The Bear and the Jackal – Nightmare

The Bear and the Jackal is an expansion for LnL’s tactical game, Heroes Against the Red Star. This expansion deals with the Soviet war in Afghanistan during the 1980s. It’s great to see wargames that deal with this conflict because even though it seems to have faded into public obscurity, it is one of the most fascinating wars in modern history – not so much for the usual reasons, but because of how important this conflict was for shaping the world as we know it today. So before I get into the game itself, let me talk a little bit more about this.

The First Domino: Afghanistan

In December of 1979, the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan in a bid to keep its puppet government in Kabul from being overthrown by a growing but determined insurgency in the countryside.

It wouldn’t take long for the shock waves to be felt around the world.

The West was unanimous in its condemnation of the Soviet invasion. US President Jimmy Carter boycotted the 1980 Moscow Olympics, announced punitive sanctions, and began a trade embargo. But this was just the beginning. Though it wasn’t obvious at the time, this was only the first link in a chain of events that would shape the coming decade.

For better or worse, the invasion of Afghanistan served as a political lightning rod throughout the 1980s and was used to confirm what conservatives had always asserted:

The Russians were big. They were bad. They were coming for us all. Afghanistan was just the start.

This is a real book! It came out in 1984.

The invasion of Afghanistan wiped away long-held liberal assertions that detente was a necessary and sustainable strategy in light of the Vietnam War hangover of the 1970s. Reagan was elected in 1980 on a rising tide of patriotic resurgence that rode on the back of traditional conservative values and a pledge to revitalize America’s role as the premier force of moral good and order in the world.

Perhaps nowhere was this newfound moral certitude more evident than in movies like Rambo III, which depicted the Mujahideen as valiant freedom fighters battling against the evils of oppression. But western support for the Afghan insurgency was also material in nature. Generous shipments of Stinger anti-aircraft missiles began in the mid-80s courtesy of Uncle Sam and soon enough, Hind helicopters began dropping out of the sky.

The Soviets, who were already looking for a way out of the quagmire, now faced a well-armed and emboldened enemy in a foreign land that had known only war for a thousand years. The longer the war dragged on, the more it served to erode trust in Soviet leadership at home. Abroad, it completely demolished the aura of moral superiority the USSR had enjoyed during the years of the Vietnam War. The Soviets keenly understood this problem and looked desperately to military solutions that would stabilize the government and allow them to withdraw their forces.

But the war had an appetite of its own. It consumed careers and materiel at a prodigious rate. Every time an operation failed, the solution seemed to always be the same- more troops, more helicopters, more of everything was needed. And as the bear struggled to get out of the trap, the more ensnared it became. In the end, it took ten years and no less than four Soviet general secretaries to throw up their hands and call it a day.

When the last Russian troops withdrew in February 1989, there was little cause for celebration. 15,000 Soviets were dead along with 2 million Afghans. The country was in tatters – a collection of fractured groups with diverse agendas who were set to vie for control of what little remained (I am talking about Afghanistan here but I can understand if you thought it was the Soviets).

With the bad guys gone and the Cold War drawing to a close, the plight of Afghanistan no longer warranted the same level of interest from the Western public, who were too busy celebrating the fall of the Berlin Wall and contending with new threats in the form of Saddam Hussein.

It would only be after the events of September 2001 that the West would come to realize its folly with Afghanistan and this time, it would cost more than Stinger missiles to set things right.

The Bear and the Jackal

TBaJ comes with a 35-page booklet, a single sheet of counters, two maps, and two player’s aid charts. The game was initially included with Line of Fire magazine issue 15 and LnLP has decided to just send out that countersheet with the game. As a result, you’ll also get ten counters that don’t belong to this particular game. That’s okay. Use ’em as spares for making your own games, I guess.

The booklet includes nine scenarios designed by Ralph Ferrari, Jeff Lewis, and Norm Lunde. These are presented in chronological order starting from 1981 and go all the way up to late 1987. Scenarios range in size from single-map battles with low counter count right up to much larger engagements over multiple maps. Speaking of which, the maps are gorgeous and give the player a sense of the arid hills and sun-drenched valleys of that inhospitable land. As you can see below, Marc von Martial did a beautiful job with the art.

The Mujahideen are tough fighters and this is represented by their advantage in movement in mountainous terrain. They can also split up their forces from full to half-squads during the Rally Phase if they are stacked with a leader. Finally, we get an ambush capability much like the VC units in Heroes of the Nam. If a Mujahideen unit enters melee with a unit that did not have LOS to it at the beginning of the impulse, their FP is tripled for the first round of melee.

The Soviets get 2-3-4 forces, which represent experienced special forces teams that show up in later scenarios to reflect the Russians adapting to the situation. This is really neat and I love that you’re using standard infantry for the early battles, reflecting the Soviet’s stubborn insistence on with using fixed doctrine against an insurgency.

Finally, we get a unique terrain feature here in the form of rooftops. These are a welcome addition to the LnL Tactical universe. It’s been a while since I played “A Day of Heroes” but I don’t remember rooftops being on there. In any case, rooftops basically act as an upper level marker on small buildings with a +1 defensive terrain modifier. Great if you have some guys with an RPG who want a little cover to fire from.

Scenario AAR: Nightmare

“Nightmare” is the first scenario from TBaJ. It’s a cozy one-map affair that has a small Afghan force fighting for its life as the Soviets bring in an impressive amount of firepower against them.

August 1981: Alishang, Laghman Province, Afghanistan

A Mujahadeen force entered Alishang and met up with the local forces. After sleeping the night in the village, they awoke to find the village surrounded by the Soviet army. When dawn broke, the fighting began.

Scenario Length: 6 turns. The Soviets must control all nine buildings in the village by the end of the game.

The Mujahideen must set up in any building hex in the village. We get two leaders (Abdul and Hakem). I put Abdul toward the southern entrance to the village with a 1-6-4 and 1-3-4 and arm them with an RPG-7 and PKM. Hakem is in the eastern part of the town with a 1-6-4, 1-3-4 and 0-4-4. Like Abdul’s team, they have a rocket launcher and an LMG.

The Soviets enter on Turn 1 with Captain Sarukin and 5 x 2-5-4 forces armed with two RPKs. Sarukin brings up the rear with a few men while the platoon pushes forward toward the outskirts of the town.

Hakem and his men get on the rooftops but leave the 0-4-4 on the ground level to fend off any early incursions. Abdul and his men start to move to flank the oncoming Soviets.

Turn 2

The Soviets retain the initiative and push a little further toward the village.

The Russians move a squad with RPKs into the same hex as the 0-4-4 squad and enter melee. It’s indecisive. The rest of the platoon gets to the rough terrain in M2 and O3. It takes some light fire from Hakem and his men, but nothing really effective.

Abdul and a squad sneak up along the southern edge of the village ready to pounce on the Russians as they come over the wall. The 1-3-4 to the north in J2 will serve as the other half of the trap.

Clearly Sarukin is waiting for the second element to arrive and push up from the south. For now, it’s just probing action and getting into position.

End Turn 2

Turn 3

Tanks! The Soviet T-55 rumbles in and starts laying fire on Abdul and his men, shaking all of them with main gun and heavy MG fire. One of Sarukin’s squads moves up and eliminates them in melee.

I should have seen that coming but got carried away with my ambush plans.

Trinov and his men make no delay in moving up north toward the village. By the end of the turn, we have a pair of 1-4-4 half-squads in the southern end of the village. The others have a base of fire set up in E7 and G7.

Meanwhile Sarukin to the east moves a squad into M5. Some ineffective fire is traded with Hakem and his men. The melee in M3 drags on without conclusion.

End of Turn 3

Turn 4

Sarukin has had enough of delays. Another 2-5-4 enters melee in M3 and finishes off those pesky 0-4-4 Mujahideens. Sarukin gets his men into the village, only for them to be shaken up in M4. Trinov uses this opportunity to get the bulk of his men and the tank into the village and they start doing damage.

