Saturday, September 16, 2017

Follow the Elefants! A Tigers at Minsk Battle Report

Friday night I had a little bit of steam left after the kiddos went to sleep so I tried a quick, game of "Tigers at Minsk", scenario #2 from the rules "Follow the Elefants!"

This scenario saw a German infantry force of 2 x platoons attempting to breakthrough a ring of Soviet infantry that closed the gap created by Ferdinand breakthrough on the northern shoulder of the Kursk battlefield.

Germans starting from the black baseline.  They must exit squads off of the red baseline.

This was a great scenario to learn the valuable lessons the game is trying to teach you about fire, suppression, and movement.  You're in a race against the game clock to get troops off the Soviet baseline but you've got to cross a very deadly open area to do it.  The Soviets, short on manpower but heavy on firepower have 2 x HMG sections, and 2 Rifle Squads with which to stop you!  I looked at this scenario thinking it would be a pushover for the Germans....

Starting positions.  The game is played between the yellow dice.

My Crossfire Germans.  6 x squads

Soviet HMG ready to cover the deadly open ground

Another Soviet squad in the rubble of a burned out farmhouse.

Soviet command marker
 First big decision to make as both players, is where to throw your emphasis behind.  Where is the main effort?  The "Schwerpunkt" if you will.

Soviet HMG section "out of command" on the German right.

And out of command on the German left.  This should be a cake walk for Fritz!  Right???
 German shooting on the first turn is outstanding and the Hauptmann throws his weight behind the Second Platoon on the German left as a Soviet HMG section is knocked out by good shooting!

Second platoon on the advance!  the distance to the orchard looks so close.  But so very far away!

Soviets start scoring some pins as the firefight builds in intensity.
 The Germans, flush with success from eliminating an HMG in the hamlet to their front, send a squad across the field.  The Soviet HMG on the other side opportunity fires against them and scores a nasty, nasty 3 hits, wiping out the whole squad.  The Germans grow a little more cautious....


The Germans, eager for revenge, turn all their fire towards the orchard and KO a Soviet squad!

Aware of the HMG threat, the Germans throw smoke into the field to cover their Kamaraden's advance....

The gambit largely works...for now.
 Second platoon is back on the move after throwing smoke.  And the game clock is only crawling by with 2 turns only advancing 10 minutes into the 11am hour.

schnell schnell schnell!

 The Soviets, after losing a squad in the orchard, are at their morale breakpoint of 0 and now must test for each unit remaining, which is only a rifle squad and an HMG section.  The rifle squad passes, the HMG does not and retreats 1 hex.

My question here for Norm - is that 1 hex retreat all that happens for a squad that fails the breakpoint morale test?  So can they advance per normal in their next turn if they're in command?  That's how i played it, anyways.

Soviet HMG section on their left (German right) bugs out 1 hex from the scrub.

The Soviet squad issues some devastatingly accurate rifle fire on the lead squad from Germans second platoon.  And the HMG, back from bugging out, unleashes some nasty opportunity fire on the Germans and kills another squad.  That, and the German HMG and rifles can't seem to hit anything anymore.

German high water mark for the battle.  Barely reached the hamlet...

Germans reach their morale break but most squads pass the morale check as they're in cover.  Second platoon ceases to exist as a fighting force.
 Only in death does one's duty end.  The German Hauptmann orders the first platoon to concentrate on the Soviet HMG and they prepare for an advance.  Perhaps victory can salvage his honor?

into the jaws.  The first platoon moves out.  The HMG section from second platoon can't seem to get their act together and the clock is running out!
 More pins from the Soviet rifles and HMG.  Their tenacious defense is holding!

German CO is getting nervous.  Ivan just is not breaking here.

The game clock.  1106. 1110. 1114, 1118, 1124, 1136, 1146, and the game ends at 1154am.  Worth mentioning here that the "doubles" roll saw a Soviet sniper in the rifle squad pin the German HMG section, and the Soviets rolled a "command post hit" result, attriting both sides' CPs.  Bad news for an already attrited German force.

The Germans break off their attack.  But they'll be back!

Battle honors for this HMG section and the rifle squad!

Heroes of the Motherland!

