Sunday, June 30, 2013

Tac Air - Meeting Engagement AAR

Today, I replayed scenario 2 from Avalon Hill's "Tac Air".  In my previous playthrough, the Soviets had the West Germans on the ropes just outside the town of Bayreuth.  However, a little intervention from some Tornadoes on an air interdiction mission ended up saving the day for NATO and shutting down the Soviet offensive completely.  On this playthrough, I resolved to fix some of my earlier mistakes.

As the Soviet commander, I placed the HQs closer to the frontline and surrounded them with interlocking air defenses.  The West Germans did much the same and in order to avoid the beating from last time, they let a handful of units defend the town while setting a trap with a reserve of tanks and infantry. 

Both sides started off much more cautiously this time around, avoiding the over-use of roads so as not to get nailed out in the open by air strikes.  The West Germans did not rush in to meet the approaching Soviet tank battalions.  They set up a small defense and hoped to rush their reserve units into the Soviet flank in order to hit at their vulnerable support units or capture their objective hexes to the west, the city of Kulmbach.

In the early turns, airpower for both sides was mainly used for direct air support, inflicting some light damage on frontline units fighting around Bayreuth. The nearby HQs, however, quickly helped the disrupted units recover and get back in the fight.

The West German right flank approach was not as devastating as the West German commander had hoped although it was very effective in keeping the Soviet commander from committing all his available combat units to the attack on Bayreuth.  Having two different command HQs helped the Soviets as the headquarters of the 52nd Guards Tank Regiment directed the attack on Bayreuth and the higher HQ of the 6th Guards Tank Division commanded the Soviet reserve units protecting the Soviet left flank.  On the other hand, the West Germans benefited enormously from two separate supply units, one of which fed the defenders of Bayreuth while the other supply unit slowly moved behind the flanking West German units.

By mid-game, the Soviets had been absolutely unable to breach any gap in the defense of Bayreuth and had inflicted only minimal damage on the West German flanking units, who had entered Kulmbach.  Su-25s swept in over the battlefield on air interdiction missions, however, and nearly destroyed one of the West German supply units.  This ultimately halted supply of the West Germans who had captured Kulmbach and the Soviets focused all of their attention on them.  The 6th Guards Tank Division HQ directed two Soviet tank battalions to destroy a West German tank brigade, which they happily did after two turns.   Subsequent attacks along with another Su-25 strike finished off the West German infantry by turn 8.

This marked the turn limit and end of the game.  Although the West Germans had successfully held Bayreuth, they had taken a gamble and lost in their attempt to capture Kulmbach.   Although NATO had been using its airpower throughout much of the game to try for a lucky hit on the 6th Guards Tank Division HQ, AAA and SAMs had kept the Tornados at bay.

Soviets eliminate 3 units (infantry, tank, and supply) for 3 victory points and score a major victory.

Although both sides had some artillery, it didn't really come into play for fear of counter battery fire on both sides.  The West Germans suffered from a real lack of air cover due to their reliance on a single unit of Gepard AAA with limited range.  The Soviets seemed to finally learn their lesson from the last disastrous game and group air defense around the highest HQ.  Had the West Germans taken more care with their supply units and played things a bit more conservatively, it may have made for a NATO victory.

Friday, June 28, 2013

How to Lose Badly at Tac Air - Part 1 of Many

It's turn 4 in the second scenario in AH's classic WW3 game, Tac Air.  The Soviets and the West Germans have a "meeting engagement" as the 52nd Guards Tank Regiments pushes west to capture the town of Bayreuth.  The West German 36th Panzer Brigade (12th Panzer Division) is trying to capture the eastern Soviet-held town of Kulmbach.

The West Germans on their last legs defending against the onslaught of 6th Guards Tank Division.
What you are witnessing above is defeat snatched from the jaws of victory.

The Soviets have been pushing very successfully towards the city of Bayreuth for three solid turns.  The West Germans have suffered a completely destroyed tank battalion and although they wisely put their reserve units in defensive position on the outskirts of the city, they have been unable to stem the Soviet advance.

