No rest for the weary as we take the fighting to the Kursk battles with Norm's excellent "Tigers at Minsk" rules.
I wanted to explore the possibility of creating some "big" scenarios and I turned to the Battlegroup series of rules to do just that. Battlegroup: Kursk has a series of linked games re-fighting the Prokhorovka battles. Those are sliced into a series of games and players have the option to play a simultaneous MEGA game (this game in the book would truly be MEGA, by the way on a 20' by 8' table!) or play each action individually. The Boardgame Geek link for TAM is here.
Creating a Tigers at Minsk Scenario
The scenario first up from the Battlegroup Kursk game is "First Charge at Hill 252.2" where SS tanks and infantry collide with the 32nd Guards' tanks and infantry. At first I tried to set up the entire battle on a 20 hex by 15 hex battlefield, but decided to play around with things a bit more and further divided that engagement up into 2 separate engagements, east and west, for Tigers at Minsk.
This battle featured a Soviet assault against the Oktiabrski State Farm. The Soviets have 5 x T-34s, 4 x Infantry Squads, an HMG section, an SU-76 supporting the infantry, and an 82mm Mortar section (morale 6) Alot of firepower, but not alot of infantry. The Germans have 3 SS squads in fighting positions, an HMG, 2 x fire missions of 150mm Artillery Fire in support along with an FO, a Panzer IV, and a Tiger I (Morale 3 +1D3)
|German HMG crew in the building|
Special rule - the SS here are "fanatical" and so they will rally in 1 terrain level "better" than where they are. Their morale level / scenario breakpoint is also variable. Given the small number of units, their morale should be "3" in TAM terms, so with their historical tenacity during Kursk, I gave them a 1D3 "boost" in morale level. This game they achieved a 3 which helped the game last a bit longer.
The terrain was fun to play with. Historically, at least in the northern prong (Ponyri), the crop fields are seriously overgrown given the lack of workers to tend to them and harvest. So while the wheat fields offer cover for "Non Armored Fire" in Tigers at Minsk, I made them variable line of sight like rough/scrub. This made for a very fun and interesting "cat and mouse" situation where the Soviets would attempt to shoot at the dug-in squad in the wheatfield holding down the German left flank but couldn't always see them, and so trained their fire against the easier targets of the buildings of the collective farm.
To the north, the Soviet tanks see their entrance restricted and canalized by trees, so with the 1 hex movement in LOS of an enemy hex, the Soviets cannot conduct any daring armored thrusts early-on and have to coordinate their attack. They have poor command and control and so only 1 single hex is able to be "in command" for the entire game. Basically the Soviets have a huge sledgehammer but have a difficult time using it against the Germans.
Finally, to add another element of tension, the German tanks start from their base edge hexline and must trudge all the way up to the collective farm buildings to get into the game. With the amount of ground to cover moving only 1 or 2 hexes, this was an agonizing wait for the Germans.
This gives a sort of "last stand" feel to the action while their squads hold on and cross their fingers that they'll either rally or Ivan's shooting won't be effective.
I had the game last 90 "minutes" which probably could have been comfortable 75 minutes or if you want even more tension, make it 60 minutes.
Special rule idea - I also tinkered around with the idea that when playing a larger game, on say 20 hexes by 15 hexes, the Soviets have the ability to erase 1D6 or 2D6 minutes off the clock by capturing objectives. That would also add a nice element of tension to an already tense game!
The stage is set for an exciting show-down with both sides bringing interesting advantages to the table with the Soviets holding a serious firepower advantage and the Germans holding a qualitative advantage in terms of their troops' staying power!
|German opportunity fire pinning a Soviet squad as it emerges from the wheatfield|
The game opens up with maximum Soviet effort as all of the Soviets pass command rolls and move forward. Germans open fire with the HMG from the collective farm after a Soviet squad stumbles into the open from the wheatfield. They're prompty pinned down. The Armor moves up to the defile between the wooded copses. Soviet mortars also start firing at the collective buildings to suppress the defenders. The Germans have their FO up front and call in fire against the Soviets in the open, plastering them and pinning another squad. The armor are both "out of command" and stuck. The Soviets must weigh the decision of getting their armor up front to do some serious damage against the infantry, or pushing their infantry forward into the jaws of the German defenses. It's a see-saw effort as I move back and forth between pinning Germans on one turn, and moving up elements on the other.
The wheatfield is intersected by an access road that features full visibility for both sides and this proves to be a tough spot for the Soviet infantry, who should have used smoke to cover their advance! The Germans take full advantage of the situation and pin the advancing Soviets trying to cross the road. THe frustrating nature of the wheat field is hard on both sides as the German squad holding the left flank doens't always see the Soviet teams, either. The German armor is moving slowly.
The Soviet Armor sorts itself out and starts to move up through the defile. Next turn they'll be able to open up against the collective farm buildings so the German armor had better get moving! Pinned German elements in the buildings find they can unpin more quickly (fanatical rule) which is good for them as it keeps Ivan at bay a little longer. FO brings the last 150mm fire mission against the oncoming Soviet infantry to break up their attack. THe barrage misses the intended target, but hits Soviets further west in the next hex and eliminates a squad. German armor still having a very tough slog of getting up. The Tiger moves, but the Panzer IV is out of command. More tough decisions weighing moving crucial German armor up and risking not suppressing advancing Soviet infantry! In the end, the men at the sharp end get the priority and the tank advance is slowed.
|Soviet armor at "the defile"|
Ivan gets 2 x T-34s up into the Defile between the woods but they can't fire this turn. The tanks are undoubtedly scanning and acquiring targets for the infantry. The Soviet infantry try, unsuccessfully, to rally this turn, and the Soviet infantry on the access road start spotting targets for the SU-76 to fire against. German shooting is painfully ineffective against the infantry in the wheatfield, and the Panzer IV is still out of command, struggling to navigate their panzer up through drainage culverts and fields. The German pinned squads rally and they're still in this fight!
|20 agonizing minutes and still no panzers in sight!|
Soviet tanks open fire against the houses but fail to knock out targets. Soviet armor attempts to move through the forested terrain but fails to get into the woods to their left (A scenario consideration to make this game even better would be to make the woods completely impassable to armor thus forcing the Soviets into even more crucial decisions to make).
