Sunday, September 30, 2012

Firepower: Sino-Soviet Border Wars 1969 - Part II

Tonight, I was playing around a bit more with Firepower and I started to realize how massive the system gets after you add in vehicles and all the other optional rules.  So I set up a little scenario, again based on the Sino-Soviet border clashes in 1969.  This time, I took our old Soviet MRD squad from the last scenario and pitted them against an coordinated assault from a Chinese MRD team with a combat vehicle.

Here's what I made for a homebrew scenario.  It's nothing special but it gave me a better grasp of the rules.

Background:

The Chinese are trying to spark a border incident with the nearby Soviet army on the north bank of a small river branch that divides the border between the USSR and China.  This fictional scenario takes place in a village so tiny and remote that it doesn't even show up on any maps.

Forces:

1 x Group 8 Chinese Motorized Infantry Squad.  You can play with them dismounted if you don't like vehicles.  I wanted to try the vehicle rules so I opted to use it.  I also wanted to experiment with indirect fire and mortars, so I took out one RFL and the MPL soldier and replaced them with a MTR6 (w/ 3MTR6AMO) and another soldier with a pistol to act as an additional crew member for the mortar team.

K63 Chinese APC:  Courtesy National War College



1 x Group 8 Soviet Motorized Rifle Squad.  Feel free to use the Soviet Airborne squad if you like playing with better trained or smaller units.

Objectives:

The Soviets get 1 VP for each Chinese soldier eliminated or removed from play.  They get 4 VPs for eliminating any enemy vehicles (if any are in play).

The Chinese get 1 VP for each Soviet soldier eliminated or removed from play.  They get 1 VP for each building (not including the pillbox) they occupy at the end of the scenario.


Number of Turns:

After the 6th turn, roll a d10 after the Morale Phase.  If the result is less than the current turn number, the scenario ends.  Otherwise, keep playing normally.

Map Setup and Special Rules:


Map setup is as follows:



The road on board 2 that divides the board from left to right is actually a shallow river with banks on either side that are "4" in height.  The river depth is about 3 feet (45 inches).  There are two log bridges over the river on board 2.  One bridge runs from I5 and I4.  The other bridge runs from V7 and V6.  These bridges cannot be traversed by vehicles.

The roads on board 1 do not exist.  They are clear terrain.

Ten minutes ago, the Chinese fired artillery shells at the Soviet side of the border.  As a result, the Chinese player may place  (1d10)  craters anywhere on board 2 before the Soviets deploy their forces and after they have placed a pillbox.  Crater units must be placed according to the rules as outlined in 8.7.

Before the crater units are placed, the Soviets get a pillbox that they can place anywhere on the left bank of the river on board 2.  After the craters are placed, the Soviets can place the rest of their units on the west (left) bank of the river on boards 2 and 3.

The Chinese enter anywhere from the east (right side) of Board 1.

Standard terrain values and heights apply.

The Chinese get one free impulse with which to start the game.

The Soviets are under orders to wait until the Chinese open fire before they are allowed to engage the Chinese.  The Soviets may move but cannot be the first to fire in this scenario.  Once the Chinese open fire during their impulse, the Soviet is free to engage the Chinese at will.

Notes:  Feel free to modify in any way you see fit.  My goal here was to basically see how vehicles worked in the game and to have a straight-up firefight between two forces.  It's not necessarily a great scenario but it's there for those who want to take the plunge and check out the vehicle rules to the game.

Friday, September 28, 2012

LnL: Forgotten Heroes - Tread Heads: Post-Ambush Aftermath

For the past week, I've been reporting on a playthrough of "Tread Heads", a scenario from Lock 'n Load Publishing's Forgotten Heroes: Vietnam. This scenario features an NVA ambush of a US armored column. In my last write-up, I detailed the many and myriad ways that the NVA thoroughly ruined the American's day in turn 5 after springing an ambush that destroyed an M-48 tank and caused the Americans to abandon an M-113.



So the U.S. has taken some heavy casualties in the initial ambush.  Here's what happened next.

