Thursday, June 30, 2016

Interview with a Designer: Mark H. Walker's 'Sticks & Stones'

Earlier this month, I played through the three scenarios in the Sticks and Stones module called "Poland Strikes!" from Yaah! magazine issue 4. This is a modern platoon-level tactical combat game from Mark H. Walker, the same designer of the World at War series, which had a similar theme.
As I noted in my previous playthroughs, the design of Sticks and Stones is quite a departure from the World at War series in a number of ways. Having enjoyed playing both series, I wondered what brought Mr. Walker back to this genre again and what his plans were for this new series. Thanks for taking the time to answer my questions, Mark!



























HaH: What drew you to this particular theme? What is it about modern combat that catches your imagination?

MHW:  I wish I knew the answer myself. LOL. Or maybe it’s that I do know the answer/s and there are just too many of them. Sir John Hackett’s The Third World War is what sparked my initial interest. To be honest, I thought the political aspects of the book were dull--well written and beautifully conceived, but just not my cup of tea. On the other hand, I ate the combat scenes with a spoon, rereading them multiple times.

Then I found Harold Coyle’s Team Yankee. I remember reading the book in one sitting. I was duty officer at EOD Mobile Unit  Three, it was a slow night, and I just sat and read, mesmerized. Probably should have been making rounds or something.






















There’s also something about the balance and disparity of forces that makes for great gaming. By 1985 America’s military was recovering from the post-Vietnam gutting and becoming a well-trained, well-equipped force. Analysts believed that on defense an American battle group could handle one three times its size. It’s exciting to command a few, elite cardboard warriors as they fight the Russian hordes. That said, I believe first line Russian tankers would have fought well, and the T-80 and T-64 are not the slouch tanks that Iraq’s export T-72s were.

Finally. Madonna. The mid-eighties were just a great time. Girls wore bustiers to nightclubs, Mike Schmidt played third base, and no one judged you when you downed two cheeseburgers and a large fries.

Bottom line, I just like the era… and throw in paranormal (which Sticks and Stones doesn’t have) and it’s like catnip/scotch/whatever your addiction is. In fact, I *think* the next module of ’65 will be titled Dark War, take place in 1985, and include not only Abrams, M203s, and Soviet T-80s, but also the characters from Dark War: Retribution. The power system, card-driven play, and importance of heroes make the ’65 tactical system a natural for getting characters such as Katarina and Mike Hudson into the gaming mix. Uh… sorry for the self-promo, but not really.

HaH:  What can you tell us about any other planned expansions or modules for the Sticks & Stones/Platoon Commander series?

MHW:  A friend of mine, David van Hoose (his daughter edited both my Revelation and Retribution novels) is almost finished with a Platoon Commander Indo-Pakistan module. Counter art is complete, scenarios are designed; we just need map and card art and testing.

Right now, I’m jazzed about designing a Night of Man/Platoon Commander mashup for Yaah! #7. It
will be a Platoon Commander mini-module based in the Night of Man universe. The Earth Militia will have platoons of Abrams, M113s, Bradleys, infantry and TOWs pitted against troops of plasma-firing alien tanks, power-armored infantry, and Spider Bots; it’s the kind of stuff that gets my heart pumping. I love mixing games, genres, and universes.



Those are in the immediate future, but I’m always thinking about the system. Sticks and Stones is Tiny Battle’s bestseller and Korea 1950 is in the top five, so I think folks like pushing Platoon Commander counters around. I’d love to take it to the West Front WW2, and there are a lot of 1987ish battles left to fight. To be honest, if I had a real strong idea of what people wanted to see next, that’s what I would design, but that type of input is difficult to get.

HaH: What was the inspiration behind covering a conflict between Poland and Hungary?


MHW: That is a strange combination/confrontation, isn’t it? If I remember correctly, I didn’t want to do the standard West German vs Soviet thing and I was searching for other European grudge matches, so to speak. I asked my friend, Ania Ziolkowska, and she pointed out that Poland and Hungary have a bit of a feud, so Poland Strikes was born. Perhaps we would have been served better with  more traditional opponents, but it’s worked out okay. Yaah! #4 remains our best-selling issue.


Thursday, June 23, 2016

Poland Strikes! Scenario 3: The Hammer

This is a playthrough of the third and final scenario from the module "Poland Strikes" from Yaah! magazine issue 4. In this scenario, the Poles and Hungarians have a final showdown as the Polish army invades Hungary during the chaos of nuclear and conventional war in 1980s Europe.

