Saturday, September 28, 2013

World at War - Counterattack - Scenario 1

Dial 411 For Information is the name of the first scenario for LnLP's World at War expansion titled "Counterattack".  The Counterattack expansion is a single book loaded with scenarios that form two campaigns that revolve around the efforts of two groups of NATO soldiers in the middle of World War III.  I won't give too much of the background story away here for those who are interested in purchasing it.

In this scenario, Task Force Eagle is given the overwhelming job of rescuing a group of prisoners with valuable information.  They are sent up against an entire Soviet Motorized Regiment, which is spread out through three cities on the western edge of the Blood and Bridges map.  This task is complicated by the fact that TF Eagle has no idea in which of the three cities the POWs are located (you have to roll a die to determine their location so I'm not giving any spoilers away here with this report) and they only get 8 turns to snatch the prisoners and get the heck out of Dodge.


Soviet and American Setup


TF Eagle has a couple of distinct advantages thanks to the Special Scenario Rules and it also has a bit of artillery to help get the job done.   Most importantly, TF Eagle has two formation markers while the 62nd MR only gets one.  Getting lots of repeated activations is the only way I can see them succeeding here.




Turn 1 starts and TF Eagle decides to hit Uberdorf first off and check if there are any prisoners there.  Things go poorly in the first turn for TF Eagle as they send out a Bradley, which is immediately disrupted by Soviet Sagger anti-tank missiles.  The first couple of turns bear little fruit for TF Eagle's efforts as they spend valuable time firing ATGMs and pouring Abrams tank fire into the south part of Uberdorf.  Not only did TF Eagle fail to get a second activation throughout any of these initial turns but the Abrams' tank gunners must have been really tired that day because they rolled so poorly that they failed to inflict any considerable damage on the small Soviet contingent in the city.


TF Eagle wasting time south of Uberdorf.

In a huge stroke of luck for TF Eagle, the Soviet Sagger team ran out of ammo after taking out a Bradley platoon and the tide slowly turned in the Americans' favor.  A platoon of Abrams managed to score a disruption on the Soviet infantry and TF Eagle HQ and another Abrams platoon raced into the city by the end of Turn 4, somehow managing to avoid huge volleys of opportunity fire from every corner of the map.  They assaulted the hex and scored a disruption roll on the Soviet infantry in the city,  pushing the Russkies back one hex. The American player rolls a dice to determine if prisoners are located in the hex and miraculously locates and frees them.

POWs are rescued by TF Eagle HQ and Abrams and turn into Scouts.

But it was far from over.  TF Eagle had to haul the liberated POWs back to the south edge of the board under withering fire and pursuit from the 62nd MR.  With only a handful of turns left at this point, it seemed that things could go either way.  The Abrams tanks managed to continue their streak of missing Soviet tanks (at this point, they had failed to score anything worse than a disruption for 6 straight turns).  TF Eagle infantry sitting on the hill approached the 62nd MR HQ as it struggled along the southern crest of a hillside for a better shot at the escaping American POWs but was stopped cold in its tracks by opportunity fire.  Amazingly, it was the M106 mortar platoon that managed to disrupt the Soviets on the hillside.



TF Eagle tries to make its escape with the rescued prisoners while 62MR pursues.

This unexpected disruption to the Soviet plans ended up saving the day as the POWs made their way into the forests to the south and found the exit hex while the rest of TF Eagle plunked away at the pursuing Soviet tanks in vain.  The last opportunity for the Soviets to salvage a win failed spectacularly as they rolled a 12 when attempting to remove their disruption status.


American POWs find their way south to the exit hex under covering fire from TF Eagle.

I'm quite happy I played this the whole way through.  By turn 3, I nearly abandoned the game as I felt the Americans had zero chance of winning. They had failed at that point to reach any of the potential POW hexes and the Soviet 62MR was still in great shape and ready for a fight.  However, the luck of the Americans in finding the prisoners and escaping unscathed through a hail of opportunity fire made up for their agonizingly slow start and lack of activations in the early turns.  The American player rolled poorly but what's even more important is that the Soviet player somehow rolled even worse.  I wanted to immediately play through it again as I felt certain the scenario would be entirely different in the flow of events.

I really enjoyed this scenario due to the tension and uncertainty.  It's also a nice change from fighting straight-up battles.  The random element of prisoner locations (which also influences where the exit hex is located) gives it some very good replayability.  The story behind the scenario is very compelling and the write-up does a good job of immersing you in the fight.  The characters and their overall goals and dispositions serve to give you a feel that you are playing through a story of people on the ground doing the actual fighting and involved in extraordinary circumstances.  I think this story-driven campaign kind of started with Untold Stories (through the character of the East German commander, Wolf) and you can see that Mark H. Walker wanted to follow that kind of story-driven campaign here too. Great stuff!

