Saturday, August 22, 2015

Harpoon: Captain's Edition - Surface Encounter

So I just got Harpoon: Captain's Edition, which is a nice little beer and pretzels game released by GDW in 1990.  If you're a fan of modern naval combat games and you want something lighter than, say, the Fleet series then this is actually a pretty fun game.  It's probably set at just the right angle for introducing a kid or a spouse to wargaming.  The first few scenarios are basically just training scenarios.  As you read the rulebook and learn more rules, it tells you to play certain scenarios that use them.  This is a nice gradual learning curve approach that makes this game even more friendly for introducing non-wargamers into the hobby.

Anyway, I'm going to show a recent playthrough of scenario 1, which uses the bare minimum of rules.  This is the scenario that you're supposed to be able to play within 30 minutes of opening the box.  You don't need to use the detection rules.  Both sides start out detected.  There are no air units or large collections of ships.  This scenario is just a straight up knife-fight between two fighting ships.

In this scenario,.called "Surface Encounter", an Arleigh Burke-class destroyer is escorting a merchant vessel somewhere and it happens to detect a Soviet Sovremenny-class destroyer with an Ivan Rogov-class landing ship.  A skirmish ensues with both sides trying to sink the other's escorted ships.  The Soviets win a victory if they sink the merchant vessel while NATO wins if it can sink the Rogov.

Starting forces:  Task Force 1 (NATO) and Task Force A (Soviets)
Okay, so here's our lineup.  The Americans basically have one ship that can do any real fighting.  The DDG has 4 long range SSMs (can fire up to three hexes away) and 2 short SSMs (can fire one hex).  The ship has 2 gun factors.  In terms of defense, the Burke-class DDG has 10 long range SAMs and a Point Defense value of 3.

The Soviets have the Sovremenny-class DDG with 8 short range SSMs and no long-range SSMs.  What the ship lacks in ranged weapons, it makes up for in terms of defenses.  It has six short range SAMs and a whopping Point Defense rating of 5.  It also has 4 gun factors - twice the value of the Burke-class DDG's guns.  Note that both ships have the same speed and hull rating.

The Soviets also have the Ivan Rogov, which has 2 short range SAMs for defense and a gun rating of 1.  It has a hull rating of 3 but so does the NATO merchant vessel.

You would expect this to be a fairly even fight, I suppose!

Setup:  NATO TF-1 is three hexes away from Soviet TF-A.  Both TFs are detected.
The Soviets set up three hexes northeast of Jan Mayen Island (Task Force A) while the NATO player must set up three hexes east of the island (Task Force 1).  The direction that each group is facing in the hex doesn't really matter.  Both sides have already detected each other so there's no need to sneak around here.  The fighting starts right away.

We pull our first chit from the cup and it's Task Force 1 so the NATO player moves his ships north towards the Soviet task force.  I could have just fired off my 4 long range SSMs at the Soviets but I want to get close enough to fire off all my missiles at once in order to try and overwhelm the Soviet ship defenses.  The NATO player announces his attack so the Burke-class DDG launches all six SSMs at the Soviet task force.

Missiles away!  6 SSMs fly towards the Soviet ships in TF-A.
The Soviets would normally have a chance to try and shoot down the incoming SSMs with long range SAMs first.  However, neither the Sovremenny DDG nor the Rogov LPD have long range SAMs.  The missiles continue their flight.

6 missiles en route to LPD Ivan Rogov
So 6 missiles are now on the way to the LPD Ivan Rogov landing craft and the Sovremenny and Rogov both decide that enough is enough and it's time to try and shoot them down with their short-range SAMs.  The Sovremenny DDG fires first.  It has 6 short range SAMs so we roll 6 six-sided dice.  Each roll of 4 or 5 eliminates 1 missile.  Each roll of 6 eliminates 2 missiles.  We get a 6 and two 5s so three  four missiles have been eliminated.  The Ivan Rogov fires its SAMs and we get a 6 and a 4.  The three remaining missiles are shot down. Bad luck for the American DDG.

The Soviets pull the next chit in the cup and it's for Task Force A. They now get to move and/or fire back at the NATO task force.  The Sovremenny DDG fires its 8 short range SSMs straight at the US ships.

