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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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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Bloody Bois Jacques

I continued my ASL education this week, with a game against Ran of the scenario Bloody Bois Jacques. Set in Bastogne, December 1944, the battlefield is a heavily wooded area which an attacking force of 9 USA squads (plus leaders, two heroes, and some machine guns) must make their way through, against a defending force of 8 German squads (plus leaders, machine guns, and artillery support).

There are a couple of scenario special rules which are a bit quirky, but do mostly work, representing fire lanes for the defenders. Basically, units in foxholes can see through woods hexes that would otherwise block line of sight. But the enemy cannot see the foxholes (or the units in them) until the fire lane is used.

I was the attacker, and Ran was the defender.

I should have known it would not be my lucky night when I failed two out of three deployment rolls in the first Rally Phase. Not a good omen.

Anyway, I split my force across the board, in two rough groups, seeking to drive on and get to the exit area that would give me victory points.

On my left flank, I put about half the squads plus both heroes. I led with a half-squad to scout ahead, and he made good progress, so the rest followed. I bumped into his hidden force and actually did a good job of forcing them back, as the Germans traded space for time.

On the right, the rest of the squads plus the machine gun, had a reasonable first turn. But then the artillery arrived. My troops on the right got clobbered by the artillery, and although many rallied and recovered, they were not able to get to the exit area in enough numbers, in time.

The key, therefore, was the deadly effectiveness of the German artillery which switched back to my other force and then harassed it to death. My two heroes who were the point men on my left flank, were wiped out by the artillery, along with supporting squads.

Although I had a chance of winning in the last turn of the game, Ran’s continued success with his artillery put an end to that, so he was able to claim another victory. (Exasperating.)

Ran did not fail a single battery access roll. He would have needed to roll a 12, but didn’t. Indeed, he did not roll a 12 the whole game. I only rolled one, but it was for a pin task check. Ran always drew a black chit for artillery availability. Although the odds of him drawing a red chit – meaning the artillery would have been unavailable – increase with each black chit draw, it never occurred.

Although I lost, I don’t think my play was bad. (Even more exasperating.) For example, I believe I got the fire/move balance about right which may be an improvement. However, I might have made the wrong call about committing to a couple of close combats. I find that if the right thing is to commit to a close combat, and I do the right thing, I am rarely successful in the close combat. So, maybe I should not have been surprised the close combats did not go well. If they had, I might still have sneaked a win, despite the awesome German artillery. (Double plus exasperating!)

Anyway, despite the loss, the game itself was the usual intense and enjoyable experience with time flying by, and there’s always a chance the next game will turn out better. Thanks to Ran for his patience and hospitality.

 

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ASL Catchup

I have been remiss in blogging about gaming, but that doesn’t mean I haven’t been playing – and losing.

A summary of all my ASL games since the last blog post about it would be: I played, I lost. Pretty demoralizing, even though playing ASL remains the most enthralling, engaging, absorbing, and exciting wargame experience I have ever had. The essential conundrum is that the only way to improve is to play, and yet if every play is a loss, it somewhat saps the enthusiasm. I have tried one session as purely an observer, watching Ran and Josh playing a scenario I had already played with Josh. I did learn a lot. Putting the right lessons into practice at the right time is the main challenge.

Also, I doubt – despite protestations to the contrary – that it’s much fun for my opponents to keep on winning. I haven’t figured out a solution, and maybe I never will. But meantime, I am still playing.

Last time out, Ran, Josh, and I played Second City, a 1944 scenario featuring a Soviet assault force (Josh) trying to steamroller through a mixed infantry and tank group of Hungarian defenders (Ran) with a couple of Panthers and decent German infantry support coming on as third turn reinforcements (me). This allowed me to watch the initial turns, trying to take on board the lessons, occasionally asking questions.

Josh’s assault force almost, but not quite, wiped out the Hungarians. Unfortunately for him, Ran exacted a high price. When my force came on in, it was able to put paid to the bulk of the remaining Soviet armor threat, and take up good defensive positions. (I would have struggled to do this entirely unaided, but Ran’s guidance was excellent and he better deserves the credit.) That set of moves plus a flamethrower led attack that wiped out some forward Russian attackers ended the scenario.

ROAR records 17 German wins against 2 Soviet, so the outcome seems to follow the trend and suggests that the scenario is not well balanced.

