Saturday, March 23, 2013

Death of the 1st Panzer - Blind Sided (x3)

Yesterday I pulled out the World at War expansion, "Death of the 1st Panzer" and decided to play scenario 1, "Blind Sided".  I've played this scenario before many times and my Soviet tanks almost always end up as heaping wrecks strewn across the West German countryside.

Trying to improve a bit on my Warsaw Pact tactics, I ended up playing this same scenario several times just to see how different approaches would affect the outcome.  In this short article, I'm going to demonstrate the very different flow of three different playthroughs of this scenario and the lessons I learned from them in regards to World at War tactics.

In the scenario, "Blind Sided", the West German 1/171 Panzergrenadiers is caught by surprise by elements of the Soviet 1st Tank Army on the opening day of the war on May 14th, 1985.  The Soviet commander's job is to capture all the city hexes of Walkerburg in the southwest corner of the map while the West Germans, caught out of position and by surprise, must scramble their meagre forces to defend it.  The scenario is only 8 turns but the smaller map means that the Soviets don't have to cover too much ground to get to their objective.  

The scenario starts with two platoons of Marders and infantry along with a Jaguar sitting on the road to the northeast of Talen.  The 1st Tank, with eight T-72 platoons and a BRDM-AT, gets a free activation to begin the game.  

West German setup

Game 1

In my first game, I decided to try and use the hills to the south as cover for the Soviet 1st Tank, hoping to get some good activations and push them into Walkerburg without taking any losses.  

The Soviets got some very nice activations here.  They activated twice in the first turn and in each subsequent turn, they leaped forward to their objective.

Unfortunately, this also let the West German Marders and Jaguar waltz back to Walkerburg and set up infantry (with Milan ATGMs) and Marders in the city to await the onslaught of the 1st Tank.  On Turn 5, 1st Tank received the first activation chit and approached.  Predictably, a slaughter ensued as 1st Tank rushed the city and the Soviet T-72s were crushed by a hail of anti-tank missile opportunity fire followed by two activations of the 1/171st PzG.  Turn 6 started with two activations of the 1/171st, which was more than enough to make short work of the Soviet 1st Tank.  Clearly this approach was not going to work for the Soviets.

Game 2:

So I set up the same scenario again and decided to go with radically different tactics for the Soviets.  The major weakness of the West Germans is the thin armor for their Marders and the fact that most of the elements of the 1/171st start out in the wide open road without defensive cover.  This provides an opportunity for a very aggressive Soviet opening.  Instead of preserving my forces through a long march through the southern hill route, I was going to go for the throat right off the bat.

Game 2:  No subtlety here.  Just come on the board and blast away.

I pushed the Soviets onto the board from X4 and hoped for the best.  Opportunity fire from the Marders (the infantry were loaded inside, unable to fire their Milans) destroyed and disrupted a handful of Soviet platoons but the damage was surprisingly minimal.  Moving fire from the Soviet tanks managed to reduce one of the Marders and infantry.  The BRDM-AT moved into the city down south and got into a firing position.  

The next activation chit was 1st Tank, which was extremely lucky.  Soviet HQ called down artillery, disrupting a Marder with the HQ and also disrupting the Jaguar.  From that point, it was simply a matter of marching forward with moving fire and pasting whatever was left of the 1/171.  By turn 3, there was nothing left of the West Germans and Walkerburg was easily taken by turn 7.

Game 3

This was the most even game of the three and probably the best of them.

The Soviets opened with the same moves as before but did not meet with the same amount of success.  Although the West German Jaguar and one Marder (along with loaded infantry) were destroyed in the opening salvos (again with solid 1st Tank activations coming one after the other in the first turn), the Germans were not pulverized completely.  

The HQ, Marder and infantry wisely moved back from the Soviet onslaught and made their way to Walkerburg where they set up a defensive position and waited for the Soviets.  Thanks to decent West German opportunity fire, the Soviets had only 2 full-strength T-72 platoons, 4 reduced strength platoons, and the BRDM- AT.

The Soviets tried their best to keep what remained of their battered force.  The BRDM-AT managed to disrupt the Luchs sitting in Talen.  The Soviet HQ then assaulted it in the town, opening up a path down to Walkerburg.  

As the game turn limit approached.  The Soviets found themselves facing a stack of unloaded infantry and Marders in one corner of the city.