Incoming!  Soviets fire 8 SSMs straight at the Americans. 
The Burke has 10 long range SAMs to fire at the incoming missiles.  So we roll 10 six-sided dice and any results of 4 or 5 eliminate a missile while a roll of 6 eliminates 2 missiles.  The American player rolls horribly, shooting down only five of the eight SS-N missiles.  Normally, the US player would get a chance to use his short range SAMs next to try and further whittle down the number of incoming missiles but neither American ship has any short range SAMs.  The three remaining missiles are about to slam into the US merchant ship.

3 missiles get through US defenses.
The Soviet player rolls a die for each missile.  Results of 3 to 5 mean a missile scores a hit while a result of 6 means one of the missiles scores 2 hits.  We get a 3, 4, and a 6.  That's 4 hits on the merchant ship, one more than is actually needed to sink it.  Down it goes to the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean!

With no more missiles left, it decides to enter the Burke's hex and engage it with guns.

Soviet TF-A enters NATO TF-1 hex in 1009.
The NATO player chooses to make a stand here and possibly sink the Ivan Rogov with its own guns.  This is now a close-range gunnery duel so both sides set up their ships in pairs and decide which of the ships will fire and which ship will be screened.  Of course, the NATO player only has the one ship so it will be firing.  The Soviets obviously choose the Sovremenny-class DDG as the firing ship while the Rogov hangs back.

The ship with the highest gunnery rating fires first and results are implemented immediately.  The Sovremenny has a gunnery rating of 4 while the Burke has only 2.  Any result between 4 and 6 results in a hit.  The Soviet player rolls 4 six-sided dice and gets 1, 1, 4, and 5.  The Burke-class DDG takes 2 hits and is sunk.

The Soviet task force, having won an overwhelming victory, sails on towards its objective.  The pride of the Red Banner Northern Fleet remains intact.


I really wonder if there is any way the Americans can win this scenario.  It seems to really be a matter of luck with the Soviets having a slightly better chance at winning.  Attacking the Sovremenny DDG seems like a bad idea.  The ship's combination of SAMs and Point Defense make it almost impossible to hit.  I don't think I really made it clear how ships defend against missiles here so I'll try to explain it here.

When missiles are fired at a task force, they need to pass through three potential defensive belts in order to have a chance at hitting.  Long range SAMs fire first at the total number of incoming missiles.  It doesn't matter which ship they are targeting in the defending task force, the missiles are treated as a group that any ship in the TF with long-range SAMs can try and hit.   Any surviving missiles can be fired at with short-range SAMs next.

In this case, the attacking player divides up which of his SSMs are going for which ship in the enemy task force.  The defending player, who has already divided up his ships into pairs, declares which set of incoming missiles he is firing at with his short range SAMs.

So, for instance, I could have fired 4 of my SSMs at the Ivan Rogov and 2 SSMs at the Sovremenny.  The Soviet player would then have to decide whether to fire both ships' short range SAMs at the 4 incoming missiles on the Rogov OR the 2 incoming missiles at the Sovremenny.  If the Sovremenny chooses to protect the Rogov with his short range SAMs, the 2 incoming missiles aimed at the Sovremenny would automatically get through.

The next defensive belt is for each individual ship.  This is the point defense (usually high rate-of-fire gatling guns) system.  Any missiles that survive long and short range SAM defenses must finally make it through an individual ship's PD systems in order to have a chance at hitting their target.  Because PD systems are very short range, they can only be used to protect the ship on which they are mounted.  So the Sovremenny, in my previous example, would get to roll 5 dice to try and hit those 2 missiles coming at it.  Any rolls between 2 and 5 eliminate one missile.  A result of 6 eliminates 2 missiles.

So as you can see, it is very difficult to hit an enemy ship with a missile in Harpoon: Captain's Edition!  Keep in mind, though, that this is a very tiny scenario with a very small number of ships.  Once you get further into the game with large task forces that can fire huge numbers of missiles, it is much easier to completely overwhelm the defenses of even the strongest ships,

Fleet vs Harpoon

So I wanted to see, just for fun, how this situation might have worked itself out in 2nd Fleet.  I'd like to stress that I'm just doing this out of curiousity to see what will happen rather than to point out any weakness in either game.  So I set up the game on Vassal.  First thing I noticed is that the scale is slightly bigger for Harpoon (60 nautical miles per hex vs. 46 nm in Fleet).  I set up the units slightly further apart on the 2nd Fleet map to reflect the difference.

