On the beaches at Normandy

This game, one of my ConsimWorld Expo purchases, is about the Normandy Campaign in WW2. Published by Decision Games, it was originally a magazine game (Strategy & Tactics) designed by Brad Hessel, featuring only the Cobra part of that campaign. It has gone through a couple of updates and upgrades of campaign coverage by Decision, of which this newly released boxed version is the latest, led by Joe Youst.

What you get inside the box are two standard maps, 280 die-cut counters of decent quality, a rulebook, and a separate campaign study booklet, as well as dice and some plastic storage bags. Continue reading

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Red Badge of Courage

This game was on the table before I went to ConsimWorld. It contains two battles – both at Bull Run – and is part of a long running series (probably one of the oldest) called Great Battles of the American Civil War (GBACW*). The series started with Richard Berg’s groundbreaking design Terrible Swift Sword about Gettysburg, published in 1976 by Simulation Publications Inc. (SPI). Generally, these are tactical games with regimental sized units and hexes of 100-150 yards, and some form of command and control mechanism.

The series is now hosted by GMT, and other designers have utilized the core features to extend its life. Red Badge of Courage dates back to 2001, but this was the first time I had broken it out and played the game. Previously, I had spent most time with Three Days of Gettysburg, Berg’s updated version of Terrible Swift Sword, sometime in the late 1990s.

After bringing myself up to date with the rules, I played through the first Bull Run main scenario a couple of times and thoroughly enjoyed myself. It uses chit pull which makes it solitaire friendly. And, although the rules are a few iterations out of date, I didn’t come across any major issues. (There were some clashes in the orders system with formations getting March orders and wanting to come out of that order, but I worked something out that seemed to fit well.)

CSA cavalry force Hunter’s marching troops to partially deploy for combat

So far as the battle was concerned, on both occasions the CSA managed to hold up the Union forces well enough to claim victory. I suspect it needs a higher level of skill to get truly successful attacks. But it was still fun. I was more interested in reconnecting with the series, as there is a chunky eight battle package due out from GMT soon, and I am very keen to play that. The smaller battles are more attractive for all sorts of reasons, though I do still hanker to have another bash at Gettysburg.

Tyler in reserve

It was also interesting to compare this system with MMP’s Line of Battle (LOB) output. I do prefer certain aspects of LOB, and wonder how easily they could be adapted into GBACW. For example, LOB’s closing to contact and defensive volley are so much quicker to process than the standard, step by step, unit by unit approach of GBACW.

Jackson marching to the sound of the guns

Expect to see more GBACW posts in the future.

(*You can see all the GBACW games here.)

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ConsimWorld 2019

I had a great time playing games at ConsimWorld.

I spent a few days, guided by Tom Holliday, playtesting Greatest Day: Utah Beach, a game in MMP’s Grand Tactical Series to be published at some point in the future. I was responsible for the 101st Airborne Division. The landings were chaotic, with too many stragglers. The 101st did manage to create enough of a cordon, growing in strength as the scattered troops found their way to friendly staging posts. When I left, the seaborne invaders had reached the 101st cordon, and were trying to stage a wider breakout. Continue reading

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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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