In the scenario, the Poles absolutely positively must control all city hexes of Ralocsa to win. The Hungarians need only to prevent this from happening. Neither side has it easy though.





The Hungarians start off with only a skeleton force of defenders.  One new platoon of AFVs arrives each turn, drawn randomly from a cup. The Poles, meanwhile, have 10 T-72s and several BMPs and infantry to do the job but they must enter from the north and approach the city in largely open terrain. Three Polish infantry platoons and a couple of OT-64s set up on the east side of the river.

And so it begins.

Setup: The Poles can't do much during setup here but they get one infantry platoon with a Sagger in Zelin.

The Hungarians set their infantry and APCs to the south of Ralocsa, unsure of what to do with them. Two T-72s set up on the hills way to the south with a clear field of fire towards enemies approaching from the north. A Hungarian infantry team with Sagger sets up in E6 in the forested hillside hex.

The map after setup



A closer look at the Hungarian defenses around Ralocsa

The Polish setup near Zelin. OT-64s full of infantry and an infantry with Sagger in the Q12 hex.


Turn 1:

The Poles win initiative and promptly begin firing at one of the T-72 platoons on the hills to the south, eliminating it. The Polish T-72s and BMPs enter en masse and the Hungarian player drops a 'Chemical Warfare' card that targets one hex and all units in the six surrounding hexes. The Polish army is devastated by the attack, suffering numerous disruptions and three reduced units, including BMPs carrying precious infantry for the expected close assault on Ralocsa.

Polish units are disrupted and reduced to a chemical warfare attack.


The only good news for the Poles is that their morale increases from 3 to 4 as per the effects of a chemical attack. I guess this really pissed them off! The Hungarian player draws a BMP-1 as reinforcement and places it far to the southwest on the hillside overlooking the northern approach to the city.



Turn 2:

The Hungarians win initiative by rolling a 2 versus the Polish roll of 1.

Both sides draw action cards. The Hungarians get 'Fire Support' (add 2 to firepower). The Poles draw 'Orlik's Ghost', which adds 2 to an AFV's range.

In the rally phase, the Polish player rolls horribly. A slew of 6's results only in the BMP-1 in hex T4 rallying while all the other disrupted units from last turn remain disrupted.

The Hungarian BMP fires and disrupts a T-72 in Q7, further messing up the Poles' start to the game. Later on in the Fire phase when the Hungarians go for another shot at the same tank, the wily Polish player drops his 'Faulty Ammunition' card. This shifts the Hungarian BMP's attack column one left on the FRT and the T-72 remains untouched after shaking off 3 hits.

End of Turn 2. The Poles have a hard time getting going after the chem attack from last turn.


A closer look at the state of Polish forces near the end of turn 2.



The Hungarians have drawn a T-55 as a reinforcement for the Movement Phase and push the aging hulks down the road from the A2 hex. Hoping to avoid fire from the Poles' Sagger team to the east, the Hungarians relocate their T-72. The Hungarian BTR's prepare for the coming assault on Ralocsa by dropping off their infantry in the city.

Turn 3:

The Poles win initiative even after the Hungarians roll low and then reroll using a focus marker.

The Polish player draws 'Za Polske!', which gives a bonus to Close Assault. The Hungarian player gets 'For Izolda!', which gives a bonus to rally.

During the rally phase, the Polish player manages to rally a couple of units though a few T-72s are still unable to get going.

In the Fire Phase, the Poles finally came online. With the help of 'Orlik's Ghost', the Polish BMP-1 fires its Saggers from beyond long range and it destroys the enemy Hungarian BMP.

The Poles try to follow up by firing their Sagger at a Hungarian T-72 but doubles are rolled and the Sagger team is out of ammo.

A pair of Polish T-72 platoons get it right by killing a Hungarian T-72 in hex I5.

The Poles go first during the Move Phase and they start to line up their forces for an assault on Ralocsa. The Hungarians use opportunity fire but miss at a T-72 creeping towards the rolling terrain hex in N6. The Polish tanks use moving fire to hit the Hungarian infantry sitting in Ralocsa, reducing one infantry and disrupting the other in the stack.

