Wednesday 31 July 2013

Much ado about "Brown Hills and Ridges" (Battalion Attack Terrain)


Time to attack the pile of terrain "ridges" that I need for the 'free form' randomised terrain set-up of "Battalion Attack", aka "Fire and Movement". By now I~ have had my fill of the introductory scenario, its duty is done.

There are twenty 'ridge hexes' needed all told (to match the books counters), two have been already 'done' (but may need a little rework to look similar to the others) and eighteen are on the 'highlight' production line (see below): 

Note: To the ultra observant, you are not mistaken, you do in fact see the painted footprints of a small child leading away from the "Man Shed" table in the photograph above (bottom right). I will not dwell on the matter further, but suffice it to say that my stock of brown paint was seriously depleted by mysterious guest(s) who in Neolithic cave-art fashion had great fun (and if truth be told produced some fantastic abstract art in the process). Luckily the paint wore off, half way up the path, before they got back to the house proper.

Back to the Man Shed work in hand ...

I really like this highlight red-brown and white-brown effect and it seems such a shame to now have to paint and flock over most or all of it, but such is the sacrifice of 'art' and such is the urgent  need is for wargaming ridges not comic-book alien moonscapes (see below): 

Next comes the varying degrees of 'pebble and sand' stuck onto prominent features with the ubiquitous PVA hobby glue in copious quantities. These terrain making materials have been gathered from a variety of sources ranging from the left over DIY projects ("mixed grit"), to the ridiculously expensive connoisseur train-set gravel. I even have a as yet unused secret weapon; a packet of budgie grit, unopened, left on the side, waiting for 'its moment of glory'. See the result below:   

The hills are now half Terra-formed (we are back on the Sci-Fi theme again) and need an urgent  vegetation upgrade. To me they still look "cool" in this raw form IMHO :)

Next: How Green is my Valley? 

Thursday 25 July 2013

Battalion Attack: The Reason Why - Fire and Movement (Game 3 - Part III)

End Game: 

After the butcher's bill (casualty counters) is paid and the logistic (ammo low counters) withdrawals depart the British central portion of the front line looks depleted and a "tad" (a traditional Yorkshire expression) forlorn. Only one British platoon from "Green Company" remains in close assault position but is now effectively out numbered three-to-one (see below):   

Off to the left hand side a solitary "Blue Company" platoon had reached "Outcast Wood" and was in a position to close assault it (see below). This was in the twilight phase of the game. The last four turns were played out in effect solo as the British Commander "had seen enough" and was contemplatively sipping on his John Smiths with his 2-in-C knocking back a Guinness. As I was driving I was looking at them rather enviously ;)

But to me it also raises the question of "The Reason Why" we should play to a finish. Not to win, sorry if I sound overtly pacifist here, because nobody wins in war. No it is to see how it pans out. Not in a statistical sense, as in "how many ones and sixes followed" but did the game still manage to represent at the end what it nobly stated to achieve at the start?

Certainly a "philosophical" point.     

In terms of "Fire and Movement" Battalion Attack, retreat is impossible. If a platoon tries to retreat the chances are they will get suppressed and effectively be pinned in place and whittled away by the defenders  (which have no ammunition restrictions). So there is no point going back unless you are guaranteed (or stand a good chance of not being hit because of the enemy's range to you) to get off table as you will become suppressed, frozen in place and subject to the cruellest direct and indirect fire (war is unfair and hell).

What you need to seek is "hard cover" (aka "farms") or a hidden from view hex. This could explain the situation with respect to the final position (see below). The British platoon in the centre successfully close assaulted the "Farm Crescent" to inflict three casualties on the Germans, which brought their total to six, one more and a German platoon is removed. However this victory was Phyric as "ammunition expenditure removed the unit from play" - this was the bane of the British commander's life! The British platoon in "Little Gibraltar" was again lost to "ammo expenditure" but the Vickers HMG platoon caught a bullet from the defenders of the "Farm Crescent".

The one German casualty was caused by "catching a German platoon in the open" as it came from behind the "Farm Crescent" in a vain hope to reinforce "Outcast Wood". With no protective cover or dug-in status, the Germans are as equally vulnerable in the open. One additional casualty to the German total meant a platoon  removal. The board below shows the end of the game (German turn twelve - there is no British turn twelve to avoid the "last two minutes of the Superbowl land grab" - not an issue in this game).

