Sunday, January 15, 2017

Yaah! 8 - A Look Inside

Late last year, I had the pleasure to fill in as a guest editor for Yaah! magazine, the No-Holds Barred badboy of the gaming world. Mark H. Walker, the head honcho of Flying Pig Games and Tiny Battle Publishing, was kind enough (or crazy enough) to let me at the controls of his baby and he gave no quarter, throwing me in the deep end on the first day. I had a blast!

The first thing that caught me by surprise was just how much work goes into a single issue. With so many articles coming in and so many requests for articles going out at the same time, I was overwhelmed in the first week or so before I finally got my sea legs and managed to figure out where I fit in with all the chaos going on around me. The second thing that struck me was just how much talent I had to work with. Each writer had their own strengths and unique voice - this issue featured articles from all over the world - we had writers from Europe to North America to Asia.

This issue's feature article is from the talented Ania B. Ziolkowska, who went to Essen, Germany to cover Spiel 2016 in late October. Her story was an exhaustive days-long tour of the Messen Halls, showing her impressions about certain games, giving details about what she played, and gauging the overall health of wargaming at the convention since her previous visit four years prior to writing the article. As you read through it, you get a real sense of what it's like to visit THE gaming epicenter of the western world for a few days each year. You also find which way the wind is blowing for the future of wargaming and it's surprisingly positive news. This was a major article for Yaah! - the longest (14 pages) that has been run in its short history.


Of course, I would be remiss to leave the game unmentioned. Hermann Luttmann's Race to the Sea 1914 uses a very unique game system that he has designed as a labor of love. The game, which focuses on the last real mobile battles of the western front in the early days of World War I, uses cards to resolve combat between two sides. The result is an interesting system that turns the traditional "roll dice - consult CRT - apply hits" approach on its head. In Race to the Sea fire combat, the attacker tries to inflict hits on a target unit and the target unit will try to reduce the number of hits scored. This is all done smoothly by both sides flipping over their combat cards and checking the "Fire Combat" section of the card. Pretty cool. In assault combat, both sides' units attempt to score hits on the other side. Again, this is done by flipping combat cards and checking the assault combat section. There is no need to calculate odds here - the whole design is oriented on keeping the players' attention riveted on the map rather than on a CRT.

Hermann Luttmann's Race to the Sea 1914.


There were so many other great articles in this issue. Fred Manzo's article about Dead Reckoning strategies is a must-have for anyone curious about the game. Heck, I had no idea about it until I read the article and now this game is on my wishlist. I should note that Dead Reckoning is a Hermann Luttmann design so if you can't get enough of Herm's stuff, you'll certainly enjoy this issue. Fred and Hermann also designed a scenario for DR that's included in this issue. "The Alamo in the Rockies" is all about getting as many human refugees off the map as possible before the inevitable zombie hordes crash through the gates and feast on your brains.

I had the great pleasure to interview the designers of Days of Ire: Budapest 1956 for this issue. Katalin Nimmerfroh, Dávid Turczi, Mihály Vincze are three young game designers and artists who designed this game based on the Hungary Uprising in October 1956. The game is heavily inspired by classics Twilight Struggle and Pandemic. This interview serves as close-up into one of the games Ania talked about in her feature article from Spiel.

Deborah Malmud is a rock star writer and game reviewer. She has a terrific talent for conveying her sense of humor, game-related frustrations, and turn-by-turn victories in her articles. This issue is graced by her review and AAR of D-Day at Peleliu. If you have played any of John Butterfield's other solitaire D-Day designs, you'll get a very good idea of how this one is different from the others and why it's so good.  She also wrote about White Dog Games' 2015 release Don't Tread on Me, another solitaire game that puts the player in the shoes of the British trying to put down those pesky Americans during the Revolutionary War. She has a nice way of skipping through the tedious parts of games (something I could probably learn from) to showcase the game's main action. Her AAR of the game reveals why she says this is a must-have for solitaire gamers.

Deborah Malmud's review and AAR of D-Day at Peleliu.


