Saturday, October 8, 2022

Valour & Fortitude First Playthrough!

Ken and I played our first game of "Valour & Fortitude" today  - something I've been very much looking forward to doing (especially with Ken's outstanding 15mm Napoleonic figures based for LaSalle).   If you've been reading Norm's Blog, you'll remember he recently reviewed and playtested these rules, and gave an excellent accounting of his battle on his blog post here.

 So what are "Valour & Fortitude?"  V&F are a set of simple Napoleonic rules from the Perry Brothers and Jervis Johnson who teamed up to design a short set of rules that could fit on 4 pages and avoids what the author calls "f**kwittery".  Click on the rules link if you want to know more! (especially what f**wittery is).  Also I should mention that the rules, army lists, and scenarios are free...


Ken and I played the "Assault" scenario today, with 100 points on the table.  This was enough for me to field 3 small French Brigades and Ken to field 3 small Austrian Brigades.  My task organization looked like this:

1st Brigade:

2 x Line Infantry Battalions*

2nd Brigade:

1 x Line Infantry Battalion, 1 x Light Infantry Battalion, 1 Field Artillery Battery

3rd (Bavarian) Brigade:

3 x Line Infantry Battalions

*understrength brigade, although I didn't know it at the time...

With Ken as the defender, he received 1 reinforcing Brigade starting on turn 2 and I had no idea what he purchased.

We diced and I ended up being the attacker.  I started with all my Brigades on the table.  The table is bisected by a river and there are 4 x objectives across the table, placed by Ken and I.  My plan is to go straight for the hilltop objective and the town objectives (the 2 x hardest).  I have a center Brigade which can go left or right, depending on the situation.  I originally opted for larger brigades, but since the minimum is 2 Battalions, I instead created another (Ken's suggestion.  This turned out to be a great idea and gave me much more tactical flexibility than I would have had with 2 larger brigades.

Table at end of French Turn 1 - Bavarians in column already halfway across the table.  The Center Brigade failed its command test (rolled a 1) and so can only move 1 bound since they are in march column.  The Brigade on the right has not yet gone.

Ken has a Brigade of Grenadiers in the village and that's going to be a tough nut to crack but I want to learn the game and so I plan on going after it anyways!  Movement and SHooting are very generous (these rules meant for 28mm Perry figures (naturally!)

So far, so good.  Ken and I are liking the features of the rules, the "maneuver" options and not-fiddly movement rules.  I move up my artillery behind the swamp on the right to fire at the town.  The artillery fire is underwhelming and I dont score a single hit.

Bavarians on the left headed for the hill objective.

My center brigade fails its activation roll, and so can only move 1 bound since they're in march column.

THe rules are subtle and slick, well thought out.  These aren't "One Hour Wargames" simple - they force you to think about your options.  The system oozes its similarities with Black Powder, but goes Black Powder one better with possibilities to act even when you fail your activation roll, and the fire phase going BEFORE activation!  Also, if you do fire, you can't "maneuver", only assault or rally.  Gone also are the "buckets of dice" and instead changed with a number of firing dice and a number of melee dice that can be added to, or taken away from.  There are also no saving throws.

Artillery fire was underwhelming.  1D6 and I failed to score a single hit for the entire game.  I'll have a discussion with the Battery commander later today...


Unlike in Norm's VF game, we used the straight out of the box ranges and distances, and so units had their 12" shooting range.  It's very easy.  Roll your firing dice, score a 4+.  Units in cover don't count the first hit scored against them.  That will prove tough, especially fighting against Austrians...

On the left, the Bavarians have secured the objective but Ken's reinforcements come on - on my flank!  Ken is going for the farther objective so I'm redeploying the Bavarians to counter them.  Meanwhile, I'm setting up an assault against the town.

Bavarians at the hill

Preparing for an assault against the town.  Note the center Brigade in assault column readying to assault across the brigade. 


