Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Aegean Strike Arrives!

Well, I'm happy to say that for my first Father's Day present ever, I was presented with a used copy of Aegean Strike, which is - as the box states - "A Complete Game Based on the Gulf Strike System". Let's see what we have here:

First off, take a look at that awesome box art!  We have an F-15 zooming in from the lower right corner after firing a missile that has already hit a MiG(?) at very close range.  In the background, we have a large waterway between two landmasses that leads out to the Aegean Sea or the Med or something.  There's some proportional issues with some tanks visible far off below and in the distance having some kind of battle.  There's a ship providing naval support (another proportional problem there).  But despite all that - this cover kicks some serious ass.  It has all the elements (sea, land, and air) of the game represented on there and I love it and it makes me really want to play this game right away.

In the lower right hand corner, there's a blurb that says "Bonus Link-up Scenario with Gulf Strike".  WHAT!?!   That sounds like hours and hours of gaming fun to be had for someone who either has a very large table in their basement or an extremely patient wife. I can't tell you how excited I am to play the full she-bang someday.

Inside the box, there are three airbase displays, separate from the map (which is different than the airbase display printed right on the Gulf Strike map).  The US, USSR, and the Greeks get a separate sheet just for their aircraft.

The rules for Aegean Strike are complete.  You don't need to have Gulf Strike to play it.  However, as I mentioned above, there is a bonus link-up scenario with Gulf Strike if you do happen to own it.  The rules are pretty similar to Gulf Strike but there are some changes (marked with asterisks throughout the rulebook).  I'm not going to run down the changes here but if you're interested, please read the excellent review of the game over at The Boardgaming Life.  Basically, there are no huge changes  but rather a tweaking of specific rules to add realism and options to the system.

The 520 counters in Aegean Strike include the playing pieces needed for the game's represented nationalities - the Turks, Greeks, Brits, Americans, Soviets, Bulgarians, and several others.  The 5 scenarios are of wildly varying length (scenario 1 takes just 2 hours to play while scenario 5 is  30 turns long - you will be old and grey if/when you finish).  There are skirmishes from the Battle for North Africa to an entire World War III scenario with both the Gulf Strike and Aegean Strike maps being used.

A player record is in the middle of the book, which is very nice - and was something that was missing from Gulf Strike.  However, I found a much better record sheet over at Boardgaming Life that I recommend using.

The operational map covers southeastern Europe from Yugoslavia and Bulgaria in the north all the way down to Cyprus in the south. The strategic map is printed on one tiny corner of the operational map.  It covers Italy in the west down to north Africa in the south, Syria to the east, and the southern tip of the USSR along with Hungary in the north.  This is absolutely tiny compared to the Gulf Strike strategic map!  I can see that this is going to lead to some crowded and intense fighting right off the bat so I'm excited to start playing it.

If you have any Aegean Strike or Gulf Strike stories or strategies, please write a comment!  It would be great to hear from other fans of these games.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Gulf Strike - Scenario 5 Thoughts

Over the past weekend, I went ahead and replayed  Scenario 5 ("The Horn of Africa") from Gulf Strike again and I think I'm starting to understand it a little better.  Here are some random thoughts that occurred to me while playing it over:

1.)  The Soviets and USA going to war over Somalia.  Really?  In hindsight, that seems pretty far-fetched.  In 1983, however, it must have seemed like potential flashpoints were everywhere.  I still remember this.

2.)  The Soviet CG tailing the US carrier group:  The Soviet player needs to be careful here.  Firing off at the carrier group right away as part of an interception in the First Action Stage's Initiative player's Movement Phase will certainly result in the US player unleashing B-52s against unprotected Soviet bomber bases in Afghanistan or near the Black Sea.   The Soviet player needs to air ferry his Tu-26 bombers to Yemen or Ethiopia before doing anything else in this scenario.  Remember that the Americans cannot attack the Soviets until they themselves are attacked.  The one big advantage the Russkies have in this scenario is that they can safely get all their pieces into place before making their big move so don't blow it all on one impulsive attack in the first turn.

3)  The Soviets need to spread their bomber and fighter forces out evenly throughout the bases in Yemen and Ethiopia or they will get targeted and hit hard by those B-52s.