At the start of the next turn, Anders and Jensen dismount from their respective vehicles and head for the cover of the jungle to the east.


However, as the US officers and their squads start pulling back, the NVA fire on the next M-113 in the column, causing it too to become abandoned.  Half of the American vehicles are now disabled, destroyed or abandoned.


In the southwest of the village, the lead M-113 and the M-48 tank previously being used as a recon vehicle turn around, and start firing at the NVA from the south.  The remaining US forces are split up as the middle of the column is disabled.   The American officers (Jenson and Anders) are way up near the tail end of the column in the northwest.


My tactical error in assigning men to the convoy units is revealed.  The leaders were all riding in the back so now there's a lone US squad down in the southwest fighting for dear life.



With few options left, the lone US squad advances north on the nearest group of NVA soldiers and enters melee with an NVA unit shaken up by M-48 tank fire.  The squad is now adjacent to a lone NVA sniper who has been causing havoc on the battlefield.




On the next turn, the NVA sniper fires away at the adjacent Americans, causing casualties and shaking the unit.  



On the next turn, Lt. Khai moves south with his squad and they eliminate the American squad.Lt. Khai's other squad moves towards the abandoned M113 and melee's the crew, eliminating it as well.  The US is taking heavy casualties.



By turn 8, things start looking up a bit for the US. Lt. Jenson makes a crazy charge at Lt. Thien and his squad, who miss the Americans as they advance towards them.  Instead of charging into melee, Jenson gets close enough to direct M-48 tank fire on Lt. Thien.  An NVA squad near Thien fires an RPG-2 at the US tank but the shot goes wide.  The M-48 fires on Thien and shakes up the NVA officer and his men.  The next turn, the NVA are unable to rally so Jenson and his squad eliminate them in melee.  This is a good example of really nice coordination of movement and fire between the tank and the American squad.



In the turns following the ambush, Anders has carefully approached Lt. Khai's initial position from the jungle cover to the east.  The NVA, however, have largely moved out of the northern village area so Anders decides to mop up any remaining NVA units and flush out the sniper.  As Anders and his men try to get closer to the sniper's position, the American officer is shot and wounded.



The US decides that it has had enough.  Jenson mounts the M-113 and after eliminating Lt. Thien earlier.  They head for the exit point off the map.

Well, maybe "hop inside" would be more accurate.
At the end of turn 10, an M-48 and a loaded M-113 leave the board, scoring multiple VPs for the Americans.


Lt. Anders remains behind with an M-48 down south.  Anders is wounded but determined to mop up the remaining NVA forces.  Turn 10 ends and the scenario is over.


The final tally is 23 for the NVA (3 vehicles abandoned plus six American squads eliminated while the US gets 20 VPs (2 vehicles exit the board [8]  plus Jenson and his squad [4] and 8 points worth of NVA squads/leaders eliminated).

The Americans sprang back pretty quickly despite the ferocity of the NVA ambush but the column placement really hamstrung them because the leaders were at the tail end and a couple of surviving squads were in the lead vehicles.  It was hard to mount an effective offense from south of the village with no leaders but the lone American squad down south did an admirable job of eliminating a pesky NVA unit that was wreaking havoc on American troops and vehicles alike.  The NVA did a nice job of covering each other with interlocking fields of fire and this really prevented the Americans from escaping the trap.  I don't know if the US could have avoided losing half the convoy vehicles.

Another way you could play this scenario as the NVA is to have both platoons set up two separate ambushes on the US.  One of the platoons could hit the Americans as they enter the village and the other could set up further down the trail and hit them as they try to leave the map.  Alternately, the NVA could pull back after the initial hit on the convoy and strike them again after the Americans reorganize with the remaining vehicles, turning the scenario into a pursuit.