The one ray of hope for the remaining British platoon is that it has isolated one-on-one a German platoon and if the fight were extended past turn twelve it would have at least the initiative. The bad news is that everybody else has "gone home" (not necessarily as in "dead") and with nothing left to pin the Germans in place it is only a matter of time before they bring overwhelming force to bear - but that is beyond the scope of the scenario brief and who knows "operationally" what else would be happening on the wider battlefield.

Was there a point to playing on?

I think so, not just because it is a forty mile round trip for me to play the game and that this was the only wargaming thing I managed to do this month. I did offer to "play on" but switching sides, winning was not the issue here. This was a "road test2 of the rules, it doesn't happen very often as this is only the third game I have managed to play in over seven months. To me it tested out the (unsavoury?) end game and illustrated as much as what we are NOT playing more than what we are trying to play. We are not simply killing people/soldiers. Counters are removed because the unit (some forty soldiers) becomes "combat ineffective" (10-20% casualties should do that). Over half the removals in the game were actually logistical (7) and only half combat casualties (6). In a campaign setting the battalion would have half its 'order of battle' force ready to defend itself against an immediate counter-attack.

Does the game need to visually represent the fact that there are British troops still on the table in some way? Is the ground taken/last-occupied by the British now 'unfriendly' (in some way) to the Germans and will they need to clear it? Does it restrict their future defences or give the British a closer jumping off point for next time. Will the surviving Germans be subject to a withering artillery bombardment or 'Jabo' fighter-bomber attack? I will take the discussion to the to the forum:

Meanwhile, although not played to win, what was the scale of the British defeat?

Victory Points: 

In the end it was a clear German win in the order of magnitude of six British platoons lost to one German platoon. However with respect to scenario balance it was very "pro-German" in terrains (a statistical extreme given the number of "farms" generated as terrain pieces) and had already been started with an idea to go through as many rule mechanisms as possible, rather than purely tactical gain.

The next game will be a random terrain generation affair. The book's play-test scenario should be put back in the bag as the Germans have convincingly took it (3-0). I would love to hear from anybody who has played it and got a British win. IMHO this was clearly was NOT the sector to attack


Monday 22 July 2013

Battalion Attack: The Bloodied Ground (Fire and Movement Game 3 - Part II)

The Middle is Pressed:

The British commander moves up a flanking platoon from "Blue Company" (bottom left below, which in this colour photograph looks almost the same colour as the "Green Company" marker dots) but in turn it draws additional fire from another German platoon off camera. Soon it too becomes suppressed and the steady tide of British casualties begins to mount ominously (see below):  

The sickening rise of red casualty markers as the British commander extended the attack frontage is evident (see below). Two German platoons are managing to freeze 'in-situ' four British attacking platoons in the 'open'. Controversially(?) the British mortar was engaged in (it had to be said very effectively) pinning two German platoons on the far right of the board (albeit a third of the total German defending forces) for most of the game, but leaving the supporting Vickers HMG too much to do on its own

The advanced British platoon from "Yellow Company" is poised to (almost) make an end-run assault on the left most portion of the German "Farm Crescent". The huge amount of open space makes this area a true killing field for the PBI (see below, red casualty markers indicating hits this round):

The result is bitter sweet for the British. Although the 'Yellow Company; platoon is in position to close assault the flanking wood, another British rifle platoon (from 'Blue Company') is removed from play through casualties (see below):

The Germans reinforce the centre by advancing a platoon to the far right wood. This is approximately turn seven with everything still hanging in the balance. There is a heavy exchange of fire along the line with the Germans besting the British. The 'open ground' is literally the killer factor for the British. They even suffer the indignity of being close assaulted 'back out of the far left wood' by the Germans (see below):  

British casualty removal and losses through ammunition expenditure has broken their attack. The British commander concedes 'the attack has failed' in his turn eight, but do we stop there? After all I am keen to understand what "Battalion Attack" simulates, can the British make a tidy fighting withdrawal?

