On the table – Ligny 1815

I am currently playing Ligny 1815. It is the third game in the Eagles of France series  (after Fallen Eagles (Waterloo) and Rising Eagles (Austerlitz)), all designed by Walter Vejdovsky, and published by Hexasim. Turns are  1 hour, hexes are about 200 m, and units are regiment sized with each strength point representing 100 combatants.

I played the first in the series long enough to have a good grasp of the rules, but I needed to pay attention to the tweaks to the system that extended playing has brought about. As usual, I’m supplementing the gaming with some reading on the topic to refresh my knowledge and enhance the experience. Should be good fun.

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Operation Focus

Operation Focus (Mivtsa Moked מבצע מוקד) was the name given to the Israeli Air Force (IAF) plan of attack for the opening of what became the Six Day War. It began as a surprise attack of a first wave of bombing runs against the Egyptian air force bases and planes. It was a stunning success. By the end of the first day, the IAF had destroyed over 450 enemy aircraft, and had total air superiority on all fronts. From then on, they were able to concentrate on supporting the equally impressive campaign on the ground.

This topic is covered by the first scenario in Elusive Victory. The original scenario is a two player game, but post publication a solitaire version was produced and, after getting to grips with the rules, that is what I used to test out the game.

You have six flights to bomb the target airport runway, planes, and its defenses.

The Egyptians are caught unawares, so their forces cannot do anything until the first bomb attack. In the scenario, that attack is probably the most important one in the game. If you put the airfield out of action, the two flights of ready MiGs will never be able to take off, and so you can concentrate on the ground assets – a nasty collection of light and medium anti-aircraft artillery (AAA), backed up by one Fire Can, a deadlier, directed AAA.

The first flight is about to hit the target…

I played the scenario a few times. Once my dice were so hot, there was nothing left of the runway, and plenty of burning Egyptian aircraft and AAA batteries. On one other playing, the initial bombing run wasn’t too good, but the lead flight managed to shoot down all the MiGs that took off, though not without cost. You play this game and you have a renewed and strengthened sense of how brave these IAF pilots had to have been. All the technology in the world is not much help when the air around you is filled with hot flying lead from AAA batteries.

After playing the solitaire scenario, I came to the conclusion that this was one game that I wasn’t going to enjoy playing solitaire. (Apart from anything else, there are no more solitaire scenarios.) There’s just too much of the game atmosphere and enjoyment caught up in arranging hidden defenses, dummy flights, and so on. On the plus side, I had a look at Downtown, a game on the air campaign over Hanoi in the Vietnam War. It uses the same core system, and the changes are so modest I now feel confident of being able to play that game too, if I ever find a live opponent.

The system itself is an impressive feat because it packs a lot of detail in without being overly complex. Once you have run through the game turn sequence a few times, you can play just using the player aid cards. However, there is a lot of paperwork compared to most games. (You need to set up details of each flight, its payload, and so on as well as plot the flight path for the attacking aircraft, and more. You also keep track of damage and losses using written records, in the main.) That doesn’t bother me greatly, but I can see why it may be one reason these games – fine combinations of playability and historicity – do not seem to be as popular as others.

So, off the table it comes for now.

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Currently playing – Elusive Victory

About ten years after it came out, I finally have Terry Simo’s game Elusive Victory on the table. It’s a GMT game focusing on air warfare over the Suez Canal, with scenarios on the Six Day War, the War of Attrition, and the Yom Kippur War.

Let’s see how this goes…

(PS: For the avoidance of doubt, the fact this game is on the table now and things have gone hot in Gaza at the same time is a coincidence. I started reading the rules over a week ago. Honest!)
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Enduring the fire

Axis forces attacking north of Sidi Abdallah

I finished my second play through of the campaign scenario of Baptism by Fire. I abandoned my first after a few turns because I realized I had screwed up some of the important rules about Combat Trains and Headquarters. If nothing else, that initial run meant I was more comfortable with the rules and fairly rattled through the turns. With low unit density and lots of space, this is a nice game to look at and play.

The initial turns were an Axis whirlwind as their forces cut the defending Allies to shreds. While this was followed by a lull for a few days – representing the confusion that actually occurred as the Axis decided what their campaign goals should be – most of the game involved wave after wave of Axis attack, punctuated by the occasional Allied counter attack to seal a hole in a line, or just to give the axis something to think about.

Qualitatively, the Axis forces are better. The challenge for the Allied player is to put up enough resistance so as to delay the Axis, without hanging on too long and being encircled. The Axis challenge is to keep pushing, just Enough to keep the Allies off balance and the victory point hexes in reach, but not too much for fear of suffering a nasty counter-attack.

At the end, it as an Allied victory because the Axis failed to take enough of the victory point hexes. The lesson learned? As the attacker, you have to push your forces harder than I was doing.

Some notes.