The Afghans are in real trouble right now. Hakem splits his full squad into two 0-4-4 squads and hopes for the best. The 1-3-4 squad in I2 is hoping to mix it up with the Soviet 1-4-4 in H4 next turn if it can manage an ambush.

Things look bleak for the Mujahideen.

End Turn 4

Turn 5

The Soviets win initiative yet again and Trinov shoves his men into the building in H3/I3. Despite some light fire from the enemy in I2, the whole thing goes smoothly. The tank blasts Hakem and his men, shaking them up. The whole stack is just barely saved when the squad in J3 sprints across the road under fire and enters the building in L4. Though they keep Hakem and his men on the roof safe, the 1-3-4 squad pays for it in melee with the Soviets.

Another short and deadly melee ensues in K4 between a 0-4-4 Afghan and 1-4-4 Soviet half-squad. Both are eliminated. It looks briefly like there might be some hope for the Mujahideen to pull off a win if they can keep holding onto L4 for just one more turn.

End Turn 5

Turn 6

But it is not to be.

Hakem fails to rally and now his only hope is the 0-4-4 squad in his hex. Well, it’s not nearly enough. The tank opens fire and wounds Hakem and shakes the squad. It doesn’t take long before the Russians in M3 storm the building and eliminate everyone in the hex.

Trinov pushes the rest of his men to seize the remaining buildings while tying up the Mujahideen squad in I2. The result is a Soviet victory.

End Turn 6 and Game.

Lots of fun! As expected, plenty of brutal close-in fights here with a great deal of tension toward the end.

Controlling the Mujahideen requires a bit more finesse than the Soviets. You can see I probably didn’t use them to their full capabilities here. Losing Abdul in Turn 3 was also a huge problem but it happens when you lose sight of when your enemy reinforcements are coming on the board. Perhaps if I had rolled better initiative for the Afghans, things would have worked out differently. Would have. Should have. Could have.

Heroes against the Red Star: Down Time

Let’s take a quick look at a scenario from Lock ‘n Load Publishing’s Heroes Against the Red Star. One of my favorite scenarios is “Down Time”, which is a quick battle (five turns) of mostly infantry in confined quarters. Here’s the rundown:

May 14th, 1985 1500 GMT
Well into the afternoon of the war’s first day, both sides were bruised and beaten. Following the foiled attack of the early afternoon, the Soviets rested and resupplied. But war has an appetite of its own. The company’s best LAW gunner dashed for a wounded comrade, drawing the enemy’s machine gun fire. The soldier’s friends engaged the machine gun, and then a tank blasted the position. Of its own volition, a firefight erupted smack dab in the middle of what both sides hoped would have been down time.

The scenario is claustrophobic in the extreme, using only a small selection of the entire game mapboard. These are the buildings we’ll be fighting in and amongst for the next five turns. The objective of the scenario for both sides is simple: inflict as many casualties as possible on the other side. There are no victory locations here – just straight up murder.

There is a catch here (there always seems to be one, doesn’t it?). The first time one side enters another side’s building hex, we have to roll for a random event. These usually benefit the attacker and it’s a nice device that gets the players moving instead of just sitting in their buildings and shooting ineffectively at one another.

The US player sets up at the top and bottom of the playable area with the Russians kind of sandwiched in between.

I put Sgt. York with a 2-7-4 squad up in L9. They get an M60 machine gun and a “Slayer” skill card that lets you fire on enemies that wander into the hexes adjacent to your initial target – if you can make a morale roll that is!

In L10 and M10, we put a squad. Our hero, Felice, is in P12 with a LAW anti-tank rocket. I know that carrying a support weapon is supposed to reduce your movement by 2 for SMCs but we’re talking about an additional 5 pounds of weight with the LAW. I choose to ignore the rule in this case and Felice’s movement remains at the full 6 MPs.

At the bottom of the map is Captain Boone in Q13 with a squad and an M249. Beside him in R13 is a 2-6-4 squad with a 40mm grenade launcher.

I went with this setup because it’s kind of evenly distributed with clear fields of fire to pretty much everywhere on the map.

For the Russians, I went with something a little different. I put four squads into R11 and S10, which I know is telegraphing my intentions to move south, but I can live with that. The PKM (on a tripod) in P10 and the two squads in Q9 are there mainly to keep the Americans to the northwest at bay while I push for the southwest buildings in force.

From playing this scenario multiple times, I have learned that the Soviets need to focus their strength on a single objective. Of course the cost of this will be multiple casualties, but I’m willing to accept these sacrifices for the noble cause of proletariat revolution.

Oh right! I forgot to mention that the Russians also have a tank! The T-62 is sitting in S9. Maybe it will do something really cool. Let’s wait and see.

Turn 1 – Here We Come!

The Soviets win initiative and start off by shooting the crap out of Felice with the PKM and wounding him. At this point, it seemed like a fun idea that a really pissed off dude would just crash into the building and take on the entire Russian army (and the best thing about this game is that it’s a possibility). So I sent Felice up to P11 where he soaked up opportunity fire from the two Russian squads in Q9.

Riddled with holes and bleeding from every orifice, Felice was Kaput. Gone. Snuffed it. Pining for the fjords.

And I want to stop here and say something important :

Please notice that the US player now had two enemy hexes nearby with Fired markers on them. They had an entire platoon with a clear line of advance toward the Soviet buildings and if they had wanted, they could have charged toward the enemy without having to come under fire.

Instead, they elected to sit on defense – and though it wasn’t obvious at this point – the cost of doing so became apparent a few turns later.

Sarukin activates the adjacent hexes and sends a squad from R11 straight toward R13. Of course, the M60 in hex L9 opens up and rips the Russians apart (causing casualties) as soon as they get into R12. The “Fired” Slayer marker is placed upon the hex. A second squad from S10 moves from S11 to S12. The US squad in L9 passes its MC and fires again, this time shaking up the Soviet squad.

The Americans pass.

Sarukin activates the tank in S9 and the adjacent hexes again in R11 and S10. He sends yet another squad from S10 to S12. The American Slayer MC check fails and the “Slayer” marker is removed. The US player uses the squad in R13 to open fire at the adjacent Russians. This time they use the 40mm grenade launchers too. The Soviets take casualties. This is punishing. The Russians are taking eye-watering losses for no gains at this point.

It is time for the tank! The T-62 is moved to S11 and opens fire on the US squad in R13. The main gun perforates the thick concrete walls and shakes up the Americans inside. Sarukin’s only remaining squad dashes out of R11 and works its way into R13. The event is a Psyops marker, which we place on our machine gunners in P10. The Americans in R13 are killed in close combat.

The American player fails to capitalize on what has happened and instead throws some ineffective fire at the PKM in P10.

Turn 2 – We’re Coming For You!

The US wins initiative. Captain Boone and his men in Q13 rush into the adjacent building and engage the lone Soviet squad. Neither side manages to do any damage in the ensuing melee.

The Russians pull back their wounded from S12 to S11. They are now under the cover of the T-62 tank.

The Americans pass.

Sarukin and his men rush into R12, hoping to reinforce the lone Soviet squad in R13. Instead, they are sliced apart by the American M60 in L9 once again.

The American player elects to sit still, not wanting to expose their men to fire from the PKM in P10.

The Soviet player shrugs and sends up two squads from Q9 into the light forest hexes of L9 and O9. Opportunity fire from L10 and M10 fail to inflict any damage.

Strange turn. The Americans seem to be battling to a standstill while the Russians are pressing hard for victory and taking risks to achieve their goals.

Turn 3 – Take it from Me

The Soviets win initiative. Sarukin fails to rally. During the activation phases, he low crawls back to the T-62 ‘s hex.

Boone and his men manage to kill off the pesky Russian squad in R13.

Now things start to really fall apart for the Americans. The Soviets activate the squad in N9 and move it into M8, adjacent to the 2-7-4 US squad with M60 MG. For a random event, we get “Medical Supplies: Rally one shaken unit.” I elect to rally one of the Soviet squads in the T-62’s hex. I want to get that tank moving and shooting, rather than sitting there and serving as cover.