Matt Foster looks at a game called Tannenberg from Schroeder Publishing. As a part of the larger Der Weltkrieg series,  Tannenberg is a small but intriguing addition. This system has been around for about 20 years but it still seems to be going quite strong as Matt talks about the game's core rules that help to simulate a lesser-known eastern front battle in World War I. Matt shows how the game provides an interesting challenge for both players despite the Russians' disastrous invasion of East Prussia.

You also get scenarios with this issue and we've got two for MBT. Norm Lunde, who also reviews MBT in this issue, contributed a great big scenario based on a chapter from Mark H. Walker's new Dark War series novel Retribution (of which there is an excerpt to be found in this issue). This one pits two troops (tanks, CFVs, infantry with AT) versus a whole whack of Soviet T-72s and T-80s with some Su-25s for good measure. The other MBT scenario is from me. I based this heavily on the premise of (West End Games, Jon Southard) Fire Team's Reconnaissance on the Nuremberg Highway. This is a straight up brawl between US infantry lodged in a small town with some Stinger missiles and a PIVADS versus a light Soviet recon platoon and some Hind helicopters. I wrote this one to help anyone who wanted to try out the helicopter rules in the game but didn't want a huge scenario to start with. Of course, there are other scenarios in here for everything from Heroes of Normandie to good ol' Air Superiority, the latter of which I wrote with tongue firmly planted in cheek.

Norm Lunde reviews MBT and writes a great new scenario.


There are tons more articles in this issue (a whopping 84 pages total) - so many that I can't mention them all in one go (and hey, I wouldn't want to spoil all the surprises, now would I?) but I urge you to check it out if you have the slightest interest in wargaming. I feel it was a top-notch effort from everyone involved. Here's the link to get your copy.

Sunday, January 8, 2017

Enemy Coast Ahead: The Dambuster Raid - The Campaign

I just finished my first full campaign game of Enemy Coast Ahead: The Dambuster Raid 1943. . Although I had played the first five scenarios of the game that focused solely on the bombing runs, I was excited to try the full campaign game that features a planning phase, flight phase, and the bombing runs. It was everything I thought it should be - it was tense, exciting, and full of decisions with consequences that rippled their way through the entire affair. I also should mention that I failed spectacularly and I still loved the experience. Here's how it went:

Planning Segment:

Throughout my three planning turns, I tried my best to allocate most of my resources on getting my aircrews, upkeeps, and ground crew ready for the raid.



On the first turn, I requested an additional 30 RP on my first turn (for a total of 90 RP), which allowed me to get about 10 bombers, 7 upkeep, and 22 crew, about half of whom were veteran and the rest seasoned. This was a bad idea. With less than half the number of bombers as aircrews, the consequent -1 training modifier really hurt me in the end, causing quite a few damaged and crashed bombers.

Although I didn't lose any aircrew, I didn't get my seasoned or veteran crews advancing very fast, except in the navigation box. I did get a few elite crew members out of these training incidents but I also ended up pulling a Spy marker out of the cup too. I would either need to live with the possibility of a very high security risk or use extra RP in the next turn to try and get rid of the spy. I didn't have the groundcrew I needed to work on the Lancaster modifications and I didn't want to fatigue anyone on the first turn so I let them wait for the next turn.



On the second turn, I got a few extra groundcrew and 10 additional bombers and 12 upkeep markers. I again requested 30 additional RP for this turn, which raised my security risk higher and pretty much mandated that I use RP to get rid of the spy marker, which I did by using the Transfer the Barmaid option. All was well again in 617 squadron now. Training recommenced and with only a couple of damaged Lancasters this time around and several great rolls on the navigation and altitude & speed track resulted in several elite crewmembers getting drawn. Unfortunately, my bad luck prevailed with the chit pulls and this time I pulled a Jinx marker. Guy Gibson's dog is run over and the squadron takes it as a bad omen.

I decide to keep my groundcrew fresh for next turn, when I plan to launch the raid. One groundcrew gets assigned to the Aldis Lights modification box and although I spend several RP trying to get two sixes, the best I can get is a single roll result of six. Next turn will be the one where I need to dedicate some serious effort into getting the modifications done.



