Thursday, June 23, 2016

Poland Strikes! Scenario 3: The Hammer

This is a playthrough of the third and final scenario from the module "Poland Strikes" from Yaah! magazine issue 4. In this scenario, the Poles and Hungarians have a final showdown as the Polish army invades Hungary during the chaos of nuclear and conventional war in 1980s Europe.

In the scenario, the Poles absolutely positively must control all city hexes of Ralocsa to win. The Hungarians need only to prevent this from happening. Neither side has it easy though.





The Hungarians start off with only a skeleton force of defenders.  One new platoon of AFVs arrives each turn, drawn randomly from a cup. The Poles, meanwhile, have 10 T-72s and several BMPs and infantry to do the job but they must enter from the north and approach the city in largely open terrain. Three Polish infantry platoons and a couple of OT-64s set up on the east side of the river.

And so it begins.

Setup: The Poles can't do much during setup here but they get one infantry platoon with a Sagger in Zelin.

The Hungarians set their infantry and APCs to the south of Ralocsa, unsure of what to do with them. Two T-72s set up on the hills way to the south with a clear field of fire towards enemies approaching from the north. A Hungarian infantry team with Sagger sets up in E6 in the forested hillside hex.

The map after setup



A closer look at the Hungarian defenses around Ralocsa

The Polish setup near Zelin. OT-64s full of infantry and an infantry with Sagger in the Q12 hex.


Turn 1:

The Poles win initiative and promptly begin firing at one of the T-72 platoons on the hills to the south, eliminating it. The Polish T-72s and BMPs enter en masse and the Hungarian player drops a 'Chemical Warfare' card that targets one hex and all units in the six surrounding hexes. The Polish army is devastated by the attack, suffering numerous disruptions and three reduced units, including BMPs carrying precious infantry for the expected close assault on Ralocsa.

Polish units are disrupted and reduced to a chemical warfare attack.


The only good news for the Poles is that their morale increases from 3 to 4 as per the effects of a chemical attack. I guess this really pissed them off! The Hungarian player draws a BMP-1 as reinforcement and places it far to the southwest on the hillside overlooking the northern approach to the city.



Turn 2:

The Hungarians win initiative by rolling a 2 versus the Polish roll of 1.

Both sides draw action cards. The Hungarians get 'Fire Support' (add 2 to firepower). The Poles draw 'Orlik's Ghost', which adds 2 to an AFV's range.

In the rally phase, the Polish player rolls horribly. A slew of 6's results only in the BMP-1 in hex T4 rallying while all the other disrupted units from last turn remain disrupted.

The Hungarian BMP fires and disrupts a T-72 in Q7, further messing up the Poles' start to the game. Later on in the Fire phase when the Hungarians go for another shot at the same tank, the wily Polish player drops his 'Faulty Ammunition' card. This shifts the Hungarian BMP's attack column one left on the FRT and the T-72 remains untouched after shaking off 3 hits.

End of Turn 2. The Poles have a hard time getting going after the chem attack from last turn.


A closer look at the state of Polish forces near the end of turn 2.



The Hungarians have drawn a T-55 as a reinforcement for the Movement Phase and push the aging hulks down the road from the A2 hex. Hoping to avoid fire from the Poles' Sagger team to the east, the Hungarians relocate their T-72. The Hungarian BTR's prepare for the coming assault on Ralocsa by dropping off their infantry in the city.

Turn 3:

The Poles win initiative even after the Hungarians roll low and then reroll using a focus marker.

The Polish player draws 'Za Polske!', which gives a bonus to Close Assault. The Hungarian player gets 'For Izolda!', which gives a bonus to rally.

During the rally phase, the Polish player manages to rally a couple of units though a few T-72s are still unable to get going.

In the Fire Phase, the Poles finally came online. With the help of 'Orlik's Ghost', the Polish BMP-1 fires its Saggers from beyond long range and it destroys the enemy Hungarian BMP.

The Poles try to follow up by firing their Sagger at a Hungarian T-72 but doubles are rolled and the Sagger team is out of ammo.

A pair of Polish T-72 platoons get it right by killing a Hungarian T-72 in hex I5.

The Poles go first during the Move Phase and they start to line up their forces for an assault on Ralocsa. The Hungarians use opportunity fire but miss at a T-72 creeping towards the rolling terrain hex in N6. The Polish tanks use moving fire to hit the Hungarian infantry sitting in Ralocsa, reducing one infantry and disrupting the other in the stack.

The Polish OT-64s in Zelin move west up towards Sonok and await the command to join in the assault on Ralocsa.

The Hungarians draw a T-55 for the reinforcement and move it just north of Batka, hoping to catch the OT-64s with opportunity fire should they move west next turn.

Hungarian T-55 moves near Batka, hoping to catch Polish APCs coming from the east


The Hungarians place their focus marker on the Initiative box, hoping to get some early volleys of fire off next turn by winning initiative. They place their aid marker on the infantry in I6, knowing that these guys will have to rally in order to properly defend the city.

The Poles keep their focus on initiative too. Since the marker has already been on there from last turn, it is flipped to the 'two re-rolls' side. The Polish player puts his Aid marker on the disrupted T-72 in Q7, hoping to get it going next turn.

The advance elements of the Polish army stagger towards Ralocsa.


Turn 4:

The Poles get initiative this turn after the Hungarians try to reroll a '1' and roll the same result anyways.

The Hungarian player gets a 'From the Hip' card, allowing infantry units to fire after moving. The Polish player gets 'Kill them All', so a selected unit can attack the same target twice.

The Poles still have enormous problems rallying their remaining disruptions from the turn 1 chemical attack. A BMP and infantry in T3 remain disrupted. A T-72 in T5 is still disrupted. The T-72 in Q7 manages a rally after the Polish player initially fails the rally roll and then uses the Aid marker to reroll and pass the rally check.

The Hungarians manage a lucky break and rally their infantry in Ralocsa after playing the 'For Izolda!' card.