Battle is over
A costly lesson for the German player to better concentrate firepower at the decisive point.  Timing is everything in this game.  So the order in which you activate your squads really matters, especially if the Soviets to your front are not pinned.  Remember, suppression is modeled by PIN markers, so if they're pinned they only fire with one die.  A huge difference when you've got all this open ground to cross.

What a game!  And played in a little under an hour.  I will play this game again to see how the Germans fare.  The Soviets didn't use their wire/obstacle either so it would be interesting to see how it would have played out with their mobility hampered.

Lots of lessons learned but again, our metal and plastic soldiers get to go home at the end of the day.

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Tigers at Minsk Playtest 1

I actually had a little bit of time this evening after the kiddos went to sleep so I gave Norm's "Tigers at Minsk" a shot (no pun intended).

The game was played using standard Crossfire platoons of 3 German squads and 4 Soviet squads.  Each side had an HMG stand and the Soviets had a T-70 light tank!  (Germans 4 units, Soviets 6 units).

The game starts at 0800 hours.  It's mid summer, 1943.  Think of this as a probing action somewhere on the Kursk battlefields.
Sorry for the crappy pics.  My tablet takes horrible pictures the colors are all off.  Here a Soviet platoon advances.  Note the "platoon leader" stand in lower left.  That is a merely a marker.
The Soviet attack was slow to develop, particularly because most of the time they had a squad or 2 that was out of command and not moving.  I marked them with little yellow beads.  The cornfield and the small hamlet would become the scene of some vicious firefights once the Soviets closed the range.

A Soviet squad is pinned by HMG fire.
One of the big questions you have to ask yourself is "do I really want to shoot overwatch?"  It takes an action to lose an overwatch marker so it may not be worth it!  I like that you can't always do what you want to do.

One interesting thing is that this game units move cautiously and slowly unless on a road and in all cases, only move more than 1 hex if they are not observed by the enemy.  So the game is taking place after the committal of combat units in the operation.

Anyways I keep placing the command emphasis on my Soviet squads to get up into cover in order to fire on the Germans.
Uh oh.  I know this means something...
 So at the turn's end, you roll to see how far the clock advances.  This is a super cool feature that adds some character and flavor to the game and gives you a perspective to how the battle unfolds.  It also ensures a random number of turns played.  Some turns the clock only advanced 4 minutes, in others, 12 minutes.

If you roll doubles, both sides roll on the random events table, which happened twice in a row!  The Germans got "hidden minefield" and naturally placed it in the T-70's hex.  The Soviets got "Sniper" and naturally placed it against the HMG hex, causing a pin.

Pinned Marker is a "stun" result.  This poor crew would never get off the startline.

That German squad is about to get another Pin marker meaning they're KIA.  Note the white bead in the upper right on the German HMG that is serving as an OPP FIRE marker.

The Soviets start to advance (and I start to get a better hang of the rules) and move against the hamlet.  They also dangerously stack up in a hex but since it offers some cover, it offsets the advantage...sort of.  There is a German squad in the hamlet now and it attracts the attention of every Soviet squad nearby, who shoot it to pieces, eventually breaking it.

Another cool feature I'll mention here are the morale rules.  For every 2 combat units, you count 1 morale point.  Your total number of morale points acts as a break point of sorts.  The Germans had 4 units, the Soviets had 6.  German breakpoint is 2 and Soviet is 3.  Once you reach breakpoint, every unit on the table takes a morale check and could bug out.

At this point, the Soviet HMG gets to work and starts hammering away at the Germans in the open.  The plan works and the Soviets, after seizing the hamlet, start using their base of fire to kill Germans.  It's a solid plan and it pays off.

That's another cool feature of the rules - your "in command" hex is constantly changing and adapting to the tactical situation.  One turn it's over at the hamlet, another it's over by the HMG section.  This is very accurate, I think, and I love this feature of the rules.

advancing on the hamlet after KO'ing the German squad.

Still trying to remove that "Stun" marker from the T-70....and the HMG is banging away.
So I ended tonight's game when the 2nd German squad was KIA.  I didn't make my morale checks since I had some other stuff to do but I did get a good feel for the game and also had a fun time actually getting to put the rules to work.