Ken and I fought our first melee.  At first blush, the French looked like they won because I scored 4 hits.  Ken tied me with 4 hits.  The rules state that the attacker wins ties (which is in itself pretty cool) however there is the cover rule which states that in cover you ignore a hit against you.  As Ken read through the rules, it was not immediately clear if you counted the initial hits scored, or the actual damage done to the unit (IE after the cover bonus).  The "Resolving Fights" section, 7.2, states that "to resolve a fight, carry out attacks with the active unit, then carry out attacks with the target if it is fighting back, then determine the result, and then apply losses.  

By talking through this, we assumed that you count the initial, successful hits.  Meaning that Ken received the cover benefit and 1 of my hits did not count.  So Ken scored 1 more hit than me.  This also brought me to 5 hits for my French Battalion with a Tenacity of 4, meaning I'm shaken at 4 and had to take a valor test for receiving an additional hit above my Tenacity level.  The Battalion routed and left the field.

Ken's tough Austrian Grenadiers in the town  Also the 6mm buildings looked cool even with the 15mm troopers

uh-oh - Ken had Cavalry coming too!  This was am unpleasant surprise

We started marking units that fired so we'd remember we couldn't maneuver with them

My Bavarians moving out to deal with the Austrians who arrived on the flank

Note the 5 hits on the Austrians.  Ken fails an attempt to rally a hit off but even survives an assault from my Legere.  Ouch!

By now we hit 430pm, the time we set to end the game.  A neat and unexpected feature of this game is that you literally call when you want the game to end.  1 hour, 2 hours, 4 hours, etc.  You then calculate victory based on number of brigades you forced off the field, and objectives seized.  Ken had me sorely beaten, with 3 objectives to 1.  My brigade that assaulted the town had 2 setbacks, and was almost ready to make a Fortitude test (and I just realized my 2 x Battalion brigades were "understrength" and so were actually already wavering.

We called the game at 430pm, right on time.  Austrian victory!

Thoughts

I really enjoyed this game, and I think Ken did as well.  For a 4 page or 5 page rule set, there is alot of cool nuance and features in this ruleset.

I really liked the movement rules.  They are super flexible and generous (read that as not fiddly) and you can get to maneuvering your figures and fighting.

Speaking of fighting, the Austrians with the tenacity of 5 are really tough, and the Grenadiers are tougher.  I wish I would have set up supports better, and probably have gone against the town with the Bavarian brigade since it had more battalions (you can have up to 3 x supports, meaning 3 more D6 in the melee).  I enjoyed looking at this like a problem to solve and being forced to whittle down the enemy before attacking.

The fate cards were cool, but we ended up forgetting about them.  Something that will probably evolve as we get more comfortable with the rules.

I'm a bit confused about when to take certain tests and the different names but that's nothing a simple read through won't fix.  The rules are surprisingly packed full of stuff for only having a few pages of text.

It's instantly apparent to me that these rules will happily and readily support big battles with lots of battalions and units.  I imagine that's where their strength comes in - Brigades that melt away from failing a Fortitude test speed up the gameplay considerably and efficient play seems to be part of the design ethos of this game (note I did not say fast-play - but rather efficient play).

Anyways, I'd love to take some of the bigger Shako scenarios out for a spin with these rules.  Ken is convinced that the sequence of play will work for other periods and I have to agree with him.  There is alot of room for chrome and other upgrades with this system.

Is this Black Powder "Lite?" Time to deal with the gorilla in the room.  I don't think so.  I think the designers took aspects of Black Powder that were a bit more unpopular or controversial with players and made adjustments erring on the side of simplicity and/or brevity.  FIring occurs before movement.  Units in march column may act (BP2 remedies this I think) even after failing their activation roll.  Units have their own character and are not completely generic.

All in all, this is a fun game with an epic scope in a tight, 5 page package.  And for the price, you absolutely cannot beat it.









Thursday, October 6, 2022

LARIAT ADVANCE!

