Monday, March 31, 2014

Anzac Attack: Amgrunts Background

Last week, I received my copy of Anzac Attack, the expansion for Lock 'n Load Publishing's Forgotten Heroes II.   Since then, I've been immersing myself on a daily basis in the game, trying out various scenarios here and there.  The first scenario, Amgrunts, provides the player with a large-scale battle with a really interesting historical background.


Amgrunts pits the US Marines of the 1st Amtrac Battalion versus the NVA in an area of South Vietnam called Cua Viet, located just north of Hue City.  The Cua Viet waterway was an important supply channel that could be used to ferry equipment and men deep into Vietnam to vital strongpoints such as Dong Ha.  For this reason, maintaining control over the mouth of the waterway in and near Cua Viet was essential for the Marines.

In 1967, the 1st Amtrac Battalion, was tasked with building defenses and constructing operating bases in the area in and around Cua Viet,   As things started to heat up, however, elements of the battalion were removed from these duties and assigned a dedicated infantry role to help defend the area from NVA incursions.  Despite this unexpected shift in roles, the 'Amgrunts' fought with distinction in Vietnam  and won four commendations by the end of the war.  40 years later, the term "Amgrunts" would be revived when 1st Marine Division's 3rd Assault Amphibious Battalion began operating as infantry around AO Bagdadhi in Iraq.

106mm weapon LVTP5 Amtrac
The Amtracs

One thing I should note about this scenario is that 3 "normal" Amtracs are used while the fourth Amtrac has a 106mm weapon mounted on it.  This threw me for a loop as I kept looking for the LVTP5 counter with the HE values when actually, you're just supposed to plop the 106mm counter on top of one of your LVTP5 counters and there you go!  From what I've been able to glean online, the 106mm weapon has an HE value of 5.  To Hit numbers are on the back of the counter.

The LVTP5 Amtracs were used by the Marines for troop transport (with Marines riding on top) and fire support (with the 106mm cannon sandbagged and chained to the vehicle).  Apparently, they were favored over the Ontos, which were considered vulnerable to mines (and thus mostly assigned to secure static positions).  Being used extensively for such dangerous missions had a price, however, and by the end of the Vietnam conflict, around 300 LVTP-5s were destroyed or damaged beyond repair.

Scenario History

This particular scenario takes place on January 20, 1968, which marks the point around which the NVA became more active in the Quang Tri area.  If the NVA could contest the area and cut off or reduce the flow of supplies along the Cua Viet Waterway to Dong Ha, this would jeopardize the resupply of several Marine bases (Cam Lo, Camp Carroll, the Rockpile, and Ca Lu) inland that were isolated in the jungle and operating far from other friendly units.

Quang Tri area with Cua Viet east of Dong Ha.  Several isolated US Marine bases in the Quang Tri area are shown.

On January 19th, Marines from C Company, 3rd Battalion, ran into NVA positions, leading to a major engagement that lasted almost the entire day. The scenario recounts events of the next day.  On the morning of the 20th, the NVA were desperate to pick another fight.  They fired on several patrol and naval craft along the waterway.   Elements of the 2nd ARVN Regiment and 1st Amtrac Battalion went on patrol and ran into an entire NVA battalion.  The NVA came to the fight prepared and called about 50 rounds of 130mm artillery fire on the ARVN and Marines.  The Amtracs suffered damage during the battle, with one of them getting hit 3 times by RPGs.  By the time the NVA had withdrawn from the fight, the Marines had suffered 13 KIA and 48 WIA.

This is a large 4 map scenario that runs for twelve turns.  There are no events or special scenario rules.  It is a straight-up knock-down fight between two large forces.  The NVA start off on map 9 and 1 while the ARVN forces start up on map 9 and the Marines enter from the south of the board.  Right away, the Marines have a decision to make.  Do they let the ARVN fend for themselves while taking on the large force on map 1 or do they rush over to map 9 and end up fighting in the very heavy jungles (where the Amtrac fire support is of limited help).  I tried the former option on my first play and ended up with the ARVN getting wiped out fairly quickly.  With no one left on map 9 to fight, the NVA turned the rest of its entire force on my Marines and hurt them very badly by the scenario's end.

Esthes, Kenneth (2000).  Marines Under Armor, Annapolis: US Naval Institute Press.
Nusbaumer, Stewart (2008).  'The Amgrunts', Leatherneck Magazine, March, vol 91, no. 3.
Shulimson et al (1997). US Marines in Vietnam - The Defining Year 1968, History and Museums Division Headquarters, USMC.
Thompson, P.L. (1968). 'Amgrunts', Leatherneck Magazine, June, vol 51, no. 6.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Forgotten Heroes: Anzac Attack - Unboxing and Components

Well, it seems that the post office is considerably faster than I expected and some superhero managed to send through my copy of Anzac Attack in record time. I pre-ordered this one a while back and I've been looking forward to playing it for a long time.  Let's take a look at what we've got in the box:

Lock 'n Load's Forgotten Heroes Anzac Attack Expansion:  I wouldn't want to mess with the dude on the cover.
The cover art looks great and I knew the photo was the right choice because my wife immediately said it was scary.  We've got the standard Lock 'n Load cover art here with the photograph up top and the counters at the bottom.  The box is pretty sturdy and it's just the right size to fit all the components inside.  Well done.

