Sunday, February 23, 2014

D-Day at Omaha Beach: June 6,1944

D-Day at Omaha Beach, published and reprinted recently by Decision Games, is a solitaire offering that lets the player take control of the US 1st and 29th Divisions in a bid to storm Omaha Beach on June 6, 1944.

Designed by John H. Butterfield (of "Ambush!" and "RAF" fame), the game is primarily card-driven.  A typical turn will have the player drawing a card to see what happens to his units about to land on the beach, then draw again for special events, and then once more to see which German units fire and what American units are hit.  The US player then gets a handful of actions (moving, attacking, etc.) for his units in each division.

In the game's introductory scenario, Easy Fox, the player has control of the 1st Division as it battles for control of the eastern half of Omaha beach, which includes Easy Red and Fox Green sectors.  The scenario goes on for 16 turns and it's notoriously tough to win.  The US player needs to get his men off the beach and take out all the German opposition on top of one of two draws.  So not only do you have to get through the death trap waiting for you just off the shore in the form of bunkers and machinegun nests, but you also need to contend with fighting through bocage and into the nearby coastal towns.

Here's how my own recent playthrough went:

The American tanks are sent out first, launched from the horrific distance of 5000 yards out from the beach amid turbulent seas.

American tanks sent to land on Fox Green and Easy Red.

Two of the tank companies are immediately wiped out before even landing on the beach while another is delayed and the remaining two are reduced to half-strength.  The two tank units clamber on to the beach and one of them manages to disrupt a German machinegun nest.

The remnants of the tank companies on the beach.

On the second turn, the 16th Infantry Regiment starts to land after drifting far to the east towards Fox sector.

16th Infantry Regiment lands on the beach.
F company drifts into H company's landing hex, providing the Germans with a concentrated target.  The men start taking casualties immediately.  Engineers start clearing the beach to the right of the American landings.  I also managed to get a couple of tank platoons on the beach on this second turn.

I had my tanks start to provide cover fire for the 16th regiment as it made its way to the shingle.  It had no effect on the Germans.

By the next turn, the 16th has taken even more casualties on its way to the shingle.

Two infantry companies have been reduced to single step strength.  If six more companies suffer the same fate, the game is over and I will have lost.

16th makes its way to the shingle and two tank companies of the 741st follow.

For my two actions, I sent two tank platoons from 741st tank battalion to follow the depleted infantry towards the shingle and hoped for the best.

Turn 4 arrived and several more companies of men from the 16th Infantry Regiment were arriving.  Again, I faced a terrible situation where two companies (K and G) landed too close together and provided a concentrated target for the German machinegunners.  They ripped into the American infantry as the soldiers disembarked from their craft.  The only positive note, if you could call it that, is that this left my guys huddling at the shingle safe from fire.

K and G companies land together at Fox Green providing a target for the German machineguns.
Things were getting desperate and it was time for the US to try and assault WN 61 bunker.  Luckily, the event card had given me an extra action this round, so I used both tanks to support an infantry assault on the machineguns by E and L company.

Infantry and tanks work together to attack the Germans at WN 61.
After flipping over the German marker, it revealed that I needed bangalores and mortars to successfully defeat it.  Luckily, the remnants of E and L companies still had these tools, so the German depth marker was revealed.  The marker indicated that it could only be taken out by naval gunfire.  So much for luck at that point.  I had no naval artillery whatsoever, so I would need to sacrifice an attacker in the coming turns to take it out.  This was going to cost me.

Turn 5 came and the beach was looking completely nuts.  All of my infantry and tanks had been drifting east with the strong tides so Fox Green was absolutely crowded with guys while Easy Red sector was nearly vacant except for a single reduced tank platoon that had done nothing since the invasion had begun.

Fox Green has a traffic jam while Easy Red is nearly empty.  
Determined to take out WN 61, I push one of my tank platoons up towards the shingle and out of German intensive fire while sending L company of 16th regiment up on to the bluff to hit the Germans from the flank. This will negate the German's defenive bonus from the terrain.  The new arrivals of I company get shot to pieces on their landing.  Anguish.

It's turn 6 and K company gets raked by machingeun fire and is reduced to a single squad.  However, the combined use of tanks and infantry manages to take out the depth marker from underneath the German machinegunners at WN 61.  The remaining Germans are disrupted and should be easy to completely clear out by the end of next turn.  I currently have suffered 4 major losses of units so I'm halfway to losing the game right now.  I need to keep moving and have a bit of luck.

WN 61 in trouble as American tanks and infantry assault.
Turn 7 provides a couple of disappointments as a lone infantry company far to the west in Easy Red sector suffers two step-losses.  L company from the 16th regiment again gets hit and now I have lost 6 companies total.  Two more similar losses and the beach will be closed down by Allied High Command.

The good news, however, is that WN 61 has been taken out and now the way up the draw is clear.

The behemoth of the beach, the WN 62 machinegun bunker, sits just to the right of the main American effort and with several actions available this turn, I sent my freshest units and a tank platoon to the west to start taking it out.   Hopefully, the dominoes will start to fall now and the draw will be mine.

C company and a tank platoon moves towards WN 62 to prepare for an assault next turn.

At the end of turn 7, the tide rises from low tide to mid-tide, so I ended up losing two reduced tank platoons and a group of artillery that were sitting at the edge of the shore.  It's a tragic loss but I needed to spend my efforts elsewhere on the beach and keep my infantry and tanks moving.

