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.

Scenario 4 – World at War: Counterattack

Well, it’s been a little while since I’ve played a game of World at War and I thought I would get back to my roots this weekend and post a playthrough of a scenario from one of my favorite expansions – Counterattack.  This time we’ll be playing the first scenario of the Steckler campaign called “Little Red Riding Hood”.

This scenario features a battle between Task Force Eagle and elements of the Soviet Forward Security Element (FSE).  It takes place on Map W, a cozy little affair that comes with the Counterattack expansion.  There are a couple of interesting terrain features here like stone walls (that add a +1 defensive bonus for any fire that goes across them) and orchards, which offer some limited defensive terrain cover.   The Americans enter on the west side of the map from hex A9 while the Soviets can enter anywhere along the eastern side of the map.

TF Eagle:  A little bit of everything in here – tanks, IFVs, infantry, and two leaders.
Forward Support Element:  We’re a bit tank heavy here with the T-64s and the BRDM-AT could prove lethal

Victory conditions:  The Americans want to take the three hamlets on the map while the Warsaw Pact wants to prevent this from happening.  The Americans score a total victory if they can nab all 3 villages by the end of turn 5, a significant victory with 2 hamlets and the Soviets score a win if the Americans can only grab one hamlet.

Setup:  There’s a lot of steel being committed by both sides here for such a small map.   The Soviets keep their T-64s stacked with the HQ while the US player spreads itself a bit thinner, opting to work with lone units instead of stacking them.  Steckler gets put with a Bradley and the infantry while the leader gets stacked with one of the Abrams.  For the Soviets, I wanted to pump up their infantry a bit too, so I stacked Volotov with an infantry unit loaded on the BMP-1.

Turn 1:  TF Eagle goes first and pushes up along the road from A9, cross the bridge, and secures the southwestern hamlet.  The Soviets enter the board and move up their BMP loaded with infantry into the southeastern hamlet.  The T-64s get in position to cover the approach to the southeast hamlet and it looks like the rest of the Soviet forces are preparing to try and take the northwest hamlet next turn.

The US player moves his units across the bridge and claims the SW hamlet with Steckler.  Soviets get into the nearest village and claim it too.

Turn 2:  The Americans go first and fire at the Soviet BMPs loaded with infantry in the southeast hamlet..  The BMP is destroyed but Volotov and the infantry survive and are now sitting in the hamlet, sad and disrupted.

The Americans send their HQ and a Bradley up north towards the northwest hamlet while an Abrams stacked with a leader covers the trail approaches to the east.  Steckler and his men are unloaded in the southwest hamlet with a Bradley sitting in the same hex to cover against any armor attacks.

The FSE gets a chit pull next and they send a small force (two T-64s w/ HQ and a BRDM-AT) through the woods towards the northwest village.  One hex of cultivated terrain is all that separates these guys from the American HQ and Abrams in hex F5.  Talk about close combat!

Turn 3:  No chits are pulled for either side here.

Turn 4:  Time is running short and neither side has claimed the northwest hamlet in F4.  Americans get the first chit and take a couple of ineffective shots against the T-64 way down south and the Soviet infantry in the southeast hamlet.  Even the Abrams stacked with an HQ fails to do much against the Soviet tanks stacked with their HQ.  In frustration, the Bradley platoon is sent in alone to claim the hamlet in F4 and an event occurs.  The Soviet BRDM-AT tries to hit the Bradley platoon but does little except disrupt it.

The FSE now has a go and Volotov and his infantry manage to reduce and disrupt the Abrams stacked with the leader in F7.  The T-64 fires at Steckler and the infantry sitting in the hamlet in F8 but fail to score any hits.

The BRDM-AT fires at the American HQ and Abrams unit but misses completely and is marked Ammo Depleted (AAARGGH!).  The Soviets decide to just go for broke and send in their two full platoons of T-64s stacked with the HQ against the lone Bradley platoon in the northwest hamlet.  It seems like a sure thing but nope!  The Bradley takes only one disruption while the Soviet units take a disruption each in what must have been the most incompetent assault on a village ever undertaken.  The frustration mounts for the Russians.

