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.


Over the bridge and far away


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!

The Meatgrinder


Action from my game with Josh. This is in the German second turn. They have taken the first building on the right, and have established their tanks in a hull down position. One KV-2 is in place to defend (but is about to be immobilized). Meantime, on the left, German tank reinforcements are about to cream a BT-7A, then will run into the Russian anti-tank gun…

My continuing ASL education…

Recently, I had the opportunity to play scenario AP41, The Meat Grinder, against Ran then Josh.

This two board scenario is set in Lutsk in 1941, with the Russians defending. Their forces include eight squads, two leaders, an anti-tank rifle, an LMG, and a HMG. In support, they have a couple of KV-2 tanks, a GAZ truck with a 20mm AAMG on it, and a 76LL anti-tank gun. First turn reinforcements are three lightly armed tanks: a BT-7A, and two BT-7s. The Germans have ten squads, three leaders, an anti-tank rifle, two LMGs, and a MMG. Their starting support takes the form of three Panzer IV E tanks. Their turn two reinforcements are three Panzer III tanks (and a 9-1 armor leader).

Victory is determined by casualties, with control of multi-hex buildings contributing victory points.

The Russians do not have the forces to defend everything. Generally, a forward defense is a recipe for disaster, so the trick is to defend what is likely to hold out. Then, there is a need to find a good location for the anti-tank gun, the truck borne AAMG, and a safe place to hide the weaker tanks. I was the Russian defender in both games.

The Germans have the right tools for everything but the KV-2s. However, their main enemy is time. So, they either have to get lucky by immobilizing the KV-2s, or avoid them. At the same time, they need to keep their infantry advance moving forward, while hunting down and eliminating the weaker Russian vehicles.

First off, Ran made his main effort on my left flank. That was the weakest portion of my defense, and I made a bad mistake by not shuttling more defenders towards that threat. By the time Ran told me what was going on, and I belatedly did something about it, I had lost all my tanks, and half the buildings. One KV-2 had been immobilized by fire, and one had suffered mechanical breakdown. My anti-tank gun and AAMG between them did nothing. Game over.

That experience helped me a lot in my game with Josh. I used a similar setup, but balanced the flanks so one did not look worse than the other. I also hid my anti-tank gun on one flank, and put the truck borne AAMG in a more prominent position. This time, Josh made his main effort on my right flank (of course my hidden anti-tank gun was on the other flank…) and very quickly overran the first building. However, this time I did react better, and so rushed defenders towards that main threat.

Josh did steamroller the infantry defenses, but it took time. As he fell behind in his timetable, he became more daring (aka “reckless”) with his tanks. So, by the end of the game there were almost no German tanks left. I had a KV-2 left, securing part of the field. And my two BT-7s survived, albeit one had a broken down main armament.

I was very surprised to have won, with the Germans taking 7 out of 13 victory point buildings, and inflicting way more casualties. However, Josh’s tank losses were worse. The bloody toll my infantry took was awful, but had done its job by (just) holding on to the key buildings.

This was a challenging scenario. When I look at it from the Russian perspectvie, I want to be the German player – look at all those leaders and semi decent tanks. When I look at it form the German player, I want to be the Russian – look at those KV-2s, and how do you capture all those buildings in so short a time? This would suggest the scenario is quite balanced. However, if (as happened to me) one of the Russian KV-2s breaks down, that is likely to be crucial. It’s tricky for those tanks to avoid deliberate immobilization shots, but if they can do that and avoid breaking down, the German player has his hands full.  That having been said, there are plenty of weaker Russian targets that provide the necessary victory points. As I said, a challenging scenario, and one that is fun to play. The ASL experience remains among the best in the world of games, even when I get crushed. Well, sometimes…

Thanks to both Ran and Josh for the continuing education.



The Fields of Black Gold

Over the Pesach break, Ran and I played The Fields of Black Gold, an ASL scenario set in September 1942, with the Germans attacking the Russian town of Sagopshin.

Ran’s German attackers included a dozen SS squads, three infantry leaders, two MMGs, three LMGs, five tanks, and an armor leader.

My Russians started off with eleven and a half squads, two leaders, one MMG, one mortar, two LMGs, two 76L guns, a truck to tow the guns, and seven trenches. I had turn three reinforcements of a couple of squads, an LMG, a decent leader, and six tanks.

The terrain is dominated by hilly ground in the east, and that is where I made my main line of defense. The Germans have to control all the high ground, and one of the minor hills, to get the victory.

To put it shortly, I made far too many mistakes in my setup, and Ran steadily, and inexorably, advanced and wiped me out. His tank and infantry coordination looked perfect to me, and even the temporary malfunction of one tank gun did not impede his progress.


