Next War: Korea and Red Phoenix

I just finished reading Larry Bond’s classic 1989 military thriller, Red Phoenix.

What a great read! It’s an epic tale of a Second Korean War set during the late 1980s just at the tail end of the Cold War.

There’s plenty to enjoy – taut military action, intrigue, and a look at the political dynamics that such a war might have involved during that time.

In case you haven’t read it, Bond’s tale starts off with a growing crisis on the Korean peninsula. North Korea’s ailing father-figure Kim Il-sung is in the twilight of his life. His son, the de facto leader of the regime, is hungry for a war of unification to make the old man happy before he croaks. Sensing vulnerability in the political turmoil of South Korea’s student demonstrations, Dear Leader decides to stir the pot with some fancy footwork by double-agents in high government positions.

Soon, the South Korean military is cracking down hard and shooting into crowds of unarmed protestors. This violence doesn’t sit well with Washington lawmakers, who see an opportunity to do a little political grandstanding by slapping the country with trade sanctions and a threatened military withdrawal. None of it matters.

As the turmoil in South Korea deepens, the American president announces a punitive withdrawal of all US military forces from the peninsula. Too late, he learns that he has been misled by his national security advisor. Left with no choice but to go ahead with the pullout, he asks the local American military commander to intentionally drag out the process.

The growing instability in South Korea leads to an attempted coup by the country’s senior military leaders, who are caught at the last minute and arrested. Thus begins a purge of the ROK military’s best and brightest officers. Soon the army is a mere husk of its former self.

M48 tanks of the South Korean military in the 1980s.

Seeing his chance, the North Korean leader puts into motion a plan called “Red Phoenix”. This is a military strategy aimed at defeating the South Koreans and uniting the country under the communist banner. The US and its South Korean ally are surprised by a massive attack on Christmas Day as the DPRK hurls its troops across the DMZ and over the Han River. The Soviets are only too happy to help feed the offensive with supplies and the latest military technology. As the US Army and the ROK retreat south, things begin to spiral out of control and the conflict threatens to become a much wider war.

I won’t spoil the ending here. I would rank this as one of my favorites – up there with Clancy’s Red Storm Rising and The Hunt for Red October. I also enjoyed Bond’s Vortex, which is an underappreciated classic.

Red Phoenix put me in the mood to play Mitchell Land’s excellent debut in the Next War series, Next War: Korea. I got this game when it first came out and made a real mess of the rules while learning the Standard game. Since I finally had a bit of time, I returned to it with the determination to get things right.

Over the course of ten days, I played and replayed the game’s first Standard scenario, Seoul Train. Admittedly, I was pretty rusty with the rules and made many mistakes trying to get the system down. Reading Mr. Land’s AAR on Boardgamegeek helped immensely in getting the rules straight once and for all (though the part about Advance/Control checks should actually be replaced with Clearing markers to reflect the latest rules iteration).

While I was playing this scenario, I wondered a little at how it could be adapted to fit the situation in Larry Bond’s novel. I think you could create a variant based on the Seoul Train scenario. Basically, just keep everything the same with the following adjustments:

  • reduce the Efficiency rating of all ROK units by 1 to reflect the loss of morale and leadership before the start of the war
  • reduce the Efficiency rating of the US 2nd Division by 1 to reflect the loss in equipment due to the withdrawal of US forces
  • ROK 20/VII unit sets up in 3018 to reflect the fact that the S. Korea political leaders order several units up north near the DMZ so as to avoid another coup attempt. This unit cannot move for the duration of Turn 1.
  • No ROK units may move into or through an Urban hex during Turn 1.
  • At the start of Turn 1, roll a d10. If the result is even, remove ROK’s single Air Point for this turn to reflect the chaotic evacuation effort and the attacks at Gimpo International.
  • Map: Row 31xx and everything to the west of it are in play.
  • Tunnels: The DPRK gets only two tunnels instead of three for Turn 1. One of the tunnels is discovered at the beginning of the book.
  • Objectives: In the book, the DPRK’s strategy was to surround Seoul rather than capture it. To reflect this, the victory conditions are changed as follows: 1 VP for capturing each of the following: Gimpo, Goyang, Guri, Hanam. 1 VP for every 2 stacking points worth of units off the the south edge of the map (row xx22).
    • A major DPRK victory is achieved at 10 or more victory points. Anything else is an ROK victory.

I haven’t fine-tuned the above rules yet but I think this is a good starting point for a decent Red Phoenix scenario. Any feedback is much appreciated.

MBT: The Gap

“The Gap” is scenario 3 from Jim Day’s popular MBT (second edition, GMT, 2015).

The Soviet 8th Guards Army are pouring over the border into West Germany along with the rest of the Warsaw Pact. The 79th Guards Tank Division is given the honor of advancing first into the Fulda Gap, where it meets elements of the US 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment (ACR), the Blackhorse Regiment. The cav’s mission – delay the Soviet forces while the rest of the US forces move up towards the border.

In this scenario, the US gets an under-strength Armored Cav Troop. That means we have an M1IP tank platoon (the IP model was basically a slightly upgraded M1 Abrams in terms of armor and electronics) and two pairs of M3 Bradleys along with an M106 for indirect fire support. We also get four recon infantry sections armed with little more than LAWs to deal with the oncoming onslaught of Soviet armor.

The Soviets get a ton of tanks and fighting vehicles. They have an entire reinforced tank company with which to take on the US cavalry. This means four platoons of T-80BV tanks, three platoons of BMP-2s filled with infantry that have RPG-22s (and in one case, a Saxhorn ATGM launcher). They also have three self-propelled artillery guns and a couple of engineer squads riding around in a pair of BTR-70s. They get a BRM-1 reconnaissance vehicle too. That is a heck of a lot of firepower.

The major US advantages lie with the American concealment and prepared fighting positions. Two vehicles may set up in a hull down position while four units can use hidden unit markers (I am playing solo so I didn’t use these). The US player also gets a bonus when searching for hull down positions and a +20 to initiative rolls each turn.

The main objective of the Soviets is to get off the left edge of the map board. The Americans obviously want to prevent this from happening.

Here’s how it went:

Initial US Setup (ignore the errant KO marker)

We’ve got map board 1 above map board 3 here with a village or town on either side of the maps. The game starts up with the US set up and the Soviets off board. From turn 1, the Soviets get their tanks moving while the rest of the company (BMPs etc.) comes on board on turn 3.

One of the great things about the US M3 and infantry cav units is that they are recon units and therefore get their own unique command counters. No need to be within the command span of the US company HQ.

I set my units up with the idea of basically funneling the Soviets through the middle of the map and into the kill zone set up by my M1 tanks. To this effect, I put infantry up on the top of the southern hill in the woods hex under full cover. The M3s are set up on the east side of the hill. I am hoping to hit out at the Soviets as they come on the board and then pull them back over the hill as soon as possible.

To the north of them, I put infantry beside the road to ambush any hapless Soviet tanks that try to dash west along it. To the north of them, set up in Hull Down positions, are two M3 Bradleys. To the west, set up in and around the crops (the crops give automatic partial hull down cover) are my M1 tank platoon.

Further west in the village is an infantry squad and the company HQ tank along with the M106 artillery and an M3 Bradley with a TOW launcher to fire from extreme range.

Infantry and M3 Bradleys set up on and near hill in SE corner of map. 
NE of map: A pair of Bradleys and infantry near the road set up on overwatch.
M1 Tank platoon set up in NW corner of map with CHQ and arty in village

Turn 1:

End of Turn 1

During Turn 1, the Soviet tanks come on board, taking eye-watering losses to long-range ATGM fire from the Bradleys. Three tanks are knocked out by the Bradleys on the hill on the northeast section of the map. A Bradley way back on the western edge takes out another T-80. The pair of M3s to the south miss both their shots with the second one actually incurring a weapons malfunction!