Duirng the Fire Phase, the Poles absolutely hammer on the Hungarian units defending Ralocsa. The Hungarians keep their cool even after the Polish player uses a 'Kill them All' card to fire at the T-72 sitting in H7.

The Hungarians hold their fire and hope to use Opportunity Fire to catch the Poles during the movement phase.They draw a T-55 for a reinforcement and push it to F4. A BTR-60 jumps into I5 to help the defending infantry as the Poles draw nearer for the big assault. Infantry in H6 unloads into Ralocsa in I7, hoping to keep the encroaching Poles at bay.

The shooting galley opens up near Ralocsa.

A closer look at the situation near the objective.




During the end phase, the Polish player removes his Aid marker and keeps the focus marker on Initiative. The Hungarian player puts the focus marker on his infantry and Sagger team in E6 since it has the best range and line of sight to enemy units.

Turn 5:

The Hungarians gain initiative this turn after rolling a 6. The player who did not have intiative in the previous turn gets it automatically in the case of a tie so there's no point in the Polish player wasting a Focus marker for a reroll.

The Poles draw 'Fire Support' (+2 FP) and the Hungarians get an 'Opportunity Fire' card.

All units except for a Polish T-72 in T5 manage a rally this turn.

The Poles rule the Fire Phase this turn. A BMP-1 eliminates the T-55 in F11. A pair of T-72s fire on the infantry in I7 and eliminate it. Another T-72 in N4 eliminates an infantry unit and reduces the other in I6.

The Hungarians start scraping the bottom of the barrel when a T-34 is drawn as a reinforcement and rushed to F11.

In the Move phase, the Hungarians' brilliant plan falls apart when when the Polish tanks approach Ralocsa and the Sagger team runs out of ammo after playing an 'Opportunity Fire' card. The Polish T-72s go to work with moving fire and manage to disrupt infantry in H7. The OT-64s from Sonok are sent to the east side of Ralocsa and disembark. The Polish player slaps down his 'Za Polske!' card and the hits are doubled for close assault. By the end of the turn, Polish infantry are in the city.

Polish infantry (shown with aid marker on top of stack) enter the east city hex of Ralocsa


Turn 6:

The Polish gain initiative after rerolling with the Focus marker.

The Polish player gets a 'Nie!' card that negates the enemy player's card. The Hungarians get 'Remember Budapest', which shifts the close assault column in their favor.

The Poles go to work on the east side of the city, disrupting and reducing a BTR-60 and a T-55 in I5. During the move phase, the Polish get their tanks adjacent to the city but the BMP-1 with infantry are destroyed by the Hungarian sagger team in E6.

Polish tanks and infantry line up to the north for an assault on the city.


Another T-55 is drawn during the Hungarian move phase. The Poles have taken the city completely now. The Hungarians plan to use their remaining infantry in E6 to try and sneak up in the final turn and take back a city hex with a close assault.

Turn 7:

Hungary gains initiative this turn. A reduced Polish T-72 in I5 fails to rally so guess where the Hungarian infantry from E6 is going to try a close assault (just a note that I have a card in my possesion that gives the infantry 2 extra MP to get there this turn).

The Hungarians fire at the Polish infantry in I6, hoping to disrupt it so as to keep it from opportunity firing at the Polish infantry approaching from E6. The rolls go horribly for the Hungarians and the Polish infantry is just fine. The Poles go to work taking apart the remaining Hungarian defenses near the city. They eliminate a Hungarian T-34 and a BTR during the fire phase.

The Hungarians go first during the Movement phase and play 'Mozgas', which gives the infantry in E6 +2 MP. The infantry goes towards I5 for a last ditch assault on the city.

The Hungarians attempt a last-ditch effort at gaining a hex of Ralocsa. Infantry in G5 move towards the city.



The Poles play 'Opportunity Fire' and the Hungarian infantry takes 4 hits, eliminating it.  The Poles chalk up a win for this one.

Conclusion:

Well, this was a classic case of setting up a thin static defense and hoping for the best. The Hungarians should have been able to hold at least one hex of the city. They had the advantage of terrain and the 'Chemical Warfare' card at the beginning of the game helped to stall the Polish forces for enough time. That being said, it seemed like the Hungarians just never knew what to do with those early advantages and the Poles regained momentum a bit later in the game after they gradually rallied their forces, and got back to work.

The Sticks and Stones system is pretty good. I find it quite smooth to play once you get the hang of things. There are multiple phases in each turn but after a couple of scenarios, it comes pretty naturally and I rarely had to look up any of the rules. There is a lot of tension in the game, from where you place your focus and aid markers to the cards you draw and the priority of the enemy units you target during your Fire Phase. I would recommend this game system to anyone interested in the theme or genre. It feels much like the spiritual successor to the World at War series.

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Poland Strikes! Scenario 2: A Slower War

Today, I thought I would recap the action in another scenario from Poland Strikes! - a module for Mark H. Walker's Platoon Commander / Sticks and Stones series.  Published in Yaah! magazine issue 4, this game features a matchup between Poland and Hungary while World War rages in Central Europe following a nuclear exchange between the US and Soviet Union in 1987.  Got it? Okay, let's get down to it!

In our first scenario, 861, the Poles invaded Hungary along the axis of Highway 861 and were roundly defeated by the Hungarians in the first play and then brilliantly successful in my next playthrough. This time, the Hungarians are on the offense and trying to take back three cities held by the Polish army. Capturing the cities to the east of Ralosca (Batka, Sonok, and Zelin) gives the Hungarians a decisive civtory. The Poles win if they maintain their defensive hold and can manage to capture one hex of Ralosca.

The Poles set up east of the river on the map with 4 infantry, a Sagger, a couple of BMPs and an OT-64. Later on in the scenario, the Poles get a T-72 tank unit as a reinforcement.

The Hungarians set up second on the east side of the map. They get six infantry, three BTRs, and six tanks. This scenario lasts six turns. One neat thing about it is that the Hungarians can discard cards to have an infantry platoon show up in any vacant cities should there be any Hungarian infantry units available in the counter mix.