Two new maps included with Anzac Attack

The two maps included in the box look nice.  They are a bit less reflective than the Forgotten Heroes II maps, which I personally like because that means less lens flare when I take photos of my games.

Closer look at map 8
Map 8 has tons of heavy jungle on it along with a hill beside a road.  Looks like a beautiful map for a deadly ambush scenario.

Map 9 lookin' spiffy.
Map 9 offers some nice terrain in it.  Note the slight change in kunai grass from the original FHII.  It still looks good though.

Anzac Attack Scenario Book
Next is the scenario book, which looks beautiful.  It's all in full color and the photos used for each scenario are relevant to theme and interesting to look at.  There are 13 scenarios here of varying size and scope, from one-map slugfests to four-map all-out battles.  Australians are featured in the bulk of the scenarios but there are several other forces here too - fear not, the beloved USMC makes another appearance in two scenarios!  Peter Bogdasarian, James Luck, and Mark H. Walker designed the scenarios and they look pretty good.  I've enjoyed Peter Bogdasarian's work in the past with the Corps Command series and I really liked his Ambush (Relief Attempt during Operation Attleboro) scenario so I'm looking forward to trying all these.  It's a bit sad to see that they got rid of the designer's notes for the scenarios but their absence doesn't take much away from the game.

The double-sided player aid card looks great here and it's in full color.  It's especially nice to see that a turn track was provided since these are not printed with each scenario in the book (nor should they be).  It's kind of amazing to compare this with the player aid card provided with earlier LnLP products like "Day of Heroes".  Look at how far we've come!

Finally, we've got a single sheet of counters (170 of them to be exact). The gang's all here with VC, NVA, US, New Zealand, and Australians represented.  David Julien, Nicolas Eskubi and Pete Abrams were involved with various aspects of the artwork and it all looks terrific* (a huge sorry to any misunderstandings caused before the edit and sorry if I missed any other artists who worked on the game).

I was really happy to see aircraft counters in this expansion.  I really liked how airstrikes were incorporated into Heroes of the Gap and it's nice to see them back again here.  I can't wait to get this bad boy on the table.  Acquisition markers are also provided - something that was missing from the reprint of FHII.  Thank you for putting them in the expansion!

There are also several new vehicles in the expansion.  The T-55 kicks up the NVA arsenal a notch and gives the enemy forces something to think about.  There are also Mk V tanks and much more. One notable change to the counters includes the presence of women on VC counters.  We had Arnat in FHII, which was a nice change of pace and a nod to the reality of female combatants in Vietnam.  It's nice to see a woman represented on a hero counter and on a squad counter.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Old School PC Wargaming: Conflict Europe

Bathed in the soft glow of your NATO command bunker's monitors, your fingers tremble slightly as they carefully type a single dreaded word - "MIDNIGHT" into the WARCOM computer.  You hesitate for a brief moment before finally hitting Enter.  Sweat pours down your brow.

With the missile command authorization out of the way, a virtual smorgasbord of horrifying strike plans is laid out in front of your eyes.  After finding the right launch plan, you type it in and watch the large screen on the wall go red as 8 chemical cruise missiles streak from left to right on the map towards Warsaw Pact command HQs deep behind the Iron Curtain.  In an instant, 20,000 people are dead - many of them innocent civilians.  But you barely have time to register what has happened before news of a retaliatory strike comes your way.  A few minutes later, the report comes in - a battlefield nuclear weapon has airburst over US V Corps, wiping it off the face of the planet.

Welcome to Conflict Europe.

Released in April 1989 by Mirrorsoft for the Atari ST and the Amiga, Conflict Europe attempted to simulate World War III from the perspective of a central European theater commander.  Players could take on the role of the Warsaw Pact or NATO commander in this turn-based game that gives you control over diplomacy, nuclear and chemical weapons, air assignment, special forces missions, and much more.  From today's perspective, Conflict Europe falls well short of the detail and complexity of today's strategic-level wargames but considering the limited computer power available at the time, it did fairly well at providing a very tense and exciting experience through simplifying and abstracting things like supply, air support, and reinforcements.

This is the main screen where you'll be spending most of your time.

Conflict Europe is the descendant of an earlier game called Theater Europe, which was released in 1985 for the Commodore 64, Atari 8-bit, and the Spectrum.  One interesting feature of this game was that in order to get the nuclear launch codes, you actually had to phone a number and hear a recording that included air raid siren, explosions, and finally crying baby before a voice says, "If this is what you really want, the code is MIDNIGHT SUN".  I don't know if that idea was genius or silly but lots of people still remember the game if only for that feature.