The Polish OT-64s in Zelin move west up towards Sonok and await the command to join in the assault on Ralocsa.

The Hungarians draw a T-55 for the reinforcement and move it just north of Batka, hoping to catch the OT-64s with opportunity fire should they move west next turn.

Hungarian T-55 moves near Batka, hoping to catch Polish APCs coming from the east


The Hungarians place their focus marker on the Initiative box, hoping to get some early volleys of fire off next turn by winning initiative. They place their aid marker on the infantry in I6, knowing that these guys will have to rally in order to properly defend the city.

The Poles keep their focus on initiative too. Since the marker has already been on there from last turn, it is flipped to the 'two re-rolls' side. The Polish player puts his Aid marker on the disrupted T-72 in Q7, hoping to get it going next turn.

The advance elements of the Polish army stagger towards Ralocsa.


Turn 4:

The Poles get initiative this turn after the Hungarians try to reroll a '1' and roll the same result anyways.

The Hungarian player gets a 'From the Hip' card, allowing infantry units to fire after moving. The Polish player gets 'Kill them All', so a selected unit can attack the same target twice.

The Poles still have enormous problems rallying their remaining disruptions from the turn 1 chemical attack. A BMP and infantry in T3 remain disrupted. A T-72 in T5 is still disrupted. The T-72 in Q7 manages a rally after the Polish player initially fails the rally roll and then uses the Aid marker to reroll and pass the rally check.

The Hungarians manage a lucky break and rally their infantry in Ralocsa after playing the 'For Izolda!' card.

Duirng the Fire Phase, the Poles absolutely hammer on the Hungarian units defending Ralocsa. The Hungarians keep their cool even after the Polish player uses a 'Kill them All' card to fire at the T-72 sitting in H7.

The Hungarians hold their fire and hope to use Opportunity Fire to catch the Poles during the movement phase.They draw a T-55 for a reinforcement and push it to F4. A BTR-60 jumps into I5 to help the defending infantry as the Poles draw nearer for the big assault. Infantry in H6 unloads into Ralocsa in I7, hoping to keep the encroaching Poles at bay.

The shooting galley opens up near Ralocsa.

A closer look at the situation near the objective.




During the end phase, the Polish player removes his Aid marker and keeps the focus marker on Initiative. The Hungarian player puts the focus marker on his infantry and Sagger team in E6 since it has the best range and line of sight to enemy units.

Turn 5:

The Hungarians gain initiative this turn after rolling a 6. The player who did not have intiative in the previous turn gets it automatically in the case of a tie so there's no point in the Polish player wasting a Focus marker for a reroll.

The Poles draw 'Fire Support' (+2 FP) and the Hungarians get an 'Opportunity Fire' card.

All units except for a Polish T-72 in T5 manage a rally this turn.

The Poles rule the Fire Phase this turn. A BMP-1 eliminates the T-55 in F11. A pair of T-72s fire on the infantry in I7 and eliminate it. Another T-72 in N4 eliminates an infantry unit and reduces the other in I6.

The Hungarians start scraping the bottom of the barrel when a T-34 is drawn as a reinforcement and rushed to F11.

In the Move phase, the Hungarians' brilliant plan falls apart when when the Polish tanks approach Ralocsa and the Sagger team runs out of ammo after playing an 'Opportunity Fire' card. The Polish T-72s go to work with moving fire and manage to disrupt infantry in H7. The OT-64s from Sonok are sent to the east side of Ralocsa and disembark. The Polish player slaps down his 'Za Polske!' card and the hits are doubled for close assault. By the end of the turn, Polish infantry are in the city.

Polish infantry (shown with aid marker on top of stack) enter the east city hex of Ralocsa


Turn 6:

The Polish gain initiative after rerolling with the Focus marker.

The Polish player gets a 'Nie!' card that negates the enemy player's card. The Hungarians get 'Remember Budapest', which shifts the close assault column in their favor.

The Poles go to work on the east side of the city, disrupting and reducing a BTR-60 and a T-55 in I5. During the move phase, the Polish get their tanks adjacent to the city but the BMP-1 with infantry are destroyed by the Hungarian sagger team in E6.

Polish tanks and infantry line up to the north for an assault on the city.


Another T-55 is drawn during the Hungarian move phase. The Poles have taken the city completely now. The Hungarians plan to use their remaining infantry in E6 to try and sneak up in the final turn and take back a city hex with a close assault.