End of Turn 4:  Americans and Soviets are disrupted down south while failed assault by Soviets against the lone Bradley in the hamlet (covered by the BTR marker) are par for the course at this point.

Turn 5:  The Americans decide to just cling on here and inflict some damage on the Soviets.  The main priority is to keep the Soviets near the northwest hamlet from regrouping and assaulting the lone BMP again.  The HQ and Abrams in F5 destroy one of the Soviet T-64 platoons stacked with the HQ.  The Bradley is disrupted and cannot fire.  If the Soviets get a chit pull and undisrupt, the Americans will be alone and in real trouble against another assault.

Meanwhile down south, there’s yet more ineffective fire from Steckler and his men, who fire off some Dragons at the T-64 in the nearby woods and then call in artillery on Volotov.  All of it misses and the Soviets are left sitting pretty.

With one end turn marker already pulled, there was a 50/50 chance for an FSE chit pull but fate had other plans for the Soviets and the next end turn marker got pulled.  End result:  The Americans won this one with a significant victory (two hamlets held).

End of turn 5:  Soviets get nowhere while the Americans deliver a bit more punishment before the game ends.

Conclusion:  What can I say?  This was a real nail-biter.  The close nature of the combat ended up really limiting how each unit moved and fought.  Everyone was always in striking range of each other and opportunity fire was a constant threat.  There was just nowhere for anybody to hide while still taking their objectives.  I’d like to say this was just bad luck for the Soviets but I felt the T-64 down south could have been used to better effect.  By mid-game, it seemed reasonable to assume that the Americans had just left a skeleton force to hold the southwest hamlet and a well-timed push towards it with tanks and infantry may have been enough to force the US player to withdraw some of his forces from the northwestern hamlet. In this scenario, you’ve basically got to push your guys the entire time and just take chances, especially with the single chit for each side in the cup.  Conservative play here by the Soviets will probably get them into trouble with this scenario.

Dawn’s Early Light – Video Playthrough – Day Four Report

It’s the final day of the battle as Pact and NATO forces slug it out to see who wins control of the Eisenbach Gap.  The shattered remnants of the 1st Panzer Division and the West German Territorials try desperately to hang on and keep Stahlhammer Air Force Base as an armored tsunami threatens to engulf them.

Meanwhile, American forces attempt to cut the line of communication between Eisenbach and the Soviet rear, pushing every man and piece of equipment across the bridges in the southwest.  The Soviets seem to have victory within their tenuous grasp but any mistake can spell disaster at this point.  Tune in for the shocking conclusion to the scenario 1 playthrough of Corps Command:  Dawn’s Early Light!

Dawn’s Early Light – Video Playthrough – Day Three Report

Corps Command:  Dawn’s Early Light continues on!  The Soviets have made some impressive gains in the last couple of game days.  With the road almost open to Stahlhammer AFB and the West Germans rapidly falling to the onslaught of the 1st Guards Tank Division, it seems that the Soviets have their first victory point in sight.

Eisenbach is also currently held by the Soviets but American reinforcements may help turn the tide and keep the Warsaw Pact from winning this one outright.

At the end of day 2, we pull new asset chits for both sides.  NATO gets to pull 5 asset chits while the Pact only pulls three.  On the other hand, the Pact player will get 1 regiment from the 33rd MRD rolling on the board every impulse of Day 3.  Can NATO stand up to the pressure and push back against the Russians?  The game ends after day 4 so the decisions each player makes will be critical in the coming day.  Check out the video report below for how day 3 progressed.

Dawn’s Early Light – Video Playthrough – Day Two Report

For those of you following my current video playthrough of Dawn’s Early Light, here’s the report from Day 2.  

The first day of the war started with the Soviets pushing towards Eisenbach and Eben and things got very tense as NATO braced itself for the onslaught of the Warsaw Pact tanks and infantry as they poured into the Eisenbach Gap.