The resulting US opportunity fire does nothing.

The Soviet squad in O9 moves up into the building hex in M8. The resulting opportunity fire from M10 combined with another attack from L10 end up causing casualties. Our other Soviet squad in the hex is unaffected, however. The PKM fires back to no effect.

It certainly seems like things are going in the Soviet’s direction! On the other hand, it would be easy for things to stall out, especially if Sarukin fails to get his men going again in S11.

Turn 4 – Knocking On Your Door

The US gets initiative. Sarukin and two of his squads in hex S11 manage to rally. The US M60 team in L9 opens fire on the Russians in M8. One half-squad is eliminated. The other is untouched. This is very bad for the Americans.

Sarukin and his men low crawl to R11. The T-62 moves up, taking intense close-range fire from Captain Boone and his men. None of it is effective. The tank pivots and fires on the US M60 position in L9, shaking the squad but not the leader, Sgt. York.

In a desperate bid to save the MG/2-7-4 squad, the US player pushes the US squad in M10 up toward M8. It makes it through the hail of opportunity fire from the PKM and then enters melee with the Soviet squad. The Americans lose. What a heartbreak!

The momentum is definitely swinging in the Soviet direction now.

Turn 5 -Stayin’ Alive!

US wins initiative. Sgt York fails to rally his 2-7-4 w/ M60 team in L9. Oh crap!

Sarukin rallies a squad with him in R11 and reconstitutes it with another half squad.

York and his men low crawl from L9 to the relative safety of hex L10. There’s a good order MMC here that should protect them…maybe.

The Russians send the T-62 right up adjacent to the building. It sticks its main gun in the window but somehow misses (rolled a nat 12 here). It doesn’t really matter because the PKM does the trick. Everyone in L10 is shaken up except the medic and the Soviet squad in M8 moves right in and takes everyone out in melee.

Sarukin and his men charge into R13 and take on Captain Boone and his squad. Unfortunately, neither side manages to inflict any casualties and the turn – and the game – end here.

The end result is 5 US squads eliminated to 2 Soviet squads eliminated. According to the victory conditions, we have a Tactical Victory for the Russians.

I think this scenario proves that a focused offense with the right amount of leadership and firepower behind it will usually prevail against a dug-in force that just sits and uses Opportunity Fire. Still, things could have gone very badly for the Russians if not for a few terrible rolls for the US player.

In the end, though, you can only blame so much on luck. The Americans should have been more aggressive, especially when they saw the main effort being directed toward the buildings to the south. Certainly, they would have suffered at the hands of the PKM team in P10, but once they got inside the building, they would have created a real crisis for Sarukin, who would have had to decide whether to abandon his offense against R13 or pull his units back to deal with an attack to his rear.

Work Update – 2019 Books

This has been one of my busiest years so far with a ton of books completed and coming down the pipeline. Here’s a look at what’s been done so far:

  1. First Strike

I started working on this one early in the year. This project was a request by David Heath from Lock ‘n Load Publishing. Keith Tracton had designed the World at War ’85 game and the first release, “Storming the Gap” was just about to be kickstarted.

David wanted a book that followed the World at War timeline and, with the help of Keith, we worked out a rough idea of what the final product would look like.

Everyone agreed that it should closely adhere to the events and scenarios in the game. That being said, the book needed to be enjoyable for those who had never played or even heard about the game.

For the next four months, I wrote a book that covered the origins of the war from both the Soviet and American side. This was probably the toughest part to write because it used historical figures and I wanted to capture their personalities and demeanors through dialogue and action. I ended up basing much of it on short biographies and TV clips as well as documentaries.

The next three parts of the book were based on the first three scenarios of the game and bore the same name as the scenarios. These were “Storming the Gap”, “A Matter of Bridges”, and “Iron Horse, Iron Spear.” Taken together, these stories recounted the first major battles between the United States V Corps and the Soviet 8th Guards Army in the Fulda Gap. The stories are told largely from the perspective of a company commander although I often switched perspectives to show what was happening with various platoon leaders, weapons teams, or individuals.

2. Army of Two

When I finished writing “First Strike”, I was left with the feeling that there was more to say and do with several of the characters and events from the book. My intention had always been to get back to them at some point, but I just didn’t know how or when.

LNLP asked to produce a second edition of my existing book, “Enemy Lines” as a one-off that was unrelated to – but in the same setting as “Storming the Gap.” I started to revise “Enemy of Lines” but it just felt off.

All at once, inspiration hit me like a sledgehammer. By changing names and details, I could fill in the details of what had happened after “First Strike” and use it as a bridge that could connect to other books in the series. I almost completely rewrote “Enemy Lines” and submitted the rough draft before getting swept away by another project, “Space Infantry”.

When I came back to “Enemy Lines” (which was going to be renamed “Army of Two”), I was less than pleased with what I had written. It had a subplot that didn’t make much sense and it wasn’t clear how the events in the book tied in with the broader timeline of the series.

I ripped out one of the subplots and fleshed out another while drawing out connections between characters in the books. The focus shifted dramatically from a “POW” story and instead turned into a book about two very different men trying to run guerrilla operations behind enemy lines during World War III. The result was MUCH more satisfying and I’m very happy with the way this book turned out. There are still fragments of “Enemy Lines” in this book but they are almost unrecognizable.

3. The Ghost Insurgency

Here’s the cover image I used for “Insurgency”.

“Ghost Insurgency” is a second edition of “Insurgent”, a story about two Vietnam veterans who are brought back into service to help advise an insurgency in East Germany during World War III.

This was one of my favorite books and I wasn’t sure what kind of improvements needed to be made with this story at first. A part of me felt like I was giving up a favorite child when I sat down to work on this again. I didn’t change much from the original story but I tightened up the writing and fleshed out some further details about the broader operations in support of the book’s main characters.

When I got to the ending, I realized that my original version of World War III did not gel with the events of Keith Tracton and David Heath’s game narrative so that needed to be rewritten. The character decisions and fate is altered just slightly enough to deal with these changes. I think it worked out quite well.

The biggest change in the book was including a prologue that dealt with events in Vietnam. I wanted to show why these events haunted Joe Ricci and also illustrate his thorny relationship with Baker, who now has a larger part in the book. David Heath gets a mention as an ambitious CIA officer running ops in Southeast Asia and makes an appearance fifteen years later as World War III erupts.

4. Storm and Steel: Second Wave

Another second edition. This was based on the original “Storm and Steel”, which is about a West German panzer company commander during the first days of the conflict. This one is set south of the events in the Fulda Gap. It’s situated in southern Bavaria and the opponents are both the Soviets and the Czechoslovakian People’s Army.

In the original book, I always felt that the tension among the characters wasn’t really explained well. I added in a prologue that explores the roots of this a bit further. It also explained some of the problems that Mohr was having as the new commander of a unit that was having deep morale issues and personal conflicts.

I included a “news article” that talked about the performance of Leopard I tanks during World War III. It delves into the limitations and advantages of the tank as well as the tactics and performance. This was a particularly fun article to write.

Marc von Martial did some excellent illustrations for this book. He drew up several maps that showed the general position of the enemy as well as Kurt Mohr’s tactics around Grafling as well as other battlefields described in the book. This put the book into solid territory as a second edition and, in my humble opinion, makes it worth the purchase price for fans of the first book.

Keith Tracton took the events from Storm and Steel and created an expansion for “Storming the Gap”. You can now play as Kurt Mohr and command the West Germans (or the Czechs). The scenarios recreate each major battle in the book. From what I’ve seen of the product so far, it is very high quality with tons of maps, counters, and a rulebook that look stunning.

5. Space Infantry

This was a blast to write. Years ago, David Heath had written a draft called “Outpost 13”, which was premised on a team of soldiers much like the old Starship Troopers: Roughnecks series. Both of us loved the show and so we had a common idea of what we were going for with the book and the atmosphere we wanted to create. Since David was busy getting “World at War” and “Space Infantry” games out the door, I took over the writing of this book.

