Friday, 12 September 2014

Manchurian Musings

I've got PBI Japanese. I bought them because I wanted some XIVth Army & they needed opponents. Phil has some Manchurian suitable Russians. Why, I really can't say. Any how, they're the only PBI armies we own that are compatible as opponents. So why not?

I've never been to Manchuria, but a quick internet search indicated bits of it might look like China, so I used that as a basis for the terrain.

Unusually for us we went through the whole "snakes and ladders" set up rigmarole (not one of RFCM's finest moments, in my opinion, and neither was the previous battleships version) and I ended up defending, despite really wanting to attack. I had three basic infantry platoons, a HMG platoon and three tankettes. Phil had a whole load of stuff, including a couple of flame-thrower tanks and some other armour (BT-7s, I think). These will inevitably prove to be a challenge for the Japanese.

The objectives are the bridge, and the buildings on the left and top of the picture. I've got two defensive lines. One platoon is stretched out between the bridge and the buildings on the left, their flank held by HMGs in the bridge and buildings on the right. I have another platoon along the rear line between the trees and the other buildings, through the paddy fields. I have one tankette supporting the front line, and the other two back as a reserve. My company commander and third platoon are off table.

Phil started by rushing my right wing HMG position with as much armour as he could muster. If you look closely you'll see that the middle tank has been converted to have road wheels and no tracks.

The HMGs are my main anti-armour unit, but they were singularly unable to hit anything with opportunity fire as Phil advanced.

I did manage to shoot up his AA truck as it came too close, however. An early, and rare, victory. My malfunctioning MGs still couldn't hit anything and started to take casualties.

In the middle a bold thrust was made on the central section in the paddy field. Again opportunity fire was not my friend (several hits, all easily saved) and I took two hits (that's about all I took, and needed "anything but a 1" to save. As you can see, I found the "1" on both occasions).

A turn's heavy firing from me produced no outcome. Phil was shepherding his units in the middle with armour to give them partial cover, but even so they're moving and I should get at least one hit. Over to Phil, who close assaults my MG command post (again no hits from op fire) and overruns it easily, losing only one casualty. Most of the work was done by the flame-thrower tank. I've lost my HMGs and inflicted one solitary firing casualty.

In the centre my tankette failed to scratch the armour of Phil's flame-thrower tank, and couldn't damage it with op fire either (the odds are I should have got at least one hit). Phil, on the other hand completely fried my little fellow with one quick burst.

His general advance elsewhere has mixed results. He stalls at the T junction outside the farm and I wipe him out with a bayonet charge. In the middle my chaps in the paddy field are easily overrun. The fellows in the neighbouring field fail a morale check and leave the safety of their position to go and stand in the open, where they are promptly all killed.

Phil now starts on my reserve line with a flame-thrower attack that kills one of my rifle squads.

The squad that launched the attack on the group at the T junction are all killed before they can regain cover, so the platoon is reduced to just the commander. He refuses to run away in the break test. I have finally hit that flame-thrower vehicle with one of my tankettes, and immobilised it. Alas my brave infantry assault from my surviving stand fails to have any effect, and he returns to the farm.

In reply, Phil succeeds in immobilizing one of my tankettes (see the shed track marker in front of it).

Phil has now got some reinforcements on, and rushed them up towards the farm. Alas my brave Japanese officer has decided to flee, leaving the farm wide open, so this is a pretty safe move as the game is nearing its end.

Phil's reinforcements quickly occupy the farm, so I am forced to drive my tankettes up and hose it with MG fire in the desperate hope I'll kill them all. This proves not to be the case.

The right wing is now well and truly under Russian control, and due to my performance on the opening attack sequence I've only had one set of reinforcement rolls. I'm better off not deploying the troops at all and claiming the VPs for them.

So, the game ends with me holding one objective, and Phil two. I've lost an HMG platoon and also an infantry platoon and one tankette plus a few bodies elsewhere. Phil's taken a fair few hits as well, but his armour is mostly intact.

The end of game Victory Point count up gives a pretty big win to Phil. Through naivety there were a couple of mistakes I made in my final turn, where I should have been doing a general land grab to get points, but holding two objectives was key.