I believe that the placement of vehicles within the convoy was actually pretty decent and helped significantly in at least minimizing US troop losses.  The lead vehicles managed to get off some shots that shook up the NVA on their flanks while the rear vehicles used their fire to support Jenson in his successful attempt to eliminate Lt. Thien and his platoon.  The key to good convoy placement is to provide enough strength at the front and back and to separate those vehicles a bit from the main elements.  This allows them to move in and serve as a reaction force to disrupt the ambushers.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

LnL: Forgotten Heroes - Tread Heads - The Ambush

In LnL's Forgotten Heroes:  Vietnam scenario "Tread Heads", the NVA spring an ambush on an approaching American armored column.  The past couple of posts have featured a breakdown of how each side prepared for the fight.  Now it's time to sit back and watch how it all panned out.  In this post, I'll focus on the lead-up to the ambush as well as the ambush itself.

One of the things you quickly learn in LnL games is that one placement or setup decision that is a bit off can determine the whole course of the scenario.  That proved to be the case here as well, but I'll get into that a bit later.  For now, we'll talk about Turns 1 through 4 in this 10 turn scenario.

On Turn 1, the convoy enters with the lead tank 5 hexes in front of the main body of the column.



A couple of turns later, the NVA lets the lead US tank go by without firing a shot.  The main prize approaches.



The main body approaches with an M-113 in front, an M-48 behind it, followed by two M-113s packed with troops inside.  An M-48 (not shown) hangs back in the rear, waiting for trouble to start.



On Turn 4, the main body of the convoy enters the village and the NVA opens up.  Lt. Thien gives the order to a squad with an RPG-2 and it opens fire, missing the nearby M-113.  Luckily for the NVA, however, small arms fire shakes up the M-113.


Lt. Khai's RPG-2 squad up north, however, has even more luck.  It fires at the rear of the M-48 from the main convoy, destroying it and eliminating the squad riding atop.  


Oops!  Helicopter wreck counter should be tank wreck counter.

Khai orders another squad with an RPD to fire at the shaken M-113.  They roll another shaken result, which causes the APC crew to abandon the vehicle.  The US squad riding inside the APC also decides to get out while the gettin' out is good and they remain shaken in the same hex as the crew.



Another squad fires at the passengers riding atop the lead recon vehicle on the road outside the village and shakes up the US squad, which dismounts in a panic.  As the end of Turn 4 approaches, Lt. Thien delivers the NVA coup de grace, sending out one last squad to melee the shaken US Army squad, eliminating it and the M113 crew.



And so the trap was sprung and the initial count at the end of Turn 4 is:  2 eliminated American vehicles, 2 eliminated US Army squads and an M-113 crew.  That's a total of 14 victory points so far. It's not a bad result for the NVA since 1/3 of the US column is now eliminated and the Vietnamese have suffered no losses. However, there are still six turns left for the US to recover and get out of the trap.

I'll be posting the results of Turns 5 through 10 in the coming days.


Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Firepower - Sino-Soviet Border War, 1969 - The Lost Patrol

I've been learning the Basic and Advanced rules of Firepower lately, which is no small feat.  The Basic rules are pretty straightforward but when you move into the Advanced and Optional rules, things get pretty heavy going.  I made a little scenario based on the Sino-Soviet border clashes that happened during the 1960s.  Since I'm playing this thing solo and just starting out trying to get a handle on the rules, I've made a couple of simple short scenarios that are admittedly one sided just to show off the craziness that can happen in this game.

For those who aren't familiar with the Avalon Hill 1984 offering, Firepower was an attempt at simulating individual mano-e-mano combat on the battlefield.  The rulebook is chalk full of rules for every situation imaginable (want to pry open a tank hatch or break down a locked door?  No problem - it's in there) and there are scenario guidelines for making your own battle, complete with a list of squad compositions of over 40 major countries.  There are also dozens, if not hundreds of weapons included along with stats and charts for all of them.  It was an ambitious project and I can't say whether or not it succeeded as a simulation but it's definitely fun to play. The game is based on chit-pull and impulses.  Once a side pulls their own chit, they get two impulses, which usually means that you can activate two soldiers to perform a basic action or two (go prone and fire, for example), depending on how you stack your guys and use your leaders.

