Sunday, December 30, 2012

AAR: Texas Hold 'Em - Homebrew Scenario

About a week or so ago, I posted a homebrew scenario I had made using the All Things Zombie maps with the Heroes of the Gap counters.   After lots and lots of playtesting, I think I've finally gotten it to the point where it's balanced out a bit.

Briefly put, the Soviet player gets the Nicaraguan forces from Line of Fire 12 along with the Spetsnaz against the might of a few defenders from the Texas Army National Guard and a group of grim but heavily armed and determined police and civilians.  The scenario takes place during the Soviet invasion of the United States and the Russians are trying to capture the police station and a military command installation in the town of Chaparalle Falls, TX.

As shown on the map below, the two objective hexes are indicated by a black circle while the Nicaraguan approach is signified by the purple arrow and the Spetsnaz landing spots are indicated by the red box at the top of the map.  Note that the Nicaraguans are allowed to enter from any hex on the west side of the map and the Soviet Spetsnaz can be parachuted absolutely anywhere on the map - the image below just shows my approach for this game.

The American sets up first, with the two Army National Guard squads in the center of the map, defending H9 and H11.  Meanwhile down south, the police and civvies (represented by the 2-5-4 German squad counter) barricade the police station and sit tight, waiting for the attackers.

The Soviet Spetsnaz parachute in on the northern outskirts of the town.  Although some of them land a bit off course, everyone ends up okay.

To the west, the Nicaraguans led by Lt. Chamoro, move into the large building complex across the street from the police station.

By the end of turn 1, one of the US squads moves one street over, hoping to catch any Soviets that try to come straight down the street.

By turn 2, the US gets an M113 on the board after the Russians start moving south towards the Army National Guard positions.

The US player is trying to keep the Russians from moving through the buildings, which offer excellent cover, and instead try to approach through the open towards H9, which would not end well for them.

As the Russians creep down, the nearby M113 pivots and fires at Maj. Petrov, but ends up with the creation of a hero, Drago.

Immediately afterwards, a lone Soviet squad attempts to close assault the M113 adjacent to them, but fail in their attempt.

The US gets a Cobra helo for support, which swoops down at the end of turn 3 for a shot at the Soviet squad near the M113.  Unfortunately, it misses completely and speeds off the board.

Down in the south, near the police station, the Nicaraguans take a beating as they approach the nearby police station.

Finally, Maj. Petrov and his men (along with hero Drago) have made their way to the bungalow across the street from the National Guard installation.

The M113 pivots again, this time to fire at the adjacent Spetsnaz squad.  Unfortuanately for it, however, the Spetsnaz manage to shake it up as they pour fire on the exposed crew.  The APC buttons up and hopes for the best.

Maj. Petrov sends Drago out on the next turn to assault the US position.  The Americans hammer on poor Drago as he crosses the street, even firing 40mm grenades at him.  Only his "Lucky Man" card manages to keep him from being killed.

On the next turn, the wounded Drago gets to his feet and makes his way into the building with the Americans. A fierce melee ensues and, amid the confusion, both Drago and the US squad are eliminated.

Maj. Petrov follows up with an assault but Lt. Moore wipes out most of the Spetsnaz squad as it nears the building.

This does not stop Sgt. Trinov, however, who sneaks into the building during the confusion and enters close range melee with the Americans.  Trinov and his Spetsnaz quickly eliminate the Americans and the first objective is taken.  All that stands between victory is the police station. With only two turns left in the game, however, time is short.

With no time left to lose, Lt. Chamoro charges the police station head on and loses two squads in the process. Hoping for a miracle that never came, Chamoro lays wounded and sprawled near the parking lot.

Sgt. Trinov and his men spend the second last turn double-timing down to the police station and get more of the same.  Unfortunately for the Americans, a Soviet hero is created, Yuri.

And on the last turn, the Soviets win initiative. Yuri rallies the shaken Spetsnaz squad and they enter melee with the adjacent Americans in the police station.  The US player eliminates the Spetsnaz squad but the civilians and police are killed as well.  All that's left to claim the second Soviet objective is Drago.