4)  The USS Kittyhawk can and should be used as an anti-Soviet naval death-dealing platform and it should stay near Diego Garcia and out of range of Soviet bombers.

5)  US priorities should be:  1.)  Destroy Soviet navy in following order of importance: a) submarines b) surface fleet  2.)  Destroy Soviet bomber bases in region  3.)  Bomb ground targets in Ethiopia attacking Somalia

6)  Soviet priorities should be:  1.)  Keep US surface fleet bottled up near DG  (with air) or destroy it (with submarines) 2.)  Maintain existing forces in region with minimal damage 3.)  Destroy Diego Garcia with Soviet carrier and naval bombardment if possible (probably not possible unless the Soviets get really lucky).

7)  The Soviet CG at the beginning of the game is cannon fodder and the sole Soviet SSGN is the only real remaining threat to the US Kittyhawk outside of the Tu-26 bomber corridor.  The SSGN is better off trying to use hit and run tactics.  The Soviet CVH can provide air cover protection against P-3 Orions and S-3 Vikings.  As the Soviet player, I would do my utmost to try and keep that SSGN alive!  You'll need it to help harass and/or sink the USS Enterprise when it arrives later in the scenario.

8)  The F-15s that come in as reinforcements in turn 2 should probably be put in Somalia.  Once they start working with the US carrier to provide air cover off the coast, they are basically unstoppable.   In the meantime, that base will become a target for Soviet bombers.  Keep your F-15s on Intercept until help arrives from CVN-65.

9)  The Soviet player has so many naval units reinforcing from the east during mid-game that I wonder if it would just be better to keep the Kittyhawk sitting near Diego Garcia to protect it while the Enterprise, the F-15s, and the B-52s go to town in bombing Africa.

10)  The B-52s are the true powerhouse behind the Americans in this scenario.  They have a high bombardment factor and are pretty much guaranteed to get 3 hits on something if they both hit the same target.  What's more, they can fly on and off the board every turn so they aren't vulnerable to Soviet base attacks like the Soviet bombers are.  Having to spread out the bomber forces in the region to avoid targeting by the B-52s ends up slightly diluting Soviet air power in the region.

Thanks again to Mark from The Boardgaming Life for the great advice and for keeping the Gulf Strike flame burning after all these years!

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Gulf Strike - Scenario 5 Redux

If you've read much of my blog before, you'll know that I'm a huge fan of Victory Games' Gulf Strike.  After it sat on my shelf for the better part of a year, I picked it up and got it on the table.  It's a real gem of a game and I unfortunately got distracted by something else before I could seriously delve into it.  One of my first write-ups on Gulf Strike dealt with Scenario 5 - an unfinished report that for some reason still managed to get a lot of love.  I've been feeling a bit red-faced from that, so I've decided to go at it again and do a complete playthrough of the scenario.


In this scenario, Soviet-backed Ethiopians are launching a major offensive against Somalia from hexes C-16 and D-17 against D-15 and D-18.   Each game turn, the Ethiopians will inflict 1 hit against these objective hexes, which will fall after incurring 4 hits.  The Americans can prevent hits from accumulating by inflicting 3 hits on the Ethiopian hexes C-16 and D-17 each turn.  To win, the Americans must also inflict 3 or more hits on three Soviet bases in the area (B-13, C-14 and H-14).  The scenario is over when turn 7 ends.

Ethiopians launch offensives vs. Somalia. Soviet bases that need to be hit are starred.
Initial Thoughts:

Okay, so there's a lot of Soviet airpower in the region.  The USSR has 3 MiG-23 squadrons parked in D-16 along with a Tu-126 for EWDA.  Just to the north of that in Yemen, there are two MiG-23 squadrons and a Tu-20 bomber squadron. Way up north of that, the Soviets still have toys - a Tu-26 squadron near the Black Sea and three Tu-26 squadrons in Afghanistan.  The Soviets have a carrier force with an ASW helo and some Yak-36 fighters.

The Americans don't have the numbers to match at the start.  They have a carrier group (CV-63 - USS Kittyhawk) with the standard stuff:  A-6 Intruders, A-7, 2 x F-14s, S-3 Viking, and an E-2 Hawkeye for early warning and detection.  Diego Garcia houses an F-15 squadron and some P3 Orions.  Each turn the US player gets two B-52s that come on board for an air strike.

