|28th Infantry Division, the so-called "Bloody Bucket" by the Germans
Ken was over yesterday to participate in a small slice of the action from the initial German assault during the Battle of the Bulge. The action we played out specifically was the 26th Volksgrenadier Division's assault against Company I, 3rd Battalion, 110th Infantry Regiment, 28th Infantry Division on December 17th, 1944 against the town of Weiler.
|Weiler occupies the left shoulder of the German breakthrough, the extreme right flank of the 110th IR's area of operations in December, 1944
Originally I wanted to use Crossfire to play this battle (loosely based on the Hit the Dirt scenario "Germans in the Woods") but I wasn't crazy about the "iffy" victory conditions in the scenario (EG if X happens, the Americans have done OK") and I had some issues finding balance in the scenario I was playtesting. With a single company-on-company, the Americans won all 4 playtest games, even with the attached armor I gave the Germans. I gave the Germans another company but then this turned out to be too easy for the Germans. Am I being too picky? Maybe. Anyways I went with Iron Cross, which to me plays very similarly to Crossfire, albeit a bit more structured than Crossfire (I am still determined to find a good balance for this scenario and I am not giving up on CF)
|Ken behind the American lines
|26th Volksgrenadier troops at the startline!
It took Ken and I maybe 2 x turns to get back into Iron Cross to where we were playing it correctly. Once we were "seasoned" again, we both started to play much more dangerously. We played the "breakthrough" scenario and Ken played the Ami's. My job was to get 30% of my breakpoint value into Ken's third of the table. Given that we were playing the long way down the table, this was not going to be the pushover I thought it would be. I was playing Volksturm from the late war "elite forces" OOB. These conscripts must roll a D6 each turn to see how many actions they dont take because they're conscripts and have to be literally pushed towards the objective!
I attempted to be "cagey" moving behind cover and line of sight from the American MGs and mortars, which could reach my squads anywhere on the table. Ken sends out a patrol into the woods to his front to investigate the sound of enemy armor...
Contact! The Marder backs up with a successful reaction, but the American GIs know if they don't deal with this threat, their backs will be against the wall in Weiler. The bazooka fires one round, damaging the Marder III. The next round (another successful activation) seals its fate. The accompanying infantry are firing against the GIs but to no avail. The time table is slipping away!
|The Marder burns while its begleitung infantry take cover in a ruined farmhouse
Ken fires mortars and machine guns at the German start line and immediately puts hurt onto the advancing VGs. I decide to use the abundance of cover on the left, a beautiful tree-lined road, to leap-frog squads and MG teams forward. (BTW, this strategy in my Crossfire test games worked very well until the Germans reached Weiler. Let's see what happens!)
One of the things I'll say about Iron Cross is the intense focus on resource management. Like in Crossfire with managing your possession of the initiative, in IC, you have to manage your limited number of activation tokens. Any action costs one, whether it's successful in activating or not. My mortar tubes remained silent for most of the game while I spent the tokens on advancing my squads and keeping the Americans' heads down!
|The VG's reach the relative safety of the high hedge next to the Marder. The Ami's can be heard shouting in english to one another!
|Furious firefight breaks out at the Cemetery outside Weiler as US squads pour on the fire at the Germans in the winter wheat and along the road attempting to over run the town.
|US Squads continuing to reinforce. The blue beads are activation tokens. The bazooka markers are simply markers (I use these stands for Crossfire also).
|The Americans guarding the field. The dark round markers are morale markers IE hits from fire.
|The German "Base of fire" elements trying to keep the pressure on the US forces while I slide more troops up along the road.
|This squad took a number of hits and activated twice
There is high drama along the Road to Weiler as my squads advance and immediately come under fire by Ken's GIs guarding the town. It's time to bring the armor up! Ken is moving more squads over to the town now. Unlike Crossfire, there is a turn limit to this game. 6 turns for breakthrough with the possibility of a 7th turn. I'm starting to get nervous. While the German HMG moves up and starts putting more hurt on the GIs in the Cemetery, I'm not sure if I'll be able to move enough forces from my start line over to the left flank in time. Too much dawdling!
|Eventually 2 of the US squads would be knocked out, along with the AT Gun. THe Germans move up and flank the AT gun and are behind the US start line!
|That D6 to their front is the US third of the table. The start line! We're gonna make it!
|German HMG pouring on the fire against the Cemetery
|The US Platoon Leader (called a "Sub commander" in IC) is one of the last fighting stands in the cemetery!
My last-ditch effort is to bring up the Marder III as the US is hurting in the cemetery (but there are loads of reinforcements behind them coming up!). It's turn 6.
|Heavily reinforced US left flank - locked down with HMGs and infantry!
|The Armor comes clanking down the road moving past the cemetery...
At this point you're wondering how this drama on the table played out? Well I had 3 German squads, 1 HMG, and 1 tank on the US side of the line. 20 BP points. I needed 30! I also had a whopping 5 squads killed by US fire. The US forces weren't doing too shabby with 2 squads KO'd, and an AT gun knocked out. The breakthrough that the commander, 26th VG Division needed would not be at Weiler!
This was a great fight - much fun. I probably should have read up on IC more before we sat down to play (my playtest games were mostly Crossfire games this past week) so it took us a few turns before we re-learned how to play. Once the knowledge was seated in our brains, we were dangerous again!
I think in hindsight I should have moved up the left from the start. Ken weighted the majority of his firepower against the large open areas in front of Weiler, but not the roadway. With the other Marder III and a few more squads, I could have won the game, and the elements that actually crossed the line would have had more support when they got there!
While it's not Crossfire, I do love a game of Iron Cross played against a human being. The back and forth becomes intense and each activation becomes more and more important as the game moves on. There is a real sense of resource management and planning and a host of decisions to make each turn. You are NOT sitting around waiting for something to happen. Everything you do is a gamble - sometimes they pay off big time and sometimes they don't. You see how forcing morale markers onto the enemy (IE hits) pays off when he tries to activate and shoot. His performance degrades in front of your eyes to the point where he'll need to burn more and more tokens on rallying. There is an OODA loop element to this as you carry out your plan. As I starting throwing Germans across teh goal line, my immediate thoughts were constantly revolving around my next actions and his next actions. Much like in Crossfire (a real thinking man's game IMHO) you have to have a plan, use the terrain to your advantage and show up at where you planned your decisive point to be with overwhelming firepower. If that's not the hallmark of a good game, I dont know what is. Mission Accomplished!
As stated before, I'm going to continue to play Crossfire and I feel like it's quickly becoming my go-to set of WWII rules and hits all the marks I need it to hit. I love that your platoons have their organic chain of command and that the location of the command stands matter. I love the use of company level heavy weapons and battalion attachments and that you can decide where best to employ them, and most of all I love that Crossfire makes you think like a Company Commander, and analyze the terrain, fireplan, and continuously re-evaluate your plan. In fact, in one of my Weiler playtest games, I used actual military control graphics (phaselines, target reference points, fire support planning, axes of advance and support, and templated enemy positions - just like my days in the Army - to draw out the plan. Everything went perfectly well until contact was made!!! Didn't Murphy say something about no Crossfire game plan survives first contact with the enemy?).
Okay that's enough glowing endorsements from me today :) I hope everyone is having a great week and that you got everything you wanted from Santa! Here's to another year down, and another Christmas Offensive in the books.
Now off to go playtest more Napoleonic rules...