Turn 2:

End Turn 2

By the end of turn 2, the Soviets have lost another pair of T-80s. However, the lead platoon is nearly halfway across the map and has managed a kill on an M1. The M3 Bradleys down near the southeast of the map are in deep trouble. One is killed while the other is in full reverse trying to get away from a pair of tanks rumbling towards it. As you can probably guess, the surviving M3 is the one with the weapons malfunction.

Turn 3:

Turn 3

The Soviets try to use a kind of bounding overwatch to move their remaining tanks forward. A pair of T-80s is pursuing the M3 Bradley to the south, getting dangerously close to being out of the command span (the scenario rules say the Russian command span is 8 but I used 10 here). At this point, it hits me that this is probably a bad idea. The T-80s both fire and somehow both miss their prey.

The BMPs come on board and head west out of the little town nearest their map edge. Due to the trees to the north, the M3 Bradleys cannot get an LOS on them even though they are on top of a large hill.

Turn 4:

The M1s are engaged with a Soviet tank platoon near the center of the board so the Soviet commander decides to just skirt around the southern hill and send the rest of his guys west while the Americans deal with the tanks. This seems like a pretty reasonable tactic at this point. There isn’t really anything that can hurt them that much, right?

Turn 5:

The remaining pair of T-80s manage to both score kills on two M1 tanks at point blank range before being cut down by the Company HQ tank and the M3 Bradley in the town. A pair of T-80s races out of command span and tries to get into firing position near the town while the BMPs make a run across the hill and try to dash off the map.

Unfortunately for the Soviets, the M3’s weapons malfunction is repaired now and it starts killing BMPs. The pair of M3 Bradleys on the northern hill come down and try to get in position to score some kills on the swarm of BMPs as they make their escape. The infantry start to open fire on the nearest BMPs as they roll into sight.

Turn 6:

More devastation occurs as the infantry up on the southern hill start firing off LAWs at the escaping BMPs, scoring a pair of hits. The M3 on the hill pours in GP fire on a Russian squad that has bailed out of its damaged vehicle. Meanwhile, the CHQ and the M3 in the town manage to easily dispatch the T-80s that were attempting to provide cover fire. The swarm of BMPs has been whittled down to a little over two platoons.

The BTR-70s near the center of the map start firing at the M3 Bradleys at close range, causing a bail out result on one. The other is unscratched.

Turn 7:

A BMP manages to kill off the American M3 Bradley in the town to the north. Both CHQs fire at each other at point blank range and miss. The US artillery fire combined with the infantry GP fire and the M3 Bradley on the southern hill massacre two squads worth of Soviet troops, eliminating one and reducing two others.

On Turn 8, the rest of the BMPs and the Soviet CHQ race off the map edge, leaving behind the BTR-70s and (oops!) the 2S1 artillery as well. I have totally forgotten about them and concede them as lost to the enemy by the end of the scenario.

As you can guess, the Soviets lost badly in this one, with the US VPs reaching nearly double what was required for a win (something around 740, I think? – I was too numbed to count).

I had fun with this scenario. It’s really tense and although it may look like a cakewalk for the Soviets just by sheer numbers, it’s really easy to make a bad decision and lose quickly. Up until about turn 4, it looked like the Soviets would just cakewalk through the whole thing.

However, the Americans managed to cause enough problems to effectively hinder the Russians forces as they rushed towards the map edge. I would like to try this scenario again, this time using the Russian artillery more wisely and focusing my firepower just a bit more before rushing forward.

Wing Leader Victories: Stalingrad Airlift

Wing Leader Victories 1940 – 1942 is a really fun air combat game. I got it last year as an impulse buy during a time when I had a million other things going on in my life. As a result, it slid right into my collection like a stealth plane, its presence barely detectable among all the other clutter of my busy days and frantic nights.

During a self-imposed lull in my life when I should have been hard at work at something or other, I spied it on my shelf. I pulled it out and wondered how on earth I had failed to be enticed by the box cover’s lovely artwork featuring a P-40 Warhawk screaming down through the shattered skies.

The components are nice with plenty of reference charts for easy play. It has a nicely organized rulebook and there are plenty of scenarios covering a wide swatch of air combat that characterized the early days of World War II.

The game is easy to learn, plays very smoothly, and has a clean uncluttered look to it. The scenarios are diverse in terms of size and aircraft mix and there are over 23 of them in the scenario book –  so you can pick and choose among them according to your particular taste and available time.

I had a blast playing the smaller scenarios and was able to sit down and complete the smaller ones in a half hour after I had the rules down. The first two scenarios are basically training scenarios that feature American pilots in China and fighting off small bomber raids by Japanese forces. They were fun and I enjoyed them but I was more intrigued by the prospect of pitting seasoned German Luftwaffe pilots against the men and women of the ragtag Red Army Air Force.

I didn’t have to wait long to find an opportunity to do just that.

Stalingrad Airlift is the third scenario in the scenario book.  It is November 1942 and the German player is trying to get a pair of He-111 transport flights safely to the edge of the map so they can drop relief supplies to the encircled Sixth Army. At this point, the Luftwaffe is quickly wearing out and has few planes to spare for escort duties. The Soviets, however, are just getting geared up and are happy to throw lots of inexperienced pilots into the air to try and take down the Germans.

The setup is very simple. We have a dense layer of cloud at altitude 3. The German transports start off at least five squares away from each other at altitude 1. The German BF-109F flight is on escort duty and is placed at altitude 3 just behind the first wave of transports.

Setup

The Soviets go for a simple setup and put one Yak-1 squadron a few spaces ahead and 1 altitude level above the first flight and the other flight a few spaces behind the second flight.

On the first turn, the Yaks tally the He-111s. The German pilots, however, completely miss the incoming enemy aircraft and fail to tally them until they are right on top of the planes in their care! Rolling for reaction, the German pilots react successfully and dive to altitude 2. They engage the incoming Yaks before they get the chance to shoot up the lead He-111s.

The other Yak squadron races to catch up with the rear He-111s. Next turn, they should be able to dive down on top of them.

The combat between the lead Yaks and the German escort is uneventful. Neither side manages to inflict a loss on the other. However, during the Cohesion phase, I rolled a “3” for the Germans, causing a disruption. The German flight is broken despite its Veteran status and immediately heads for home starting on the next turn. The lead Yak squadron fares little better, earning a disruption but managing to stay in the fight for now.

On the next turn, the rear Yak squadron finally intercepts the lagging He-111 flight and scores a kill. Neither side is disrupted, however.

The lead Yaks turn around in their square and fly above the lead He-111 flight, ready to swoop down on it next turn.

On turn 3, the rear Yaks again hit their target. This time, I rolled an 11 for their attack, inflicting three hits. All three hits incur a loss. Having suffered the max number of losses, the rear He-111 flight is completely destroyed and the marker is removed from play.

They lead Yaks jump down on the He-111s in front, finally getting their chance now that the German escorts have run off. The Soviets fail to shoot down any of the bombers but the Germans do manage to inflict a single loss on the Yak squadron. The Soviets go on to fail their Cohesion roll and end up with a Broken flight.

There is no chance of the rear Yaks intercepting the only remaining He-111 flight before it leaves the table. With the other Yak squadron returning to base, the Germans manage to get one flight off the board, earning 6 VPs. They score an additional 1 VP for shooting down a Yak for a total of 7 VPs for the German player.

Wing Display at the end of the game

The Soviets have completely destroyed one entire flight, however, and get 8 VPs for their four He-111 kills.

We subtract the Soviet total from the German total for a grand total of -1 VPs. The Soviets have won handily in this test of arms. I think the key to victory for the Soviets was the rear Yak squadron with its great luck in downing an entire flight of He-111s. I was surprised to see the German escort flight break so fast. It usually lasts much longer than one turn and almost always manages to maul one of the Soviet squadrons. This is a tough scenario for the German player though as their escorts are spread very thin here.

