Moravian Sun

Moravian Sun, designed by Enrico Acerbi and produced by Acies, is a wargame about the battle of Austerlitz, the decisive encounter of the Third Coalition in the Napoleonic Wars. The scales are hourly turns, brigade sized units, and hexes of 450-500 meters.

The system is a step above the basic – or classic – wargame standard, though it does use odds based combat and traditional zones of control. The command system elevates it, though not as far as I would like. Essentially, each formation (a corps, with provision for creating smaller detachments) gets an order, and that order determines what units can and must do.

For example, the Advance order obliges at least three units to move at least one hex closer to the enemy. The Attack order obliges all units to move at least one hex closer to the enemy, and so on. There are exceptions, but the rules are supported by a good table summary, and do a fair job of imposing some form of command and control realism.

This is helped by adding a priority system. Each side must prioritize its formations – order of activation – though there are separate priorities for the main and the support orders. When your side goes, you have to activate the next formation in priority order, but you can choose between those with main and support orders. One of the support orders is a neat Pursue option which allows (so far as I can tell) that formation to immediately react to an enemy retreat. Cool idea!

Orders can be issued and changed, though fate can intervene which is just the ticket for some true battlefield chaos and winning opportunities.

The part that it’s missing, for me, is the lack of a destination. In other words, I as the player can advance closer to the enemy to my front. But, if I decide the chaps off to the left are a better target, I can simply change the direction of movement. (The Eagles of France series designed by Walter Vejdovsky and published by Hexasim includes a destination hex as part of its orders system.) It’s simple enough to add a geographical restriction, and that produces good results for a modest overhead.

But don’t let that minor carp get in the way of seeing this for the interesting game it is as it stands. The graphics are good, the rules are OK considering their non-native English speaker origin – and supported with living rules – and the thing is playable. Eminently so. For my tastes, there is a decent amount of chrome – cavalry charges, squares, march columns, and weather – but not too much. And with one map and less than 500 counters, about half of which are markers, it’s a relatively compact game.

I have played through several turns of the battle scenario (you get that plus a campaign scenario starting on the previous day) twice to a reasonable conclusion with one victory apiece. I worry that the orders give the Allies more flexibility to counter Napoleon, but have certainly not played the game extensively enough to offer an authoritative opinion. I have enjoyed having this game on the table.

Bloody 110

This, from 1989, is the first of Dean Essig’s Tactical Combat Series (TCS). Units are platoons of infantry, mortar and machine gun sections, individual tanks and guns. Hexes are 125 yards and turns – during the day – are 20 minutes. The action covered is the role played by elements of the US 28th Infantry Division in holding up the German Bulge Offensive heading towards Bastogne.

I was getting sick and tired of looking at all the TCS games on my shelves that weren’t getting played because I repeatedly found the latest iteration of the system too much of a slog. (I like it when I read it, but not when I’m playing it.) I decided to start trying out some house rules/variants to see if I could cobble together stuff that worked for me.

I started with a quick run through the tank and infantry learning scenarios, and have now moved on to the 1st day battle scenario.

I have used and rejected several ideas, and while at times it is frustrating, it’s also a fun challenge. And when I think something is getting there…

Oh, and I also enjoyed – as a change from today’s multi-colored environment – going back to the old-style counter graphics. Quaint!

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

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.

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?

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.

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.

 

Normandy: The Beginning of the End

This has been on the table for the last wee while. It’s the latest in the War Storm Series (my review of an earlier version is here) and this is a good improvement. In a nutshell, the rules are better, though there are still gaps. And the proofreading and translation is not perfect. But, it’s a highly playable system, easily tweaked, and delivers a lot of gaming goodness. The components are gorgeous. Highly recommended.