Setup;

The Poles decide to put their BMP-1s east of the river with a clear view of the approach towards the city. The idea is to knock out as many of the Polish BMPs as possible before they get to the Polish-held cities. Once the infantry and their carriers are taken care of, the defending Polish infantry should be able to hold their own against tanks and armored vehicles in close assault city fighting.

The Hungarians plant T-72s to the south on top of the hills with a clear view of one BMP-1 while several T-55s are placed to the north. Infantry begins in the city of Ralocsa. The tanks will hit the anti-tank vehicles and then allow friendly APCs to transport infantry toward their objectives.

Turns 1 and 2

Some poor setup decisions by the Hungarians results in the BTR-60s in Ralosca getting plastered by AT missile fire from Polish BMP-1s. The Hungarians quickly reorganize their forces and fire back, but do very little against the Polish army. The Hungarians lose an infantry platoon and two of their APCs. Turn 1 ends with the Hungarians scratching their heads.

The tide turns quickly in turn 2. The Hungarians benefit from a focus marker played in the Initiative Box and gain the upper hand. They immediately discard two cards to get an infantry platoon in Zelin. They start using their tanks to great effect. They destroy a BMP near Batka with combined fire from T-72s sitting on the hillside to the south of the city. The Hungarian special forces in Zelin manage to disrupt a nearby Polish BMP-1. With the Polish anti-tank missile threat severely diminished, the Hungarians start a cautious advance towards Sonok. An infantry carried by a BTR-60 dismounts in the forest to the south of the city and prepares for an advance.



End of Fire Phase - Turn 2. Hungarian infantry advances as Polish BMPs are hurting.

Hungarian Special Forces score a hit on a Polish BMP-1 near Zelin, disrupting it.

Turn 3

A crucial turn for both sides. The Polish lose initiative yet again.   The defending Polish infantry in Sonok is eliminated by accurate T-55 fire from the west. The Hungarians press their infantry and the BTR-60 east towards Zelin. One T-55 advances east in hopes of getting a closer shot at the northernmost BMP sitting outside of Zelin in the next turn. Hungarian infantry makes it adjacent to the Polish in Batka and eliminates it later in the turn with close assault.

A reinforcement T-72 enters from the north edge of the board this turn - the first good news for the Poles in a while. Most of the rest of the Polish units are disrupted or reduced or both. Not looking good right now for the defenders.



Beginning of Turn 3 - Hungarians make their way to the east while Poles try to hang on.



Close assault shaping up near Sonok.
Turn 4

The Hungarians draw a card and play ECM on the Polish focus marker in the Initiative Box. The Poles cannot reroll any bad initiative results this turn. The Hungarians win initiative this turn! The remaining Polish BMP-1 near Zelin is destroyed by a T-55 so now only the pesky Polish T-72 remains.

Hungarian ECM card played against Polish focus marker


Batka is cleared now thanks to the close assault at the end of last turn.  The remaining men and tanks pour through the city and close in on their final objectives - Zelin.



Hungarian infantry makes its way east from Sonok towards Zelin and comes under fire from the Polish T-72. It is reduced and disrupted.

Advancing Hungarian infantry hit by remaining Polish T-72.
The Hungarians hammer on the T-72 but the Poles are able to fend off the shots again and again. They play the "Faulty Ammunition" card to keep the odds column shifted one left. There really isn't any hope left for the Poles. The Hungarians now have a BTR-60 sitting in the city of Zelin and they don't seem to be going anywhere. Still, let's see how this one ends.

Turn 5

The Poles finally get initiative this turn. They start off the fire phase with an "Aggressive Action"card, which can be used to increase the HE firepower of an AFV. The Polish T-72 benefits with a nice odds-column shift to the right and eliminates the BTR-60. A T-72 fires back and fails to destroy the Polish tank. Finally, a T-55 puts the final Polish unit out of its misery and the rest of the Hungarian army pours through the town, having won a Decisive Victory.

The final Polish unit stoically awaits the inevitable as the Hungarian Army prepares to fire...


Conclusion

I am getting better at using the system and I find it very smooth. I finished this scenario in under an hour despite the larger number of units. It really is very intuitive once you start to remember the column shifts and the ranges for different colors.

One thing I didn't really think about before was just how easy it was to read the information on the counters. Sometimes I would find it hard in World at War to read the font or I would have to squint to distinguish a "5" from a "3". Not so in this game. I'm not sure if its the color pattern chosen for the counters or the font or what but I find it easier to read. Even though I'm pretty bad at this game, I'm enjoying it more and more with each play.

As for the tactics, the Poles have their work cut out for them. They don't have any tanks to defend with and it is hard to find decent fields of fire to hit at the Hungarians at long range. In this case, it might have been better to have the BMPs set up way back (I'm thinking N12 and K12) and cover the appraoch and hills to the south while infantry is placed to the east of the river in Sonok and a Sagger team set up in Zelin. Funnel the Hungarians into an attack on Sonok and then fight a withdrawal until you can bring in your T-72 on turn 3. If enough Hungarian tanks are destroyed or reduced by that time, maybe risk a counterattack on Ralosca.

Thursday, June 9, 2016

Poland Strikes! 861

Poland Strikes! is a wargame included with Yaah! magazine issue no. 4 published in November 2015. Although it uses the same rules as Mark H. Walker's Platoon Commander - Sticks and Stones series, Poland Strikes! is a standalone game with three scenarios.

The backstory here is that the Soviets and Americans finally got it over with and went to war in 1987.World War 3 began and ended with a nuclear exchange that wiped out billions and left civilization in tatters. After the dust cleared, both nations simply renewed their fight - this time with conventional forces. No one could have guessed that World War 4 would begin on The Day After.