By this point, I have reconned the Mohne Dam and the Sorpe Dam and came up with some alarming findings. It seems the Germans have gone ahead and built flak towers to protect both dams. In the case of the Sorpe, it appears the Germans also have taken the precaution of placing balloons and searchlights. Many of the other dams appear to have some kind of defense as well.

On the third planning turn, I decide to use my remaining RPs to requisition additional groundcrew. I'll need to repair damaged Lancasters, train up my aircrews, make modifications to Lancasters, and then do flight prep. So much work and no time to do it in. I could wait another turn to get all this done but I'll lose the advantage of moonlight during the raid.

All goes well enough in training and we suffer only 1 damaged Lancaster. The seasoned and veteran aircrews are doing extremely well in their Navigation skills. with the seasoned crew up to level 4 and the veterans at level 5. The veterans get 3 chits for altitude and speed checks while the seasoned crews get 2 and the greenies get only 1. At combined training level of 11 total, we are just one level shy of the Wallis bonus, which allows for the Upkeep bombs to always do the maximum damage when they hit a dam. The worst training results, as always, are in the bomb aiming and release training. This has been poor all three turns and as a result all our crews have a +1 bonus only.

Things go haywire while trying to get modifications done. All six groundcrews are thrown into repair and modifications and all but one are flipped over to their fatigued side by the end of the planning phase. Although all Lancasters are repaired and we successfully get VHF communications, we get neither the Aldis Lights or the Dann Bombsight, which will have significant impacts on our aircrews during the raid. Without Aldis Lights we are unable to draw Altitude chits.

During the Flight Prep, things go very well. One aircraft is grounded and a lucky roll of 12 results in no ordnance being grounded. Only two aircrew are grounded, which means that pretty much everyone can fly except for two Green aircrew that I hold back.



Final Recon brings the Flight Map recon in the Ruhr, Weser, and Dutch Coast to level 2. I spend the remaining RP on checking out the dams. The Mohne and Sorpe Dam go up to recon level 2 while the rest of the dams are brought up to level 1 if they haven't been reconned already in previous turns. Things look tough as most of the dams have at least one kind of defense. None of the water levels are full on any of the dams.

The final security risk comes out to a high level. Despite not having a Spy marker anymore, I have made enough noise with the extra requisitions, the round-the-clock work by the groundcrews, and the presence of veteran aircrews that people have become curious and rumors are spreading around town. Not even the rumor I have spread as commander of 617 squadron (the Tirpitz Rumor marker denotes that 617's target is the German battleship is our rumored target) has done much to stop unauthorized people from prying.

I arrange the aircraft into three waves. There's no real reasoning behind this other than I am new at the game and decide to play it safe by following the historical raid setup. Gibson leads the first wave with five bombers while Ottley leads the second with his five. The remaining wave is led by Brown and the Jinx marker is placed on one of the bombers in his wave.The major difference here between history and the planned attack is that the third wave will not be a reserve force sent in after the Germans are already alerted by the first attacks but will be given its own set of targets to attack at the same time as the first and second waves.

The bombers take off into the night sky. What will happen? Who will come back? I have a bad feeling about this and it's not just that Jinx marker that's causing it. I should have pushed harder to get at least the Aldis Lights done. Without them, hitting the dams will be very tough. It may have been worth spending another turn just to get that modification done. The abundance of flak and balloon markers on the Flight Map also makes me queasy. These guys look to be flying into a death trap.

Flight Segment:

We have enough groundcrews to sortie everyone at the same time so at least we have a cohesive raid package going out.

Primary and Secondary Targets are assigned as follows:

First Wave: Primary - Mohne Dam, Secondary: Bever Dam
Second Wave: Primary - Sorpe Dam, Secondary: Eder Dam
Third Wave: Primary - Eneppe Dam, Secondary: Eder Dam
Target of Last Resort: Lister Dam



The Mohne has a flak level of only one and no other defenses. Its water level is high and it has the second highest rv (reservoir value) on the map (8 rv) so it's my first obvious target. The Sorpe is worth a considerable 5 rv and it is also the only dam on the map that has a full water level. Maybe I can take it out. The Eneppe Dam is worth only 3 rv but it's lightly defended and in the Ruhr flight zone. The Eder Dam has the highest rv of all the dams (9 rv) but it's in the Weser flight zone, a very hazardous location to fly. It still might be worth a shot if the raid on the other dams go well enough so I assigned it as a secondary for both the second and third wave.