The ground war can get quite monotonous in Conflict Europe, partly because the AI is so bad and partly because of the strengths of both sides were tweaked slightly from reality to provide more balance to the game. The main programmer, Alan Steele,  mentioned that when he used real numbers from his own research and pitted the computer AI against itself, the Warsaw Pact won an overwhelming victory every single time and NATO was forced to use nuclear weapons or lose West Germany.  The result of this tweaking is that the front lines tend to form up like a World War One battle and NATO and the Pact slog it out with little result.  Of course, the temptation to use nuclear or chemical weapons starts to grow for both sides.  Things can rapidly start to spin out of control as soon as the first missiles are launched.

Much of the tension in the game comes from the fact that you can be sure that the use of nuclear or chemical weapons will provoke some kind of retaliation, but you're never sure what that might be.  In two games, I opened up my first turn with chemical weapons strikes on Warsaw Pact command HQs and in one game, the Pact commander fired back with 8 intermediate nuclear weapons at my chemical launch sites while in the next game, the response was the launch of a single Soviet battlefield nuclear weapon that obliterated the entire US V Corps.  Each use of nuclear or chemical weapons brings both sides closer to an all-out strategic nuclear war, which ends the game immediately and provides some horrifying statistics of casualties and predictions for human survival.  This was very sobering stuff for the 1980s and it's clear that the game partly grew out of the designer's concerns at the time.  This is very much one of those games that can be appreciated as a tiny piece of its overall historical context in the late Cold War era.  I think it's this nostalgic aspect - much more than the actual gameplay - that brings me back to it from time to time.

Conflict Europe does a really nice job of immersing players in their role as a NATO or Warsaw Pact commander.  Reports from other fronts flood in to your terminal (and I remember that you could get them to actually print out on your home printer too - though I doubt anyone had the patience for it), providing you with updates about the general progress of the war in the Atlantic and in Scandinavia.  The darkened bunker is illuminated by a main screen, depicted in a similar fashion as the movie "Wargames". People on your staff occasionally get up, walk across the room and drop off a file somewhere.  Reports about civilian casualties and radiation levels are available at two terminals to your left.  It all works together in its own way to add a real atmosphere to the game.

Messages come through from other commanders throughout the course of the war.

As a teenager in 1989, playing this game was a watershed for me.  My interest in the Cold War grew as a result and I watched closely as the Berlin Wall fell later that year and communism quickly crumbled throughout eastern Europe.  I think anyone who played Conflict Europe around that time recalled the game as events unfolded around us and felt relieved that the game would not become a reality. I'm certain that this game is also partly responsible for my current fixation on the modern era of wargaming in particular.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Forgotten Heroes: Ambush!

Line of Fire magazine issue 12 has several excellent scenarios that expand on Lock 'n Load Publishing's Forgotten Heroes II, its game of modern squad tactics set in the Vietnam War.  One of the first scenarios in the magazine is called "Ambush!  Relief Attempt During Operation Attleboro", which was created by Peter Bogdasarian, who designed such games as Tank on Tank and the Corps Command series (which includes "Dawn's Early Light" and "Totensonntag") among others.

Before we get into the AAR, I'll talk a little about the scenario's historical background.  During Operation Attleboro in October and November of 1966, the Americans conducted Search and Destroy airmobile missions against the Viet Cong near Tay Ninh, located just south of the Cambodian border in War Zone "C".  Conducted in two phases, Phase I went relatively well for the Americans from the start of September but in early November, four US Army battalions became part of an ill-fated plan intended to capture a concealed enemy depot.

The US battalions advanced towards a nearby river where the depot was thought to be located.  However, they soon found along the way that the thick vegetation in the area quickly led to a loss of unit cohesion.  One of the attacking companies from the 27th Infantry Regiment ran into a heavily fortified VC reconnaissance camp from the 9th VC Division.  Confusion reigned among the Americans in the heavy jungles along the Suoi Ba Hoa River as command and control quickly broke down and no one seemed to really know where the other attacking American units were quite located.  Sensing the problems that the Americans were having, the 9th VC Division commander, Col. Hoang Cam, funneled his men (and those of the 101st NVA Regiment) into the area.  Over the course of several days, the battle grew ever more larger and the fighting became desperate as each side committed more and more troops.

One of the reinforcements companies that was landed in the area to the north of the area ran into an ambush on its way to helping out the 1st battalion, taking sniper fire from the trees and machine-gun fire through fire tunnels cut through the tall grass that concealed the gunner's positions.  The company needed to be rescued by two American companies the next day and was found badly mauled with six dead and 19 wounded.  There's an excellent article here with more details about the operation. This particular scenario focuses on the plight of the American reinforcement company sent in to help out 1st Battalion, 27th Infantry Regiment on November 4th, 1966.

Scenario Rules:

We're using map 4 from Forgotten Heroes here but hex columns I to the right side of the board are out of play.  The US also can't use low crawl or spotting until the fighting starts to simulate the fact that the Americans are walking into an ambush.  The VC have cut fire tunnels into the kunai grass near the bunker to the southwest so the kunai doesn't actually block any fire coming from the bunker (though it does degrade it).