A West German tank battalion held back in ZZ23 threatened to break through and hit at the Soviet rear.  As a result, the Soviet rear echelon stayed well back from the fighting.  Unfortunately, this spread the air defenses much too thin and left the Soviet 6th Guards Tank Division HQ without adequate protection.  Huge mistake.

The West Germans, who were steadily losing ground to the Soviets advance near Bayreuth, quickly seized the opportunity and sent in two flights of Tornados to nail the Soviet divisional HQ.  The single Soviet air defense unit fired uselessly at the approaching Tornadoes.  The bombs struck and scored 3 hits against the Soviet HQ, nearly obliterating it.  For the next 3 turns, the Soviet offensive would be completely halted so the game was called.  It was a stunning win pulled off by NATO.


Sunday, June 9, 2013

Two New Games

This week, my copies of Tac Air (1987 - Avalon Hill) and Honneur et Patrie (2012 - Lock 'n Load) arrived in the mail.

Tac Air and Honneur et Patrie

Tac Air is an old school AH game about the coordination of tactical airpower and ground forces.  It is very much a product of its era.  The setting is late Cold War near the border between East and West Germany with the VII Corps facing off against the Soviets.  I have played the basic game several times now and it is quite exciting, especially when the aircraft - the real stars of the game - show up and wreak havoc on the battlefield.  The game successfully highlights how airpower can be a real game changer if used correctly.  One of the great things about the game is that you can not only target frontline units but you can (and definitely should) go for the softer targets to the enemy's rear.   Quite often, it's more effective and easier to just hit an enemy's supply trucks with a single aircraft rather than send in an entire squadron to hit enemy tanks.

Tac Air - Soviets push towards their objectives.

In my first play of the basic game, however, there was no supply or enemy HQ to really worry about.  This was just a slugfest between armor, helos, and infantry all for the sake of a little three hex town in West Germany, just a stone's throw from the inter-German border.  Despite some stiff opposition from NATO tanks, the Soviets punched a corridor through a forest just north of the town. During the air phase, two MiG-29s wandered onto the battlefield and pounced a pair of A-10s going for a run at a platoon of T-72s.  Two F-16s tried in vain to help them but had to abort as Russian SAM and AAA was too heavy.  This kept the Americans away from the Soviet armor for much of the rest of the game and although the Soviets took some losses, they captured the three hex town by the end of turn 5, much to the alarm of NATO.

I broke out Honneur et Patrie this morning and I was immediately impressed by the quality of the product.  HetP is an expansion for Lock 'n Load Publishing's "Heroes of the Gap".  Based on a fictitious (of course) WW3 that happened in 1985, HetP adds in the French to the mix.  HetP uses the map boards from "Heroes of the Blitzkrieg" so the player can battle it out in the West German countryside.
The scenarios are pretty nicely written and the variety of vehicles and weapons breathe new life into the game.  Whereas the numerically superior but less well-equipped Soviets were up against powerful American M1 Abrams tanks in Heroes of the Gap, the Russians find themselves at a distinct advantage against the smaller French AMX armored vehicles.

HetP - Plays nicely and looks good on your table, too.

The real star of HetP, however, is the artwork.  David Julien did a simply stunning job of bringing this expansion to life.  The scenario booklet, in full color, features a picture above each scenario title that makes you want to jump in and start playing.  Then there are the units themselves.  The images of leaders, heroes, and squads are so vivid and colorful that they almost seem to jump off the counters and introduce themselves to you.  It is a beautiful game and though I know it is an unfair comparison to a 25 year old game, it just goes to show you how far gaming art has come since the days of Tac Air.  Not only do many people expect games to play well these days, they also need to look good while doing it.

The first scenario of Honneur et Patrie, called "First Blood", features a kind of meeting engagement between the French and Soviets in West Germany during the opening days of the war.  The Soviet objective is to clear the area around a road intersection of any French troops or vehicles.  The Soviets get 3 T-72s, some BTRs, and two platoons of soldiers to get the job done while the French get some light APCs, a tank, and about the same number of men to spoil the Russian plan.  It's a smaller scenario that seems to favor the French at first - but when the T-72s entered on turn 3, they made short work of my French APCs while the two Soviet leaders managed to isolate and surround three squads on the southern part of the board and make short work of them.  Things ended by Turn 6 with a stunning French defeat.