 

Clearly it's a map - but for what purpose?

Some of you are old enough to remember times before COVID and my glorious Ponyri Station Firestorm Campaign.  Looks like I just couldn't leave "well enough" alone.  We're pushing the clock ahead 39 years to 1984... International tensions are rising to the boiling point, and while the weather is cooling off, the military situation is heating up. For those not familiar with the concept of a "Firestorm Campaign" here is some reading from the Battlefront folks. We use a campaign map to generate tabletop battles and the results matter for future battles. Players also take the role as generals and there is an overall commander who will dedicate "firestorm resources" (reinforcements) and make decisions as to where to make critical attacks.

The Ponryi Firestorm a number of years ago was what I could only describe as a wargaming adventure that, if you haven't seen, please do yourself a favor and check out the links below and follow the Firestorm Campaign tag on this blog to read about the seven week wargaming journey taking place on the northern shoulder of Kursk.                                                                                                                    

I'm brainstorming the campaign rules now and will potentially have some openings in the future for command positions. More posts to follow that will explain more details about how the campaign will go.

For those who want to join in, we don't require any particular rules, minis, or scale to be used. You can play what you want and with what you have, provided it's "Cold War" themed. The Ponyri game was a really outstanding 6 x weeks of WWII gaming goodness played across the US and the Atlantic Ocean. Looking to recreate that. So dust off those T-72 A models and Ivans in khaki uniforms.  The Soviets look ready to kick off операция осенний шторм, or operatsiya osenniy shtorm - Operation Autumn Storm. More to follow so stay tuned.

The phone rings. The nerve-wracked voice at the other end of the line has only 2 words for you....

LARIAT ADVANCE!

Useful Firestorm Resources Follow:

Ponyri Station Firestorm Campaign Intro

Ponyri Station Firestorm Rules

Sunday, September 25, 2022

The Fight at Ulianovo: ENOUGH ALREADY!

 At what time does a blog post/topic become Spam?  I'll quietly let you be the judge of that and continue on with the latest developments at Ulianovo in 1943 during Operation Kutuzov!  

Start here if you're just tuning in.  The rest of you must suffer along with this topic as I develop the "perfect" scenario, originally based on the Skirmish Campaigns "Red Recon" scenario from the "Red Guards at Kursk" book.  I'm happy to report after game #7 (!) that we're getting close.

Saturday morning I was up with the chickens to try the whole thing out with Battlegroup: Kursk.  Surprisingly, a company-sized infantry-only force with heavy weapons (mortars and MGs) was still only about 350 points with a morale rating of 28/29.  I would play the game on and off throughout the day and it delivered all the flying-lead, mortar exploding action that Battlegroup offers.  

Did you ever wonder what a full Soviet Rifle Company looks like in Battlegroup: Kursk?  Now you know!

I did not thoroughly document the Battlegroup game because I was only playing to see how it would go and if the outcome would be any different than the 6 Flames of War games I had played previously. 

 Bottom Line - it wasn't - *however* the game was an intense nail biter that went all the way to the end.  The Soviets and the Germans were both 1 point away from their breakpoints and the Soviets drew a "4" ending the game in the Germans' favor.  The casualties were horrendous - at least 5 to 1 for every Soviet to German knocked out.  Sov's started with  a 3 x platoon company and the Germans a 2 x platoon company.  Both sides had mortars and heavy weapons.

Defense Line scenario - Germans in the first trench - pinned from the preliminary barrage!

Many turns later - the Soviets have gained the first trenchline and the Germans are reinforcing the second!

The defining characteristic of the Battlegroup game that makes it significantly different from FoW?  TIME!  Roughly the same number of infantry stands on the table equated to about 2 x more hours of game time.  You'll have that when you're shooting with individual figures and rolling for 1. observation, 2. to-hit, 3. save, and 4. morale!  Nothing against Battlegroup - it was a ton of fun, but it wasn't the convention game experience I was looking for yet.

