonics. We recently bought Sekigahara, which I've had my eye on for a long time, but we haven't been able to play it yet because we're both so busy. I would say that I have a preference for wooden blocks in games as opposed to a particular era.

My favorite designer would be Tom Russell. 'Nuff said.

HaH: You were involved in the film-making business before coming to Tiny Battle Publishing.  How has that experience shaped your approach to game publishing?

MHR: I'm used to working with artistic-types and various personalities and bringing them together to create a unified whole. The films I made were more idiosyncratic and offbeat so they were intentionally not for every taste. You can't be too offbeat with a game because all of the elements need to fit together. You can't have something in a game "just because", because it's not a narrative form and doesn't have room for digressions and counterpoints. But at its heart it's still about people coming together, working within a budget, and a schedule. And you're still trying to engage and entertain your audience.

HaH: How does a lower price impact a game beyond the obvious production values (art, number of counters, etc.) ? For example, does it often limit complexity?

John Gorkowski's upcoming In the Trenches.
MHR: It limits complexity to a degree in that with less counters and smaller maps there is a limit to what you can do. Our standard 17x11-inch map only has something like 250 hexes, that's like 20 hexes on the x-axis and 13 on the y-axis. You certainly can have more complex rules but they have to work more or less in that format. For example, right now we're prepping for publication John Gorkowski's tactical WWI game, In the Trenches. Like most tactical games it has a fair amount of detail and a lot of status markers. But it uses very compact maps so that it makes sense for our model.

We will on occasion use larger maps, but then it becomes more expensive, and so we have to look at how marketable a particular topic will be. For example, Brian Train's Bulge game, Winter Thunder, uses a 22x17-inch map and a full sheet of counters. This game is costing over twice as much as say one of our Shields and Swords games. But it's also likely to sell more copies. So these are the kinds of things that I look at when evaluating a submission.

HaH: What do you think makes for an interesting game?  Is there anything specifically that you’re looking for when a game is submitted?

MHR: We're looking for an interesting hook, mechanism or subject. And obviously it needs to be fun to play, but I also understand that everyone's idea of fun is subjective. And not coming from a super-grognardy background, I take the opinions of others, such as Tom and Mark, into consideration. For example, I don't particularly get into tactical games, but I know they have a sizable market so it makes sense to publish those games.

HaH: What are some releases from TBP that you think deserved a bit more attention?  What do you like about that particular game(s)?

MHR: Well, I like the Shields and Swords series not just because it's Tom's. We knew going in that these wouldn't have the same market share as say a WWII game, but we felt that the market for the Middle Ages was big enough, and the cost per unit was low enough, that it was worth pursuing. 

Tom Russell's Our Royal Bones

But these games aren't selling as well as we hoped, so unless the sales improve, it's unlikely that Tom will continue the series with TBP. It was a difficult decision to make. I like the games because of my own interest in the period and the simplicity and elegance of the ruleset. I still enjoy playing the S&S games Tom is working on even if we will be unable to publish them with Tiny Battle. So, it works both ways: just as we will publish games that aren't my cup of tea, there are also those games that I really enjoy that we won't be able to publish for market reasons.

HaH: How do you think the gaming business or hobby is changing? Do you see growing room for smaller publishers now that publishing costs are decreasing?

MHR: I think there is plenty of room for smaller publishers. However, unlike a big publisher like GMT , it's more likely to be a hobby or sideline, because as a small publisher, it's extremely difficult to make the kind of money that will allow someone to devote their full-time to it. Luckily my spouse works full time. I work somewhere between 6 to 10 hours a day for Tiny Battle, 7 days a week, and if I were to calculate my earnings per hour, I think I would have a conniption fit. So I don't do that math.

Hermann Luttmann's Invaders from DimensionX!
HaH: Can you give us a few highlights of any upcoming games that you want to talk about?

MHR: In November, we have the first base set for our iteration of In the Trenches, as well as the second game of the Blood Before Richmond series, Glendale and White Oak Swamp. For December, we have scheduled a second In the Trenches base set and a new Mark Walker's Platoon Commander game on Korea. We have some other titles in development which might come out by the end of the year, or more likely, early next year. 

There are sequels to Invaders From Dimension X! and Neuschwabenland, a Napoleonics card game, another ACW series this one from Sean Chick, a horror-themed game, lots of other stuff. Tom is working on High Speed Hover Tank, which I'm having a lot of fun testing and breaking.