The first thing you notice with the Soviet and US units is that the stats for offensive missile power approximate those in Harpoon: CE.  The Burke has a longer range for missiles (5 hexes vs 2) but less firepower (8 FP vs. 14) than the Soviets.

The big difference between the games are in the defensive values.  The Burke and the Sovremenny both have a close anti-air value of 5. I suppose these are like short range SAMs. It seems like there is a difference here with the games as the Sovremenny DDG clearly has a better short-range SAM and point defense rating than the Burke DDG in Harpoon: CE.

In terms of long range defense, the Burke DDG has an area anti-air value of 7 while the Sovremenny has an area anti-air value of only 4 in the Fleet series as you can see above.  This is a major difference between the games because Harpoon: CE has the Burke DDG with 10 long range SAMs while the Sovremenny DDG has zero!

So let's play this thing out.  I put a merchant ship (the Baugh) with the Burke and an amphibious ship (the Beloy) with the Sovremenny-class DDG.  Neither side has enough combat units to form a task group, never mind a task force.

The Burke and the merchant ship move up adjacent to the Soviet ships in order to get a bonus to the attack roll for being right next to the enemy.

The US player declares an SSM attack on the Beloy, the amphibious ship stacked with the Sovremenny.  The area anti-air value of the Soviets is 4.  The combined close anti-air value of both the DDG and the LDP is 8 for a total defensive value of 12.  I roll on the CRT and get a 2 for the Soviet defensive roll.  We subtract one from that because the target is not in a task force or task group.  The result is a "1" for the Soviets.  The result on the CRT is a zero.

Now the NATO player rolls.    We get a "1".  Cross-referencing this with the 8, we get a zero result.  

The Soviet player goes.  It starts off firing its SSMs at the American merchant ship.  We combine the anti-air values of the Americans for a defensive total of 13.  We roll an "8" (-1 for no TF/TG is 7).  The result is a 4 on the CRT.  The Soviets roll for their attack.  They get a "1", from which the 4 is subtracted for a -3 on the 9 to 14 column.  The result is a zero.  Neither side wins the scenario assuming SSMs have now run out.  

If we had gone with the Close Combat optional rule on page 48 of the 2nd Fleet rulebook, how would things have turned out?

The Burke and the ship approach the Soviets and fire off their SSMs in the adjacent hex.  The Burke has a CCV of 16.  The die roll is odd so the NATO player can fire first.  This time, the Soviets roll a "3" for defensive fire (2 for no TF/TG) and we get a result of 2 on the CRT.

The US player rolls an 8 (-2) for a total of 6 on the roll.  We get a "4" on the CRT on the 15 to 20 column. The Beloy is sunk.  

The Soviet player now fires back at the US ships, hoping to sink the Baugh.  The US player rolls defensive and gets a zero.  Ouch!  The Soviet player now fires 18 CCV straight at the Americans.  We get a 4 on the die and cross-reference for 3 damage.  The Baugh is sunk. Both players lose the scenario.  

What a ride!  You can see the unpredictability built into this scenario by having two ships that are pretty much even in terms of defensive and offensive firepower.  It's far from the rather decisive win that Harpoon: CE presented in the same scenario.  I have no idea which game is the better one or more accurate but I can say that I enjoy playing both of these games immensely for different reasons.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Harpoon: Captain's Edition (GDW) - 1990

Harpoon: Captain's Edition is not one of those games you hear people talk much about these days.  There are quite a few good reasons for this but mainly it was a victim of incredibly bad timing.  This 1990 release from GDW focused on naval combat in a hypothetical World War III between the Soviets and Americans in the GIUK gap.  Designed by Larry Bond, the same man who designed the Harpoon series, Harpoon: Captain's Edition was an attempt at creating sort of a "Harpoon Lite" version that was accessible to a wider audience.

A Victim of Timing

Looking at the components and the rules, it seems to be aimed at the "dad-son" gaming crowd.  Unfortunately, by 1990 the Cold War was over and done with and everyone just sort of wanted to move on with things.  I don't have any proof of this but I get the impression that Harpoon: CE may have been one of the very last games that was in the pipeline when the Cold War abruptly ended in 1989 and GDW was left standing around with a Cold War game ready to go.

I also get the feeling that Harpoon: CE was one of those games that fell between the cracks of a real audience.  For Harpoon enthusiasts, it was way too simplified and for casual boardgamers, it was too complex.  I remember seeing this in my FLGS when it came out and I assumed it was an expansion for Harpoon, which I already considered way too meaty for my tastes.