Turn 7 is over and the Soviets hold Chaparalle Falls, Texas.


After tweaking this one for a long time, I think I've found a sort of balance with it.  My original scenario had US and Soviet tanks in the mix but it never seemed to come out right.  This is one of those scenarios where it looks at first like the Americans are simply going to be overwhelmed by numbers and melee firepower but there are several factors that serve to balance this out.  First, the US has fewer squads but much more firepower in their Army National Guard squads (an M-60, LAW, and 2 40mm grenade launchers).  Second, the M113 APC adds some advantage for the US if you can keep it away from the Soviet player's squads (obviously I didn't do a good job of this in the above playthrough).  Finally, the AH-1 helo is one of those wildcards that can show up to help the US a bit.

I think the key here for the Americans is not to sit around with the Army National Guard and to use their Assault Movement to catch the Soviets as they move around town or to fall back and give up defending the H9 objective in favor of working with the police and civvies to defend the police station.  For the Soviets, it's essential to stay indoors and it couldn't hurt to have the Nicaraguans and Spetsnaz link up for joint assaults on one American objective at a time.  Since the Nicaraguans can enter any hex on the west side of the map, it would have been just as easy to have them enter in the northern part of the map and use them to help push for the H9 objective.

Monday, December 24, 2012

Into The Breach: Unboxing

As per tradition in my household, we opened one Christmas gift on Christmas Eve and I was very happy to unwrap a new copy of "Into the Breach", an expansion for World at War module, "The Untold Stories".  ITB has been out for a while now but that's never stopped me from doing unboxings before.

The box cover is pretty cool and has some very nice artwork by Marc Von Martial.  Into The Breach basically includes lots of American units and the cover reflects that nicely enough as a pair of Abrams tanks creep through the dark woods.  This cover is a pretty substantial departure from the previous WaW module cover art.  The old use of white space and banners is gone, there are no photos on the front of the box, and the art appears hand drawn.  It's a nice change of pace from the old covers and I like it.

After opening it up, we find the counters.  There's one sheet with 176 counters on it, depicting 2 German formations (41 Panzergrenadiers and the 44 Panzergrenadiers), along with several American formations.  There are Apaches, M1 tanks, Bradleys, mortar carriers, and even some old fragile Sheridan tanks with a very brittle 1-5 save roll for their armor.

On the Soviet side, we get lots and lots of tanks.  The 13th Guards Tank, 65th Tank, 143rd Tank, are all here with assortments of T-80, T-80BV, and T-64 tanks.  We've also got an impressive number of infantry courtesy of the 68th Motorized Rifle, which makes the old 33rd look tiny in comparison.

After that, we find 2 geomorphic mounted 11" x 17" maps, featuring the towns of Ono, Snyder, Metz, Schulte, and Lohse.  The map boards are a bit thicker than the "Untold Stories" maps, with a mixture of interesting terrain configurations.  The east side of map board F is a massive forest  while we get a nice combination of both large cities (Schulte and Lohse) and small towns (Metz) to fight over.

Under all that, there's a player aid in full color with stats on moving fire and advanced imaging stats for all the various moving-fire capable vehicles in ITB and UTS, thankfully.  Of course, the battlefield chaos table from UTS is duplicated here as well as terrain, etc.  And finally, we get a scenario book with 12 scenarios designed by Matt Lohse, Jeff Schulte, and Ralph Ferrari.  These guys have written some of my favorite scenarios in the past, so I'm looking forward to trying these ones out.  

The book is pretty standard quality in terms of paper stock and although it's not in color, it's really not a big deal as the scenarios are the real stars here.  All of the scenario information is nicely printed and the layout is very good.  Overall, this looks like a very nice effort judging from the contents of the box and I'm looking forward to getting it on the table.

Finally, you'll notice in the credits a little line that says "Initial War Concept:  General Sir John Hackett".  Check out this interview with the general from about 30 years ago for some interesting insights into what exactly this line means in the context of World at War.  Pretty interesting!