I based my draft heavily on the story that David had created. The major changes I made were at the start of the story. I slowed things down a bit and introduced a few characters at a time and tried to show how the men and women in the squad related to each other during training and downtime. I also worked exposition into an action scene in an attempt to flesh out the setting for the reader in a way that was easy to digest.

David had complained about his ending but there was nothing wrong with it that a little tweaking couldn’t fix. I also slid in two arcs that developed two characters and ultimately made them seem more human. There are elements of intrigue, betrayal, and loss at play and I think these changes add a bit more power to David’s original draft.

What’s next?

There is more to come, but as you can guess, I am now in need of a little break before I get back to work. This year’s crop of books have all been written and submitted at this point. Once the final production (layout, audio, printing, etc.) has been done, they should be available.

I would like to finish up one more second edition before the year ends and plot out the next book in the “Storming the Gap” series. I already have several ideas about where to take things and the characters we’ll see from previous books.

LnL Basics: Combat for Beginners

Lock ‘n Load was one of the first squad-based tactical combat systems that I bought when I first started getting into wargaming a few years ago.  I excitedly got it back from the store, punched out my counters and sat down to play the first scenario and then I opened the rulebook in giddy anticipation.  WHAM.  I was totally unprepared for this kind of game after looking at the rules and I desperately needed a hand just to get the basics drilled into my skull before I played a game that even resembled something that the rulebook described.  
After setting up numerous scenarios and bumbling my way through them, slowly poring over the rulebook to check each and every move, I finally started to get the knack of it.  In an effort to spread the knowledge and make things a bit easier for new players, I’ve created a short video that shows how combat works.  It’s pretty basic but I think it’s enough to give new players a small headstart in learning the rules.  It’s not a perfect tutorial in any way but it’s an attempt to provide a small portion of the rules in a different media format.  I’m not sure if I’ll continue with these kinds of videos after this one but here’s something that someone may be able to use.  If I’ve screwed something up in the video, please let me know and I’ll make some edits.  Happy hunting!



Anzac Attack: Amgrunts – The Scenario AAR – Part 2

This is part 2 of the ‘Amgrunts’ scenario from Lock ‘n Load Publishing’s Anzac Attack, the expansion for Forgotten Heroes II.  Part 1 is posted here.

Last we left off, the Marines were in considerable trouble, with the NVA managing to surround their right flank and threaten to overrun it.  On the left flank, the Marines and the ARVN were having better luck against the NVA, managing to make some small gains.  
Turns 5 & 6:
The fifth turn starts with the Marines fending off the NVA squad and shaking up another one nearby with .30 cal fire from an Amtrac.  The NVA pull their half-squad back and manage to shake up an amphibious vehicle with mortar and machinegun fire.  Overall, the pressure starts easing up on the Americans on the right flank and the tables slowly turn in their favor.  The Americans push one squad and a half squad up the center of the board.
American right flank has pushed back the NVA by the end of turn 5.
On the left flank, the ARVN are performing well despite constant pressure from the NVA.  Nu Dat keeps pushing squad after squad at a single 2-4-4 ARVN squad but the combination of defensive fire from both the Marines and Lt. Ho’s squads helps to keep the NVA bottled up in the heavy jungle.  The 106mm howitzer mounted on the Amtrac directly to the south also limits the NVA’s options for maneuver.  
The following turn, the Americans make some major gains as they push through with attacks everywhere.  Two of the shaken Amtracs from the previous turn manage to rally and Capt. Peters and his men are also back in action.  This frees up the Marines’ right flank and they are completely let loose at the slowly dwindling number of NVA around them.  One Amtrac shakes up Lt. Thien and his men and Reagin follows up by eliminating them in melee.  Two Marine squads in the center advance close up to the nearby NVA positions on board 1.  One squad takes some hits from NVA fire but a hero (Lucky Man) emerges from the cauldron of combat.
Over on the left flank, the NVA leader and his squads suffer several shaken results but a hero with a “Rage” card prevents a melee elimination.  Lt. Ho holds off on the melee and orders his squads to fire again on Nu Dat.  The hero is wounded and two squads are reduced to half-squads.  Overall, a painful but not yet fatal experience for the NVA on the left flank.  An ARVN squad gets a hero after coming under fire from an adjacent 2-4-4 NVA.
American and ARVN left flank:  The ARVN and one Marine squad face a giant pile of shaken NVA.
Well, after a harrowing first four turns of the game, the tide seems to have slowly turned in the US favor by turn 6.  Still too early to tell who’s going to win this one.  The piles of eliminated squad counters for both sides looks pretty even.
End of turn 6:  Reagin and his men are off to the southeast and not shown here.
Turns 7 and 8:

The NVA starts to overreach here a bit at the start of the turn.  Lt. Van Du fires at and melees a nearby USMC half squad.  With the Americans able to rally almost all of their Amtracs, they open fire at Van Du and an American Marine hero closes in and melees the shaken NVA.  The right flank is almost totally clear now for the Marines!

US hero about to enter melee with Lt. Van Du and clear up the right flank.

On the left flank up on board 9, Lt. Ho and an ARVN hero fire on a big stack of NVA squads under Nu Dat, shaking most of them.  An NVA hero and a half-squad with an RPD are protecting the stack, however, so the nearby US Marines opt to pull back slightly rather than charge into a risky situation.  Captain Peters follows up from the right to help out and the Amtracs begin to surround and isolate the remaining NVA stack.  Things suddenly look very grim for the North Vietnamese.

Remaining NVA on left flank fend off nearby ARVN hero.

Turns 9 and 10:

“From hell’s heart, I stab at thee.”  The few remaining NVA manage to eliminate Lt. Ho and his squads with
the help of some firepower and some nice rallying.  Two NVA half squads get reconstituted at the start of the turn into a single powerful 2-4-4 with an RPD and this proves extremely deadly.  By the time the dust clears at the start of turn 9, the ARVN have only a single hero still on the board.  Not a single ARVN squad has survived the scenario.

The remaining NVA in their final moments: beleagured and surrounded by vehicles and Marines.

The American player pushes the rest of his Marines into position to take out the NVA with a single powerful push in turn 10.  Captain Peters gets a 3-6-4 squad with an M-60 to move in after a nearby US hero draws the fire of Nu Dat.  At 1-1 odds, the NVA have a decent chance but they roll a 2 while the American player gets an 11.  Things end badly for the NVA and the three remaining turns in the game consist of isolated mopping up of shaken units and a 60mm mortar team.  I wish I could say this was tense right through to the end of turn 13 but this particular game just fell into the American player’s lap with the loss of Lt. Van Du and the NVA never had a chance to recover.

End Game

With no NVA units on the board, we take stock of our casualties and see what the battle has wrought for both sides.  The NVA get a total of 31 points for eliminating several US Marine squads and basically wiping out the ARVN.  However, with the NVA suffering a complete collapse in turns 9 and 10, they have lost an entire battalion, which gives the US player 45 points.  It’s by no means a complete blow out but the Americans have won a significant victory.

The eliminated NVA points counted up at the end of the scenario.

Conclusion

Those Amtracs really are deadly!  The NVA put a lot of pressure on the Americans in the early and mid-game but they kept getting hurt by the armored amphibious vehicles roaming around the board and firing at the enemy from adjacent hexes.  It’s clear that NVA firepower should have been better used in the early game to knock out the Amtracs permanently rather than merely shake them (the Amtracs were repeatedly shaken up throughout the game but they almost always rallied in the next turn).  Although I realized this by mid-game, I had all of my RPG-carrying units sitting in buildings and since ordnance cannot be fired from a building, they were unable to strike effectively at nearby enemy vehicles.

It would have been interesting if the NVA had been a little more aggressive up on board 9 from earlier on in the game.  They should have chosen to melee the ARVN units instead of assault moving and firing on them from adjacent hexes.  By trying to preserve too much of their force through careful movement and fire, they ended up inadvertantly buying time for the Marines on the right flank.  Also coordinating the two NVA forces (board 1 and board 9) would have certainly worked in their favor if they had been able to manage it.  I really feel that the NVA should have had this one but they let too many opportunities slip through their fingers.