Sunday 21 July 2013

Battalion Attack: The Familiar Starting Point (Fire and Movement - Game 3 - Part I)

After what seems an absolute age, I finally got behind the familiar wargaming table to throw some dice. Playing "Battalion Attack", using the book's tutorial scenario (again), but this time the co-player (rather than an opponent) had also 'read the book' (Simulating War, by Phil Sabin), hurray. Pump-primed we jumped into the action walking the scenario through to the step-off point in the book, the start of German Turn Three (see below, British attacking left to right): 

One advantage of having played the game/scenario several times before, is that the 'counters/logistics/terrain' are now prepared for in advance and subtle playing aids (e.g. units from the same company having the same coloured sticker, counters instead of cumbersome dice markers for ammo and causality counts). The "big plus" was that we never lost track of what was happening, or debated what the status of a unit was and whose turn was it to do something. The game mechanics ran smoothly.

The battle soon heated up with the British pressing the German held "Farm Crescent" hard with an important 'close assault' attack opportunity after the Germans had critically failed to nail a 'sure thing' (anything but a one .. we've all been there) on an adjacent British Infantry platoon (see picture below).

Note: The assault position (see below, before British move but after the German turn three was completed) was one the British had worked very hard (as in 'bled' casualties) to get to. The British 'Green Company' platoon adjacent to the "farm" will be assaulting this turn and a second 'Green Company' platoon is set to move up and exploit the situation and hopefully double close assault a suppressed(?) German platoon in the subsequent turns. This 'potentially' could crack the German 'Farm Crescent' defensive line wide open (which would be a 'first' in all my play tests of this scenario).

The odds were in the attackers favour: 1d6, with a British roll of (3,4,5,6) and the German defender would take three casualties as well as becoming suppressed and incapable of firing next turn, but a roll of (1,2) and the Germans would be fresh to wreck havoc on the exposed British Infantry platoons ("PBI").

The die was cast ...

The British attack was stymied (with a roll of a 1). If there was even a candid lesson in statistics and there is "no such thing as a racing certainty", then this is it. The Germans (after breathing a huge sigh of relief) in return elected to spread their defensive fire (rather than concentrate a close assault on one British Infantry platoon for slightly higher casualties) to suppress both British Infantry platoons (see below, two rolls of anything but a one [this time] sufficed for the Germans to achieve this):   

The British "Green Company" are now left 'hanging on the wire'. The proximity of friendlies stopping their 3" mortar helping and the proximity plus terrain leaving the HMG with only 50% chance of being effective each turn. Piling more troops forward will not directly help the British but probably instead serve to increase their casualties Meanwhile the German mortar has been very effective in causing additional PBI casualties in the rear ranks of the British attack.  

Next: The battle is pressed

Monday 8 July 2013

Man in Shed - Making Terrain (Battalion Attack)

A painter's progress ...

A sight that Picasso would have been proud of, thick slabs of acrylic paint daubed seemingly indiscriminatingly at random over 'many' surfaces (see below):    

You should be able to see (in the picture above) ten hexagon 'ridge tiles' getting prepared for the terrain box needed for Battalion Attack's random board set-up (see below):

In total  there will be:
  • 20 Ridges
  • 10 Woods
  • 6 Farm Complexes
Which is six extra ridges and one extra farm complex than the counters provided in the box, but the hexagon terrain project is slighter larger in scope than the 'Battalion Attack' game. 

Monday 1 July 2013

Battalion attack - Fire and Movement (1944) : Game 2

Return to "Battalion Attack" - Fire and Movement project (from Phil Sabin's Simulating War book) got a second outing. See below for the revised terrain board, with the British Infantry Battalion (1943-45) attacking left to right, hits a German defensive line of two companies. This is a hasty attack scenario.

The British start in the left most column (Germans setting up in columns 4,5 and 6). My acquisition of "brownish "Lego (TM) pieces from a trade with my eldest son has enhanced the look and feel of the "Farm Complexes" terrain sections. A certain familiarity with the board (second time out now) also allows me now to nickname certain features.
  • Top left hand corner, "Little Gibraltar" (the only British held "Farm Complex" at the start of the game)
  • Top right hand side corner, "The Alamo" (the German 'retreat' bastion)
  • The top centre, "The Iron Crescent" (German held/dominated defensive lynch-pin of this sector, comprising of three farm complexes, one ridge and two sections of woods)
  • Bottom right, "Outcast Wood" (home to the German left flank platoon, in a similar role to the 20th Maine at Gettysburg, "You sir are the left flank")
  • Bottom left, "Overhang Ridge", (a superb British HMG baseline position situation ideal for 'overhead fire' on "The Iron Crescent")

'Putting the toys on the board' (as per the Simulating War "example of play pp215-219, see below). The book play through was a good training session for the two newcomers (but experienced wargamers and board gamers) I umpired for. They took up where the book left off.