Turn 8 landings start and I finally get an HQ on the beach in Fox Green sector.  HQs provide many benefits, the most important of which is to give adjacent units free activations.  This puts everything into overdrive for the Americans.  We might just be able to pull through yet.

The 16th Infantry Regiment's HQ lands on the beach and starts issuing commands.
The cards are once again in my favor this turn as a hero is created for the 1st Division.  I place him with C company of 1/16th to help with the assault on WN 62.  In the meantime, the HQ starts sending infantry up across the bluff to take out German reinforcements that have been arriving since this morning.

During the action phase, B and M companies move up adjacent to WN 62 and get ready to take it out in the following turn.

M and B companies are both adjacent to WN 62 while the remnants of F and I companies move up the bluff.

In the subsequent turn, M and B companies manage to disrupt the German infantry in WN 62 and remove the depth marker.  By turn 9, the Americans in B company move up off the beach and D company, which had landed far to the west in the earlier hours of the invasion, joins up with the main American assault.

The HQ decides to leave the WN 62 assaulters to do their work and focuses instead on moving up on the left side of the map to use his depleted forces and some artillery to hit at the German reinforcements in the bocage near the coast.

Turn 9 actions.  HQ sends I and F companies to the left while three companies on the right start to head off the beach.

Turn 10 begins and Gen. Wyman, commander of the 1st Division is lined up to land on the next turn.  The Americans get another hero, who is placed with D company of 1/16.  I decided to put the hero there because they give units free activations.  I sort of envisioned the 16th HQ taking care of the German reinforcements to the left while the two companies with heroes acted independently to take on the German reinforcements to the right.

F company and I company are directed by HQ to assault the Germans in the bocage while the HQ itself coordinates artillery fire.  Unfortunately, things don't turn out well.  The assault reveals that the Germans are very strong (defense of "3" doubled to "6").  Since the attacking factors are 12, the Germans are given a depth marker, which makes them even tougher to take out.

I and F companies fail to dislodge the Germans in the bocage.

On Turn 11, the American units on the right flank make a joint attack with M and B companies to destroy the remnants of WN 62 machine gun bunker.  The fight is hardly over as German reinforcements in a nearby village are holding fast.

The last resistance from WN 62 crumbles as M and B companies take out the machine gun bunker.

The two companies led by heroes make their way towards the German defenders in a group of buildings just south of the machine gun nest.  Neither company has suffered any losses so this could be a very easy battle indeed.

Americans slowly make their way towards German reinforcements beyond the beach.

At turn 12, I can see that this game could go either way.  It seems likely I'll take out the German reinforcements on the right flank but I'm having some terrible trouble on the left flank.  The HQ will need to shift additional forces over to help its flagging assaults on the entrenched Germans.

M company and B company are sent towards the 16th regiment HQ while the two full American companies on the right can probably handle things on their own, especially since they have heroes with them.  The recently landed 6th field artillery is sent up towards the HQ as well to help out with the fighting on the left.

Units start to shift over east to help out the American assault on the left flank.  

General Wyman starts to send reinforcements up on the right flank to help out the two US companies.

Both companies with the heroes attack the German reinforcements after finally getting into position.  However, things go sour.

Two companies with heroes attack German reinforcements.
The German unit requires flanking tactics in order to defeat it.  Normally heroes can be used to help negate most requirements but this is not allowed with flanking.  In order to defeat this unit, I'll need to assault the Germans from hexes that are not adjacent.  This will take time though the clock is steadily ticking towards my time limit.

Eventually, the Americans units are shifted around after taking a couple of step losses but I get my flanking maneuver and prepare for an assault on the German position on the right flank.

Two companies about to go for an attack on German reinforcements using flanking tactics.

On the left flank, things seem to be going steady.  I have a hero for one of my units now and M company has moved up off the beach.  The HQ also has command of field artillery in order to lend considerable firepower to the attack.

US left flank:  HQ and considerable firepower about to attack the 8/2/916 Germans in bocage.

Tragedy strikes, however, on turn 13 when the 8/2/916 Germans on the left flank fire on the approaching M/3/16 Americans, reducing it to a single step.  Eight American units have now been reduced to single step units.  The game, for better or worse, is over and the Allied commanders close Omaha Beach.  Although my defeat was anti-climactic, I have to concede that I was simply not moving and assaulting fast or smart enough.

Conclusion:  What a heartbreaker.  If I had managed to hang on for a couple of turns, I'm sure I would have taken out the German reinforcements and at least been very close to a victory.  As it stands, it was poor planning on my part and a bit of bad luck that ruined my chances.

The US took some very heavy losses early in the game, probably because of the traffic jam of men and equipment that always drifted to Fox Green.  As a result, when I pulled fire cards for Germans in these sectors, the resulting casualties were terrible and mounted rapidly.  I think I had the general idea by the end of the game.  Having two powerful units to take out one group of reinforcements while an HQ and several units focused on the other seems to be the way to go.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

LnL Tactics Part II: Of Problems and Dilemmas

A little while back, I wrote an article about my own Lock 'n Load tactics and how they had changed over time, especially in terms of how to use specific kinds of units for attack and maneuver.  Today, I'd like to broaden out into the conceptual and just talk about the way I try to approach each game in order to get the most tactical bang for my buck.

Generally speaking, I try to set up and use my forces in a way that creates dilemmas for my opponent.  When I use the word "dilemma", I'm referring to a situation that presents the opponent with lose-lose choices.  Note that this is much different that the word "problem", which refers to a bad situation that can be resolved with a definite solution.  Good players are good at creating problems but great players are able to create dilemmas.  For more information about how these two terms are used and thought of by military planners, check out pages 1-22  and 1-23 of US Army Field Manual 3-21.8 right here.