Finally, I should mention that computer game company 360 Pacific had released Harpoon as a PC game in 1989 already, which took the legwork out of learning a complex set of rules - or any rules at all, for that matter.  Maybe the Harpoon PC game was just a little too good.

Anyway, this is all just speculation because from the limited amount I've played Harpoon; CE, it's actually not a bad game.  It plays smoothly and I've found nothing wrong with it.

The Components

Here's a look at the components:

Now, you have to admit that the cover is pretty bad-ass.  You've got the battleship guns in the forefront (I believe that is supposed to be the Iowa, which is in the game).  You also have an F-14 Tomcat buzzing the tower with "Top Gun" still firm in everyone's minds at that point in time.  You've got a ship on the left and the Nimitz off in the distance.  GDW tried to distinguish this from other Harpoon products with the "Easy to Learn / Fun to Play" in red at the bottom and - just to be sure about it - put another red box with "Start Playing in 30 minutes".  I got this game in the mail yesterday and, true to form, I was up and running the first scenario in 30 minutes.  Good for GDW!

Now, let's take a look at the back of the box.  

Alright, we've got a blurb that explains what Harpoon is and what this game is about and the fact that it's easy to play repeated again.  We have a little bit of text about Larry Bond and the fact that Harpoon was used as a source for Clancy's The Hunt for Red October.  All good stuff.  The one nitpicky issue is that the silhouette for the Bunker Hill is wrong.  You can see on the bow and stern of the ship, there are Mk. 26 missile launchers but the Bunker Hill was the first cruiser with the Mk. 41 vertical launching system.  Not a big deal if you're a casual gamer but a very big deal if you're a Harpoon fanatic.  I wonder if that may have hurt a few sales.

Opening the box up, we find lots of interesting goodies:

Inside the box

I love the assortment of stuff that's included in the game.  You have plastic pieces, counters, roster sheets with checkboxes, cards, maps, references, you name it.

Here's the log sheet for the game.  Very simple.  The pad is still pretty full.  I'd say there are about 200 sheets in here:

We have 54 cards with US and Soviet ships, planes, and subs.  There are also "dummy" cards meant to fool your opponent.

Each card outlines the basic capabilities of the ship in terms of detection (ASR = Air Search Radar, SSR = Surface Search Radar, SON = Sonar), fighting capability, movement, and hull strength.  I like the cards because they help to keep the counters and the map uncluttered.  They are very simple but they look good and they work well for this sort of game.  You can divide up your task forces very easily without having to stack counters or write anything down.  Information can be accessed quickly.

You get these plastic pieces that are supposed to be search planes. The red ones are Soviet and the blue ones are NATO.  They each have a number (for NATO) or a letter (for Soviets) affixed to the bottom.  I'm not totally sure why these are plastic or what the numbers/letters are for but there you have it.  Perhaps the plastic pieces are there to enhance the "friendliness" of the game to beginners?

And of course, there are a bunch of cardboard counters here in the game.  They are mostly aircraft and missile counters.  There are also counters for Task Forces on each side with chits for each task force.  During the movement phase, players pull a chit from a cup and that determines which task force gets to move, shoot, etc.

Ships fire a certain number of surface to surface missiles at each other and they need to get through the defenses of the enemy ships in order to have a chance at hitting.  As the enemy defenses go to work, they whittle down the number of missiles coming at them (if they're lucky).  So having missile counters is necessary.  Also, the missiles go for specific targets in the enemy task force, so during an attack, you can break up a certain number of your missiles to go for one target in a saturation attack or try your luck by spreading out the missiles among various targets.   The bottom line is that the missile counters track how many missiles are still active as they go through enemy defense layers and which targets they are aimed at.

The Base Charts are used for each player to track their forces in the more advanced scenarios.  I haven't played any of these yet so I'm not sure exactly how they work.  The game has some advanced rules that allow for things like tanker refueling, which is pretty cool.  Again, I haven't yet gotten into this yet so I can't explain it much further.

And here we have the map.  It's not elegant by any means but it's functional and works for a game made in 1990.  The hexes are actually quite large and the map is small enough to fit on a coffee table.  It features an area of the GIUK gap with airbases included.  There is seasonal ice (which has its own special rules) up near Greenland and West Spitsbergen.  It's a paper map but it's a nice thick paper that lays down well.  I have no real complaints.