Now, a pause for lessons learned.

Setup: as defender, do not setup somewhere that the attacker can use his firepower to too much effect. In this case, the Soviets start with a half-track toting 24 firepower, and that is to be avoided.

Gun crew: don’t forget final protective fire.

Tanks: don’t give the opponent a side (or rear) shot, even if it has a low chance of success.

Broken main armament: think about whether you need to repair the gun. Failure gets the tank recalled. Maybe the machine guns will do the job.

Smoke: think about the different ways this can be used, including placing smoke in an enemy occupied hex. Don’t forget vehicle smoke launchers.

Stacks: avoid, avoid, avoid.

I’m sure there were more lessons, and hopefully I have properly absorbed them. Thanks to Josh and Ran for the continuing education, and their patience.

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Wintergewitter

Recently, Ran and I played the ASL scenario Wintergewitter. It is set in December 1942 with the Russians defending a village, and having at start six squads, two half squads, two leaders, a medium machine gun, two light machine guns, and an anti-tank rifle. On game turn two, three T34-76 tanks arrive. The Germans have three squads, one half squad, two (good) leaders, a medium machine gun, and two light machine guns. But they also have four armored half-tracks and five tanks: two Panzer IV F2s, two Panzer III Js, and one Panzer IIIh.

The Russians win if, at the end of the scenario, within the village limits, they have a good order unit or a tank with its main gun still working. I was the Russians, and Ran was the Germans.

Many ASL games turn on the effectiveness of the setup. Sometimes I get it right, sometimes my setup is OK, and sometimes it is plain wrong. I have not yet mastered the art of analyzing the terrain and the situation the way experienced players can. This time, I got it wrong by trying to defend the whole village. This allowed Ran’s force to apply pressure at each point, and pick off the defenders one at a time. That was crucial. However, that wasn’t the end of the story.

So, the Germans come on and start eliminating the infantry defenders in the village. Ran uses vehicle by-pass sleaze – a very gamey but popular tactic – to freeze the defenders. One tank does this right into the hex with my anti-tank rifle. The anti-tank rifle breaks. Another infantry unit and half squad takes a low firepower shot at a hidden stack of mine. The next thing I know, my medium machine gun is out of action. Oh dear.

Ran sends his two good tanks to either side of the village, to go hull down in the wadi terrain there. That sets them up as tough targets for my tanks when they come on.

How not to set up the Russian defense in Wintergewitter

Ran slowly grinds down the defenders. My three tanks come on and swarm one German tank on the flank. One Russian tank is killed in the exchange, but I get the German defending tank and the road to the village is open.

Ran continues his grind. My two remaining tanks advance on the village, and Ran tries to bring back his other defending tank. Its main gun malfunctions and breaks and off it goes, home.

Next up, I lose one tank to a well positioned defender. My last tank must now get in to the village. Ran swarms it with his mixed bag of remaining tanks, and manages to immobilize it. Game over.

Thanks to Ran for his patience while I tried to work out – in vain – a solution to the rapidly declining fortunes of the Russian defenders.

On the dice and fate front, Ran’s sole experience was that tank gun breaking. I had the anti-tank rifle break, and also several blown sniper shots. Ran did not get a single sniper shot. I had two squads go berserk. This guaranteed their elimination as they charged into the teeth of the awesome German firepower. Heat of Battle? More like Time of Death.

I understand this is a popular tournament scenario, and can see why. It can be quite fast, and is tricky on both sides. Certainly, with a better Russian setup, it would have been more of a challenge for Ran. I still enjoyed it. ASL remains the stellar wargaming experience.

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First Cristot

Ran and I played the ASL scenario First Cristot, a June 1944 encounter between the British and the Germans. I was the German player, and Ran the British.

The British infantry start at one end of the board – eight squads, two leaders, a hero, three LMGs, and a PIAT – and have to break through the German line to climb the hilly terrain at the other end of the board to claim victory. The Germans have two SS squads, three SS half squads, a couple of leaders, a medium machine-gun, a panzerschreck, and a 50mm anti-tank gun.

Both sides have tanks. The British tanks – four Shermans and a Firefly – have advanced too far ahead of their infantry and are sitting close to where the infantry have to reach. The German tanks – two Panthers – enter on the first turn to face up to the British tanks.