The West Germans are protecting the narrow strip of terrain to the north, hoping to hang on to Stahlhammer Air Force Base.  Here’s the report below as the clash continued on day two!

Dawn’s Early Light – Video Playthrough – Day One Report

Continuing on with my video report of my recent playthrough of Corps Command:  Dawn’s Early Light, here’s the report from Day 1.  During the game, I stopped playing at the end of each impulse and gave a brief overview of what happened.  I’ll be posting the rest of the videos throughout the next several days so stay tuned!

Dawn’s Early Light – Video Playthrough: Setup & Intro

Sometimes it’s hard to document everything you want through a still camera, especially in games where there’s a heck of a lot happening at once.  At best you can end up with a pretty basic description of what happened on your table while missing out on some interesting details and at worst, the result is a confusing mess of a report that no one can understand.  I’ve tried to document games of Dawn’s Early Light before but was never really satisfied with the end result.

Since I’ve gotten a video camera recently, however, I’ve found that I’m able to convey the actions in some games in a much different way.  I still enjoy writing – don’t get me wrong!  But I’m enjoying the idea of using different media to make my reports.

 As a result, I’m releasing a mini-series of video updates dealing with my current game of Corps Command:  Dawn’s Early Light.  After each impulse in the game, I stop the action and talk a bit about what’s happened.  It may be a bit more detailed than some people would like but fans of Dawn’s Early Light (or people who are interested in watching and listening to a more detailed playthrough of games) might enjoy it.

Without further ado, here’s the introduction video for my most recent game of Dawn’s Early Light, playing the scenario of the same name.  This is the setup and introduction. I’ll be updating with an impulse-by-impulse report of the action over the days ahead.  Enjoy!

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.

Lock ‘n Load: Forgotten Heroes – River of Perfume

River of Perfume is a small 7-turn scenario that takes place during the battle for Hue in 1968 just after the Tet Offensive.  It pits the United States Marine Corps versus the Viet Cong in a pitched battle.  This differs significantly from the usual hit and run scenarios that feature the VC.  Instead, we get a stand-up fight over the control of a handful of buildings.  The Marines’ task is not easy – they need to have control of 5 buildings on the map by scenario’s end.  Any other result is a VC win.

The VC set up first.  They have two leaders, Arnat and Dobie-san, as well as a hero with a Rage card.  They basically start with three buildings – one in the center of the map board and two others to the south.

The large stone building just south of the Marines’ starting position is probably key to the fight.  It is large and offers excellent defensive protection.  If the Marines want it, they will have to come in and melee the VC, a dangerous proposition in such a cramped map.

The VC hero and 3 VC squads set up in this citadel and wait.

During the American setup phase a bit later, I set up Sgt. Ash in a small building just to the north with 2 Marine squads in his hex and 2 others in the hex beside him.

VC Hero and 1-4-3 in upper level with 2 x 1-4-3 squads adjacent in G3.

Just to the southeast of this large stone fortification is yet another stone building.  I put Dobie-san in hex G5, hoping that he can rally any shaken VCs that withdraw towards G4 (his “Charismatic” ability allows him to rallying friendly units in adjacent hexes).  Three other squads are set up in the same building, set up to hit at any Marines that attempt to reinforce the large fortification.  They also have control of a building with a swimming pool in G5 so they can go off for a dip should things get too crazy.

Lt. Reagin is in the building just to the north (I2 and J2).  He has a Marine squad with an M-60 and also benefits from the “Lucky Man” bonus, which allows him a one-time opportunity to add or subtract 3 from a die roll.

Dobie-san and friends set up in the G5 building while Reagin is in the building to the north.

Arnat and 3 VC squads set up far to the southwest in a large triangular building that offers some avenue of fire at the American chaplain, who is stacked with two Marine squads directly to the north.

Arnat and 3 x 1-4-3 squad set up with field of fire directly to the north.