There are two books included with the game - the Captain's Rules (the rulebook) and the Captain's Briefing (a scenario book).  The rules are a bit spotty in some places with tables and charts interjected among explanations but there's nothing confusing here.  It would have been nice to have the tables and charts on a separate sheet although I'm apparently missing two player screens that may actually have them on there.

There are over 30 scenarios in the scenario book, which is pleasantly surprising. The scenarios cover everything from small duels between enemy frigates right up to full-scale WW3 battle with lots of units.  One really nice thing is that players secretly "purchase" their units in the advanced scenarios prior to play so you don't really know what kind of force you'll encounter out there.  Also, players get secret mission objectives that they must fulfill during the scenario in order to win.  This adds considerably to replayability.

First Impressions

So far, I've played the first two scenarios of the game, which seem like training scenarios.  The first scenario features the Arleigh Burke DDG and a merchant ship fighting against a Sovremenny class DDG escorting an amphibious ship (LPD Ivan Rogov).  Whoever can sink the other's merchant/amphib ship is the winner.

The central problem is whether the Americans should fire their long range SSMs first and then close with and fire their short range SSMs later or if they should get close and fire all their missiles at once.  The only way I've managed to score a hit on the Soviets is by using the latter method.  The Soviet anti-missile defenses on the Sovremenny are impressive and if the short range SAMs down't take care of your incoming missiles, the Point Defenses certainly will.   After the American player runs out of missiles, the Soviets just close in and use guns to sink everything in sight.  It is unbalanced but it works fine as a training scenario.  I'll do a playthrough of it later to show how the game system works.

Harpoon: CE vs. the Fleet Series

You may be wondering how Harpoon; Captain's Edition stacks up against other modern naval games from around that time.  The closest game to this that I can think of (in terms of theme/scale/etc) is the Fleet series of games from Victory Games (specifically 2nd Fleet, which deals with the same location/subject matter).  Harpoon: CE happens at a slightly lower scale than Fleet but the basic principles of detection and combat resolution are similar.  Combat is a bit smoother in Fleet as the close anti-air values and area anti-air values are calculated for a single modifier that helps resolve combat very quickly with only one or two rolls.  Harpoon, on the other hand, has a "bucket of dice" approach to combat where players roll a set amount of six-sided die equal to a ship's rating and then consult a table to see the results of each of the die rolls.

The Fleet series also allowed for a bit more nuance.  Damage to ships in Fleet result in lowered ratings on virtually all aspects of the ship's abilities.  In Harpoon: CE, damage to a ship results in lowered movement ratings only (though there are a few more consequences for damage to an aircraft carrier).  So a ship in Harpoon is basically at near 100% capability or sunk.  I wonder if anyone thought about using the back side of those cards for a damaged version of each unit.  Attack capabilities of different SSMs are abstracted in the Fleet series in a way that accounts for more than just the number of missiles a ship carries.  In Harpoon: CE, a missile is a missile and seem to be distinguished only in terms of whether it is a short range or long range missile.  

There are some things I actually prefer about Harpoon over Fleet. I do like how ships can react to other ships in Harpoon.  One thing that was missing in the Fleet series was the ability to react to what another player was doing during this turn (except in the case of CAP).  In Harpoon: CE, the active player moves his task force and the enemy player has a chance to attack him if the active player's unit is detected.  That provides a bit of tension to the game, which is nice.  As I said before, the idea of buying your units and selecting secret missions before play seems like a fantastic idea.


Frankly, I really haven't played too much of Harpoon: CE to say too much more about it at this point.  I can say that from what I've seen, the components for the time were quite good and the rules do succeed in giving the feeling that you're simulating modern naval combat in an extremely simplified but earnest manner.  I think GDW tried its best with this product and rolled the dice.  It's too bad that the game never caught on but if it had come out in 1984 or 1985 (both during the Cold War and right before the Fleet series came out), it might have seen much greater success.  I'm looking forward to playing this game with my son some day.  It seems like an extremely good way to get a kid into gaming.  There are enough interesting decisions to make and the rules are provided in a simple - but never patronizing - way that makes it easy to explain and get playing.