At this point, you might be saying to yourself, "Hold on, this sounds awfully familiar." Given the scale, theme, and designer's name, you might be forgiven for confusing Sticks & Stones with World at War at first glance. Although there are some surface similarities between the systems, Sticks & Stones seems to represent an evolution of Mark's original platoon-combat design from many years ago.

Here are a few key differences between the systems just off the top of my head:


  • Whereas WaW used chit pulls to determine who goes next and when the turn ends, the order of play in SaS is decided by initiative rolled for with a single die for each side at the beginning of each turn. 
  • SaS uses a Fire Results Table to work out combat results whereas WaW did not. 
  • Movement, fire combat, and close assault all happened in the same phase in World at War but these are given their own phases in SaS. 
  • Command was dealt with by HQ units in WaW, but it is reflected with Focus and Aid markers in SaS. These represent where a commander is focusing his energies on at any given moment during a battle.


Most notably, SaS puts cards into the mix, providing another layer of strategy to the game. In SaS, a player who can play the right cards at the right time can make up for tactical disadvantages on the battlefield.

Cards add an interesting dimension to the gameplay in Sticks and Stones


World at War: Eisenbach Gap got me into wargaming and I still pull it out and play it occasionally even these days. So I was curious to see what Mark's new design was like.

The Situation:

While the Americans and Soviets are dancing with each other in central Germany, the Poles decide to settle some old scores with Hungary and invade along the axis of Highway 861.  This first scenario is aptly named "861". The Polish objective is to capture four town hexes for a tactical victory and six town hexes for a decisive victory. The Hungarians win if they can deny either of these to the Poles. The scenario lasts six turns.

OOB and Setup:

The Poles get 5 x OT-64, 3 x BMP-1, and 6 infantry. They enter the map on the lower right side hexes. The Hungarians set up 3 infantry, a T-55, and a couple of Saggers in the nearby town of Zelin. 2 infantry are loaded up and sit together with a couple of tanks in the hexes near the center of the board in Balocsa. The setup rules state that the latter can't move until certain conditions are met. I missed this in my first game but as you'll see, it didn't seem to affect the result much anyways.

Setup for Hungarians - Poles will enter map to the north (right side of map)
Turn 1

The Poles get initiative this turn and give the first movement phase to the Hungarians, who sit nice and tight. The Poles advance their BMP-1s onto the map, hoping to evade opportunity fire. It does not go well as a Sagger missile snakes out from the north side of Zelin and eliminates one before it can do much of anything. A Hungarian T-55 in the same hex of the city (Q12) holds its fire, hoping to force the Poles to slow their advance. It works to great effect. Although the T-55 is a relic of a bygone era, its firepower is more than enough to lay waste to the Polish APCs. The OT-64s maneuver through the woods to the northwest of the city, clinging to the forested terrain for cover. At the end of the turn, the Hungarian player places his Focus marker on the infantry/tank in hex Q12.

The lay of the land at the end of turn 1

Turn 2

Both sides draw new cards this turn. Neither has really used them much so far. The Hungarian infantry in Zelin holds its fire until the OT-64s get near but they miss their shot during the Polish move phase. With a couple of free Opportunity Fire cards handy, the Hungarians could have fired again but decide to hold on to their cards until the Polish infantry get near. The plan is to draw the Polish infantry into a knife-fight next turn and use the cards to keep them at bay.

The OT-64s creep a bit further towards the outskirts of the city and drop off their infantry. The Hungarians start moving their units down from the center of the map to reinforce the bridges to the south of Zelin.

Polish infantry dismounts and prepares for an assault on Zelin. 

Turn 3

Well, despite having the initiative, things definitely do not go as planned for the Poles. The first part of the fire phase was spent firing a Sagger off from a group of Polish infantry way to the northwest of Zelin. The Hungarian T-55 and BTR-60 in Sonak took a hit each and it looked like the attempted reinforcement of Zelin was going to be put on hold for now.

The Hungarians allowed the Poles to move adjacent to the city and let loose with everything they got, playing multiple Opportunity Fire cards to keep the fun going all night long. After taking a reduction and a disruption effect for the encroaching Polish infantry, the assault got called off and the OT-64s were forced to move adjacent to Q12 in order to try and suppress the Hungarian infantry next turn.  The Hungarians responded by doubling down on their hold of Q12 and sent another infantry platoon from the south of the city into the Q12 hex.

The Meat Grinder - Hungarians rain on the Poles' planned infantry assault
Turn 4

Despite having clearly lost the initiative in this battle, I felt the Poles were still within winning distance at this point. The bulk of the hopes for the Hungarian seemed to be pinned on holding Q12. After taking the city, the Poles would have pried the door open and zoom across the map.

Alas it was not to be.  Turn 4 turned out to be an even bigger fiasco than the previous turn. 

At the end of last turn, the Hungarians kept their Focus marker on Q12 while the Poles put theirs back in the initiative box, hoping to plaster the infantry in the city before it could disrupt any further attempts on the planned assault. The Poles placed their Aid marker on the infantry in R11, hoping to rally the unit and get it moving into the city.

Well, the Poles did indeed rally their men and the OT-64s went to work, managing a successful disruption of the one of the Hungarian infantry in Q12. The other infantry unit disrupted the Polish infantry after an Add Firepower card was played. Polish infantry reserves would need to be brought adjacent to the city in hex R12. 

Turn 5

The Poles kept knocking on the door but the Hungarians in Q12 refused to take the hint. As Polish infantry reorganized for yet another attempt at a close assault on the city, we ended up with nothing more than disruptions for both sides. The OT-64s failed miserably in doing anything to the Hungarian infantry. A series of 1's on the die roll for morale kept the Hungarians alive and kicking. The Aid and Focus markers are both firmly planted in the hex at this point. Very stubborn defense.































Turn 6


Well, the Hungarian infantry is still sitting there in Q12. Unbelievable. Now down to only one infantry unit, it has successfully held off every attack imaginable from all quarters. The Poles finally eliminate the unit in the Fire Phase of the turn and Polish infantry pours into the hex. At the end of the turn, in a futile gesture, the Poles close assault into the southern hex of Zelin and take the city. Unfortunately, time has run out and they are two city hexes away from a tactical victory.



