Monday, April 27, 2015

Bolt Action Battle Report-16 December, 1944. The US Army is poised to resume their offensive into Germany...

Our wargaming group played a large Battle of the Bulge scenario this weekend with Sean as the GM.  I'll try to tell the story as best I can, but this was a pretty wild one.  Apologies up front for the disorienting pictures, I was snapping them pretty quickly while trying to keep up with some really dynamic game play.  Props to Sean for the best GM led game we have experienced thus far.  He really maximized the ability of the GM to introduce tension and surprise into the game.

The scenario was the opening of the Battle of the Bulge on December 16, 1944.  The Americans (Gavin, Keith, and me) were occupying hasty defensive positions while we waited for the weather to clear enough for us to resume our attack East into Germany.  Unbeknownst to us, the Germans (Drew, Owen, and Mike), were about to launch a major attack in an attempt to penetrate our lines and capture our supply depots in order to fuel a German drive toward Antwerp.

The battlefield included three separate battle areas.  In the foreground below is the Right table, which represented a piece of the American front lines.  The center table represented a traffic control point (TCP) several kilometers to the West of the front lines.  All American reinforcements had to flow through this checkpoint.  In the background is the Left table, which represents another section of the American front lines.

The Right table looking westward along the German line of attack toward the American positions.  Drew and I would face each other on this table.

The TCP in the center.  Keith would man this with a squad of MPs.  His job was to decide whether Gavin or myself would receive activation dice when drawn.  He would also be responsible for ensuring that American reinforcements made it to the correct table.

Gavin's sector on the left where he would face-off against Owen.  With the heavier woods and frozen stream promising to slow down enemy armor, we elected to put our lone bazooka team in my sector where it would have better fields of fire.

Speaking for forces, here is what we had.  2 regular infantry platoons equipped with BARs (my platoon got a bazooka team).  One MP squad.  The reserves consisted of two regular infantry squads (one with AT grenades), a Hellcat tank destroyer, and a Sherman medium tank.

The Germans also had two infantry platoons which were a mix of regular and green troops to reflect the Volksgrenadier concept that dominated German force composition in the late war.  Their reserve included a Panzergrenadier squad with a Hanomag half track, a Panzer IV medium tank, and a Jagtpanther that we played as Jagt Tiger super heavy tank destroyer.  To reflect the force overmatch employed by the attacker, the Germans were allowed to bring their squads back onto the table as soon as they got destroyed.  Our gaming group really needs to paint more Germans.

The action opened on the left with Owen advancing his infantry platoon.  The Americans benefited from hidden setup, so Owen was probing through the forest trying to identify Gavin's defensive positions.

On the right, Drew advanced on my right flank, clearly seeking to use the woods as a covered and concealed route to get around my flank.  He flushed-out the bazooka team I had positioned in these woods, but they were able to use the intervening woods to keep from being detected by the advancing Germans.

Gavin springs an ambush and annihilates one of Owen's squads while Mike, acting as the German commander, looks on.

Over on the right, Drew has maneuvered very well and is positioned to roll my flank.  I am concerned. 

On the left the Germans fight back, hitting Gavin's ambush squad hard, but not before he takes down another German squad.  You can see Gavin's other forces revealed along the river now as they are exchanging fire with the advancing Germans.  At this point, Owen started to make some progress against Gavin's defenses, aided in part by some questionable activation die allocation by Keith.

On the right, Drew advanced one of his squads too far around my flank.  I had to spring the ambush, but I also caught him largely in the open.  His squad of green troops was annihilated and I was able to stave-off disaster.  Here, his remaining two squads prepare to use the forest to better advantage to get after my flank.

Keith kept handing me activation dice, much to Gavin's dismay, but since it allowed me to fight-off Drew's attack, I was fine with that.  Here you can see me revealing a second squad to move against Drew's attempt to flank me.

Then things started to go pear-shaped for us.  With Drew starting to run into trouble against my position, the Germans decide to bring in all their reinforcements against Gavin's position, which was now significantly weakened as a result of me getting most of the early activation dice in the turn.

Gavin is really taking it in the shorts at the hands of the overwhelming German attack at this point.  "Sure sucks to be him," I'm thinking.

Because, look!  Keith just directed a tank reserve through his TCP onto my table!  Both Drew and Gavin would suffer because of this, but hey, what did I care?  I was kicking some serious ass at this point and now I had a tank.  Woo-hoo!  Drew was bringing on more infantry squads, but I had him in a pretty good kill sack now, and I felt confident I could hold him off for the rest of the game.  Things were going really well for me--I totally have the right flank in hand.