The last turn came around and the Soviets were in perfect position for an assault.  

With two full strength Soviet platoons sitting to the north of Walkerburg and the remainder of the  reduced T-72s sitting to the east of it, there was just enough fight left to try and take the city.

Of course, it could have all gone wrong.  If the Soviets didn't activate, the game would be over and NATO would chalk up a win.  As it turned out, however, the first chit pull was 1st Tank and the plan went accordingly.  

Two reduced platoons rushed into the city and were disrupted and destroyed, respectively, by opportunity fire from the West German Marder and Milan.  The full strength units rushed south and hit the West Germans hard, scoring 3 hits while taking the same lumps in return.  The West Germans now found themselves facing down an HQ with a reduced Soviet T-72 platoon while they themselves had only a disrupted group of infantry and a reduced Marder.

The final battle for Walkerburg:  Game 3.

The final rolls came in with the Soviets scoring a single hit on the West Germans in a brutal assault while the West Germans, rolling for 6s, scored nothing.  With nowhere left to retreat, the West Germans were eliminated and the Soviets held Walkerburg.   It had all come down to the wire with no room for error for either side.  


Well, the Soviets were successful in two of these three games, taking a huge gamble right off the start by entering the board and firing away at the West Germans.  Had the rolls not come out right, things could have gone very badly for them.  The "safe" option in the first game of using terrain and the southern hill route turned out not to be so safe after all.  There are times that the Soviets really need to just take a huge risk and go for broke when the enemy is vulnerable.  With more forces at their disposal, the odds of the Soviets scoring that critical hit that eliminates a vital NATO unit are not so bad. The key is to get your guys firing at NATO rather than just moving all the time, which can allow the enemy get into a nice defensive position.  Even shooting from a bad position (long range, moving fire) is better than this option, I find.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

World at War Primer: Helicopters

So you think you know World at War by now?  There's one essential ingredient you need to know how to use in order to bring it all together.  Helicopters!

Let's go through basic helo movement and combat today.

Helo Movement:

Helicopters basically have two modes.

These modes are:

  1. Flying - a flying helicopter can move
  2. Hovering - a hovering helicopter cannot move (duh).  It must switch to flying mode before it can move.
A helo's mode is denoted by which side of the counter is displayed. 

Hover mode (left)   Flying mode (right)

You'll notice that the hovering helicopter can use its AP firepower while a helicopter in flying mode cannot do so.  Also, the fact that flying around makes it harder to hit stuff is reflected in the higher "to hit" number for the helo's HE firepower in the lower left corner.  You'll notice that the flying mode HE is underlined, which indicates that the Cobra is capable of moving fire (as all attack helos are capable of doing).  There is no FP minus or "to hit" penalty for moving fire for the helos.  What you see on the counter in terms of FP and "to hit" is what you get.

Helicopters can change modes ONCE during their activation and it must be the first thing they do.  You cannot move a flying helicopter all over the place and then throw it in hover mode in the same activation.  

Flying, Moving and Firing

Let's talk about flying helicopters first.

When helicopters first enter the map, they are always flying.  Flying helicopters can move an unlimited amount of hexes anywhere they want on the map IF they are not shooting.  Yes, you need to actually show the movement path to your opponent so that opportunity fire can be conducted against them if they enter an enemy unit's range.  If you want to conduct fire with a flying helicopter it can only move a maximum of 12 hexes.

Here's an example:

In the above example, we have a Cobra helo from Alpha company. Alpha has just had its formation drawn through a chit pull.  The US player wants the Cobra to come in and fire at the T12 ATG in hex G5.  

First off, the Cobra is going to need to enter the board flying so we make sure that the flying side of the helo counter is face up.

The Cobra comes on in flying mode and it can move up to 12 spaces.  We could just move the Cobra right adjacent to the T12 ATG and get a close range bonus for the HE fire "to hit" number but this would result in opportunity fire against the Cobra (yes, I know it looks like the T12 can shoot at the Cobra in D3 anyways but trust me, it can't.  We'll get to that later).

So the US player moves the Cobra over to D3 and opens up on the T12 ATG with its HE firepower.  We roll 3 dice for a "to hit" of 5 or higher.  The results are 4/1/6.  The Cobra scores one hit on the T12 ATG.  The T12 is a soft target in clear terrain and gets no defensive die so it is automatically disrupted.  