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Starship Troopers - Homemade Scenario 1

For three months, we had been going back and forth with the bugs on Planet H, a tiny cursed little ball that meandered around a sun several light years from where the main fighting took place.  For the folks back home, the fighting here popped up on their screens for ten seconds on a slow news day but for us, it was everything.  The death of a comrade, the misery of defeat, the elation of victory - events that we would never forget for the rest of our lives barely registered a blip in the collective consciousness of the civilized galaxy and news organs back home.  None of that mattered to us.  Despite being dumped on a backwater planet and forgotten by everyone, we were still Manni's Marauders and we thought of ourselves as one of the toughest fighting units in the Terran Federation.  We were also the most outnumbered.

Without a single resupply ship to be seen or heard from in the last eight weeks, we were in bad shape.  Half of the platoon had been either wounded or killed since the fighting began and Fleet was finally sending in vital reinforcements and resupply.  In the last two weeks, our half-platoon had been covering a sector that most military textbooks would have considered impossible for a battalion to adequately hold and secure.  As we marched north to the drop site for our relief supplies and additional men, no one had any idea just how badly things would go.

Our three squads advanced towards the site with Rossi, the platoon sergeant, ordering us on the all- hands set to keep together in tight formations.  Our suits allowed us to cover the distances pretty quickly and although we were worried about running into trouble, we weren't completely defenceless.  Our  leaders (the platoon sergeant, platoon leader, and the section leader) along with one man in each squad had HE launchers.  If things got really hairy, one of the scouts had a nuclear rocket launcher with him.  After three months, I still hadn't seen the thing in real action although I knew everyone was curious about it.



Squad A advanced straight up the middle while C took the left flank and I was on the right with squad B.  The scouts jumped ahead in their lighter but more mobile armor to check things out.  No one was really expecting anything bad to happen but we were extra careful just the same.  Moralez, the platoon leader (everyone called him Manni out of affection - he was just a really charismatic guy), called a halt and told us to start forming a perimeter.  I think he suddenly started to sense that something was about to go wrong.



Our perimeters weren't really what you would call perimeters in the nice circular military textbook sense.  We didn't have enough men for that.  Instead, we had gotten used to forming protective triangles with the men more or less equally spaced out.  It wasn't perfect but it had worked well for us before.  Anyways, A squad halted to form the bottom of the triangle while Manni, the Squad Leader (a quiet guy named Eckhart) and the rest of C squad went ahead on the left to form the left side and B started forming up on the right.  That's when things went really wrong.




All I heard on the radio net were excited shouts about a breach.  Bugs came pouring out of the ground right near where Peters was standing and all anyone could see was a bunch of legs slashing at his suit before he went down.  I could hear the platoon sergeant telling his men not to fire at the bugs yet and then the ground started to give way beneath my feet.




About a second later, the earth opened up just north of me and the rest of B squad and a heavy weapons bugs' beam weapon sliced almost clean through Mayer, one of my good friends from my boot camp days at Camp Currie. Two bugs jumped on Ricci, the Assistant Squad Leader, only about 10 meters away from me but he fought them off hand-to-hand before going down in a mass of bugs.  No one ever saw him again.




Things were not going well.  Almost everyone was dealing with the bugs at their own position.  No one seemed to know who needed more help.  I could hear cursing and screaming coming from all over the platoon's net.  With the nearest squad having their own troubles west of us on the ridge, I realized that we were basically on our own down here for now.




As it was told to me later, the fighting up on the ridge was intense and very personal.  Tight rock formations made it hard for anyone to get line of sight on the bugs at a distance so the HE launchers were virtually useless unless you got in almost point blank and shot the bugs right in their faces.  The first few kills on bugs by the platoon leader and platoon sergeant were celebrated loudly over the comms until someone figured out that they had only killed the workers, sent out as decoys.

"A" squad hurried to the rescue of "C" squad, jumping into hand-to-hand combat with the bugs.  Peterson got heavily wounded in the fight but it wasn't nearly as bad as us down in B squad.  I think it all started with Ricci, who managed to extract himself from hand-to-hand combat with the bugs.  He made a jump and fired his HE, killing both the bugs near the breach area and I guess that made the rest of us get a bit too cocky.  Gordon, Maples, Thomas, and Carter jumped into close combat with a bug and sliced it clean open (Intel figured out later that it had been a worker bug).  The heavy weapons bug saw all those guys close in together and started firing at the group.  Maples died almost right away while Gordon was heavily wounded.  Thomas tried to limp out and Carter might have made it if not for what happened next.

I glanced to my right and saw the earth collapse.  "BREACH!" was all I could scream before the bugs came right for me.  Out of the corner of my eye, I saw another heavy weapons bug charge to the right and start firing.  Gordon tried to say something over the comms but that was cut short when the heavy weapons beam cut straight through him.  Carter tried to stand up to run and the blast caught him too.  All those guys who got hit with the first heavy weapons bug were getting the same all over again.