Enemy Coast Ahead: The Dambuster Raid – The Campaign

I just finished my first full campaign game of Enemy Coast Ahead: The Dambuster Raid 1943. . Although I had played the first five scenarios of the game that focused solely on the bombing runs, I was excited to try the full campaign game that features a planning phase, flight phase, and the bombing runs. It was everything I thought it should be – it was tense, exciting, and full of decisions with consequences that rippled their way through the entire affair. I also should mention that I failed spectacularly and I still loved the experience. Here’s how it went:

Planning Segment:

Throughout my three planning turns, I tried my best to allocate most of my resources on getting my aircrews, upkeeps, and ground crew ready for the raid.

On the first turn, I requested an additional 30 RP on my first turn (for a total of 90 RP), which allowed me to get about 10 bombers, 7 upkeep, and 22 crew, about half of whom were veteran and the rest seasoned. This was a bad idea. With less than half the number of bombers as aircrews, the consequent -1 training modifier really hurt me in the end, causing quite a few damaged and crashed bombers.

Although I didn’t lose any aircrew, I didn’t get my seasoned or veteran crews advancing very fast, except in the navigation box. I did get a few elite crew members out of these training incidents but I also ended up pulling a Spy marker out of the cup too. I would either need to live with the possibility of a very high security risk or use extra RP in the next turn to try and get rid of the spy. I didn’t have the groundcrew I needed to work on the Lancaster modifications and I didn’t want to fatigue anyone on the first turn so I let them wait for the next turn.

On the second turn, I got a few extra groundcrew and 10 additional bombers and 12 upkeep markers. I again requested 30 additional RP for this turn, which raised my security risk higher and pretty much mandated that I use RP to get rid of the spy marker, which I did by using the Transfer the Barmaid option. All was well again in 617 squadron now. Training recommenced and with only a couple of damaged Lancasters this time around and several great rolls on the navigation and altitude & speed track resulted in several elite crewmembers getting drawn. Unfortunately, my bad luck prevailed with the chit pulls and this time I pulled a Jinx marker. Guy Gibson’s dog is run over and the squadron takes it as a bad omen.

I decide to keep my groundcrew fresh for next turn, when I plan to launch the raid. One groundcrew gets assigned to the Aldis Lights modification box and although I spend several RP trying to get two sixes, the best I can get is a single roll result of six. Next turn will be the one where I need to dedicate some serious effort into getting the modifications done.

By this point, I have reconned the Mohne Dam and the Sorpe Dam and came up with some alarming findings. It seems the Germans have gone ahead and built flak towers to protect both dams. In the case of the Sorpe, it appears the Germans also have taken the precaution of placing balloons and searchlights. Many of the other dams appear to have some kind of defense as well.

On the third planning turn, I decide to use my remaining RPs to requisition additional groundcrew. I’ll need to repair damaged Lancasters, train up my aircrews, make modifications to Lancasters, and then do flight prep. So much work and no time to do it in. I could wait another turn to get all this done but I’ll lose the advantage of moonlight during the raid.

All goes well enough in training and we suffer only 1 damaged Lancaster. The seasoned and veteran aircrews are doing extremely well in their Navigation skills. with the seasoned crew up to level 4 and the veterans at level 5. The veterans get 3 chits for altitude and speed checks while the seasoned crews get 2 and the greenies get only 1. At combined training level of 11 total, we are just one level shy of the Wallis bonus, which allows for the Upkeep bombs to always do the maximum damage when they hit a dam. The worst training results, as always, are in the bomb aiming and release training. This has been poor all three turns and as a result all our crews have a +1 bonus only.

Things go haywire while trying to get modifications done. All six groundcrews are thrown into repair and modifications and all but one are flipped over to their fatigued side by the end of the planning phase. Although all Lancasters are repaired and we successfully get VHF communications, we get neither the Aldis Lights or the Dann Bombsight, which will have significant impacts on our aircrews during the raid. Without Aldis Lights we are unable to draw Altitude chits.

During the Flight Prep, things go very well. One aircraft is grounded and a lucky roll of 12 results in no ordnance being grounded. Only two aircrew are grounded, which means that pretty much everyone can fly except for two Green aircrew that I hold back.

Final Recon brings the Flight Map recon in the Ruhr, Weser, and Dutch Coast to level 2. I spend the remaining RP on checking out the dams. The Mohne and Sorpe Dam go up to recon level 2 while the rest of the dams are brought up to level 1 if they haven’t been reconned already in previous turns. Things look tough as most of the dams have at least one kind of defense. None of the water levels are full on any of the dams.

The final security risk comes out to a high level. Despite not having a Spy marker anymore, I have made enough noise with the extra requisitions, the round-the-clock work by the groundcrews, and the presence of veteran aircrews that people have become curious and rumors are spreading around town. Not even the rumor I have spread as commander of 617 squadron (the Tirpitz Rumor marker denotes that 617’s target is the German battleship is our rumored target) has done much to stop unauthorized people from prying.

I arrange the aircraft into three waves. There’s no real reasoning behind this other than I am new at the game and decide to play it safe by following the historical raid setup. Gibson leads the first wave with five bombers while Ottley leads the second with his five. The remaining wave is led by Brown and the Jinx marker is placed on one of the bombers in his wave.The major difference here between history and the planned attack is that the third wave will not be a reserve force sent in after the Germans are already alerted by the first attacks but will be given its own set of targets to attack at the same time as the first and second waves.

The bombers take off into the night sky. What will happen? Who will come back? I have a bad feeling about this and it’s not just that Jinx marker that’s causing it. I should have pushed harder to get at least the Aldis Lights done. Without them, hitting the dams will be very tough. It may have been worth spending another turn just to get that modification done. The abundance of flak and balloon markers on the Flight Map also makes me queasy. These guys look to be flying into a death trap.

Flight Segment:

We have enough groundcrews to sortie everyone at the same time so at least we have a cohesive raid package going out.

Primary and Secondary Targets are assigned as follows:

First Wave: Primary – Mohne Dam, Secondary: Bever Dam
Second Wave: Primary – Sorpe Dam, Secondary: Eder Dam
Third Wave: Primary – Eneppe Dam, Secondary: Eder Dam
Target of Last Resort: Lister Dam

The Mohne has a flak level of only one and no other defenses. Its water level is high and it has the second highest rv (reservoir value) on the map (8 rv) so it’s my first obvious target. The Sorpe is worth a considerable 5 rv and it is also the only dam on the map that has a full water level. Maybe I can take it out. The Eneppe Dam is worth only 3 rv but it’s lightly defended and in the Ruhr flight zone. The Eder Dam has the highest rv of all the dams (9 rv) but it’s in the Weser flight zone, a very hazardous location to fly. It still might be worth a shot if the raid on the other dams go well enough so I assigned it as a secondary for both the second and third wave.

Things go smoothly enough for the first couple of flight turns although we suffer a faulty controls and an unfit aircrew marker on our Jinx plane in the third wave. Things get much more serious on the third flight turn when a crew in the first wave suffers a Compass Card marker and a plane in the second wave is shot down by flak. By the time our men reach the Ruhr, we’ve lost another plane to balloons in the third wave. We also have two map errors in the same wave and our formations keep getting compromised.

The Attacks:

The first wave acquires the Mohne Dam and makes an uncoordinated attack with Gibson going first and getting damaged by Flak on his first attack run. On the second run, he dodges the flak and everything looks okay but a roll of 4 on the release causes a concussion damage to his Lancaster, which destroys the plane and the crew. The remaining bombers make their attempts. One plane is destroyed by flak and two others are damaged and miss with their Upkeeps. By this time, however, the Flak marker has been reduced to zero so the final plane goes in and makes a beautiful release, managing 6 damage on the dam. If the Mohne had been full, it would have caused a breach. Since it is only at Rising level, however, we’ll need 2 more damage points to do the trick.

