Saturday, 24 February 2018

Field of Battle - Napoleonics - with 'Season of Battles' Campaign system playtest

An excellent return to FoB, and with the 'Season of Battles' campaign system that Sgt. Steiner is playtesting for the designer.

Usual FoB goodness in the shape of unpredictable battlefield and managing the chaos/fog of war that ensues - wargaming as it's meant to be!/?

Highlights of the campaign system :
for the first time, with the campaign end in mind, I was thinking about which units not to risk when things went sour. This changes your entire outlook in a battle, and a system can have detrimental effects on future use of fatigued units forces you to think of winning the campaign and series of linked battles - winning the war, not the battle in essence. Your outlook and focus on how to fight changes completely.

I was struck with the dynamics of choosing the battlefield and the mechanism by which strengths and weaknesses, surprise and key deployments are handled via the card game (Blackjack) system and miniature maps. This allows you to decide where, when and how you will attack - if you get the drop on your opponent, though does not guarantee full control, and is a great pre-game.

So then the ideas started going off for other games:
  • Nine Years War campaign - with months between battles (there were only about 4 major battles in Flanders anyway).
  • Pick all of the Irish built up areas during the same era - 1690s - and try to cross the lines of the Shannon over a three year - five battle epic, with the same units getting better/worse on the basis of performance.
  • Saratoga campaign - days/weeks between encounters managed on a 3 battle season.
  • ACW - practically begs for this treatment.
  • The WWII Corps/Division level campaign - Ardennes, Market Garden, Russian Front - this just writes itself for the WWII version of FoB.

 The basic layout of 'potential battlefields, with rolls allowing preferential selection, and the cards (via playing 'Blackjack' or 'Pontoon', and gaining advantage via your hand of cards, allowing strength of deployment and manoeuvre advantage before you set up. The French were able to force the Prussians to set up two divisions before they themselves had to deploy - they out-scouted, but were outnumbered via this pre-game.

 Laying out the battlefield... troops start to deploy. The French right would end up forming square against Prussian cavalry which would re-deploy from the centre - while the French cavalry on the left would surge across the centre when it eventually started to move - but by then the French had lost too much morale - and the French guard units on the left were too few in number and better kept to fight another day.

French units gain the town, but couldn't hold it.

French cavalry starts to get anxious. does the French right, deployed to (1) create a nuisance and (2) draw off Prussian reserves across the river, and thereby delay their getting back when things went south. It worked to a degree, but not enough to swing the tide of Prussian victory.

This is gonna hurt...

Although Sgt had added a rule for forming 'hasty square' during cavalry presence, the French were taking no chances. Form Square!

The centre looking inviting...

Pour La Gloire mes Amis!!! 

Morale points ebbing - first army morale check passed. Now truth be told, the French should have pulled out rather than stay to fight - so I wasn't always thinking about the next battle (clearly I had too much sugar).

 The French just can't retake the town - and even trying becomes expensive.

 Action on the French right.

As French cavalry surges across the centre - but it's all too late.

The French left gets to fight another day, though the army morale and will is severely depleted. Sack that damned commander! Sacre Bleu!

Sunday, 4 February 2018

Ardennes Classic (not the bike race)

And, we’re back…

Been busy of late with some work travel, though can't stand in the way of a game...
Steve’s mate Alex has sent me the excellent ‘Up the Blue’ WWII rules. Now these are based on the precepts set out in the ‘One Hour Wargames’ stable, but with so much more (and these guys know what they are talking about).

  • As with the OHW standard, a unit has a number of hits – though some are permanent and some can be rallied off in this case dependent on the severity of initial hits (this is very subtle in gameplay and can reduce attack dice). The gamble is trading permanent (which ‘stick’) against what you think you can rally, bringing out unique resource management nightmares. A slight tweak of a +1 rally makes elite units very good at hugging terrain – and we had a really good version of elite 101st Airborne in the Ardennes, who simply would not give ground.
  • It’s fast, and it’s d6. Now people argue (that’d be me) that you get more flexibility with multi-sided dice. In this instance Alex has got around it neatly by slimming the mechanism to a number of dice (2-4, but usually 3) with a few modifiers, while making the turn sequence do the work.
  • Initiative…mortars…action phase 1…enemy interrupts (if ‘ready’)…action phase 2

  • Most play is based on what you see above and it’s relatively seamless, so the key is to worry about getting the drop on the enemy by keeping ‘ready’ units and not getting ‘panzer-bushed’, and where there are tactical issues (armour, superior gun, elite troops) you add a dice or a modifier. Unlike more GW-centric systems (‘Slack Chowder’ for instance) there isn’t the need for masses of unit characteristics.

  • Initiative is also very subtle, If you had it, it's easier to keep - but unit losses put pressure on that, and an unlucky initiative roll can lose it and really give you a headache. I found this remarkably easy to judge during gameplay.
  • Very neat  mechanics indeed. I thought that I might have to add something for Panthers, but it’s all there (e.g. heavy gun - +1d6, Heavy Armor -1d6 to the firer).
  • Units are platoons made up from the individual elements – so three bases is a ‘unit’ with sensible spacing.
  • ‘Dug in’ units always seem to make life complicated in other rules.  Not so here – it’s a simple modifier.
  • KEY TAKE-AWAY…these rules appear to give me the same results that I see from more complicated sets. IN FACT…the gameplay is more exciting as the to and fro of initiative and managing the battle makes you focus on commanding troops as opposed to complex differences between a Panther and a Sherman. All I need to know is that the Sherman is going to lose in a straight up firefight, not the difference between a bunch of numbers.
  • Combined arms work. We had a steep learning curve in the game, but mortars are very effective, armour needs supported, and can in turn support infantry assaults, and readily use the 'ready' (reserve fire) rule to stop counterattack in the enemy action phase.
As you maintain momentum and gain the initiative bonus, while destroying enemy units, you can keep control of the game, but it only takes the attacker to seize that a few times and really mess things up.

A great game – so we have a company of the 101st with some deadly (if fragile) anti tank hardware, vs a deliberate German attack with a couple of supported companies.  Watch out for those Panthers!
Germans advancing against prepared US positions.

 Using 'march' advances up the road, though the infantry will be short of cover, bar a few rises in the ground.

US armour moves up.

A natural fold/gully in the approach, while the Panthers try to flank.

A horrible run in for the attackers.

Early tank duels.

The M36 takes out a Panther over two actions - good shooting.

But with 'soft' armour, it doesn't take long to get shot up itself.

German platoons reach the outer buildings, but at great cost.

Panzer IV takes out the second M36, leaving troops exposed, though they are well ensconced.

 ...and have their own offensive capability.

The Germans leave themselves dangerously open during the final assault.

...and end up getting caught in crossfires, which dents their hopes of taking the town.

A very nice set of rules, and we could see how minimal tweaking would make them work for modern and Vietnam.