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.

Monday, June 15, 2020

Battlegroup: NORTHAG AAR #2.

The second game of NORTHAG under our belts now as Ken was over Sunday afternoon for another 500 pt clash between Soviets and the British Army of the Rhine but this time in 6mm / 1-285th scale!

And for those of you out there asking "did he finish his British started on Thursday?"  The answer is most certainly YES!  All got done except the Harrier, who got a pathetic gull grey dry brush and that's about it...

I really tried to make the table look good as the terrain becomes so important when the micro armor is on the table and each time I play I learn a bit more about what I need to "dress up" on the table next.

The roads are Ken's.  I need to get some of these felt Hotz roads.
Anyways, to the action.  The orders of battle were very similar to last week's except the Soviets received an "upgrade" with a T-64A tank company, 2 platoons of infantry in BMP-1 IFVs, and the recce was beefed up to include a BMP-1 with dismounts.  Soviet BP was 51 (down from 61 last week) and the British was 37.
Also, I'm kicking myself but I paid for dedicated artillery support and never used it!  Inexcusable.  I'll be off to Siberia counting Pine Trees before the month's end.  Okay now onto the action!

Soviet recce patrol skulking about the objective.

Scimitars and "Strikers" (swingfire models) move into position to challenge the Soviet recon.  

Gratuitous shot of one of the British Swingfire models.
 Ken moves up to challenge the Soviet recce and places his FOO into a German house.  I immediately push the BMP patrol up to it and the battle is on!  Ken calls his artillery onto the BRDM and BMP and places fire from the Striker and Scimitar along the autobahn onto the Russian patrol.  The BMP is KO'd and the troops dismount, pinned.  It's going to be a long day!  Chit pulling like crazy on both sides.

British FOO Team.  Check out that DPM camo!  Not great but not terrible - they're 6mm tall!

carnage on the autobahn as the recce BMP burns.

British recce is containing the Soviet lead elements!
 By turn 3, I'm ready for my tank company (T-64A) to show up.  I know just the place for them.  The "plan" is to push the armor on the left and breakthrough.  the battlefield is sliced in 2 by a few wooded copses.  On the right is a force of BMP-1s (2 x platoons) which are my main column.  They will assault the right, taking an objective in a field there and pushing on to swing around and clear out the woods, bagging Ken's objective.

T-64A company arrives on the field!  Hey I have an idea, comrade.  Let's blast the borscht out of that house in front of us.
 The T-64s position themselves smartly this time to engage flank and frontal targets so less tubes are wasted with no shots per turn.
Relief in place of the scout elements as the heavies come in.  YES I KNOW THEY ARE T-72s 
 The T-64's coming on will push into and surround an objective in the British "No Man's Land" section of the table but I won't be able to take it until I kick out the Scimitar in the cornfield and the British dismounted FOO team in the house.  They're making my life miserable!  And speaking of miserable, Turn 4 sees a Harrier inbound!  Ken put a timed strike right where he felt the kill zone would be and it's good planning because it's occupied by my T-64 company and half of my recce troops!

Target rich environment as a Striker targets the tanks along the autobahn.

 Ken's strike while scary doesn't accomplish what he hoped and I think a T-64 becomes pinned but the assault grinds on with armor churning its way towards Ken's baseline!

My 1/300 Harrier was the ONLY thing I didn't get completely finished painting in time for this game so you'll have to make due with Ken's OUTSTANDING F-16 with ordnance installed!
The Harrier streaks away untouched towards the north as my ZSU, just like last week's game, doesn't come on until turn 6...

T-64 company "bounds" up and foolishly sits still to engage in a tank duel with Chieftains.  What was I thinking???

The Chieftains will get the better end of this scuffle...
 Turn 5 and 6 BMPs show up and charge towards the next objective, which, at the moment, is guarded by a single Scimitar!  My BMP-1 makes short work of it and bags the objective with a platoon order.

Burning Scimitar and the objective (yellow die) is ripe for the taking.

BRDM races into the town and ends up leaving the table forcing a chit draw.

meanwhile T-64s on flank guard are ready to be pulled back.  (YES I KNOW THEY'RE T-72s!!)

Ken is cagey and throws a Striker (Yes it's a Swingfire!!!) out on the flank.