Anyways later in the day I reset (Again!) and tried out ANOTHER formula for the Soviets.  I was using "expensive" troops IE Scouts and the Storm Group, which are the best quality units the Soviets have for the 1942-43 time period.  This time I tried a FULL Battalion of "Hero Rifle Companies" and a "Hero SMG" Company.  4 total companies of troops, with battalion command and mortars.  

Changing tactics again - STAVKA demanded a coordinated attack.  Note there are 3 companies abreast across the front line trace.

I made the mission a bit closer to the "No Retreat" mission in the FOW Rulebook (more on that later) and pushed the German positions back a bit further.  Once again, German platoons are quite large - 9 teams each, with 2 x HMG sections each.  THey also have mortars on the table.  A load of firepower.  

No no no, Comrade.  This time the assault will go differently!

THe Soviet plan is to overwhelm the German trenches from each side and flank the position.  The second German platoon is in reserve per the mission rules.  I like that as it gives the Russians a fighting chance before those trenches get filled in with people.

View from the German side.  Note the second trench line is not filled in.  German CP is in the far building on the right

Soviet attack down the middle is a sacrifice to soak up the Germans' fire.

Cool picture

Commissar!

The Soviet attack is making good progress.  The Germans are firing furiously into them, with the HMGs on the flanks, the riflemen are taking care of the Soviets in the center.  With 4 total companies on the table, there is no shortage of targets!

Soviet wave attacks moving out


Far left Soviet company - Commissar blown up my a mortar strike!

They're pinned now


The Germans did not receive their reinforcements until turn 3, which means they wouldn't engage until turn 4 or 5.  This helped the Soviets get as far as they did.  Flooding both flanks, along with a frontal attack was the turn call, as it turns out.  Both sides have an even 35 points, by the way.

Note the Soviets on the left swinging around to capture the white house.  The objectives are capture every house, or destroy the German command post.

Note the Soviet company in the middle of the field being slowly whittled down.  The horde advancing on the right, and left are still going strong.  Also the German second platoon is advancing in the lower left



Soviet right most company makes it as far as the white house.  Their luck is going to run out soon.


The reinforcing Germans are moving towards the imminent Soviet breakthrough at the white house.  It's important to mention that This is the furthest advance a Soviet company has been able to make from any of the 7 games I've played so far.

The shooting goes the Germans' way at the white house, and a brutal counter attack eventually wipes out the advancing Russians.  The white house is secure again.


On the Soviet left however the joint Rifle and SMG companies are continuing to advance even amidst being pinned then unpinning.  The fight is now heating up on the left!

Defensive Fire will force the rifles back and the German first platoon will eventually maneuver to knock out this Soviet company




The rifle company reaches the German CP with enough stands to launch an assault, which is beaten back by defensive fire twice!  The Germans annihilate the company over 2 more turns however it's been just enough time for the submachine gun company to slip past them and assault the house!  The flame throwers here have been very handy.  THe presence of the mortar platoon and battalion headquarters are enough to keep the battalion "in good spirits" and the assault goes in again!  Flamers knock out one of the German HQs stands!



Success!  The Soviets capture the HQs and destroy the Radio!  They're 2-5 for this series of games!

THOUGHTS

Well we're getting closer.  The 4 x company option of troops was much better for the Soviets than the expensive "Storm Group" which cant afford to take casualties.  The mortars were great, too, because they enabled the pinning of the first German platoon in the trenches, which had multiple mortar strikes against it go off because of the "REPEAT" rule.  This allowed the Soviet center company in the open to advance as far as it did.  Following the NO RETREAT mission in the rules, the Soviets also got a single minefield which was fun positioning the Red ARmy troopers around it so as not to blow themselves up. 