First, the scenario includes two possible victory conditions (VC), but the Axis doesn’t know what one is relevant at the start. After a few turns, a chit is drawn to determine the applicable VC. While it’s not the best for solo play, it’s a good twist and is A simple layer of realism since the Axis seem to have gone through the same uncertainty.

Second, this game in the Battalion Combat Series introduces a new rule: Screening. It’s used by recon forces to delay attackers. It’s quite handy, but the Allies only have one such unit on hand, so the application is likely to have more effect in other games in the series. Cool rule, though.

Third, I used one of the system’s optional rules: Unit Traffic. This means that units can only use the road rate if the road hex they move through is clear of other units. Since the Axis forces are leapfrogging attacking formations in a forward direction, and the Allies are leapfrogging defensive formations in a backwards direction, it had an extensive impact. It also slowed play. I like the historicity, but am less keen on the added time it took.

Closing

I like the system a lot. I like the mix of unit capabilities, the effects of fatigue, the chaos, the fortunes of war, and the simple supply rules which combine to give an entertaining and challenging gaming experience. (My post about the first game in the series is here.) The minor niggle about Baptism by Fire is that I wasn’t able to get hold of a decent book on the campaign.

The next in the series is Brazen Chariots (the Brevity, Battleaxe, and Crusader battles in North Africa during WW2) and I have ordered it even though the game’s three maps mean some of the scenarios will be too big for my game table. (There’s always Vassal.) I am reasonably knowledgeable about these battles, but will probably do a bit of top-up reading before I play it.

Now, what game to play next?

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Baptism by Fire

On the table, as it has been for a few weeks, Baptism by Fire: MMP’s game of the Battle of Kasserine in February 1943, using Dean Essig’s Battalion Combat Series.

I am playing the campaign game solo, and having a blast.

The game system is different – very different. Although it started as a lower scale version of the designer’s lauded Operational Combat System, it is very far removed from that.

BCS is formation based, with each formation activating and acting individually. Each side alternates activations. Each formation can then use its (generally) battalion sized units to achieve its goals. There are no written orders, but command and control is well imposed, forcing you to plan ahead. In addition, formations accumulate fatigue, so pacing your troops, and giving them some rest also takes thought.

In addition, supply and areas of operation are catered for. Formations which become mixed reduce the chances of effective activation. And woe betide the formation which has its HQ thrown back or its supply line overrun.

Armor has its own niche here, engaging enemy armor and anti-tank units, while offering up the potential for shock attacks and support for common or garden assaults.

The game is not complex, but there are lots of fiddly details, and it takes time to master.

This particular battle is a good one to learn the system, as there are not as many units as the huge Last Blitzkrieg (Battle of the Bulge).

The action starts with the Axis forces rushing on to the map and cutting through woeful Allied defenses. From there, it’s a scramble for the Allies to put up a defense line, or at least delay, while the Axis hunts down units and victory point hexes. One of the twists here is that not all VP hexes count, and the Axis player only finds out which after a few turns. So, both sides have their challenges.

I haven’t been able to lay my hands on a decent book about the battle. That apart, this has been a terrific gaming experience.

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ASL Catchup

Gaming goodness!

So, I have this problem with ASL. I keep losing. And yet, there’s another problem. I somehow lose the will to write up the games. They are intense, and at the end of each one I am mentally frazzled – buzzing with the adrenaline of the game, but worn out from such a session of sharp focus. (Not too sharp, as I keep making mistakes, but that is another story.) Anyway, I finally made it to the keyboard after a game, and it’s time to catch up a wee bit.

I have played three of the scenarios of the excellent Hatten in Flames. I lost two and tied one. And one of the losses went down to the wire, so not too bad.

I have just finished Canicatti, scenario J51, featuring my Germans defending a mountainous position against josh’s advancing Americans in Sicily 1943. That one also went down to the wire. On the last turn, to win I needed to pass a morale check: seven or less I win, eight or more I lose. I rolled eight. Cue gnashing of teeth.

That last game featured Josh’s American forces spending three or four turns on the rampage. He completely ran through me. Then, out of nowhere, just as I was about to give up, up popped one of my two hidden anti-tank guns, and it nearly won the game on its own, felling two tanks. A melee killed off another USA tank, and I only needed to kill one more, or to have a surviving unit on the hill at the end. I failed with both, but it was close, and great fun. Six hours of gaming goodness. It does not get better than this. OK, that last bit is a lie. A win would be better…

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Returning to Holland

Well, I finally got to play Holland ’44. (This well illustrates my challenge: too many games, not enough time.)

It’s worth noting that I put this on the table after a debate came to life on ConsimWorld, driven by queries from David Hughes for an article he was researching. That set off a burst of book reading by me, and then I got out the game and played it through.

I only played it once, and the Allies got thumped. But it was fun. It was cool to see how Mark Simonitch handled various aspects of the battle, and how the narrative developed.