Saturday, October 31, 2015

Unconditional Surrender - The Main Event: Part 2

September 1940 marked the end of the favorable weather so the Germans did what they could to consolidate their gains over the past year. With Italy having recently fallen, the Germans sent some infantry down to Rome to claim the city while a panzer army was transferred off east from the Italian front. Using the extensive rail system for Strategic Movement, the panzers arrived just west of the frontlines in northern Russia, near Latvia. The Yugoslavs fell back under the pressure of the combined German, Hungarian, and Bulgarian army. Split was captured and the Yugoslav Will slipped. The Soviets sent masses of infantry to push back the German incursions, using assault tactics rather than mobile attacks. The rolls just were not there, however, and the Soviets made no gains. That was fine. Time was on their side.

End of Sept. 1940: Yugoslavia falls and the east falls into stalemate.

October 1940:  As predicted, severe weather in the Cold Zone ends up helping the Soviets immensely this turn. The Germans successfully take down Yugoslavia after capturing Sarajevo and the Romanians and Bulgarians rush east to help hold the German line in Russia. The Soviets group together their units into assaults and manage to win some key battles that force the Germans back. A considerable hole in the middle of the German line looks inviting for the Russians after the operations phase ends. No cities are recaptured but the Germans are now losing ground and the Russian winter is yet to begin in earnest.

October 1940: The Russians begin to push back against the Germans.

November 1940 is surprisingly mild and the Cold Zone has only Poor weather while the Mild Zone actually has Fair weather. The Germans declare war on Greece and attempt to consolidate their hold on southeastern Europe. On the Russian front, the Germans take a gamble in the northern sector and fare poorly. An attempt to dislodge a pesky infantry unit does not pay off and this leaves the entire German flank vulnerable. In the south, things go considerably better for the Germans. They use their panzers to push back a Soviet infantry unit near Odessa and then isolate another Soviet unit before eliminating it. During the Soviet turn, more Russian units arrive in the south to plug the gaps in the line while a couple of infantry units in the north maneuver around the Germans and threaten to cut off two or three armies from supply. The Germans will have their work cut out for them next turn, especially considering that the Russian Winter event is due to begin then.

November 1940: Germans declare war on Greece. The Germans' northern flank along the eastern front in peril.

December 1940 arrives and with it the Russian Winter. The weather for the Cold Zone is designated Severe but, for the Russians, it is treated as Poor for combat purposes. This gives them a considerable advantage in their attacks. The Germans start off by using submarines for strategic warfare and they score a hit against the Russians. A German and Bulgarian army isolate a Greek unit in Salonika and take the city, pushing the Greek will down to 1. The road to Athens is open. The Germans, realizing they are in trouble on the eastern front, try to deal with the situation by being realistic. They shift forces around a bit to protect vital supply lines and conduct a couple of retreats in the south. The Soviets eliminate two German army units in the north and manage to push back the Bulgarians and Romanians in the south but the expected disastrous blow to the Germans does not come. The Germans mobilize three armies, which should help keep the Soviets at bay for just a bit longer. More significantly, the Germans score a Political Success and bring Turkey to a Pro-Axis standpoint. If Turkey can be persuaded to enter the war on the Axis side, it could transform the eastern front from stalemate back to German favor once again.

December 1940: Soviets make some gains against Germans. Greece about to fall. Turkey goes pro-Axis.

January 1941 and the new year begins with severe weather throughout Europe. The Germans make a play for Greece by attacking Athens but don't get anywhere. Along the eastern front, German units are pulled back and Minsk and Odessa are given up without a fight. Finally, the defensive line has stabilized a bit more and it looks like the Russians might be kept out of eastern Europe. The Soviets take both cities for a gain of 4 national will but the follow up attacks on the German line are of no use in this weather despite the help of the Partisans event marker. With Turkey making pro-Axis rumblings, the Soviets send some units south to help forestall any possible future invasion. The Germans mobilize three more units this turn. With success so far out of reach on the eastern front, the German player starts to dream of a quick victory against France.

January 1941: The eastern front line begins to stabilize. Belgium activates. The Germans think about the future.

February 1941 and no surprises with the weather this time. It is severe in the cold zone and poor in the mild and warm zone. Greece falls after the Germans take Athens. Albania goes Pro-Axis. The Germans have a number of mobilized units from the end of last turn. They mostly head west towards the French border. There are no German offensives on the eastern front. The whole affair has become bogged down with massive numbers of Soviets and terrible weather. The Russians push back against the Romanians this time but there are no major gains elsewhere. The turn ends with the Germans pulling a Political Failure out of the cup and Turkey is no longer Pro-Axis. The Soviets breathe a sigh of relief. Their southern border is safe.