This was a particularly interesting scenario!  The pressure is really on for both sides and the extremely high number of casualties reflects how deadly these forces can be when they run into each other in pitched battle.  My first playthrough of this scenario ended with the NVA ruling the board by turn 7 so with this result, I believe it is nicely balanced.

Anzac Attack: Amgrunts – The Scenario AAR – Part 1

Well, you’ve read the history, now it’s time for the report!

This is a 13-turn affair that involves three forces; the US Marines and the Republic of South Vietnam are up against the K-500 Battalion of North Vietnamese Army regulars.  Four maps are involved with a nice variety of terrain.  In the northwest, we have some very heavy jungle and east of that, we have lighter jungle with a small village.  The scenario doesn’t say which side sets up first (oops!) but I’m just guessing based on my own LnL experience that it’s the NVA.

NVA force 1 consists of 8 squads with a 60mm mortar team set up on map board 1 to the northeast.  Two units with RPGs are set up in the kunai grass to the south of the village in an attempt to keep the American Amtracs at bay should they attempt a head-on attack from the south.

NVA force 2 also has 8 squads and they are set up in the jungles on board 9.  A recoilless rifle and a platoon of men are set up along the road to ambush the American Amtracs should they try to come up the road.  Another platoon is set up slightly to the west and it will be used to attack the nearby South Vietnamese troops.

The South Vietnamese (ARVN) forces set up on board 9 quite near the NVA.  They get 6 squads and some light weapons.  Without assault move capability, they are outgunned as well as outnumbered by their North Vietnamese enemies.  Clearly, they will not last long against a sustained NVA assault.

Cue the US Marine Corps, which will be sending elements of the 1st Amtrac Battalion up from the south side of the board on turn 1.  They get a few Amtracs with .30 cal machineguns and one Amtrac with a 106mm howitzer.  The Marines also have a decent amount of hard-chargin’ 2-6-4 and 3-6-4 squads to take on the North Vietnamese.

A view from afar:  The board all set up and ready to go before turn 1.

Turns 1 & 2:

The USMC comes on to the board first, entering with all squads mounted on the three .30 cal Amtracs.  The Americans approach on a broad front on both board 5 and board 2, spread out from east to west.  Lt. Reagin and his two squads dismount in the light jungle just south of NVA force 2 and they get hammered by a double whammy of accurate RPD machine gun fire and 130mm artillery.  While the Marines lose a half squad and suffer a wounded leader and a shaken full squad, they do manage to get a hero with the “Multifaceted” hero trait.  He pulls two cards and gets “Loner” and “Veteran” – a deadly combination that may prove instrumental in the hard fight ahead.

Lt. Reagin and his squads on board 1 in trouble.

Meanwhile, far to the left, the NVA trade a squad to get a better position on the South Vietnamese on board 9.  Advancing through the heavy jungle using assault movement, they get close enough to make Sgt.Dunk nervous and he pulls a squad back with him towards board 5, hoping to coordinate movement and fire with the Marines to the south.  A nearby 75mm recoilless rifle spoils these plans, however, as it fires at the moving squad in the nearby trees.  A “2” is rolled to hit and the damage rolls shake both Dunk and his squad.  The NVA follow this up with a devastating melee from an NVA leader and two squads who eliminate the South Vietnamese leader and his men.

Lt. Khai eliminates Sgt. Dunk on board 9.

Much of the second turn is spent with the NVA slowly moving forces south to hit at Lt. Ho and his men but the NVA lose another squad to a South Vietnamese assault.

Beginning of turn 2

The Marines offer some assistance against NVA force 2 by driving up an Amtrac adjacent to an NVA leader and squad.  The .30 cal machinegun fire shakes the NVA leader and his men.  Things seem to be going reasonably well on the American/South Vietnamese left flank.

Marines on the left flank start moving up to help out the South Vietnamese vs. the NVA

Having said that, however, the right Marine flank is in jeopardy.  Peters sends a Marine hero off to melee an adjacent NVA squad after shaking it up but the NVA take this opportunity to advance a platoon of men straight towards the Marine flank, seriously jeopardizing the Americans on board 2.  Now they are practically surrounded!  To add insult to injury, the NVA manage to shake up an Amtrac providing cover for the Marines.  Things look very shaky right now for the USMC right flank.

Marines in serious trouble as NVA force 2 maneuvers around their right flank.

Turns 3 & 4:

The Americans need to work hard to save their flank here but that will mean easing the pressure from other areas of the board first.  The South Vietnamese on board 9 begin turn 3 by eliminating the NVA’s 75mm recoilless rifle in melee.  The NVA respond by pushing their squads at the fragile American right flank.  A 2-5-4 NVA squad with an RPD easily eliminates the hero adjacent to Lt. Reagin’s position.

The Americans try to preserve their infantry by sending the Amtracs around to sow chaos.  One of them cuts over to the right and hits at Lt. Thien and his squads poised behind the Marine flank.  The NVA start sending more men down south from board 1 to board 2 and their grip is tightening around Reagin’s precarious position.  The US responds by sending over another Amtrac from the left flank to prevent further envelopment.  However, the NVA simply take this opportunity to fire at and shake yet another Amtrac (now there are two shaken Amtracs on the board).  This isn’t turning out well at all.

NVA close in on the American right flank.  The US tries to hold on by using Amtracs but they get shaken.

Things do turn around a bit as the Americans score some minor success in the center of the board.  Capt. Peters and his men manage to advance into the jungle and eliminate an NVA squad.  Now they hold a spearhead position with a small force that can be used to threaten the NVA on either board 1 or 2.

Capt. Peters and his men advance on the left flank against the NVA on board 9.

It’s pure chaos as the Marines advance on the left and just barely hold on to the right.  If Reagin and his squads go down, the left flank will be surrounded and collapse with it.

By turn 4, things start to slowly come back the Americans’ way.  They manage to make their rally rolls (except for one of the Amtracs) and Reagin directs his squads to shake and then melee an adjacent NVA squad.  Lt. Ho makes his rally roll and heads back north into the fight on board 9 and a single 2-4-4 ARVN squad fends off an entire platoon of NVA moving up adjacent and assault moving on them.  The ARVN defense is helped out by accurate fire from the 106mm howitzer mounted on one of the Amtracs.

Lt. Ho’s ARVN forces and the US Marines keep up the fire on the left flank.

The NVA also get their licks in.  Lt. Thien fires on and shakes up an adjacent Amtrac while one NVA squad goes for broke and attempts to melee Reagin’s hex, which only has a single half-squad and an M-60 in it.  The melee is undecided as both sides miss their elimination rolls.  Captain Peters, seeing that the situation on the left flank seems to be under control for now, rushes towards the right flank to help bolster the Marines’ numbers.

Right flank:  The NVA shake up an Amtrac and send in a 2-5-4 squad to melee Lt. Reagin and his men in hex N5.

The game still has 9 more turns left in it so things are far from decided at this point.  I’ll hopefully be posting part 2 in the next few days so tune in!

Update:  Part 2 is here!

Anzac Attack: Amgrunts Background

Last week, I received my copy of Anzac Attack, the expansion for Lock ‘n Load Publishing’s Forgotten Heroes II.   Since then, I’ve been immersing myself on a daily basis in the game, trying out various scenarios here and there.  The first scenario, Amgrunts, provides the player with a large-scale battle with a really interesting historical background.

Background

Amgrunts pits the US Marines of the 1st Amtrac Battalion versus the NVA in an area of South Vietnam called Cua Viet, located just north of Hue City.  The Cua Viet waterway was an important supply channel that could be used to ferry equipment and men deep into Vietnam to vital strongpoints such as Dong Ha.  For this reason, maintaining control over the mouth of the waterway in and near Cua Viet was essential for the Marines.