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Heroes of the Gap Scenario: Texas Hold 'Em

Below is an LnL scenario based on the upcoming World at War module, "America Conquered", coming at some point in 2013.  I've tweaked and play tested this one countless times over the past while and I think it's ready for consumption at this point so here goes.  As always, any feedback welcome.

Scenario Title:  Texas Hold 'Em

Background:  The meager forces left of the Texas National Guard stationed in Chaparalle Falls, TX, bravely faced the onslaught of Nicaraguan army regulars and Soviet Spetsnaz invading their small town.  The local police and more than a few locals also joined in its defense, trying to keep the Communist Allies from taking over the town hall and the local police station.  For the Nicaraguans and the Soviets, this place was a dot on the map but for the people of Chaparalle Falls, it was their home and they would hold on to it or die in the attempt.

Scenario Length:  7 turns

Map:  Use Map 4 from All Things Zombie  (positioned with the number 4 in upper left corner)

Order of Battle:

Communist Allies

Elements of Nicaraguan 7th FSLN Battalion (from Line of Fire 12)

Enter any hex A1 south through M1 on 1st turn.

Lt. Chamoro
2 x 2-4-4
1 x 1-4-4
1 x RPG-7

Elements of Soviet Spetsnaz 14th Brigade (Heroes of the Gap)

(see SSR)

Sgt. Trinov
Maj. Petrov
3 x 3-3-4
2 x RPK


Texas National Guard  (Heroes of the Gap)

Set up in any building hex in H9, H10, H11, I10, I11

Lt. Moore
2 x 2-6-4 (w/ AM)
1 x M-60
2 x 40mm
1 x LAW

1 x German 2-5-4 Territorialheer marker representing Chaparalle Falls PD & civilian defenders
Set up in K10

US Reinforcements:

An M113 arrives in Turn 2 and enters the map from hex M12.

The US player rolls a die before the rally phase of each turn starting after the first turn.  A result that is equal to or less than the current turn number gives the US player air support in the form of an AH-1 Cobra.  The Cobra enters the map from any direction and does a single pass over the map without stopping.  It may not spot any units but may fire on units that have been spotted previously in the turn by the US player or enemies that have moved or fired previously in the turn.  After this, the Cobra is immediately removed from play.  (If you find this unbalances the scenario for the US, get rid of it.  If it's the other way around, keep rolling for the AH-1 every turn even if it has already appeared in a previous turn).

Victory Conditions:  The Soviets must control hexes H9 and H10 as well as K10 by the end of the scenario.  Any other result is an American win.

Special Scenario Rules:

1.) The police and civilians may not move from K10 during the scenario.  They have barricaded the police station to prevent the Soviets from getting in (+1 extra MP for all enemy units to enter).  Unfortunately, for them, this means that they cannot get out.  The police/civvie defenders get a +1 shift left when defending in melee and a +1 shift right when attacking.  The National Guard units may move freely.

2.)  The American player must pass a morale check for each unit to move or fire on the first turn.

3.)  The Spetsnaz parachute onto the map on the first turn.  Only one MMC may be landed in a given hex (leaders do not count against this stacking rule).  The Soviet player announces which hex they intend to place the Soviet marker.  After that, the Soviet player rolls two dice (one white and one a different color).  The white die result is halved (with fractions dropped) and this is how far from the intended target hex in which the Soviet unit lands.  The other die determines the direction from the intended hex in which the unit lands.  This is pretty much the same procedure for determining artillery fire.  Note that if a result places a unit off the map then the unit is moved as far as possible in the given direction and placed in the hex on the edge of the map board.  Similarly, if the result shows that a unit lands in a building hex, the unit is automatically shaken and moved to the nearest clear hex (Soviet player's discretion if there is more than one option).  Soviet Spetsnaz units are marked Ops Complete after landing.

4.)  All buildings are single floor heavy construction with a target modifier of +4 except the buildings in F10 and F11, which are light construction.  All brush (e.g. hex H7) acts as degrading terrain with a modifier of +1 and an MP cost of 2, the same as light woods hexes in all respects.