Sunday, August 9, 2015

Aegean Strike - Closing the Curtains

I've been playing out scenario 2 of Aegean Strike lately and I've finally made it to a point where I can see a resolution coming along to it.  Basically, the Warsaw Pact is set to lose this scenario for a couple of reasons.  Just to recap, the objectives in this scenario are for the Pact to capture Istanbul within 7 turns.  They're fighting against the combined might of Greece, Turkey, and the American Sixth Fleet.

The Bulgarians made some nice initial gains into western Turkey at the start of the scenario but they soon got bogged down in fighting several tough Turkish infantry divisions that stood their ground and occasionally pushed back.  The Greeks tried to take advantage of the relatively few (and weak) Bulgarian divisions that were guarding the homeland.  Greek infantry poured across the border and engaged in arduous mountain fighting with the Bulgarians, without managing much success.  Eventually, the Soviets stepped in and started to slowly get some divisions down through Romania and towards the frontline.

The first order of business was to push back the Greek gains in southern Bulgaria, which the Soviet mechanized infantry did without any problem whatsoever.  By the 4th turn, Drama was captured by a single Soviet armored brigade and Thessaloniki looked to be ready to fall to two Soviet mechanized infantry divisions barreling through the southwest of Bulgaria and into Greece.

The problem with this strategy was that it took care of the Greeks but left too little Soviet help for pushing back the Turks over to the east.  A Soviet mechanized division with artillery failed miserably in dislodging a stubborn Turkish mechanized division that was protecting the way to Istanbul.

The 4th turn was a really good example of how most of my game went so I'll describe the events in greater detail below, recounted from my notes.

First Action Stage

Movement plus Declared Combats from Initiative Player Movement Segment

1.  The Soviet 34th Armored division plus an artillery brigade move to 2407 and declare combat against the Greek 9th infantry in 2408.
2. The Soviet 3rd Mech. Inf. division in 2009 attacks Greek 6th infantry in 2009.
3.  The Soviet 128th Mech Inf. division plus arty brigade in 3508 attack the Turkish 66th Mechanized Infantry in 3509 (with a Turkish HQ stacked with it to boot).
4.  2nd Bulgarian Mechanized Inf. Division in 3209 activates and moves to 3309, declares Deliberate Assault and declares combat vs. Turkish 4th Infantry Division in 3409.

The Pact had 3:1 attacks with all but the 3rd attack.  This is because in case 1,2, and 4, I had armor attacking non-armor units, which gave the Pact a 2-column shift in its favor on the CRT.

So I decided to push hard for close air support in the Initiative Player CAS phase.  An Su-24 was used to hit at the Turkish Mechanized Infantry division, which it did without any problem,scoring 2 hits. I should note that in the Reaction Player CAS phase prior to this, the Turks had tried to get an F-16 up to deliver CAS but it got intercepted by MiG-21 and had to abort.  The Soviets had varying rates of success with the other CAS missions but the hit on the Turkish division was the one they needed the most so failed CAS strikes for the other declared combats was kind of met with a shrug.  The Greeks had nothing to put in the air for the Reaction player segment.  Everything they threw up got detected by the nearby Soviet naval units south of the Turkish Straits and the Bulgarians and Soviets were able to scramble well in advance.

During the Assault Segment, all of the declared combats occurred and the Greeks were hit hard on every single one of them.  The Greek 9th Infantry division was slammed especially hard, taking 4 hits and retreating into an interdicted hex.  The Soviet 34th Armored Division pursued and got ready to hit them again in the next action stage.  Wheeee!

The much-anticipated battle between the Soviet 128th Mech. Inf. and the Turkish 66th Mech. Infantry Division was a total bust for the Pact.  Rolling a "1", the CRT showed a (1/0) result against the attacker.

In the next and final declared combat, the Turks and Bulgarians traded hits.  The Turkish 4 Infantry division fell back to 3510, which had been interdicted by the Soviets.  The Bulgarian 2nd Mech pursued.  I thought I had managed to put an infantry division (the Turkish 33rd Infantry to be exact) out of supply but nope!  It seemed to be safe and sound.

With the first action stage complete, the Pact got to move and attack with its Reserve formations and attack with its pursuing units.

The Soviet 92nd Mech in hex 1909 would conduct a hasty attack on the Greek 2nd Infantry division to the south, pushing south towards Thessaloniki.  In the meantime, the Soviet armored brigade stacked with it was sent southeast straight towards Drama in 2210, easily capturing the city without any resistance.  The nearby Greek HQ stacked with an armored brigade to the southeast of the city was still in coastal supply from NATO supply sources.

