Monday, September 21, 2020

The Battle of the River Mius 1943 with Rommel

 Ken and I played through a full game of Sam Mustafa's "Rommel" over the last 2 x weeks, making this a truly celebratory post as we successfully played through turns 1 through 8 last week and completed 9 through 16 this past weekend.  We played the "River Mius" scenario from the outstanding  Hexes and Miniatures website, which I will link to on the right side of my blog.  This post is part battle report, but mostly a collection of our thoughts on the game.

Soviet HQs/ Supply Source - Made for Rapid Fire as the 307th Infantry Division CP

What Happened?

The Battle takes place in Ukraine, 1943 along the Mius River with the Soviets making post-Kursk drives attempting to take advantage of an off-balance German Army.  Both sides are well-equipped for this titanic showdown and we fielded the better part of 2 x Divisions on the table (Rommel is an operational-level game where stands are companies).  I felt that the OOB lended itself nicely for beginner play (and conveniently I had all of the elements in the OOB painted and ready to rock and roll).  The Germans must hang on to two of their objectives, and capture 2 x Soviet objectives.  The Soviets must hold 4 objectives, and 1 of those objectives must be a German one.  The stage is set!

Germans coming from the right - Soviets the left.  I used flocked pennies to mark the grid - yellow dice are German objectives - Red dice are Soviet

Three units are allowed in a square.  Units of the same "element" such as brigade, must try to fight together or they are penalized.

I sent my units forward very aggressively along non-supporting axes to try and dislodge Soviet battalions (squares with 2 or 3 stands) from their objectives. I found out the hard way that armor should not fight in a city without support, nor should they try to move through forests without accompanying infantry.  Rommel has a really neat combat system that kind of works like a boardgame (the whole game really almost feels like a boardgame).  I have to say infantry really is the centerpiece of the game, as it probably was the war.  Your armor is always sexier, but your infantry have tremendous staying power and attacking power. 

I have to admit that it's easy in a board wargame to overlook the infantry especially when you have armor and mech battalions, but in Rommel you cannot make that mistake.  You're forced to use combined arms attacks if you want to make any dents in enemy positions.  You'll also need to set up 3:1 odds to dislodge an enemy - something a textbook or field manual once told me when i was a cadet.

Armor in a city fights at a disadvantage but this was a first game!  I regret nothing!  ATTACK!

It's easy to be surprised in Rommel at just how good your German armor is, until you end up losing it all if you're not smart about conserving it!  German armor units are incredibly powerful but you'll never have enough of them.  Ken played very smartly with his armor and was able to commit his armor where he could make a breakthrough, which I'd argue he almost did in the center but we reached the end of the game. In this manner, the game forces you to have a plan and to think.  I'm quite sure I've never played a wargame quite like it and I am looking forward to playing again, albeit in 6mm.

One of the really neat things about Rommel though, besides the combat and the scale, is the ability to "buy" tactical options and events.  This, we felt, really imparted nice WWII detail to the game and added to the narrative.  For example, when assaulting in the city, I purchased, for 1 Operations Point, "flamethrowers" which allowed me a +1 column shift when assaulting in an urban environment.  It's things that like that make the game even more fun and add an element of tension/gambling as you don't know if your opponent will spend an op to purchase a defensive tactic.

Look at that massive armored force going into the attack!  This would make an excellent game to fight out a big battle during the Kursk or Bagration offensives

A huge tank battle! 
As the action unfolded, I found myself struggling to capture objectives that were seized by Ken's Soviet infantry - 2 x companies or stands worth of troops holding against 3 stands attacking with modest artillery support.  As I learned throughout the game, if you want to breakthrough and capture an objective, you have to be willing to "pay" for it in terms of spending Operations points to buy subsequent tactical phases and throwing in fresh troops to set up multiple attacks against the objective.  Literally needing almost 3:1  advantage to cause the kinds of hits you need to destroy enemy units, otherwise you'll find yourself in a grinding battle of attrition that a professional army most dreads (and one that the Germans are not suited to winning).

Took me the whole game to take this objective and it took me attacks with almost 9 stands! 

Ken focused his efforts on capturing 2 German objectives - on my left and in my center and his generous use of artillery and fresh reserves earned him a hard-won victory.  As fpr me, I learned what it takes to fight and win as a WWII general on a WWII battlefield.  Rommel gets you that close and puts you in the command post of the Army headquarters, making decisions about where to attack, how to attack, and what your fireplan is to support your attacks.  I cannot say better things about this game!

Desperate German armored attacks going in!

Soviets trying to overrun a German objective!

A Soviet breakthrough effectively surrounds a German objective!