Playing area:  US comes in from north after VC sets up in south.

The US gets two leaders and one hero along with nine 2-6-4 squads.  The VC have six squads, a 12.7mm machinegun team and only one leader, "Lt. Diem", who gets an "Eagle Eye" skill card.

There are also a few events here but I have marked them with spoiler code and avoided mentioning them explicitly anywhere so it's safe to read if you haven't played it yet!

Victory is measured by how many units each side can eliminate or reduce.  Basically, the VC side gets 2 points for eliminating a US squad and the US only gets 1 point for taking out a VC squad.  The side that holds the B7 and H7 hexes at the end of the scenario also gets additional victory points.

This is a quick scenario - only four turns, so everyone needs to move fast and hit hard!


The VC break their ambushing forces into two.  In the southwest, they place three 1-4-4 squads along with the leader and plunk the 12.7mm WT into the bunker in the kunai grass.

The VC player places three 1-4-4 squads in the southeast corner, one of which gets an RPD and is placed in the other bunker.

VC setup south side of board 4.  Diem is stacked with one 1-4-3 w/ RPD.  MG team in left bunker.  1-4-3 w/ RPD in right bunker.

Turn 1:

The Americans have initiative and start hustling through the jungle with both of their leaders with three squads each double-timing to the edge of the treeline.

US forces after entering from the north.  Note squad in C2 should be in C1.  Corrected next turn without affecting play.

The other three squads are trailing along, looking at the pretty flowers and admiring the scenery.  The US has a hero (with a "Thumper" card) who goes it alone along the right side and arrives at the edge of the bush.  An event occurs
Event Spoiler:
and a US medic shows up

The VC open up from their concealed positions.  Walker and his squads get hit very hard, with all but one 2-6-4 unit shaken in the first volley of fire.  Another VC squad on the right shoot at them again and reduce two of his squads to casualties while wounding Lt. Walker.  The blood starts to flow and the Americans realize they are in big trouble. The only consolation is that the US player gets a hero ("Loner") in Walker's hex in F3.

Lt. Jenson and his platoon suffer a shaken squad from being hit by 12.7mm machinegun fire on the left.  The US player has certainly taken his lumps this turn.  A VC 1-4-3 squad is sent up towards D6, hoping to get into a lucky melee situation next turn if the Americans fail their rally rolls.

End of turn 1

Turn 2:

Walker manages to rally a couple of reduced squads back to life while Jenson calms down his shaken squad and gets everyone in his hex back into fighting shape.

Thumper goes to work, firing at one of the VC bunkers but it doesn't do anything.  "Loner" runs out and acts as a bullet magnet.  He makes it out of the treeline before being eliminated by heavy VC fire.  Walker and one of his squads fire back but nothing happens.  With the VC on the right flank occupied, one US squad runs out towards the VC ambush position.  An event is triggered and:
Event Spolier:
a VC squad with an RPD shows up behind the American lines, which moves in and eliminates Walker and his squads in melee!

US 2-6-4 squad rushes towards the VC positions in front of him. 

Jenson shakes up a VC squad in D6, inviting return fire from Lt. Diem and the 12.7 mm machinegun team in the lower left of the board.  One VC squad is sent up into the jungle hexes near enough to melee the Americans (at their special triple melee strength if coming from a hex out of American LOS) if they fail to protect their flank.

So far, things are going poorly for the US.  They have lost a significant portion of their attacking force and failed to eliminate a single one of the ambush positions held by the VC.  I'm getting a bad feeling about the possibility of a close outcome for this scenario but I continue anyways because you just never know with this game system.

Turn 3:

The US player decides that it's time to get out of the jungle and on towards the VC.  Sitting here is just not working at all.  It's impractical to try and take out both ambush positions with such few men, so they focus on taking out the VC on the lower right of the board.

"Thumper", the US hero, is sent down towards the VC position in H6 and gets hit.  With more guts than brains, the 2-6-4 squad in G4 decides to go for it and gets next to the VC 1-4-3 squad in G6 and makes it through the opportunity fire without a scratch.  The Americans jump into the VC foxholes and eliminate the enemy in melee fighting.

US 2-6-4 wins melee in G6 while Thumper closes in on VC positions in H6

Jenson sends a nearby squad to melee the VC in the nearby jungle hex before it tries to sneak up on the Americans. Another short melee ends in a US victory.  The Americans seem to be finally pulling together here.  They push their luck a bit by sending another squad south to take out the shaken VC squad in D6.  Lt. Diem and his squad fire at the advancing squad but miss horribly.

US 2-6-4 in D5 low crawls into D5, hoping to eliminate shaken VC in D6 next turn.

The turn ends with Jenson moving down towards the lower right of the board with his remaining squad.  As they advance to the southeast, however, they are shaken by 12.7mm machinegun fire coming from all the way over in the B7 hex bunker.