The Cobra is marked Ops Complete.  As with all moving fire, you cannot move, fire, and then keep on moving.  Once you fire, that's it for the unit's activation.

Switching Modes and Hovering

As stated above, a helicopter can switch modes only once per activation and it must be the FIRST thing that it does.  

Let's say in the example above that Alpha gets activated twice in a row through a lucky chit pull.  The Cobra spots a T-80 platoon in the distance and it's within range.  So the player now switches the Cobra from flying mode to hover mode as its first action and then fires at the T-80 platoon.

The Cobra switches to hover mode and now we suddenly have our AP firepower.  The T-80 platoon is well within range of the Cobra's 20 hex AP range.  We roll 4 six-sided die and hope for a "to hit" of 4 or higher.  The result is 6/3/2/4.  The Cobra scores two hits on the T-80 platoon.  The T-80 platoon now rolls defensive dice (3 dice for 5 or higher) and gets 5/6/1.  Both Cobra hits are negated.  The Cobra is marked Ops Complete.

So far, I think this is pretty straightforward.  However, things get a bit more complicated with Line of Sight for helos.  Let's take a look.

Helicopters and Line of Sight

To understand helicopters and their line of sight, you first have to understand how their altitude works.  Altitude is considered in terms of "levels" in World at War.  There are three levels, in order of height.  Helicopters are considered as basically flying just above whatever terrain is below them.

Level 1:  Helicopter is flying over more of less flat ground:  clear terrain/crops/rough/etc.

Level One Flight

Level 2:  Helicopter is flying over elevated terrain (hills, woods hexes on ground level, city)

Level Two Flight

Level 3:  Only when helo is flying over wooded hill or city hill hex.

Level Three Flight
Depending on which level the helo is flying, its LOS varies.  Since all LOS is reciprocal, this also means the height can affect which units have LOS to the helo.

Level One flight LOS:
For helos at Level one, simply treat their LOS the same as if it were a regular ground unit sitting on the edge of a hill.  This means it can fire at :
  • ground level units with no blocking terrain (i.e. hills) in between the helo and the target (I10)
  • hill level units with no other hills in between the helo and the target (same hill hexes are okay as long as they are not wooded hill hexes)  (M10)
They cannot fire at:
  • ground level units that are one or two hexes adjacent/behind a city hex   (G16)
  • ground level units that are one hex adjacent/behind a woods hex (M14)

Level One:  Black = LOS   / White = No LOS
The black lines indicate to which units the helo has LOS (and vice versa) and the white lines represent the units to which the helo has no LOS (and vice versa).

Level Two Flight LOS

LOS for helos at level two are a bit different. The main difference between level one and two flight is that helos can:
  • fire at ground units that are next to a hill that the helo is currently flying/hovering over. (N7)
  • fire OVER hill hexes at ground level units as long as there are no wooded hill hexes in between the helo and the ground level unit  
Helos at level two can't fire at:
  • hill level units that are behind wooded hill hexes - whether or not the units behind them are adjacent to the wooded hill hex (T7 and U7)
  • ground level units adjacent to a hill hex (this does not apply if the hill in question is the one the helicopter is on). (T6)
  • ground level units behind a woods hex or two hexes behind a city hex

Level Two:  Black = LOS / White = No LOS

Level Three Flight LOS

Helos at this level have almost the same LOS as helos at level two.  A helo in level three flight can:
  • fire at ground units that are next to a hill that the helo is currently flying on. (N7)
  • fire OVER hill hexes at ground level units (W11)  as long as there are no wooded hill hexes in between the helo and the ground level unit  (X10)
  • fire at hill level units that are two or more hexes behind a wooded hill hex.   (U7)
They still cannot fire at ground level units that are behind/adjacent to a hill hex that is not part of the hill which the helo is currently flying or hovering over  (T6) nor can they fire at anything within the two hex blocking shadow of a city or one hex blocking shadow of woods (T7)

Level Three:  Black = LOS / White = No LOS

Helo LOS is always a bit hard to figure out so forgive any mistakes.  My best advice is just to go slow when starting to use them and check the LOS chart on the reference table.  

Helicopters and Combat

We've already gone over helos moving and firing, switching to hover mode and firing their AP.   A couple more things need to be mentioned.

Helicopters are hard to hit due to their speed and relatively small size.  As a result, there are penalties for shooting at helicopters.