Conclusion:

The result of my game may not sound exciting but it actually felt quite tense throughout. One thing I left out in my description was the card play going on throughout the game. I had copious notes on all of it and then lost my little notebook. In any case, a lot of what was keeping the Hungarians alive was simply a smarter use of cards throughout each turn. While the Poles usually spent cards quickly, the Hungarians held on to them and played several at once for maximum effect. This helped considerably in blunting the Polish assault.  This was also my very first game, so I was paying more attention to the rules than to actual tactics at this point.

I though Poland Strikes! was pretty fun. Looking up results on the fire combat table took some getting used to at first but it became second-nature by the end of the game. You will be using this table a lot during a scenario so you will get quite used to it. I liked how range is handled - each unit has a color coded range (short, normal, and long) that you consult on a chart and this tells you if there are any column shifts to the combat table. Terrain also adjusts which column table you're using. 

Again, this takes a bit of time to figure out at the beginning of the game but I had the column shifts pretty much memorized by the end of it. I though the way it handled defending armor values was very smooth too. You simply take the firepower of your attack and subtract the enemy's defending armor value and then use that to see which column you're going to roll under on the FRT. Morale is actually the deciding factor for the combat effects against a defending unit. The defender must roll a number of die equal to the number rolled up on the FRT and compare it to his morale. I think this is a very nice way of making the results of a battle about "who wants it more" and has the better training rather than who has the shiniest hardware. 

Update:  I just played this scenario again after getting the rules straight and I had a very close play of this scenario.  The Poles went through the first city like a hot knife through butter. The Hungarian player had to discard four cards to get his units moving in turn 3 to protect two cities. The Poles easily took a city to the south after a Sagger destroyed some transporting infantry, bringing the Poles to a tactical victory. Meanwhile, the remaining Polish army slammed into Sonok, defended by Hungarian infantry and a T-55. On the very last phase of the game, the Polish infantry tried a close assault into the western hex of the city and took it at 1-1 odds, giving them a major decisive victory.

End of Scenario 2 - Major Victory for Poland

Monday, May 23, 2016

MegaUpdate - Red Storm Rising

Red Storm Rising is a novel about a hypothetical WW3 fought between NATO and the Warsaw Pact during the mid- to late 1980s. Written by Tom Clancy and co-authored by Larry Bond, it was published by Putnam in 1986 and has ever since lived on as one of the best examples of the Cold-War-Turned-Hot genre. Not only is it a very good thriller, its depiction of naval and land warfare was heavily based on how experts and simulations predicted the military hardware might perform.

I first read this book in 1987 as a teenager and I was immediately hooked on this genre. In fact, I still occasionally pull my old copy from the shelf and lose myself in its pages describing huge tank battles on the northern plains of West Germany and tense submarine warfare in the Atlantic Ocean. I can't remember anything about the movie I watched last week but I can always vividly picture the scene in "The Dance of the Vampire" where a US carrier group is severely mauled after the Soviets use drones to lure away the American interceptors from the real bomber group. My jaw nearly hit the floor when I read that the first time around. Who needs Game of Thrones, right?



The book was a big hit and a #1 bestseller. Only a year after the book was published, it had already sold well over 1 million copies. A computer game was released in 1987 with the same name as the book. Players could command a modern US nuclear submarine and go hunting around the North Atlantic. Despite the limitations of computer PC hardware in 1987, the game was pretty good for its time!







In 1989, we got another game based on Red Storm Rising - this time it was a boardgame. Based on the battle for Germany as depicted in the novel, this was the second boardgame to come out that was based on a Tom Clancy novel. The Hunt for Red October boardgame was published in 1988 and awesomely enough, it can be combined with Red Storm Rising for one big giant game of both naval and land action to create a huge WW3 battle that you could play over the course of days.

Yes, that bit about "Eastern Europe" irks me too. Ah well!


Instead of going for the traditional grognard audience, TSR went straight for the general public with the design of the game. I'm guessing they were trying to follow up the success of Axis & Allies with a wargame that would appeal to casuals. They did, however, make allowances for those who wanted something a little deeper than just a "roll the die" and try-your-luck game. The advanced rules for Red Storm Rising include a surprising amount of chrome. There is an air war component as well as different kinds of assets for each side to use (chemical, engineers, artillery, and armor). There are airmobile and paratroop rules and terrain effects that also come into play.

Ready...Set...Invade!


The basic rules strip all of this right down to a simple slugfest between units. Each turn in the basic game is broken down into a Warsaw Pact attack phase, Warsaw Pact movement phase, NATO movement, NATO attack, and finally a reinforcement phase. Players roll a 10-sided die to conduct an attack. If they can roll equal to or under the attack rating of their unit, the attack succeeds. If you roll equal to your unit's attack rating, the enemy must retreat or take a hit (different strength units can take different numbers of hits before being destroyed). If you roll under your unit's attack rating, the enemy must do both. If you roll a "1", the enemy is destroyed outright (if they have the same or less combat rating as the attacker). If you have an armor unit in reserve after a successful attack, it can make a breakthrough move into the vacated space and attack. As the Warsaw Pact player, you are always hoping to gain and keep momentum as the clock ticks down towards game end.

To say that the outcome of the basic game is mostly governed by luck would be an understatement. If you can manage to roll better than your opponent, you are certainly going to win no matter what decisions you make. There is very little real strategy involved as setup areas are confined to certain areas on the board. The NATO player is especially hamstrung by this as the rules dictate that he must have at least one unit in every space adjacent to the Iron Curtain at setup. It should be noted that there are optional rules to get rid of this setup rule and also to semi-randomize the game's end point with a die roll from the end of turn 4 onwards.

In the basic game, each side gets a limited number of support markers it can use to help out an attack. When you plunk down a support marker, your attacking unit gets to roll two dice for the attack and take the best result. So there is some strategy here but it is kept very light and luck-based.