I considered jumping into the fray but then I remembered about the nuke.  "Get over here and hit that breach!"I screamed into the net.  C squad's scout jumped straight over at lighting speed from way on the ridge.  For a split second, I saw a flash and then my suit's visors faded automatically to black to shade my eyes.  I could feel the shockwave hit my suit and it scrambled to compensate for the force of the blast.  A few seconds later, I could see a small mushroom cloud climb slowly up from one of the breaches.  The mass of bugs I had seen emerge from the hole just moments ago were vaporized instantly or thrown onto their backs.  Still, some of them looked completely unaffected.  These things were tough.  One of the bugs from the blast area tried to rush at me but suddenly collapsed and died from the radiation.


 

Back up on the ridge, C and A squad, working together, were finally able to get a grip on the situation.  Every single available trooper used their jets to land near the bugs and take them out hand-to-hand.  It was the only thing they could have done since the HE launchers were totally ineffective up there. I hoped and prayed that they would find their way over to help us before we were all dead.




Moralez came on the all-hands net shouting, "B squad, move back to the ridge, damn you!" and that was all it took for me to fall back.   It made sudden sense to me.  The heavies couldn't hit us from range up there and enough of the workers had been killed that the warriors had no more decoys to flood us in an advance.  Gordon, who I thought was a goner, had apparently only a very heavily damaged suit to show for all the beating he took.  Alone down there on the flatlands with all those bugs, we were sure he would be a goner (remember, this was before the bugs started taking humans as prisoners) but they left him alone and he made it to the ridge.  The bugs went back to their breaches right away, maybe sensing that their gamble up on the ridge with C squad had failed.  I don't really know if that's really the reason but I'll take it, anyway.




The bugs were gone...for now.  Manni's Marauders lost some good men that day and I had lost some friends.

As we headed north off the ridge and towards the resupply drop zone, we silently considered our losses.  The comms were quiet and although I knew no one would ever admit it - some of us wept. The unfathomable suffering and dying of the past three months had come to a head.  Manni's Marauders had passed the trials of the previous 12 weeks but for all of us, the war was just beginning.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Freedom in the Galaxy - Flight to Egrix

Over the summer, I received a copy of Avalon Hill's version of Freedom in the Galaxy, a space wargame which was published in the middle of the Star Wars craze in the late 70s/early 80s (originally published by SPI in '79 and then by AH in '81).  Clearly using the Star Wars movies as its inspiration, Freedom in the Galaxy aspires to epic space opera as one player takes on the role of the ruler of a cruel galactic empire while the other player controls the idealistic rebellion.  The objective of the rebel player is to use his characters to start a successful revolution while the Imperial player must crush it.

There are kind of two games in one going on here with Freedom in the Galaxy.  Military units engage in combat much like a standard wargame with the use of CRTs, etc., while at the same time there is an almost "roleplaying" type game happening with characters on both sides trying to influence events.  Imperial characters work together with their military units or alone to prevent galactic rebellion while Rebel characters are sent all throughout the galaxy to foment rebellion and, with enough luck, spark a "domino effect" that will bring in other planets on the Rebel side.

Starting planetary rebellions is extremely tough and takes time and luck.  Characters need to conduct missions to influence a planet and begin rebellions.  Mission cards are used to resolve whether or not they succeed and to what degree.  The results on the cards can often be brutal and unforgiving towards the characters and mission success is sometimes just as likely as the characters having to fight it out with a dangerous creature or irate locals.  In my own limited experience, it seems that sending individual characters out on their own to do missions often results in their demise.  On the other hand, sending a team of characters on the same mission limits how much you can do in a single turn.  This is a dilemma that the Rebels will face throughout a game of Freedom in the Galaxy. The Rebels are always at a disadvantage in terms of time and numbers while the Imperial player is always interested in finding ways to run out the clock on them.

The flow of play for the game is actually pretty simple in the smaller scenarios.  At the start of the turn, the Rebel player performs all his moves and then assigns various missions to his characters. Missions include Diplomacy (which can undermine a planet's loyalty to the Empire), Sabotage (an attempt to destroy military units), Subverting Troops (turning Imperial military units to the Rebel side), Assassinations, Coups, and Gathering Intelligence Information, to name a few.  The major aim of the Rebel player is to turn a planet's loyalty towards the Rebel side and, when the time is right, spark a rebellion.

The Imperial player goes next in the turn and basically performs all the same actions as the Rebels although, of course, their efforts are aimed at keeping planets loyal, killing or capturing Rebel characters, and basically just keeping everyone in line.