The scenario – played in wet weather conditions – has one quirky rule: the British player has to choose in each turn if he will move his tanks or his infantry. Since his infantry need to get across the baord, they should get most of the movement opportunities, leaving the British tanks as sitting ducks. That simply means the British tanks have to set up well, and Ran managed it in his typically skillful way.

The scenario began with a weather roll that worsened the rain. That didn’t really affect the outcome. If it had changed by having the rain stopped, that would have hevaily favored the attacker since they could then use their smoke capability to mask their advances.

Unfortunately for me, Ran’s twin pronged approach breached my thin line on one side of the board. Led by his PIAT toting hero, he had soon cleared enough room so that the victory area was in sight.

Worse, one of my tanks had its gun malfunction. Things went from bad to worse. The Firefly killed the gun capable tank, then the other gun broke completely and it had to be recalled.

By then, the British forces were well on top and I conceded.

The next day, after checking, Ran was a gentleman and told me that his overachieving hero should have died. (It was wounded and wounded again.) That did have a major impact in cracking my defense open, but given the dreadful state of the tanks’ performance, I doubt it would have made a difference.

The posted results of the scenario favor the Germans, but I think we agreed the setup challenge for the Germans is a hard one.

As usual, I learned a lot from the game. If only I could remember it…

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ASL Catchup

It has been so long since I tried to post any ASL experiences I have quite forgotten many scenarios I have played. But, the last few I have some recollection of are as follows:

Command Schenke

Josh’s Germans attacking my defending Russians.

The victory conditions are simple enough: no unbroken Russians in the fortified building.

The setup conditions forces the Russian player to have some of his forces within easy enough range of the German offensive line, and so the Russian cannot simply hide away in the fortified building and surrounding area, and wait. There has to be some attempt at a delaying force.

Of course, if the Russians lose too many troops in that outer defense, they are doomed. Well, for that part of the game, I couldn’t really complain. I did lose some squads, but also chewed up some Germans and put their timetable under threat.

Eventually, however, it all came down to the last turn, and the last three Russian defenders. Could the Germans win? I said “Yes” and Josh said “No” so you can probably guess quite easily that Josh was wrong. It was a bit sad, because as I looked at the last turn, I could see exactly how his deadly flamethrower survivor (one had broken) and a couple of killer stacks (good leaders and assault engineers) would move and kill. And so it proved to be. The game could have gone either way on the last two close combat die rolls, but Josh got the kills he needed, and so on the last roll of the last turn he had won.

It was infuriating, but great excitement.

Josh had tied up one of my flank guards with a close combat, and that unit spent the last three or four close combats outside the fortified building, doing no good at all. However, in fairness, another Russian squad that had broken early, did manage to rally and get back in to the fortified building. Indeed, if there was a noticeable weakness in the Soviet at start forces, it was leadership. I needed the -1 leader with the HMG in the fortified building, and I swapped the other for a commissar. Where was I going to put him? In the fortified building. That meant all the outer defenders were dead, or pretty much dead, as soon as they broke. The fact I only got one back out of the six I was forced to setup up front says it all. That may hint I where my tactics were wrong: perhaps I should have retreated the outer defenders instead of mixing it up with the attackers? However, they did some damage, so I am unsure.

Throughout the game, Josh gave me several sniper opportunities of which only one (a pinning result) came to anything. He had one sniper and it also got a pin result.

Great stuff, but next time I would like to be on the winning side against Josh!

Bedburg Bite

A Canadian attacker against a German defender with mines and a chunky tank reinforcement. I played as the defender against Ran and diced my way to victory. I played as the attacker against josh and my attack was bloodily, and all too easily, repulsed.

I definitely seem to do better as the defender. So, I clearly need to play more as the attacker…

(There have been others, but they are forgotten.)

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Among the Dead

Close combat in the bitter fighting at Galatas

Close combat in the bitter fighting at Galatas

My last ASL game of 2016 was scenario J165, Among the Dead, played against Ran. It’s about an action in the May 1941 invasion of Crete, with a force of elite German infantry trying to take a position defended by a mix of New Zealand and Greek troops. I took the Germans, and Ran took the Allies.

Ran’s setup was mainly to the west, with less of a presence on the east. I looked at the terrain on the east and thought it would be too difficult to make speedy progress. So, I brought all my soldiers in on the west. That was probably the right decision, but I was too hesitant in the opening couple of turns – I should have been bolder – and was running well behind schedule.

