Sunday, January 27, 2013

Extended Example of Play - Eisenbach Gap: First Moves

With the upcoming re-release of Eisenbach Gap from Lock 'n Load Publishing, I thought I would provide an extended example of play to help new players quickly dive into the system.  It's not very complex but since this was my first wargame ever, it was a bit of work for me to initially wrap my mind around the rules, terms, and concepts.

So here goes - a detailed narrative of a single turn of play using "First Moves" as a learning scenario for World at War.  I'm playing this on Vassal, which is not my favorite way of playing this particular game but it should work fine anyways.

In "First Moves", the Soviets have two victory objectives.  They must capture the towns of Bergengipfel and Eisenbach.  The Americans win if they can stop them.  Note that the term "capture" denotes that a side was the last to move units through the hex.  You don't need to keep your units in the hex all the time for it to be considered captured.

So let's look at the setup.  Although there is more to the map than this, we'll be restricted basically to this play area.

The Soviet side gets the 1st Tank Division, which has one unit type only - the fearsome T-72 tank.  The 1st Tank gets 10 platoons of T-72s plus a headquarters.  HQs have various functions but their most important feature is the ability to command and send orders.  Protecting your HQ and using it wisely is central to victory in World at War.

The American forces, on the other hand, couldn't be more different.  Here we have Team Yankee, which consists of a varied bunch of units from M1 Abrams right down to infantry with handheld anti-tank launchers.

At first glance, it looks like 1st Tank is gonna roll over Team Yankee and spit out their treads but have no fear, American player!  Team Yankee has two formation chits while the 1st Tank only has one chit.  This means that the 1st Tank can only activate max once per turn while the Americans might activate up to twice in a single turn.  This advantage reflects the better equipment, training, technology, and command flexibility of NATO over its Soviet adversaries.


The American set up first on the map:

I put the infantry with the Dragon AT weapon and the M113s just south of Bergengipfel, ready to repel any attack into the city.  Team Yankee and the HQ goes on the hill to the southwest of Eisenbach and the ITV is hanging out in the forest to the north of Eisenbach.  As the NATO player, it's always a good idea to set your forces back from the Soviets as you have a real advantage with range.

Now it's time for 1st Tank to get set up.  In this scenario, 1st Tank can set up forces anywhere within 3 hexes of hex C3, which is up in the northwest of the map.

The Soviets set up very aggressively, ready to strike at Team Yankee!  Each T-72 platoon (1 counter = 1 platoon) is stacked with another T-72 counter (2 units max per hex at all times).  The HQ does not count towards stacking limits and is stacked in the eastern part of the city with two T-72 counter.

This maybe isn't the greatest Soviet setup for this scenario, but hey, it's just a tutorial so that works fine.

Let's start the game, shall we?

Turn 1 Begins!:

The Soviets get to go first without having to pull a formation chit from the cup.  Thanks to the surprise attack, NATO is caught off guard and the Russians activate.  The first thing the Russian HQ does is call down artillery on the American Abrams and the HQ sitting exposed on the hillside just south of Eisenbach.  The Soviets have 4 fire missions but they can only call in 2 per turn as the first action of the HQ unit.  Only the HQ can call in artillery and it needs a line of sight to the target.  All the requirements are made, so we roll to make sure the artillery lands in the target hex.

The Soviets roll a "2" and the HE lands right on top of the American HQ.  Good opening, comrade!  Now let's see if the artillery manages to score any hits.

Soviet HE arty lands in Team Yankee's hex R7.  Note the HE marker has been moved to the north just so you can see the target units.

The artillery is high explosive and is 3(4) power.  This means we get to roll 3 six-sided dice.  We need 4 or higher to score a hit.  The dice come out as 3, 4, and 5.  We manage to score 2 hits.  Since the US units are not in any terrain that offers defensive cover, they don't get to roll to negate any hits.  Since we have two units in the hex (the HQ does not count as a unit), the hits have to be distributed equally among them.  As a result, each unit takes one hit so both Abrams units are disrupted.

Since the HQ unit has taken a hit, it must roll to see if it is damaged.  On a roll of "1", the HQ will be reduced and this will affect it's command rating and abilities.

We roll a "1" and indeed the Americans HQ is damaged.  We flip over the American HQ unit to see its new values.

Yankee HQ is reduced and the two Abrams units underneath are disrupted.

The Soviets have launched a nice opening attack that has devastated Team Yankee.  They could fire another artillery barrage at the US tanks but this would be a waste since "hard targets" (basically armored vehicles) cannot be reduced further than the "disrupted" state by HE artillery.

It may be a much better idea to use one smoke mission for our next artillery strike so that the ITV sitting near Eisenbach cannot disrupt movement to the target.

The Soviet HQ calls for a smoke mission in K6.  Once again, we must roll one die to see if the smoke mission lands on target.  If we get a "6", the other player can move the smoke marker one hex in any direction.  Lucky for the Soviets, they get a "1" and the smoke mission lands exactly where they want it.  The smoke will remain for two turns before it clears and it covers the target hex and the six adjacent hexes.  The ITV has thermal sights so it can still fire into the smoke but it's "to hit" rating is increased.

The Soviets start off by moving their HQ and the two tank platoon with which it is stacked down the road and into J6.  This keeps the HQ out of LOS from the ITV's opportunity fire, which is a bit conservative for a Soviet player but it's always a good idea to be more careful with moving an HQ unit.

The rest of the 1st Tank units can now be moved in any order.  Note that had we not called in artillery, we could have moved/fired any of the other units first before the HQ but because we led off with the artillery barrage from the HQ, we must now move it before the others or not at all for the remainder of the activation.