It felt closer than the eventual result. Those Russians are a tough challenge to an army that is weak in ATK weapons. If I had my time again and really wanted to win I'd muck about with the historic orbats, and put in a couple of flame-throwers at least, and perhaps an infantry gun or two. The ATK rifles are pretty useless (although quite effective against MY "armour", or course ).

PBI continues to infuriate and engage me in equal measures. I love a lot of the core mechanisms but it can be prone to long stretches of utter frustration. I still think it is the best company level game that I have played, however.

Thursday, 11 September 2014

....definitely what.

Pride goeth before a fall and a haughty spirit before destruction, as the proverb goes.

A Wednesday re-match of Assyrians and Babylonians. Will took the Assyrians this time, and I increased the size of the armies (well, no point in leaving toys in the box unnecessarily, is there?).

The big plan this time was to refuse my right with a load of light infantry and pack the left with my chariots and cavalry. In the middle a screen of skirmishing archers would inflict a few hits on Will's superior infantry before dropping back to enable my massed archers to stick in a few vollies before contact.

Will, concerned about the trick I pulled with the chariots last week, deployed all of his heavy infantry in depth to stop me breaking him with impetus. He also had a light weight wing, opposite my right, and most of his mounted troops opposite mine.

Losing the initiative roll, Will asked me to move first. I pushed up on my left held back with my heavy infantry and started to close with my light missile troops. I also made a BIG mistake. I moved my roving cavalry unit towards the centre to make room for my chariots. Alas I also moved them into archery range and took a couple of hits. The loss of this unit soon after was critical to the eventual outcome and was completely avoidable.

The chariots and cavalry clash. I'm on evens on one of these combats and at an advantage on all of the others. My chariots perform really well against Will's chariots, but against the cavalry where they should win they start to come unstuck.

In the middle Will's infantry close the gap. At least I start to inflict a few hits on them. I'm going to need them if the main lines ever come to blows.

On the other wing the light infantry start to face off. This wing is a complete non-event as regards the eventual outcome, with no army break points at risk out there.

Second round of combat and I've already broken one chariot unit  and killed the general. The cavalry are still giving me problems. Part of the problem is my continuing failure to win the initiative at all. Not because I want to move first but because deciding melee direction once in a while would help.

At least  I'm inflicting more hits on those nasty looking infantry.

Stage two of the cavalry/chariot combat. Following up on breaking the chariots last turn I am able to throw another chariot unit into the cavalry, and crucially I have impetus. Of course I then throw rubbish all along the line and the impetus counts for nothing. Those cavalry have a charmed life.

However I do break Will's other chariot unit. Alas because of the depth of the chariot unit I'm unable to wheel towards Will's cavalry coming in from the right  in my breathrough move. This will eventually cause me a real problem.

We finally clash in the middle. I've done enough damage to a couple of units that they'll break with another hit. What I need is to win the initiative so I can choose melee direction. I really, really need to go from my left as that end blue shielded unit is one of those close to breaking, and it is one of the few combats where I have the advantage.

There's a few pictures missing here. My end chariot unit mistimes it's wheel to the centre and Will's cavalry  catches them in the flank after much re-measuring. They break, taking my General with them. Two of my remaining chariots are also broken by the cavalry without inflicting a single hit (that's 6 rolls at +1 where I'm outscored everytime).

That leaves my remaining chariot facing off against two cavalry units.

In the middle Will's luck is variable and I inflict as many hits as I take. Crucially none of mine are on his already weakened units, and two of his are on the same unit of mine.

Entering the last move I'm down 5 units and Will is down 4. We both have a break point of 6. We're fighting from right to left again. I break a Guard unit to bring us up to 5 all, but next unit along Will hits twice, again, and I'm down 6 units and the game is over.

So, a close win for Will and I am disabused of the foolish notion that I might be a tactical genius.

Until next week, perhaps.

Saturday, 6 September 2014

Try it with tanks (2)

The situation was too poised to just leave it, so I ran another turn this morning, just before I tidied away. The Brits pretty much over ran the rest of the front line. They captured one HQ and loads of field guns. The tanks were starting to breakdown in numbers but their job was mostly done as the attackers dug in on the objectives.