A few observations:
I played the game on my large hexmat and probably played over a larger distance of hexes than was originally intended so it took awhile for the combatants to get to grips.  (maybe 8 x 8 or 8x9)

Fire is subtle but effective and you can suppress with a stationary element while advancing with another.  That's the gold standard in terms of low level tactical rules as far as I'm concerned.

Armor's movement is as fast as the infantry, representing the level at which we're fighting here.  I wanted my tanks to move faster than that, but what for?  Their job was to support the infantry.

i like the variable line of sight rules for scrub (but had some questions about it).  Same with the "equipment breakdown/out of ammo" rules for HMGs.

The random events table really adds some nice flavor to the game, and gives you some additional character.

Some questions I had during play:

  • Can you combine firing?  I assumed no since units activate individually.
  • If a unit has both a PIN marker and an OPPORTUNITY FIRE marker, does one take precedence over the other to remove?  I assumed no but rolled to remove the PIN marker first.  Then the next turn I removed the OPP FIRE marker next.  They're both actions so you cant do both.
  • Do I roll variable for Line of Sight EACH time I fire into scrub, or only once?  
  • Does an AFV have to be In Command to rally from Stun?  (I know an infantry squad does have to be in command to be given a rally action).
  • If I have 2 infantry squads in a hex that are farther than 2 hexes from their Platoon Leader's "in command" marker, do I have to roll them both separately for being "In Command" or just roll once for both squads in the hex?
  • Can stunned AFV's shoot?

Besides these questions, the game move pretty quickly.  Here's an idea of how the time clock advanced.  Note how the action speeds up and slows down and you can almost imagine the platoon leaders checking their watches constantly during the battle.

Start was at 8:00am
9:12 Second German Squad Breaks and I called the game.  This game lasted 10 turns and in game time, the battle took 1 hour and 12 minutes.

This game took me awhile to play because I was "flipping" through the rules on my tablet trying to look things up.  I will say that most of my questions were answered and my next game will likely go faster.  I'd like to play with artillery and more vehicles on each side.

First game was lots of fun.  Looking forward to more Tigers at Minsk!  I definitely need more terrain on the table also.

Monday, September 11, 2017

Tigers at Minsk! First Impressions.

I've been reading Norm Smith's outstanding "Tigers at Minsk" rules set on the train to and from work the last week and I have been very impressed so far.  So impressed that I phoned the venerable Dave and recommended our next game be a World War II game of Tigers at Minsk (TAM) and found myself reviewing all of the reasons why I wanted to play it.

Picture from Norm Smith's Tigers at Minsk Rules - used without permission.

So, what makes TAM so impressive, and why should you (we) try it out?  Well for starters, from reading Mr Smith's blog, he is a solid wargamer with lots of board and miniature wargaming under his belt.  Not only that, units are squads (sections) and that fills a sorely missing hole in the game-o-sphere.

In my humble opinion, TAM boasts a challenging activation system where the commander must pick where their command emphasis will be each turn by selecting a hex that is "in command."  Adjacent hexes 1 to 2 hexes out will be considered "in command" and may freely conduct an action but here's the rub - you will inevitably have units that are not in command that will need to carry out actions as well.  For those, you have to pass an activation test!

I'm so excited about using my Platoon Leader stands as markers for "in command" hexes!

Sounds pretty run-of-the-mill right?  No.  TAM also has quite a bit of loose housekeeping, and resource management that will keep you from doing everything you want to do as a commander every turn.  I've read stories of commanders lamenting the fact they couldn't be everywhere at once and that's exactly what you get here.  Plus it seems great for solitaire games, which most of mine are.

Units that opportunity fire retain an Opportunity Fire marker and have to keep it until you use a command action to remove it (well all except HMG and ATG under certain circumstances).  This is brilliant and makes you think twice about blasting the hell out of everything that moves in front of you.

Want to cram multiple squads in a hex?  No problem, but enemy fire is going to be more effective against you there.