The tank units in E5 move towards the hill nearest Bergengipfel.  As they enter hex J7, they are in LOS of Team Yankee's ITV unit.  The ITV unit may use opportunity fire to shoot at one unit in the stack since the enemy T-72 platoons in J7 are in range and LOS (check LOS by stretching a thread or elastic from the center of the firing hex to the center of the target hex) of the ITV.

Sorry -  the illustration should say J7 not J8.

The ITV has a range of 20 hexes and rolls 4 dice for a 4 or above to hit.  However, since the ITV is firing through the smoke, the "to hit" number is now 5 or above so we're rolling 4 dice for 5+ to hit.  Let's go.

The ITV rolls a 6/4/1/1 on the dice.  So we've scored one hit!  Hooray for NATO!  However, the Soviet tank platoon can now roll to negate the hit.  Without any cover or concealment, the Soviet T-72 platoon rolls 4 dice and negates a hit on a roll of 6. The Soviets roll a 1/3/1/2 on the dice.  The hit is not negated and one of the Soviet tank platoons in J7 is now disrupted.  It may not move although the tank unit that it is stacked with may do so.  It climbs the hill into hex K9.  Since we're climbing a hill, this costs 2 movement points instead of 1 and the Soviet tank platoon stops, having expended all of its 7 movement points for this activation.

Now let's get all the rest of the guys moving.  The Soviet tank platoons remain stacked throughout their movement and do not come under any opportunity fire.  By the time that everyone has finished moving, the Soviets have come considerably closer to their objectives.  These may not be the most brilliant tactical moves ever made but it's always a good idea as the Soviet player to try and close the distance with NATO.

Here are the Soviet positions by the end of their activation:

With the Soviets finished their movements, we now start pulling chits from the cup.  Because the Soviets did not have to pull their chit from the cup to start the game, there's a chance that they will pull their chit and get to go again.

The chit we get is:  Team Yankee

The first thing we need to do as Team Yankee is to check if everyone is in command.  Since the HQ took a hit from the opening arty barrage, the command range of the Team Yankee HQ is now reduced.  Checking the little number in the lower left hand corner of the HQ counter, we see a "3" in a little lightning bolt.  This tells us that the command range of Team Yankee is a 3 hex diameter so any units within 3 hexes will be in command and can do stuff while units outside this 3 hex range will have to roll to do stuff.

First off, the infantry w/ Dragon AT and M113 near Bergengipfel are 4 hexes from the HQ.  They will have to roll for command.  They need to roll two dice and score equal to or lower than the morale rating of the formation (the "7" located in the upper right hand corner of the HQ counter) to activate.  So let's roll:  9.  This is higher than the morale rating of Team Yankee so all the units in this hex are out of command (note that you do not roll for command for each unit in a hex - you just roll for the hex as a whole).  They are marked with an "Out of Command" marker and they cannot do anything for this entire activation.

Now let's check the ITV for command.  It is 5 hexes away from Team Yankee's HQ.  We must roll for command.  We get a "5" and the ITV is in command so it may fire or move this activation without any problem.

The last thing we need to do is to recover our disrupted Abrams tanks units.  The procedure is similar to checking for command.  We roll two dice and if the result is equal to or less than the morale rating then the Abrams tanks are no longer disrupted and may move and fire normally this activation.  The one benefit to stacking with an HQ is that they get a bonus to their roll for checking disruption.  In the upper left corner of the HQ counter, we see a little picture of six sided dice showing a "1" result.  This means that we can subtract "1" from the disruption roll check for disrupted units stacked with an HQ.  Let's roll:  2.  The result is a 2 with a -1 for the HQ bonus so both Abrams easily recover and are no longer disrupted.

US infantry in N7 is out of command.  ITV is in command.  Abrams units with HQ recover from disruption.
The Abrams on the hill looks for things to shoot and finds the 1st Tank HQ trying to hide in the smoke in J6.  This is a great target for Team Yankee because taking out an HQ unit can really hurt the enemy (some formations are worse off than others for losing their HQ but we'll discuss that another time).

The Soviet HQ T-72s are at a range of 8, well within the "10" range listed for the Abrams so there will be no penalty for long range fire.  However, there is still the issue of the smoke to deal with, which will incur a small +1 to hit penalty.

The two Abrams platoons are stacked with an HQ.  The HQ can add its "1" bonus (as shown on the little dice on the HQ counter) to one of these platoons for an attack.  The "1" is added to the firepower (4) of the first Abrams platoon for a total attack rating of 5 dice rolled for a 5+ to hit.  The result:  6/6/1/6/1   The Abrams w/ HQ bonus have scored three hits on one of the hapless T-72 platoons sitting with the Soviet HQ.  Of course, we have to roll for the Soviets defensive armor, 4 dice for 6 to negate hits.  Result:  6/4/3/4

The T-72 platoon negates one hit but it still takes the other two hits.  The first hit on the T-72 disrupts it and the second hit reduces it (flip the counter over).  Since the HQ was stacked with the T-72s, we must roll for HQ disruption.  The result is a "2", so the Soviet HQ is unscathed.

The other Abrams platoon stacked with the Team Yankee HQ can now fire.  Note that the HQ bonus cannot be applied to this second attack because it was already used up with the previous shot.  The other Abrams platoon fires at the second T-72 unit stacked with the Soviet HQ.  This time we roll 4 dice for 5+.  The result is 6/3/6/6.  Wow!  The Abrams scored 3 hits on the other T-72 platoon!  Defensive roll for the T-72s is again 4 dice for 6.  The result is 2/4/4/5.  None of the hits are negated.  The T-72 platoon has taken 3 or more hits so it is destroyed and the counter is removed from the game.

