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.”
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!