Turn 7:

Hungary gains initiative this turn. A reduced Polish T-72 in I5 fails to rally so guess where the Hungarian infantry from E6 is going to try a close assault (just a note that I have a card in my possesion that gives the infantry 2 extra MP to get there this turn).

The Hungarians fire at the Polish infantry in I6, hoping to disrupt it so as to keep it from opportunity firing at the Polish infantry approaching from E6. The rolls go horribly for the Hungarians and the Polish infantry is just fine. The Poles go to work taking apart the remaining Hungarian defenses near the city. They eliminate a Hungarian T-34 and a BTR during the fire phase.

The Hungarians go first during the Movement phase and play 'Mozgas', which gives the infantry in E6 +2 MP. The infantry goes towards I5 for a last ditch assault on the city.

The Hungarians attempt a last-ditch effort at gaining a hex of Ralocsa. Infantry in G5 move towards the city.



The Poles play 'Opportunity Fire' and the Hungarian infantry takes 4 hits, eliminating it.  The Poles chalk up a win for this one.

Conclusion:

Well, this was a classic case of setting up a thin static defense and hoping for the best. The Hungarians should have been able to hold at least one hex of the city. They had the advantage of terrain and the 'Chemical Warfare' card at the beginning of the game helped to stall the Polish forces for enough time. That being said, it seemed like the Hungarians just never knew what to do with those early advantages and the Poles regained momentum a bit later in the game after they gradually rallied their forces, and got back to work.

The Sticks and Stones system is pretty good. I find it quite smooth to play once you get the hang of things. There are multiple phases in each turn but after a couple of scenarios, it comes pretty naturally and I rarely had to look up any of the rules. There is a lot of tension in the game, from where you place your focus and aid markers to the cards you draw and the priority of the enemy units you target during your Fire Phase. I would recommend this game system to anyone interested in the theme or genre. It feels much like the spiritual successor to the World at War series.

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Poland Strikes! Scenario 2: A Slower War

Today, I thought I would recap the action in another scenario from Poland Strikes! - a module for Mark H. Walker's Platoon Commander / Sticks and Stones series.  Published in Yaah! magazine issue 4, this game features a matchup between Poland and Hungary while World War rages in Central Europe following a nuclear exchange between the US and Soviet Union in 1987.  Got it? Okay, let's get down to it!

In our first scenario, 861, the Poles invaded Hungary along the axis of Highway 861 and were roundly defeated by the Hungarians in the first play and then brilliantly successful in my next playthrough. This time, the Hungarians are on the offense and trying to take back three cities held by the Polish army. Capturing the cities to the east of Ralosca (Batka, Sonok, and Zelin) gives the Hungarians a decisive civtory. The Poles win if they maintain their defensive hold and can manage to capture one hex of Ralosca.

The Poles set up east of the river on the map with 4 infantry, a Sagger, a couple of BMPs and an OT-64. Later on in the scenario, the Poles get a T-72 tank unit as a reinforcement.

The Hungarians set up second on the east side of the map. They get six infantry, three BTRs, and six tanks. This scenario lasts six turns. One neat thing about it is that the Hungarians can discard cards to have an infantry platoon show up in any vacant cities should there be any Hungarian infantry units available in the counter mix.



Setup;

The Poles decide to put their BMP-1s east of the river with a clear view of the approach towards the city. The idea is to knock out as many of the Polish BMPs as possible before they get to the Polish-held cities. Once the infantry and their carriers are taken care of, the defending Polish infantry should be able to hold their own against tanks and armored vehicles in close assault city fighting.

The Hungarians plant T-72s to the south on top of the hills with a clear view of one BMP-1 while several T-55s are placed to the north. Infantry begins in the city of Ralocsa. The tanks will hit the anti-tank vehicles and then allow friendly APCs to transport infantry toward their objectives.

Turns 1 and 2

Some poor setup decisions by the Hungarians results in the BTR-60s in Ralosca getting plastered by AT missile fire from Polish BMP-1s. The Hungarians quickly reorganize their forces and fire back, but do very little against the Polish army. The Hungarians lose an infantry platoon and two of their APCs. Turn 1 ends with the Hungarians scratching their heads.