A wreck marker is put in hex J6 and we roll yet again for Soviet HQ disruption.  Because the Soviet platoon was actually destroyed this time, the check for disruption suffers a -2 penalty so a 1, 2, or 3 result will reduce the Soviet HQ.  We roll and get: 6.  The Soviet HQ brushes off the attack without any problem.

Since we've been talking alot about HQs and disruption and attacking, it is worth reminding the reader that HQs cannot be targeted - only the units that they are stacked with may be targeted.  Think of HQ units as an abstract characteristic/ability of the stack they are with rather than an independent functioning unit.

The last thing we do is get the ITV firing.  Since it managed to hurt the T-72 platoon in J7 last time, it's going to try and hurt it again.  We roll 4 attack dice for 5 or more (since the enemy unit is still in the smoke).  The result is 6/5/1/6.  The ITV has scored 3 hits on the hapless T-72 platoon!  Defensive roll is 4 dice for 6.  Result:  4/2/1/2.  Oh no!  The T-72 platoon is a smoldering heap of wrecks.  A wreck marker is placed in the J7 hex and the destroyed T-72 unit is removed from the game.

The ITV fires on the T-72 in J8 and destroys it, leaving a "Wreck" marker in the target hex.

Since the other units (infantry and M113s) in Team Yankee are out of command, they can do nothing but sit around and pick daisies for this activation.  Everyone else has fired so we pull another chit.  Now we can remove the "Out of Command" marker on Team Yankee's infantry.  Note that it CAN opportunity fire if Soviets enter its range and LOS.

Chit pull!  1st Tank goes!

The first thing we do is check for command.  All units are in a 4 hex range from the HQ unit so there is no need for any units to roll for command.

Now we try to recover disrupted units.  The T-72 unit stacked with the Soviet HQ is disrupted (not to mention reduced) so it must roll for recovery.  The Soviet HQ has not been affected at all by the high volume of fire sent its way by Team Yankee so, looking at its command bonus, we find a picture of a six sided die with the "2" side showing.  This means that recovery checks get a -2 bonus to their roll for recovery. Again, recovering from disruption requires you to roll under or equal to the morale rating (indicated in the upper right corner of the Soviet HQ), which is a "6".  Two dice are rolled and the total is:  10  - 2 = 8.  The result is over the morale rating so the unit remains disrupted.  Disrupted units cannot fire but they can move as long as they do not move closer to an enemy unit in LOS.

Units from Team Yankee which fired during its activation have been marked Ops Complete.  Units which are Ops Complete cannot fire or move until the Ops Complete marker has been removed upon pulling their formation activation marker or the start of a new turn.  As a result, the Soviets can pretty much move around the battlefield with impunity.  The American infantry that was out of command last turn, however, has not been marked Ops Complete and is free to opportunity fire at any Soviets that enter their LOS and range.

Deciding to get rid of that pesky US infantry sitting just south of Bergengipfel, the Soviets send the T-72 platoon in K8 towards it.

As it moves adjacent to the US infantry, the T-72 comes under opportunity fire from the Americans.

T-72 unit moves adjacent to US infantry near Bergengipfel

The US infantry has a Dragon AT launcher with an attack roll that has a firepower of 3 and a "to hit" of 4.  So the US player rolls 3 six-sided dice and hopes for 4+.  The result is 3/3/1.  Not only have the Americans failed to hit the adjacent Soviet unit, they are marked "Out of Ammo" since they have rolled zero hits on an attack and they are using missiles as opposed to shells or other ordnance.  Note that the American ITV faces the same problem - any time these kinds of units score no hits, they are marked with an "Out of Ammo" marker and cannot fire with their missile-based weapons for two turns.

US scores zero hits on its to-hit roll and runs out of ammo for two turns.

But it's not over for the American infantry yet.  The US infantry has an inherent AP (armor piercing) attack on its own counter.  So it can fire the support weapon plus its own firepower right now at the approaching T-72 platoon.  The infantry's attack is 2 firepower (2 dice) with a 5+ for "to hit".  The result is: 1 and 4.  No hits.

The T-72 advances on to the Americans in the open hex.  Because the US infantry is in the open and the Soviet is rushing into their hex with tanks, this is called an "Overrun", where the tanks get a special die bonus to their attack roll.  Note that in an overrun, the attacking vehicles need at least enough movement points to exit the target hex.  Since the Soviet tanks meet this requirement, we're in the clear and we can go ahead with the overrun.

First off, the T-72 assault factor is 2 dice firepower with 4+ to hit (in the lower right hand corner of the counter).  Because this is an overrun attack, however, we triple this firepower so we're rolling 6 dice firepower for 4+ to hit.  Let's do this!  The result is 3/1/6/6/6/5

That's four hits on the infantry and the M113s!  However, we do not inflict these hits yet!  The infantry and the M113 now get a chance to roll for inflicting hits on the T-72.

First off, the infantry gets 3 firepower for 4+ to hit.  The result is 2/2/5.  That's one hit.  The M113 gets a measly 1 die for 5+ and rolls a 3.  Nada.

Now we score the hits.  The T-72 platoon scored 4 hits and these are applied just like artillery hits, spread evenly among the occupants of a hex.  The infantry is disrupted and reduced as is the M113.

The T-72 has taken one hit and is disrupted.  Since it has been disrupted, the tank platoon must retreat into the hex from which it attacked, so we move it back to M8.

Overrun:  The Aftermath

The American infantry, however, is about to learn that this was just a warmup.  The Soviets send on a follow up of two T-72 platoons from J8.  The T-72s go up the hill (2 Movement Points), cross to L7 (1 MP), down into the city of Bergengipfel (2 MPs for entering a city hex without using a road) and are now adjacent to the hapless American infantry/M113.  Since they have 2 MPs left, they can conduct an overrun.