First off, ground units that have an underlined firepower can never attack a flying helicopter.   They can attack hovering helos.

Secondly,  all ground units except anti-aircraft units (AAA units and SAMs) which are indicated by their blue firepower rating on their counter, have their ranges halved when shooting at helicopters.  Non-anti-aircraft units cannot use extended range when targeting helicopters.

Here we have a Hind helo hovering in hex O13.  Let's see what each unit is rolling to hit the Hind:

ITV: (hex S14)

ITVs cannot fire at flying helicopters due to their underlined range of 20.  However, because the Hind is hovering, the ITV can fire at it.  The ITV's range is halved from 20 hexes to 10 hexes but that's okay because the Hind is only 4 hexes away.  The ITV rolls 4 dice for 4+ to hit.

Chaparral (hex S16)

The Chaparral is an anti-aircraft unit (as denoted by its blue firepower rating) so it receives no penalties for range.   It can fire at a helo regardless of whether it is hovering or flying.  Also, because this is a AAA unit with a non-underlined range, it does get close range bonuses (and can also fire at extended range if need be).  The Chaparral is only 5 hexes away from the Hind so it gets a close range bonus and is rolling 2 dice for 3+ to hit.

Abrams (hex U12)

The Abrams is a non-anti-aircraft unit with a non-underlined range.  It can always fire at helos whether they are flying or not as long as they are within range.  The AP range of the Abrams is 10, reduced to 5 because it is firing at a helo.  Range from T12 to the Hind in O13 is 5 hexes.  As a result, the Abrams rolls 4 six sided dice for a to hit of 4+.  On a side note:  non-AAA units never get close-range bonuses to hit helicopters so if the Abrams was only 2 hexes away from the Hind, it would still be rolling the same firepower/to hit (4 dice for 4+).

Abrams (hex Y15)

Just like the other Abrams, this unit's range is halved from 10 to 5 hexes for firing at a helicopter.  The range from Y15 to the helo in U12 is 10 hexes.  This is considered extended range so the Abrams in this hex cannot fire at the Hind.

Helicopters and Pop-Up Attacks

Helos have a special attack known as a pop up attack.  This lets them hide behind a terrain feature, ascend quickly by one level and fire at enemy units before descending again behind the terrain feature.  This move is meant to avoid exposing the helo to enemy fire.

To conduct a pop up attack, the helo's owner declares the attack beforehand and then considers the helicopter has moved up one level of flight (e.g. level one to two or two to three)

When the helo moves up, one (and only one) enemy unit that is in range and in good order and not ops complete can conduct opportunity fire.  Like an assault, the hits are determined and allocated after both sides roll the dice.  

Here's an example:

The Hind in L11 wants to conduct a pop up attack against the Chaparral in Q9.  Right now, the Hind is over clear terrain and at level one height.  It may not presently attack the Chaparral because at level one flight a helo "may not fire at an enemy unit on ground level if a hill hex (M11 and N10) is between the attacker's hex and target hex".  So the Hind is going to need to pop up from behind the hill to level two where there is no such LOS restriction.

The Soviet player declares pop up.  The Hind in hex L11 ascends to level two flight and the Chaparral SAM unit and the helo see each other.  The Chaparral conducts opportunity fire, rolling 2 six sided dice for 3+ to hit.  It rolls a 4 and a 6 and gets two hits.  The Hind rolls 1 dice for 5 to try and negate one hit.  The Hind rolls a 3.  No luck.  The two hits on the Hind stand.

But these hits are not allocated yet.  

The Hind now gets to roll 4 dice for 4+ to hit.  It rolls 3/4/4/4.  3 hits.  The Chaparral rolls for its defensive armor, 1 six sided dice for 6 and gets a 5.  No luck.  

Now the hits are allocated.

The Hind takes two hits and is destroyed (helos can only be disrupted and hit once before they are destroyed - they don't get the disrupt - reduce - destroy cycle that most ground units get).

The Chaparral takes 3 hits and is disrupted, reduced, and destroyed.  A wreck marker is placed in hex L11 and another wreck marker is placed in Q9. 


I hope that helps explains helicopters a bit.  They're pretty easy to use but the LOS can be a little tricky at times.  I'm not 100 per cent sure I got that section right but feel free to let me know if you see any mistakes.  

Thanks again to Pascal for the article idea!