Update:  12/30/2012 - Balanced slightly more in favor of Americans.  Deducted RPG-16 from Soviet Spetsnaz and gave police/civvie defenders bonus when attacking/defending in melee.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Phase Line Smash: First Impressions

I have just finished playing turn 1 of Phase Line Smash, GDW's solitaire game of the 1991 Gulf War, featuring the US VII Corps.  I'm kind of blown away, to be honest.

Contrary to my first impressions, the game is not overly complex.  Although the rules are certainly dense in some places, they are pretty intuitive and easy to grasp after you play through them a couple of times.  Chadwick and Nilsen were pretty careful about not including too many exceptions or long lists of die modifiers, which means that you don't have to keep referring to the rulebook every time you want to move a counter.  An index certainly would have helped new players a bit but the tables and charts are okay.

The artificial intelligence rules are actually quite smooth once you read them over a couple of times.  The varying postures of each AI-controlled formation make good sense and, in cases where they didn't, I just improvised and it worked fine.  The chit pull mechanic is pretty smooth and although they it isn't so novel now in 2012, it works really well for this game.  The lack of fixed "steps" during a phase lets you decide how and when to attack with your units, when to bring in tac air, helos, etc.  It really feels like you have just a huge number of options at your finger tips as I'm sure Gen. Franks had available at the time.  The addition of command points for things like electronic warfare, air assaults, theater air strikes, etc., only adds to the sense that you are commanding the most advanced and well-trained military force in the world.

For all that though, the game throws dilemmas at you constantly and is very good at making you second guess what seemed like obvious choices in the previous impulse.  How much Tac Air do you lend to the Egyptians?  Do you make careful progress and avoid casualties only to see the Republican Guard saunter back to Iraq unscathed?  Or do you push your men and equipment and supplies to the breaking point and end up with fratricide casualties or even risk an eliminated Coalition unit (1 lost player-controlled unit  = -25 VPs = game loss).  What do you do when just winning the war (which you will certainly do) is not good enough?  How do you bring back all your guys safe from the desert?

The Egyptians move up towards Kuwait while the Iraqi IV Corps waits patiently for them.

Random elements play into the game like weather, fratricide, and possible disruption of your units for even walking into an Iraqi ZOC.  There are also some problems just sitting and waiting for you and there's nothing you can do about any of it.  The 2nd ACR is going to have to limp through the muddy sakhba on the first turn and the 1st Armored Division is probably going to need to squeeze through a tiny gap just to get past the barriers and up towards the Republican Guard.  Right away, there's a massive traffic jam facing you from the very start of the game.

Feb. 24th and the Coalition pushes up towards the Iraqi VII Corps infantry near the border.

PLS was one of those rare games that I would sit through in the evening and think about at work or on the bus the next day.  If you have a copy of the game, don't let the rulebook intimidate you.  Just get it out and play through your mistakes.  I can't wait to get PLS on the table again.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Phase Line Smash: Turn 1 - Tac Air!

Setting up Phase Line Smash took the better part of an evening and I started to get really excited about playing the game.  I'm bound to make some mistakes but here's what I've already learned just from the setup.

1.)  This game is gonna be on your table/floor for a few days so keep it somewhere safe.
2.)  Use the Holding boxes for the Coalition units.  Huge stacks of brigades are difficult to sort through on the map at setup.
3.)  Some of the engineer units for the Coalition forces have only the corps set as the parent unit.  I believe these can be attached to any US division or can be left as corps level units.

Once the game is setup, it looks pretty impressive.

Since I'm new to the game and I have no idea what I'm doing yet, I've decided to just throw myself in here and see how it works.

First up is the weather phase, which is skipped for the first turn in the historical scenario.  It's the afternoon of Feb. 24th, 1991 and the weather is overcast.

Next is the Command Phase.  I set up my Tac Air for the turn and I have 8 F-16 units and 8 A-10s.  The Arab Allies are a little short on airpower with only the Free Kuwait A-4 Skyhawks and the Saudi Hawk 65 attack trainers.  I decide to beef up the Arabs with 3 A-10s and assign the rest of the air power to VII Corps.  I worry that I've been too cheap and have doomed the Egyptians from the start.