The second wave arrives at the Sorpe and things go bad immediately. The Germans have improved their defenses and while the Flak level remains at 1, the balloons marker is set to level 3. There are also Searchlights here at level 2. The Close box and the Climb box get one balloon maker each. The wave leader makes his attempt and is damaged by the Flak and then destroyed by balloons. I should have just aborted at this point but I thought my gunnery would be lucky enough. However, none of my planes from the second wave survived the attempt. The planes were destroyed either by the balloons, the flak, or a concussion from releasing the Upkeep with such heavy modifiers from the spotlights. No one made it out alive and although one plane managed a release from the far zone, nothing hit the Sorpe at all, much to my frustration.

At this point, I was horrified by my own losses and worried that I would not be able to breach any dams by the end of the game. I decide to use the wireless phase on the next turn to send my third wave to the Mohne instead of the Eneppe. Luckily, the planes pass their roll and on they went to the new target. Only two planes still survived the third wave, one of whom were the Jinxed aircrew with piles of negative modifiers like a plague of locusts stuck to their plane. Of course it missed the dam and was damaged by the concussion after releasing its Upkeep. My other veteran aircrew in the wave managed a nice 3 chit pull of both airspeed and altitude markers (got the altitude marker after exchanging it for a dummy run) and the result was +8 modifier on the release. A roll of 11 sealed the deal and the Upkeep hit for 4 damage. At 10 damage, the Mohne was breached.

The Mohne Dam breached – note the balloon defenses set up after the attack.

The Aftermath:

Things did not go well when checking for RTB. Most of my Lancasters had been damaged and afflicted by hazard markers (I should say here that I missed out on the rule of discarding the remaining hazard markers after a plane is destroyed in the Resolve Hazards phase, which could definitely have skewed the result here). The result was that only two Lancasters made it back to Scampton. The rest were damaged and then destroyed by the reroll of 1-4 on the Missing table. I rolled very poorly during this check. The end result was a total VP of zero. A court martial was held and the squadron commander took the blame for the failure (adding insult to injury, since he died in the raid!).

Conclusion:

I really enjoyed this game and I thought it was excellent the whole way through. In many ways, the planning and flight segments are just as exciting as the actual attack. Having to make key decisions about how to allocate resources and when to push your groundcrews to their limits is just as important as weighing the need for security. It is a difficult balancing act. The next time I play this, I would requisition more groundcrew in the second planning turn and set them loose on modifications. You absolutely need to have the Aldis Lights going to make a successful run. The lack of them really hurt me here. I would also have changed my targets according to survivability of the aircrews. If there are balloons at a dam, I would seriously reconsider whether it’s worth the probable loss of at least one or more bombers to score a hit. Add in searchlights and flak to the target and you’ve got a non-starter. Don’t even think about sending your men there or you’ll have a bloodbath on your hands.

Enemy Coast Ahead: Attack on the Ennepe Dam?

On May 17, 1943 a lone bomber codenamed AJ-O piloted by Flt. Sgt. Bill Townsend was circling the dark skies over Germany awaiting orders. In the early morning hours, the aircrew finally received the message they were waiting for. Their target was the Ennepe Dam. In the fog and darkness, the pilot and navigator finally arrived near what they thought was the Ennepe Dam and circled around to pinpoint it on the ground. After making several passes to get the altitude and trajectory right, the custom-made dam-busting bomb codenamed “Upkeep” was finally dropped. With the other men of 617 already having made their bombing runs on the other dams in the Ruhr, Townsend decided to head home to England.

What really happened that night is still not really clear. Years later, eyewitnesses reported that another nearby dam (the Bever Dam) was attacked. Reports from the aircrew of what they had sighted on the ground are consistent with landmarks near the Bever Dam. In the fog and darkness and confusion of the night, it seems that Townsend may have mistakenly hit the wrong dam.

Scenario 5 from Enemy Coast Ahead is a beginner scenario that features a lone bomber attacking Ennepe Dam (the ambiguity is removed for the sake of newbies) in clear weather (also changed to help out the newbies) with a veteran aircrew. There is also the choice to take off the training wheels and have the scenario setup much closer to its historical realities (fog, green aircrew, uncertainty over which dam is being attacked).

As a new player of ECA, I found this scenario was an excellent starting scenario for me. It shows you how to procedurally go through each step of an attack run through to release and return to base. I’m providing this article to anyone who is curious about how this game plays. An an aside, you’ll have to forgive the unclipped counters – my kid decided it would be a gas to hide the counter clipper on his old man!

The biggest factor here working for us is the skill of the crew. For newbies, we get to start with a veteran crew, which gives significant bonuses to everything from navigation to altitude & speed as well as bomb-aiming. Green crews use the “2” spots for these tracks, which give far less of an advantage.

Our veteran aircrew is attached to AJ-O Lancaster, piloted by Townsend. Luckily, we have a good bomb-aimer, Sgt. C.E. Franklin, on board.

And here is the portion of the map we’ll be using. As you can see, each square of the map is meant to show the plane’s relation to the target dam. Our plane starts in the circling near box and then makes its run by going into the Far box. We can decide to release anywhere along the track – either close, near, or far. Once we decide to release Upkeep, the bomber goes into the release box and the release procedure commences. Finally, the bomber climbs and then circles near in order to find its bearings and head for home. This is a basic rundown of the attack part of each turn.

AJ-O starts off in the circling near box with its Upkeep marker. The reverse side usually has two numbers on it, representing possible damage done to the dam if the bomb hits it. We will have no idea what the reverse side of this marker says until the Morning Reconnaissance is performed in the morning.

AJ-O then makes its run and moves into the far box. We roll a six-sided die to determine how many chits we get to pull for altitude and speed. We roll a “1” and cross-reference this number with the chart to find that the number of chits we can pull for speed reduced by 2. Since our veteran crew can usually pull 3 chits, this means we can only pull one speed chit. We get to pull our usual number of altitude chits (3).

For speed, we are doing 231 mph and we can choose one of our three altitude chits. Of course, we want the one that will let us pull more chits later on for when we release so we pick the 60ft chit and put the other two altitude chits back in the cup.

I could opt to release now at this point. I would pull four chits from the cup and hope that the release bonuses they give me would be enough to help contribute to a successful release. However, I’ve decided that I want a really good number of chits. Since the dam has no defenses, there is nothing really stopping me from moving closer and trying for a better altitude so I go for it. I put the plane into the near box and exchange the 231mph speed chit for a 220mph speed chit. This will give me 3 chits to pull for the release instead of just 1.

I decide that things are not going to get any better for my aircrew. We’re at pretty much the optimal altitude and speed so its bombs away! We try to release Upkeep and now we pull our 6 chits from the speed and altitude cups (3 chits each).

We take the best altitude and the best speed chit and get (did I pull four altitude and two release chits by mistake? – whoops, looks like it. Oh well.) one chit with a +4 and another with a +3. We roll 2d6, add our release modifiers, and crew skill modifiers. The die result is a 6 modified by release chits to a 13. We add +1 for our bomb aimer to make 14 and the crew skill level adds 2 to the release roll for a final tally of 16. Since we need 15 or greater for a successful release, our Upkeep is dropped and hits the dam.

There are no other planes circling to assess damage so we put the Upkeep marker face up on the dam’s damage track and we will turn it over later after the Morning Recon is performed.

In the meantime, it’s time to get the hell out of Dodge. AJ-O goes to the climb box. The visibility table is consulted after rolling a “5” on 2d6 and we get fog. The plane goes into the Circling Near box and we roll to see if there are any German nightfighters spotted. Lucky for us, we roll a “10” and there are none nearby. AJ-O attempts to return to base. We roll an 8 and the plane lands safely at Scampton just as the sun begins to rise over England.

It is time to see what kind of damage we have done to Ennepe Dam. We flip over our Upkeep counter to find it has a 5 on one end and a 4 on the other. If I roll even on a d6, the dam takes the four damage. If odd, it takes 5 damage.

I rolled a 1 and the dam takes 5 damage. Astonishingly, we have a chance to actually breach the dam. As per the track on the map sheet, the dam is breached at 6 damage when it is at full water level. I need to roll a final d6. If the roll is a “1”, the final damage is reduced from 5 to 4. If the roll is a “6”, the final damage is increased from 5 to 6 and we’re suddenly heroes.