The Marine chaplain and his two 2-6-4 squads (with LAW rocket) set up in the building directly to the north of Arnat and only a mere two hexes away from the large stone fortification where the VC hero and his comrades sit.

Close up of northern part of board with Marines set up around the large stone fortification.



The Plan:

The VC plan is basically to run and gun from the large fortification (F3/G2), taking out as many Marine squads as possible before retreating south.  After that, they will try to find opportunities to whittle away at lone American units.  Arnat will try to make it hard for the Americans on the left flank to advance while Dobie-san’s two squads will try to keep Lt. Reagin from moving into the large fortifications.  Hopefully this will encourage the Americans to send in forces piecemeal, where they can be dealt with in small groups.

The Marines are basically going to kick down the doors and go in guns blazing.  This means committing maximum force towards their objectives.  There will be no half measures.  Every man will either be firing or moving – or both (thanks to having assault move capability) on every turn.  The high morale of the Marines should keep them going through the tough times ahead.  They will take the large stone fortification directly to the south at all costs and then advance into the building held by Dobie-san and his men.

Turn 1:

The Americans are granted automatic initiative on turn 1 and the advance begins.

The VC hold their fire and let the Americans move in.  The Marines barge into the large stone building at G2, adjacent to the two 1-4-3 VC squads. Lt. Reagin and his men open fire on the hapless VC in G3 from across the road.  One VC squad takes casualties while the other is shaken.  They crawl away from the building towards Dobie-san, hoping to be rallied next turn.

Since the VC are holding fire for now, the Marines take the opportunity to crash the west side of the fort with another 3-6-4 squad in hex F3.  The Marines move in and get ready for a fight.  Another 2-6-4 squad arrives in G3 and now the Americans are quickly gaining control of the large fortification.

The VC, however, will not give up so easily.  Dobie-san directs the squad in his hex (G5) to open fire on the 2-6-4 Marine squad, achieving a shaken result.  The VC hero in F4 moves from the upper floor to the adjacent hex and eliminates the Marine squad in melee.  The Americans have suffered their first loss in the game.

To help reinforce the 3-6-4 squad in F3, the Chaplain and his Marines move from their starting building towards the stone fortification but a VC sniper pops up and starts hitting them in the open.  Arnat joins in and her RPD squad shakes up the Chaplain and all of his squads very badly.  She sends her two VC squads up north in hopes that the Americans will fail to rally and they will become easy targets for melee in the coming turn.

Turn 1 has ended with mixed results.  The Marines seem to be taking over the large building very quickly but they are encountering some stiff resistance.  Moving the Chaplain and his two squads towards the fort may not have been the smartest move.  Now the American player is going to need to commit time and impulses towards preserving and rallying these men.

The Chaplain and 2 squads are shaken in D3 while other Marines start to control the stone building.

Post Turn 1 Comments:  It was just dumb to have my Chaplain and the two Marine squads charge towards E3.  They were easily shaken up and now very vulnerable to the approaching VC squad to the south.  The US player is going to have to get them moving away from the enemy early in the next turn, which will take away precious time I have to shake up the VC in F4 and G3.

On the VC side, it may have been a mistake not to use up opportunity fire on US troops as they approached the large stone building.  Now the Americans are in the building for good.  The Chaplain and two Marine squads are a tempting target.  Eliminating them in the coming turn should considerably sap the energy of the American assault.


Turn 2

The VC get the initiative this turn, much to the Americans’ chagrin.

Rally:  The VC adjacent to Dobie-san fail to rally but, on the other hand, the US Chaplain fails to rally the two squads with him.  That’s great news for the VC!

Operations:  The only thing that might prevent the VC from getting to the Chaplain and his squad would be taking opp fire from the 3-6-4 Marines in E3.  So the VC 1-4-3 squad in F4 makes a sacrifice move and jumps into melee with the adjacent unit at 3:1 odds.  Incredibly, the VC player rolls an 11 and they eliminate the Marines.