Scenario Background

In this small scenario, three rebel characters are attempting to start a rebellion in the Egrix planetary star system.  They have six turns to try and raise as much hell as possible and hopefully begin a rebellion or two.  The three planets of the Egrix system are Charkhan, Angoff, and Quibron.  Each of these planets has an environ (Charkhan actually has two), which can influence the success of certain mission types that Rebel or Imperial characters attempt during the course of the game.  The planets also have a loyalty rating towards either side which can change thanks to events, diplomacy, coups, etc.  If the Rebel characters can get a planet into a state of unrest and begin a rebellion, the "wargame" part of Freedom in the Galaxy kicks in and military combat with CRTs, etc., are used to determine the galaxy's fate while the characters take on more of a background role than before the rebellion starts.

All three planets of the Egrix system are controlled by the Empire at the start of the game.  Imperial Militia units (1-0 strength) are placed on Quibron.  A Patrol unit (1-2) and Militia (1-0) are on Charkhan and the rest of the forces (several Patrol and Line units) are on Angoff.  Although the units are spread out a bit, Angoff gets the bulk of the forces due to its current loyalty rating, which is Neutral.  The other two planets are fairly loyal to the Empire - Charkhan is even considered Patriotic.

For the Rebel player to win this scenario, they need 12 victory points, which is pretty much impossible from what I can tell.  On the other hand, I am pretty new to this game and there are still some strategies I need to try in order to find a way to get close to this number.



The Egrix system with its three planets and Imperial units spread out.


Making Angoff an even more tempting target for the Rebels is the fact that it is dangerously susceptible to a military coup that could push its Loyalty either towards either the Imperial or Rebel faction. For this reason, the Imperial player hopes to head this off by placing two Imperial characters, Jon Kidu and Vans Ka Tie-A on Angoff.


Bad dudes - Jon Kidu, the ruthless military strategist and Vans Ka-Tie-A, an Imperial knight.


Jon Kidu and Vans Ka-Tie-A will be used to search for and capture or kill Rebel characters as well as put down any simmering rebellions on any of Egrix system's three planets.   Each character in Freedom of the Galaxy has a number of attributes (on the back of the cards here) and special abilities or bonuses when going on certain missions.   Jon Kidu is a thinker and strategist, with a higher Intelligence and Leadership rating while Vans is an expert assassin with a high Combat rating.

On the other side of the fence, the Rebels get three characters of their own.  Boccanegra is sort of a space pirate character reminiscent of Han Solo in many ways and he comes with his own ship, the Planetary Privateer.  The other two characters with him are Frun Sentel, basically a big lug with more combat skills than brains, and Doctor Sontag, a genius who excels at matters of Diplomacy and who is able to heal other characters should they be wounded.

Our intrepid Rebel heroes.  Hey, it was the '70s.
Turn 1

Rebel Phase

Turn 1 begins and the rebels land not on Angoff, but on Charkhan.  The Imperial's Planetary Defense Base for Charkhan scans the stars but does not detect the incoming rebels.  Undetected rebels have an advantage in that the Imperial player cannot conduct searches for them or conduct reaction moves, such as moving military units to Rebel locations during Rebel turns.

Incognito, the rebels conduct two separate missions.  Frun Sentel will attempt to start a Rebel Camp, which is basically a small band of rebels that can conduct their own missions independently without the need for the characters.  The plan is to use the Rebel Camp to start trouble on Charkhan while the characters move to Angoff later and start the real rebellion.  While Frun is off recruiting fellow rebel sympathizers, Dr. Sontag and Boccanegra decide to gather information about the nearby Imperial militia units.

While on their missions, Frun is detected by the Imperials thanks to an enemy agent while insect-like creatures attack and sting Sontag and Boccanegra.  Despite these setbacks, Frun manages to start up a rebel camp and Sontag uses a first-aid kit to heal himself.  Sontag and Boccanegra, however, have nothing to show for their efforts.

Imperial Phase

The Imperials move a 1-2 Patrol unit off Angoff and on to Charkhan, hopefully to track down Frun Sentel.   Another militia unit (1-0) moves from the wild environs of Charkhan closer to where the characters have been detected.

Meanwhile, on Angoff, Jon Kidu sees a prime opportunity to conduct a coup and install a more Imperial-friendly government on the planet.  Once a coup is conducted, it cannot be done again by either side so this is a prime opportunity for the Imperials.  Both Kidu and Vans are successful in their attempt and Angoff's loyalty rating towards the Empire rises from Neutral to Patriotic.  This will make it much more difficult for the Rebels to start any trouble here.

Kidu and Vans conduct a successful coup on Angoff.

Turn 2

Rebel Phase

The Rebel characters, having set up a Rebel Camp successfully on Charkhan, decide to move to Angoff.  They slip by the planetary defenses undetected and land on the planet.  Boccanegra and Sontag conduct a successful diplomacy mission, shifting Angoff's loyalty to the Empire down from Patriotic to Loyal.  It's not much but it's a start.