End of Turn 3

Turn 4:

Final turn and the US gets initiative here.  Lt. Jenson fails to rally so the US is going to need to work hard.

The US squad in G6 hops on top of the bunker in H7 and then goes inside, winning a melee and capturing the hex.  The VC in H6 fires at the US hero in H5 and eliminates him.  Over on the left side of the board, two US squads make a play for the VC leader and squad in C6 but are shaken up on the approach by the B7 bunker's weapons team and Diem's RPD squad.

2-6-4 squad advances into bunker melee in H7.


This was a really interesting scenario!  The events were really surprising and definitely changed the outcome of the battle.  By the end of turn 2, the Americans had taken so many losses that they were forced to choose between one of two objectives.  Unfortunately, it wasn't enough to make up for all the American casualties that the VC were able to inflict early on in the game.  The VC won this scenario coming out at around 10 to 7, a slim margin of victory.  If I had to play it again, I would shove at least one of the American platoons out of the jungle at the top of the board and get them heading towards the VC ambush positions on turn 2.  Hanging around at the top of the board for too long proved almost fatal for the US squads.

Monday, March 17, 2014

7th Fleet: Civil War in the Philippines

7th Fleet was the third release in the Fleet series from Victory Games released way back in 1987.  This time focusing on action in the Far East, the three huge three map offering was one of the most ambitious Fleet release yet as it included not only Soviet and US units, but ships from a number of other nations, such as Japan, China, North and South Korea, the Philippines, and Vietnam (even Canada makes a token appearance with a single ship in there).

By the third time around, Victory Games had had a chance to carefully expand and refine the rules to include just the right amount of chrome and basic game changes that it could be picked up quickly and easily by Fleet players old and new.  The game's 12 scenarios are carefully crafted and balanced enough to please anyone and keep players entertained for a long time as they battle it out for control of the Pacific.

Victory Games:  7th Fleet (1987)

In the game's first scenario, civil war in the Philippines has broken out after a fascist government has come to power following the fall of the Aquino administration.  While a large collection of rebel groups with varying agendas vie for power with each other and the new dictatorship, the Soviets see their chance to gain a dominant position in the Pacific by covertly delivering weapons to pro-communist rebel factions.  They quickly dispatch a task group of cruisers and frigates to deliver their supplies to the port of Paluan.  Of course, the Americans are not at all happy about this turn of events and plan to stop the Russians..

Complicating matters, the Vietnamese have already had two of their cargo vessels stopped and boarded by the Americans as they steamed into the waters around the Philippines.  The US Navy discovered the Vietnamese ships were loaded with weapons undoubtedly on their way to help out their communist rebel buddies.  Enraged by US interference with their shipping, Vietnam retaliates by shooting down two P-3 Orions patrolling in international air space off Vietnam's eastern coast.  The Orion pilots parachute out of their planes and are now stranded on a tiny island called North Cay, situated near the Dangerous Ground Reef.  The airmen are now waiting to be picked up by friendly US ships.  Unfortunately for them, the Soviets also have plans to pick up the stranded airmen.

So here's what our playing area looks like, with everything from the north of the Philippines right south to the coast of Vietnam in play.  It's a big area.  The action around the Philippines will mainly focus on the US trying to prevent the Soviets from getting supplies to Paluan, on the western tip of Mindoro.  Further south, near the bottom of the map, the US and Soviets will be sending ships to pick up the stranded US airmen east of Vietnam.

Soviet and Vietnamese forces at the ready.
The Soviets have some hefty air support available at their bases in Vietnam.  The Vietnamese have two squadrons of MiG-21s at Nha Trang air base while the Soviets have bombers, electronic warfare, interceptors and recon aircraft on the tarmac at Tuy Hoa airbase.  In Cam Ranh Bay, the Soviets also have a frigate and a flotilla of corvettes.

Soviet Task Group 1 tasked for the port of Paluan
West of the Philippines, the Soviets have several cruisers and a destroyer escorting two container ships filled to the brim with weaponry and they must deliver them to Paluan by the end of turn 4.  There is some pretty heavy firepower here with one Kresta II class cruiser (the Marshal Voroshilov) and two Kresta I class cruisers (the Vladivostok and the Admiral Drozd).  The Kresta I ships were designed for an anti-ship role while the Kresta II class ships were designed with anti-submarine warfare in mind.  

Some interesting historical tidbits:  The Admiral Drozd participated in the rescue of K-19, the Soviet submarine that experienced a critical reactor leak in July 1961 (and was featured in a movie with Harrison Ford several years back).  The Drozd was decommissioned in the early 90s and sent to India for scrap but sank in the Indian Ocean while being towed.  The Vladivostok had quite an impressive career, testing American defenses out on the west coast of the United States and tracking the USS Kittyhawk for Soviet submarine K-314 to follow (and inadvertantly collide with - oops). 