So what to do here?  I suppose the CV could move up towards the coast of Africa and take care of the Soviet base in D-16 so the B-52s will be able to attack the Ethiopians without worrying about getting shot down. The only thing that's really going to suck for the American carrier group is that the Soviets have a CG tailing behind it that can fire on it right at the beginning of the game.  The American sub can be used to try and hit the Soviet carrier but I'm not overly concerned about it either way.

I haven't played much of this scenario before and it's been a long time since I've played Gulf Strike.  A lot of this playthrough will be me pushing cardboard around, just trying to get the hang of the game again.

Turn 1

The first move of the scenario results in a serious problem for the Americans.  As soon as the Kittyhawk moves towards the African coast, the Soviet CG fires at it.  The carrier takes 2 hits and fires back at the Soviet cruiser, destroying it.  As it continues its trek towards the Somali coast, the USS Kittyhawk is intercepted by a nearby Soviet SSGN.  It fires its anti-ship missiles from 1 hex away and hits the carrier for 1 damage.  Gravely damaged, the American carrier now has its sortie rate reduced from 3 to 2.  Three of the air units on the carrier have taken a hit of damage as well.

This is a poor start for the Americans but they're still in the game.  Together, the US destroyer and carrier move into the same hex as the Soviet submarine.  The destroyer detects it and fires at it without any luck.  The Soviet sub, however, fires back and hits the destroyer for one damage point.

Huge battle between Soviet sub and US surface fleet near Somali coast.

A nearby US submarine is sent into the same hex as the Soviet sub to hunt it down.  It manages a hit on the Soviet sub but gets taken for 2 hits in return.  This is a brutal start for the Americans!

The tide begins to turn near the end of the first action stage when a P-3 Orion is sent out from Diego Garcia and lands 3 hits on the Soviet sub, sinking it.

P-3 Orion finally sinks Soviet submarine in hex F-18.

The US carrier launches a strike package against the enemy ground forces in D-17, failing to score any hits.

Hoping to keep the Soviets from using Socotra as a base for replenishment or repair, the Americans decide to bomb it from the air.  The B-52s are dispatched to take care of it and score 2 hits.

The Soviets respond by moving their carrier and destroyer out from Straits of Hormuz towards the Horn of Africa.  Two Tu-26 squadrons are sent on an air ferry mission to rebase from Afghanistan to Yemen in base 904.

The Americans end off the turn by launching another air attack on the Soviet ground forces in hex D-17 but find no joy in their efforts.

The turn ends with the Soviet-backed Ethiopians scoring a hit each against their target hexes in Somalia.

Positions at end of turn 1

Turn 2

The American fiasco continues here as 3 F-15s enter by C-5.  I set up the US airbase in D-18, within arm's reach of the enemy ground forces approaching Somalia.  I put them up here to give the US carrier some much needed air cover.  I also pop the reinforcement AWACS over the base to boost detection capabilities against enemy aircraft.

US airbase reinforcements enter map.  F-15s station in Somalia hex D-18.

The USS Kittyhawk pulls up tight to the Somali coastline and a strike package is sent out to hit the Soviet airbase in D-16.  The drama begins when the Soviet Tu-126 detects the incoming F-14s, A-6 Intruders and the EA-6 Prowlers.  Three MiG-23 squadrons scramble and manage to score 2 hits on the incoming American aircraft.  The Tomcat fires back and scores 2 hits.  The American player assigns the hits to the Intruders and Prowlers, which aborts the strike mission.

The Soviets respond by moving their aircraft carrier and destroyer into the Indian Ocean.

Soviet DDG and carrier in K-15.

In the following action stage, the second strike package is sent out to hit the Soviet airbase.  A MiG trades hits with the Tomcat and the rest of the strike package gets through.  Unfortunately, the American planes fail to score a hit on the Soviet airbase.  On the bright side, the MiG-23s have now maxed out their interceptions and the base is wide open to attack.  The B-52s mercilessly pound the Soviet airbase, destroying it completely with 3 hits.

Although this is a considerable victory for the Americans, the Soviet-backed Ethiopians score a second hit against both the D-18 and C-15 hexes.