Things go smoothly enough for the first couple of flight turns although we suffer a faulty controls and an unfit aircrew marker on our Jinx plane in the third wave. Things get much more serious on the third flight turn when a crew in the first wave suffers a Compass Card marker and a plane in the second wave is shot down by flak. By the time our men reach the Ruhr, we've lost another plane to balloons in the third wave. We also have two map errors in the same wave and our formations keep getting compromised.

The Attacks:

The first wave acquires the Mohne Dam and makes an uncoordinated attack with Gibson going first and getting damaged by Flak on his first attack run. On the second run, he dodges the flak and everything looks okay but a roll of 4 on the release causes a concussion damage to his Lancaster, which destroys the plane and the crew. The remaining bombers make their attempts. One plane is destroyed by flak and two others are damaged and miss with their Upkeeps. By this time, however, the Flak marker has been reduced to zero so the final plane goes in and makes a beautiful release, managing 6 damage on the dam. If the Mohne had been full, it would have caused a breach. Since it is only at Rising level, however, we'll need 2 more damage points to do the trick.



The second wave arrives at the Sorpe and things go bad immediately. The Germans have improved their defenses and while the Flak level remains at 1, the balloons marker is set to level 3. There are also Searchlights here at level 2. The Close box and the Climb box get one balloon maker each. The wave leader makes his attempt and is damaged by the Flak and then destroyed by balloons. I should have just aborted at this point but I thought my gunnery would be lucky enough. However, none of my planes from the second wave survived the attempt. The planes were destroyed either by the balloons, the flak, or a concussion from releasing the Upkeep with such heavy modifiers from the spotlights. No one made it out alive and although one plane managed a release from the far zone, nothing hit the Sorpe at all, much to my frustration.



At this point, I was horrified by my own losses and worried that I would not be able to breach any dams by the end of the game. I decide to use the wireless phase on the next turn to send my third wave to the Mohne instead of the Eneppe. Luckily, the planes pass their roll and on they went to the new target. Only two planes still survived the third wave, one of whom were the Jinxed aircrew with piles of negative modifiers like a plague of locusts stuck to their plane. Of course it missed the dam and was damaged by the concussion after releasing its Upkeep. My other veteran aircrew in the wave managed a nice 3 chit pull of both airspeed and altitude markers (got the altitude marker after exchanging it for a dummy run) and the result was +8 modifier on the release. A roll of 11 sealed the deal and the Upkeep hit for 4 damage. At 10 damage, the Mohne was breached.

The Mohne Dam breached - note the balloon defenses set up after the attack.


The Aftermath:

Things did not go well when checking for RTB. Most of my Lancasters had been damaged and afflicted by hazard markers (I should say here that I missed out on the rule of discarding the remaining hazard markers after a plane is destroyed in the Resolve Hazards phase, which could definitely have skewed the result here). The result was that only two Lancasters made it back to Scampton. The rest were damaged and then destroyed by the reroll of 1-4 on the Missing table. I rolled very poorly during this check. The end result was a total VP of zero. A court martial was held and the squadron commander took the blame for the failure (adding insult to injury, since he died in the raid!).


Conclusion:

I really enjoyed this game and I thought it was excellent the whole way through. In many ways, the planning and flight segments are just as exciting as the actual attack. Having to make key decisions about how to allocate resources and when to push your groundcrews to their limits is just as important as weighing the need for security. It is a difficult balancing act. The next time I play this, I would requisition more groundcrew in the second planning turn and set them loose on modifications. You absolutely need to have the Aldis Lights going to make a successful run. The lack of them really hurt me here. I would also have changed my targets according to survivability of the aircrews. If there are balloons at a dam, I would seriously reconsider whether it's worth the probable loss of at least one or more bombers to score a hit. Add in searchlights and flak to the target and you've got a non-starter. Don't even think about sending your men there or you'll have a bloodbath on your hands.