This time, the T-72s combined assault factor is 4 firepower for 4+ to hit.  Since this is an overrun, we triple this to a total of 12 dice for 4+ to hit.  Somehow, we only get 3 hits out of that but it will be enough to eliminate the M113 and the infantry.  However, before we apply those hits and get ahead of ourselves, the infantry and M113 can roll for their attacks.  Because the infantry and M113 are already disrupted in the previous assault, their "to hit" numbers are now raised to 6.  So the infantry is rolling 2 dice for 6 to hit and the M113 is 1 die for 6.  Infantry rolls: 1 and 5 for nothing but the M113 sneaks in a parting shot with a roll of 6.  One of the T-72s is disrupted but the Americans are completely eliminated.

Due to the presence of an Armored Fighting Vehicle (an M113), we place a wreck in the hex where it went down fighting.  The disrupted T-72 must retreat from the hex where it attacked from while the other T-72 platoon may exit the overrun hex.

"From Hell's heart, I stab at thee." The M113 scores a hit and disrupts one T-72 before going down fighting.

Note that this fight probably would have gone much better for the infantry had they set up or moved into Bergengipfel since infantry in a city hex get a great bonus (+1 assault die, -1 to hit) when in assault combat against armored fighting vehicles.  Bottom line:  Try to keep your infantry in the cities or at least out of the clear hexes!

Having eliminated the American infantry, the Soviets decide to try and score some hits on the American Abrams units.  The two T-72 platoons in K4 (on the hillside) move to L4 (wooded hill hex) and fire at the US HQ/Abrams hex.

Moving fire:  T-72s move to take a shot at the US HQ/Abrams hex.

Up until now, all of the firing in the game has been from a static position but World at War, being a modern combat game, also features moving fire ability for some units.  Moving-fire capable units can move half of their MP movement allowance (rounded down) and still fire at an enemy.  For most units, this means a penalty of -1 firepower and a +1 to hit.  However, for some really hi-tech units like the M1 Abrams, the penalty is just +1 to hit.

The two T-72 units sneak into the bushes in L4 (costs 2 MP so still has enough MP left for moving fire) and aim for the M1 Abrams unit directly underneath the HQ.  Both T-72 units roll 3 dice for 6 to hit.  1st T-72:  3/5/1  (no hits).  2nd T-72: 1/6/2.  (1 hit).

The US Abrams rolls its defense, which is 3 dice for 5 or better.  The result is 3/2/3.  The T-72 hit is not negated and one of the Abrams units is disrupted.  The American HQ must again roll for damage. The HQ rolls a "6" and it is not reduced nor eliminated.

The Soviet HQ, having had both of its stacked units nearly shot out from underneath it earlier in the turn, decides to move out of the American LOS.  Although it is disrupted, it can still move as long as it does not move closer to an enemy unit in its LOS.  It moves south to J8.  With only one unit in its stack, it decides to stack with another T-72 unit for safety.  The T-72 platoon in J5 moves south to J8 and joins the stack.

Soviet 1st Tank HQ limps south with reduced/disrupted unit.

The other T-72 from J5 joins the stack.

All Soviet units have either moved or fired so the activation is finished.

There are three chits left in the cup right now; two End Turn chits and one Team Yankee chit.  If I pull Team Yankee, then I remove all their Ops Complete markers and they get to go again.

I pull:  "End Turn"

I need to pull two "End Turn" markers for the turn to be over so there's still a chance that Team Yankee will activate.  I pull another chit:  "End Turn".

The turn marker advances to Turn 2 and we remove all Ops Complete markers from all the units.  Smoke "2" markers are flipped to Smoke "1" side and "Out of Ammo 2" markers are flipped to their "Out of Ammo 1" side.  All of the chits go back in the cup and we do it all over again.

Beginning of Turn 2.  Ready to go.

Note that in case you don't pull a formation's chit before the two "End Turn" markers are pulled, you advance to the next turn and you put everything back in the chit cup but you keep out one of the "End Turn" markers.  When you finally pull the formation that did not go last time, the "End Turn" marker is then added to the cup.

I hope this brief tutorial gives the novice WaW player some idea of how to play World at War: Eisenbach Gap.  Although this example of play covered artillery, movement, overrun, chit pull mechanics, command, recovery, and opportunity fire, there are many other rules that I have not covered.  My aim was not to provide an all-inclusive explanation of every rule but rather to add this example of play as a supplement to all the other great help out there on places like BGG, Consimworld, etc. (not to mention the rulebook itself!).   If you spot any mistakes in this extended example of play (and I'm sure there's something I messed up), please feel free to let me know and I'll try to correct it soon.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

The Speed of Heat - Operation Farm Gate: Vietnam, 1964

J.D. Webster's Air Power series continued to grow after 1987's "Air Superiority" with several new expansions ("Air Strike", "Desert Falcons", etc.), culminating in the 1992 offering "The Speed of Heat".  "The Speed of Heat" focused on early post-WW2 air combat such as Korea and Vietnam.  There are a number of improvements that "The Speed of Heat" makes to the Air Power rules as presented in the original "Air Superiority".

First off, the rules are a bit more streamlined (although the number of typos and mistakes in the rulebook are numerous) and better organized than the original Air Superiority game.  A badly-needed index is included in the back of the rulebook.  There seem to be more examples of play and diagrams as well as more explanation of key rules.  It doesn't exactly hold your hand but the rulebook has a much friendlier feel for those just starting into the Air Power series.

There's no doubt that the Air Power series achieves its impressive realism through layers of complex rules but for the persistent gamer, the mechanics start to make sense after enough plays that you can start to see the workings of a beautiful game slowly come to life.  Thankfully, Webster included many interesting and fun training scenarios in "The Speed of Heat" to help ease players into the system.  After two weeks of solid play, I've been slowly walking through the scenarios and I am indeed learning something new every day and the mistakes I've made are minor, which I believe is due to the nice scenario structure and the rules explanations.