We get 12 disruptions of Iraqi units due to massive Coalition airpower.  I decide to hit the border units hard so as to pave the way into Iraq and Kuwait.  I disrupt 6 units of the Iraqi IV Corps (30th and 16th Division) in Kuwait just north of the Egyptians and the JFCN forces.

To the west, I hit the artillery and infantry of the 26th and 48th Iraqi divisions,  which should ease the passage of the 1st Infantry and 1st UK Armored Division.

After all this, the VII Corps still has 6 Command Points left!  It's time to go shopping:  Since the order of units for conducting operations is determined by chit pull, I decide to keep the VII Corps chit out of the cup (1 CP) and the Egyptian chit as well (2 CP).  Half my CPs are still available for the operations phase.  US VII Corps will go first, followed by the Egyptians.

Operations Phase:  Okay, let's go! I'm going to start off with some Tac Air to soften up the Iraqis a bit more.  A couple of things about Tac Air are apparently:

1.)  It's easy to disrupt enemy units using Tac Air.  It's hard to kill the enemy with Tac Air unless you commit a lot of air assets to do the job.

2.)  A-10s are wonderful for Tac Air.  F-16s aren't so great.  It seems that the best balance may be to use F-16s to disrupt enemy units and groups of A-10s to kill anything that you really want taken out of the game.  Use any remaining A-10s to combine with helicopters to great effect.

Keeping this in mind, I send the F-16s out to disrupt Iraqi units along the border, successfully hitting the front line units sitting in front of the 1st Cavalry Division.  The 25th division of the Iraqi VII Corps is hurt and there is not a single fully functioning Iraqi division along the Iraq border.

I have a special mission for four A-10s and I send them to hit at the Iraqi armored division and towed artillery of the 52nd division, which are just a bit further back from the front line..  Sitting on the road and already disrupted by earlier Coalition air strikes, the A-10s wipe out the artillery and disrupt the armored division.  Unfortunately, the 2 column shift for Tac Air vs. armor helps blunt the attack and turns an "E" (Eliminated) result into a "DD" result (Disrupted, if already disrupted then eliminated).  I should have combined helos with the A-10s to reduce the column shifts.

Just to see how well the Apaches and Warthogs work together, I send out the 4-2 Air Cav from the 2nd ACR and order them to perform a joint strike with the A-10s on the 48th division infantry and artillery sitting just behind the front line Iraqi infantry.  The infantry and the artillery are completely wiped out in one fell swoop.  I would say the helos and the 'hogs worked together pretty darn well.

I think that's enough for one night.  Tomorrow, I'll be starting the ground war in earnest as I move out VII Corps maneuver units.  Any experienced PLS players feel free to let me know if you see any mistakes.  Given the rules, it's possible I did all of this wrong...but I had a really good time anyways.

Here's a look at our theater at the end of all this air activity:

That Helo/Warthog strike is actually a bit further west.

Lots of disrupted Iraqi units from IV Corps at the beginning of the game.

Disrupted Iraqi units all along the front.  VII Corps is about to move out.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Phase Line Smash: A Brief Look

Twenty years ago, GDW released "Phase Line Smash", an in-depth solitaire treatment of the US VII Corps involvement in the Gulf War during the 100-hour ground invasion.  Frank Chadwick designed a game that lovingly attempted to model part of the ground invasion, including rules for fratricide, weather, a multitude of terrain, breaching operations, and close air support.  The basic rulebook tops out at 53 pages.

David C. Nilsen argues in his detailed historical notes (which are actually more of a book) that the quick and largely painless victory in the desert of February 1991 was far from a foregone conclusion and that only painstaking planning helped to bring the superior technology and training of the Coalition forces to bear in a way that maximized their efficiency in battle and exploited the weaknesses of the Iraqi troops and equipment.  Phase Line Smash invites the solitaire player to take control of the VII Corps (along with the 1st UK Armored Division) and attempt to achieve a similar degree of success in its mission of destroying the Iraqi Republican Guard.