Having said all that, I loved the basic game. It is a great gateway game to wargaming, especially for younger kids. I played the basic game my first time and I found it to be so light and cheerful with plenty of theme and some very nice components (maybe a little drab compared to today's games but excellent for 1989). I found it a very simple joy to sit and roll die and advance my tanks into West Germany as the Soviet player while trying to keep the Russians at bay as NATO. Part of the fun of the game is that it is meant to be played with hidden information. The units are placed on a stand with their attack values concealed from the enemy player by turning the printed side of the counter away from them. So you never know where your enemy strengths and weaknesses lie.

I admit that I played this solo for my first run-through. When I played the NATO side during each turn, I simply turned the Warsaw Pact counters around and vice versa when I played the Pact. Luckily, I am getting old so I quickly forgot about the combat values of the enemy counters when it came time to switch sides.

Peekaboo! The game is played blind with counters facing away from the enemy player - much like a block game.
After playing lots of complex games, I was worried that I would be bored with Red Storm Rising. I probably would have if there was only the Basic Rules to play with and I were only playing solo. I could definitely see myself playing this with my young son some day, which was my main motivation for getting it.

In my first game, the Soviets managed a breakthrough near Hannover on the first turn. British and Belgian troops managed to keep the Russian tanks from completely getting through by counterattacking against the lead Russian units. However, on turn 2, the Soviets took three more cities. Kiel, Hamburg, and Kassel fell in the north and it looked very bad for NATO. The Soviets only needed one more city for a victory. In the second half of turn 2, NATO counterattacked in the northern sector, mauling several Soviet divisions but failing to take back any of their cities.

The Soviets grab several cities in the northern sector - turn 2.


In turn 3, the Soviets finally achieved the breakthrough they were hoping for in the south, capturing Nurnburg and with enough cities to declare victory if they could hold on to them until the end of turn 4. The West Germans managed to place several reinforcements near Dortmund and moved them west in an organized push. The Soviets tried to consolidate their gains in turn 4, making space around Nurnburg. Although it held into turn 4, the West Germans in the northern sector used their armor to great effect and rolled several "1"s, which destroyed at least 4 Soviet divisions near Kassel. The Brits followed up with a counterattack and the city fell back into NATO's hands. Game Result: Draw.

The Warsaw Pact makes headway into the southern sector (left) while pushing towards Dortmund in the north (right).

Having played through the basic game in about two hours, I decided to try and take on the advanced game. As I mentioned above, the advanced game has several additional bells and whistles. The Land Game introduces assets such as artillery, armor, engineers, and chemical munitions. Artillery and armor increase a unit's attack rating by 1 while engineers allow you to cross rivers without incurring a movement penalty. Chemical munitions increase your attack value rating by 2 but at the cost of losing East German support (all EG pieces are immediately removed from the game when they are used).

The Air/Land Game introduces air units into the game. We get out the air board that splits Central Europe into a northern and southern sector and work out most of the game's air phase here. At the start of each turn, players assign command missions for surveillance aircraft, which can be used to give bonuses to air-to-air combat. Air units on both sides vie for air superiority in a way that is very similar to GDW's Third World War: The Battle for Germany game.  Once you go through the air superiority phase, remaining air units can be assigned to tactical air missions at the start of your side's attack phase. You check an air superiority table and make a roll to see if your tac air unit gets to perform its mission or is shot down or damaged or aborted on the way. You can use tac air to either hit and damage enemy ground units or you can perform interdiction.

Turn 1:

I randomly assigned missions here as I was playing solo. The Pact player assigned two Mainstays to command missions in the northern sector while NATO put AWACs into both sectors.

One of the cool things is that the F-19 can be used to perform a one-time mission at the start of the game to try and shoot down the opposing player's command aircraft and the WP player doesn't even get a chance to fire back or defend their command aircraft in any way. BOOM! Both F-19s scream into East Germany on the first night of the war and shoot down one of their Mainstays. That felt great.

In the air superiority phase, the Pact player lost a considerable number of airplanes. Two MiG-27 squadrons in the northern sector were damaged and aborted while one Su-27 and two MiG-29 squadrons were outright eliminated in the north.  Down in the south, Pact air losses were kept to two MiG-29s. Two Su-27s were damaged and aborted their mission.

NATO air fared well in the northern sector. There were some light losses, including a Dutch F-16 squadron that aborted, while an American F-15 and F-16 squadron and a French F-1 squadron were damaged and aborted. Oddly enough, it was nearly the same in the southern sector with an F-15, F-16 and French F-1 damaged and aborted. No NATO planes in either sector were eliminated.

NATO whittles down the Soviet air force on turn 1.
The Warsaw Pact ground attack phase started and I assigned assets across the front. No real surprises here. I spread out the love with artillery and armor assets given to units attacking towards key target cities like Kassel and Hamburg in the north as well as any units that would be attacking into mountainous or rough terrain in the southern sector.

Hinds, Su-25s, and Hips were sent out in search of ground targets. I tried my best to hit the Danes and the Belgians as hard as possible to pave the way for a northern sector victory. About half of my tac air got shot down on the way to the target since air superiority was contested. Down south, I assigned a Hind, Su-25 and other ground attack aircraft the mission of hitting units near the border closest to Nurnberg. Unfortunately, nearly all Pact air units were shot down or aborted on the way to the target in the southern sector. Two paratroop landings were attempted near Dortmund but both were shot down on the way to target and the units were destroyed.

The Soviet tanks rolled west and, despite the poor start to the air war, they did a nice job of establishing breakthroughs thanks to the liberal use of support markers and assets. Kassel fell to Pact forces on turn 1 and Munich appeared to be left wide open for Soviet forces as a Soviet spearhead worked its way along the northern banks of the Danube.