In game terms, you can create dilemmas in a number of ways.  One of them is to setup your units in a way that forces your opponent to make tough decisions.  I'll use Heroes of the Gap's scenario "Air Assault" as an example:

In this scenario, the Americans get a handful of guys at the start of the game that can be plunked down anywhere in the city buildings of Eisenbach.  The Soviets come in on turn 1 with overwhelming force (6 Spetsnaz squads and two army squads with a Hind, four Mi-8 Hips and Soviet air support to boot) in an attempt to take and hold three key buildings for the win.  On turn 4, the American player gets reinforcements in the form of several squads, an M-113 and an M-1 tank.

The big issue here is that the American units at setup are vastly outmatched.  They even need to make a morale check to fire or move on the first turn.  So how can the American player make the best of this very bad situation?

Well, he could simply put his forces in an objective hex and hope that the dice roll his way.  But this would be giving his opponent a problem rather than a dilemma.  The problem being:  "There are bad guys in the objective hex." and the obvious solution being:  "Kill the guys in the objective hex.  Take the objective."

Defender setup 1:  Defensive units in objective hexes presents enemy with a problem.

As the defender in this scenario, it's probably much better instead to place your units as far away as possible from the objectives.  This gives your opponent a dilemma.  He can either 1.) go for the objectives and leave your guys untouched or 2.) he can try to take out your units before getting to the objectives.

Defender setup 2:  Defensive setup outside of objective hexes presents enemy with dilemma.

If your opponent takes the first option, this leaves his units open to immediate counterattack from your units in the subsequent turns.  The second option will require him to spend his time and resources away from the objective and leaves part of his forces out of position when your reinforcements arrive on turn 4.  Neither of these is good for your opponent so it's a perfect example of creating a dilemma rather than a problem.

This is just one example of "dilemma" thinking that can help improve a beginner's game.

You can also create dilemmas for your opponents by using combined arms.  Effective use of artillery, for example, can be particularly effective at giving your opponent tough choices - especially when combined with infantry or vehicles.  Artillery can be used to try and funnel your opponent into kill zones.

In the example above, the Soviet defender has called in artillery on AC7, presenting a dilemma for the American attacker.  If he moves his infantry into the adjacent buildings for cover, he will get hit.  If he moves out into the open ground beyond, he will get hit.  If he sits and does nothing, he will probably get hit or, at the very least, waste the turn.  There is absolutely no good choice here for him and one could argue that this might actually be a more effective use of artillery than simply calling it down into AE7 where the US units may or may not survive their defensive rolls.  Often the threat of getting hit by artillery is a more effective tool than actually hitting the enemy directly with it because of its ability to create dilemmas for your opponent.

Good luck and remember:  always think of ways to create dilemmas instead of just problems!

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Artwork on Old School Games

One of the things I love about older games is that much of the cover art has been hand drawn and/or painted by some very talented people.  The best cover art can spark the player's imagination and pull them into the game - or at least get it from the retail shelf to the cash register.  It's amazing to see the level of detail and love that went into some of these games.  For that reason, I just want to write an article in appreciation of this by pointing out my top 5 favorite old school box covers.  The criteria is that the game has to have been released prior to 1990 and I must actually own the game.

Here we go, ranked in order:

5.   Avalon Hill's Tac Air

What's not to like here?  The A-10 sweeping across the cover like a bat out of hell hitting those Soviet tanks on a forest road tells you exactly what to expect in this game.  The fast action-packed air rounds are a central part of Tac Air and this emphasis on the air aspect of the game is reflected accurately by the cover art.  I love the game because of the art and I love the art because of the game.

The late great George I. Parrish Jr. did the box art for Tac Air and he did his usual wonderful job of bringing the game to life.  Throughout his life, Parrish was a prolific artist and was involved with some great board games such as Blackbeard and countless ASL magazines and modules.  Parrish didn't do only board games.  He covered a lot of different subjects using many different styles.  Interestingly enough, Parrish studied with Norman Rockwell.  Check out two of his beautiful oil paintings currently hosted at Rochester Institute of Technology.

4. Victory Games' Central America

The group of Mi-24 Hinds looming menacingly over the jungle treetops at dawn is hard to resist.  There's a nice contrast here between these deadly machines and the serene sky and trees in the background.  Besides that, is there any machine more terrifying in the whole Soviet arsenal than a fully armed attack helicopter?  The artwork alone has convinced me to get the game out on the table more than once despite the hefty rules set. There's something about the image that encapsulates Reagan-era secret wars against Soviet-supplied enemies.

The artist here is James Talbot, whose skilled hands crafted the artwork for some of the great games of the 1980s such as Hitler's War and Mosby's Raiders.  He worked alot with Victory Games on many projects, doing the box art for several of the Fleet series games, Ambush!, and he also created some fantastic drawings for VG's James Bond 007 roleplaying game, for which he not only did the cover art but also the countless drawings that fill out the pages of each module and sourcebook.

3.  GDW's Air Superiority

Ever since I watched Top Gun as a kid, I've always loved F-14 Tomcats.  The cover here is beautiful with wonderful attention to detail.  It looks like the Tomcat has fired its cannon thoroughly and effectively at the Soviet Su-17 with an engine fire behind it.  As the Soviet plane struggles to stay flying, the victorious Tomcat is ascending in the foreground and already firing off a Phoenix air-to-air missile.  At first I thought this was a depiction of the Gulf of Sidra shootdown in 1981 but the Tomcat number is all wrong and the star on the tail of the Su-17 does not match a Libyan military aircraft.  In any case, the cover is a great-looking invite into an uncompromising game that attempts to simulate modern military jet dogfights.