US task group 2 (Sterett, John L. Hall and Gallery) near Subic Bay.
The Americans have two groups of ships to start out with here.  One group (Task Group 2) consists of three ships, the Sterett (a Belknap class cruiser), and two frigates (the John L. Hall and the Gallery, both of which are O.H. Perry class).  The Sterett was commissioned in the early 1960s and had a distinguished and long career in the Pacific.  During the Vietnam War, it operated dangerously close to the coast and directed US fighters to intercept enemy MiGs. 

US task group northeast of Vietnam coast.  The center marker indicates the location of the downed US airmen.
To the south, the US has an impressive array of ships, not the least of which includes the battleship USS Missouri ("Big Mo").  It's accompanied by three destroyers (Oldendorf, Preble, and Thorn) and a cruiser (Harry E. Yarnell).  The  Missouri gets 2 cruise missile attacks in this scenario, which can be used against base hexes.  I've decided to split up this group of ships into two separate task groups.  The Thorn and Preble (task group 4) will head southwest to try and pick up the US aviators while the Missouri and Oldendorf (task group 3) will link up with the Sterett and Gallery (task group 2) near Subic Bay.

The Big Picture:  Scenario 1 after setup

Turn 1:

Strategic Air Phase:  The Americans send out a P-3 Orion to detect the Soviet task group west of the Philippines, hoping to intercept it on its approach to Paluan.  An F-4G Phantom II from Clark Field offers tactical coordination in the Philippines zone.   Meanwhile the Soviets send their T-16s to find the ships in US Task Groups 3 and 4.

Strategic Air Phase:  US and Soviet recon planes detect major ship formations in South China Sea.

Action Phase:  The US gets the first action here, sending Thorn and Preble in Task Group 4 down towards North Cay Island to try and pick up the US aviators while Task Group 3 (Missouri and Oldendorf) heads north to link up with the other US ships in Task Group 2 closer to the Philippines. The Missouri takes this opportunity to fire off a cruise missile at Tuy Hoa airbase but it fails to inflict any major damage (US player rolls a "2" for damage).

The Soviets push through their task group towards the Philippines port of Paluan virtually unopposed as the US ships are too busy reorganizing into a task force south of Subic Bay.  Down south, the Soviets have sent their frigate and corvette northeast from Cam Ranh Bay in a bid to capture the US airmen on North Cay before they can be rescued by Thorn and Preble.

General movements of US and surface fleet during turn 1

The Soviets get one air phase here and since the US cruise missiles failed to damage the airfield at Tuy Hoa, a flight of MiGs and an EW plane can be sent off to bomb Task Force 4 off the coast of North Cay.  Despite heavy AAA and SAMs, the MiGs get through and bomb the Thorn, crippling it.

Soviet MiGs bomb US Task Group 4, damaging the Thorn.

Turn 2:

The Americans start off this turn with the initiative and activate their surface units.  Task Force 4 attempts to rescue the downed US aviators on North Cay but fails to locate them.

Task Group 2 and 3 are combined into a single task force south of Subic Bay.  The USS Missouri fires off another salvo of cruise missiles at Tuy Hoa but the airfield is still operable (a "4" on the damage roll fails to score enough damage hits).

With the US Task Force ready to go, it steams west to intercept the Soviet cargo ships and cruisers heading for Paluan, firing off a mighty salvo of anti-ship missiles at the Soviet ships from 2 hexes away.  The Soviet defenses manage to mitigate most of the damage, however, and the attack ends with only one of their cargo ships damaged.

US Task Force 2 fires off SSMs against Soviet Task Group 1
The Soviet task group moves adjacent to the US task force, hoping to speed right past it and continue to Paluan.  In a bid to hurt the Americans, they send all of their anti-ship missiles off against the USS Missouri but the Task Force shrugs off the attack with high value air defenses.

Down south, Task Group 4 has to fight off yet another air attack from Soviet MiGs and EW aircraft.  This time, the Preble and Thorn are ready for the fighters and manage to put up enough of a screen to damage the T-16 electronic warfare aircraft.  However, the MiGs still get through and this time they damage the Preble.

Task Group 4 takes another hit as MiGs come in for a second bombing run on the Americans.

Turn 3:

The Americans need to score some hits here to stop the Soviets from getting away with the game.  Things don't start off well as the Soviet Task Group 7 just off North Cay manages to capture the US airmen on the island and gain 3 Victory Points right off the bat.  Thorn and Preble, now damaged, limp away northeast from the island, hoping to get out of range of the MiGs at Tuy Hoa airbase.

Meanwhile, the Soviets task group west of the Philippines again attempts to launch a devastating attack to cripple the USS Missouri.  The Soviet SSMs are duly shot down as they come into range of the US task force.  However, the Soviet cargo ships are now frighteningly close to Paluan and will land next turn if unopposed.

Soviet cargo ships and their escort cruisers approach Paluan as the Americans play catch up.