1-4-3 in F4 jumps into melee with adjacent 3-6-4 and they are both eliminated.  

The US player tries to minimize further losses by pulling the Chaplain and his squads back to the far north of the map.

The VC player, riding a wave of luck, decides to throw his hero (with the Rage card, which offers +1 firepower) into melee with the adjacent 3-6-4 Marines (who have an M-60 machinegun) in hex G2.  Normally, this would be a 5-1 melee attack but with the Rage card, this comes to a 5-2 attack (for a ratio of 1-2), which is further shifted right to a 1-1 attack for the VC hero.  The hero’s dice come up 9, which eliminates the US Marines.  The Americans are really suffering.

Overall, it has been an amazing round for the Viet Cong, who have eliminated 8 firepower from the Americans at a loss of only a 1 FP squad and a hero.

The building after the VC-US melee.  No one is left standing.

Lt. Reagin is determined to get revenge and fires at the two shaken VC squads in G4, eliminating both of them.  Dobie-san orders his RPD to shoot at Reagin in the building to the north to no effect.  The VC start to slowly re-occupy the stone building, sending in lone squads here and there.

Lt. Reagin (Lucky Man in I2) and his men eliminated the shaken VC squads in G4.

The VC player decides to push one of his squads straight towards the shaken US Chaplain and his men, getting adjacent to them and ready to melee them in the next turn.  Sgt. Ash sees the nearby threat and starts moving towards the VC squad.  A sniper fires at Ash and his men and a US hero is created (The Gunner).

The Americans continue moving and enter melee with the VCs who are adjacent to the shaken US chaplain.  The US wins handily but they will soon be sitting in the open.  Arnat moves her squad towards both Ash and the Chaplain and take up positions in the building hex adjacent to them.

Arnat sits adjacent to Ash and the hero, ready to deal some damage next turn.

Things look great for the VC at the end of turn 2.  The US player has control of only two buildings and has lost many of his own men from devastating melee this turn.  Arnat is sitting right beside the two major US groups and is ready to do some serious damage in the coming turn.

On the other hand, the US has managed to inflict some damage on the VC, who have lost 5 squads of their own this turn.

Turn 3

Initiative switches to the Americans this turn and their luck starts to turn around.

Rally:  The Chaplain in D1 rallies himself (like a rock star with a roll of “2”) and a half squad of Marines.

Operations: Sgt. Ash and his stack of Marines in D2 open up on Arnat and her squad in the adjacent C2 building hex and shake everyone up.  The American hero with “The Gunner” skill card immediately moves in and eliminates all of the VC and Arnat in the ensuing melee.  This is a stunning setback for the VC.  Sending Arnat up so close to the Marines at the end of last turn was apparently a huge mistake.

The VC are shaken by Sgt. Ash and his Marines (under the hero in D2) before “The Gunner” moves in and kills everyone.

The Chaplain and his shaken men move into B1, which offers some defensive terrain.  This gives the shaken units a better chance to rally next turn.

The action moved to the east after this happened but there were no fewer surprises in store.

A group of VC get close to Lt. Reagin and his men over on the other side of the map.  The Americans refuse to take the bait and Dobie-san and his RPD squad open fire on Reagin’s men.  Dobie-san rolls well on the attack, prompting Reagin to spend his “Lucky Man” card. This reduces the damage roll to a mere “1”.  Reagin and his squad are both fine but wait, what’s this? Another American hero is created (“Stealthy”) and stacked with Reagin.

Dobie-san (“Charismatic”) fires on Lt. Reagin in I2 and ends up creating a US hero.

Reagin sends off the hero to get into the stone fortification to the west.  The VC shoot at him with opportunity fire as he approaches hex G2 but to no avail.  The hero slips into G2 and is in excellent defensive terrain.  With only a 2-1 attack advantage in melee over the adjacent VC in G3, I decided to play it safe and stop the hero there.  Reagin opens up on the VC squad in the building hex and shakes it.