This painting is by Steve Venters, who did a lot of work on modern and futuristic games.  He did some of the beautiful covers for Harpoon, artwork for the roleplaying game Twilight: 2000 and he also did the art for several Battletech books and Renegade Legion.  There's always some kind of cool action going on in Venter's pieces.

2.  Victory Games' Sixth Fleet

This cover is great on every level.  Here we get a view from behind two missiles as they scream towards the USS Nimitz (why are there no planes on that carrier?  Where did they go?).  The American aircraft carrier group, meanwhile, is launching its own missiles against the incoming attack.  This is the game right here - gambling everything on getting close to an enemy and throwing your SSMs at them in hopes of getting a hit.  For all the times that the Nimitz has been targeted (and missed) in my own games of Sixth Fleet, I feel it's appropriate to have it here.

This is another work by James Talbot, who did a ton of covers for Victory Games throughout the 1980s.  After Sixth Fleet, Talbot would go on to do the artwork for both 2nd Fleet and 7th Fleet, both of which are games that I own and love.

1. Avalon Hill's Freedom in the Galaxy

Maybe people will disagree with me but there's so much I love about Freedom in the Galaxy's cover art.  You can see the attempt here to basically throw in everything but the kitchen sink in order to create an "epic" feel that shows off the flavor of the game.  Sure, you might say there's an uncanny resemblance to a certain science fiction movie in here but I think that's the whole point of this game.  The drawing style here reminds me of Marvel Comics' late '70s era work and fleshes the game out very nicely.  It's colorful, action-packed, and has a real joy to it.

The late Redmond A. Simonsen did the graphic design for this game and for those who don't know, he was kind of a legend.  Not only did he take charge of artwork for more than 400 games while at SPI but he also was involved with the actual design of over twenty games.  As art director, he pushed hard for the serious consideration and inclusion of artwork into games.  As a quote of his reveals:  "The more graphic engineering the artist can build into the game equipment and rules, the easier and more enjoyable becomes the play of the game"  I couldn't agree more.  During his stint, he pushed for better graphics, mounted color maps, and better quality playing pieces, setting the standard for boardgames at a crucial time in their development.

Monday, February 3, 2014

Fire Team: Reconnaissance on the Nuremberg Highway

Last month, I posted a short review of Fire Team, a tactical squad based game set in World War III.  I've had a bit of time to sit down and play this West End Games offering from 1987 and I'm enjoying it for the most part.  There are some holes in the rulebook and one or two things that don't seem to make sense, but overall I'm happy I bought it.

Today, I whipped out scenario 2 from Fire Team, "Reconnaissance on the Nuremberg Highway" and played through it.  The situation is that the US 2nd Armored Cav has sent out a small task force to find the Soviets advance down the Nuremberg road.  

To win this scenario, the Soviets have to get two vehicles from the same platoon off the north side of the map in five turns.  The Americans gain victory by preventing the Soviets from doing this and by inflicting losses.

This scenario is really interesting because the Soviet player can choose from one of three types of force compositions:  1)  Two platoons of BMP-2s and a handful of troops.  2.)  A helicopter forward detachment with attack and transport choppers or 3.)  several T-80s and a few more BMPs.  Depending on the type of force that the Soviet chooses, the NATO player may or may not get reinforcements.

I also enjoyed the "mystery map" aspect of this scenario. Basically, all forces start out on map C.  If the Soviet player moves his forces off the map to either the east or west, he rolls a die, checks a chart and selects the adjacent map based on the result.

So here's the Americans, who start off with six M2 Bradleys with TOW missile systems.

The Soviets get two platoons (3 vehicles each) of BMP-2s.  Each platoon has a reduced weapons team with RPG-16 rocket launchers.

For this scenario, I decided to keep things small since I'm still learning the game system.  I've gone with the basic forces for both sides.

The map below shows the way the setup went.  Basically, the M2 Bradleys are strung along the road to the north while the Soviets are in two "clumps" down at the bottom of the map.

The Soviet 1st vehicle platoon plans to hook east and try to get around the Bradleys to escape to the north while the 2nd platoon will drive straight north and try to engage the enemy.

Here's a closer look at the Soviet setup.

Soviet setup:  1st platoon to the right (east) while 2nd platoon is to the bottom left (west)
The Soviets get first activation and the BMPs of 1st platoon trundle towards the east side of the map.  The first vehicle arrives at the edge of map C so the Soviet player rolls for and places the adjacent map, which is map A.  Below we have the new board setup with Map C to the left and Map A to the right.

1st Platoon starts to advance northeast

The Soviet BMP-2s take a bit of ineffective opportunity fire from one of the Bradleys but otherwise make their way east totally unscathed.  They are making very fast progress towards the edge of the board and I'm worried that the Soviets might actually win this thing in turn 1.

1st Platoon finishes its first move.

BMP-2s of 1st platoon make their way northeast.
The US player responds by spreading out his Bradleys further along to the east, hoping to catch the Russians before they exit 1st platoon off the board and claim automatic victory.  Three M2 Bradleys try to form a net near the city of Ehrenberg, which is the most likely route for any Soviet advance to come through.