NATO pulled back its forces in the north to accommodate the Soviets but kept hold of Kiel and Hamburg. NATO air was spent on trying to support a failed attempt at taking back Kassel but A-10s did manage to blunt the Soviet advance west of the city, keeping the Pact forces contained. In the south, NATO air struggled to do any good whatsoever. Several planes were lost on the way to the target and although helicopters were very effective in their attacks, they took losses in turn.

By the end of the turn, NATO was attempting to shore up Nurnburg in the south and putting West German reinforcements in the Ruhr. The French reinforced Strasbourg and sent some armor towards Munich to help keep the Soviets from taking the city unopposed. The Soviets reinforced success by putting several armored divisions near Magdeburg, ready to help with the drive towards the Ruhr.


A look at the front lines near the border at the end of turn 1.

Each side gets air reinforcements. NATO pulls a couple of F-16s and an AWACs while the Soviets get two MiG-23s and an Su-24.

Turn 2

The air war goes badly for the Soviets at the start of the turn.  Much of the Soviet air force is knocked out of the air in the north while it is entirely wiped out in the southern sector. Having said that, NATO has taken higher than expected losses. The Americans have shouldered much of the pain, losing two F-15 squadrons, both Stealth fighters, and several F-16s.

Air board at the end of Air Superiority Combat phase in turn 2. NATO owns the south.

The Soviets went for an even split of tactical aircraft between the two theaters again this time. Most of the air in the north is sent in to support the furthest advances west. Assignment of air assets in the south is evenly split along the front. The Pact player really wants to dislodge more American and West German units along the Czech-German border as the Soviet "breakthrough" down here is more of a trickle of armor rather than a river of angry men and steel.

There are no more artillery assets to assign but there is still plenty of armor and engineers to go around. Most of the available assets are assigned to the northern sector. Engineers are assigned to the mechanized infantry divisions northeast of Kassel in hopes of prying open the NATO defense around the lead elements of the northern advance.

Soviet 39 Guards, 3rd Shock and East German 7th Armored get fresh assets: start of Turn 2

The Pact player starts rolling for his attacks in the north, checking the results of each air mission on a particular space prior to hitting it with land forces.  The Danes retreat from Kiel and lose the city while Hamburg holds on against repeated assaults. Some air gets through but it is mostly ineffective.

The real surprise comes when the 39th Guards MRD completely annihilates a strength 4 British armored unit defending in the forests north of Kassel. The linchpin of NATO's defense in the northern sector is completely gone in a surprise victory for the Pact player. To both players' astonishment, the way to the Ruhr is now wide open!

In the south, every single Pact aircraft (save for two) assigned to tactical air missions is either shot down or mission aborted (most are shot down) by NATO fighters. There are a couple of minor NATO retreats along the inter-German border but the front is largely stabilized down here at this point.

By the end of the Pact movement phase, the Soviets have taken Dortmund and things are looking very bad for NATO indeed as several key German cities are in easy reach of the Soviets. It is staring to look like an unqualified disaster for NATO. Probably should have used some aircraft for interdiction. Oops!

Looking west...Soviet units have reached the Ruhr. The north is in peril.

During the NATO move phase, West German and British units are rushed back west to help try and stop the bleeding in the northern sector. West German paratroops land in Dortmund and US 101st also lands in the city to help secure it. NATO tactical air is mostly ineffective here but the West Germans manage to destroy a large East German "5 strength division south of Dortmund with the help of A-10s.

In the south, NATO tactical air has pretty much free reign to do whatever it wants since NATO has air superiority in this sector.  NATO attempts a counterattack into East Germany with a mechanized infantry and armored division. By the end of the turn, they are threatening Leipzig, much to the Soviets' dismay.

NATO reinforcements come online at the end of the turn and we get a Belgian infantry division, French tank division, and a US division. The Americans are placed in Ostebruck while the Belgians are placed west of the cities of the Ruhr. The Soviets get three mech infantry divisions, two of which are placed near Leipzig and two of which go near Magdeburg. East German cities near the NATO breakthrough look quite secure.

For air reinforcements, NATO gets an French Jaguar (attack value 4 for tactical air use), a Belgian Alphajet and a West German F-4 squadron (both of whom are attack value 4).  Not a minute too soon, the Soviets get another Mainstay AWACs and a couple fighter squadrons (Mig-23 and Mig-21 both with yellow air attack rating of 3).  I wouldn't exactly say that the Soviets are back in the game for the air war but they might be able to keep their hold on one of the sectors next turn if they don't get too greedy and dilute their existing airpower by spreading it out across both sectors.

End of Turn 2


Turn 3

The turn started off with the Pact player facing a decision - either place two AWACs in one sector or spread them out and risk an attack on them by NATO aircraft. Interceptors were running low for the Soviets so they played it safe and put both Mainstay command aircraft in the north. Of course, NATO was amply supplied with its own AWACs and put two in each sector.

The Warsaw Pact failed to shoot down any full strength NATO planes though it did manage a couple of aborts and finished off a damaged squadron or two. Most NATO aircraft were fighting in the south with only a handful of jets in the north. Still, the fighters in the north fended off the worst of the Soviet attacks and had a single Alphajet in the sector by the end of the air superiority combat phase, which left the skies contested. The Soviets had absolutely no luck in the south but NATO couldn't manage to do much either. The result was a contested southern sector and both sides were left fuming and frustrated by the end of the phase.

NATO finally got wise and assigned several planes to interdiction this turn. Tactical aircraft swept across the areas east of Dortmund in hopes of slowing the Pact's advance to the Ruhr. In the south, NATO helos were sent to interdict any enemy troops headed towards Nurnburg. However, poor rolling on the air superiority table ended up removing pretty much all NATO tactical aircraft in the south.

During the attack phase, the Pact has some very nice success all across the board. In the south, the Soviets and Czechs take Nurnburg. In the far north, Hamburg and Hannover are taken next. The WP has a total of six German cities under its boot - one more than is required for victory. Two tank divisions manage a breakthrough near the center of the map and nearly reach Frankfurt during the move phase. The Soviets manage to miraculously get an airmobile unit into Dortmund to help hang on to their precious gain.