I had no problems with the rules. The components were, as usual, gorgeous, and the system is one I find to be playable and immersive.

The potential criticisms raised in the online debate included suggesting that units in the game can cover greater amounts of territory than they could in real life. While I think that’s true, there are several responses.

First, it’s a common ‘failing’ of many wargames, because designers are so wedded to the concept of zones of control.

Second, in the game it doesn’t seem to materially interfere with the historicity of the overall flow. In other words, it doesn’t matter.

Third, it’s easy to apply some house rules and see the impact. For example, I set up a mini scenario that applied a no ZOC rule. Wow, that was wild and very different. But it opened up some possibilities.

So, another good game from Mark and GMT. That won’t stop me listening to the ongoing debate, and waiting for David’s article.

 

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A Day of ASL

Earlier this month, I was joined by Daniel, David, Josh, and Ran for a whole day of ASL.

David and Josh played the scenario Death’s Head Debut (SP 267).

As Josh puts it:

“Note that it is only 5.5 turns. It’s also classified as a “long-round” in Denmark, to be played Friday morning, until around 6 p.m. [Denmark hosts an ASL competition next month.]

Five and-a-half turns, no problem, right? David and I started at 10 a.m. and we called it at 8:30 p.m., with me surrendering. After three turns! And although I was badly losing, I still had a chance, but time constraints caused me to surrender. (Basically, I kicked David off the mountain, as required by the victory conditions. But I had to capture a second building and David’s tanks were roaming freely. He destroyed all my tanks and this demoralized me.)

They seemed to be having fun…

Meantime, Daniel, Ran and I played two scenarios, with Ran and I teaming up in both. We won one and lost one. It was so enthralling that I simply forgot to note what we were playing.

Too many games, not enough time!

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Gaming Break

Roy and I had an opportunity for a short gaming session. We started off with Commands and Colors Napoleonics, then moved on to Keyforge.

This was a first outing for Roy with the Napoleonics version of Richard Borg’s hugely successful series. However, he had played the Ancients version, and was highly experienced with Memoir 44 (WW2) so had no trouble pitching in and playing away.

We played the Vimiero scenario, the August 1808 encounter between British and French forces (with a few Portuguese on the British side). I played the French, who were on the attack, with Roy manning the defense lines.

The scenario began with probes by the French forces which were bloodily repulsed. The victory goal was six banners (victory points). Roy had run up a two-nil lead before I even got close to a first banner.

My cards were awful, but then things changed when I drew the cavalry charge card. This allowed me to utilize my cavalry advantage – four units to two – and well and truly pile into the British lines. The killer was another wonderful card – supply lines or similar? – which allowed me to banish a key British artillery unit back to the baseline. In combination, this just was too much for the British. Although they fought hard, and did some damage, I surged ahead to a lead that was slowly converted into a win.

Next up, Keyforge. This is a game from the designer of Magic, the original collectible card game. Much of the core is similar – generate monsters and magic items, do damage, and win – by this is a very different game.

First, there is no collectible element. Every single deck in the world is unique.

Second, there is no deck building.

Third, the play doesn’t involve resources, but Houses. Each deck has cards from three Houses. Each turn, in essence, you can only use one your Houses. So, there are some tricky decisions to be made.

Fourth, you win not by eliminating the other guy, but by using the games currency – aember – to build three keys before your opponent.

Roy got off to a good start and set up a monster line of monsters. I slowly managed to get some of my team out, but Roy was soaring ahead in aember collection. He kept his lead and ran out an easy winner by three to one.

I like the accessibility of Keyforge. It’s easy and fast to play. But without the deck building, where is the skill? It will be interesting to see how this one fares, and whether there are further Keyforge type games.

 

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Better Fields of Fire

Recently I continued my ASL adventure (AKA ‘losing streak’) with a game against Josh, playing the scenario Better Fields of Fire. It is set in September 1944, with elements of a US Infantry Regiment trying to take a fortified defense position from some German paratroopers. I was the attacker, and Josh the defender.

I knew the odds were stacked against me when I read the past records available online, suggesting a 2-1 ratio of German to American victories.

I knew that things were only about to get worse when my first shot of the game from my heavy mortar ran me out of WP ammunition. And they did get worse.

Josh set up a forward defense of two stacks of dummies. I dithered about whether they were real forces or not, and in the end made the wrong guess. So, I spent precious time and firepower attacking them.

Until about the halfway point in the game, no American squad passed a morale check. No wonder the advance was going slowly. Worse was that Josh had about four snipers, three of which were effective. I did generate an extra hero, and he actually made it into the fort.

We called the game after the German reinforcements arrived. By then, my force was weaker than the combined defending forces and reinforcements, and there was no way I would have been able to hold on to the victory point area.

Not my finest performance, but still an enthralling gaming experience. However, probably one of the fewest scenarios I would not be keen to play again. It’s a one shot effort.

I’m hoping for a performance improvement in 2019…

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