This is the right end of the Corp's attack area. Both the German positions have been overrun. The Whippet unit has moved in to support the brigade on the position, but I'm not sure what tanks do in defence. (If either of the Drury brothers read these blog, perhaps they could tell me. I know Richard B is a technophobe, so I don't expect a response from him).

On the left flank the German right has completely caved in, and the Divisional HQ has been overrun, as has a lot of artillery. The centre has also been occupied, but the attacking brigade is down to half strength. It's got tanks with it tho'.

To get a proper result we would need to play through the counter attack, but I reckon the Brits are in pretty good shape as the Germans can't pull up significant artillery and, crucially, they have no tanks. These are essential if you're going to attach frontally (as they'll have to) when your opponent is dug in with MGs.

(BTW these pictures were taken with my new smart phone, a Samsung Galaxy SIII mini. I tried to do the full post using the Blogger app, but couldn't work out how to insert pictures on the phone.)

Friday, 5 September 2014

Try it with tanks...

We have been discussing Op14 for the last few months in the Monday Group. For those of you who don't know Op14 is Richard Brooks' Great War operational game, using playing cards and squares. I've played the game once, a few years back at CoW, and Phil has played in a multi-player game run by Ian Drury. What we needed to do was to have a go ourselves and see if we liked it when we were running it, rather than being directed by the rules' authors.

I originally intended to do a 1918 Kaiserschlat game, but I didn't really have enough Germans. Next stop was a battle from the 100 days. Annoyingly I could find orbats fairly easily in my library, but I was short of usable maps. In the end I ended up putting a fictional game on the table. This is a four division corps attack, with tank support. The squares, BTW, represent about 2km, and four bases are a brigade of 4-6,000 men.

I decided to play long ways down the table, to enable me to set up a position in depth. In the end it was probably too deep and I didn't get the set up quite right. The width of the table is about 20km, and the defensive position about 30km.

The German position was in three lines. Firstly there's fortified shell holes, next a string of fortified villages, finally a couple of divisions in reserve positions in the woods. I gave Phil the attackers, and I ran the defending Germans as I'd spread them very thin, so it didn't look that enticing a prospect.

This is the initial attack on the first line. Smoke represents the result of the bombardment by the supporting RFA batteries. The Tommies then went in from the front with armour support and another unit threatening the flank of the position. It was soon overrun, exposing my gun line.

Phil has occupied the position and my remaining defenders are retiring to their guns. Under the rules any assaulting unit loses a base regardless of how well it does, so you do get ground down, even if you're winning.

The attach on the British left also went well. Poor command cards in the middle meant that the Germans hadn't been seriously threatened yet, but the other right hand defence post had been overrun by this point.

It's looking pretty good for the Brits. Two to three hours into the day (1 turn = c60 minutes) and most of the first phase objectives have been taken. I'm not sure I have the rules quite right for the defenders, and the German half brigade defence points are being taken easily.

The British roll forward. The German guns are now limbering up to avoid capture (NB: Must buy German limbers).

The British left is shaping up well, but there's still a pesky German position in the middle that Phil can't line up for an attack.

Finally Phil overruns the central position, but I've got all my guns away and these are heading back to reinforce the main defence line.

The British are looking to crack the German position on their left with combined all-arms attacks. The cards for artillery fire don't fall out well, and the attack is delayed by a turn.

This gives me the opportunity to destroy one of the supporting armoured vehicles. A rare win for the Germans on the day.

With the inner attack stalling because of the loss of the tank, Phil tried to crack the village strong point by the river. This ended up as a stalemate after a turn's fighting.

This is the final shot of the game before we wrapped it up. The attack in the middle has stalled due to a vehicle breakdown (see black counter), but everything was lining up for the next push.

It looked to me that the British would take the main line, but be too weakened to go any further, without reserves coming up. So, not a bad day's work, - depending on how effective the German counter attack is.

There are some bits of the rules we weren't sure about, and some things we may want to change. However overall it looked and played plausibly. Think I might try an RCW game in the next few weeks.

(NB The rule authors play using squares half the size of mine, and single figures instead of bases)

Thursday, 4 September 2014

Am I a Tactical Genius, or what?

I think most of my regular opponents would go with the "or what?" assessment. Still, sometimes you get it right.