The German combined arms assault force is about to steamroller over the Russian defenders, barely pausing for breath. Who cares about a malfunctioning tank gun?

My sniper was my most potent unit, and for ASL players that’s as sure an indication as any that things were badly handled by me.

For example:

  • I put my one hidden anti-tank gun in such a clever location, that it did not get a single shot off.
  • I put my other anti-tank gun in a place that was too far out of the action – though at least it kept the German tanks away from it – and it also did not fire a single shot.
  • My MMG was not in a dominating enough position, and was easily picked off by long distance tank fire.

To compound these setup mistakes, I didn’t deal well with the half squad swarm that Ran sent forward to flush out my entrenched defenders. That having been said, I suspect that the flawed setup was more than enough to doom the defense. It probably wasn’t possible to recover from that.

It was a rout, and I conceded well before the end.

On the plus side, I learned a lot. Of course, with the benefit of hindsight (and help from Ran) I can understand my mistakes, and see lots of way to improve the defense and offer up a better challenge. It highlights – again – how demanding the game is, and how much I have still to learn. It’s a process. A slow, painful one at times, but mixed with the incredibly intense sensation of being immersed in this wonderful, complex, enthralling game system. I love it. I just wish I was getting better at playing it, faster. Well done to Ran, for the win, and for gently showing how the game should be played.

Ah well; there’s always next time.

Continuing my ASL education

Last week, I continued my ASL education with a couple of run throughs of First Crisis at Army Group North against Ran.

Here’s Ran’s note:

It is an interesting scenario set in 1941. The Russians get 3 KV tanks armed with 76 mm guns, 4 more weak tanks, and some infantry and have to exit 3 tanks with functioning main armament to win. The Germans have 3 PZ III G’s, a 9-2 AL, a 37L AT gun that starts being towed by a halftrack, and an 88L AA gun arriving towed as a reinforcement on German turn 1.

The KVs are almost immune to everything the Germans have except the 88. But even if the Russians manage to get enough tanks past the PZ III’s and 37L gun, they still have to deal with the 88 waiting at the back, close to the Russian exit area and with good fields of fire.

We randomly picked sides and I got the Germans.

Main highlights were Germans setting the woods on fire to block a forest road, which started a huge forest fire, and a single PZ III with the 9-2 AL that took advantage of the fact that the 4 weaker Russian tank were left in motion, quite defenseless, and got close, destroying 3 out of the 4 tanks, before being sent to Valhalla by a KV that came to help his comrades.

The scenario is not well balanced and favours the Germans. After the game ended Ellis told me that he checked the scenario on ROAR and the German win loss ratio is about 4:1. Had I known this before I wouldn’t want to play the scenario, especially not as German, but as it was, I enjoyed destroying 5 Russian tanks, 3 with the 9-2 AL, one KV with the 88 and the fourth weak tank with my 37L AT gun.

What Ran is too polite to say is that we played this twice, me playing the Russians each time. First time out I made some dreadful mistakes, really screwed up, and lost before the half way point. Second time out I made different dreadful mistakes because Ran had pointed out the first batch. I had lost by the time we got to turn 5 out of 8.

It was a painful lesson, but worth enduring because it reinforced how important it is to take care and not just try things out on the spur of the moment. And I picked up some new and critical tips for tank on tank action.

Had I been more cautious, I would have lasted longer. It’s still a tough ask for the Russians, but the masochist in me wants to try again.

Regardless of the defeats, it was still an engrossing and enthralling experience. ASL is a fantastic game.

Show of Force

At start for the Soviets. The Germans are entering from the top of the picture.

At start for the Soviets. The Germans are entering from the top of the picture.

Earlier this week, Ran and I played some ASL. The following report is Ran’s, with my commentary in square brackets:

“In Jerusalem, Ellis and I played scenario AP94, Show of Force. I took the Germans and Ellis took the Russians.

Ellis set up a solid defense, with the AT gun setting up hidden with a good field of fire in one of the further away victory buildings.

I tried a very aggressive attack with tanks, armored infantry, and the flame throwing tank, but it didn’t work. Early in the game I shot up a T34 after had it had destroyed a 75* PZ 3 and an empty halftrack.

[I held fire with the concealed T34 for as long as I could, until presented with many point blank targets. Ran suggested, and I think he was probably right, I should have taken earlier shots at the oncoming vehicles. That way, the tank might have survived a little longer. When it did drop concealment, it was pretty well doomed. But it did get a critical hit on that Panzer III.

Also, setting up the T34 in the woods badly affected the follow on shots, when I needed to swivel the damn turret!]

I suffered gun malfunction with my Tiger and a 75L Panzer 4 very early, before they managed to do much in the game.

[The balance of luck definitely favored me.]