In the next couple of impulses, the Soviets push 1st platoon behind the large hill to the south of Ehrenberg, hoping to swing the vehicles east and then north in an attempt to flank the American M2 Bradleys.

M2 Bradleys start spreading out to catch Soviets before they exit the map.

On the next American impulse, a lone M2 creeps up behind the column of BMP-2s as they move behind a large hill.

An M2 Bradley pursues the Soviet 1st platoon, hoping to sneak in a kill on the rear vehicle.
The Bradley moves cautiously towards the rear vehicle and is about to go for a shot when the BMP-2 changes facing and fires its 30mm cannon into the Bradley's hull, destroying the American vehicle.  The BMPs change direction after killing the Bradley and decide to make it through the west side of the town, which is nearly undefended after the loss of the M2.

On the right side of the map, the Soviet 1st Platoon slips north between the town and the small hill.

Meanwhile, far to the west on map C, the Soviet 2nd platoon moves up north to engage the other three Bradleys.

Soviet 2nd platoon starts moving up north towards the US M2 Bradleys.

By the next turn, the Soviets have had another vehicle platoon activation and they spend it on 1st platoon, which is now within range of escaping the north side of the map and securing a win for the Soviets.

1st platoon BMP-2s make a run for the northern edge of the map.
Unfortunately, the Soviets seem to have run out of luck.  The first BMP-2 gets within 3 hexes of the map edge before it is eliminated by opportunity fire from a nearby M2 Bradley.

Soviet BMP-2 comes under fire from nearby M2 Bradley.

The next BMP-2 is hit by a TOW missile and immediately eliminated as it gets within striking range of the map edge.  Deciding not to follow in his buddies' footsteps, the remaining BMP-2 unloads its infantry into the buildings of Ehrenberg and they prepare to use their RPGs on the M2 Bradley across the street.

Soviet infantry with AT launchers unload and prepare to attack M2 Bradley in Ehrenberg.

Far to the west, the Soviets 2nd vehicle platoon tries to salvage the situation.  Since the Soviet victory conditions call for 2 vehicles of the same platoon to make their way off the map, the attention now shift to this other part of the board.  One of the BMP-2s lets off a weapons team with two RPG-16s in the woods south of the town of Fesselsdorf where three M2 Bradleys are skulking around.

One M2 sits near a group of buildings on the outskirts of the town and opens up with machinegun and cannon fire on the encraching infantry.  The Soviets are unaffected, however, and start firing rounds back at the M2.

Soviet BMP2s drop off troops with a couple of RPG-16s near Fesselsdorf

While the M2s are busy dealing with the infantry, the Soviets send off one of their own BMP-2s to try and make a run through the town and escape to the north.

BMP-2 rushes north through Fesseldsdorf

Unfortunately for the BMP-2 crew, an M2 in the woods takes notice of the Soviet vehicle.  The M2 Bradley fires off a TOW missile, which easily destroys the BMP.

Another look at the situation to the west as the Soviet BMP tries to get through Fesselsdorf.

The Americans get an activation next and decide to start hurting the remaining Soviet BMPs.  Another M2 Bradley fires a TOW missile at the BMP-2 on the hill to the south of Fesselsdorf and destroys it.

West side of the board looks very empty at this point.

The Soviets respond by getting two lucky shots off and killing off two American M2s with the help of RPG fire and some good shooting from the remaining Soviet BMP-2.  The RPG-16s run out of ammo and both sides decide to call it a day and break off contact..

The resulting victory points are calculated:
The Americans have accumulated 10 victory points for destroying Soviet vehicles.  They have lost three of their own vehicles, however, which puts them at a total of 4 victory points.  The US scores a marginal win here.

I'm sure I made several mistakes with the rules during this play but I'm getting the hang of things too.  The variable command points and random chit pull really make you think hard before committing to actions.  The fact that you have to spend command points to do anything really helps to make things tense too.  In this game, I found the US quickly lost command points as their vehicles were destroyed and they were actually forced to spend really carefully in the latter half of the game to inflict damage on the Soviets.  It was hard to convey this aspect of the game in the writeup, but it was actually very interesting. The Soviets came close to winning an automatic victory twice and the Americans had lots of good luck and wisely spent their precious few command points.

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Lock 'n Load: Forgotten Heroes - River of Perfume

River of Perfume is a small 7-turn scenario that takes place during the battle for Hue in 1968 just after the Tet Offensive.  It pits the United States Marine Corps versus the Viet Cong in a pitched battle.  This differs significantly from the usual hit and run scenarios that feature the VC.  Instead, we get a stand-up fight over the control of a handful of buildings.  The Marines' task is not easy - they need to have control of 5 buildings on the map by scenario's end.  Any other result is a VC win.

The VC set up first.  They have two leaders, Arnat and Dobie-san, as well as a hero with a Rage card.  They basically start with three buildings - one in the center of the map board and two others to the south.

The large stone building just south of the Marines' starting position is probably key to the fight.  It is large and offers excellent defensive protection.  If the Marines want it, they will have to come in and melee the VC, a dangerous proposition in such a cramped map.

The VC hero and 3 VC squads set up in this citadel and wait.

During the American setup phase a bit later, I set up Sgt. Ash in a small building just to the north with 2 Marine squads in his hex and 2 others in the hex beside him.