End of turn 2.

Turn 3

The Americans get some heavy hitters coming in this turn with the USS Enterprise (CVN-65) entering the theater.  The Soviets put a CG on the east side of the map.

With only 2 Naval Movement Points each, this turn will be heavy on the air and light on the sea.

The US finally gets its act together, hitting D-17 for 3 points of damage with a carrier strike package.  The B-52s smash C-16 for 3 points.  The Soviets start to get their air game happening by launching strikes and sinking the American destroyer near the Kittyhawk.

I probably could and should have done more with each side this turn but I think I got pretty tired at this point and lost focus on which units had already done what.  Looking at my notes, it seems much more should have happened in this turn but just didn't for some reason.

Turn 4

I corrected an earlier mistake I made with the naval reinforcements from last turn and had to move them back a bit.  It didn't make any difference in play, luckily.

The US gets 0 naval movement points for the first action stage while the Soviets get 5.  I somehow forgot that NMPs are determined for each action stage and not just the turn.  This probably explains why not much seems to be happening for US naval movement this turn.

The air war continues over the Horn of Africa and a carrier-launched strike mission of A-6 Intruders and EA-6 Prowlers against hex D-17 ends in disaster.  The Prowlers take a hit and are eliminated by enemy air defense.  The A-6 Intruders fail to score any hits whatsoever.  The B-52s are called in to do the job instead and manage to inflict 3 hits.

The Soviets go hog wild and start moving their naval units closer in towards the US carrier force parked off the coast of Somalia.  The Americans respond by sending out P-3 Orions to detect the Soviet subs but they fail to find them.

Lots of Soviet naval forces on board at this point.

Hex C-15 takes 1 hit and it looks like the US player is in real trouble now.

Turn 5

I got pretty aggressive as the Soviets this turn.  Lots happened here.

First off, the US gets 0 naval movement points again in the first action stage while the USSR gets 3.  The B-52s and A-6 Intruders both try to hit C-16 but fail to inflict only 2 points of damage.

I had shifted the F-15s in the Somali base to offensive mode and one of them hits C-16 for the much needed extra hit.

In the Reaction Phase, the Soviet DDG and carrier move west to G-19 near the USS Kittyhawk.  They are easily detected by the carrier's E-2 Sentry and the carrier launches F-14s on CAP to intercept the Russians.  As they speed towards the enemy carrier, the Soviet CVH launches its own CAP to intercept the US airplanes (I think I did this right - it seems to make sense).

Carrier air war!  The Kiev and the Kittyhawk go toe to toe.

Each side scores 2 hits on the other one and the air battle is a draw as both sides abort.  The Soviet DDG launches anti-ship missiles against the Kittyhawk and the roll is a "1" for the attack with the carrier's ECM roll failing completely.  The Kittyhawk takes 3 hits, which is more than enough to sink it.

During the Second Action Stage, the P-3 Orion from Diego Garcia manages a hit against a detected Soviet SSGN.

Turn 5 ends with a Soviet hit on ground hex D-18.

Turn 6

The US stops fooling around here and gets the B-52s on a bombing run immediately.  They score 3 hits on hex C-15.  An American SSN gets near the Soviet carrier but fails completely to damage it with anti-ship missiles.  A second ASM attack from another US sub hits the mark nicely and sinks the Soviet's CVH.

F-15s from the Somali base hit hex D-17 for 3 hits.

Before the American player can celebrate the string of recent victories, it seems that the US airbase in Africa has been left with only a single squadron of F-15s on interception while the other 2 are on offensive missions. Three Tu-26 bombers from Yemen attack the American airbase and two of them manage to get through with one of them scoring two hits.  In the third action stage, the Soviet player follows this up with another attack by the bombers.  Only one gets through the F-15's defenses this time but it scores a hit and destroys the US airbase completely.

Tu-26 bombers eliminate US airbase in D-18.

Turn 6 ends and things look really bad for the US player...yet again.

Turn 7

Final turn here.  The USS Enterprise takes up the Kittyhawk's former place near the Somali coastline and launches airstrikes but fails to score the much needed 3 hits against D-17.  The Soviets try another air attack, this time on the US carrier - but fail to score any hits against it.  The Americans launch a fruitless P-3 anti-sub mission against a Soviet submarine.