The Greeks decided to try for CAS in the Reaction Player CAS segment, launching an F-4 to escort an A-7 to hit at the Soviet 92nd Mech Infantry.  A MiG-23 launched to intercept but failed to score any hits on the incoming planes.  The 92nd took two hits from the A-7 but managed to score 2 hits on the strike package with air defenses.  "From hell's heart, I stab at thee!"

Initiative Player CAS segment consisted of the Pact trying to outdo the Greek CAS strikes by pummeling the Greek 2nd Infantry division even harder.  Wave upon wave of Soviet aircraft were launched until finally a pair of Su-24s managed to score 3 hits on the Greek infantry far below.

Mi-24 Hinds were used to great success at striking the hapless Greek units that had attempted to retreat from combat in the first action stage.

In the assault segment, the Soviet player rolled an 8 (+2 modified to a "10").  The Greek 2nd infantry was completely eliminated and the door to Thessaloniki lay wide open at this point.

In the pursuit combats, the Greeks got absolutely hammered once again from ground attacks (after already suffering mightily during the CAS segment).  Most of the fighting was now south of the Greek border and it was pretty obvious that Greece was not going to hold on much longer.

In the Third Action Stage, the Greeks basically licked their wounds and brought their divisions back to protect the cities nearest the border with Bulgaria.  The Greek 21st armor brigade pulled all the way back to Verina while the 8th Infantry division, which was the only one to have even moderate success against the Bulgarians in earlier turns, was forced to withdraw (taking a hit) and come back south.  This had the unintended effect of cutting off the Soviet armored brigade sitting in Drama.

The Greek 10th and 21st Infantry Divisions pulled back from near the Turkish- Greek-Bulgarian border.

The Turks were still spirited and ready to fight despite suffering at the hands of yet more Mi-24 Hind units during the Initiative CAS segment.  The 2nd Bulgarian Mechanized Division got mauled by the Turkish 65th and 4th Infantry Divisions working in tandem with the 68th Mech. Infantry Division.  The Bulgarians were once again pushed back towards their own border after taking a hit.

And that's pretty much how the turn ended.

Blue lines mark extent of Bulgarian incursion into Greece and Turkey by end of Turn 4

A look at the area around the Greek/Turkish/Bulgarian border. Not much success for the Pact player.

It seems clear to me that the Pact player didn't balance properly between the forces needed to fend off Greece while successfully invading Turkey.  Had the game continued to 7 turns, I'm almost certain that the Greeks would have been easily taken out of the picture but the Turks would have remained a problem.  I suspect part of the issue is that for the Soviet player to be successful here, he needs to take some gambles here and there with amphibious landings, raids, and naval and air bombardment - and these were all things that I was really not doing as I was focused on just trying to get the feel of the ground combat (which I think I finally did).

I learned a lot here!  For example, I could see the air and ground game slowly coming together as I started to put my planes on interdiction missions.   I was reminded of how GMT's Next War: Korea uses interdiction in similar ways to great effect.  I also really like how GS/AS use supply.  Tracing supply is cumbersome at first but it becomes second nature after a few turns.  The hardest part of the system is just not getting overwhelmed by all the moving parts.  My advice for anyone trying out AS/GS is to just do what I did here - pick a scenario and focus on either the ground, naval, or air aspect and play it out.  Slowly start to integrate the systems together as you play and suddenly a really cool game starts to unfold before your eyes.

I would really like to go back and try Gulf Strike again soon and compare how it feels with what I've just been through in Aegean Strike.  In the meantime, I have other projects I need to get to work on so I'm putting this one away for now.  Thanks for checking out my updates!

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Aegean Strike - Learning the Lessons

I've been playing Aegean Strike for the past several weeks and I'm slowly putting my way through the scenarios.  The first scenario featured a battle between the US and Soviets over North Africa.  The Soviet player got stomped the first time around but after fiddling with the Soviet setup a little and replaying the scenario, it was a clear win for the Warsaw Pact.  Since then, I've been playing scenario 2 from the game, starting and restarting it and trying different things.  It has been a long time since I've played the Gulf Strike system and I'm starting to relearn it again, which is no easy task.