The US task force moves adjacent to the Soviets again after tracking them eastward and goes for broke, attempting to damage a Soviet cruiser and an undamaged cargo ship.  Although the Soviet air defense roll isn't great, the American player rolls a "0" both times for his attacks.  Unscathed, the Soviet task group resumes its trip eastwards.

Turn 4:

Strategic Air Phase rolls around again and both players are forced to put whatever meager air resources left on reconnaissance and tactical coordination.  The US player desperately needs an activation first in order to get one last hit in on the Soviet ships as they approach their destination.

Soviet ships arrive at their destination as the Americans look on helplessly.

Unfortunately, the Americans lose the initiative here and the cargo ships land in Paluan to unload their deadly cargo.  The Soviets earn a total of 12 victory points here getting a "Substantial Soviet Victory".  It's just a hair under the requirements for a major victory but the damaged cargo ship brought the numbers down in the end.

This was a very tough game with lots of agonizing decisions, especially for the Americans.  Is it better to keep your ships together and focus on one objective or should they be split into smaller task groups to attack the Soviets from more angles?  There was a lot of luck (good and bad) in this scenario, especially in relation to the capture/rescue of the American airmen on North Cay.  On the other hand, it could be argued that the US should have held off from using its F-4 Phantoms on CAP over Clark Field and instead used them to bomb the Soviet ships on the way to Paluan (although this would have opened up Clark Field to bombing runs by the Soviet T-16s based in Tuy Hoa).  So much went wrong here - the cruise missiles never damaged the Vietnamese airfields and the atrocious attack rolls on turn 3 - it's hard to imagine how the American could have won even if they had used different tactics. 

Monday, March 10, 2014

Band of Heroes: Overlord Begins

"Overlord Begins" is a scenario from Lock 'n Load's Band of Heroes expansion "Swift and Bold", which focuses on the British efforts in Normandy and Holland during 1944.  It's an impressive expansion with 12 scenarios and 83 counters. Although it is tough to find these days, I hear it will be included in the upcoming new edition of Band of Heroes.

"Overlord Begins" depicts the landing of the 6th Airborne Division's D Company in the early hours of June 6th, 1944.  The company's mission was to take and hold the Caen Canal Bridge over the River Orne, a vitally important strategic target.  With the bridge in British hands, it would help speed the passage of friendly units as they pushed south of the beaches while at the same time preventing the Germans from easily reinforcing their coastal defense units later on in them morning.

In scenario terms, the British win this one if no German units are within three hexes of the bridge by scenario's end.

Here we get map 14 and 17 with a handful of Germans at either end of the bridge while a platoon of men is set up anywhere west of the river hexes or on board 17.  Just a quick note that the scenario rules indicate that some of the terrain on the board is different than what is actually depicted; bocage is actually hedge while marsh hexes are clear terrain.

The playing area for the scenario.

I love the Horsa glider mechanic and how it plays out.  You pinpoint where the gliders are supposed to land and then make a morale check that's modified by terrain and enemy defenses to see where it actually lands and what happens to the glider's occupants.    Since this scenario takes place at night, the chances that the glider is going to crash land off course is a little higher than during the day. The night rules for combat and spotting are slightly modified by the scenario.  Basically, units can spot anything within 3 hexes of their position (instead of the usual two).  The scenario rules also state that the Germans are taken by surprise by the landing so all they can do in the first turn is basically sit there and defend in melee.  The British plan to take full advantage of this.

A little closer look at the German setup here:

On the eastern side of the bridge, the Germans get a single 0-5-4 squad with an MG42 in a bunker.

The eastern side of the bridge with defenses

On the western side, we get another 0-5-4 squad with an MG42 but it's sitting right on the bridge hex in 17H6.  The Germans have a platoon of infantry, which they plunk down on the west side of the bridge.  

German defenses on western side of bridge.

With the Germans set up, the British decide on where their Horsa Gliders are going to land.  They choose two gliders each (both of which have a platoon of men inside) to land to the west of the bridge.

Two Horsa Gliders will be landed on the west side of the bridge.

The remaining glider will land on the eastern edge of the bridge and hopefully take out the MG bunker quickly.

Remaining Horsa Glider to land near the banks on the east side of the bridge.

After we choose our landing spots for the British, we roll away and see what happens.  As it turns out, both gliders on the west side of the bridge land perfectly and the men are in good shape.

Lord Holmes and Sgt. Livingston arrive safe and sound with three squads each.
Disaster strikes when the third glider fails its check badly and lands far to the south of where it was supposed to land.  Captain McCloud and his three squads are instantly eliminated and the British are down to 2/3rds strength before a shot is even fired in the scenario.

With no time to mourn the loss of the other British platoon, Sgt. Livingston and his three squads move east towards the bridge to melee the German machinegun crew in H6. 

Livingston and platoon head into melee with German 0-5-4 with MG42.

Unbelievably, both sides in the melee roll poorly (both of them roll a "3") and no one is eliminated.  Lord Holmes moves a bit further south, hoping to cover any advance from the German infantry under command by Sgt. Baumann.

Placement at end of Turn 1.