In 1967, the 1st Amtrac Battalion, was tasked with building defenses and constructing operating bases in the area in and around Cua Viet,   As things started to heat up, however, elements of the battalion were removed from these duties and assigned a dedicated infantry role to help defend the area from NVA incursions.  Despite this unexpected shift in roles, the ‘Amgrunts’ fought with distinction in Vietnam  and won four commendations by the end of the war.  40 years later, the term “Amgrunts” would be revived when 1st Marine Division’s 3rd Assault Amphibious Battalion began operating as infantry around AO Bagdadhi in Iraq.

106mm weapon LVTP5 Amtrac

The Amtracs

One thing I should note about this scenario is that 3 “normal” Amtracs are used while the fourth Amtrac has a 106mm weapon mounted on it.  This threw me for a loop as I kept looking for the LVTP5 counter with the HE values when actually, you’re just supposed to plop the 106mm counter on top of one of your LVTP5 counters and there you go!  From what I’ve been able to glean online, the 106mm weapon has an HE value of 5.  To Hit numbers are on the back of the counter.

The LVTP5 Amtracs were used by the Marines for troop transport (with Marines riding on top) and fire support (with the 106mm cannon sandbagged and chained to the vehicle).  Apparently, they were favored over the Ontos, which were considered vulnerable to mines (and thus mostly assigned to secure static positions).  Being used extensively for such dangerous missions had a price, however, and by the end of the Vietnam conflict, around 300 LVTP-5s were destroyed or damaged beyond repair.

Scenario History

This particular scenario takes place on January 20, 1968, which marks the point around which the NVA became more active in the Quang Tri area.  If the NVA could contest the area and cut off or reduce the flow of supplies along the Cua Viet Waterway to Dong Ha, this would jeopardize the resupply of several Marine bases (Cam Lo, Camp Carroll, the Rockpile, and Ca Lu) inland that were isolated in the jungle and operating far from other friendly units.

Quang Tri area with Cua Viet east of Dong Ha.  Several isolated US Marine bases in the Quang Tri area are shown.

On January 19th, Marines from C Company, 3rd Battalion, ran into NVA positions, leading to a major engagement that lasted almost the entire day. The scenario recounts events of the next day.  On the morning of the 20th, the NVA were desperate to pick another fight.  They fired on several patrol and naval craft along the waterway.   Elements of the 2nd ARVN Regiment and 1st Amtrac Battalion went on patrol and ran into an entire NVA battalion.  The NVA came to the fight prepared and called about 50 rounds of 130mm artillery fire on the ARVN and Marines.  The Amtracs suffered damage during the battle, with one of them getting hit 3 times by RPGs.  By the time the NVA had withdrawn from the fight, the Marines had suffered 13 KIA and 48 WIA.

This is a large 4 map scenario that runs for twelve turns.  There are no events or special scenario rules.  It is a straight-up knock-down fight between two large forces.  The NVA start off on map 9 and 1 while the ARVN forces start up on map 9 and the Marines enter from the south of the board.  Right away, the Marines have a decision to make.  Do they let the ARVN fend for themselves while taking on the large force on map 1 or do they rush over to map 9 and end up fighting in the very heavy jungles (where the Amtrac fire support is of limited help).  I tried the former option on my first play and ended up with the ARVN getting wiped out fairly quickly.  With no one left on map 9 to fight, the NVA turned the rest of its entire force on my Marines and hurt them very badly by the scenario’s end.


Sources:
Esthes, Kenneth (2000).  Marines Under Armor, Annapolis: US Naval Institute Press.
Nusbaumer, Stewart (2008).  ‘The Amgrunts’, Leatherneck Magazine, March, vol 91, no. 3.
Shulimson et al (1997). US Marines in Vietnam – The Defining Year 1968, History and Museums Division Headquarters, USMC.
Thompson, P.L. (1968). ‘Amgrunts’, Leatherneck Magazine, June, vol 51, no. 6.

Forgotten Heroes: Ambush!

Line of Fire magazine issue 12 has several excellent scenarios that expand on Lock ‘n Load Publishing’s Forgotten Heroes II, its game of modern squad tactics set in the Vietnam War.  One of the first scenarios in the magazine is called “Ambush!  Relief Attempt During Operation Attleboro”, which was created by Peter Bogdasarian, who designed such games as Tank on Tank and the Corps Command series (which includes “Dawn’s Early Light” and “Totensonntag”) among others.

Before we get into the AAR, I’ll talk a little about the scenario’s historical background.  During Operation Attleboro in October and November of 1966, the Americans conducted Search and Destroy airmobile missions against the Viet Cong near Tay Ninh, located just south of the Cambodian border in War Zone “C”.  Conducted in two phases, Phase I went relatively well for the Americans from the start of September but in early November, four US Army battalions became part of an ill-fated plan intended to capture a concealed enemy depot.

The US battalions advanced towards a nearby river where the depot was thought to be located.  However, they soon found along the way that the thick vegetation in the area quickly led to a loss of unit cohesion.  One of the attacking companies from the 27th Infantry Regiment ran into a heavily fortified VC reconnaissance camp from the 9th VC Division.  Confusion reigned among the Americans in the heavy jungles along the Suoi Ba Hoa River as command and control quickly broke down and no one seemed to really know where the other attacking American units were quite located.  Sensing the problems that the Americans were having, the 9th VC Division commander, Col. Hoang Cam, funneled his men (and those of the 101st NVA Regiment) into the area.  Over the course of several days, the battle grew ever more larger and the fighting became desperate as each side committed more and more troops.

One of the reinforcements companies that was landed in the area to the north of the area ran into an ambush on its way to helping out the 1st battalion, taking sniper fire from the trees and machine-gun fire through fire tunnels cut through the tall grass that concealed the gunner’s positions.  The company needed to be rescued by two American companies the next day and was found badly mauled with six dead and 19 wounded.  There’s an excellent article here with more details about the operation. This particular scenario focuses on the plight of the American reinforcement company sent in to help out 1st Battalion, 27th Infantry Regiment on November 4th, 1966.

Scenario Rules:

We’re using map 4 from Forgotten Heroes here but hex columns I to the right side of the board are out of play.  The US also can’t use low crawl or spotting until the fighting starts to simulate the fact that the Americans are walking into an ambush.  The VC have cut fire tunnels into the kunai grass near the bunker to the southwest so the kunai doesn’t actually block any fire coming from the bunker (though it does degrade it).

Playing area:  US comes in from north after VC sets up in south.

The US gets two leaders and one hero along with nine 2-6-4 squads.  The VC have six squads, a 12.7mm machinegun team and only one leader, “Lt. Diem”, who gets an “Eagle Eye” skill card.

There are also a few events here but I have marked them with spoiler code and avoided mentioning them explicitly anywhere so it’s safe to read if you haven’t played it yet!

Victory is measured by how many units each side can eliminate or reduce.  Basically, the VC side gets 2 points for eliminating a US squad and the US only gets 1 point for taking out a VC squad.  The side that holds the B7 and H7 hexes at the end of the scenario also gets additional victory points.

This is a quick scenario – only four turns, so everyone needs to move fast and hit hard!

Setup:

The VC break their ambushing forces into two.  In the southwest, they place three 1-4-4 squads along with the leader and plunk the 12.7mm WT into the bunker in the kunai grass.

The VC player places three 1-4-4 squads in the southeast corner, one of which gets an RPD and is placed in the other bunker.

VC setup south side of board 4.  Diem is stacked with one 1-4-3 w/ RPD.  MG team in left bunker.  1-4-3 w/ RPD in right bunker.

Turn 1:

The Americans have initiative and start hustling through the jungle with both of their leaders with three squads each double-timing to the edge of the treeline.

US forces after entering from the north.  Note squad in C2 should be in C1.  Corrected next turn without affecting play.

The other three squads are trailing along, looking at the pretty flowers and admiring the scenery.  The US has a hero (with a “Thumper” card) who goes it alone along the right side and arrives at the edge of the bush.  An event occurs

Event Spoiler:
and a US medic shows up

The VC open up from their concealed positions.  Walker and his squads get hit very hard, with all but one 2-6-4 unit shaken in the first volley of fire.  Another VC squad on the right shoot at them again and reduce two of his squads to casualties while wounding Lt. Walker.  The blood starts to flow and the Americans realize they are in big trouble. The only consolation is that the US player gets a hero (“Loner”) in Walker’s hex in F3.