Anyone who reads my posts knows how much I like the narrative or storyline created by a wargame.  Wargames that have clever mechanisms and features easily create that narrative and I think that's something I appreciated so much about Rommel, that and it caters to my megalomania of being able to put an entire battle on a 6 x 4 table!  Just needs 6mm forces or 10mm forces as I think it would look much better.  Both Ken and I really liked and appreciated the game which I think delivers on its goals and promises.  If you enjoy WWII history, you should purchase or borrow this game, read it and play it - you owe it to yourself!

Monday, September 7, 2020

The Battle of Wagram: Day 2 Center - Oudinot's Attack

My buddy Alex was over Sunday night for some Napoleonic gaming goodness with a tiny slice of the Battle of Wagram on the table.  I haven't seen Alex since pre-Covid days and it was good to get a game in with him. 

For the battle, we used a scenario from the Michael Hopper Shako 1809 scenario book (Blood Along the Danube) and literally singled out a 2' by 4' sliver of battle featuring Oudinot's forces under Grandjean assaulting the heights beyond the Russbach and Baumersdorf.  

The entire battlefield to the right - two feet wide and 4 feet long.  The Russbach divides the setup areas and the heights are clearly visible.  Baumersdorf on the French side guards the bridge which Cavalry and Artillery need to cross.

We put the venerable Eagles Cheaper than Brain Cells through its paces with another historical matchup, and I also got to use my singly-based Napoleonic 10mm stands, which turned out pretty nice if I do say so myself!

The French, with 12 units, will receive 2D6 orders per turn while the Austrians will receive 1D6+2.  The French have 12 units and the Austrians have only 8.  The French set up beyond a low set of hills awaiting the order to commence the assault.  The Austrians are up on the high ground awaiting the attack.

Red dice are orders for the Austrians.  Blue dice are orders for the French.

Opening the game, Alex pushes all of his artillery atop the hill overlooking the valley and the Austrian positions.  It's literally a perfect spot for the French Artillery to bombard.  He weights his left with the bulk of his infantry, and pushes a Brigade forward to occupy Baumersdorf, which the Austrians have recently evacuated.  

A gorgeous firing position!

The Shako scenario stipulates that the French must have "a unit" on the heights by 1240 hours.  In this instance, we kept the original 15 turn limit and said the French must have a brigade on the upper heights of the field.

The Austrians arrayed along the hills awaiting the French onslaught.  The Austrian gunners are about to open fire on the French who will advance into their shot!

A Brigade of Pendraken French painted by Jack

Almost reached the town!

I love this picture!  French approaching the Russbach while the Austrians look on

Austrian Grenzers fire at the French along the Russbach!

Shelling Baumersdorf!  Note the Austrians on the other side of the Bridge to oppose the crossing

It takes Alex about 3 turns to get into position to launch an assault against the heights from Baumersdorf.  His troops form into assault columns in the shattered village and charge the bridge!

French preparing to assault the heights!
A hardcore French volley Disorders the Grenzers (yellow hit die) who will have to fall back

Note the yellow die on the left-  that's the Grenzers who were forced back by ranged fire.  The French going into turn 5 are in excellent position to launch the assault.

Here they come!  French cross the Russbach in force - voltiguers on the right of picture

As in the actual battle, the French storm the heights but vicious Austrian counterattacks make life tough for them to stay.  A French brigade charges with elan across the bridge and secures a toe-hold on the heights!  They're promptly sent back by the elite Grenadiers of the infantry reserve.

Alex moving his infantry up to assault the hill!

French toe hold on the lower heights

A breakthrough on turn 5!
Turn 6 sees the Austrian grenadier counterattack which eliminates the French breakthrough.  The Grenadiers, supposedly the infantry center reserve, are now holding the line.

Grenadiers counterattacking into the French Breakthrough!

Situation turn 6.  Grenadiers hold the heights and the French were pushed back in heavy fighting.

General Brady moves to straighten out the line - but will he have the orders?  And will the French let him?

Alex has a battery go "out of ammo" by rolling a "1" on their ammo die.  They'll need to spend an order to resupply the guns but Alex is also short on orders now, as units within 1 BW of an enemy require 2 x orders to carry out an action!

left French battery go silent.

Alex's feint in the center has worked so far and his infantry begin to roll up the Austrian right.  Meanwhile, Alex throws in his reserve Dragoons at the Grenadiers, who are ordered.  That means they can use their order die to fire before the melee, or they can use it as an extra combat die in the fighting.  They shoot - and to great effect, scoring 3 disordering hits!  The Dragoons are now -1 die for the rest of the game.

High drama and excitement as the French Dragoons crash into the Austrian Grenadiers!

Warm work in the center as the French also charge the Austrian battery on the heights.  They'd be successful in the combat ( in Eagles, guns always lose melee regardless of hits) but would break themselves carrying the position.  

The ordered Austrian guns fire a deadly volley of grapeshot into the advancing French.  The French win the combat but at a high price!

By turn 8 the battle is shifting to the right of the Austrian positions now as the French try and flank the main hill position.