Turn 2 begins and the British retain the initiative.  Sgt. Livingston decides to get the melee with the German machinegun crew over and done with but the British roll a "4" while the Germans get a lucky "11".  Sgt. Livingston and his men are completely wiped out.  The British now have only 1/3rd of their starting force and it's only the start of turn 2.  What a disaster!

With a stiff upper lip, the remaining British platoon decides to carry on, cautiously pushing up towards the bridge using assault movement.  Sgt. Baumann moves two of his squads up to intercept the British paras in the coming turn.

End of Turn 2
At the start of turn 3, it is time to throw caution to the wind.  Lord Holmes orders one squad to fire on the German machinegun crew sitting on the bridge and manages to shake it.  He commands one of the squads to follow up by moving in to melee the shaken Germans.  

One of the Para squads melees and eliminates the German machinegun crew in H6.
The Germans get a bit of revenge here as one of the Wehrmacht squads shakes up the Para squad in I7.  The turn ends. 

Turn 4 begins and the British gain initiative.  With bravery that borders on recklessness, the British squad that eliminated the German machinegun crew last turn jumps into melee with the adjacent German squad in G6 after picking up a Bren during the rally phase.  A couple of rolls later, the British squad has eliminated these Germans too.

British paras eliminate their second German squad of the day.

Just before the melee takes place, an event marker calls for German reinforcements to arrive in the following impulse.

Sgt. Beck and a handful of squads arrive with a light tank that trundles up towards the British position.  Now the Brits are really outnumbered!

A German tank and a platoon of Germans arrive on the scene.

Lord Holmes can do little about the uninvited guests so he hauls back an adjacent British squad, hoping to rally the men in the coming turn.

It's Turn 5 and the Germans get initiative.  Lord Holmes successfully rallies the squad with him.

This is it - time to crush these pesky Brits!

The Panzer tank pulls up adjacent to Lord Holmes and his two squads.  The adjacent British paratroopers fire back with everything and shake up the vehicle crew.  

Lord Holmes and his men fire on and shake up an adjacent German tank.

The remaining British squad in the G6 building hex ends up in a short victorious melee with a German squad that rushes for the machinegun sitting on the bridge in H6.  While the British are preoccupied with enemy tanks and machineguns, Sgt. Baumann and his men take the opportunity to move south towards Sgt. Livingston's position.

Turn 6 begins and again the Germans get initiative.  The German tank rallies and immediately fires on Lord Holmes and his men, scoring a hit.  The tank fire shakes up Lord Holmes and one of his squads but what's this?  A British hero ("Chapman") emerges and is given the "Preempt" skill card. The unshaken men fire on the adjacent tank and shake it up.  Baumann and his men fire on the British but without result.  Despite being almost impossibly outnumbered, the British are still clinging on.

The Paras get a hero with the Pre-empt skill card after taking on fire from a German tank.

With only one turn left, the British will need to start securing the far side of the bridge.  The remaining British squad runs across the bridge to the east side of the river.  They get adjacent to the German machinegun in the nearby bunker.  Sgt. Beck see the Brits race across the river and take possession of the building in G6 on the west side.  The British will now have to eliminate him and his men in order to win the scenario!

British paras get close to a German MG bunker while Sgt Beck moves into building hex in G6.

It's turn 7, the last turn of the scenario.  In order to win, the British will need to eliminate any Germans within three hexes of the bridge.  It's going to be a very tough job.  The Germans win initiative and fail to rally their shaken Panzer in the rally phase. The British use Chapman's "Preempt"  card to go first in the Operations Phase.  They send the hero off towards Sgt. Baumann and he is wounded while approaching the German position.

Chapman runs towards the German position in F7 and is wounded.

Now the British paratroopers will have to eliminate Beck and his men and also take the bunker. First, they went for the bunker...and took it!

British paras successfully melee the German MG bunker on the east side of the bridge.

Now to take out Sgt. Beck and his men.

Lord Holmes sends one of his squads out towards Beck's position but the Germans hold their fire, waiting for the main assault.  The Para squad gets adjacent to the Germans and fires using its assault movement.  However, the Brits fail to shake the Germans.

Brit Para squad gets adjacent to Beck and fires at the Germans without result.

With no other option left, Lord Holmes and his remaining men move towards Beck, hoping to get past the German fire and beat them in a melee.  As they get adjacent to Beck, the Germans open fire and shake the British leader and his men.  With Beck and his men clinging to the G6 hex near the bridge, the Germans retain control of the crossing. 

Lord Holmes and his squad are shaken as they get adjacent to Beck and his men in G6

The British have lost this one, but just barely.  I believe it was a matter of just not having enough men to take the objectives despite a good amount of luck on their side.  The combined loss of Cpt. McCloud and his platoon in the third glider and Sgt. Livingston's platoon in melee on turn 2 was just too overwhelming for the British to make up for.  Still, it was shockingly close and the British did have a chance of winning even right up to the very last impulse of the last turn of the scenario.  Great stuff!