The game also features elements of XVIII Corps, whose job it was to enter Kuwait and liberate it.  Arab allies such as Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Syria, etc., are included in the game but are not under player control.  As a result, if the Arabs allies run into trouble, the VII may find itself running to their rescue to the east or encountering an unexpected amount of resistance as it pushes up into Iraq and brushes against the border with Kuwait.  Advanced rules cover theater airstrikes, chemical weapons, and various historical options (an early invasion or the use of M901 TOW vehicles, which were historically left behind in Europe when VII Corps redeployed to Kuwait during Desert Shield).

The components of the game are pretty impressive for a game that was released two decades ago.  A lot of the elements of Phase Line Smash show a great deal of resources went into making a high quality product.  The map covers the VII Corps area of operations, just to the west of the Kuwait-Iraqi border and north up to the Ar Rumaylah and Basra. It's colorful with clearly delineated terrain and easy-to-see markings.

A rules summary with reference charts is included along with a sheet for holding individual counters should the hexes on the map get too crowded.

Again, for 1992, this is quite lovely stuff. The counters are full color, attractively illustrated, and easy to read.  All units on the Coalition side are represented with as much historical accuracy as possible.  Chadwick remarked about how difficult it was to identify where certain units of the Iraqi army were positioned and had to take the occasional educated guess when designing the game.  In order to save time in the planning stages, the Coalition military planners had to order their intel people to stop focusing on ID'ing Iraqi units and determine instead the size and capability of the enemy units.  As a result, the reference material which Chadwick used was inevitably short on some details of the Iraqi forces but with the amount of care he put into the game and the research involved, I can't imagine that he was too far off from the reality.

I'll be playing Phase Line Smash in the near future after grappling with its ruleset a bit more. The work demanded of the PLS player is no small amount and the rulebook warns that players should approach the game as one who attempts to learn a difficult musical piece, playing it over again and again until one gets it right.  I'm not sure I have that kind of patience, especially with so many other games on the shelf.  However, the sheer amount of impressive hard work that went into Phase Line Smash beckons me to at least give it a shot.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Line of Fire 13 Has Arrived!

The latest issue of Line of Fire landed in my mailbox yesterday so I thought I would open it up and check out what this thing looks like in its paper form.

First off, the issue arrived in Japan without a bend, fold or scratch.  I have the plastic baggie that the magazine comes in to thank for that.  

Taking it out of the bag, it looks like a big departure from previous LoF issues.  For one, this thing has a nice thermal bind.  This is quite a step up from previous issues with staple binding.  The thicker cover is also extremely colorful and adds to the nice overall quality of this magazine.

The inside of the magazine still has the same good stuff you've come to expect from LnLP.  Plenty of reviews, scenarios, previews of upcoming games, etc. 

There are lots of nice colorful counters included with the magazine.  These counters are for the Tom Russell-designed "Blood on the Alma" complete game that comes with the magazine.  There are also counters for the Sino-Vietnamese campaign for the World at War universe.

The quality of the Blood on the Alma counters is terrific.  Here are some British counters below with the blood-red background.  They are easy to read and have nicely done illustrations on them.  Gabriel Gendron designed the counters and the map, which are top notch.

Here we have the Blood on the Alma map almost set up and ready to play.  It looks wonderful on the table.

The French advance on a Russian force high atop the hills.  All hope seems lost for the defenders!!

After a couple of plays, I almost have the rules down for Blood on the Alma, which is an interesting game that combines elements of ZOC and chit pull mechanics that sustain a good deal of tension for both sides.  I hope to write up a report on it all later when I'm sure I have the rules down correctly.  

Overall, it appears this issue of Line of Fire is excellent and the whole magazine seems to get better and better after every issue.  Clocking in at 63 pages, LoF 13 is crammed full of stuff that any LnL player is going to enjoy and Blood on the Alma alone basically makes the purchase price worth it.  Well done!