Interested in the air-to-ground aspect of the game, I decided to learn these rules by playing through the scenario "Operation Farm Gate!  Vietnam 1964".  This scenario features a pair of A-1H Skyraiders on a close air support mission over Vietnam during the early days of America's involvement in the war.  The Skyraiders are supporting a US Special Forces outpost which is about to be overrun by four platoons of Viet Cong.  The VC, prepared for enemy aircraft, have brought along 3 anti-aircraft artillery pieces and set them up in a triangle around the combat area.

The US forces will almost certainly be overrun without air support.  The VC will attack on turns 6 and 12 so the player is under pressure to get in there and deliver the weapons quickly and on target.  The Skyraiders are heavily armed with air-to-ground weapons, each of which has:
3x750 lb. BLU-1 Napalm canisters, 6x 500 lb. HE bombs (Mk. 82), and 2xLAU-68 70mm rocket pods.

The Viet Cong AAA is not too accurate but it's quite deadly when it does score a hit.  Two of the AAA pieces are ZPU-1s and there's one very deadly ZU-23.  One of the ZPU-1s is positioned almost adjacent to the attacking VC platoons so this threat will need to be dealt with immediately.  The ZPU-1 to the south could cause some problems so that's also a target.  The ZU-23 might get a lucky shot at one of the planes but as long as the Skyraiders stay far away from it and do some jinking, it should be okay.

Reach 1 approaches the target area and fires off its 70mm rockets at the ZPU-1 AAA, getting a 2D result ("D" for damage) and suppression.  The gun crew is in a sorry state and Reach 1 now adjusts his heading for a napalm strike on the VC platoons in 5907.

Meanwhile, Reach 2 goes south of the target area and fires off its rockets at the other ZPU-1, suppressing it but not damaging it.

Reach 1 lines up the targets and dives from 3,000 feet, releasing early in the dive.  All three BLU-1 napalm canisters land on the 2 VC platoons in  5907.  Although the platoons take horrible casualties, they are still able to fight.

While Reach 1 passes over his target to the north, Reach 2 makes a tight turn over the ZPU-1 AAA piece to the south and begins his run at the VC platoons to the north of the US Special Forces outpost.

Reach 1, at 1,000 feet, pulls out of the dive over the VC in 5907 and passes over the second group of VC in 6007, dropping all Mk.. 82 bombs and scoring several hits despite the lack of time spent aiming at the target.

Reach 2 passes over the same group of VC moments later and drops napalm, completely eliminating both platoons.  After pulling out of the dive, the A-1 is hit by the ZU-23 to the east.  The A-1 is lightly damaged but still able to fly.  The VC attack at the end of this turn and manage to score a hit on the US Special Forces.

Error:  That should say 6007 not 6006.

After making a tight turn and climbing from the dive, Reach 2 turns around level bombs the remaining two VC platoons with Mk. 82 but the hits are ineffectual and the two planes turn for home.

Time to count up the VPs.

For both VC platoons eliminated, we get 10 points with an additional 5 for the damage inflicted on the other two platoons.  2 points are awarded for the 2D hit on the ZPU-1 AAA in 5807 for a total of 17 points.

The VC score 2 points for inflicting damage on the Special Forces unit and another 4 points for scoring 2L (light damage) on the Skyraider for a total of 6 points.

I can start to understand from this scenario why old prop-driven Skyraiders were often used for close air support in Vietnam. Although they are much slower than jets, these planes are small and maneuverable and they can hold quite an impressive air-to-ground weapons load (with 15 weapons stations!).  They are also fairly tough, with a vulnerability rating of +2.  The only downsides are the low fuel capacity (possibly made up for by the relatively low fuel consumption rate - I'm not an expert here) and the utter lack of fancy technology.  There are no computerized bombing systems, radar, or ECM so this is truly an aircraft from a previous generation but impressive in its performance nonetheless.  The A-1H was very gradually replaced by the A-4 Skyhawk.

Operation Farmgate was a first step by the Americans into what became a much larger involvement in the Vietnam War years down the road.  Farmgate was absorbed into the larger US war effort and American policymaker claims of the "advisor-capacity only" role of the US pilots eventually stopped as American involvement in Vietnam escalated over subsequent years.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Air Superiority: Border Clash

In this scenario from J.D. Webster's "Air Superiority", published by GDW in 1987, a West German F-4F Phantom II pursues a fleeing East German MIG-21MF Fishbed after it strays into West German airspace.  Armed only with cannons, the F-4F is determined to shoot down the MIG-21 before it flees back over the border and the communists can claim they were attacked over East German airspace instead.

See these?  You're gonna get real familiar with them when you play Air Superiority!

This is a solitaire scenario with the MIG movement determined through rolling on an "Evasive Movement Table".  The player controls the West German F-4F.  Although this is not a complex scenario, it's excellent for learning the basics of the Air Power system and a bit more exciting than the training scenarios in the book.  Even though this is a basic scenario, I'm not 100 per cent sure that I didn't make a mistake (especially with a late game lag-roll) but I think I did a fairly good job of it.

The basics of this scenario involve using energy management to keep up with the MIG and get on its tail for a good firing position.  Each turn, depending on a number of factors such as speed, altitude and what has been done with the plane in the prior turns, you're given a certain amount of energy (called flight points).  You can spend these flight points to move horizontally (Horizontal Flight Points or HFPs) or climb/dive vertically (Vertical Flight Points or VFPs).  You can do several types of turns of various Gs but making really tight turns can restrict your actions in some ways, especially when it comes to aiming weapons and using radar and other aircraft systems.


