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.


  1. Great report as usual Graham. Have you had opportunity to look at the new PBI which is coming to the end of play testing?

    1. Sean,

      No, I haven't been involved in PBI3. I actually prefer PBI2 to the current version, and I didn't like where the early discussions on PBI3 were going, so I didn't sign up to the development group.

      I/we do not play the competitions and I do not entirely agree with the some of the ideas embedded in the army lists / rules. The agenda is being driven by those who play PBI most obsessively, and I'm not in that camp at all.

      I'll obviously have a look at they revised rules when they come out, but whether we'll upgrade I can't say.


  2. My Russians are really Winter War to Early Barbarossa period ... just right for Khalkin Gol in fact except that I should have taken out the ATRs (which don't really get issued til '41) - however, I didn't make a single anti-tank shot with them (so their main effect was as cheap foot groups that cost an extra point to shoot because they have to keep picking up and putting down the PTRDs!*).

    The flamethrowers were the wonder weapon attached to assault units in Finland and Asia to help against dug in defenders. They were very effective in this game (usually, against Germans, they get spanked very quickly by superior guns ... in this game, you got lots of hits on them but your gun 6 v their armour 5 never managed to win by more than 1 - lucky, but not that lucky) ...

    Of course, historically, the Japanese suffered exactly as you describe ... not quite enough armour, not punchy enough anti-tank:vulnerable to the combined arms attack (and they had the benefits of being dug in!) ...

    I haven't done the snakes and ladders thing for years (I won it so I guess it worked very well, lol ... :) ...) ...

    But I think semi-historical scenarios suit us better than random pre-games ...


    1. The snakes and ladders was particularly annoying - getting punished for being aggressive Japanese and rolling lots of sixes.

      My main fuss with the rules in this game was the unbelievable morale outcomes for the Japanese. They may be facing insurmountable odds, but they never run away. Hence the need for flame-throwers.


  3. Well, I think (aside from how a 'banzai' rule works, you could treat the double fail outcome as 'actually they all died'. You need a certain morale hurdle otherwise the game goes on to the last man (which although you may feel that better represents Japanese behaviour would badly skew the balance. However, PBI3 may improve this flavour ...

    1. I think for all troops retiring out into the open is a bit odd. At least troops should be able to retire back to the nearest cover, rather than stand like a bunch of idiots in the open.

  4. Nice report. A couple of observations. First, Manchuria being a rather cold winter environment as opposed to southern China, is a wheat growing area. Yes, close to the Great Wall you will find rice paddies but the diet is wheat based so whaet fields are a good thing. The other thing you will see is lots of open grass land. Grazing of animals is a staple of the economy.
    My reading about the Japanese of this period is pretty indicative of the use of field artillery against Russian or Chinese tanks. The Japanese did have tanks larger than tankettes and some armored cars which would be useful as well.

    1. Thanks. That's really helpful. Of course the main reason for putting out rice paddies is because I have them rather than any historical reason.

      The field gun in an ATK role is the obvious answer: of course as I have PBI armies I have no such things (although I do have some RCW Putlilovs with brown uniformed gunners in caps....