I roll a d6 and get a “2”. Ennepe Dam is heavily damaged but not breached.

According to the mission result in the scenario, we get a result of “good show”. Townsend is awarded the DSO and the confusion over what really happened that night remains long after the war as it did in real life.

It is incredibly hard to breach the dams, just as it was in real life. I have played through most of the scenarios several times and can’t ever remember scoring a breach – though I have come close. Sometimes you can have the best rolls on the attack and release but the Upkeep just doesn’t have enough oomf to get the job done. The scenarios with multiple planes are a bit more interesting as each crew takes its run at the dam and hopes for the best. Although I haven’t yet tried the full campaign yet, I suspect this is where the game really shines with more decisions to make early on that ripple down through to the actual attack run.

Enemy Coast Ahead: The Dambuster Raids

Enemy Coast Ahead (GMT, 2014) is a solitaire game designed by Jeremy White that simulates the RAF no. 617 Squadron’s May 1943 raids on German dams in the Ruhr. This game held a special interest for me because as a kid, I read Paul Brickhill’s book and I remember being fascinated by the technical problems of the bomb design, the raid, and marshalling together the right men and training in secret to do something that had never ever been done before.

Reading up on it now from the vantage of age, I was surprised at how ineffectual the whole thing was on the German war effort. The civilian losses and the POW deaths that resulted from the bombings are pretty appalling too. In the end, it seems the main effect of the raids was to boost British morale, which would have been much needed in those dark days. At the time, however, the raid was seen as a chance to strike a serious blow to Germany’s war-making capabilities as its industries in the Ruhr industrial heartland would be rendered destroyed or inoperative for months or even years.

One interesting aspect of the game is how the reality of today’s sensitivities can often clash with the historical realities of the past. Yes, I’m talking about the dog. For those of you not in the know, the men of 617 Squadron had a dog who served as their mascot. Its name was a racial slur. The dog’s name is mentioned in the rules one time and the dog has a counter but the text on the counter reads “Jinx”. This is because the dog died shortly before the raids and its death was kept a secret from the aircrews so they wouldn’t see this as a bad omen.

If the Jinx counter is pulled prior to the raids, the news of the dog’s death spreads throughout the squadron and negatively modifies die roll result selection. Although there are a few people who take the inclusion of the dog’s name in the rules as objectionable, most reasonable people have understood that using this kind of terminology is an unfortunate but real part of history. Jeremy White has chimed in on this subject many times and his explanations and justifications for keeping the dog in the game are sound, sensitive, and reasonable. I think it was the right choice.

King George visits 617 Squadron at Scampton airfield just after the raid.

Moving beyond all that, the game is a real pleasure to play. There are no hexes or maps in the game. There are a series of playing aids with sequential rules that tell you what your bombers can choose to do next. Outcomes are determined by chit pulls and die rolls. There are 10 scenarios in the game, the last of which is a full campaign game that involves selecting, training, and planning the missions before carrying them out. Everything is played out on a paper mat and although that may not sound exciting, it works very well for the kind of game this is.

This is very much a game of risk management and opting for the least unpalatable option out of the many available bad ones. Some dilemmas you might encounter during the game

  • Do you spend another turn circling around again for a better approach to the dam and risk being discovered and shot down by a German nightfighter? Or do you take what’s given and drop an “Upkeep” from a less than optimal altitude or speed and hope for the best before heading for home? 
  • Do you turn on your Aldis lights for a more exacting bomb release altitude and risk alerting the Germans to your presence? Or do you approach in the dark and reduce your accuracy? 
  • How do you keep the mission secret if it appears someone is talking after having too many beers while out on the town? If you quarantine the base, you end being unable to bring in replacement aircrews or ground crews. 

Here is an extremely rough account of what the game can be like – I have intentionally skipped out on a few important details for the sake of brevity:

A typical beginner scenario mission goes through turns, each of which are broken down into phases. You start off circling the target then going to the Run phase. As your bomber gets closer to the dam, you pull chits to check your altitude and speed. Based on this, you can decide to release your “Upkeep” (codename for your dambusting bomb) or continue with the approach and release nearer to the dam, adjusting either your current speed or altitude. In some cases, you’ll get shot at by flak and have to deal with balloons. Meanwhile, your gunners will have the chance to shoot at dam defenses to make your lives a bit easier.

When you decide to release, you pull a number of speed and altitude chits and check their release modifiers then add these to a 2d6 die roll. Other modifiers to the die roll are made based on crew training, bomber damage, and a host of factors. If the modified die roll result is above a certain number, your Upkeep successfully releases and damages the dam. If it’s below a certain number, you either miss or end up with the bomb damaging your plane upon release. As you turn away from the dam, you have to check for German nightfighters before heading for home.

If another bomber is on hand to assess the damage, you turn over your Upkeep chit and it tells you what kind of damage it does. If not, you turn over all the Upkeep markers on a particular dam at the same time when Morning Recon is performed. In either case, you roll a die for each Upkeep marker and it may add or subtract a damage point to the dam. If the dam accumulates enough damage, it is breached and the mission is a terrific success. Each scenario gives a very prosaic account of the result of the mission and how it affects your men. This is by far one of the coolest things I have seen in a game.

Eder Dam right after the May 1943 raids

If you don’t like these kinds of games where the system is nakedly out there for you to sit down and work with, you probably won’t like this game. It is a very procedural game with “pull this chit at this time” kind of flow to it.

However, if you can live with a very procedural game approach and let it go to work on your imagination, you’ll build up a tense story in your head of what’s happening as your bomber crews die in the darkness or arrive back home as heroes. I would say it would depend a lot on whether or not you are familiar with and enjoy any of the source material that the game is based on. If you’re like me and you grew up with the story, you’ll fall in love with it as soon as you open the box.

MBT: First Clash

In 1989, Avalon Hill released MBT , a design by James M. Day.  Like its title heavily suggests, MBT was all about modern tank warfare. Set in Germany in the late Cold War period, MBT let players slug it out on a tactical level (100 meter hex, individual tanks and infantry squads) with the latest weaponry of the day. Fast forward 27 years later, and MBT is once again on our shelves – this time around published by GMT.

2016 GMT’s MBT
1987: Avalon Hill’s MBT

With updated maps, counters, and scenarios, MBT has been loving revived and streamlined for today’s gamers. I have never played the original MBT so I’m not sure what the exact differences are between the two versions, but if you’re interested in a comparison, I suggest reading up on this thread over at BGG.

The first scenario from the new MBT is called First Clash. This is a good introductory scenario for new players because it’s vehicles-only. You can play this with just the basic rules set. The advanced rules introduce all sorts of neat bells and whistles like infantry, ATGMs, artillery, air support, and well…just about anything you can imagine.  I’ll try those out in a future report but for now, I’m new to this game and system so I’ll just stick with the basic rules this time.

Setup:

It is September 27, 1987. The Soviet 48th Motor Rifle Division and the 15th Guards Tank Division are fighting against US VII Corps. We’re using Maps 2, 4, and 7 here. The US player has 15 M60A3 TTS tanks fending off the advance of 13 T-72AVs from the 210th Motor Rifle Regiment.

We’re using maps 2, 4, and 7. This scenario is 15 turns long.

The required victory margin is 310 VPs. Controlling the ford at 2D8 yields 250 VP. Another 250 VP goes to controlling 2DD4 and 2CC5. The side that controls both bridges at 2I5 and 2V7, earns 375 VPs. Neither side controls any objectives at the start.

Rolling for setup, the Soviet player ends up rolling lower than the NATO player. He chooses the north side of the board to set up on. The NATO player will set up second on the southern side of the map. Both sides set up within 3 hexes of their respective map edges.

Strategy:

Although it seems like the Soviets have enough tanks here to do whatever they want, it would be wise to keep our ambitions modest and just take the main objective (375 VPs) and just one of the smaller objectives (250VPs).

