Monday, July 6, 2020

The Battle of Shiloh: 1000 hours to 1300 hours

Ken was over for another installment of the Battle of Shiloh using the excellent "Altar of Freedom" rules.  For those who missed the first part, check out last week's post where we played the 7am to 10am turn.  We were able to push from the 10am turn to the 1pm turn this past Sunday and things aren't looking so great for the Union I'm afraid...

Grant orders a general withdrawal to a new, tighter defensive line behind the initial positions, following Bragg's piercing of the hornet's nest.  He'll use relatively fresh Divisions to cover the left flank as fighting has worked its way up the to the banks of the Tennessee River.  These forces will ensure Breckenridge's Reserve Corps don't walk straight into Pittsburgh Landing unopposed.

Vacating the Hornet's Nest at the 10:00 hour.

Grant's troops, mostly of Sherman's Division, fall back to positions northward in the woods while strong Union Artillery covers the approach.  This will be important in the coming hours.

View from the Rebel side - note the solid defensive line forming up.  We're not going to make it too easy for Johnny Reb to change the course of history!
Ken and I still did a fair amount of looking things up in this battle as we came across a few new situations we hadn't previously encountered last game.  I will say things did come a little easier for us, and both of us are getting more "dangerous" in our application of the rules.  At 12:00 noon, disaster struck the Union side as I completely guessed wrong what the rebels would do and it cost me a big setback.  Meanwhile Ken is still sending attacks against the entire line at this point, on the right, in the center, and on the left.

The rebel breakthrough at the sunken lane sees the union evacuate the position in a hurry!  the Rebs are right on their heels.

Breckenridge reaches the Union positions on the left flank int he woods and hard fighting ensues.  The Yanks are pushed back!

Note the new Union line curving from center-left down and to the right.  The most beat-up units are from Sherman's Division in the center where I have some Brigades that have quite a bit of fatigue on them.
 I did learn to cover you defenses with artillery.  nothing is better at breuaking up an attack than artillery.  If you wait until they're in small arms range, youre toast!  On more than one occasion, my batteries distinguished themselves in action. 

Rebels massing in the center to go after Sherman's Division again

Ken presses his advantage now.
 My die rolls were generally awful in this game but in some cases, I rolled enough 6's when it counted to avoid a complete and utter rout!

More assaults against a brigade of Sherman's division with 2 fatigue!  Remarkably they'd hold!

More Union units sent to the back of the line with the Confederate onslaught
 High drama at high noon as Ken throws more units against the battered line.  While one of the Brigades has pulled back, a lone battery from Sherman's Division covers their approach.  Ken assaults it and his assaulting brigade is routed due to a combination of modifiers and me rolling a "6".  The first broken brigade of the battle!  This Union battery earns a fatigue marker, and also earns their place in history by repulsing a Brigade attack as the enemy charged again and again into the very muzzle of the guns!  This had the added bonus of disrupting the entire Rebel divisional attack by destroying the brigade in contact.  Sherman's line is saved once more, but this time by a battery of medium guns!

Sherman's artillery routes a Rebel brigade!  Heroes all!

The broken brigade - who tried to rally and rolled a "1"!  Brigade evaporates!
 So there you have it.  Ken is arranging his forces for a killing blow against Grant's line but it'll take time and coordiantion.  I have a heap of reinforcements coming in soon if I can only hold!  Rebels are a mere 17 inches from Pittsburgh Landing!  Talk about a nail biting defense.

We continue to be impressed with Altar of Freedom, specifically for the command and control mechanisms, and the resource management aspect of it.  We may try to meet earlier to finish the battle in the next sitting.  Next up...First Manassas?

Thursday, July 2, 2020

Converting Borrowed Scenarios for Tigers at Minsk!

I'm always on the lookout for good company-level games (maneuver element is a squad/section) which is one of the reasons I love Norm's "Tigers at Minsk" World War II rules so much, and have played many a game of them on this blog.

Cover art from "Tigers at Minsk"
I'm also inherently lazy, and sometimes I just want to throw down a game on the table and play, instead of doing research, assembling units, counting up points or cost values, and breakpoints.  This is probably a roundabout way of saying I want/need more scenarios for Tigers at Minsk, and World War II in general.  It's also a reason I don't play nearly as much Battlegroup as I would like to - because the pre game work is extensive and on a Friday night I'd rather get right to playing.

A Tigers at Minsk game played with Alex - we made square grids and played this way instead of on a hex mat
The other day I happened upon some of my older CROSSFIRE posts which led me back to the "Balagan" blog (a treasure trove for Crossfire enthusiasts.)  Then I remembered Mr Thomas posted some quick and easy Crossfire scenarios for newcomers, written by Mr Dick Bryant.  (If this is all very confusing, go here, and then go here.)  The premise behind these short scenarios is to introduce newcomers to the tactically challenging and realistic Crossfire rules. 