The tide turns quickly in turn 2. The Hungarians benefit from a focus marker played in the Initiative Box and gain the upper hand. They immediately discard two cards to get an infantry platoon in Zelin. They start using their tanks to great effect. They destroy a BMP near Batka with combined fire from T-72s sitting on the hillside to the south of the city. The Hungarian special forces in Zelin manage to disrupt a nearby Polish BMP-1. With the Polish anti-tank missile threat severely diminished, the Hungarians start a cautious advance towards Sonok. An infantry carried by a BTR-60 dismounts in the forest to the south of the city and prepares for an advance.



End of Fire Phase - Turn 2. Hungarian infantry advances as Polish BMPs are hurting.

Hungarian Special Forces score a hit on a Polish BMP-1 near Zelin, disrupting it.

Turn 3

A crucial turn for both sides. The Polish lose initiative yet again.   The defending Polish infantry in Sonok is eliminated by accurate T-55 fire from the west. The Hungarians press their infantry and the BTR-60 east towards Zelin. One T-55 advances east in hopes of getting a closer shot at the northernmost BMP sitting outside of Zelin in the next turn. Hungarian infantry makes it adjacent to the Polish in Batka and eliminates it later in the turn with close assault.

A reinforcement T-72 enters from the north edge of the board this turn - the first good news for the Poles in a while. Most of the rest of the Polish units are disrupted or reduced or both. Not looking good right now for the defenders.



Beginning of Turn 3 - Hungarians make their way to the east while Poles try to hang on.



Close assault shaping up near Sonok.
Turn 4

The Hungarians draw a card and play ECM on the Polish focus marker in the Initiative Box. The Poles cannot reroll any bad initiative results this turn. The Hungarians win initiative this turn! The remaining Polish BMP-1 near Zelin is destroyed by a T-55 so now only the pesky Polish T-72 remains.

Hungarian ECM card played against Polish focus marker


Batka is cleared now thanks to the close assault at the end of last turn.  The remaining men and tanks pour through the city and close in on their final objectives - Zelin.



Hungarian infantry makes its way east from Sonok towards Zelin and comes under fire from the Polish T-72. It is reduced and disrupted.

Advancing Hungarian infantry hit by remaining Polish T-72.
The Hungarians hammer on the T-72 but the Poles are able to fend off the shots again and again. They play the "Faulty Ammunition" card to keep the odds column shifted one left. There really isn't any hope left for the Poles. The Hungarians now have a BTR-60 sitting in the city of Zelin and they don't seem to be going anywhere. Still, let's see how this one ends.

Turn 5

The Poles finally get initiative this turn. They start off the fire phase with an "Aggressive Action"card, which can be used to increase the HE firepower of an AFV. The Polish T-72 benefits with a nice odds-column shift to the right and eliminates the BTR-60. A T-72 fires back and fails to destroy the Polish tank. Finally, a T-55 puts the final Polish unit out of its misery and the rest of the Hungarian army pours through the town, having won a Decisive Victory.

The final Polish unit stoically awaits the inevitable as the Hungarian Army prepares to fire...


Conclusion

I am getting better at using the system and I find it very smooth. I finished this scenario in under an hour despite the larger number of units. It really is very intuitive once you start to remember the column shifts and the ranges for different colors.

One thing I didn't really think about before was just how easy it was to read the information on the counters. Sometimes I would find it hard in World at War to read the font or I would have to squint to distinguish a "5" from a "3". Not so in this game. I'm not sure if its the color pattern chosen for the counters or the font or what but I find it easier to read. Even though I'm pretty bad at this game, I'm enjoying it more and more with each play.

As for the tactics, the Poles have their work cut out for them. They don't have any tanks to defend with and it is hard to find decent fields of fire to hit at the Hungarians at long range. In this case, it might have been better to have the BMPs set up way back (I'm thinking N12 and K12) and cover the appraoch and hills to the south while infantry is placed to the east of the river in Sonok and a Sagger team set up in Zelin. Funnel the Hungarians into an attack on Sonok and then fight a withdrawal until you can bring in your T-72 on turn 3. If enough Hungarian tanks are destroyed or reduced by that time, maybe risk a counterattack on Ralosca.

Thursday, June 9, 2016

Poland Strikes! 861

Poland Strikes! is a wargame included with Yaah! magazine issue no. 4 published in November 2015. Although it uses the same rules as Mark H. Walker's Platoon Commander - Sticks and Stones series, Poland Strikes! is a standalone game with three scenarios.