US hero in G2 adjacent to shaken VC squad.  

The turn starts to come to a close.  Out of spite, the VC sniper takes a shot at Sgt. Ash and shakes him up.

VC sniper shakes up Sgt. Ash in D2.

It’s been an amazing turn.  The Americans have come back full force after some serious setbacks in turn 2!  The game is far from over at this point, however, since there are still 3 turns left and the US must capture 2 more VC-held buildings.

Here’s how the board looked at the end of turn 3:

End of T3

Wow, it really looks like sending Arnat up north to chase after the shaken Marines was a huge mistake.  Had the VC won initiative on the turn, they probably could have fired at the adjacent Sgt. Ash and his Marines, which would have really hurt the American player.  As it turned out, however, the gamble was not worth it and now the VC are down to only one leader (Dobie-san).

The VC are going to have work really hard to turn the tide against the Americans.  It may not be too late to squeak a victory out of this one if they can keep their eye on holding buildings rather than chasing down shaken enemies.


Turn 4

US wins initiative this turn.

Rally:  The US Chaplain way over in the northwest corner of the board manages to rally the 2-6-4 squad.  Sgt. Ash makes a recovery too.  So far, so good for the US.

Operations:  The US player sends his hero (“The Gunner”) from C2 down to C4, which is just adjacent to the VC sniper.  The sniper fires at the lone Marine, rolling a 10 on 2d6.  2 FP is added due to the target being adjacent and another FP is tacked on for a moving target.  Luckily, the Marine rolls a “6” for the defensive die and then a “1” for damage, escaping unharmed from the sniper fire!  The hero jumps into the hex with the sniper and eliminates him in melee.

US hero about to melee Viet Cong sniper.

Sgt. Ash takes this opportunity to try yet again to take the large stone fortification nearby and enters building hex E3 with his squads, coming under heavy fire from the adjacent VC.  Luckily for Ash, the fire is totally ineffective.

Sgt. Ash and two squads of Marines enter the stone fortification and avoid enemy fire.

Ash and his men decide to keep moving. They push into hex F4 and get into a melee with the VC 1-4-3 squad.  They eliminate it but also lose a half-squad of Marines in the process.

Dobie-san in G5 decides to try for some revenge against the Americans.  He fires on Lt. Reagin in the I2 building hex and manages to shake up Reagin and his 3-6-4 squad.  Reagin and his men withdraw from the building to G1.  A VC squad is in range of moving into melee with the shaken Americans but the VC player has learned his lesson.  Instead of chasing down shaken enemies, the squad is moved into the building that Reagin has just vacated.

Lt. Reagin and his men retreat from I2.  Next, the VC in I3 move into the building.

The US hero in G2 (“Stealthy”) creeps into hex H2 and fires on the adjacent VC in I2 but to no avail.  Our US Chaplain moves to B3 with a squad and they prepare to get back in the fight.

Well, this has been quite a turn!  The US player has worked hard towards fulfilling the victory conditions but the unexpected retreat of Reagin from I2 and the subsequent loss of the building really hurt.  The American player has managed to kill lots of Viet Cong but the VC player has smartened up a bit and is more focused on frustrating American attempts at winning scenario objectives.

An overall look at the board at the end of Turn 4:

End of Turn 4

The VC player is hoping to rally the 1-4-3 adjacent to Dobie-san next turn and shake up and then melee Ash and his men.  If Lt. Reagin fails to rally, that will help to delay the Americans in their attack.

Turn 5:

The US has initiative this turn again.

Rally:  Lt. Reagin fails to rally and the shaken VC squad to the north of Dobie-san also fails its morale check.

Operations: The turn begins with both sides trying to retain the meager forces they now possess.  Reagin pulls back to the building hex in F1 while the shaken 1-4-3 VC squad retreats back to Dobie-san’s hex.

Ash and his men fire at Dobie-san with no effect but the Americans make gains elsewhere. The US hero (“The Gunner”) heads down south to capture the triangular building at C6, claiming two of three of its hexes.