Meanwhile the tank duel with the Chieftains is in full swing.  The burning Chieftains behind them fell prey to another Chieftain lurking on the flank.
At this point in the battle, I figuratively handed the initiative off to NATO by settling in for a tank duel with Chieftains.  Not a bright idea especially since I paid for the "Breakthrough" ability.  I could have been well along my way to the Rhine by now...
Look at these monsters!  

Soviets preparing to enter the cornfield and the town.  NATO troops were spotted there!

Soviet command shows up and with it, the ability to call 122mm SP Artillery.  Too bad I forgot about them!!!!!!
 On the left, things are slowing down and I'm getting impatient.  I finally unpin the recon troops along the autobahn and direct them to take out the FOO team in the house!
Soviets charge their AK74s and move out!
 The scouts move out to the small farmstead but fail their pre assault check!  To add insult to injury - they're pinned!
Meanwhile the Brits establish a main line in the woods west of the autobahn.

British mech infantry establish blocking positions holding out against Soviet flanking moves and attempts to breakthrough off the table.  They'd all go on Ambush Fire soon!

Looking to run the gauntlet, this BRDM guns the engine and moves out off the table!  a LAW flies at him and misses!
 In the cornfield, the Soviet frolic comes to an end as hardcore professionals close assault the Soviet fireteams knocking one out and pinning the other.

 Meanwhile, the 2nd Motor Rifle Platoon stages to race down the road towards the exits!  A photo finish?

My attempt at 6mm DPM camouflage.  I think they turned out quite nicely.

Assaulting Ivan in the cornfield.

Soviet team pinned and the British are coming on!
 The game makes alot of sense to me.  Don't assault a fireteam that's not pinned.  Also, it's incredibly difficult to kill infantry, but it's relatively easy to suppress them.  I used the BMPs to lob HE shells at the British in the cornfield, too bad my gunnery sucks today!

With the BRDM off the table, I race my BMPs down the road.  One makes it off.  Then another takes a LAW shot and gets itself knocked out.  Both teams dismount with 1 ending up destroyed after failing its casualty roll, and the other pinned.  I pull 2 x chits and reach my BP of 51.  This game is over!  Soviets lose again!

This last BMP "would" have probably gotten Ken to pull his final BR counters but as fate would have it, I pulled first.  

Lessons Learned
Wow where to begin.  The second game of NORTHAG and one which we actually finished.  There were a few key take aways for me.

Good Staffwork
First of all, it would have been better to keep a closer eye on my forces.  I completed missed out on the opportunity to shell the FOO in the house, among other things.  So right away - keep a detailed roster of your forces close by.  It sounds incredibly stupid I know, but when you're managing a bunch of forces it's not hard to do.  Keep a roster!

Have a Plan
The game also rewards good planning.  Timing artillery and air strikes to coincide with advances is a solid tactic that works.  This becomes particularly more for the Warsaw Pact player and the game really forces you to centrally plan.  Things like treelines to shell, buildings to shell, and locations for airstrikes should be timed to cover your advance as it speeds along.  NATO will have to be agile and unpredictable (ahem...Airland Battle) to win.

The game really rewards mobility for both sides.  Push your tracks, troops, and choppers hard.  Keep them moving.

Win the Recon Fight!
The game rewards good tactics and planning.  In any battle, you have to dominate the recon fight with counter-patrolling, and heavily supported scouts.  Soviet doctrine was pretty clear that they intended to win the encounter and armed their scouts with radios, BMPs, the ability to call in fire, and even tank platoons.  NORTHAG rewards when you out-scout your opponent so in my opinion, don't skip out on recce support (like I do in WW2 battlegroup!).  Winning this fight means you might be able to pick your table edge.

Press On!
As I mentioned earlier, it was pretty inexcusable that I didn't bum-rush those Chieftains and zoom right past them.  (I admitted to Ken it felt a little cheesy to drive around them or zip across their front) but Ken reminded me you have the rule in place to win as the WP player and there is probably no way to win going toe to toe with British Chieftains and even when you have T-64A's in your stable.  So instead of settling in, bypass, re-gas, and haul a** as our American tankers like to say.  (I'm sure there is a British and Russian equivalent to this expression).

Anyways I hope you enjoyed reading this as much as we enjoyed playing it!