Alex unleashes a deadly assault against the flank of the Austrians with his infantry reserve, including his elites, denoted by a stand of Carabiniers here and Voltiguers in the foreground.

Baden troops bringing up the rear!

If this doesn't look "napoleonic" I dont know what does.  Infantry gathering to assault the heights!

It's worth mentioning here that we tried out a cool feature Alex has worked into his other rules called the "respite" or a lull in the fighting.  Anytime players tie on an initiative roll, the turn is advanced by 1, and every unit may attempt to rally.  This happened 3 times in this game and while the Austrians didn't make every roll, they rolled critical "6s" where they needed, losing 2 hit points.

Austrian line now oriented towards the right.  Guns were pulled back to the main heights.
by turn 10, it's obvious the Austrians will likely lose.  Alex has fresh brigades to introduce so perhaps the time is right to move the Cavalry up!

Both French batteries go out of ammo now.

Alex assaults the guns and moves his infantry in, securing a lodgement on the greater heights.  A last-minute charge by the Austrian cuirassiers pushes a French Brigade back, but it's too little too late! The French still have a brigade of Dragoons to throw into the fray and my Cuirassier are promptly destroyed! The French hold the heights with a comfortable margin.  Oudinot will receive his Marshall's Baton!

When you return to the Army HQs, tell Charles I really like these rules and must insist upon them for the next battle!

All told this game took about 3 and a half hours to complete - perfect for an evening's game.  I feel as if the battle demonstrated the versatility of the "Eagles" rules with lots of cool features to keep the game interesting like the switching initiatives, batteries running out of ammo, and bonus dice for certain combat advantages.  It was nice to play a grinding, attritional slugfest like Wagram where fancy maneuvers and battlefield trickery give way to courage, valor, and ignoring the sickening feeling in your stomach as the assault goes in under shot and shell!

In Eagles, Maneuver and movement is very loose, allowing for sweeping maneuvers that you would expect on a Napoleonic battlefield.  Shooting keeps the game moving and both Alex and I were musing that the rules would be perfect for a big battle, and with the single based units there is no fiddling with bases or formations.

Also the turn sequence is such that you can pick the order of your actions, bombarding the enemy with artillery and softening him up before going in with your infantry, and then cleaning up with Cavalry.

I am very much looking forward to more games with Eagles, and also taking them into the future.  I hope you enjoyed reading as much as I enjoyed playing the game and writing about it!

Today is Labor Day in the US, and Ken and I were supposed to play Sam Mustafa's "Rommel" but my wife is under the weather and I'm on kid duty.  That gives me more time to prep the forces for next week.  I also am moving forward with the single based Napoleonic units in 10mm - I think they looked incredible on the table and am very pleased with the results.  For now, more AWI painting (1 more unit till DONE!), SYW and Napoleonic 10mm painting, and prep for the Germantown MEGA GAME to be held in December.  I also have some other surprises on the back burner which I've moved to the front burner lately so stay tuned!  Lots of great gaming goodness coming up, including some highlights from the "Simple Wargaming" project.

Saturday, September 5, 2020

Simple Wargame #5: Tigers at Minsk

The Simple Wargaming experiment marches on with a quick game of Norm's excellent "Tigers at Minsk" rules.  Admittedly this was played with Squad Leader counters on a Squad Leader board but I think it highlights the versatility of the system quite well and could easily be played with minis if I had taken the time to set it up!

I labeled TaM as "least simple" since it has many rules and functions but the main elements of the rules are very easy to pick up.  Elements (squads or vehicles) can carry out 1 action per turn, assuming they are in command, or pass a command roll.  

I found some terrain boards that loosely resembled the infantry-only "Follow the Elefants" scenario from the TaM rule book and took out the counters that matched the OOB and presto!  I was fighting in 5 minutes.  I ended up playing 2 x games with alternating approaches to see which was more successful.  I think I might have added 15 minutes to the overall clock since there are more hexes to cover in this game than in the original scenario.

The attackers have the challenge of crossing open ground to their front, with cover on the left and right.  That cover is suspiciously inviting but the attacker must cognizant of the fact that the cover is also observed by the machine guns of the defending Soviets.

Game 1 - the Germans go left with a platoon-sized element of 3 squads.  The leader serves as a marker.

The Soviets must defend the large wooden structure in the lower right.  They have covered the approaches with 2 x medium machine guns in cover along with 2 x rifle squads.  The Germans have placed their HMG in a central position to do the most damage and cover the approach.  Will it work?

The markers from the board game "Squad Leader" are literally perfect for TaM - here is an "opportunity fire" marker put on the Soviet MMG so I can remember.  Note a German squad pinned (Broke) in the upper right!