“The Gunner” captures a building.  Only two more buildings are needed for a win.

The VC squad in the upper floor of I5 descends to the first floor and moves north towards the I2/J2 building to help reinforce the single squad there.  If the VC can just hold out in both buildings for two more turns, they can prevent the US from winning.

VC in hex I4 as they move towards the north to reinforce the 1-4-3 squad in I2.

I started to get a bad feeling about the Americans’ chances of winning this one.  It’s proving hard to get shaken US forces rallied and there’s not enough firepower to go for a direct melee assault on Dobie-san.  With the VC moving another squad towards the I2/J2 building, it seems they will be able to hold off any assaults from my meager forces in the next two turns.

Turn 6:

The VC player wins initiative.

Rally:  Reagin and his men rally while the shaken 1-4-3 squad in Dobie-san’s hex fail the check again.

Operations: This VC player moves the squad in I4 to J3.  If it can get into the building next turn, it will be really difficult for the US to take it.

The US Chaplain and the Marines stacked with him move to G2 to help with the coming assault.

Reagin and his men move towards the J2/I2 building, hoping to add their considerable firepower to a last-turn push against the VC.  Unfortunately, Dobie-san tells his men to fire at Reagin and it manages to shake the Americans yet again.

Reagin and his men are shaken up while approaching a nearby VC-held building.

The US hero “The Gunner” moves adjacent to Dobie-san.  The plan is to have the hero jump into melee with Dobie-san’s squads, which will prevent the VC in G5 from firing on the main US assault versus the J2/I2 building.

End of turn 6

Things are looking grim for the US.  They have a bunch of shaken guys and a couple of leaders with only a squad each.  The VC, on the other hand, are sitting pretty right now with two buildings firmly held.  All they need to do is sit tight and let the US approach…and then just open fire.  One building needed for the US to win.

Turn 7

The VC player wins initiative.

Rally:  Reagin and his men fail to rally.  Dobie-san rallies a shaken 1-4-3 squad in his hex.

Operations:  The VC squad in J3 low crawls into the J2 building hex.

The US player goes for broke.  The US hero in F6 runs into Dobie-san’s hex and enters melee.  Dobie-san has two 1-4-3s and an RPD in his hex, which gives him a firepower of 4 versus The Gunner’s firepower of 2.  The US player rolls an 11, taking out all of the VC in the hex.  Surprisingly, the VC player rolls a 3, which is not enough to kill the US hero.  Well, this certainly changes things.  All American efforts are now suddenly switched from capturing J2/I2 to getting hold of the G5 stone building.

The US hero “The Gunner” enters into melee versus Dobie-san, two 1-4-3 squads and an RPD

The VC player passes and the Chaplain sends his 2-6-4 squad towards I2.  The 1-4-3 VC squad opens up and shakes the US Marines.

The Chaplain’s 2-6-4 squad moves towards I2 and is fired at by the VC squad.

After that, the American player sends Sgt. Ash into H6 capturing part of a building needed for the US win.  The other US hero (“Stealthy”) moves into the remaining hex.

The other US hero makes it down to I5 hex.
Sgt. Ash and his squad rush into the remaining unoccupied building hex.

The result is 5 US-controlled buildings, just in time for the game to end.  The Americans win.

A final look at the board:

A look at the end of the final turn.

Conclusion:  What a game!  The early game see-sawed back and forth between the VC and the American hero.  Late in the game, it seemed that the VC were going to hold on to the last two buildings on the board.  The very lucky melee roll that allowed “The Gunner” to take out Dobie-san and two squads and still survive the melee was basically the key to allowing the US to grab the win in the last turn.  I felt the US player basically capitalized on the early mistakes made by the Viet Cong and then had some incredible fortune in the rolling on the last turn.

Props go out to “The Gunner” who single-handedly took out a VC sniper, captured two buildings, and eliminated a VC leader, two squads, and a support weapon in the course of a single game.