Things starting to look desperate for NATO now.


NATO is left reeling and scrambles to put together a counterattack near Nurnburg while Belgians and US airmobile units and paratroopers move into the West German cities west of the Rhine. NATO manages to take back Nurnburg in its planned counterattack. The last NATO unit (a Dutch infantry unit) pulls back across the Elbe. There is an US armored unit and infantry unit running around in the Pact rear through East Germany. If it can take an East German city, the Soviet margin of victory will be seriously reduced. The Soviets are forced to park their reinforcements in Magdeburg and near other East German cities to help prevent this.


Turn 4

One of the things about playing this game solo is that you have to randomize certain parts of the game because so much of it is double blind. The way I get around this in the air phase of each turn is to basically consider myself as a ground theater commander making a request to the air force commanders for allocation of resources to a certain sector. This influences a d6 roll to determine where each plane gets sent. So if the NATO ground commander wants air primarily assigned to the northern sector, for example, a given aircraft will be sent there on a d6 roll of 1-4. Otherwise, it goes to the south. This has worked very well for me so far during the game and has kept things interesting (and sometimes frustrating). This turn was no different.

In the northern sector, NATO assigns six squadrons of aircraft while 5 go to the southern sector. I actually was trying to get more aircraft sent south but the die roll leaned north instead. The Pact commander also requested forces in the south and largely got what he wanted. Three squadrons are assigned northern sector and 5 are sent south.

Northern and Southern sector air superiority assignments (before tac air assignments)


The results of air combat were not too surprising. NATO completely wiped out the Pact forces in the north and gained air superiority in the sector. It had less success in the south, where it lost a Belgian F-16 and suffered a damaged British F-4. The southern sector remained contested.

Frustratingly, the Pact air commander insisted on sending the bulk of tactical air to the northern sector where it would likely be shredded by NATO interceptors. The Soviets debate a bit about using chemical munitions for what may be the final turn of the game It ends on a roll of 7 to 10 at the end of this turn. If not, the same roll is made each subsequent turn. The East Germans, however, are holding in and around some key cities in the north so whatever short term gains might be made with chemical munitions would probably be lost due to lack of manpower. The war is going well for the Soviets so far so it makes no sense.

Three WP tactical aircraft are assigned to attack Dusseldorf while two attack Bremen. Amazingly, two tactical aircraft (both Su-24s) make it through NATO's air screen and attack Dusseldorf, inflicting a hit on the defending West German paratroopers defending the city. Soviet infantry invades the city from nearby Dortsmund and eliminate them shortly afterwards. The tip of the Soviet invasion has now reached the east bank of the Rhine. An East German armored division attacks Bremen and manages a success, sending the defending Dutch retreating. Seven German cities are now in the hands of the Pact player. The only good news for NATO commanders is that the planned attack on Frankfurt fails miserably.

Pact forces double up their defenses on each of their captured cities during their movement phase. Taking back anything will be a tough nut to crack. NATO maneuvers a few units around the tip of the Soviet spear and send a West German armored division and a US infantry and armored division to take back Dusseldorf and Dortmund. The West German counterattack fails but the US infantry lays a beating on the defending Soviet infantry in the city. The Soviets lose a defending unit and tactical air manages a hit on the defending armored unit but the city is still held by the Russians at the end of the turn.

Soviets push through all the way to the Rhine. 


US infantry across the Rhine attack into Dusseldorf, scoring a die roll that matches their attack rating value. The Soviets decide to soak up the damage and stubbornly remain there.  Another "Hail Mary" attack from the Danes manages to dislodge the Soviets temporarily from Hannover but a retreating Soviet tank division falls back into the city to secure it.

A few counterattacks are attempted in the south but NATO cannot seem to get anything going here. It seems the front has stabilized mostly around Nurnberg. French reinforcements arrive near Frankfurt to help with the city's defense.

End of Turn 4: NATO counterattacks...but it isn't enough.


We roll to see if the game is over and a "10" is rolled. With seven NATO cities in Soviet hands, the Russians have won with an overwhelming victory.

Conclusion:

I really enjoyed Red Storm Rising. It was deeper than I thought it would be. Although the basic game is ruled almost entirely by the luck of the die, the advanced game offers both players some interesting decisions like air and asset allocation, which plays a very influential role on the overall outcome of the war. For a light wargame, I think Red Storm is just the right balance of fun and strategy with a nice theme on top of it. For anyone wanting anything even slightly deeper, VG's NATO: The Next War in Europe is what you are looking for.

In terms of balance, I think NATO has a very tough job of it going into this game because of the setup rules. Luckily, there are optional setup rules that allow for the NATO player to pick and choose where to deploy his initial units. On the other hand, NATO air ratings are way better than Pact air units and a decent player would have probably gained air superiority more quickly than I did in my game. I also didn't use NATO aircraft for interdiction until turn 3. A smarter allocation of air resources might have halted the Soviet thrust towards the Ruhr. I could have also assigned planes to attack Warsaw Pact assets. If I played this again, I would send a plane at anything that had an engineer attached to it because those assets basically nullified my river defense strategy.

I made a couple of house rules during my game, which I would state below:

1.) Units cannot retreat into cities captured by the enemy, even if they are vacant. Units can always retreat into friendly-captured cities no matter what.

2.) If a unit's attack rating is reduced to 1 or less, it cannot destroy an enemy unit on a roll of 1. Instead, the attack is treated as if the roll was equal to the attacker's combat value. That means the enemy unit can either retreat or opt to remain in its location and take a hit.

I can see pulling this thing out when my son gets older and giving it a go. It's probably one of the best beer & pretzels (or coke & chips) game I've played in a long time. It is a very nice entry-level wargame that has all the basic ideas (breakthrough, asset allocation, maneuver) of a deeper wargame in there. What's more, you can play this through in a single sitting. I would recommend Red Storm Rising to anyone interested in a game with this kind of theme and weight to it.