I made 3 attacks with my flame throwing tank without making any substantial damage.

[As I said, the balance of luck definitely favored me. One target, a solitary 5-2-7 squad, survived no less than four morale check results, at least one of which was a +2, and a couple of +1s.]

In the Russian DfPh of German game turn 3, I lost my flame throwing tank to the hidden 76L AT gun. (A 2 was needed for a hit, and a 2 was rolled, but even had Ellis missed, I would have probably lost it on the next Russian Prep fire phase).

With both the Tiger and a Pz 4 with malfunctioned MA, and having lost the flame throwing tank, while Ellis hasn’t suffered substantial losses, I felt I had no assets left against Ellis’s effective defense, and I quit.

[My losses were, from memory, the ELR of one squad. I had no doubt that Ran would, eventually, clear the Victory locations, but not in the time available. 

I was reasonably happy with my setup, but know that there were a few occasions when I decided to hold fire and keep the defenders concealed, and should have taken the shot. Ran is way more skilled than me, and it showed, especially, in the way he handled his tanks. I had some reinforcements that he effectively shut out, then shot up! But, maybe I could claim they did their bit, as keeping them tied up did decrease the time available to his attacking forces.

I am pretty sure that if we set the game up the same way, and he tried the same approach, barring a repeat of my lucky rolls, the end result would have been quite different.]

I enjoyed the game and the challenge, as well as lighting Chanukah candles.

[ASL plus Chanukah candles; a winning combination! Thanks to Ran (and family) for the hospitality and the game.]


All the Stops

Last week, I got together with Josh to play some ASL. He had chosen scenario WO13 (All the Stops) from a Winter Offensive Action Pack. This is set in late 1944, and features a platoon of Lend-Lease Sherman’s supporting a reinforced company of Soviets in their attempt to break through the German line. The defenders are some SS PanzerGrenadiers, complete with an anti-tank gun armed half track, mortar, a PSK (bazooka like anti-tank weapon), the usual panzerfaust availability, and a couple of self propelled guns and a half-squad as reinforcements. The scenario is played on board 67, with a good mix of terrain, and plenty of decent defensive positions.

I took the Soviet side, and Josh had his German defenders all set up and ready to go when I arrived.

Ready, steady, go!

Ready, steady, go!

My plan was to use one tank as a  firebase, and advance with the others in support of the infantry. I concentrated on the left flank, hoping to overwhelm the defense there.

The Soviets get a cut down version of artillery in the scenario, and its initial barrage blew a hole in the defense line. Unfortunately, the casualties were all dummies. However, it meant I now had a fairly complete knowledge of what was real, and my tank had no targets. I sent one tank on as a probe, and was somewhat surprised that it made its way through the defenses. I followed up with the other two, but lost one to some close range fire from the anti-tank gun.

Close up of starting positions, showing artillery zone and Josh's dummy defenders (so to speak!)

Close up of starting positions, showing artillery zone and Josh’s dummy defenders (so to speak!)

The artillery must fire in the indicated zone in turn one. After that it gradually moves towards the German base line. It is harassing fire from a 70mm weapon, so its attacks are not deadly most of the time. But if you roll often enough… And, there were occasions when I had to move Soviets units through their own artillery fire.

I ran the tanks off the far side to claim some VPs. That gave me 4 VPs (I needed 12 for the win) and I was hoping to gt the rest from my infantry breaking through in the same way. It was not to be.

First, his sniper wounded one of my leaders. Then his sniper killed one of my leaders. Then the squad toting the HMG went berserk and charged to its death. I also ran in to some skillful skulking by Josh, though his handy mortar broke down (twice) and the harassing artillery did a damn fine job of keeping things close.

I did not get a single sniper attack throughout the scenario.

The real blow to me was that when I made the final push, I had to face a MG fire lane. That did not go well for the Soviets.

I managed to get one squad through, but a quick calculation showed that I could only get 10 VP maximum. The board was littred with broken Soviet squads, and a distinct lack of leaders to rally them. If only more infantry had broken through…

A good win for Josh, though I am sure I did not handle the attack as well as I could. I know I made a mistake in leaving the HMG behind, and I failed miserably, to deal with his skulking defenders. Josh suggested that I should not have run the tanks off so early, but used them to support the infantry. That’s probably good advice.

Despite the loss, as always it was great fun. Great fun.

Marder martyrs

Ran and I played Marders not Martyrs, a Ken Dunn designed scenario from Journal No 7, featuring a small Russian infantry and tank force trying to cut through an even smaller German infantry and tank force, on board v. I was the defending Germans, and Ran took the Russians.