The whole scenario just sort of ends at this point.  Neither side can really get what they want at this point despite the massive number of planes and ships in the area.  The Soviets have managed to score a marginal victory by capturing hex D-18.

Parting Thoughts

Well, I really played this one poorly by both sides, I think.  The Soviets did very little with their navy until very late in the game and the air force barely showed up until turn 5.  On the other hand, the Americans made big mistakes by pulling their CV out of air cover of Diego Garcia very early in the game.  It may have made more sense to keep it back for a turn or two while launching air missions to detect Soviet submarines.  I'm not sure placing the US reinforcements in turn 2 where I did was a good idea.  The US airbase was just too vulnerable to Soviet air - and for no discernible reason.

I don't think using the carrier to launch air strikes against ground targets was a good idea either.  Carriers seem much better suited towards anti-ship and anti-submarine duty while the B-52s should be used to alternate between hitting the two enemy ground force hexes and the Soviet airbases in the region.  I'm going to set up this scenario again and try to see if I can do better!

I have a feeling that Mark over on The Boardgaming Life has the correct approach down.  I'm going to try to follow some of the applicable advice in his article and see how it goes.

I made quite a few mistakes in my play here.  I missed a few rules and forgot that I could move certain units in other stages.  However, this is about the closest I have come to getting it right.  I find that if rule questions or concerns come up, you can usually resolve them with common sense and you'll probably be right when you check the rulebook later and finally dig up that rule that you missed.  Having said that, I'm pretty sure I started and restarted this scenario about 6 times to get it this close to a play that resembled what was going on in the rulebook.

I'm going to stick with Gulf Strike for a bit now and see if I can get together some kind of coherent strategy that results in better play for both sides.  I'll post another article about it here when that happens.

Saturday, April 4, 2015

Fire Team - Reconnaisance on the Nuremberg Highway

Scenario 2 from Fire Team is a lot more interesting than the first scenario in the game.  "Reconnaissance on the Nuremberg Highway" features an engagement between American scouts from 2ACR and the lead elements of Soviet 11th Guards Tank Division.  The Soviet player secretly chooses one of three available force compositions, each of which lead to different victory conditions for the Russian player.

Version 1: Troop Recon Patrol consists of two platoons of BMPs, both of whom have a very small detachment of troops riding along with them carrying RPG-16s. 

Version 2: Helicopter Forward Detachment has a mix of Mi-24 attack helos and Mi-8s along with a couple of BMPs and a full platoon of infantry.

Version 3:  Point Detachment has the same allotment as version 1 but adds SA-14 weapon teams and a couple of ZSU-23s into the mix with three T-80 tanks arriving later in the game.

I hadn't played this scenario in a long time so I went with Version 1, which is the configuration that required the fewest rules to re-read. With Troop Recon Patrol, the victory condition for the Soviets is that I need to get two vehicles from the same platoon off the north edge of the map.  

The American forces also change according to what version the Soviet player chooses.  In this case, the US player would get 6 M3 Bradleys for set up and a platoon of M2s with infantry and LAW rockets to reinforce them in turn 3.  

To add to the funkiness of this scenario, the forces start off on Map C and maps can be added on either side of it if units move off the initial map.  The players roll for which map is put down and in which direction it will face.  Pretty cool.

Fire Team is pretty hardcore when it comes to vehicle combat.  Basically, the way it works is that when a vehicle fires at another one with missiles or guns, you consult a chart for kill numbers.  Depending on terrain and what both vehicles are doing at the time, the kill number either increases or decreases.  You roll a die and either you hit and kill the enemy vehicle or you miss it completely.  This makes for a pretty deadly game.

Soviet Setup

The Soviets set up on anywhere south of the road running east-west through the map.  I put 1st Platoon in the town of Stelau and 2nd platoon went near the small hill to the southeast.  

American setup

The Americans just strung their Bradleys along the north side of the map, ready to intercept the Russians as they pushed north.  

Map A - setup complete
The Soviet plan was to send 1st platoon to the west and 2nd platoon to the east, hoping to catch the Americans off guard and find a weakness.  It wasn't a real complex strategy but sometimes simple works well enough.  The Americans sensed what was coming right off the bat and decided that half the Bradleys would take on one platoon of BMPs while the other half worked the other side of the board.  The Bradleys would be moved aggressively to trap the Soviet vehicles and kill them as they tried to come through. 