The backstory here is that the Soviets and Americans finally got it over with and went to war in 1987.World War 3 began and ended with a nuclear exchange that wiped out billions and left civilization in tatters. After the dust cleared, both nations simply renewed their fight - this time with conventional forces. No one could have guessed that World War 4 would begin on The Day After.

At this point, you might be saying to yourself, "Hold on, this sounds awfully familiar." Given the scale, theme, and designer's name, you might be forgiven for confusing Sticks & Stones with World at War at first glance. Although there are some surface similarities between the systems, Sticks & Stones seems to represent an evolution of Mark's original platoon-combat design from many years ago.

Here are a few key differences between the systems just off the top of my head:


  • Whereas WaW used chit pulls to determine who goes next and when the turn ends, the order of play in SaS is decided by initiative rolled for with a single die for each side at the beginning of each turn. 
  • SaS uses a Fire Results Table to work out combat results whereas WaW did not. 
  • Movement, fire combat, and close assault all happened in the same phase in World at War but these are given their own phases in SaS. 
  • Command was dealt with by HQ units in WaW, but it is reflected with Focus and Aid markers in SaS. These represent where a commander is focusing his energies on at any given moment during a battle.


Most notably, SaS puts cards into the mix, providing another layer of strategy to the game. In SaS, a player who can play the right cards at the right time can make up for tactical disadvantages on the battlefield.

Cards add an interesting dimension to the gameplay in Sticks and Stones


World at War: Eisenbach Gap got me into wargaming and I still pull it out and play it occasionally even these days. So I was curious to see what Mark's new design was like.

The Situation:

While the Americans and Soviets are dancing with each other in central Germany, the Poles decide to settle some old scores with Hungary and invade along the axis of Highway 861.  This first scenario is aptly named "861". The Polish objective is to capture four town hexes for a tactical victory and six town hexes for a decisive victory. The Hungarians win if they can deny either of these to the Poles. The scenario lasts six turns.

OOB and Setup:

The Poles get 5 x OT-64, 3 x BMP-1, and 6 infantry. They enter the map on the lower right side hexes. The Hungarians set up 3 infantry, a T-55, and a couple of Saggers in the nearby town of Zelin. 2 infantry are loaded up and sit together with a couple of tanks in the hexes near the center of the board in Balocsa. The setup rules state that the latter can't move until certain conditions are met. I missed this in my first game but as you'll see, it didn't seem to affect the result much anyways.

Setup for Hungarians - Poles will enter map to the north (right side of map)
Turn 1

The Poles get initiative this turn and give the first movement phase to the Hungarians, who sit nice and tight. The Poles advance their BMP-1s onto the map, hoping to evade opportunity fire. It does not go well as a Sagger missile snakes out from the north side of Zelin and eliminates one before it can do much of anything. A Hungarian T-55 in the same hex of the city (Q12) holds its fire, hoping to force the Poles to slow their advance. It works to great effect. Although the T-55 is a relic of a bygone era, its firepower is more than enough to lay waste to the Polish APCs. The OT-64s maneuver through the woods to the northwest of the city, clinging to the forested terrain for cover. At the end of the turn, the Hungarian player places his Focus marker on the infantry/tank in hex Q12.

The lay of the land at the end of turn 1

Turn 2

Both sides draw new cards this turn. Neither has really used them much so far. The Hungarian infantry in Zelin holds its fire until the OT-64s get near but they miss their shot during the Polish move phase. With a couple of free Opportunity Fire cards handy, the Hungarians could have fired again but decide to hold on to their cards until the Polish infantry get near. The plan is to draw the Polish infantry into a knife-fight next turn and use the cards to keep them at bay.

The OT-64s creep a bit further towards the outskirts of the city and drop off their infantry. The Hungarians start moving their units down from the center of the map to reinforce the bridges to the south of Zelin.

Polish infantry dismounts and prepares for an assault on Zelin. 

Turn 3

Well, despite having the initiative, things definitely do not go as planned for the Poles. The first part of the fire phase was spent firing a Sagger off from a group of Polish infantry way to the northwest of Zelin. The Hungarian T-55 and BTR-60 in Sonak took a hit each and it looked like the attempted reinforcement of Zelin was going to be put on hold for now.