Frun Sentel attempts to start another Rebel Camp here on Angoff but fails, despite finding a small group of locals who succeed in taking down the Planetary Defense Base (PDB) network temporarily.

The Rebel Camp on Charkhan conducts a diplomacy mission with the local government but doesn't get anywhere.

Imperial Phase

The Imperials quickly put the PDB back up  and pull their patrols from Charkhan back to Angoff.  They are amassing military forces in the hopes of finding the Rebels.

Vans and Kidu try to gather information on Angoff in order to find any rebel characters.  They immediately find that the rebel scum are planetside and bumble their way into a trap set by Sentel, Sontag, and Boccanegra.  Luckily, both Vans and Kidu escape the trap after nearly being captured and the turn ends.

Turn 3

Rebel Phase

The game is nearly half-over and the Rebels have made little progress.  It's time to heat things up on Angoff.

Frun Sentel and Sontag attempt a Diplomacy Mission while Boccanegra goes off on his own and tries to subvert local Imperial troops to turn against the Empire and fight for freedom.

Boccanegra, however, is immediately captured by the Imperials.  It seems he has seriously underestimated the Imperial troops' willingness to fight against their own comrades.  Oops!

Sontag and Frun fail miserably in their Diplomacy mission, making a serious error in local protocol.  The native Yesters become even more loyal to the Empire, with their government loyalty rating raised to Patriotic levels.

What a disaster for the Rebels.

Imperial Phase

Having already captured one of the Rebel characters, the Imperials are riding high.  The capture of Boccanegra means that the Rebels will suffer the loss of 2 VPs if he is not rescued by game's end. The Imperials decide to conduct a "Gather Information" mission in order to knock down the Rebels VP count even further.  Unfortunately, the Imperials push things too far and a civil war breaks out on Angoff.  The planet's loyalty tumbles from Patriotic to Neutral.  This was not how things were supposed to work out for the Empire.

Turn 4

Rebel Phase

With only a handful of turns left in the game, the two remaining rebel characters need to make some big decisions.  Should they try to rescue Boccanegra from the Imperial clutches?  Or should they do their best without him?

Both Frun and Sontag agree to mount a rescue effort to save Boccanegra.  While on the mission, they are attacked by irate locals as well as some droids.  Frun is wounded slightly during the fray but both of them are alive, despite not rescuing their buddy.

Frun and Sontag try to rescue their team-mate, Boccanegra.


The Rebel Camp on planet Charkhan has some success with its Diplomacy mission, turning the planet from Patriotic to Loyal.

Imperial Phase

Jon Kidu and Vans decide to try and salvage the situation on Angoff by attempting Diplomacy but they are unable to improve the planet's loyalty to the Empire.

Turn 5

Rebel Phase

Things are bleak for the Rebels but a rebellion on Angoff is possible, although unlikely at this point.  Giving up on rescuing Boccanegra, Frun and Sontag decide to focus all their efforts on starting a planetary rebellion.  By conducting a very successful Diplomacy mission, they manage to shift Angoff's loyalty to Unrest.  The planet is ready for rebellion.  All it needs is one little push in the right direction.

Imperial Phase

With few options left, Jon Kidu and Vans Ka-Tie-A attempt a desperate Diplomacy mission to stabilize Angoff.  They have a little luck after a meeting with the local government, placing the planet up from "Unrest" to "Dissent".  This may be just enough to save things and prevent Angoff from falling into Rebel hands.

Turn 6

Rebel Phase

Last turn for the rebels.  Pulling out all the stops, Frun and Sontag decide to split up.  Sontag will meet with Angoff's governers and military forces in an attempt to put the planet into Unrest.  Once the planet is at this stage, Frun will coordinate military forces and start a rebellion.

Sontag's mission must succeed before Frun's mission card comes up.  The chances of this happening are slim but it's the last turn and they are desperate.

Sontag's mission goes well and the planet is at Unrest, ready for Frun Sentel's signal to start the rebellion in full.  On his way back from the mission, Sontag is attacked suddenly by droids and is killed.  His death is not in vain, however, as Frun's mission card comes through with a success and the rebellion starts on Angoff!

With 9 resource points on the planet, the rebels purchase two 2-1 units and three 1-0 units to throw at the Imperial military forces on Angoff.

Purchased Rebel units

Frun leads the attack on the Imperial military forces.  Unfortunately, his leadership rating is not good so he only gives a one column shift to his forces' benefit.  If Boccanegra had been rescued, his substantial leadership capabilities would have helped out here much better.

Jon Kidu, a very capable military leader, is in charge of the Imperial forces, which gives them three column shifts on the CRT favoring the Imperial side.