The Phantom starts out in a pretty nice position, a little over a mile out on the MIG driver's six.  If the F-4 had missiles, this scenario would be over pretty quickly.  Fortunately for the MIG, the Phantom only has guns (with a 2 hex range).  The MIG is at altitude 10 (10,000 feet) and doing 500 mph while the Phantom is a little higher (altitude 12 or 12,000 ft) and is going a bit faster (speed 6 or 600 mph).

Turn 1:  

The MIG pilot, knowing that he is in big trouble, pulls some serious Gs and turns left, hoping to outmaneuver the less nimble West German fighter.

As the Phantom pilot, I've got a slight advantage in terms of speed and altitude, which I can use to help me get back on the MIG's six o'clock.  I've decided to try and make a turn to intercept the MIG, cutting down his options while keeping mine open. With 6 Flight Points to spend, I use 3 horizontal flight points to go straight and do a hard turn NNW.  After that, I need to use up some energy to sustain the turn at its current rate, so I commit to a dive down to the same altitude as the MIG (costs 2 VFPs) move ahead a hex and this gives me the ability to finish the turn up, pointing my nose to the northwest.  I am now in the MIG's 90 degree arc.  It's too far away to shoot but I'm in a good position to get behind it next turn if the pilot does something silly.

Turn 2:

On the second turn, the MIG climbs to 12,000 ft and continues a slight turn.  Considering the Phantom has a much more powerful engine, this will probably be a fatal mistake as I can just push the Phantom behind the MIG at this point and go for a shot.

The Phantom has 6 flight points available and I have the throttle set at military power.  I want to avoid using brake turns or emergency turns to catch up with the MIG as doing so will incur some negative modifiers on hitting him.  As a result, I want to again use a hard turn after spending 3 horizontal flight points, climb to match the MIG's altitude level and then another hard turn towards the MIG.  This puts the F-4 into hex 0516 and we're in a position for a shot.

I try to use the F-4F's radar to help with tracking the MIG and firing but my radar officer is apparently asleep and I can't get a lock.  Needing a 4 to hit, I roll and get a 9.  Vulcan cannon rounds pierce the air near the MIG but no hits are scored.

Turn 3:

The MIG pilot must really be shaken because he climbs for safety again, ignoring the better turn abilities of his plane.  The MIG is now at 14,000 feet doing 500 mph and hoping for a break.  It's not gonna happen.

I've got only 5 Flight Points to play with since I was loathe to use my afterburners in the previous two turns and the climbing plus the turning has slowed the F-4 down to 500 mph, the same speed as the MIG.  I turn on the afterburners, move forward and begin a lag roll that shifts the plane facing 30 degrees to the SW in the hex that's forward and to the right, continue towards the MIG until I'm on its tail and then pull a hard turn and climb. This puts me directly behind the MIG and a little underneath it while in a climb, which is as good as it gets.

Again, the radar tracking fails to kick in and I curse the RIO, firing a stream of 20mm Vulcan cannon at the MIG, scoring a hit with an "8" (-2 modifier for being on the MIG's 0 degree line).  I roll for damage and get a "2".  Splash one MIG!


To score a kill, the most important thing is learning to use the strengths of your plane and how to manage your energy better than your opponent, much like what I've read of real air combat.  The Fishbed is quite maneverable and it's tricky to nail them down with a fighter aircraft like the Phantom which is all engine.  It's hard to resist the urge to go afterburners from the start, but keeping your hand off the throttle a bit definitely helps with turning ability.  Using VFPs (Vertical Flight Points) to climb also helps to drain off excess energy and keeps your nose pointed at the MIG's tail rather than overshooting it.  I've played this scenario several times and watched my tendency to go full throttle result in a turning war that I can't win.  This time, happily, was a bit different.

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Hornet Leader: Iraq 1991 - Long Campaign - Part 4

Part 3
Part 2
Part 1

It's the last day of a long campaign over Iraq in 1991 in my current game of Hornet Leader:  Carrier Air Operations.

So far, I'm at 24 VPs, which is enough to score a "good" rating.  If I want to try for a "great" rating, I'm going to need a nice big target on this last day.  I draw "Government Building" and it looks like a nice target in Baghdad for us to finish off the war.  It's worth 4 VPs and it also has an "Overkill" trait, which means that causing 14 or more points of destruction will garner us 1 more VP.  Add to all this the fact that I have an "Important Target" card (wonder who?) and I get another VP for completing this mission successfully.

Unfortunately, these things come at a high price.  For the squadron that meant the possibility of facing a lot of enemy fighters (12 maximum).  Needing 10 hits to destroy the target would mean exercising a good deal of prudence when selecting ordnance.  Fortunately, I have 11 special option points to spend so this makes things a bit easier.

I'm basically forced to take any pilots remaining who are still okay.  Most of them are 1 stress point shy of being shaken.  "Brick", my E-2C Hawkeye driver is at 8 stress points so he's already shaken badly and near the breaking point but I need a Hawkeye on station to help ward off bad events and give my fighters a precious +1 to their air to air rolls.

I have two options here in terms of spending the SOs.  I could either get a lot of special weapons or buy refueling and a couple of special weapons.  I go for the latter option.  This means that we're going to have to hit the target going low over it.  I've chosen Mk. 83 and Mk. 84 bombs for my A-6 Intruders.  I've got "Moon", the EA-6B Prowler for support against radar sites an F-14 and an F-18 assigned to air cover and an F-18 ("Griffin") with a mixed loadout.  I have a bad feeling already going into this, especially with all the low altitude AAA near the target.

On the way to the target, 3 AAMs are jettisoned in order to deal with bandits.  Once over the target, I have some beautiful luck by pulling only 2 enemy planes.  The AIM-54 Phoenix missiles take out both of them and the two planes I brought along for air coverage have nothing to do for the rest of the mission.