So you know that moment at the beginning of DOOM 3 where you are taking care of some administrative business like signing into the Mars base and getting your personal stuff squared away, and its not a really big deal, then things start to go slightly awry but you don't necessarily notice it at first, and then you do notice it, and you think its kind of bad, but then you realize that it's more serious than you thought, and you think you really ought to do something about it, but when you start to do something about it you realize that, in fact, all hell has broken loose?

That moment is exactly what Sean and Keith took BOTH SIDES through in their recreation of OPERATION GREIF.  No one saw this coming.

So Keith had made some questionable decisions about die allocation, but since it all benefited me, I was happy to let it go.  Gavin was less happy, as he had borne the brunt of the German attack and was in danger of being completely defeated at this point.  I just chalked it up to Keith having a bad day and not having his head in the game (which, for those of you who know him, is very uncharacteristic.)  Then, as one of our reserve squads approached the TCP, Keith said, "and now I'm going to fire at that squad."  We all heard him, but initially dismissed it as a continuation of whatever bizarre affliction kept impeding his game play.  But then he started counting out dice, and then he started rolling them, and suddenly he was taking models, OUR MODELS off the table.

Both sides were completely stunned ant first.  Then, as the realization of what had just happened finally dawned on us, the Germans were as happy as the Americans were devastated.  Keith had been playing perfectly, misdirecting resources and generally causing havoc without anyone knowing what was going on.

Turns out that Sean and Keith had worked-out this mechanic weeks ago and now had pulled it off in spectacular fashion.  The fact that the Germans were as surprised as the Americans made it even more impactful and historically accurate.  All of us agreed that it was the high-point of the game.  Well-done fellas!

Keith's "MPs" reveal themselves to be German special operations forces and annihilate the American reserve squad.

Having sprung their trap, the German agents melted away in the Ardennes, and Gavin and I got control of our dice and our reserves, but the damage was done.  Below, Gavin gets a reserve squad and a Hellcat on his board, but it is too little, too late, and Owen and Mike destroy his forces to a man.

Over on the right, I'm feeling less smug about the wrecking job I am doing against Drew's forces, and make preparations to withdraw.

"You die, the girl dies, everybody dies."  Mike as the German commander seemingly could not fail a roll with his armored juggernaut, while the outgunned Hellcat could do nothing against the massive Tiger tank destroyer.  It was worse than it looks in this picture.

So I stopped taking pictures.

This is how the game ended.  Burning American vehicles and unscratched German vehicles.

It had the potential to be a really cool ending.  To reflect the Americans conducting a fighting withdrawal, Sean reapportioned the forces based on the outcomes of the two battle zones and had both sides roll onto the center table at the TCP to determine the winner.  We ended up with a Sherman, a Hellcat, two squads,a  bazooka team, and a lieutenant.  The Germans had a squad in a Hanomag, a Panzer IV, and that stinking Tiger tank destroyer.  I felt that we had a chance at first, but then Bolt Action happened and through extremely unlucky activation draws and poor deployment we ended up placing all of our forces on the board first-shooting gallery style. This allowed the Germans to completely control the fight, and Gavin and I stood there and watched while our forces got systematically destroyed.  We had a couple of chances for some revenge kills, but the bazooka and Hellcat were completely ineffective.  With the loss of our last vehicle, we surrendered the remnants of our force to the attacking Germans.  Counting up the victory points, we forced a draw due to the sheer numbers of German squads we destroyed in our battle zones.  As usual, the specific victory conditions were unknown to the players, which helped keep the game play focused on realistic tactics.  It worked very well.

It was a very fun and well-run game.  Sean and Keith really made everyone's day with OPERATION GREIF.  The ending was a bit of a wet firecracker, but that was due mainly to the Bolt Action activation mechanic.  We had a good post game discussion about whether to limit chain activations.  While I understand why some players would prefer to mitigate the potential for sudden disaster by placing limits on activations, I think the fog of war and uncertainty that the Bolt Action activation mechanic brings to wargaming is one of the best things going right now.  Then there is the ambush order question over whether you prefer to retain the ability to react at the expense of the likelihood of getting an activation.  Decisions over how to set conditions for the activation dice are a big part of the game.  I am willing to suffer through an ignominious defeat due to bad fortune, knowing that I have and will continue to benefit from good fortune in turn.  It is all part of the game, and contributes to a dynamism and tension that predictable activation lacks.  Not knowing who goes next is huge.  I guess it is the closest we can come to experiencing some degree of fear in our games, which is an interesting component of warfare vice wargaming to consider.

Monday, April 20, 2015

Cold Wars Bolt Action Tournament: BEST ARMY!

So this is really late, but here are some pics of the Australian 24th Infantry that I took to Cold Wars last month.  I don't normally play in tournaments at gaming events because, well, I really (really) hate the kind of games you see in tournaments, but I did it anyway because it was a great group of guys and Bolt Action is fun, even when you are playing a fakey tournament game.