Jon Kidu and Frun Sentel duke it out with their forces on Angoff.

The battle begins and everything is on the line in this last turn.  The Imperial forces inflict three hits on the Rebels, taking out all of their militia.  Frun Sentel and his forces are trounced. Not a single Imperial military unit is eliminated.  It seems the Imperial forces will be able to put down this rebellion in due time.

The Rebel Camp on Charkhan has some success in its own efforts, taking the loyalty level from Loyal to Neutral.


Imperial Phase

Jon Kidu and Vans Ka-Tie-A decide to undertake a Stop Rebellion mission in hopes of taking away any end-game VP from the Rebels.  During their attempt, however, irate locals attack both characters.  Jon Kidu slips away from the battle but Vans is quickly overwhelmed by the locals and is killed.  Jon continues the mission on his own but his attempt at stopping the rebellion is a failure.

The game ends.

Victory Points Tally

With one planet in rebellion, the Rebels gain 6 VPs.  Since the evil Vans Ka-Tie-A is dead, they gain another 1 VP. However, since Boccanegra was captured, the Rebels suffer the loss of 2 VPs.  The death of Dr. Sontag also means another 1 VP loss for them.

Despite the Herculean efforts of the Rebels during this small beginner scenario, the Rebels have only a measly 4 VPs to show at the end of it all.  The capture of Boccanegra dealt a serious blow to the Rebel efforts and valuable time was wasted unsuccessfully trying to rescue him .  The rebel camp on Charkhan was okay but I'm not sure it was really worth it in the end.  A successful planet-wide rebellion on Angoff with a good leader may have led to the Rebels capturing the planet and carrying their revolution on to the other planets.  In the end, Freedom in the Galaxy is really about managing your time and resources and pushing your luck at appropriate times, much like any other really good game.

Conclusion

This was an ambitious game for the designers to attempt and whether or not they succeeded has been debated at length on various game forums.  A lot of the concepts that the game tried to emulate through various mechanics (e.g. the idea of creating a "domino effect" where rebellion reaches a certain stage that it drags in other planets and systems) are still noted for their elegance.  On the other hand, the game's play balance and length (rebels get crushed often / 20 hours for the full galactic campaign game) have been subject to criticism.  After spending some time familiarizing myself with the game and its rules over the last few weeks, I started trying the smaller scenarios like this one and although I can't add much in terms of critical evaluation at this point, I have been really enjoying the game.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Operation Garbo - Scenario 1: The Hammer of Thor

Today, I played through the first scenario of Operation Garbo, the Swedish front expansion for World at War.  Titled, "The Hammer of Thor", this particular battle features three Soviet formations against three Swedish formations as they duke it out for control of a city.  The objective for each side is very simple.  The Swedes need to attack and hold an entire city (Ranea, in the northeast corner of board B) in 8 turns while the Soviets need to hold them off.

Swedes must capture Ranea in NE corner.

In order to accomplish this task, the Swedes get the SN Tank Company, TN Tank Destroyer Company, and the QJ Mechanized Infantry Company.  The SN company consists of slow but deadly Centurion tanks while TN has faster but more vulnerable IKV91s.  The QJ Mechanized Company has three platoons of infantry each carried in extremely versatile PBV-302 armored personnel carriers.

The Soviets, on the other hand, get the 22nd Naval Regiment, which has weak but very fast PT-76 tanks that can pack a decent punch at very close range.  The 22nd Support Battalion has a bunch of old BTR-60 APCs with three infantry platoons and two Sagger anti-tank missiles.  Finally, the 22nd Tank Battalion can scarcely be called a battalion at all with only a headquarters unit and a single platoon of T-55 tanks.  It seems the Russians saved their best for the central European front and sent in their second-line units to take on the Swedes.

Both sides get several HE and Smoke artillery missions to make things more fun.

This particular battle is fought on a single map with six formations so things get quite crowded quickly and with artillery and smoke flying around everywhere, it gets pretty cozy.

Deployment

Trying to plan out my deployment for the Soviets, I decided to keep my T-55s away from the hillsides and out of sight of the Swedish tank destroyers.  I wanted them to be available when the fighting got closer to the city.  I placed them near enough to the city so that they can respond quickly to any Swedish rushes.

The PT-76s are even more vulnerable than the T-55s and, for that reason, I also keep them well out of sight by placing them to the north side of the board, just near the forests where some Swedish units might try to wheel around to attack the city from.

The infantry and BTR-60s from the 22nd Support Battalion are placed on the hills to the south of Ranea with enough LOS that the HQ can call in artillery on the Swedes and hopefully fire off some Saggers at any approaching Swedish tanks.

The hope is that the infantry and Saggers will weaken the Swedes before they get near the city and the PT-76s and T-55s will engage any survivors at close range and finish them off.