Some bad shots by "Moon" end up causing one active SAM-10 site to constantly throw up missiles at the raid.  Eventually, everyone reaches the target and the Mk. 83 bombs are let go.  14 hits are scored, earning the overkill VP and everyone gets home safe.

The coupe de grace:  14 points  of damage for overkill 

And with that, day 9 is over, the campaign is finished and we've scored a total of 31 points, a "great" rating.

Here are some random stats:  The squadron started with:  1 Newbie, 2 Green, 6 Average, 2 Skilled, and 1 Veteran and we now end with 1 Newbie,  7 Skilled, 3 Veterans, and 1 Ace.  Both Green pilots ("Waldo" and "Dingo") were promoted twice during the campaign and "Dingo"'s high Cool rating helped to keep him repeatedly in the fight.  Starting with 80 Special Options points, 36 SOs were spent on promotions at the start of the campaign.  10 points were spent on mid-air refueling and the rest were spent on weapons.  An average of 3 SOs were spent per mission throughout the campaign.

The AIM-54 Phoenix was the special weapon of choice with a total of 15 points spent only on the Phoenix missiles, which had a 100 per cent hit rate.  3 points were spent on AIM-120 AMRAAMs, none of which hit at all during the campaign.  The rest of the SOs were spent on a variety of air-to-ground weapons (GBUs mostly).

13 total missions were flown, 12 targets were destroyed and 6 targets were left untouched.  Most of the remaining targets were in the northernmost band of Iraq.

The air-to-ground weapon of choice was the Mk. 20 cluster bomb at low altitude (over 30 were dropped throughout the campaign) while the AGM-65 was most effectively employed against ground targets from high altitude (about 20 were launched and most hit their targets).

I know it's a bit nuts to track all these stats but I always enjoy video games (GTA, etc.) that track all the stats of the player to show you how everything you've done.  I thought it would be fun to do the same with Hornet Leader.


Although the score was high and the loss of planes was very low, this was an "introductory" campaign so I'm not overly impressed with myself.  Here are a couple of my own rules of thumb that seemed to work well:

1.)  I never let any planes leave home without an ECM pod.
2.)  I always start off with the small missions and build up pilot experience gradually
3.)  I try to take at least one plane that will give an SO benefit when starting a long campaign.
4.)  It's always worth it to take an E-2C Hawkeye to help with events and situational awareness
5.)  I found it helpful to come at a target from two (or more) separate directions so I can hit long-range fighters in the approach areas outside the range of my main strike force.
6.)  I try to pile on 1.5x the number of weapons counters I'll need to take out critical sites.

Of course, no rules of thumb are perfect and there are times when you do everything right and still lose someone.  The shoot-down of Banzai in Mission 12 was a perfect example of this problem.  The fun of the game often comes out when you have to roll with these sorts of punches.

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Hornet Leader: Iraq 1991 - Long Campaign - Part 3

Part 1
Part 2

We're about halfway through the Iraq 1991 campaign for Hornet Leader and so far, the squadron is doing okay despite some setbacks.  The first few days of the campaign featured some low-risk targets while day 3 was a scramble for a close air support mission that paid off nicely.  Unfortunately, the secondary target, a series of AAA sites, was not successfully destroyed and the result was just a bunch of stressed out pilots.

Day 5

The target list comes through in the morning and, oh it's terrible.

We end up getting 4 targets, all of which feature improvements.  This means that until the target is destroyed, the squadron suffers some kind of setback.  The minor airfield target, for example, results in the possibility of an extra bandit over every target.  Looking at the targets, I decide to take out the two most damaging improvement cards.  This means we'll be hitting the Command Center and the secondary target, Scud Launchers.  If the Command Center isn't destroyed, this means that the squadron will lose out on recon, intel or infrastructure damage points every day while failure to destroy the Scuds will result in -1 Victory Points each day.

Day 5:  Command Center

The Command Center is located very close to Baghdad and there are possibly a total of 9 bandits over the target.  The only way to get at this target, which requires 9 destruction points, is to hit it with low altitude bombing.

The plan is a little complicated but I think it should work. One F-14 Tomcat ("Sparky") will come at the target area from the north while the rest of the flight comes in from the south.  The lone Tomcat will pick off targets with AIM-54 Phoenix missiles and AIM-7s while the main body of the flight will fire off 3 HARM missiles and take out the deadliest SAM sites (SA-10s) around the target.

After that, the main strike package will move up towards the target, switch to low altitude and use rockets to suppress enemy AAA.  While over the target, both A-6 Intruders will unleash Mk. 83 and Mk. 84 iron bombs.  An F-18 will also help with both air-to-air and the bombing run, if necessary.  Finally, the E-2C Hawkeye will be around to provide help with air-to-air combat and situational awareness.

(black arrow is the main strike force) The plan in a nutshell...

With the plan established, the flight takes off and is attacked by shoulder-launched SAMs on the way to the target.  Deciding not to risk losing any precious ordnance designated for the target, I choose not to suppress and the result is +1 stress on one of the F-14 Tomcat pilots and +1 stress on Dingo, the green pilot.  Dingo, who has 3 stress already from yesterday's mission, is now shaken and suffering another -1 on air to ground attack rolls.

Over the target, there ends up being only a handful of fighters.  A MiG-25 and a MiG-29 present the greatest threat and both are shot down by Phoenix missiles very quickly.  Having a single F-14 wander in from the north works well and Shifty manages to take down any other bandits in the area.  The main strike package moves up from the south.  One of the A-6s ("Camel") uses rockets to suppress a AAA site.  Finally, the package gets up to the target area and although Dingo misses with most of his ordnance (scoring only a few hits with one bomb while missing with all the others), the command center is completely wrecked by the Camel.  One of the F-18s follows up with a Mk-84 and this ensures destruction of the complex.