The tournament delivered as advertised.  I did not enjoy the ways that my games played, but I did enjoy the chance to meet some cool gamers and have a good time playing on some excellent terrain.  Lots of really beautiful armies and the tournament organizers did a great job with the terrain and the format.  Still, the event confirmed my opinion of tournament gaming.

I played terribly, because, well, tournament, and escaped with a 1-2 win/loss ratio.  The only reason I won the last game was because I pulled a totally douchy non-tactical ploy with a recce vehicle on the last activation of the game and snatched the win from Paul, who had pretty much dominated me the entire game.  Neither of us enjoyed that.  I should have stuck to actual tactics and taken the draw/loss.

But THEN prize time came and I won Best Army!  How about that?  NWS Online provided some sweet prize support and I walked away with a brand new British Army Box!  How cool is that?  Thanks to everyone who voted for me and BIG thanks to Christopher at NWS Online!  You Rock!

Here's the Army that won.  It was totally the kangaroos on the captured vehicles that pulled out the win for me.  Everyone loves kangaroos.

Winner, Winner, Bully Beef Dinner!

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Bolt Action Battle Report: D-1 (5 June, 1944)

Spring Break!

John had me over this week to try-out a mechanic for Airborne insertion.  The setting we chose was an Airborne drop in Normandy prior to the beach landings on 6 June (although, as I look back at the pictures, it should be Market Garden due to the beautiful fall foliage).  Our scenario involved a reinforced German panzer grenadier platoon tasked with guarding a bridge and a US Airborne platoon tasked with securing the same bridge.  I would play the unsuspecting Germans in this fight and John would be the US Airborne platoon leader.

My forces were a platoon leader, three squads of dismounted infantry, one squad of mechanized infantry with a Hanomag half track, a forward observer, and two Panzer IV-F tanks.  I also had an anti tank gun site down the road, but without crew it was largely yard art. 

John's platoon included a lieutenant, four infantry squads, two MMG teams, a bazooka team, a towed AT gun, an MMG jeep, and a forward observer.  I think he also had a light mortar team, but they didn't survive the jump.

The game started in the pre-dawn darkness.  I arrayed my forces the way they likely would have been for steady-state security operations.  This meant that they would be on a rotational duty cycle as opposed to a 100% stand-to readiness condition.  To represent this I placed one of the three infantry squads forward of the bridge on a security patrol, and one of the two tanks on overwatch of the bridge.  The other two infantry squads were asleep in one of the large buildings.  The mechanized infantry squad (with their half track) represented a reaction force, so they were asleep in a second large building.  The platoon leader and the FO were asleep in the third, smaller building.  The second tank and the half-track were staged behind the buildings in an orchard in an effort to hide them from allied reconnaissance and ground attack aircraft.

Here is the battle area looking south from the landing beaches toward the bridge.  You can just see my patrolling squad in the lower right at the corner of the woods.  Quiet night, routine patrol....

Looking north toward the bridge, you can see my on-duty tank under the tree on the right, while the off-duty tank and half-track are parked in the orchard in the low left-center.  The reaction force is sleeping in the building in the lower-center while the platoon leader and forward observer are sleeping in the small building just north of the orchard.  The two remaining squads are sleeping in the building just to the north, across the road from the platoon leader and FO.

We decided that my forces would enter as reserves (-1) to reflect the surprise of vertical envelopment by paratroopers.

Speaking of the paratroopers, we talked a bunch about a good deployment mechanic.  We briefly considered using the Warlord mechanic of a scatter roll, but opted instead for a more physical and literal parachute mechanic.  Since US Airborne really doesn't do the coup-de-main thing, we decided that their drop zone would have generally been situated to the north-east of their objective (the bridge).  But since US airborne were notoriously dropped everywhere but their drop zones, John came up with the following mechanic: tiny parachutes.

Starting over the north east corner and continuing in a straight-ish line all the way along the long axis of the battle area, john dropped tiny parachutes about every 12 inches.  The parachutes were made from string and paper napkins and were weighted with wood chips. Wherever the parachutes fell to the table represented a unit landing spot.   He started with his platoon leader, of course, and then just went down his list.

We were both a little skeptical about how well this would work.  It turned out to be one of the more fun and realistic game mechanics we have ever played with.  Definitely recalled childhood memories of playing with those plastic toy paratroopers you could buy in the toy section at a drugstore.  Very fun.

John's platoon leader drops in:

Great landing.  Good spot to establish an attack position from which to assault the bridge.

Next up was an infantry squad.