The Setup

In this scenario, a squad of green PRC recruits is patrolling the Sino-Soviet border in 1969.  Tensions are high thanks to the Zhenbao Island (which the Soviets claimed as "Damansky Island") incident earlier that year.  A lot of people think the border clashes were due to Mao Zedong trying to signal to the US that there was a split between China and the Soviet Union.  I tend to believe that it had more to do with the fact that Mao saw the writing on the wall for Vietnam and was concerned about having a Soviet client state on his southern border, which made him want to expand to the north.  Anyway, I'm wandering off-topic here.

The Chinese squad is sent out early in the morning on June 12th, 1969 and wanders down the road, gets hopelessly lost, and unintentionally crosses the unmarked border at some point, while trying to find the way back to base an hour later.  The Soviets are patrolling this area of the border and although they aren't expecting trouble, they end up bumping into the Chinese squad.  Both sides are surprised and a short skirmish follows. I played four turns of the game, which amounts to less than a minute of game time.

Soviet and Chinese squads

The Soviets, having better leadership, have four chits in the cup while the Chinese only get three.  The Soviets also have three leaders in the squad (Captain, Sgt, and an Assistant Squad Leader) while the Chinese only have two.  The Chinese, however, have 13 guys in their squad while the Russians only get 9 men.

The Soviet squad is from a Motorized Rifle Division and gets two light machine guns (RPK), an RPG-2, and the rest of the squad gets AK-47s (with one AKM submachine gun).  The Chinese have one light machine gun (Chinese version of the RPD), a guy with a mortar, one man with a pistol (assigned as part of the mortar crew) and the rest have Chinese version AK-47 rifles (Type 56).

One of the cool things about Firepower is that you actually get to name all the soldiers in the squads, roll up their individual statistics (such as weapon skills, driving ability, motivation, you name it) and even promote them within the squad.  So all of these soldiers are fleshed out quite a bit, which should make for an interesting AAR.

The AAR

The Chinese squad, hopelessly lost and having accidentally crossed into the Soviet Union 5 minutes ago, wanders down a dirt trail believing that it is returning to base. Pvt. Lin (25) and Pvt. Gao (5) are in the lead.  They move at three hexes per turn in a column.  They aren't running but Lt. Cheng (23) is trying to rush them along a bit, hoping to find familiar territory.



The Soviets are patrolling near the edge of a village on their side of the border, not expecting to run into any trouble on this sunny morning.  Pvt.  Cherkesov (18) is on point.




The Chinese round the bend, the officer, Lt. Cheng (23) silently puzzling over a map as the squad continues the march.



Just as the Chinese clear the outskirts of the village, they are spotted by the Soviet point man, Private Cherkesov (18), who is surprised and lets off a couple of hurried shots at the Chinese squad.


The Chinese know they are in trouble as the bullets whiz by.  Frozen in panic, they are unable to immediately respond to the sudden appearance of a lone Soviet soldier.


The Soviets officer starts sending men forward into position to hit the Chinese.  Pvt. Ivanov (23) climbs up the steep hill nearby to find a shot with his RPG-2.  Kuzmin (5) turns the corner of the building and opens up with his RPD at the Chinese squad.


Pvt Gao is suppressed by Kuzmin's automatic fire.  The rest of the squad is too stunned to respond.  Lt. Cheng is still checking his map!



The Soviet assistant squad leader, Sergeant Buryshkin, runs around the flank then climbs over a fence.


Lt. Cheng finally pulls himself together and orders his men to hit the dirt!  Everyone goes prone and hopes the Soviets will stop firing or that someone - anyone -  will do something!


Cheng (23) orders Pvt. Lin (25) to the nearby tree while he himself gets further off the trail, hoping that the rest of the squad will see him and start spreading out.  Lin crouches on the right side of the tree and starts firing back at the Soviets.


Lin sprays automatic fire at Kuzmin, the Soviet machine-gunner, who is standing out in the open and drawing considerable attention to himself.  Kuzmin is hit and wounded.


The Soviets use their remaining impulses for the turn.  Sgt. Buryshhkin keeps sprinting towards the Chinese group with a plan in mind.