The Soviet player sees there is a lot of open ground to defend near the two ford objectives on the west side of the map so it may be easier to leave that for NATO and just take the ford in D8 along with the the two bridges.

This would give the Soviets a margin of 375 points at the end of the game, plus or minus the VPs they gain or lose from eliminating tanks from the other side.

The Soviet player will split his force into three components. One platoon will take the bridge in V7, another will take the bridge in I5 and the third platoon will take and hold the ford at D8.

Each platoon will use column formation to get to the objectives as quickly as possible, using road movement where ever possible. Once the objectives are reached, the platoons will be further split with two tanks serving as static defenders on overwatch and the other two tanks used for movement and counterattack against any NATO attempts to reach the objectives.

Although the NATO forces will have the high ground with three big hills near their start area, it would be an extremely bad idea to just rush up our M60s on to the hillsides and try to blast away at the oncoming Soviet tanks. There is plenty of time for the Soviets to get their T-72s into overwatch before the M60s get to the top of the hills and they will be easy targets for the Red Army gunners.

The NATO player decides to focus on seizing the two bridges and any other objectives of opportunity. The rest of his VPs will be gained by destroying Soviet tanks. One team of two platoons will go for the objectives. The other two platoons will be used to maneuver and destroy targets of opportunity. The aim is to use cover, concealment, and quick maneuver between his platoons to keep the Soviets off-balance.  The cluster of woods hexes on the south side of the river on the left side of the map look like very good cover. The town on the south side of the river also looks like a good place to fire at Soviets from close range.

Force Comparison

NATO gets 15 x M-60 tanks while the Soviets have 13x T-72AV tanks. Both sides are pretty evenly matched but it still bears a good look at the differences between the actual tanks themselves.

The most important thing for the NATO player to remember is that M60s should definitely not be treated like M1 Abrams tanks! The M60s have several disadvantages. They are slower than the T-72 tanks (5 offroad MPs versus the T-72’s 7 OR MPs). They have a weaker gun (105mm vs. 125mm) and less armor (48 Front Armor vs. T-72’s 85 Front Armor). Point for point, the M60 is inferior to the T-72AV on an individual level but working as a team and under good command, the M60s should be a very good match against the Soviet tanks.

Before I get into the replay, I should mention how the game plays for those who have never tried it before. Each turn has several distinct phases. The first phase is the Spotting Phase. Basically, players figure out which units begin the turn spotted. After that is the Command Phase where both players secretly allocate orders to all of their units on the map. In the Initiative Phase, both players roll for initiative for the turn and then the Direct Fire phase begins. The first player fires all of his units that have a Fire (or Short Halt) command and then the Second player does so with all his tanks. After that, units on Overwatch can fire at spotted enemy units that have fired. Next is the Movement Phase and the First player moves units with a Move or Short Halt order followed by the Second player who does the same. Finally, in the Adjustment Phase, we do all of our book keeping by removing and adjusting counters, etc. It’s all shockingly simple and it works really well.

Setup

The Soviets set up on two roads on the north side of the map. Team Red-1 will seize I5 while Red-2 will grab V7. Red-3 will take the ford at D8.

The Americans also set up on the roads and split into two teams of two tank platoons each. One team (Team Blue-A) is on the east side of the map and one team (Team Blue-B) is the west side. Blue-A will attempt to take I5 while Blue-B is a tank-killer force that will use the woods and town to conceal their movement in an attempt to surprise any nearby Soviets and kill them.

You’ll note I’ve marked the locations of Command Vehicles. I’m playing the Basic rules here where command rules are not used. I have no idea really what to do with these guys so I’ve decided that they will just sort of hang back from the fighting and try to spot enemy units. If things start going badly enough, they’ll jump in the fray.

Turn 1:

Initiative: NATO
First Player: Soviets
Second Player: NATO

The Soviets move their tanks out towards their objectives while NATO jockeys its forces into position. Team Blue-A advances down the road and hooks left behind the cover of the woods to the north. Two M60 Pattons remain in hex 7L5 to shoot next turn at the Soviet tanks from Red-1 moving west down the road in 2S7.  Team Blue-B advances north towards the string of woods from W1 to Z1.

Turn 2:

The T-72s from Red 1 and Red 2 are spotted by the M60s from Team Blue-A in 7L5 and 7I2. Everyone else is still hidden.

Red 1 splits its commands between Move and Fire while Red 2 does the same. Red 3 will just move up and grab control of the ford in D8.

The M60 tanks from Team Blue-A in 2L5 and 7I2  will perform a Short Halt Fire while the other 3 tanks in H2 will move up and get into position to fire for next turn.  Meanwhile Team Blue-B will move straight towards the Woods to the north.

Soviets roll initiative and decide to be the First Player for the turn.

Direct Fire Phase: 

Both T-72s from Red 1 use their Fire markers to shoot at one of the M60s in 2L5.

Just to demonstrate how AP combat works here, I’ll work out the first shot here for you:

At 15 hex range, we check the vehicle chart for the T-72AV and find that we are firing at Medium range. On our player aid, the AP Hit chart shows that the base to-hit chance for this range is 50 per cent.  We look at the modifiers on the table to the right and find that the large size of the M60 pulls the to-hit chances up one column on the chart to 55 per cent.

The M60 is considered moving due to its Short Halt command and the T-72’s hit chance goes down two columns for a final chance of 45%.

We roll a 28 and the M60 is hit! The penetration for the APFSDS round is 86 at this range, which we compare to the front armor of the M60.  The American tank has a front armor of 48 so the shot penetrates. Since the penetration value is more than 10 points beyond the armor value, we find that the M60 brews up, creating lots of cool and explosions and plenty of smoke to annoy the other T-72 gunner shooting at the other M60 in the same hex (a -2 column shift).

The next T-72AV fires at the other M60 in the hex and misses.

The next two T-72AVs now fire at the two M60 tanks in I2. The Soviets destroy one American tank and miss the other.

Now the M60s from Team Blue A fire back and they both manage a miss. So far, this is not going well for the US.

Movement Phase:

Red 1 and Red 2 both send two tanks to seize their objective bridge hexes and move towards cover after crossing the river. Red 3 takes the ford intact and moves towards the line of woods in 2C6 and 2D6.

Team Blue A tries to pick up the pieces. It sends three tanks to take the bridge at DD4 while the two surviving tanks that were fired at and missed move down the road. Team Blue B moves up three tanks into the woods for cover and the other half of the team moves up on the right flank into the open.

Turn 3:

During the Orders Phase, the Soviet player commands two tanks in Red 1 to fire at the three M60s that are on the bridge in DD4. Those same M60s are ordered to Short Halt (which means they fire and then move in the same turn). Hopefully, the NATO player can take care of those two T-72s and take the Ford to the north for some VPs.

On the east side of the map, Team Blue B is carefully maneuvering into position. Three M-60s are poised to head towards the town to the north where a pair of T-72s have been spotted. One M60 will fire while the other provides overwatch while another will move one hex west to get a wider field of fire.  The Soviets are advancing Red 3 south into the woods and two T-72s from Red 2 are ordered to short halt fire at two M60 tanks from Team Blue B.

The Soviets roll 38 initiative while NATO rolls a measly 11. The Soviets will take First Player for the turn.

In the Direct Fire phase, the two T-72s from Red 1 fire at two of the M60 tanks on the bridge in DD4. Both are hit and brew up.

One of the Soviet tanks from Red 2 fires from 11 hex range at the M60 on overwatch in the woods at 7Y1 and manages a hit after rolling 28. The tank brews up. The other T-72 misses.

During the Second Player phase, one M60 in the woods at 7Y1 fires back at the T-72 that just killed his buddy. The roll is 88 and a miss.

The sole M60 occupying the bridge in DD4 also aims for revenge after the pair of tanks he was with was blown up. We roll a 93 and it is also a miss.