Lt. Jenson and his platoon suffer a shaken squad from being hit by 12.7mm machinegun fire on the left.  The US player has certainly taken his lumps this turn.  A VC 1-4-3 squad is sent up towards D6, hoping to get into a lucky melee situation next turn if the Americans fail their rally rolls.

End of turn 1

Turn 2:

Walker manages to rally a couple of reduced squads back to life while Jenson calms down his shaken squad and gets everyone in his hex back into fighting shape.

Thumper goes to work, firing at one of the VC bunkers but it doesn’t do anything.  “Loner” runs out and acts as a bullet magnet.  He makes it out of the treeline before being eliminated by heavy VC fire.  Walker and one of his squads fire back but nothing happens.  With the VC on the right flank occupied, one US squad runs out towards the VC ambush position.  An event is triggered and:

Event Spolier:
a VC squad with an RPD shows up behind the American lines, which moves in and eliminates Walker and his squads in melee!

US 2-6-4 squad rushes towards the VC positions in front of him. 

Jenson shakes up a VC squad in D6, inviting return fire from Lt. Diem and the 12.7 mm machinegun team in the lower left of the board.  One VC squad is sent up into the jungle hexes near enough to melee the Americans (at their special triple melee strength if coming from a hex out of American LOS) if they fail to protect their flank.

So far, things are going poorly for the US.  They have lost a significant portion of their attacking force and failed to eliminate a single one of the ambush positions held by the VC.  I’m getting a bad feeling about the possibility of a close outcome for this scenario but I continue anyways because you just never know with this game system.

Turn 3:

The US player decides that it’s time to get out of the jungle and on towards the VC.  Sitting here is just not working at all.  It’s impractical to try and take out both ambush positions with such few men, so they focus on taking out the VC on the lower right of the board.

“Thumper”, the US hero, is sent down towards the VC position in H6 and gets hit.  With more guts than brains, the 2-6-4 squad in G4 decides to go for it and gets next to the VC 1-4-3 squad in G6 and makes it through the opportunity fire without a scratch.  The Americans jump into the VC foxholes and eliminate the enemy in melee fighting.

US 2-6-4 wins melee in G6 while Thumper closes in on VC positions in H6

Jenson sends a nearby squad to melee the VC in the nearby jungle hex before it tries to sneak up on the Americans. Another short melee ends in a US victory.  The Americans seem to be finally pulling together here.  They push their luck a bit by sending another squad south to take out the shaken VC squad in D6.  Lt. Diem and his squad fire at the advancing squad but miss horribly.

US 2-6-4 in D5 low crawls into D5, hoping to eliminate shaken VC in D6 next turn.

The turn ends with Jenson moving down towards the lower right of the board with his remaining squad.  As they advance to the southeast, however, they are shaken by 12.7mm machinegun fire coming from all the way over in the B7 hex bunker.

End of Turn 3

Turn 4:

Final turn and the US gets initiative here.  Lt. Jenson fails to rally so the US is going to need to work hard.

The US squad in G6 hops on top of the bunker in H7 and then goes inside, winning a melee and capturing the hex.  The VC in H6 fires at the US hero in H5 and eliminates him.  Over on the left side of the board, two US squads make a play for the VC leader and squad in C6 but are shaken up on the approach by the B7 bunker’s weapons team and Diem’s RPD squad.

2-6-4 squad advances into bunker melee in H7.

Conclusion:

This was a really interesting scenario!  The events were really surprising and definitely changed the outcome of the battle.  By the end of turn 2, the Americans had taken so many losses that they were forced to choose between one of two objectives.  Unfortunately, it wasn’t enough to make up for all the American casualties that the VC were able to inflict early on in the game.  The VC won this scenario coming out at around 10 to 7, a slim margin of victory.  If I had to play it again, I would shove at least one of the American platoons out of the jungle at the top of the board and get them heading towards the VC ambush positions on turn 2.  Hanging around at the top of the board for too long proved almost fatal for the US squads.

Band of Heroes: Overlord Begins

“Overlord Begins” is a scenario from Lock ‘n Load’s Band of Heroes expansion “Swift and Bold”, which focuses on the British efforts in Normandy and Holland during 1944.  It’s an impressive expansion with 12 scenarios and 83 counters. Although it is tough to find these days, I hear it will be included in the upcoming new edition of Band of Heroes.