Fun in the sun of the Aegean Seas - Victory Games' Aegean Strike designed by Mark Herman

Mark Herman's creation is an intricate system that has all sorts of moving parts.  It's smart and it makes sense but it takes a long time to get it down to where you can take your focus away from the rules and concentrate instead on the strategy.  I'm still very much in the process of learning the system and I've always approached complex games by curbing my own play style so as not to have to learn a bunch of rules at once and forget them. I made the mistake of trying to do too many different things at once in my first playthrough of scenario 2 and made a bunch of rules errors as a result.

This is a World War III scenario with the Soviets and Bulgarians attacking Greece and Turkey.  The Pact needs to capture Istanbul in the short version of this scenario (7 turns).  Unfortunately, the first time around, I made some mistakes with which ground forces could attack during what segments.  I also screwed up supply.  These are two big aspects of the game and you can't really claim to have "played" the Strike system if you don't have these rules down.  So I've restarted the scenario and focused mainly on ground combat.  I haven't done much with the naval units this time around and the air units have mainly been flying close air support when they do go up.  I have found so far that focusing on this one aspect is really helping to clarify the ground combat and supply rules in my head without the clutter of worrying about the naval and air aspects of the game.  Having spent all this time learning the system, I'm dreading the idea of putting the game away for a long time and forgetting it once more.
Anyway, here are a few things I've slowly gleaned from my first plays of Aegean Strike scenario 2.

1.)   This game is hard to solo in some respects.  This is because of both the "hidden information" and bookkeeping aspect of the Pact player getting 30 Spetsnaz mission detachments right at the start of the war.  The ambush mission is especially hard to solo out as written in the rules.  What I've done to get around this is to convert the number of missions assigned to ambush as a percentile chance, which I roll during the End Stage segment for each enemy unit that has moved during the turn.  If I roll under the percentage chance, the enemy unit takes a hit and the Spetsnaz mission detachment is automatically eliminated.

I think this keeps the "uncertainty" element of the ambush mission intact while at the same time making it more manageable for a solo player.  Checking during the End Stage instead of the Movement stages also takes the work out of checking for ambush for every single hex entered by an enemy unit.  I also think eliminating the ambush units after the mission makes sense as the effectiveness of these tactics would probably diminish over time as new tactics are developed to deal with the threat of Spetsnaz ambush as the war continues.  It's admittedly crude but it seems to work for me.

2.)  One of the biggest advantage for the Bulgarians is having lots of mechanized units.  The Greeks and Turks have some wonderfully powerful infantry units but the 2-column shift gained by having mech. units vs infantry helps the Bulgarians so much with dislodging the Greeks and Turks from those stubborn mountainous terrain hexes.

3.) The other big advantage for the Bulgarians is the huge amount of air power they can get from the Russians.  During turn 1 of the war, I spent dozens of supply points just on air ferry missions to get my Soviet planes over into Bulgaria.  This paid off nicely, however, as the close air support they lent to the Bulgarians in both offense and defense was vital.  On the attack, having close air support plus attacking armor vs. defending infantry means both a column shift on the CRT and a bonus added to the die roll for the attacker.

In my current game, the pre-war situation went on for 8 turns.  This gave the Soviets just enough time to mobilize quite a few divisions and also to get most of the naval units out of the Black Sea and through the Turkish Straits.   NATO managed to get some air reinforcements (F-16s, F-111, and AWACS) in the region.  The war finally started when the Turkish Straits were closed twice.

Spetsnaz raids captured a small island near Greece that had an empty airbase.  They stationed a MiG-31 here to intercept enemy planes coming through the area.  One hex of the Turkish straits was captured by a raid.  The Bulgarians sent three divisions southeast to attack Turkey while the ground units to the west held firm, expecting a Greek attack.

The Turkish ground units fell back east towards Istanbul.  The Greeks responded by pushing into southern Bulgaria.  One division of infantry threatened the Bulgarian right flank near the border of Greece and Turkey.  In the second turn, the Bulgarians had to pull back a bit to stay in supply.  The Greeks tried to attack the Bulgarian units in the west of Bulgaria but failed to do much of anything.  Soviet ground reinforcements were headed south towards Greece.  NATO air units were unable to do much of anything without getting detected by Soviet naval units in the area and intercepted as they approached the front.  The Bulgarian and Soviet air forces pounded the Turks and Greeks near the frontline.  By the end of turn 2, the Turks have sort of regrouped and are managing to hold firm against the Bulgarians but I wonder for how much longer they can last...

End of War Turn 2 (Game Turn 10)