The Germans make smoke on their left to shield the squads as they cross a linear danger area that is swept by Russian MG fire.  Rolling after the smoke, the Germans have lost their ability to make smoke for the rest of the game!  That's gonna hurt!  The Germans spend an inordinate amount of time trying to suppress Russian defenses and every time they attempt to exit cover they are fire at by Russians, who come up with an alternating approach of rifle fire one turn, and MG fire another.  The German commander wishes he'd tried going right instead of left for this game.  The first game ends in a solid German defeat as the time runs out with the loss of only 1 German squad and no Soviets lost!

For game 2, Hauptman Weitzel attempts a different approach and sends the maneuver elements over to the right with the base of fire a bit more controlled.

Starting game 2 - Germans moving into position!

Soviet squad on the left flank fails command test!  They cannot remove their opportunity fire marker!

Soviets move a squad up to the stone wall to bolster the defense of  Sure - it's a big wooden Russian church.

German shooting pins the Soviet squad at the stone wall!

After intense shooting, the Germans pin the flank guarding squad on the Soviet left, throw smoke, and move into the assault!  They had another excellent round of shooting as well and pin the Soviet MMG, and a squad.  Can the Landsers knock out this stubborn Soviet squad in melee?

With the MMG pinned, there won't be a better time to assault!

11:34am - The Soviets successfully defend their position and the German squad is knocked out!

Amazingly, the Soviets failed to unpin their MMG and there are more German squads stacked up to assault.  They would go on to lose the melee!  The MMG unpins and the Soviets hold.  The Germans reached their morale breakpoint and fall back.  The second game ended after an amazing number of rounds of cut & thrust knife fights around the woods outside the village.  The Germans made it much closer than they did in the first round, but still could not bring the victory home! 

The Questions!
The moment you've all been waiting for!  The simplicity questions.

How long did the game last?
I played 2 games, coming in at about one hour and fifteen minutes of play for 2 games.  Bear in mind there are about 6 or less units on a side.

What was the scenario?
Follow the Elefants July, 1943 from the Tigers at Minsk rulebook - but on a different map using Squad Leader and the original SL counters.

What happened?
The Germans attempt to seize a large wooden church in a nameless Russian village.  After a failed attempt to flank the position from the left, they launch a more determined attack along their right.  The Soviets put up a very stubborn and dogged resistance.  Fate, which seemed to stack against the Russians, couldn't match excellent Russian hand to hand fighting which saw off the Germans.  This read just like a world war 2 history with determined German army attacks, and desperate and hard-fought Soviet defenses winning out.  Undoubtedly, the Germans will bring in tanks or more firepower next as this was too tough a nut to crack!

Extraordinary Events
There were many!  After a round of outstanding preparatory suppressive fires in game 2, the Germans were able to pin the Soviet target squad guarding the Russian flank in game 2, along with their big and scary MMG.  It's textbook and worked out exactly the way the field manuals say it's supposed to.  I'm thinking "this is it! Go Go Go!" and launch the attack against the pinned Soviet squad who, as Von Mellenthin remarks in his seminal book "Panzer Battles" surprises me with dogged and determined resistance.  The German attacking squad is knocked out.  The Germans shoot their bolt after the unsuccessful melee and after sending in 2 x more squads, they fail to knock out the Russian squad or take the position.  

Who Won?  Why?
The Soviets won both games.  The first game saw the Germans run out of time completely and that was the result of "going left" instead of right.  Now that I think about it, that was an incredibly stupid maneuver since they'd have to traverse not only the east-west axis of the battlefield, but then turn and fight their way south.  Going up the right in game 2 was a smarter call.  The Soviet victory in game 2 was not as easily gained.  This is a very difficult scenario for the Germans to win in the TaM rulebook and this battle was no different.  

Did you enjoy the game?
Absolutely.  I hope you can infer that from reading that I love these rules and heartily recommend you try them out.  Tigers at Minsk is an excellent recreation of World War II tactical combat and realistically ties in solving company-level problems, resource management, and the relationship of fire and maneuver perfectly and in an elegant way.  It's one of my absolute favorite WWII games.

Advanced Questions
How many consultations occurred with the rules?  
Many - I dont play enough TaM, even with infantry-only forces, to have them completely memorized.  So I had to re-orient myself to a few key rules in order to ensure I was playing correctly.  I will note that game 2 played much more quickly than game 1.

Details and chrome that's missing
None.  I mean that sincerely.  TaM is the full package and gives you everything you need to play hex-based, company-level battles (maneuver is 2 levels down and you are ordering squads) and solve tactical challenges like a World War 2 Company Commander.  This is also one of the reasons I graded them "least simple" due to the chrome and extra rules.  Make NO mistake about it though, TaM are simple rules to learn and very easy to pick up and play!  

Final Thoughts
A very enjoyable game with a solid and simple system that earns high marks on this blog.  If you have not played Tigers at Minsk, do yourself a favor, check my links on the right of the blog and surf over to them and download.