Soviets set up with infantry to south, T-55s to the rear and PT-76s to the north.


As for the Swedes, I decide that the Swedish QJ Mech Infantry will be placed to the south of their deployment zone and they will take this southern route to hit out at the Soviet infantry of the 22nd Support Battalion, thus eliminating the Soviet anti-tank capability.

SN Tank company will start out in the forest area in the deployment zone and provide long range fire support as well as artillery to cover the advance of both QJ and TN.

TN will advance quickly along the road, take Nottrask, cross the bridge and engage any nearby Soviet enemies around Ranea so that the infantry from QJ will be able to safely enter the city after finishing off the Soviet infantry from 22nd Support Battalion.

Swedish deployment


At least, that was the plan.  Things turned out very very different.

Turn 1

A couple of special scenario rules are in effect for this turn.  First of all, the Soviet 22nd Support Battalion, after a hard night of partying in Ranea, is still completely hammered and unable to activate this turn.  The Swedish have complete surprise and can pull one of their formation markers out to start the game off.

The Swedes pull the SN chit and call in an artillery strike on the 22nd Support HQ sitting on a hill to their southwest.  The HE is completely ineffective but the smoke arty is right on target in L8, which effectively blocks LOS for a couple of turns to the advancing Swedish units.  Although the 22nd Support cannot activate, I'm guessing it can perform opportunity fire so this seems like a good move.

The QJ Mech Inf. duly activates next and moves along the southeast road, licking its chops and ready to take on the infantry of the Soviet 22nd Support.

The Soviet 22nd Naval Battalion activates twice and moves its entire force to the south to help reinforce the infantry of the 22nd Support.  The northern road of advance for the Swedes is wide open now and Swedish TN company takes advantage of this, zooming along the road to the east, straight for Ranea.  One of the Soviet infantry platoons on the hill to the south takes a potshot at the approaching IKV-91s but the fire is completely ineffective.  The Swedish SN battalion trundles slowly along behind them.

So far, very little fighting has occurred.  The Swedes are advancing quickly thanks to the smoke artillery laid down earlier in the turn.  None of the Soviet HQs have LOS to the Swedes, rendering them unable to fire artillery of their own on the advancing units.


Turn 1 End.  Swedes make big advances east towards Ranea with SN and TN companies.


Turn 2

The SN tank company activates and moves east, again taking opportunity fire from the 22nd Support Battalion on the hill to the south.  This is ineffective and no losses are suffered.

TN activates next and fires artillery on the Soviet 22nd Support battalion HQ sitting on the hill but this misses entirely.  They follow this up with a smoke mission that also misses its target and lands too far to the east.

TN activates again and this time, it is able to move without fear as the Soviet 22nd Support is Ops Complete.  By the end of TN's activation, it has IKVs inside Ranea.  Turn 2 and it already looks like Mission Accomplished.  The Soviet 22nd Tank activates next, however, and moves its ageing T-55s up on the hill to the south of the city, dangerously close to TN's advance guard that has just arrived in the city.

Swedish QJ company moves along its southern route to get at the Soviet 22nd Support infantry but the HQ is disrupted by opportunity fire and is halted.  The Soviet 22nd Naval Regiment activates and pulls back to Ranea, right beside the Swedish TN headquarters.  The next chit activates the 22nd Naval Regiment again and it calls in smoke to give itself some cover from the approaching Swedish tank battalion to the west.  It fires an HE mission on the adjacent TN headquarters, disrupting both of its units and then follows up with a successful assault on TN HQ which reduces both its platoons.

Swedish QJ company activates again and fails to rally its disrupted units although a couple of platoons of IFVs loaded with infantry slowly make their way east.  The pace of QJ is agonizingly slow and they are missing the deadline for reaching their short term objectives on the way to the city.

The 22nd Support Battalion, noticing the huge amount of smoke swirling on the battlefield and rendering their Saggers completely useless, decides to pack their infantry up on their BTR-60s and head for Ranea.




Turn 3

The Soviets had some good luck this turn as the 22nd Nav and the 22nd Tank near Ranea started to work together against the TN company.  The 22nd Tank destroys one of the Swedish IKV units already in the city and this is followed up by an assault by the PT-76s of the 22nd Naval Regiment, which destroys the remaining Swedish tank.

The Swedish QJ and the 22nd Support are now in a race for Ranea and it looks like the Soviets are going to win.

Swedish infantry from the TN Company are now forced to rush into Ranea to try and secure parts of it before the Russians arrive.  The PBVs unload their infantry in the north of the city and rush down to assault the 22nd Nav HQ with its PT-76s.  The assault is astonishingly unsuccessful and although the 22nd Nav is disrupted and must withdraw to the south of the city, it is not heavily damaged.