Oh and remember how in Squad Leader or Advanced Squad Leader the MMG could breakdown if you rolled a certain number?  TAM's got that too, and it's a subtle and easy to remember mechanic.  In fact there are many little "surprises" in these rules that you will like.  Weapon breakdown, variable line of sight through certain terrain, bog checks, artillery impacts, etc!

The sequence of play is straight forward:

Command Phase (place your "in-command" hex)
Action Phase - units in command conduct actions from a menu of choices:
Fire, Move, Engage in Close Combat, Recover from Pinned, Remove an Opportunity Fire Marker,
End Phase - check victory, check smokescreens, make a morale check for vehicles with a stun marker.

Small Arms Fire is adjudicated with the trusty D6.  Hits are pins, and 2 x pins knock a squad out.  Anti Tank Fire is adjudicated with the D10.  You incorporate the To Hit, then roll on the penetration table to see what happened to the target.

Close combat is brutal and quick and the rules are very thorough.

Speaking of which, something I'll note from the rules also - every question I've had so far has been answered quickly by going back and researching for myself.  I have to be honest, I really cannot wait to try these rules out for myself and will be sure to blog about them, too.  They're very well written.

 A number of things jump out at me right off the bat that I'll share:

Mr Smith's rules are very novel.  You will be hard pressed to find a miniatures rule set out there quite like these.

The game is full of tactical decisions that you, as the platoon or company commander, must constantly make. I'm sold - and I haven't even played the rules yet!

The rules are packed with scenarios, OOBs, examples of play, and explanations, and they max out at 47 pages.  And they're free!

I think the game would probably best be played with 6mm microarmor or 10mm stands but I'll be using my 15mm troopers.

You can download Norm's "Tigers at Minsk" rules at the following link which will take you over to his blog.  By the way, Norm has an awesome blog that support his rules with lots of cool add-ons like a campaign system, and a set of counters if you were so inclined to play with counters instead of miniatures (like on vacation).

The only things I'd add would be a quick reference sheet, along with a supplement for NW Europe and these rules would be perfect.

My hat's off to you, Norm!  Well done sir and we will be playing Tigers at Minsk in the near future!

Sunday, September 10, 2017

Commands & Colors: Tricorne - The American Revolution - Eutaw Springs

Brian and I both received our copies of the latest Commands & Colors module aptly titled "Tricorne" covering battles of the American Revolution.  I was unexpectedly cut loose from working this weekend so we linked up and fought the Battle of Eutaw Springs at Brian's house and all I can say is WOW!  What a game!  We played using Brian's magnificently painted metal troops.

This set is very different to some of the other games of the series and puts morale into the forefront of the battle, delivering a tremendous period feel to a tabletop game that plays out exactly like a battle narrative from the 18th century reads.  I'll explain.

View from the British Side facing towards the American lines.
 Musketry and overall Firepower is not overwhelming in this game, much like in accounts of linear warfare of the day, the true skill lies in keeping your units on the field, properly supported and with solid leadership at the points of decision.  Tricorne does an outstanding job of modeling this aspect, and you see how Stirling's defense at Long Island, Howe's advance at Breed's Hill, or Arnold's attack at Bemis Heights were possible based in part on the presence of those fine officers.

Anyways, my plan this day is to demonstrate on my left with my Cavalry, advance my regulars in the center, and attempt to turn Brian's (the British) left flank.  That was the plan anyways...

The battle opens with a cannonade where both sides fire their artillery at the other's lines.  I'm lucky in that the British have Provincials in close proximity to my guns and naturally they're targeted first!  Brian has a target-rich environment and shoots at my militia who are extremely brittle.

View from the American side.  Milita are in the front backed by steady Continentals.

Militia retreat 3 hexes per flag and desperately need officers to stem their further withdrawal from the battlefield.  Love the casualty markers!

In the thick of the fighting!  A militia unit trades volleys with the redcoats.
 On my left I decide to assault with my light cavalry, who are probably best used to screen a flank or try and harass the enemy.  That's what I wanted to use them for as Brian has an elite grouping of troops creeping up on my left flank.  My thoughts are to try and scatter the lights as best I can.  I was underwhelmed with my Cavalry's performance!