VC Hero and 1-4-3 in upper level with 2 x 1-4-3 squads adjacent in G3.
Just to the southeast of this large stone fortification is yet another stone building.  I put Dobie-san in hex G5, hoping that he can rally any shaken VCs that withdraw towards G4 (his "Charismatic" ability allows him to rallying friendly units in adjacent hexes).  Three other squads are set up in the same building, set up to hit at any Marines that attempt to reinforce the large fortification.  They also have control of a building with a swimming pool in G5 so they can go off for a dip should things get too crazy.

Lt. Reagin is in the building just to the north (I2 and J2).  He has a Marine squad with an M-60 and also benefits from the "Lucky Man" bonus, which allows him a one-time opportunity to add or subtract 3 from a die roll.

Dobie-san and friends set up in the G5 building while Reagin is in the building to the north.
Arnat and 3 VC squads set up far to the southwest in a large triangular building that offers some avenue of fire at the American chaplain, who is stacked with two Marine squads directly to the north.

Arnat and 3 x 1-4-3 squad set up with field of fire directly to the north.

The Marine chaplain and his two 2-6-4 squads (with LAW rocket) set up in the building directly to the north of Arnat and only a mere two hexes away from the large stone fortification where the VC hero and his comrades sit.

Close up of northern part of board with Marines set up around the large stone fortification.

The Plan:

The VC plan is basically to run and gun from the large fortification (F3/G2), taking out as many Marine squads as possible before retreating south.  After that, they will try to find opportunities to whittle away at lone American units.  Arnat will try to make it hard for the Americans on the left flank to advance while Dobie-san's two squads will try to keep Lt. Reagin from moving into the large fortifications.  Hopefully this will encourage the Americans to send in forces piecemeal, where they can be dealt with in small groups.

The Marines are basically going to kick down the doors and go in guns blazing.  This means committing maximum force towards their objectives.  There will be no half measures.  Every man will either be firing or moving - or both (thanks to having assault move capability) on every turn.  The high morale of the Marines should keep them going through the tough times ahead.  They will take the large stone fortification directly to the south at all costs and then advance into the building held by Dobie-san and his men.

Turn 1:

The Americans are granted automatic initiative on turn 1 and the advance begins.

The VC hold their fire and let the Americans move in.  The Marines barge into the large stone building at G2, adjacent to the two 1-4-3 VC squads. Lt. Reagin and his men open fire on the hapless VC in G3 from across the road.  One VC squad takes casualties while the other is shaken.  They crawl away from the building towards Dobie-san, hoping to be rallied next turn.

Since the VC are holding fire for now, the Marines take the opportunity to crash the west side of the fort with another 3-6-4 squad in hex F3.  The Marines move in and get ready for a fight.  Another 2-6-4 squad arrives in G3 and now the Americans are quickly gaining control of the large fortification.

The VC, however, will not give up so easily.  Dobie-san directs the squad in his hex (G5) to open fire on the 2-6-4 Marine squad, achieving a shaken result.  The VC hero in F4 moves from the upper floor to the adjacent hex and eliminates the Marine squad in melee.  The Americans have suffered their first loss in the game.

To help reinforce the 3-6-4 squad in F3, the Chaplain and his Marines move from their starting building towards the stone fortification but a VC sniper pops up and starts hitting them in the open.  Arnat joins in and her RPD squad shakes up the Chaplain and all of his squads very badly.  She sends her two VC squads up north in hopes that the Americans will fail to rally and they will become easy targets for melee in the coming turn.

Turn 1 has ended with mixed results.  The Marines seem to be taking over the large building very quickly but they are encountering some stiff resistance.  Moving the Chaplain and his two squads towards the fort may not have been the smartest move.  Now the American player is going to need to commit time and impulses towards preserving and rallying these men.

The Chaplain and 2 squads are shaken in D3 while other Marines start to control the stone building.

Post Turn 1 Comments:  It was just dumb to have my Chaplain and the two Marine squads charge towards E3.  They were easily shaken up and now very vulnerable to the approaching VC squad to the south.  The US player is going to have to get them moving away from the enemy early in the next turn, which will take away precious time I have to shake up the VC in F4 and G3.

On the VC side, it may have been a mistake not to use up opportunity fire on US troops as they approached the large stone building.  Now the Americans are in the building for good.  The Chaplain and two Marine squads are a tempting target.  Eliminating them in the coming turn should considerably sap the energy of the American assault.

Turn 2

The VC get the initiative this turn, much to the Americans' chagrin.

Rally:  The VC adjacent to Dobie-san fail to rally but, on the other hand, the US Chaplain fails to rally the two squads with him.  That's great news for the VC!

Operations:  The only thing that might prevent the VC from getting to the Chaplain and his squad would be taking opp fire from the 3-6-4 Marines in E3.  So the VC 1-4-3 squad in F4 makes a sacrifice move and jumps into melee with the adjacent unit at 3:1 odds.  Incredibly, the VC player rolls an 11 and they eliminate the Marines.

1-4-3 in F4 jumps into melee with adjacent 3-6-4 and they are both eliminated.  

The US player tries to minimize further losses by pulling the Chaplain and his squads back to the far north of the map.

The VC player, riding a wave of luck, decides to throw his hero (with the Rage card, which offers +1 firepower) into melee with the adjacent 3-6-4 Marines (who have an M-60 machinegun) in hex G2.  Normally, this would be a 5-1 melee attack but with the Rage card, this comes to a 5-2 attack (for a ratio of 1-2), which is further shifted right to a 1-1 attack for the VC hero.  The hero's dice come up 9, which eliminates the US Marines.  The Americans are really suffering.

Overall, it has been an amazing round for the Viet Cong, who have eliminated 8 firepower from the Americans at a loss of only a 1 FP squad and a hero.