So far, the expected anti-tank missile menace expected from the Soviets has failed to materialize thanks to poor rolling and obscured LOS.  The game has turned into an artillery duel between Swedish and Soviet commanders, laying smoke to prevent long-range weaponry from playing any kind of decisive role in the fighting.  HE artillery has been used repeatedly to soften up enemies prior to assault.


End Turn 3: Soviet 22nd Support races back to Ranea from the south as SN company battles 22nd Tank and 22nd Naval Regiment around the city.


Turn 4

The 22nd Naval Regiment gets its revenge against the Swedish infantry from TN which sent them packing from Ranea in the previous turn.  They call in HE artillery on the infantry, disrupting it.  They follow it up with an assault that completely destroys the infantry platoon in hex T3 and the Russians reoccupy the city.

The SN Tank company sends its own infantry from the north, assaulting the 22nd Naval Regiment in hex T3, reducing and disrupting both PT-76 platoons.  The Soviets yet again withdraw from the city.

QJ Mechanized infantry did not activate this turn, which leaves the Swedish TN and SN companies without major infantry support around Ranea.  What a mess.

22nd Support Battalion arrives near Ranea while Swedish QJ lags far behind.


Turn 5

QJ Mech Inf. finally activates to start off the turn and they trundle along northeast to Ranea.

Back in Ranea, the fighting is fierce as ever.  The 22nd Naval Regiment, battered and bruised, orders a smoke mission to block LOS from Swedish tanks creeping up on the hill to the north.  A second artillery mission, this time High Explosive, slams into the adjacent Swedish infantry from SN company holding hex T3, disrupting it Follow-up close range HE fire from the PT-76s finishes off the Swedish infantry off.   Downtown Ranea has switched hands so many times now in the last two or three turns that it must be just chest-high rubble at this point.

SN company moves its tanks off the hill to the north of Ranea, hoping to get some shots off at the Soviets without the lingering smoke in their way.  The Centurion tanks manage to blast the T-55s of the Soviet 22nd Tank Battalion to smithereens.  This is the first good thing to happen for the Swedes so far.


End Turn 5: SN company takes desperate hold of Ranea.



Turn 6

Turn 6 starts and the Chaos marker enters the cup.

The Swedes' luck holds up this turn with the SN company activating right off and destroying the 22nd Naval Regiment along with its headquarters.  The only real opposition for the Swedes now is the Soviet infantry from the 22nd Support Battalion, speeding its way to the east of Ranea.

Luck seems to have dimmed for the Swedes, however, when the Chaos marker is pulled and the Soviets are granted another HE artillery mission.

The Swedish QJ Mechanized Infantry, so useless until now, manages an activation and sends two APCs with infantry to the east of Ranea while the HQ and one platoon go for the west side.  With the help of the armor from SN company, the Swedes hope to take the city in the next two turns.



Swedish QJ infantry finally arrive near Ranea as Soviet 22nd Support Battalion sets up defenses in city.


Turn 7

The turn starts with QJ Mechanized Infantry on the east side of the city brutally assaulting the 22nd Naval Regiment with its HQ and totally destroying it.  The HQ on the west side of the city approaches and is disrupted.  Two turn end markers are pulled next, ending turn 7.  This does not bode well for the Swedes.  They now have one remaining turn to take the city.

Turn 8

Swedish armor from SN Company now sit on the west and north side of the city, hammering away at the Russian infantry inside.  One Centurion makes a dash into the city and, against the odds, destroys an entire Soviet infantry platoon.

QJ Mechanized Infantry company alights from their APCs but gets disrupted by fire from a BTR platoon on the east side of the city.  However, the infantry on the west side manages to assault a Soviet APC and take hex T3.  The Soviets now have only one hex of disrupted units sitting in Ranea.

The 22nd Support activates, using the extra HE artillery mission it received from the Chaos marker draw in turn 6.  The adjacent QJ mechanized infantry with HQ is disrupted.  AP fire reduces the Swedish APC stacked along with it.  With only these holdouts left in the city, it comes down to the next marker pull, which is either a QJ chit or End Turn.

The next marker ends the turn and the game is over. The Soviets, holding a lone hex in the city, are the victors as the Swedes fail to take the entire city.

Soviets hold on to one remaining hex in Ranea as they are surrounded by Swedish units.



Conclusion

What went wrong for the Swedes?  Primarily, their biggest problem was sending in TN company so far ahead of the other Swedish units.  The double activations of TN that were used for movement resulted in their entering the fray in piecemeal fashion.  They were picked off accordingly and the entire formation was soon lost by the mid-point of the game.  On the Soviet side, it's important to find a way to get those infantry working early in the game even with all the smoke flying around the battlefield and making the use of AT missiles problematic at best.  Both sides seemed to use their artillery wisely enough but the Soviets were able to follow it up with effective assaults or fire that eliminated enemy units.