In the Movement Phase, Red 3 leisurely pulls into the cover of the nearby woods and glances to the south in glee at the sight of burning M60s belching thick black smoke into the air.

Red 2 moves its pair of tanks one hex south into the nearby building hex. Meanwhile Red 1 maneuvers around the woods to see if it can squeeze the two American tanks to the west.

The American M60 in DD4 thinks better of being in the sights of two T-72s at short range and reverses back down the road and pivots to face a hulking T-72 only 4 hexes away!  The other remnants of Team Blue-A turn towards a lone T-72 from 200 meters away in the light woods hex.   Team Blue-B has pulled off a miracle and put three M60s in the town to the north without suffering any fire. The tanks are now stalking a pair of T-72s in a building hex very close by.

The command tanks for Team Blue-A and Blue-B are now on the northern slope of the hill and looking over the battlefield.

Oops – I broke the road movement rule by changing the facing of my M60 in hex CC3. Ah well.

Turn 4:

NATO finally gains initiative this turn and takes First Player.

In the Direct Fire Phase, all hell breaks loose.  A pair of M60s open fire at point blank range at the T-72AV sitting in the  woods hex in 2W1 and score a hit.

The lead tank in Team Blue A fires at a mere 400 meters away from a T-72 in 2Y4 but misses.

The commander of Team Blue A fires at 9 hex range at one of the T-72s in 2S7 and knocks it out.

One of the two Soviet tanks sitting in the town hex in 2I3 is destroyed.

Despite firing at point blank range from two positions, the Soviets fail to hit the American tanks (rolls of 88 and 89 – Yuck!).

The Americans try to reorganize the remnants of Team Blue A by pulling the lead tank back towards the two tanks to the south. The M60s in the town creep to the northwest edge for a firing position on the two Soviet tanks from Red 2 on the road to the north.

Meanwhile Red 3 splits its forces and sends two tanks to maneuver behind the M60s from Team Blue B that entered the town just last turn! One T-72 gets fired upon by an M60 on overwatch but it misses.

The two T-72AVs from Red 2 decide not to approach the town after all and instead veer off the road and pull their tanks into the cover of the woods, hoping to gain a better defensive firing position for next turn.

I felt the Americans really pulled ahead in the Direct Fire Phase this turn but the Soviet tanks appear to be in better position by the end of this turn.

Turn 5:

The Soviet player gains initiative and takes First Player. Things could be very bad for NATO this turn as the Soviets have placed a ton of fire commands.

Sure enough, NATO has to cope with the loss of four of its tanks in the Direct Fire Phase. The lead tank from Team Blue A is killed while two of the tanks from Team Blue B that are in the town on map 2 brew up. The third tank from Team Blue B is destroyed in the woods hex in 7X1.

The Soviets only lose one tank sitting in 2I3.

Not really much to do here in the Movement phase. The Soviets rush two tanks from Red 3 into town, trapping the one remaining M60 there. The Americans move up a command tank near the center of the map. The M60 in the town pulls back towards the south. It seems the Soviets are very firmly in control of things and are just mopping up now.

Turn 6:

I’m not sure if the game is going faster because I’m learning the rules or if it’s because everyone on the map is dead…

Anyway, the Soviets sit nice and tight where they are and issue fire orders on most of their guys with the exception of the T-72 in 2Y5, which is on overwatch covering the eastern road.

NATO tanks are all firing at the nearest Soviets. It looks like this turn will be yet another bloodbath.

Soviets get initiative and the T-72 in 2AA8 fires at the M60 in 7H1. We roll a 04 on the AP hit table and the M60 brews up. Team Blue A is down to a single tank.

The T-72 sitting in the town hex in H4 gets an 89 to hit the M60 in the adjacent hex, which mercifully misses due to the AP Hit column shifts due to cover and smoke. No matter. The other T-72 in the same hex fires and kills the M60 with a roll of 11.

The T-72 in 2C1 rolls a 34 to hit the M60 sitting in the woods hex in 7Z1 and manages a kill.

The turn ends with the US player managing a lucky middle-distance kill on the T-72 in 2K9.

Down to three M60 tanks versus the seven Soviet T-72s. This looks pretty hopeless for the Americans.

Turn 7:

Fire commands again all around for the US player. None of the shots hit. None of the Soviets score a hit.  The Soviet player shuffles some tanks around to mop up the US tanks on the map board.

Turn 8:

The three remaining American tanks are assigned Short Halt orders. It’s do or die here and they don’t really stand a chance if they can’t win initiative. There are too many guns focused on too few tanks.

Sure enough, the Soviets win init and claim First Player and then go to work firing with every tank at the Americans. The T-72s on the southeast hill eliminate Team Blue B commander. The tanks in the treeline on map 2 make a medium-distance kill on the M60 south of the forest on map 2. The Soviet tank in 7AA2 hits the final American tank in 7R2. All the US units are gone and the scenario is over well before the 15 turn limit.

Conclusion:

So what went do disastrously wrong for the US player? I think it had A LOT to do with not taking good advantage of the terrain and using overwatch effectively. It may have actually worked much better by keeping the M60s behind the hills and sneaking them out behind cover to fire at the T-72s from long range.  There are some very decent fire avenues available from the bottom of map 7 which could have been used to cover the approach to 2I5. It also could have been used as a lane of advance for other US tanks to get them forward into a flanking position to hit at Soviet tanks holding the positions on the east side of the board.

My tactics were pretty abysmal from the start with both teams but the Soviets at least had a more concrete plan than the US player. I’d be very interested in playing this scenario again with some of the advanced rules and seeing how different the outcome might be.

Unconditional Surrender: 1939 – 194? Campaign

Well, I thought I would at least give the campaign game of Unconditional Surrender!  World War 2 in Europe a shot so I’ve set up and started to play this weekend.  The game started in September of 1939 with a variable setup, which basically means that the German player rolls a die at the start of the game to determine where he will attack first.  In my case, I rolled a “3” and the result was that Germany was going for an East-First strategy.  I had set up the counters in their historical locations and chosen a variable entry for unit mobilization.  All that was left to do was to start moving counters.

September 1939

Germany started off by declaring war on the Soviet Union and Poland in the first turn and got the invasion underway.  After taking three cities, eliminating two Polish armies, and just barely grabbing Warsaw, the turn ended with Poland being conquered.  Hungary declared itself Pro-Axis.  During the Soviet operations phase, the army moved into Eastern Poland and took up defensive positions to protect the transport lines and cities nearest the enemy units.

“Hey guys, winter’s almost here!  Time to start a war with Russia!”

In the Diplomacy Phase, the Germans pulled the Political Failure marker and the Soviet player laughed heartily.  Mussolini decided he quite liked the cut of Stalin’s jib and Italy was declared as Pro-Soviet, in a move that alarmed the Germans.

Italians turn Pro-Soviet.

October 1939

October of 1939 began with Severe weather in both the Cold and Mild zone.  This would make an attack on the Soviet Union much harder but at least it would give the German Luftwaffe some time to recover from the Polish campaign.  Germany declared war on Lithuania and marched in during the Operations phase, managing a lucky roll to take the capital, Kaunus and conquer the country.  Latvia declared itself Pro-Axis and the Germans spent the rest of the turn trying to push back the Soviets in Eastern Poland with little success.