“Overlord Begins” depicts the landing of the 6th Airborne Division’s D Company in the early hours of June 6th, 1944.  The company’s mission was to take and hold the Caen Canal Bridge over the River Orne, a vitally important strategic target.  With the bridge in British hands, it would help speed the passage of friendly units as they pushed south of the beaches while at the same time preventing the Germans from easily reinforcing their coastal defense units later on in them morning.
In scenario terms, the British win this one if no German units are within three hexes of the bridge by scenario’s end.
Here we get map 14 and 17 with a handful of Germans at either end of the bridge while a platoon of men is set up anywhere west of the river hexes or on board 17.  Just a quick note that the scenario rules indicate that some of the terrain on the board is different than what is actually depicted; bocage is actually hedge while marsh hexes are clear terrain.
The playing area for the scenario.
I love the Horsa glider mechanic and how it plays out.  You pinpoint where the gliders are supposed to land and then make a morale check that’s modified by terrain and enemy defenses to see where it actually lands and what happens to the glider’s occupants.    Since this scenario takes place at night, the chances that the glider is going to crash land off course is a little higher than during the day. The night rules for combat and spotting are slightly modified by the scenario.  Basically, units can spot anything within 3 hexes of their position (instead of the usual two).  The scenario rules also state that the Germans are taken by surprise by the landing so all they can do in the first turn is basically sit there and defend in melee.  The British plan to take full advantage of this.
A little closer look at the German setup here:
On the eastern side of the bridge, the Germans get a single 0-5-4 squad with an MG42 in a bunker.
The eastern side of the bridge with defenses
On the western side, we get another 0-5-4 squad with an MG42 but it’s sitting right on the bridge hex in 17H6.  The Germans have a platoon of infantry, which they plunk down on the west side of the bridge.  
German defenses on western side of bridge.
With the Germans set up, the British decide on where their Horsa Gliders are going to land.  They choose two gliders each (both of which have a platoon of men inside) to land to the west of the bridge.
Two Horsa Gliders will be landed on the west side of the bridge.
The remaining glider will land on the eastern edge of the bridge and hopefully take out the MG bunker quickly.
Remaining Horsa Glider to land near the banks on the east side of the bridge.
After we choose our landing spots for the British, we roll away and see what happens.  As it turns out, both gliders on the west side of the bridge land perfectly and the men are in good shape.
Lord Holmes and Sgt. Livingston arrive safe and sound with three squads each.
Disaster strikes when the third glider fails its check badly and lands far to the south of where it was supposed to land.  Captain McCloud and his three squads are instantly eliminated and the British are down to 2/3rds strength before a shot is even fired in the scenario.
With no time to mourn the loss of the other British platoon, Sgt. Livingston and his three squads move east towards the bridge to melee the German machinegun crew in H6. 
Livingston and platoon head into melee with German 0-5-4 with MG42.
Unbelievably, both sides in the melee roll poorly (both of them roll a “3”) and no one is eliminated.  Lord Holmes moves a bit further south, hoping to cover any advance from the German infantry under command by Sgt. Baumann.
Placement at end of Turn 1.
Turn 2 begins and the British retain the initiative.  Sgt. Livingston decides to get the melee with the German machinegun crew over and done with but the British roll a “4” while the Germans get a lucky “11”.  Sgt. Livingston and his men are completely wiped out.  The British now have only 1/3rd of their starting force and it’s only the start of turn 2.  What a disaster!
With a stiff upper lip, the remaining British platoon decides to carry on, cautiously pushing up towards the bridge using assault movement.  Sgt. Baumann moves two of his squads up to intercept the British paras in the coming turn.
End of Turn 2
At the start of turn 3, it is time to throw caution to the wind.  Lord Holmes orders one squad to fire on the German machinegun crew sitting on the bridge and manages to shake it.  He commands one of the squads to follow up by moving in to melee the shaken Germans.  
One of the Para squads melees and eliminates the German machinegun crew in H6.
The Germans get a bit of revenge here as one of the Wehrmacht squads shakes up the Para squad in I7.  The turn ends. 
Turn 4 begins and the British gain initiative.  With bravery that borders on recklessness, the British squad that eliminated the German machinegun crew last turn jumps into melee with the adjacent German squad in G6 after picking up a Bren during the rally phase.  A couple of rolls later, the British squad has eliminated these Germans too.
British paras eliminate their second German squad of the day.
Just before the melee takes place, an event marker calls for German reinforcements to arrive in the following impulse.
Sgt. Beck and a handful of squads arrive with a light tank that trundles up towards the British position.  Now the Brits are really outnumbered!
A German tank and a platoon of Germans arrive on the scene.
Lord Holmes can do little about the uninvited guests so he hauls back an adjacent British squad, hoping to rally the men in the coming turn.
It’s Turn 5 and the Germans get initiative.  Lord Holmes successfully rallies the squad with him.
This is it – time to crush these pesky Brits!
The Panzer tank pulls up adjacent to Lord Holmes and his two squads.  The adjacent British paratroopers fire back with everything and shake up the vehicle crew.  
Lord Holmes and his men fire on and shake up an adjacent German tank.
The remaining British squad in the G6 building hex ends up in a short victorious melee with a German squad that rushes for the machinegun sitting on the bridge in H6.  While the British are preoccupied with enemy tanks and machineguns, Sgt. Baumann and his men take the opportunity to move south towards Sgt. Livingston’s position.
Turn 6 begins and again the Germans get initiative.  The German tank rallies and immediately fires on Lord Holmes and his men, scoring a hit.  The tank fire shakes up Lord Holmes and one of his squads but what’s this?  A British hero (“Chapman”) emerges and is given the “Preempt” skill card. The unshaken men fire on the adjacent tank and shake it up.  Baumann and his men fire on the British but without result.  Despite being almost impossibly outnumbered, the British are still clinging on.
The Paras get a hero with the Pre-empt skill card after taking on fire from a German tank.
With only one turn left, the British will need to start securing the far side of the bridge.  The remaining British squad runs across the bridge to the east side of the river.  They get adjacent to the German machinegun in the nearby bunker.  Sgt. Beck see the Brits race across the river and take possession of the building in G6 on the west side.  The British will now have to eliminate him and his men in order to win the scenario!
British paras get close to a German MG bunker while Sgt Beck moves into building hex in G6.
It’s turn 7, the last turn of the scenario.  In order to win, the British will need to eliminate any Germans within three hexes of the bridge.  It’s going to be a very tough job.  The Germans win initiative and fail to rally their shaken Panzer in the rally phase. The British use Chapman’s “Preempt”  card to go first in the Operations Phase.  They send the hero off towards Sgt. Baumann and he is wounded while approaching the German position.
Chapman runs towards the German position in F7 and is wounded.
Now the British paratroopers will have to eliminate Beck and his men and also take the bunker. First, they went for the bunker…and took it!
British paras successfully melee the German MG bunker on the east side of the bridge.
Now to take out Sgt. Beck and his men.
Lord Holmes sends one of his squads out towards Beck’s position but the Germans hold their fire, waiting for the main assault.  The Para squad gets adjacent to the Germans and fires using its assault movement.  However, the Brits fail to shake the Germans.
Brit Para squad gets adjacent to Beck and fires at the Germans without result.
With no other option left, Lord Holmes and his remaining men move towards Beck, hoping to get past the German fire and beat them in a melee.  As they get adjacent to Beck, the Germans open fire and shake the British leader and his men.  With Beck and his men clinging to the G6 hex near the bridge, the Germans retain control of the crossing. 
Lord Holmes and his squad are shaken as they get adjacent to Beck and his men in G6
The British have lost this one, but just barely.  I believe it was a matter of just not having enough men to take the objectives despite a good amount of luck on their side.  The combined loss of Cpt. McCloud and his platoon in the third glider and Sgt. Livingston’s platoon in melee on turn 2 was just too overwhelming for the British to make up for.  Still, it was shockingly close and the British did have a chance of winning even right up to the very last impulse of the last turn of the scenario.  Great stuff!

LnL Tactics Part II: Of Problems and Dilemmas

A little while back, I wrote an article about my own Lock ‘n Load tactics and how they had changed over time, especially in terms of how to use specific kinds of units for attack and maneuver.  Today, I’d like to broaden out into the conceptual and just talk about the way I try to approach each game in order to get the most tactical bang for my buck.

Generally speaking, I try to set up and use my forces in a way that creates dilemmas for my opponent.  When I use the word “dilemma”, I’m referring to a situation that presents the opponent with lose-lose choices.  Note that this is much different that the word “problem”, which refers to a bad situation that can be resolved with a definite solution.  Good players are good at creating problems but great players are able to create dilemmas.  For more information about how these two terms are used and thought of by military planners, check out pages 1-22  and 1-23 of US Army Field Manual 3-21.8 right here.

In game terms, you can create dilemmas in a number of ways.  One of them is to setup your units in a way that forces your opponent to make tough decisions.  I’ll use Heroes of the Gap’s scenario “Air Assault” as an example:

In this scenario, the Americans get a handful of guys at the start of the game that can be plunked down anywhere in the city buildings of Eisenbach.  The Soviets come in on turn 1 with overwhelming force (6 Spetsnaz squads and two army squads with a Hind, four Mi-8 Hips and Soviet air support to boot) in an attempt to take and hold three key buildings for the win.  On turn 4, the American player gets reinforcements in the form of several squads, an M-113 and an M-1 tank.

The big issue here is that the American units at setup are vastly outmatched.  They even need to make a morale check to fire or move on the first turn.  So how can the American player make the best of this very bad situation?

Well, he could simply put his forces in an objective hex and hope that the dice roll his way.  But this would be giving his opponent a problem rather than a dilemma.  The problem being:  “There are bad guys in the objective hex.” and the obvious solution being:  “Kill the guys in the objective hex.  Take the objective.”

Defender setup 1:  Defensive units in objective hexes presents enemy with a problem.

As the defender in this scenario, it’s probably much better instead to place your units as far away as possible from the objectives.  This gives your opponent a dilemma.  He can either 1.) go for the objectives and leave your guys untouched or 2.) he can try to take out your units before getting to the objectives.

Defender setup 2:  Defensive setup outside of objective hexes presents enemy with dilemma.

If your opponent takes the first option, this leaves his units open to immediate counterattack from your units in the subsequent turns.  The second option will require him to spend his time and resources away from the objective and leaves part of his forces out of position when your reinforcements arrive on turn 4.  Neither of these is good for your opponent so it’s a perfect example of creating a dilemma rather than a problem.

This is just one example of “dilemma” thinking that can help improve a beginner’s game.

You can also create dilemmas for your opponents by using combined arms.  Effective use of artillery, for example, can be particularly effective at giving your opponent tough choices – especially when combined with infantry or vehicles.  Artillery can be used to try and funnel your opponent into kill zones.

In the example above, the Soviet defender has called in artillery on AC7, presenting a dilemma for the American attacker.  If he moves his infantry into the adjacent buildings for cover, he will get hit.  If he moves out into the open ground beyond, he will get hit.  If he sits and does nothing, he will probably get hit or, at the very least, waste the turn.  There is absolutely no good choice here for him and one could argue that this might actually be a more effective use of artillery than simply calling it down into AE7 where the US units may or may not survive their defensive rolls.  Often the threat of getting hit by artillery is a more effective tool than actually hitting the enemy directly with it because of its ability to create dilemmas for your opponent.

Good luck and remember:  always think of ways to create dilemmas instead of just problems!