On the third game turn, the Allies received some infantry and tank reinforcements. I had, on call, two Stukas available as air support. But I had to specify in advance when they would arrive. I chose to wait till later turns, and Ran saw that as a mistake as the tanks are at their most vulnerable when moving on to the board. My aircraft duly arrived, and with Ran having hidden his tanks in cover, the Stukas bombed the hell out of some infantry. That went quite well.

In addition, my sole anti-tank rifle performed heroically, and knocked out both Allied tanks, brewing them up and starting a late flurry of burning terrain. Suddenly, things were not looking so bad, and there was even the prospect of victory.

However, I had badly handled my other support weapons – a couple of mortars and a medium machine gun – and that meant I had not exerted enough pressure on the defenders. They were able to pull together enough of a defensive line to deny me the chance of victory.

I was pleased that I had taken things to the last turn of the game, and – of course – could once again console myself with having learned some more lessons about how to play this amazing game.

 

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Over the bridge and far away

yelnya

Recently, I had the chance to play the ASL scenario The Yelnya Bridge against Ran and Josh, as part of my continuing (and long suffering) learning experience with this amazing, challenging game system.

The scenario (set in October 1941) features a small Soviet force, defending a bridge crossing amidst rugged terrain – wooded, with a valley and hills on the Soviet side dominating much of the board. The Soviets have a bunker and a couple of trenches, a decent anti-tank gun, an MMG and 50mm mortar, a mixed bag of infantry, and badly needed reinforcements. The German attackers have to take the village (three building hexes) or exit units by passing through the defense line. They have a couple of armored cars, a couple of lightly armored tanks, and SS infantry support.

The key to the defense is the gun and bunker combination. In my first game against Ran, I set the bunker up with a limited arc that covered the bridge. That meant it did not cover a chunk of the board. So, Ran took his opportunity, got his tanks through the fire zone quickly and soon his combination of forces was too good to hold back – especially as I had no real anti-tank capability. As Ran put it:

“The rest of my advance went well against the thinly defended board. I moved as quickly as possible across the difficult terrain. Ellis did his best to reinforce the attacked area, but was one step behind the attackers. My much superior infantry, supported by armor, easily dealt with the few defenders that crossed its path, and killed a reinforcing Russian platoon that tried to block the exit. I lost one armored car to a Russian ATR, and managed to exit the other armored car, two tanks, and enough infantry to win on the last turn.”

Ran’s win.

In my second game against Josh, I learned a lot from the first encounter and, this time, set the bunker and gun up in a much better position. Josh brought his armored cars up the road to the bridge and used them to try and suppress my mortar and machine gun (who were in trenches around the bunker, on the dominating hills). As Josh put it:

“My elite (blue) SS began their assault through a valley. I should have expected it, but wasn’t really thinking when Ellis opens up from higher elevation with gun, mortar and MMG. The scariest being the mortar because of its 2-1 shots and high rate of fire. I thought this game got off to a bad start, and my troops were getting slaughtered in the valley. But those who survived found cover, and SS rally easy, so I was able to get a second wind, this time wiser.

My vehicles had trouble maneuvering and I didn’t even want to try moving my armored cars off-road with a stream in their path. They just stayed on the roads taking potshots until a two was rolled, which I got.

In the end I was able to exit off the board with the infantry requirements providing the minimum needed for the win.”

The main reason I lost here was of a stupid mistake. Josh dangled some infantry in front of my gun. I took the bait and fired. He promptly ran his armored cars up the road, across the bridge, and off the other end for a whopping ten out of the needed 16 exit points. My desperate intensive fire with the already fired gun, of course, failed. After that, it was just a matter of time.

“Ellis’s reinforcements could have saved the day. They moved in at the edge of the board where I was exiting. But half squads and significant dancing allowed me to get by them. Ellis advanced a huge concealment stack next to a unit at the edge of the board. If Ellis had advanced on the German unit instead, he would have likely killed it in close combat as he would have had 3:1 odds and been concealed. This would have denied me the exit points.”

My reinforcements could have gone for the close combat. However, that meant they were not able to defend the other part of the map edge, so Josh would have found it easier to get his other forces across the winning line.

Bottom line: two games, two defeats, and multiple lessons learned. Again!

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