The German reinforcing platoon coming up later also was a nice touch and I think, rather than roll for it, just have it come in automatically on turn 3 giving the Russians a bit more of a fighting chance (not much, mind you, ALOT had to come together for those SMG'ers to destroy the HQs)

Adding an additional SMG company might throw the game off a bit too much.  The other option is to *actually* handicap the Germans at 7 x stand platoons with only a single HMG, or limit the entire force to 2 x HMGs and have them both start on the table.  This gives the Soviets a 4 x point advantage.

THis has been an incredibly fun and satisfying exercise, and I think I'm getting alot closer to a playable game where both sides could, reasonably win, even with the trenches.  I will also likely move the German defenses up a bit further where they were for the last 6 games.

We're looking at one or 2 more games of Ulianovo before I'm willing to call it done, but it's been a blast so far. 

A few more tweaks and I should be ready to publish this and playtest it with my group if they're willing to play. 

Also I'm much looking forward to trying the new Perry Bro's rules "Valour & Fortitude" (it kills me to write "valor" like that :) but after Norm's outstanding review, I'm not sure how I can afford NOT to play them.



 

Wednesday, September 21, 2022

The Fight at Ulianovo: Red Recon in Action TAKE 4!

Some priceless opportunities here and there to escape to the gaming bunker enabled me to reset the Ulianovo attack a few more times and try out some different tactics.  During today's battle, STAVKA wasn't playing around, dedicating a full Soviet Rifle Company and a battery of 122mm guns to take the position.  Will the heroes of the Motherland return successful from this mission?

A Soviet Rifle Company - not the "Hero" Rifle Company I was previously using of only 10 stands.  This unit is 24 stands backed up by HMGs and a Flame Thrower Section!

I told you I wasn't messing around this time!

Soviet 122mm Guns!

There are a number of tactical problems for the Soviets to solve here.  The Germans have less of a dilemma except where to put their copious machine gun teams.  Firstly, do you concentrate your force down a single flank?  The first game saw the Scouts wildly successful albeit completely on their own.

The second and third games saw some shifting of strategy, with the Soviets concentrating ALL units on the first trenchline, with an aim to then move to the second.  So far that has been the winning move, but more on that later.

This game I chose to use the Scout "Spearhead" rule allowing them a move prior to the game.  This mobility helps greatly by closing the distance to get to the objective, but traffic management is a huge problem stuffing all those Ivans into a small wood, you're bound to attract fire from the Germans.

Subtle Soviet Tactics...

German platoons back up to 9 stands each because I just cant help myself!

Anyways the attack moves through the woods but eventually the Soviet company has to align itself to attack and they start to move up heavy weapons.  This attracts alot of fire during the German turn.  This time, though, they're much harder to pin with the 24 stands!

My outstanding Soviet Scouts leading the way again!  Damn they look good!

The Soviet artillery scores a lucky "6" when ranging in on the first trench line.  The 122mm guns make short work of 3 stands (failed their saves).  This also pins the first trenchline.  We're looking good so far.

If I had cool artillery impact markers, you'd see them here now.

The Soviets start to arrange their lead company for an assault but given the odd angle they're attacking at, they can only make contact with so many German stands.  Perhaps they should have waited longer to assault the second trenchline?

Shooting is bad so the Soviets just go in with everything they've got.  The German defensive fire reached 24 dice (!) then I stopped counting.  Needless to say the initial assault is broken off.  


Overall situation.  Turn 5.  Soviets assaulting the German second trenchline.

The assault against the first trenchline goes a bit getter with the Germans breaking off.

The Soviet situation at end of turn 5.  What a mess!  And where is that flamethrower?  (red bead)

A Soviet HMG section that refused to die

The Soviets also move the Battalion Commander up to spot for the guns.  He moves close to the treeline (within 2 inches so he can see out).  The next disaster occurs during the next round of German shooting as the Battalion command and staff team are wiped out, dying tangled up in their field phone wire.