Note: The figures "off table" (in the black non-playing area) are:
  • To the left hand side the British off-table three inch mortar support platoon
  • To the bottom, the German replacement counters for any platoons that move out of their dug-in status. Also to note all fighting rifle platoons have been given a 'company colour' sticker for ease of identification (which is important in some firing circumstances). The platoon number has been dropped as insignificant to the rules).    

Another 'improvement' to the terrain from last time were the 'new look' ridges. Instead of being another layer cardboard tile I used a magic material called Dufaylite (TM) which is a cardboard honeycomb (think "bees" hexagonal honey cells) used as the filler in a thick cardboard sandwich. The beauty of it is that the material is that it can be cut with a hand saw into hexagon shapes. Then the hexagon sides can be easily sculptured into slopes with a bit of pressing, snipping and gluing (a cheap glue gun helped here) up to a small plateau. Finally  painted and flocked (see below for the "Overhang Ridge" HMG position):.

The emphasis I place on styled terrain is intended to 'better' represent the terrains impact on the battlefield. For example when I used the plain brown hexes for "farm complexes" in the first game I felt that it unintentionally mislead the British player into thinking that "the attack prospects" were much easier than they actually were. I thinking by making the terrain look more formidable this important balance should be somewhat redressed.

The Second Replay

Despite Battalion Attack - Fire and Movement being a "short game" we only managed to play eight full turns, filled with wargaming discussion. The situation you see below is at the start of Turn 9 (as in the German player goes next).

Game summary: Coached to a certain degree as regards what had happened in the first (experimental) game, I think the players made a decent stab at playing the game as to how it was intended to be played. It also helped that the fire combat modifiers had been better clarified on the Simulating War YahooGroup. The rules now played correctly (in the first 'experimental' game the Germans benefited from additional defensive modifiers that were from misreading the rules) gave a much more fluid game.

Review of Tactics: The British battalion commander decided to press forward with an infantry close assault on "The Iron Crescent" despite the daunting nature of the task. His slow methodical progress paid off to the extent of clearing the furthest forward "farm complex" and inflicting one German Platoon casualty (the one the Germans had decided to 'advance into during the first two turns of the game). "Outcast Wood" was largely ignored but nevertheless was a bullet magnet as the British commander fell for that old wargame adage of "use what you have got while you have still got it". The result is a cumulative frittering away of assets (every seventh shot eliminates a friendly platoon through ammunition attrition), no one attack being the deadly sin, but the net effect is a poor "fire discipline". At the end of turn eight the German baseline was still looked a very long way off, the Germans still at five sixths strength and the British down to half half combat effectiveness (six rifle platoons and two support platoons). The defence looked like it might be bent but not broken. The German player "hung tight" and committed his reserve platoons to "strengthen the line" at the moment of crisis and I think he was heading to win as the British commander was gradually "running out of infantry". 3VP to the Germans and only 1VP to the British. Who had the idea of attacking this sector without tanks?  

The Rules Re-examined (again):

One feature of the Fire and Movement combat mechanisms (i.e.the ammunition attrition and direct fire casualties) is that the attacker can "bleed from the back," with more often than not the attacker being able to selectively choose what platoon dies (and not necessarily being the unit being "hit" the most). This allows the attacking player to 'keep the momentum going".

Another rules feature was the incredible usefulness of the HMG (especially in indirect fire mode) and the battalion mortar in providing covering fire for the infantry attack.. The former is particularly useful as a well sited HMG (on a ridge) can provide some covering fire (albeit with a negative modifier) 'danger close' whereas the mortar has to 'check fire' due to 'adjacent friends'.

One thing that became clearly apparent was that "dug-in troops" can be relatively easily suppressed but not KIA'ed. The designer notes this as a deliberate feature, something that a lot of miniature rule sets do not follow, the classic being Squad Leaders 'breaking' broken units on a second hit and the tendency of heavier shells "Verdun'ing" infantry (Command Decision and Spearhead).  

Finally, to make any headway the British player has to pay the butcher's bill and get some rifle platoons into a Close Assault position on the German occupied "fortified/covered" hexes (i.e. the farm complexes and troops dug in woods) as it is the only way to score casualties on the Germans

Wow, bit of a big "brain dump" of a post but I think it was worth it ;)

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