I want to use those 2 x 2 Crossfire scenarios for Tigers at Minsk.

I took a screen shot of the scenario card highlighted on the "Steven's Balagan" blog post where he showcases the 2 x 2 Crossfire Scenarios for use in a convention.  I used his example scenario - The Woods:
Taken from the Steven's Balagan Website here.  No challenge to the author intended - used without permission.
If you've played Tigers at Minsk, or read the rules, you'll notice you literally have everything you need for a game within the scenario pack here.  (And Mr Bryant was kind enough to lay out forest shapes in hex form!).  There are a few calculations needed to finish the job, however, and we'll walk through those steps now.

1.  Morale Level
TaM has a slick mechanism whereby your side's morale level (calculated by dividing the number of units by 2) is reached through attrition of your units.  Say you start with 8 units, your morale level is 4 for that scenario.  When 4 units are lost, bad things can start to happen.  To convert the Dick Bryant scenarios over to TaM, we'll have to do a little bit of math...

The Soviets have a reinforced platoon of 3 x squads, 1 x HMG, and 1 x on-table mortar.  That would effectively give you a morale level of 3 for TaM.  The German morale will be higher at 4.

Troop morale isn't taken into account quite like Crossfire, where stands have inherent values like Veteran, Regular, etc.  Instead, you can alter your final morale level to make troops more or less brittle.

2.  Time Clock
While there is a "time clock" feature in the Crossfire supplement "Hit the Dirt", TaM has a time clock used for the advance of each turn in every game.  In the main rules, scenarios can run from the passage of 40 minutes to 80 or more minutes, calculated by the roll of 2 D6 each turn.  For the Dick Bryant scenarios, the end is based on either attrition or achieving the scenario victory condition.  For Norm's TaM rules, the game is significantly more tense and enjoyable with the added pressure of the time clock and so given the small amount of forces for the scenarios, it's probably easy to go with 50 minutes, at least for "the woods" scenario.  This would keep both players on their toes.

Now we're ready to set up a proper Tigers at Minsk scenario, borrowed from the 2 x 2 Crossfire scenario.


Dick Bryant's 2 x 2 Crossfire Scenario Map "The Woods" taken from Steven's Balagan Blog - used without permission

Scenario:  "The Woods" Map looks like it could be 9 x 9 hexes or 10 x 10 hexes.

Morale: Soviet Morale Level 3 German Morale Level 4 - both infantry can make smoke.

Setup:  Soviet Player Deploys First in Squares "D" and "C" on the map.  German player deploys second in Squares "A" and "B", south of the Red Line.

Admin:  Game starts at 1100 hours and ends after 1150 hours.  German player goes first.

Victory Conditions:  the side that reaches breakpoint first loses.  If the 1150 hours is reached before breakpoint, the side with a higher remaining morale level is the winner.

Fire Support:  both sides have 4 x 50mm mortar fire missions and 4 x 82mm (Soviet) / 75mm IG (German) fire missions.

The fire support piece - I wonder if that's way too much given that your average game of Tigers at Minsk you will likely receive 1 or 2 salvos of fire support.  That's definitely worth experimenting with in the game to see if it's too lethal/generous.  It could be scaled back to 1 fire mission each.

Anyways, I thought I would post some of these ideas I've been scheming up over here.  I will set up my hex grid after our ACW Altar of Freedom game is completed.

Tuesday, June 30, 2020

The Battle of Shiloh: Altar of Freedom

Ken was over on Sunday for an epic Battle of Shiloh refight and our first game of "Altar of Freedom".  AoF were the rules used by "Little Wars TV" in their big Antietam refight and written by Greg Wagman, also of Little Wars TV.  We were able to play through 3 turns and so far we have been very impressed.  Here is the bottom line for this post - if you're looking to command armies, these are the rules for you

Shiloh is actually the recommended introductory scenario in the rules and the size of the battle was conducive to play on a 6 x 4 table using 15mm miniatures. 

Battlefield looking south.  Note the Rebel Corps Columns massing along the road network at the top of the picture.  This is the 7am turn.  Ken mentioned, and I agree, that the roads are very important in this truly grand-tactical game.
I offset my deployment a bit from the historical one by setting my defensive positions a bit further back, with divisional supports behind the line.  Sherman is in the hornet's nest guarding the sunken road.

Rebel approach march

Union troops along the sunken road in "the hornet's nest" - I swapped places and Sherman's troops are holding down the right flank now.
We really liked the bidding system for activation and control of the turn clock, and also the ability to bank your points for use in the end phase - enabling you to exploit a breakthrough, shore up a line, bring up reserves and other things.  Many wargame rules fall short in this department (exploiting opportunities on the battlefield) and the ability to do this is a powerful part of the game.  It also makes resource management and timing a crucial part of the command experience in the game as well - something both Ken and I liked very much.  Darren, if you're reading this, you'll probably really like these rules.