The Hungarians allowed the Poles to move adjacent to the city and let loose with everything they got, playing multiple Opportunity Fire cards to keep the fun going all night long. After taking a reduction and a disruption effect for the encroaching Polish infantry, the assault got called off and the OT-64s were forced to move adjacent to Q12 in order to try and suppress the Hungarian infantry next turn.  The Hungarians responded by doubling down on their hold of Q12 and sent another infantry platoon from the south of the city into the Q12 hex.

The Meat Grinder - Hungarians rain on the Poles' planned infantry assault
Turn 4

Despite having clearly lost the initiative in this battle, I felt the Poles were still within winning distance at this point. The bulk of the hopes for the Hungarian seemed to be pinned on holding Q12. After taking the city, the Poles would have pried the door open and zoom across the map.

Alas it was not to be.  Turn 4 turned out to be an even bigger fiasco than the previous turn. 

At the end of last turn, the Hungarians kept their Focus marker on Q12 while the Poles put theirs back in the initiative box, hoping to plaster the infantry in the city before it could disrupt any further attempts on the planned assault. The Poles placed their Aid marker on the infantry in R11, hoping to rally the unit and get it moving into the city.

Well, the Poles did indeed rally their men and the OT-64s went to work, managing a successful disruption of the one of the Hungarian infantry in Q12. The other infantry unit disrupted the Polish infantry after an Add Firepower card was played. Polish infantry reserves would need to be brought adjacent to the city in hex R12. 

Turn 5

The Poles kept knocking on the door but the Hungarians in Q12 refused to take the hint. As Polish infantry reorganized for yet another attempt at a close assault on the city, we ended up with nothing more than disruptions for both sides. The OT-64s failed miserably in doing anything to the Hungarian infantry. A series of 1's on the die roll for morale kept the Hungarians alive and kicking. The Aid and Focus markers are both firmly planted in the hex at this point. Very stubborn defense.































Turn 6


Well, the Hungarian infantry is still sitting there in Q12. Unbelievable. Now down to only one infantry unit, it has successfully held off every attack imaginable from all quarters. The Poles finally eliminate the unit in the Fire Phase of the turn and Polish infantry pours into the hex. At the end of the turn, in a futile gesture, the Poles close assault into the southern hex of Zelin and take the city. Unfortunately, time has run out and they are two city hexes away from a tactical victory.



Conclusion:

The result of my game may not sound exciting but it actually felt quite tense throughout. One thing I left out in my description was the card play going on throughout the game. I had copious notes on all of it and then lost my little notebook. In any case, a lot of what was keeping the Hungarians alive was simply a smarter use of cards throughout each turn. While the Poles usually spent cards quickly, the Hungarians held on to them and played several at once for maximum effect. This helped considerably in blunting the Polish assault.  This was also my very first game, so I was paying more attention to the rules than to actual tactics at this point.

I though Poland Strikes! was pretty fun. Looking up results on the fire combat table took some getting used to at first but it became second-nature by the end of the game. You will be using this table a lot during a scenario so you will get quite used to it. I liked how range is handled - each unit has a color coded range (short, normal, and long) that you consult on a chart and this tells you if there are any column shifts to the combat table. Terrain also adjusts which column table you're using. 

Again, this takes a bit of time to figure out at the beginning of the game but I had the column shifts pretty much memorized by the end of it. I though the way it handled defending armor values was very smooth too. You simply take the firepower of your attack and subtract the enemy's defending armor value and then use that to see which column you're going to roll under on the FRT. Morale is actually the deciding factor for the combat effects against a defending unit. The defender must roll a number of die equal to the number rolled up on the FRT and compare it to his morale. I think this is a very nice way of making the results of a battle about "who wants it more" and has the better training rather than who has the shiniest hardware. 

Update:  I just played this scenario again after getting the rules straight and I had a very close play of this scenario.  The Poles went through the first city like a hot knife through butter. The Hungarian player had to discard four cards to get his units moving in turn 3 to protect two cities. The Poles easily took a city to the south after a Sagger destroyed some transporting infantry, bringing the Poles to a tactical victory. Meanwhile, the remaining Polish army slammed into Sonok, defended by Hungarian infantry and a T-55. On the very last phase of the game, the Polish infantry tried a close assault into the western hex of the city and took it at 1-1 odds, giving them a major decisive victory.

End of Scenario 2 - Major Victory for Poland