"Comrade Battalion Commander perhaps we should not set up so close to the Germans?"  "Shut up private!  I will make the Command Decisions here!"    Last words of Lieutenant Colonel Stepanovich

The death of the command group is the final straw.  The Soviet guns will have to spot for themselves against the second trench line and they'll move a whopping 4 inches per turn, taking 2 more turns to get into position.  I throw in the towel.

Final situation.  The Soviet company is scattered throughout the bottom-center of the pic

This has been a hugely fun experiment with Flames of War and historical scenarios but as you can see there is still some work to do to make this a workable, somewhat balanced force.  Points-wise, this is still an even game and "technically" anyone can win it.  With the addition of trenchlines, though, I'm not so sure that's the case and if anyone knows the answer about a "cost" for fortifications in FoW let me know).

Anyways I tried multiple approaches for this engagement with very interesting degrees of "success".

1. Indirect Approach.  Large force is a diversion, assaults down the left of the table and soaks up all the fire and attention while the scouts slip in the woods on the right and assault the command bunker.  Literally everything came together for the Scouts (bad German defensive fire, bad counterattack rolls etc) and the Sov's win the engagement through subtlety.  

2. Direct Approach. Same forces as #1, except they all follow behind the scouts.  The second assault goes VERY badly.  The Scouts are mercilessly cut down attempting their wide flanking option and the Hero Company is torn up at the woodline.  Germans reduced to 7 stands per platoon in this game instead of the 9 stands, and I honestly think they would have been fine with 5 stands per platoon...

3. Concentrated Attack.  Same Soviet Forces.  Reduced German forces as in #2.  This time the Soviets focused on the first trenchline instead of the victory conditions (the houses and the command post).  I know, that's not going to win the game but I wanted to see how it would go.  This turn out successfully with the Hero Rifle Company assaulting the trench from one side, and the scouts with the storm group attacking the other flank and the center.  They Soviets gained the first trenchline, and might have had the strength to assault the second trench but I got called away (!)  Might have to refight this one.

From Game 3, the Soviets gained control of the first trenchline

4. Concentrated Attack.  New (and more) Soviet Forces.  Full Strength German Forces.  Literally this blog post.  A massive Soviet company with artillery support and scouts.  The Germans back with their full complement of HMGs.  Traffic management and positioning was an issue in this game as the Soviets could not bring their numbers or assault equipment/firepower to bear.  A better option might have been to just continue south and take the buildings from the rear.  (hmmmm I might be on to something here....use a unit to soak up all the bullets while the second unit flanks the position and captures the buildings)

Thoughts
Again - a very fun exercise and a nice series of "practice" games for Flames of War.  While I'm super tempted to try this with Bolt Action or Crossfire or Battlegroup (Battlegroup would be a fun one to try) I really want to make this work with Flames of War, especially given all of the decisions you will have to make and the high stakes of a low-point game.  Neither side can afford to take huge risks, and the Soviets must commit to a single option of attack as there is not much room to alter the plan once it's in motion.

This isn't something you see often with large point FOW games as more units usually means a more forgiving game if you make a mistake.  With only a few units in your formation here, the stakes are extremely high.

There are a few more things I'd like to try (the deep flanking maneuver being one of them) and that includes increasing the number of Soviet units a bit (2 x Hero Rifle Companies) which is sort of what I did today, but they were all in the same unit of 20 stands.  This would give the Soviets 2 companies of 10 stands.  

I was also thinking about the trenches and considered replacing them with foxholes/fighting positions instead, which also give bulletproof cover, but once you move you lose it, as opposed to trenches which enable you to be "gone to ground" and "concealed" even when moving within them!  Trenches just might be "a bridge too far" for this scenario.

Probably keep the artillery support but reduce it to either 76mm guns or 82mm mortars as they are more mobile.  I'll reduce the Germans again to 7 stand platoons, but sadly, I dont think it will make much difference as those trenches are a tough nut to crack!  

Will we see a Round 5 for Ulianovo?