Meanwhile, the Soviets respond to the loss of their first machine gunner by ordering the second machine gunner, Dmitriev (1) to the top of the hill near the village.


Sgt. Buryskhin runs up towards the prone Chinese squad, surprising everyone and throwing a grenade at the nearest Chinese soldier.


The grenade lands one hex further than intended but that's okay.  It lands right beside the mortar team, Pvt. Wang (20) and Liang (30).  Wang tries to scoop up the grenade and toss it away but as he lifts it, the grenade explodes, killing him and stunning Liang.



Dmietriev (1) goes prone and sets up his bipod atop the hill.  He starts spraying at the prone Chinese squad 60 yards away.  Due to his bipod, he can fire at three adjacent hexes so naturally, this is going to hurt bad for the Chinese.



But although the first few shots suppress Cpl. Wu (32), the RPD jams, giving the Chinese a reprieve.


The Soviet sergeant, figuring that there is a fine line between bravery and stupidity, runs behind a nearby hill and out of the Chinese line of sight.


On the last turn, Dmitriev unjams the RPD and goes to town, firing at the prone Chinese squad, killing Cpl. Wu and Pvt. Yao (14).  The Chinese have lost three men so they lose an activation chit.  They are down to 2 chits on the last turn with three men dead.  Things are not looking good for them.


Determined to get back at the Soviets, Pvt. Feng (31) chases after the Soviet sergeant who is crouched behind the nearby hill.  Feng rounds the corner and squeezes off two shots at Sgt. Buryshkin, missing him completely.


On the other side of the hill, Pvt. Lin (25) shoots and kills Pvt. Cherkesov (18) standing out in the open.  The Chinese are not going down without a fight.


At 25 yards, there's no way Soviet Sergeant Buryshkin can miss Pvt. Feng (31).  Buryshkin lifts his AK-47 to fire at the young private.  With a broad grin and certain aim, he pulls the trigger.  "CLICK"  The AK is jammed.


Turn 4 ends and the Chinese have lost the engagement.  Three of their squad are dead while the Russians have one wounded machine gunner and a dead rifleman.

Conclusion:  I definitely made a couple of mistakes here and there with the rules but nothing too bad.  This was actually a really good learning scenario and despite the seeming turkey-shoot nature of it, the Chinese actually did okay and almost gave as good as they got.

There were so many crazy things happening, especially with the machine guns and the grenades.  One thing that the two impulses per chit pull forces you to think about is how to get all of your guys engaged in the fight.  This means stacking soldiers together in the same hex, using your squad leaders and spending your time wisely.  One thing that the game tries to model is the fact that not everyone in combat is always firing back at the enemy and maneuvering for a better line of fire.  It tries to show that quite often, a couple of people ("natural fighters") actually do most of the fighting and determine the outcome while others might actually do nothing at all except take cover.  This was definitely reflected in this scenario although I'm sure in a longer game, I could probably get more of the soldiers engaged in the fight.  As I mentioned previously, this game represented around 30 to 40 seconds of actual time in an engagement.  Great game!

Update:  Apologies to the Kalashnikov enthusiasts.  I am aware they seldom jam and this is modeled in the game stats for the AK-47.  However, as you can see in the last photo, I rolled a result that had a 1 in 100 chance of occurring.  Buryshkin should have cleaned his weapon better this morning!

Sunday, September 23, 2012

LnL Forgotten Heroes: Vietnam - Tread Heads - The Convoy

Yesterday, I talked about setup for the NVA ambush in the scenario "Tread Heads" from Forgotten Heroes:  Vietnam.  Basically, the US player rolls through three map boards with six vehicles (three M-113s and three M-48s) mounted with infantry.  The Americans cannot spot the NVA ambush unless they move adjacent to the NVA or are fired upon (or, of course from movement).

Taking this into account, the NVA set up slightly away from the road, sacrificing accuracy for surprise.

Attempting to set up an effective convoy that you know is going to get ambushed is no small proposition.  I tried to follow some of the basic principles from this website on convoy vulnerability.