The SU-76 makes its presence known and the firing pins the Germans in the workers houses. The Soviet HMG fails to unpin. The Tiger is making progress and is almost at the line and the Panzer IV moves with a little encouragement from the platoon leader, who gives the tank commander a good verbal lashing over the radio.
|Pinned Germans in the houses!|
|SU76 and Soviet infantry crossing the road. Note the pinned and out of command HMG!|
|The Soviet 82mm Mortar section seeking out targets!|
The Soviet mortar, combined with the firing from the tanks and the SU76 knock out another German squad and the Germans are wondering where in the world their armor could be at. The Soviets fail all of their other command rolls! The tiger reaches a good firing position behind the right-most house. The Germans in the houses try to unpin with mixed results. THey're barely holding on now.
The Soviets try to move their remaining armor around the wooded copse and get more firepower up on the line. The Soviet Commander realizes he needs to blast those Germans in the buildings to take the complex but he's running out of infantry squads, with only 1 remaining! The Soviet HMG and pinned infantry fail to unpin and immediately acquires 2 unlucky Soviet tanks. The German tiger is in position (Finally!!) and ready to shoot. The crew calmly lays the turret onto the target, gunner's eyes never once leaving the gunsight, and the crosshairs are laid across the front glacis of the Soviet T-34. The gunner fires! The round remarkably hits the front of the Soviet tank but somehow remarkably the crew are still alive in the fighting compartment and the tank is still in the fight although "Stunned." The Soviet tank fails to recover from stunned this turn.
|The German armor, half of it, arrives and immediately goes into battle|
The Soviets try again and again are unsuccessful, at bringing armor through the wooded copse, however 2 other T-34s are continuing their march around the terrain. The T-34 in contact shoots at the Tiger I but cannot hurt it. Soviet remaining infantry and the SU76 destroy another German squad and all that remains is now a single squad and the SU76. Meanwhile the Germans are having luck problems of their own as both the Tiger and the Panzer IV are "out of command" this turn. THe stunned T-34 is still stunned. of note the Soviets are 1 away from their morale break and the Germans are 2 away.
|Failing his terrain check roll - what do you expect from 2 weeks of driver's training before shipping out to the front comrade?|
|knocked out T34 and a stunned T34|
A Soviet command disaster! Only 1 hex is in command for the entire battlefield! The T-34 in command fires and knocks out the remaining German infantry in the house. The Germans are down to a single squad in the wheatfield on the left. The Panzer IV, finally in command, fires and knocks out the SU76. His help would have been sorely needed about 20 minutes ago! The Tiger knocks out the "other" Soviet T-34 in the stunned hex. All Soviet elements except the stunned T-34 take a morale check. They all fail and the mortars bug out off the table. I called the action here - a real nail biter of a game!
|Panzer IV helps out by knocking out the SU76 - his only real accomplishment for the day!|
|Now is no time to pose for pictures, men!|
This was a very fun and interesting game full of decisions. I would have liked to open the table up a bit more as there is alot of firepower in a very condensed space. I will continue to tinker around with this scenario and expand on it.
The Soviets could also try to mount their infantry on the tanks and that would create a very different situation from what was experienced here. In fact the Soviets probably stand a better chance of making contact with the Germans if they come in on the tanks. That does, however, eliminate the choices you have to make as the Soviet player and I rather enjoyed the tension of a dual infantry-armor advance. the real secret is both of those elements working in concert with one another, IF you can get your command rolls to cooperate! The Soviets have enough tools to do the job here with an assault gun, mortars, and a full platoon of infantry. They just need the tanks to help blast a hole in the line.
The Germans are very under-gunned here, but benefit from cover and from an ability to rally a bit more quickly. With 5 x T-34s bearing down on the German infantry, though, they need something that can kill tanks and they need it quickly! Again, if the Soviets have a good day with the dice and can coordinate their efforts, the German infantry can be blasted right out of those houses.
I wondered about the possibility of the Germans starting with a Pak-38 AT gun, a smaller 50mm gun with limited number of "special ammunition" that will run out. This would add another element of desperation to the German defense in this scenario, with the tanks showing up hopefully as the AT gun has fired all of its special ammo. In TAM, just like in real war, nothing is a certainty, though.
Another thought to make this game even more frustrating for the Germans is to add the variable morale roll for the Germans to occur AFTER they reach their initial morale BP of 3. Thoughts on that?
I plan on actually producing a map and stats for the units soon, and will continue to playtest this scenario further.
Bigger Games of TAM?
Combining the Oktiabrski State Farm fighting with the First Charge at Hill 252 game would be a very enjoyable game but admittedly I still need to set up and play the Hill 252 game. My intention is to combine both of those games into 1 large game, OR, have it as a multi player game on the same table, with 2 players facing off at the collective farm, and 2 players facing off in a meeting engagement over Hill 252. Much more to ponder on that but don't think for a second that there will be any less TAM action on the table this coming year! If you're reading this, Norm, I have big plans!
Speaking of which, I know I've been procrastinating with the 2021 Priorities post. It's coming I promise! Hopefully I'll have it completely posted on New Year's Eve, Eastern Standard Time. Stay tuned!