 On thing worth noting is the amount of "juicy" cards as Brian called them.  Lots of nice, linear cards that give you the commander more flexibility in using your line, provided they are in continuous contact.  Finally!  A game that gives you real incentive to keep your troops in line formation!  And the battle looks good, too!

Light Cavalry doesn't hit on sabers!  Drat!
 Brian and I use the next few turns to shake out our lines and form a solid battle line.  My artillery in the center around where my milita was standing is blocking more infantry from coming in but that's OK as I'm feeding them over to my right flank.  Brian has formed a solid line and I'm nervous about going "toe to toe" with them.

My underwhelming Cavalry charge is sent packing!  Note the dead horse casualty marker.  Lots of them by battle's end.
The guns in the center are where the militia used to be!  Note some semblance of a line is shaping up on the Continental side.  Meanwhile Brian's Brits have formed a perfect line in the center and on his left.  I'd expect nothing less from Regulars!
 My echeloned attack on my right starts to shape up as I feed more units into the fight over there.  It's a 2 pronged plan to make room in the center for my Continental regulars and also to keep pressure on Brian's left.

Brian's line shook out and waiting for the Continentals.
 There are some awesome cards in the deck that allow a ton of options, and a tactical deck that allows you to do even more and not just confined to a section or even a line.  We both made good use of the "at the quick step" order allowing our entire line to advance 2 hexes.  It was in this manner that I tried to build my line.

NOW the lads are ready to advance!

The fight on the left continues and Brian's lights just won't break!  Meanwhile the Cav's mounts are getting tired!

Lots of back and forth actions with units trading volleys up and down the line.  I attempt an advance as I need to make something happen.  I get lucky with a card that allows me to advance the line again!  (I got alot of them)  My boys move up and engage the British at close range.  They charge the British guns and drive them off the hill.  Meanwhile the British provincials give ground and head for the fenceline.  It would be here where I'd start my drive to try and capture the camp.  Not exactly my original plan but they were having the most success.

advance the guns!  take the camp, men!
 I advanced my line and both sides started to take more and more casualties and our breakpoint or victory was approaching (7 units).

casualties around the British gun battery!

The orderly lines of before are breaking apart as my Continentals make a desperate attack up and down the line!

Brian sends in his Cavalry into my line and causes trouble!

The right flank was a scene of constant back and forth fighting.

Brian's lights still don't break!  I would eventually withdraw my cavalry on the left to screen the flank.

Hot lead flying in the center as some Provincials are pushed back by Continental shooting.  Brian makes an impressive rally at the fenceline near the camp but the British back is against the wall!  By the way, the fences offer the unit a "support" much like an adjacent unit would.  An elegant way to handle this important linear terrain feature.

trouble as the British Grenadiers turn towards my line...
 More close combats in the center.  It all comes down to a final combat as our breakpoints are nearing and both of us are at 5 or 6 units!  Brian and I both launch assaults in a hope to finish off the other side.  Brian ends up killing one of my units and their commander (Sumner if you must know) and wins the field.  The battle is over!  British victory!

I for one could not be happier with these rules.  I dont think ive played a set of rules that evoked a period feel such as this.  Ill recap what i liked the most about CC: Tricorne and what makes these different and a truly "18th Century" ruleset.

  • There is real incentive to keep troops in line, not just aesthetic
  • Presence of leaders at the right place and time makes a crucial difference in the battle.
  • The cards are thought provoking and you're constantly making decisions about where to move troops, where to attack, where not to attack, and where to throw your main effort in.  Just like a General on a Horse and Musket battlefield.
  • Musketry is not too devastating and it takes many volleys to wear down an opponent.  
  • Morale is the star of the show.  Good troops will break in the same manner as worse troops, just not as easily.
  • Separate tactical decks and lots of good cards with lots of options that keeps the battle moving
So there you have it.  These are just some of the reasons why I loved CC: Tricorne and I hope that Mr Borg produces a Seven Years War version as well.  I will be one of the first to purchase it.  I hope to play all of these battles and am already thinking about my basing schemes for my own AWI troops!  Huzzah!

And for a final encore, 2 pictures in the spirit of Charles Grant - sorry no cravat!


Irish cardigan generously donated by Brian.  Picture inspired by Charles Grant