This week's Monday Night game was just me & Will. As my painting schedule is going really well I can now field quite large Armati Neo-Assyrian and Neo-Babylonian armies (I can probably get up to about a 100 points a side, but we used 85 each). For those of you with Armati knowledge we were playing with light and skirmish infantry as two section wide units, rather than the normal 1. This stops them being the total cavalry and chariot destroyers they normally are in Biblical games, ruining it for everyone.

Will chose the Babylonians. They have slightly weaker infantry, but more chariots. And loads more light troops. I haven't done any camels for them yet. Having problems finding a source for 20mm plastic arabs. When the deployment curtain was pulled back (well, unpegged, to be honest) Will had a strong chariot presence on his left wing, with cavalry on the right. Both were screened by light troops. In the centre he had deployed the traditional heavy infantry block.

I, on the other hand, did something quite radical and followed what the Assyrians sort of did. I put cavalry out on my right, but massed my chariots in the centre, masked by skirmishers. My left was held by light infantry, and my heavy infantry line was split into two divisions to give me a bit of flexibility. The grand plan was to hit the centre of Will's line with my chariots. These have impetus against heavy infantry and crucially against Babylonians are the equals of their bow armed units in combat factor to the front. Adding my General would give me a slight advantage, and screening with skirmishers would protect me from archery as I charged in.

I think Will was a bit non-plussed by my deployment. Chariots in the central zone. What madness is this? So, turn one I lose the initiative (bit of a theme for the evening) and move first. I pushed ahead in the middle with chariots and infantry, and hung back on the flanks, refusing them both.

I lost the initiative again in turn two, and was obliged to go first, so I carried on with the headlong advance.

Will's response was to threaten my central advance with his outlying chariots. Alas for him his single chariot unit was on his extreme left. He didn't want to wheel his bigger chariot unit across as this would have opened up a big hole at the end of his line for my cavalry to exploit. This became the crux of the battle. Could I destroy the centre of his infantry line before these flanking chariots rolled up my attacking force? To speed them on their way Will did a Complex Manoeuvre to get the unit round, - hence the red counter you can see below.

Will just kept winning the initiative, so he took a back to back move effectively to get his single chariot unit across the front of his double unit and out of the way of my cavalry I had brought up to threaten their flank.

As you can see my cavalry just missed the flank of Will's crossing chariots and hit the big chariot unit, after splitting with a clip on the covering light division. It isn't clear from these pictures that Will had an enforced divisional split as I shot out the middle of the light division (the cavalry are bow armed). This was to prove important as it reduced his opportunities to do the splits he actually wanted (like flanking me with the chariot overlap).

In the middle the chariots crashed home, and I had my fingers well and truly crossed. I had contacted three units in total, increasing my chances of an impetus breakthrough. By deploying like this and only ever intending the chariots to go straight forward I was able to have two Heavy Infantry divisions. You can see I have wheeled the right hand one slightly to cover their flank if there's a breakthrough on my right.

The chariots pay off in spades. Rolling fairly high in combat they break two infantry units with their charge and create a lovely big hole. Will's General is also swept away in the ensuing rout.

A quick breakthrough move and that isolated infantry unit is looking a bit lonely and vulnerable.

I think there's a move's photographs missing (my chariots at the top of the screen have acquired a Complex Manoeuvre marker before charging home). Anyway, I finally won a couple of initiative rolls and was able to catch those chariots in the flank before they got past the end of my line (in Armati Heavy Infantry can charge chariots/mounted if within 2" and/or if the chariots don't have impetus. I had him on both counts.

Some news from the other flank. My light infantry had been sufficiently effective at delaying Will's cavalry that they were never a threat. Otherwise a complete non-event as far as determining the outcome of the battle.

And the final turn. What's missing from this picture are Will's infantry and chariots, both caught in the flanks. That's game over.

Rarely does a plan go as well as expected, despite losing most of the initiative rolls. True, I was lucky with my dice rolls with the chariot charges, but with my General involved I had a better than 50% chance of breaking at least one unit, and about 40% chance of breaking two units. Giving myself extra flexibility with the infantry divisions (which NO ONE does in Armati) paid off too, as I stuffed the flanks with cavalry and light infantry to stop them being flanked. All in all very satisfactory.

Now, about those camels....