March 1941 should mark the beginning of spring weather but nope! There is severe weather in both the Cold and Mild zone. This turn, the Germans start to get their act together a bit on the eastern front. They recoup some of their earlier losses by taking some chances with mobile attacks. In the south, Odessa is retaken and a Soviet army is eliminated. The Germans are not laying down just yet. They also start putting a few more armies along the French border with Germany and Italy. In the Soviet operations phase, we get a few lucky breaks too. Although Odessa is still in German hands, the makings of a potential Soviet breakthrough are building up just to the north of the city. The Soviets are frustrated elsewhere and unable to make any real headway against the Germans and Latvians way up in the north.

March 1941: The Germans strike back on the eastern front.

April 1941 and the spring weather begins. The Germans declare war on the Western faction. The eastern offensive is pretty much a lost cause and the western powers are only growing stronger with each passing month. Using a skeleton invasion force, Germany manages to take both Holland and Belgium as well as the city of Sedan in northern France.  Germany also charges into southern France through Italy, threatening Marseilles with a mobile unit by the end of the turn. In the east, the Germans manage to take Minsk, pushing the Soviets back a bit in the center a bit. The Soviets retake Odessa and attempt to push the minor nations units back but get carried away and end up with a unit out of supply (and so reduced) by the end of the turn. France settles in for a defensive campaign. The war has begun in the west.

May 1941. The weather is fair in all zones. The Germans get to work in their invasion of France, making a little headway, pushing back a couple of French units from the border and even reducing a couple of other French units.  But nothing of any real value is captured except down south where Marseilles has been taken by a German mobile army. French airpower has been helpful in negating the German attacks. On the eastern front, we have a different story. The Germans are desperate and begin making daring attacks around Kiev that start to pay off. By the end of the turn, the Germans have retaken Odessa and eliminated four Soviet units. The Soviets hustle some of their rearguard to make up a new defensive line. The Soviets attempt counterattacks but don't do much except knock Latvia out of the war. The French use an elite mobile unit to sweep a German army south towards the coastal road and then use the maneuvering room to walk into Italy and take a couple of cities that have been left undefended. The British and French also manage to take back former Italian-owned cities that were ceded to Germany after its win over the Italians. Things look grim for the Germans.

May 1941: The French get a bit cheeky and enter Italy. Renewed fighting along the eastern front.

June 1941. The Germans have lost the initiative on the west front. A series of successive attacks on Lille end up with German attrition. The French take no losses. The Germans do not have enough production to keep things going on both fronts. In the east, the Germans do manage to make some headway in the south but at the end of the turn, five Soviet armies mobilize, undoing most of the turn's success for the Axis. The only good news for the Germans is that they have managed to move a panzer and infantry unit into Italy, which is enough to convince the French that having a mobile unit running around in the German rear is probably not a good idea. They move their units behind the Rhone river and hold their positions. Can this be salvaged? I feel the answer is probably "no" for the Germans. They have one month more to try and turn the situation around and then the Soviets will be mobilizing massive forces later in the year. The French seem to have weathered the shock of the initial German invasion and are dealing well defensively.

German invasion of France gets bogged down in the poor weather.

June 1941: Germans make some gains in the south along the eastern front.

July 1941: The German invasion of France stalls out but the French are unable to hit back effectively for the most part. Fighting in the Soviet Union turns into pockets of back and forth localized battles rather than the static front of only a few months ago. The Germans launch a big offensive aimed at isolating a Russian unit in Kiev and are not quite successful. Overextended in the south, the Germans watch as the Russians take back Odessa. The Germans make a play for Lille in France, which is stubbornly held by an infantry unit. Instead of attacking directly, the German panzers and infantry attempt to surround the city but the attacks run out of steam and a German panzer army finds itself out of supplies and cut off. The French take advantage and manage to destroy the enemy unit. In the south of France, the Germans have moved up their units towards the Rhone while the French pull their elite mobile units back up north to hit back at the Germans while at the same time shifting some of their infantry down south to defend in the rough terrain near the Rhone. By the end of the turn, the Soviets have made marginal gains while the French and Germans seem to be in for a long fight.

July '41: French defense stiffens while the Soviets make some gains.
July ' 41: A closer look at the eastern front. Kiev in trouble. Odessa retaken by the Soviets.