The building after the VC-US melee.  No one is left standing.
Lt. Reagin is determined to get revenge and fires at the two shaken VC squads in G4, eliminating both of them.  Dobie-san orders his RPD to shoot at Reagin in the building to the north to no effect.  The VC start to slowly re-occupy the stone building, sending in lone squads here and there.

Lt. Reagin (Lucky Man in I2) and his men eliminated the shaken VC squads in G4.

The VC player decides to push one of his squads straight towards the shaken US Chaplain and his men, getting adjacent to them and ready to melee them in the next turn.  Sgt. Ash sees the nearby threat and starts moving towards the VC squad.  A sniper fires at Ash and his men and a US hero is created (The Gunner).

The Americans continue moving and enter melee with the VCs who are adjacent to the shaken US chaplain.  The US wins handily but they will soon be sitting in the open.  Arnat moves her squad towards both Ash and the Chaplain and take up positions in the building hex adjacent to them.

Arnat sits adjacent to Ash and the hero, ready to deal some damage next turn.

Things look great for the VC at the end of turn 2.  The US player has control of only two buildings and has lost many of his own men from devastating melee this turn.  Arnat is sitting right beside the two major US groups and is ready to do some serious damage in the coming turn.

On the other hand, the US has managed to inflict some damage on the VC, who have lost 5 squads of their own this turn.

Turn 3

Initiative switches to the Americans this turn and their luck starts to turn around.

Rally:  The Chaplain in D1 rallies himself (like a rock star with a roll of "2") and a half squad of Marines.

Operations: Sgt. Ash and his stack of Marines in D2 open up on Arnat and her squad in the adjacent C2 building hex and shake everyone up.  The American hero with "The Gunner" skill card immediately moves in and eliminates all of the VC and Arnat in the ensuing melee.  This is a stunning setback for the VC.  Sending Arnat up so close to the Marines at the end of last turn was apparently a huge mistake.

The VC are shaken by Sgt. Ash and his Marines (under the hero in D2) before "The Gunner" moves in and kills everyone.

The Chaplain and his shaken men move into B1, which offers some defensive terrain.  This gives the shaken units a better chance to rally next turn.

The action moved to the east after this happened but there were no fewer surprises in store.

A group of VC get close to Lt. Reagin and his men over on the other side of the map.  The Americans refuse to take the bait and Dobie-san and his RPD squad open fire on Reagin's men.  Dobie-san rolls well on the attack, prompting Reagin to spend his "Lucky Man" card. This reduces the damage roll to a mere "1".  Reagin and his squad are both fine but wait, what's this? Another American hero is created ("Stealthy") and stacked with Reagin.

Dobie-san ("Charismatic") fires on Lt. Reagin in I2 and ends up creating a US hero.

Reagin sends off the hero to get into the stone fortification to the west.  The VC shoot at him with opportunity fire as he approaches hex G2 but to no avail.  The hero slips into G2 and is in excellent defensive terrain.  With only a 2-1 attack advantage in melee over the adjacent VC in G3, I decided to play it safe and stop the hero there.  Reagin opens up on the VC squad in the building hex and shakes it.

US hero in G2 adjacent to shaken VC squad.  

The turn starts to come to a close.  Out of spite, the VC sniper takes a shot at Sgt. Ash and shakes him up.

VC sniper shakes up Sgt. Ash in D2.
It's been an amazing turn.  The Americans have come back full force after some serious setbacks in turn 2!  The game is far from over at this point, however, since there are still 3 turns left and the US must capture 2 more VC-held buildings.

Here's how the board looked at the end of turn 3:

End of T3
Wow, it really looks like sending Arnat up north to chase after the shaken Marines was a huge mistake.  Had the VC won initiative on the turn, they probably could have fired at the adjacent Sgt. Ash and his Marines, which would have really hurt the American player.  As it turned out, however, the gamble was not worth it and now the VC are down to only one leader (Dobie-san).

The VC are going to have work really hard to turn the tide against the Americans.  It may not be too late to squeak a victory out of this one if they can keep their eye on holding buildings rather than chasing down shaken enemies.

Turn 4

US wins initiative this turn.

Rally:  The US Chaplain way over in the northwest corner of the board manages to rally the 2-6-4 squad.  Sgt. Ash makes a recovery too.  So far, so good for the US.

Operations:  The US player sends his hero ("The Gunner") from C2 down to C4, which is just adjacent to the VC sniper.  The sniper fires at the lone Marine, rolling a 10 on 2d6.  2 FP is added due to the target being adjacent and another FP is tacked on for a moving target.  Luckily, the Marine rolls a "6" for the defensive die and then a "1" for damage, escaping unharmed from the sniper fire!  The hero jumps into the hex with the sniper and eliminates him in melee.

US hero about to melee Viet Cong sniper.

Sgt. Ash takes this opportunity to try yet again to take the large stone fortification nearby and enters building hex E3 with his squads, coming under heavy fire from the adjacent VC.  Luckily for Ash, the fire is totally ineffective.

Sgt. Ash and two squads of Marines enter the stone fortification and avoid enemy fire.

Ash and his men decide to keep moving. They push into hex F4 and get into a melee with the VC 1-4-3 squad.  They eliminate it but also lose a half-squad of Marines in the process.