First off, heavy armor should always serve as an advance guard in the convoy to detect ambushes.  Since we only have three tanks to play with here, that means that one of the M-48s will be going ahead of the convoy.

Secondly, the rear guard of the convoy should also be heavy armor.  Right, another M48 goes in the back.

Every third or fourth vehicle in the convoy should be heavy armor.  Okay, our last M48 goes right in the middle of the main body of the convoy.

So that's:

Lead vehicle (recon):  M48  *5 hexes ahead of main body* (2-6-4 riding on top)

Main body:
M113 (2-6-4 squad inside)
M48  (2-6-4 on top)
M113 (Medic and 2-6-4 w/ LAW anti-tank inside)
M113 (Lt. Anders, 2-6-4 w/ M-60 LMG inside)

Rear guard:  M48  *4 hexes behind main body* (Lt. Jenson, 2-6-4 w/ M-60 riding on top)

M-48 lead vehicle (left) w/ 2-6-4 passengers.  M-48 main body vehicle (right) w/2-6-4 passengers.

Rear guard armor M-48 tank w/ Jenson and squads (left) and main body lead M-113 w/ 2-6-4 squad inside.

A medic and a 2-6-4 squad will ride inside the M-113 (third vehicle in main body of the convoy) while Lt. Anders and squad will ride inside the last vehicle in the main body.

Having the vehicles spread out slightly with a rear and advance guard should give the US player enough time to respond to any ambush after the initial damage is done. However, there is a tactical mistake being made here in our convoy plans, which will play out later in the coming turns.  Can you spot the error?

I'll be posting the results in a couple of days.

LnL: Forgotten Heroes - Tread Heads: Ambush Setup

"Tread Heads" is a nice scenario from LnL's "Forgotten Heroes: Vietnam" whereby a group of NVA have to nail a US convoy coming through a small village.  At first, it seems a bit of a turkey shoot.  The US has a group of six armored vehicles traveling in a single file convoy.  The NVA can't be spotted until they open fire or a US tank is adjacent to them.

I tried this scenario earlier with some disastrous results for the US when they pushed through the village with no recon vehicle in the lead.  I tried it a second time with a recon vehicle, which managed to ferret out the NVA quite early as they had set up units adjacent to the road.  The main body of the convoy just stopped, leisurely disembarked their men and took on the NVA with full armor support.  

This time, I'm trying something a little different to test out some better tactics to see if I can get a closer game out of it.  

I set up the NVA in the village on board 2 again but this time, I put them a little bit further off the road so they can't be detected by any US recon vehicles.  The NVA plan is to let any recon vehicles pass by and then nail the main body of the US armored column.  

The US gets three M113 armored personnel carriers and three M48 tanks.  The infantry starts off embarked and the American vehicles must move in a single file column until the NVA open fire or are otherwise detected.

Here are a few pics of the convoy and its passengers.  There are two leaders and 6 US Army squads.





Considering the last scenario was a cakewalk for the US due to its use of a lead vehicle to recon the village, the NVA opts to set up further off the road in the light jungle and bamboo huts.  It's not as much protection as the heavy buildings but it keeps everyone hidden until the trap is ready to be sprung.

The NVA also have 2 leaders and 6 NVA squads.  Lt. Thien sets up with his platoon and an RPG-2 near the center of the village where the US vehicles must pass by.



Lt. Khai sets up a bit further north.  Again, he has an RPG-2 ready to fire towards the convoy as it comes from the east down the road.  Both leaders are set up on the eastern outskirts of the village, hoping to hit the main body of the convoy.  The M113s have very little armor, so they will be the main targets of the ambush. Any lead vehicles will be allowed to pass through so as to avoid detection.  The NVA player will even allow the lead vehicle to exit the map (and thus net the US player 4 victory points) if it means a better chance at hitting those APCs.



Here's the final setup.  The NVA have placed themselves in good cover and await the US convoy.



This gave me a good setup with nice interlocking fields of fire.




Next up:  The Convoy Setup.