2nd platoon advances north in turn 1

The Americans activated first in the game and sent a Bradley on the American right flank up on the nearest hill to get a look around.  The Soviets got a big activation next and the entire 2nd platoon was activated to move along the road to the east.  We rolled for which map to add and got map  D.  As one of the BMPs moved along the road, the Americans went for opportunity fire and the Bradley on the hill fired a TOW missile at the group, killing a Soviet vehicle with scout infantry inside.  The remaining BMPs scurried along the road to the north.

The Soviets activated again and decided to get 2nd platoon the hell off the road before another TOW missile came along.  They two BMPs moved into and around the forested area to the east, out of the American LOS.  A vehicle from 1st platoon also got an activation and it moved west from Stelau so we laid out another map (Map A).  

Soviet movement during turn 1

A look at the board with Map A laid out.

Halfway through turn 1
Well, it was time for the Americans to activate so they pulled a chit and moved two Bradleys to the east on to map D to intercept 2nd platoon.  One Bradley parked right into Waldhof, hoping to catch any BMPs coming north.  Meanwhile another Bradley went stalking the BMPs at close range, entering the forest where the Soviets had last been seen.  

In the next Soviet activation, one of the BMPs in 2nd Platoon withdrew even deeper into the forest while the other attempted to skirt around the hill to the east and hopefully break through to the north.  

East side of map

Meanwhile, to the west, the Americans put up another Bradley on the big hill near their setup area, hoping to catch the Soviets with missile fire.  The remaining two Bradleys closed in, one of them setting up in the town of Ehrenberg while the other Bradley advanced rapidly to the south and then swung around towards the rear of 1st Platoon.  

1st Platoon moved up towards Ehrenberg and used the buildings of the town to keep the Bradleys high up on the hills from spotting them.  Two of the BMPs dropped off scout infantry in the south of the town.  A Bradley from across the street fired at the Soviet scouts as they set up in the buildings, shaking them slightly (Fear 1 marker placed).

West side of map in Ehrenberg
The first turn ended here with both sides frustrated.  The Americans had spent most of their CPs shifting around Bradleys and the Soviets to the east had led them on a wild goose chase, drawing them further into the woods while the real  threat of 1st platoon had nearly reached the norther edge of the map already and without a scratch.  TOW missile fire had been effective from long range but the Soviets quickly adapted by staying behind obstacles and hiding their movement in the LOS blind zones behind buildings.  

Turn 2 began and though the Soviets were down 1 Command Point from losing a BMP, their morale was high.

Bradley sneaking up from behind!

The Americans pulled a chit at the beginning of the second turn and sent a Bradley to sneak up behind the BMPs near Ehrenberg.  It scaled the large hill to the south of the town but had no LOS to the nearby Soviets.  Good enough - they would come into view as they sped south.  The Soviets were now covered by the Americans from three sides (one Bradley in Ehrenberg, one on the hill to the south and one way over on the big hill to the east).

The Soviets got activation next and activated the RPG team across the road from the Bradley in Ehrenberg.  I rolled a "2" and the Bradley was toast.

The Americans went next and sent the Bradley to the south over the crest of the hill to the south of Ehrenberg to get a better LOS on the Soviets.

Next activation went to the Soviets and they managed to get the entire 2nd platoon going again.  This One of the BMPs drove north through a cluster of buildings using cautious movement.  The Bradley far away on the hill to the east fired a TOW missile and we rolled a "10", which was a galling miss.  The vehicle sped through to the north and made its escape.  Soviet victory was now pretty much assured.  Another BMP from 2nd platoon scuttled through Ehrenberg and took opportunity fire from the Bradley on the hill directly to the south.  Another roll of "10" - unbelievable.  The TOW misses and the Soviets manage to get two vehicles from 2nd platoon off the board for a win.

Final positions
As for 1st platoon, it ended the game still stuck on the east side of the board, having done its job as a decoy to keep the Americans guessing.  The Soviet player used them to good effect to drain the US player of important Command Points.  Well done for the Russians!