End of October 1939 turn
After the Axis finished up their operations, the East Invaded event went into effect and the Soviet Union started to wake up.  Several event markers (Partisans, etc.) were put on the turn track along with units that would be mobilized in the coming years.  With the weather the way it was and with the factories firing up, the Soviets decided to simply keep the Germans at bay in Eastern Poland.  
November 1939
The severe weather continued throughout November.  The Germans resorted to assault tactics rather than mobile attacks in order to find a breakthrough point on the eastern front.  With the weather the way it was, the war had simply bogged down at this point.  The Germans sent the 1 Pz army north into Lithuania to join up an army.  
November 1939 in Eastern Poland and USSR
The main attacking point was around Lvov, which saw the 2 Pz and two German armies being fended off by the 12th Soviet army.  Little changed this turn and even the Diplomacy markers yielded no events.  The Germans did get to mobilize a field unit this turn, which they put in Munich,   Italy still had a pro-Soviet marker on it but had not activated so the German player opted for a bit of insurance, scant though it was, near the southern border.
December 1939
The East Invaded event triggered in November, which meant that the “Russian Winter” marker sat in the December 1939 box.  This meant that the Cold weather zone was automatically Severe weather although the Soviets got to treat the weather as Poor for combat purposes.  The Germans scored a hit in the Strategic Warfare phase and moved their newly mobilized (and reduced) field unit in the Strategic Movement phase to Warsaw.
The stalemate in Eastern Poland continued as the 2 Pz and two armies took Lvov with a big assault.  Unfortunately, the Russians took it right back in their operations phase.  In the north, the Germans scored a success by taking Vilnius off the Russians, reducing their National Will by 2.  The Soviets tried a daring assault on the German army unit sitting in the middle of the line, attempting to punch through a hole back to Warsaw and thereby cut off supplies to the Germans down south.  With the Poor weather in the Mild zone, the Germans were finally able to activate their air support to help keep the Russians at bay.  Things look very dicey for both sides at this point.
End of Dec. 1939
In the Diplomacy phase, the Germans pulled a “Pro-Axis” marker and used it to heal their relationship with the Italians, who are now neutral again.  The Russians spent their production points putting a “Political Failure” marker back in the cup (along with an No Event marker).  
It was an interesting start to the war, with the Germans being left alone to attempt an invasion of Russia.  The weather was on the Russian side, however, and a stalemate threatened to destroy the German momentum early on.  If the Severe weather continued, the Russians could sit back and grow stronger as time wore on.  How much longer would the Western faction allow this to go on without intervening?  With the clock ticking,the Germans need to get back on the offensive if they hope to pull out a win here.

Unconditional Surrender: Poland 1939

Unconditional Surrender!  World War 2 in Europe (USE) from GMT is designed by Salvatore Vasta and has been heralded by many gamers as a possible contender for one of the best games that deals with World War 2 on a strategic level.  Just to give you a flavor for what the game is like, I thought I would post a short playthrough of the 1st training scenario from the game, the German invasion of Poland in 1939.  Here goes!

Setup of Germany and Poland prior to game start.

The scenario only lasts one turn and the Germans have two air units and two Panzer armies along with a good deal of infantry.  The objective for the Germans is to break the Polish national will.  In USE, countries don’t just collapse automatically when their capital is captured (although it certainly helps).  Nor do you need to chase around every last enemy unit and destroy it before counting the opposing country as defeated.  The game uses National Will as a marker for when countries are collapsed or conquered.  Losing an army unit or a city (or a capital) serves to slowly erode an enemy country’s national will until it goes kaput. In this scenario, Poland starts off with a national will of 12 and the country is conquered when it reaches zero.

National Will values of each city

In USE, you basically have two types of attacks – mobile and assault.  Assault attacks represent army groups piling up on an enemy unit to gather enough bonuses to the die roll.  Mobile attacks are basically one army unit conducting immediate blitzkrieg-style battles.  In this particular scenario, we’re only using mobile attacks.  Combat is handled by both players counting out die roll modifiers and then rolling six-sided dice.  There are no combat or movement values on any of the counters in the game – everything is figured out by modifications to a die-roll.

So we start off in September 1939 and roll for weather, which is mild.  Good news for the German pilots.

Getting the Polish down to national will of zero isn’t as easy as it looks.  If the Germans can capture the cities closest to the border and eliminate a few Polish units, they should be able to pull it off.   On the other hand, the job is made so much easier by taking Warsaw itself.

Deciding to risk it, the Germans activate the 16th army in East Prussia and attack the Modlin Army to the south. The 1 Luftwaffe activates for air support (air units can sortie 6 times max).  The German army gains a +2 DRM (for being German) and another +2 DRM for the air support.

16th Army attacks Modlin army north of Warsaw.

We get a 6 for the Germans (10 modified) and a 2 for the Poles, which results in a DE (Defender Eliminated) on the CRT.  The German 16th army advances south again, crosses the Vistula and takes Warsaw.

Germans take Warsaw early in the game.

Polish national will goes from 12 to 7 (-1 for the eliminated Polish army unit and -4 for the capital).

Well, things are looking pretty good for the Germans so far but I’ve managed to lose this scenario with them before, so it’s far from over.

The 2nd Panzer army east of Breslau attacks the Polish army near Lodz and uses some help from the 4 Luftwaffe.  The Poles elect to use a ground support marker (+1 DRM to their roll) but the Germans have a whopping +6 for their own attack roll (+2 Germans, +2 air support, +2 tanks).

2nd Panzer goes for it near Lodz.

The German player rolls a 5 (11 modified) and the Polish player curses his luck with only a 1 (modified to 2).  The defenders near Lodz are eliminated and the 2nd Panzer can continue moving and attacking (all tank units get 10 movement points and mobile attacks let you keep going until the MPs are gone).  The Poles lose another National Will point for having a unit eliminated (down to 6).

2nd Pz advances.

2nd Panzer decides to keep the momentum going by crossing the Warta River and advancing into Lodz, putting it under German control.

German 2 Pz marches into Lodz and attacks the Prusy army.

The Polish National Will is careening towards the rocky ground below as it loses another 2 National Will from the capture of Lodz (down from 6 to 4).  Having only spent half of its MP, the 2nd Panzer goes for yet another attack, this time on the Prusy Army sitting east of Lodz.  With more air support on its side from 4 Luftwaffe, the Germans get another +6 modifier.  The Polish player uses another ground support marker (its remaining one) and we roll a 6 for the Germans (12) and yet another 1 for the Poles (getting a 2 modified).  The Prusy Army is eliminated.  Some great rolls for the Germans and some very poor luck for the Poles so far.  Polish national will tumbles from 4 down to 3.

The German player activates 1st Panzer army way up north and decides to try and fell the final blow.  The panzers roll into Danzig, bringing Polish national will down to a measly 1.

1st Panzer takes Danzig.

It follows up with an attack on Army Pomorze to the southeast.  With a river in between the two armies, the Germans suffer a -1 on the attack roll but they still get +5 DRM anyways (+2 for German, +2 air support, +2 for tanks, -1 river).  The Germans roll up a 3 (modified to 8) and the Poles get a 4 (unmodified).  Army Pomorze is forced to retreat and moves southeast towards the Vistula.

Army Pomorze retreats.

2nd Panzer has spent 5 of its 10 MP so far, so it follows up the attack by chasing down the retreating Polish army and attacking it again for 2 MP.

1st Panzer chases down Army Pomorze.

With plenty of air support from the Stukas overhead, the German 1st Panzer manages to reduce the Polish army and force it to retreat east, since it cannot retreat into the enemy ZOC to the south projected by the 2nd Panzer army sitting in Lodz.  With 3 MP left the 1st Panzer spends 2 MP on a final attack on Army Pomorze.

1st Panzer goes for a final attack on Army Pomorze.

Things look bleak for the Poles since they are reduced and hence suffer a -2 DRM to their combat roll.  The Germans once again call on the Luftwaffe to join the attack and get a +6 modifier to their attack roll.  The Germans get a 4 (modified to 10) and the Poles get a 5 (modified to 3).  The result is another step loss for the Poles and they are eliminated.  The Polish National Will falls from 1 to zero and the Germans have successfully taken over Poland.

Thanks to some extremely good rolling on the part of the German player at the start, the conclusion was pretty much foregone after Warsaw fell in the very first part of the game.  However, if the weather doesn’t cooperate and the Germans can’t bring their air support to bear then it can be very hard going for them.  I have managed to lose several times with the Germans but the scenario is definitely favoring them as it did historically and most of the time, they can pull of a win without too many problems.  This is a great scenario for learning the basics of the USE system and it introduces some really important concepts involving movement and combat.  Great stuff.