Dobie-san in G5 decides to try for some revenge against the Americans.  He fires on Lt. Reagin in the I2 building hex and manages to shake up Reagin and his 3-6-4 squad.  Reagin and his men withdraw from the building to G1.  A VC squad is in range of moving into melee with the shaken Americans but the VC player has learned his lesson.  Instead of chasing down shaken enemies, the squad is moved into the building that Reagin has just vacated.

Lt. Reagin and his men retreat from I2.  Next, the VC in I3 move into the building.

The US hero in G2 ("Stealthy") creeps into hex H2 and fires on the adjacent VC in I2 but to no avail.  Our US Chaplain moves to B3 with a squad and they prepare to get back in the fight.

Well, this has been quite a turn!  The US player has worked hard towards fulfilling the victory conditions but the unexpected retreat of Reagin from I2 and the subsequent loss of the building really hurt.  The American player has managed to kill lots of Viet Cong but the VC player has smartened up a bit and is more focused on frustrating American attempts at winning scenario objectives.

An overall look at the board at the end of Turn 4:

End of Turn 4
The VC player is hoping to rally the 1-4-3 adjacent to Dobie-san next turn and shake up and then melee Ash and his men.  If Lt. Reagin fails to rally, that will help to delay the Americans in their attack.

Turn 5:

The US has initiative this turn again.

Rally:  Lt. Reagin fails to rally and the shaken VC squad to the north of Dobie-san also fails its morale check.

Operations: The turn begins with both sides trying to retain the meager forces they now possess.  Reagin pulls back to the building hex in F1 while the shaken 1-4-3 VC squad retreats back to Dobie-san's hex.

Ash and his men fire at Dobie-san with no effect but the Americans make gains elsewhere. The US hero ("The Gunner") heads down south to capture the triangular building at C6, claiming two of three of its hexes.

"The Gunner" captures a building.  Only two more buildings are needed for a win.

The VC squad in the upper floor of I5 descends to the first floor and moves north towards the I2/J2 building to help reinforce the single squad there.  If the VC can just hold out in both buildings for two more turns, they can prevent the US from winning.

VC in hex I4 as they move towards the north to reinforce the 1-4-3 squad in I2.
I started to get a bad feeling about the Americans' chances of winning this one.  It's proving hard to get shaken US forces rallied and there's not enough firepower to go for a direct melee assault on Dobie-san.  With the VC moving another squad towards the I2/J2 building, it seems they will be able to hold off any assaults from my meager forces in the next two turns.

Turn 6:

The VC player wins initiative.

Rally:  Reagin and his men rally while the shaken 1-4-3 squad in Dobie-san's hex fail the check again.

Operations: This VC player moves the squad in I4 to J3.  If it can get into the building next turn, it will be really difficult for the US to take it.

The US Chaplain and the Marines stacked with him move to G2 to help with the coming assault.

Reagin and his men move towards the J2/I2 building, hoping to add their considerable firepower to a last-turn push against the VC.  Unfortunately, Dobie-san tells his men to fire at Reagin and it manages to shake the Americans yet again.

Reagin and his men are shaken up while approaching a nearby VC-held building.

The US hero "The Gunner" moves adjacent to Dobie-san.  The plan is to have the hero jump into melee with Dobie-san's squads, which will prevent the VC in G5 from firing on the main US assault versus the J2/I2 building.

End of turn 6
Things are looking grim for the US.  They have a bunch of shaken guys and a couple of leaders with only a squad each.  The VC, on the other hand, are sitting pretty right now with two buildings firmly held.  All they need to do is sit tight and let the US approach...and then just open fire.  One building needed for the US to win.

Turn 7

The VC player wins initiative.

Rally:  Reagin and his men fail to rally.  Dobie-san rallies a shaken 1-4-3 squad in his hex.

Operations:  The VC squad in J3 low crawls into the J2 building hex.

The US player goes for broke.  The US hero in F6 runs into Dobie-san's hex and enters melee.  Dobie-san has two 1-4-3s and an RPD in his hex, which gives him a firepower of 4 versus The Gunner's firepower of 2.  The US player rolls an 11, taking out all of the VC in the hex.  Surprisingly, the VC player rolls a 3, which is not enough to kill the US hero.  Well, this certainly changes things.  All American efforts are now suddenly switched from capturing J2/I2 to getting hold of the G5 stone building.

The US hero "The Gunner" enters into melee versus Dobie-san, two 1-4-3 squads and an RPD

The VC player passes and the Chaplain sends his 2-6-4 squad towards I2.  The 1-4-3 VC squad opens up and shakes the US Marines.

The Chaplain's 2-6-4 squad moves towards I2 and is fired at by the VC squad.

After that, the American player sends Sgt. Ash into H6 capturing part of a building needed for the US win.  The other US hero ("Stealthy") moves into the remaining hex.

The other US hero makes it down to I5 hex.
Sgt. Ash and his squad rush into the remaining unoccupied building hex.

The result is 5 US-controlled buildings, just in time for the game to end.  The Americans win.

A final look at the board:

A look at the end of the final turn.
Conclusion:  What a game!  The early game see-sawed back and forth between the VC and the American hero.  Late in the game, it seemed that the VC were going to hold on to the last two buildings on the board.  The very lucky melee roll that allowed "The Gunner" to take out Dobie-san and two squads and still survive the melee was basically the key to allowing the US to grab the win in the last turn.  I felt the US player basically capitalized on the early mistakes made by the Viet Cong and then had some incredible fortune in the rolling on the last turn.

Props go out to "The Gunner" who single-handedly took out a VC sniper, captured two buildings, and eliminated a VC leader, two squads, and a support weapon in the course of a single game.