Sunday, 25 September 2016

FireMove Connections UK 2016 AAR

I had the privilege of being able to run a game of FireMove (see the Simulating War book, by Phil Sabin, the game as described in pp203-220) at Connections UK. For the game the British Battalion commanded by four very competent wargamers from DSTL and academia against an equally competent German commander, a wargamer who was also a post-graduate PhD doctoral student (whose domain of study was "post-war NATO collaborative tank design" - cool or what?). He (the German Commander) was also blessed with "golden dice hands" for the opening two thirds of the game, but more of that later. The board was randomly generated by a program I have written which will be shortly available from Phil Sabin's KCL web-site.

Note: The advantage being that 48 dice rolls required for terrain generation are done in a micro-second on a computer which allows a generation of game boards until a "mutually agreed" battlefield appears. As it was eight hills, two farms and a wood set-up was accepted and posed some interesting challenges to both sides (see picture below).

The Germans chose to set up dug-in on the relatively bare baseline and play ambush to the advancing British as they chose to manoeuvre over the cluster of low lying hills or run the gauntlet of the open terrain on the British right flank. The British made full use of a 'blind spot' to deploy in company strength (see Yellow Coy on the right hand side middle of the  British baseline). The scene was set for battle. Alas for the Allies the opening British artillery bombardment which went horrendously wrong with six dice throws not resulting in a single hit (1-2 on a d6 would have suppressed a 'visible' German platoon and caused a casualty). Regardless of their ill-luck the British deployed in a 'broad front' strategy to push forward.

Note: In conversation with the author Phil Sabin afterwards he recommended allowing a "bidding system" be applied to artillery strength starting with 1-5 being a hit, with a race to the bottom with the player accepting weakest artillery support 'winning' the roll of the attacker.

On turn one the German player adopts the rather risky/agressive strategy of occupying "Hellfire Farm" on row four, column 5 [denoted with an Airfix Battles building marker], coming out of his protective dug-in position but taking the equivalent protection of the Farm terrain, thus being well-placed to bring devastating fire on the British platoons in the open (if the dice went his way). The Germans brought in their mortars (spending ammunition heavily in the opening turns) with the wise intent of silencing the British HMG platoon that had set up on the top-right low hill. In total the British took five hits on three different platoons. The attrition had started (see below the inital battle set-up):

As the British infantry pressed forward they took a burning string of hits from the German Commander who was blessed at this point with "golden hand" seldom seeming to miss. Unlike the British who were unable to suppress the German Platoon in "Hellfire Farm" and paid dearly for it. The troops on the open flank (north) suffered the most, the 'low hills' (of the south) offering some terrain cover. Although casualties were high but the British battalion showed remarkable pluck and the player morale did not crack (as has been seen in other games of FireMove) as they stuck to their task in this attrition-based form of warfare (see below):

Note: "Hellfire Farm" eventually fell as the British close assaulted 'en masse' (three assaults) evicting the troublesome German platoon. I managed to clarify a quirk of the game mechanics, three close assaults going in could in theory cause nine casualties. As the author (Phil Sabin) of the rules was to hand (literally passing by when situation occurred - quite handy) I pulled him in the adjudicate. His common sense ruling was that only six casualties could be caused on any hex that contained one unit before it is removed from play, so over-kills did not 'mysteriously pass on' to rear units  As it was the British chose wisely to attack with all three (albeit spending three ammo points) as all the three attacks were needed, one failing to go in. A good wargaming principle being at play here, never leave things to the accountants - when you need it may sure you get it by all means to hand (see below):

The middle game was sadly devoid of pictures (my bad, I was too engrossed with the great banter and fast moving action to remember to take more pictures), but play was full of spirited conversation and discussion regarding the rules (all 'good stuff' it has to be said). At this point ammo attrition on the Brits also kicked in (the cruel aspect of this game is that every sixth rifle platoon fire removes a platoon through 'ammo low' - which gives the game a cunning twist unlike miniature rule sets and other company/battalion level board games I have played) ... and it became rather grim reading for the British. Blue Coy ceased to exist, Green Coy was heavily mauled. Not to be read as taking 100% casualties but becoming ineffective on tabletop. However again give credit where credit is due, the four British players stuck to their guns and "rounded the wave of cruel German dice" (and I mean cruel as the German Commander never seemed to be missing) until the 'tide turned or at least tipped' in the British favour. With the German mortar fire exhausted the primary British weapon system, the Vickers HMG became active again and in turn suppressed the German Platoons. Coupled with very effective British mortar fire the British attack 'got going' as the remaining British infantry platoons manoeuvred into close assault positions. Excellent use of suppression and Fire/Move tactics by British evicted the German platoon from the "Lower Farm" on row three, column eight (see bottom of picture) and although now few in number the British Platoons were now in killing positions (see below):

The "laws of statistics" rebounded back at the German player (she is a cruel goddess as all wargamers know) and just when you thought a simple average dice roll would tidy things up for the German player the British platoons under "Costa Coffee" sourced fire-targeting aids shown above, escaped suppression and then in their turn wrought havoc on the German defenders. The German Commander suddenly found himself 50% strength and facing more close assaults they could do nothing about - as his remaining platoons were suppressed (see below):

At this point time was also becoming a big  factor, turns ten and eleven (out of twelve) saw the British infantry eliminating five out of the six German platoons but just failing by one turn (the British did not get to move on Turn Twelve) to gain baseline hexes and additional Victory Points (see below):

It had become a very "close run thing" as The Duke would have put it. Victory Points were tensely tallied up "Five" for British (for the five removed German Platoons, no Victory Point hexes, despite being so close) but "Seven" for the Germans (six removed KIA [ammo low does not count for Victory Points] and one for the surviving German platoon). Time literally had saved the German as three addition Victory Points (German baseline hexes) were agonisingly close to the British Player, but "so far away". As it was the result was determined as a narrow German victory, though it has to be said paying a heavy price for this delaying action. The British themselves could proudly claim the field but lacked sufficient strength to press forward and take advantage of the hard won "opening" in the German line. If only that artillery barrage had been given a little more umpf or perhaps another one of those many intangibles were subtly different.

Once again my thanks to all the players, Phil Sabin, the UK Connections Team and KCL for a fantastic event.

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