That squad landed right next to my patrolling infantry.  We decided that, because of the darkness, any unit landing more than 24" away from a German unit would be un-detected.  We didn't know exactly how we would handle detection, but since these guys practically landed on top of the Germans, we figured we didn't have to roll for spotting this time.

So it went.  One squad landed in the creek.

The ill-fated FO landed right amongst the buildings full of sleeping Germans.

Beyond the sight of my tank, john extricates a parachute from the trees.  Landing in the woods cost John his light mortar team (d3 wounds).

Another tree landing (nearly on-top of the house with two sleeping infantry squads) claims one MMG crew member.

Another instance of not needing to roll to spot-the second MMG team lands, quite literally, on top of the on-duty tank.  They promptly lost two crew members of the MMG team.

And then there was the bazooka team, who landed right in front of the on-duty tank.  This would go badly for someone.

The remainder of John's forces were jeeps (MMG and AT gun), so they entered the board along the roads to the north where they would have landed by glider.

So here's how the battle kicked-off.  In the north, John's forces close on my patrol near the crossroads.

In the center, he has two squads already in possession of the bridge.  While in the south he has two MMG teams and a bazooka team in the vicinity of the buildings and one very alert tank crew.

And finally, lest we forget, his FO, lying in the street, right in the middle of a sleeping horde of Germans who were just about to wake to the sound of gunfire from the patrol and the tank.

Things kicked off in the north with my patrol lighting up the paratroopers that landed at the crossroads and causing a couple of casualties.  John then returned fire and moved his jeeps onto the table right next to my patrol-hitting them for a pin marker.  In the south the tank opened-up on the MMG team point blank, but failed to kill the single remaining gunner.  The bazooka team, terrified from landing face-to-face with a Panzer IV, froze and failed their activation order.

 My patrol shot-up the jeep towing the AT gun, and then took some withering fire from two squads of paratroops and jeep-mounted MMG.  The pin markers started to pile on.

The fight at the crossroads became a pretty decisive engagement as John maneuvered several units to deal with the German patrol.  And there was Scotch.

In the south, the German platoon leader dashed-out of his hut and was astonished to see a US paratrooper in the street, so he ran around to the back of the house to wake the crews of the tank and half-track parked there.   The US FO, realizing that the rest of his war would be pretty brief, dashed forward to disable the AT gun aimed straight down the road.  This was his single contribution to the war effort, as he was thereafter quickly dealt with by the Panzer IV and Hanomag.

On the east side of the village, the on-duty tank made short work of the MMG and bazooka team (the latter of which failed their activation roll not once, but twice).

But in spite of all this shooting, the infantry squads in the buildings sleep soundly through the first three turns.  After the third turn we decided that the sun had come up enough to provide illumination throughout the battlefield.

In the center, John's paratroopers prepare to hold the bridge at all costs.

After some intense hand-to-hand combat that eliminated the AT gun crew and reduced the patrol to a single LMG gunner, things start to go the Americans' way up at the crossroads.

One of the sleeping infantry squads finally wakes up, but opts to stay indoors after spotting this US MMG team sighted in on their front door.

The mechanized infantry reaction force finally gets out of bed and assembles behind their building with their half track.

An abandoned AT gun marks the spot of the furious fight for the crossroads as John's forces move south toward the bridge.

The Germans counter-attack!  I advanced one tank to the stone wall to provide overwatch, while lining my forces up on the main road behind the other tank.  This column would assault the bridge, with the mechanized infantry getting the task to cross the bridge and secure the far side.

My lead tank attempts to run-over the US paratroopers in the road.  They all make their morale checks, though, and simply step aside, leaving the jeep crew to face a really uncomfortable situation.

And then it happened.  Faced with another desperate situation, John had to decide whether to preserve his force or accomplish his mission.  In what is becoming his go-to move, John meets my attack with an attack of his own.  Here you can see his squads advancing on my tanks.

 Two words: anti-tank grenades.  OK, that's technically three words, but you can see the result below.  Two dead tanks.

My infantry squads mixed it up with John's, and were subsequently eliminated along with their platoon leader, but not before they did a lot of damage to the US paratroopers.

The rest of the game was a pretty straight-forward mop-up operation for my mechanized infantry squad.  They dealt with the remaining paratroopers pretty decisively, leaving john with a single MMG jeep who, unable to go toe-to-toe with the mech infantry squad, retreated back to the American DZ.

Another fantastic game of Bolt Action. I'll claim a marginal victory in this one since the Germans still retain the bridge, but with two tanks and an infantry platoon destroyed, my ability to hold the bridge without reinforcements is pretty tenuous.

The parachute landing mechanic is here to stay.  It combines good randomized landings with a really fun and playful mechanic that evokes youthful days spent playing with toy soldiers.  The more things change, the more they stay the same.  Stay young at heart.