...and the result.

Everyone makes it home safely.  "Sparky" is promoted to Veteran status.  Sparky earns 1 cool and his air-to-ground rating goes up.  3 VPs are added to the squadron tally and we now have a total of 15 points.  This puts the squadron's performance in the "adequate" range of ratings.  However, if the Scud Launchers are not destroyed in the secondary mission, we'll lose 1 VP and be downgraded to a "poor" performance rating.  No pressure!

Day 5:  Scud Missile Launchers

Well, here we go again - trying to frantically accomplish missions with an improvement trait so that we don't lose our good momentum in this campaign.

If we don't hit the Scud launchers in the secondary mission, we'll lose 1 VP for each day the mission is on the table.  Not wanting to spoil my efforts so far, I've decided to push my remaining pilots with a four plane raid.

All I've got is an F-14 Tomcat ("Waldo"), an F-18 Hornet (piloted by "Griffin", a pilot who is stressed and quickly reaching his breaking point), an EA-6B Prowler ("Moon" who is worse off than Griffin right now), an A-6 Intruder ("Shifty"), and an A-7 Corsair II ("Spike" - who is a brand new pilot and has yet to fly a mission!) to choose from here.

"Waldo" and "Shifty" go in, not due to any special skill but due to the fact that they are fresh.  "Moon" is out.  I doubt he would make it through the mission if something went wrong.  "Griffin" goes in with some reservations and I reluctantly pick "Spike" to go along and hope the new pilot doesn't mess things up too badly.

The AAA and SAMs around the target aren't bad at all and the fact that these Scud Launchers are vehicles means that I can sit back from the target and fire off Mavericks at them without going near the enemy defenses.  There's no subtlety here - just send the entire package straight at the target and sit back, hoping that there aren't too many bandits.  Unfortunately, I draw an "Incoming Bandits" card over the target but we've completely flattened the Scud Launchers by that time and the guys bug out before any interception occurs.  On the way back, we meet the usual enemy SAM launches but "Spike" uses his remaining AtG weapons to suppress them.

At the end of the day, I decide that everyone in the squadron will rest on Day 6.

Day 7:  Enemy Tanks

I shouldn't have done it but I pulled four cards out for the target list today and ended up getting some decent pulls anyway.  I decide to go for Enemy Tanks in order to avoid the -1 VP penalty for not destroying it immediately.  Along with that, I go for a convoy as a secondary target in order to cancel one of the improvement cards that is currently hampering my intel.

I pull the same trick as the previous missions, sending in an air-to-air fighter in the south to hit at enemies from stand-off range while the main strike package goes in and fires off missiles just beyond enemy AAA and SAM range.  AGM-65s find their targets despite a rough first turn where a MiG-29 manages to damage Dingo's A-6 Intruder.

Day 7:  Secondary - Convoy

This mission was only worth 1 victory point and it looked easy but I wasn't taking any chances with only two days left in the campaign.  With only three planes and a target that was located way up north near Hakhmur, the raid would need to sacrifice 3 weapon points per plane to have enough fuel for the mission so for 3 special option points, I went ahead and bought mid-air refueling. I have 12 special option points left for the rest of the campaign.

The flight comes in and there are 3 bandits near the target.  Waldo takes out a MiG-23 and a Mirage III before "Raider" shoots down a MiG-23.  The target is lightly defended after that and, as with the enemy tanks, AGM-65 Mavericks do the trick and eliminate the convoy.  "Raider" and "Camel" are both stressed out at 7 and will be unable to fly tomorrow but the good news is that one of the improvement cards that had been hounding me is now gone.

Day 8

The campaign will be over tomorrow.  Tallying up my VPs, I'm currently at 19 points - enough to earn me an "adequate" rating.  If I want to get a "good" rating, I'll have to try hard.  If I want a "great" rating, I'll need to throw everything I can and use everything I have learned so far to crush the enemy.

I decide against pulling cards, hoping to avoid any scrambles and afraid that I might suffer from Penalty or Improvement cards.  I go for the enemy barracks, worth a nice 4 victory points.

6 planes head out.  "Shifty" and "Dingo" are the main strike package with Mk. 20 cluster bombs while "Waldo", "Kermit" and "Banzai" are mostly for air cover.  "Brick" (E-2C Hawkeye) comes along for mission support.

On the way to the target, we get some very bad cards (Political Limitations - can't destroy targets in approach area - only suppress), which "Brick" rolls successfully to ignore.  The "Shore Leave" card lets me destroy a site and replace it with 3 bandits.  Thanks but no thanks.  "Brick" rolls a 7 to ignore this second event.

We seem to have the pattern now as Waldo pops in from the north and fires off AIM-54 missiles and AIM-7s at nearby fighters and also distracts nearby AAA and SAMs while the rest of the package sneaks in from a totally different direction.  This time, the raid goes low over the target and "Shifty" and "Dingo" drop all their Mk. 20s on the barracks.  "Banzai" lands the final hit, destroying the target but before the raid heads for home, an S-60 AAA site near the target fires at "Banzai".  "Dingo" fires rockets at the AAA sites to suppress but it's no good.  "Banzai" rolls to evade the AAA fire but rolls a 10 both times, and is shot down!

Mayday Mayday!  Banzai is shot down by an S-60.

The flight heads for home and we get an "Important target" for the next mission (worth +1 VP), which is good since we lost a VP due to losing "Banzai's plane.  For the Search and Rescue roll, I get a "10" and "Banzai" is recovered quickly but obviously stressed out from the experience.

Tomorrow will be the last day of the campaign.