Rebels coming on!
 Ken moves up a division to assault the hornet's nest and sunken road immediately.  They're repulsed but it's only 8am!  There are alot of turns to go before nightfall...

Sherman's battery opens the ball.
 Interestingly, after reading the wikipedia page on the actual battle, Ken follows the historical attack.  He is also experiencing the "bunching up" that the rebel assaults experienced at Shiloh and regiments lost their cohesion and command and control during their attacks due to the terrain, making their assaults less effective.
Note the rebels stacked up behind the lead brigades.

 Ken also sends a division to probe the Union right where i've foolishly placed my artillery guarding the extreme right flank.  Grant makes a mental note to move that battery!  At the current stage of the battle, you could fit an entire division through the gap between the center and right flank.  I've got to remedy this ASAP!

Yankee brigade pushed back as the rebs prepare to tear open the line.

Sam Grant arrives!  I send him into the center where the fighting will be thickest.  The location of your commanders is extremely important for the end-phase where they may be used to shuttle troops around - for a cost in action points.

Bringing up Brigades to close the gap in the center!

Meanwhile the Rebels keep coming!

Meanwhile, Breckenridge's reserve corps moves up.

More Rebel units massing to assault the Hornet's Nest.  So far, Ken has only thrown about 2 Brigades against the position.  That will change soon!

Elements of the I Rebel Corps moving against the Union right.
 One interesting thing we noted were the pursuit rules.  Winning a combat is one thing, but sometimes your Brigades may pursue, and apparently the pursuit is mandatory!  Buckland's Brigade, during another repulsed assault against the Hornet's Nest, pursues their rebel attacks by going "over the top" of the sunken lane charging directly into the Rebels.  They would go on to win 2 more combats before being repulsed themselves.  They would also earn a fatigue marker or 2 in the process, before being forced back to their own lines.  Wow! Talk about nail biting!

Buckland's Brigade of Sherman's Division go over the top and counterattack into elements of the III Rebel Corps!

Trying to bring up additional brigades while the Rebels probe the Union right.

Ken brings up artillery to support assaults against the hornet's nest!  Note his brigades fanning out now.

A bigger picture of the morning's fighting.  You can see the heavy action around the sunken lane, Union center, and right.

A.S Johnston, Commanding!  Ken has him in the Rebel center.

Ken stepping up assaults against the Union right!

More reinforcements coming up

At the 9:00am hour, Ken scores a major breakthrough and pushes one of Sherman's Brigades back!  he gains a foothold in the sunken lane now!  Note the supporting brigade next to them have 2 fatigue markers as well and things are starting to get a bit scary on the Union left!

Looking at the table the combat is a jumbled mass in the center, just like the real battle!

Ken is moving strong forces towards the Union Center and keeping the pressure on the Union left in the hornet's nest.  I am pushing a reserve division along the tennessee river but through my field glasses I can spy troops of Breckenridge's reserve corps moving up the river road!  

Elements of I Rebel Corps massing to assault the Union Right again!

Lead elements of Breckenridge's Corps have almost reached the Union left!

the entire battlefield looking west to east

Ken's toe hold in the hornet's nest!  I'm going to have to make something happen in the center soon or the III Rebel Corps will be unchecked!  Sherman's men can't hold much longer!

Ken has a Brigade in the hornet's nest and a Brigade supporting them - look at this dramatic breakthrough here!

2 batteries supporting the assault against the hornet's nest!

Confederates assaulting!

Union Reserves skulking about on the left next to the Tennessee River!

Hard fighting at the crossroads

Grant moves up into the thick of the fighting where i can use him to position more units to stem the rebel tide!

Wow we only got to the start of the 10am turn before Ken had to leave but this was a wonderful game, and one where I'm pleased to say really puts you in the boots of the Army commander.  The point bidding, turn clock control, and post-turn movement really makes this game special and unique.  You will have to think in terms of where to counter attack, where to put reserves and the timing of it all makes the decisions that much more important and dramatic.  How do you bid the Divisions to move?  First?  Or wait to go "in the middle?" 

The game requires an element of staffwork and planning by forcing you to be aware of the road network, higher ground, and enemy avenues of approach.  You also need to watch your troops who have high fatigue markers and ensure you can switch out tired troops with fresh ones.

The best part of all of this is that the elements are nicely woven into the game, not forced upon you with endless modifiers and charts.  The simplicity of the rules ensures that you are making command decisions throughout the game and that in itself is a major win in my book.  Mission Accomplished!  Now if only we could lobby Mr Wagman to create a Napoleonic version, I'd buy in a heartbeat.

Ken and I should be finishing up the game next weekend.