Stalled before Moscow...
Last night was another Commands and Colours session with Badger. He decided that it was time to test the Russian Expanded Nationality rules for our favourite Memoir'44, so we promptly headed for Scenario 39: Operation Typhoon- At the Gates of Moscow.
Random selection of sides gave me the Germans in our first play. With all the available infantry and tank units in my force, I was well pleased.
The first thing that struck me on looking at the board from my side was that I'd need to get my forces moving as quickly as possible, because they're bunched up tight on their own board edge. The Russians had units who could bring my own units under fire immediately, so I could lose units to flags as well as hits. The next thing to strike me was how the terrain constrained the flank advances.
With these observations in mind, my opening moves involved throwing my armour forward to bring quick attacks onto the Russians. I got into the woods around Bryansk, and attacked those Russians entrenched on the western end of the hill-line, right in the centre of the map. The battle in the centre was furious, and I was soon suffering serious casualties. So I had a brainwave, and finally took my chance to form an armoured Kampfgruppe, of which more later.
The battle was being waged to and fro around Bryansk and those hills. I'd brought infantry up on my right, only to lose them when I blocked their retreat with armour units (d'oh!). Badger had brought units forward from around Kaluga and Mozhaisk to reinforce his forward hill defences.
I played Behind Enemy Lines to little avail unless memory fails me (forgetting to add my bonus battle dice didn't help). Then I threw that reformed armoured unit forward. It got across the hills and overran into the low ground to the south. Badger threw everything he had at it, but it managed to survive 9 dice while on a single model! This gave it another turn of carnage before the Russians finally took it out. And so we entered the endgame with the battle poised on a knife-edge (6-5 Badger IIRC).
I threw another armour unit forward to attack the hills, where Badger had 2 weak units. All I need was some average dice and I'd've won. The dice failed me. Badger's didn't on his next turn and I lost, 7-5.
We swapped sides for the next game. I began with Firepower. My units on the hills laid down serious attacks on Badger's armour units in the centre and on his left. I killed 1 armour unit in the centre with those 7 dice in that first turn. Badger then used his Saddle Orders to advance his armour in the centre and on his right. He reduced my westernmost hilltop infantry unit to a single model. I wasn't phased at all, because I'd cued-up Close Assault, and he'd given me more targets.
The game continued with Badger committed to clearing those units of mine off of those hills in the centre. Meanwhile I was just laying down as much fire as I could muster against his armour, especially against any units who'd suffer hits on flags. My units on the hills dealt out dreadful carnage. That artillery unit was especially heroic. Reduced to a single model it survived absolutely everything that Badger threw at it, and just kept firing and firing, to great effect.
We knew the game was mine when I'd killed 6 German armour units with only 2 losses of my own. By this time Badger had launched an attack with his left-flank infantry. That was where I mopped-up a unit to gain my eventual victory with a score of 7-3.
Having suffered this rout, Badger was determined to have another go. He applied the lessons he'd learned from the previous 2 games, and focussed his main efforts on clearing my advance guard off of those hills. My artillery was doing its stuff as usual, and I was getting ready to pick off Badger's own depleted artillery unit. Then he played Firepower to rain down 3 dice from his own artillery: 2 grenades turned up. Boom! My artillery was gone!
This had a decisive impact on the game. Badger was soon at 5 VP when I had perhaps as many as 3. I regrouped to punish the Germans when they made their final push. So Badger withdrew, forcing me to attack from a position of weakness. Knowing that I had no choice, I used the new Russian 'Urrah rule to pull together a credible attack. Unfortunately the Germans' interference spoiled it a bit- a key unit had been forced to retreat so its attack was launched from a poorer position, which proved decisive when Badger Ambushed it, killing it before it could attack. And then Badger sent an armour forward to seize the bridge by Kaluga, winning the game 7-4.
The Germans withdraw in good order
Time was short after we'd played these 3 games, so we decided to stick with M44 instead of turning to Battlelore. We moved on to the next scenario in the Eastern Front expansion set:- Scenario 40: Breakout at Klin. Regular readers might remember that I've played this before with Gav last year. Random selection giving me the Germans again, I was looking forward to another strong victory after my experience against Gav.
I wasn't to be disappointed. Badger and I played 2 games of this scenario (he gamely wanted a 2nd try with the Russians after the trouncing he suffered in our 1st game).
Minor variations aside, each game followed a similiar pattern. I would begin on my right by advancing to surround then destroy the forward Russian infantry unit. I would then follow up to destroy the 2nd Russian infantry unit on that flank before gaining further VP by occupying 1 or both hexes of Golyadi. Next I'd start laying down artillery prep. fire on the central entrenched Russian infantry units, weakening the trenchline before I sent in the Combat Engineers. If possible I'd also bring some armour out so that they could support the Engineers' advance.
In the 1st game the decisive blow was delivered with a Saddle Orders play of Infantry Assault and Their Finest Hour, which proved to be a delicious combo. In the 2nd game it was an Armoured Assault which sent 3 armoured units forward to crush the hapless Russkies. Both times I won 6-2.
Badger and I were left feeling that this scenario has balance issues. The 83-17% breakdown in favour of the Germans after 92 games which shows up on the DoW battle reports for this scenario suggests that this feeling is justified. We discussed this at some length. I won't say much about this here because I intend to start a thread on the topic over at DoW:M44. I'll let you know once that thread is up.
The Expanded Nationality rules
So, how did these fare last night? I have to report that Badger and I are both happy with the rules as they work so far.
The plan card mechanic in general is working well. The ability to play 2 command cards in a single turn is a powerful one to be sure, which of course makes it fun to use. But in every case the use of the plan card requires a loss of tempo, which means that the plan card rules require nerve and timing to use.
The Germans' Saddle Orders gives them the ability to play a plan card and hold it ready for as long as they want. The Russian 'Urrah rule allows them to get their plan card played as quickly as the Germans (and more quickly than the British), but forces them to commit to the move. Badger especially made a lot of use of this when he was playing the Russians. The additional reduced hand capacity after an 'Urrah turn makes the Russian plan card rules feel right to us.
The Kampfgruppe rule finally saw use in our first game. I combined a 1-model and a 2-model armour unit into a full strength armour unit. I was later able to throw this unit into the fray. So the rule fulfilled its purpose nicely (although I can't actually remember if I got any VP back to repay the VP I had to give to Badger). Paying a VP for forming a Kampfgruppe seemed a much more sensible option than the original idea of losing a card.
So all-in-all then, we were happy with how the rules worked in play.
If the rules in play seem fine, it looks as if I can't say the same for how they are written in the current draft. Brummbär made a passing remark on the Expanded Nationality rules thread over at DoW:M44 which made me wonder how clearly the rules were written in the past. And Gav (after our recent games) and Badger last night, have both told me that they find the current draft difficult to understand, even if the rules themselves are simple enough in play. I guess I'll have to canvas for more feedback on the threads over at DoW:M44 and BGG:M44. There have been 140 downloads so far, so I'd hope to get some helpful responses. Fingers crossed I guess.
And that's it for now.