Although still very much an ASL learner, my setup wasn’t too bad. I discussed some ideas with Ran, and he pointed out the weakness of most. I put my two Marders on a hill, with a good field of fire. I split the infantry into a front line, and a backstop of 9-1 leader, squad, and HMG in the top level of the building on M7. The latter gave it a commanding position, but also made it an easy to see target. Tough choices all round.

Good things: I remembered to get hull down positions for my tanks.

Bad things: I stuck the armor leader on board. It wasn’t crucial, but the right approach is to assign it using a side note, and only reveal it when it makes a difference.

Ran’s setup featured sticking his mortar where it could fire on the Marders, and the rest of the infantry as far forward as permitted. Time is one of the enemies the Russians must overcome in this scenario.

At start

At start

The scenario opened with Ran’s mortar homing in one of the Marders, and making a right nuisance of itself. In the movement phase, on came the four Russian KV tanks, staying out of line of fire for now. The infantry advanced up close and personal to my thin front line.

In my turn, I decided to fire on the mortar with one of the Marders. That was a mistake. I did break the squad (and reduce it) but ran out of HE ammo for one of the Marders. Ran pointed out I should have used the HMG to keep the mortar quiet.

My front line skedaddled, and took up positions further back.

In turn two, the Russian tanks came into view of one of my tanks – they were cleverly positioned so only one of my Marders had a view – and a firefight ensued. I managed to shock one of his tanks, but it later recovered.

After this, I made a fateful mistake. With all the Russian tanks and the mortar having acquired one of the Marders, I decided discretion was the better part of valor, and tried to reverse out and re-position that tank. The starting MP alone forfeited the hull down cover, and defensive fire turned it into a wreck. As Ran gently chided me, I should have stayed and swapped gunshots, knowing the tank was going to be eliminated anyway.

Next up, Ran tried to defeat my remaining Marder by applying all four of his tanks to that mission, and moving up close. However, in retrospect, that may have been a mistake. The Russian infantry was now in range of the Marder and threatening it. So, he could have waited another turn. To add insult to injury, although my remaining Marder broke its main gun, it did manage to eliminate three of the KVs. And, to further torment Ran, my infantry was having great success in breaking his attackers. Although my Marder repaired its main gun, this was just in time for it to be wiped out. Ran did a quick count and reckoned he could not win, as he did not have enough VPs available to exit the map.

A battlefield littered with destroyed Russian tanks (OK, and German tanks) and broken Russian infantry

A battlefield littered with destroyed Russian tanks (OK, and German tanks) and broken Russian infantry

I think that is my first win against Ran, though it was achieved with his help so I avoided some bad play. That having been said, even if I had lost – and it could have gone either way – once again, it was a wonderful, intense, and enjoyable gaming experience. Just damn great fun.

Thanks to Ran for the hospitality, the game, the experience, and his patience!

Eviction notice


At last, back to some ASL action.

Ran and I played Eviction Notice, a scenario from Valor of the Guards, a Stalingrad centered historical campaign package. Fortunately, the scenario is a modest affair, so easily playable in a single session.

Ran took the German defenders, a mix of elite and first line infantry, a smattering of support weapons, and a puny 37L anti-tank gun. However, the door-knocker has the ability to fire special (deadly!) ammunition, so it is a fairly material consideration for the attacker to be aware of.

Attacker? That was me, trying to take control of some buildings just next to Ran’s defensive line. I also had a mix of elite and first line infantry, some support weapons, and a trio of tanks. Two were light (T50s, I think) and one was the pretty decent T34/76.

Generally, I like the ASL map art. However, the historical modules are even better and Valor of the Guards map is no exception. It definitely adds to the experience.

So far as play is concerned, my opening turn was awful. I am still making too many novice errors. For example, I needed to be more aggressive without being reckless. How to do that does not come easy, particularly as part of the solution involves taking your tanks and driving them into the teeth of the enemy defenses.

I was not helped by failing every single morale check that my troops had to take – I think up until turn three or four! – though this was somewhat ameliorated by poor Ran losing his machine gun to breakdown.

After the first turn, Ran gave me some practical advice. That helped a lot, and I began to exert some pressure.

My tanks became more aggressive, forcing the anti-tank gun to pop up and have a shot. Thankfully Ran ran out of special ammunition, so that threat faded away. Instead, Ran blew up one of my tanks with a demolition charge.

The other two tanks did sterling work in supporting my infantry as they began to take ground from the Germans.

The last turn of the game saw Ran with two stacks in the target victory point building hexes, and my assaulting forces stymied. One remaining tank failed the required task check to move. The other could not do enough on its own. Also, Ran had some forces in the two cellars, and they are especially difficult to winkle out.

However, it was a lot closer than it looked in the first turn, so I was reasonably happy. In summary, still losing, but learning. And having a great time. What a great game this is.