I'm looking forward to getting both of these games on my table once again.  The advanced rules for Tac Air look like they add lots to the game - with artillery, weather, supply, and command to consider.  Honneur et Patrie, I think, will take some time to get better with the French.  Today, I discovered rather quickly that you cannot have the French fight like the Americans or you will lose badly.

Sunday, June 2, 2013

On The Table - May 26 to June 2, 2013

This week, I had some time to sit down and play two great games from 1987, Air Superiority (GDW) and 7th Fleet (Victory Games).

In the Air Superiority game, I tried the scenario out for the "Gulf of Sidra" dogfight between two Libyan Su-22s and 2 American F-14s.  The Gulf of Sidra scenario recounts the August 19, 1981 incident where a pair of Libyan Su-22s fired on two Tomcats.  The F-14s subsequently shot down both Su-22s and it was not until 1989 when the Libyans would try again (and fail again) to shoot down American fighters in the area.

Fast Eagle 102 - one of the Tomcats involved in the incident.

Since I haven't played a great deal of Air Superiority before and I found the steep learning curve intimidating on my first try, I decided to take it slow and played a couple of turns each night during the previous week.  Most of the time was spent looking up rules rather than moving around my fighters but I felt a step closer to getting the system down.

The F-14s did not have much luck trying to outmanoeuvre the Su-22s at close range although one Tomcat did manage to make a gun attack (which missed spectacularly) on one of the Libyan planes.  The Su-22s could not find any joy either, unable to get the F-14s in their limited radar arc.

The Tomcats finally decided to play a game of "bait the hook".  One F-14 headed north on afterburner, providing a juicy target for both Libyan pilots.  In the meantime, the other F-14 locked up both targets and shot down one of the Su-22s.  The other Su-22, with an AIM-9L heading for its tailpipe, got close enough to the bait Tomcat and managed a kill with guns before it went down in flames.  I made lots of mistakes while playing this scenario but it was good fun.

In 7th Fleet, I played the scenario "The Invasion of Hokkaido" where the Soviets decide to send some regiments to capture the northernmost main island of Japan during a territorial dispute.  The US needs to get Marines and supplies to northern Honshu/southern Hokkaido and the Soviets try desperately to stem the Americans from reinforcing the area.

Task Group 1 and Task Force 3 make their way to friendly port in Japan while Soviet subs look on helplessly.

This was a fantastic scenario, incorporating all the different unit types (submarine, surface, and air units) together.  It had been a while since I had played a scenario of this scope but the design of the scenario was extremely good.  Early American successes with cruise missile attacks on Soviet airbases effectively shut down much of the offensive air capabilities of the Soviets.  However, the Russians did manage to use their remaining air units early in the game to destroy one of the Marine ships.

The Americans shot down enemy combat air patrols protecting the Soviet main task force and sent in waves of F-18s and A-6 intruders to destroy their key ships, including the pride of the Soviet fleet, the cruiser Riga.  Soviet subs managed to whittle down one of the task forces with supply ships but could not destroy it completely before it got under American carrier air cover.  With few Soviet interceptors left to challenge the US carrier's F-14 Tomcats, the Soviet bomber and attack planes quickly became useless and the Soviet commander was not quite desperate enough to send his men out on suicide missions.

One of the Marine ships got through to their destination in Hakodate while all of the supply units (although 2 of them were damaged) managed to get to friendly port as well.  Tactical coordination with submarines and surface units managed to result in the decimation of the Soviet fleet.  This scenario teaches one of the fundamental lessons of the Fleet series - defensive air power is hugely decisive and the sooner you can get your guys under the protection of fighter aircraft, the better off you will be.  The Soviet player needs to find ways to hit at the American ships early in the game before they can find air cover.  The decisive US victory made up for the earlier thrashing of the Americans by the Soviets in an earlier game of the previous scenario "Return of the Dreadnoughts", whereupon the Russians reduced two American task forces to scrap metal near the tip of northern Hokkaido.