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Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Got game!

Once more the din of combat
As I said on Monday, Badger came round last week and we sat down to a Combat Commander megasession. We weren't taking notes this time, so all details below are purely from memory.

Metaxas Season
We picked up where we'd left off, with scenario 19 'Metaxas Season', featuring a German assault on a section of the Greek defensive line in 1941. My immediate thought was that my 75, my HMG and my best leader should go on the highpoint, for lines of fire and to hold a valuable objective. Quickly checking the position I could see no reason not to do this. I put a couple of squads in trenches by the cliffs to stop Badger sneaking his Germans up that way. I put a squad with the other leader in the remaining trenches, and the last squad went in one of the buildings.

My thinking behind my fortifications was that Badger was most likely to make a move on the buildings rather than the bunker, so I used the wire to do 2 things:
  • Preclude an easy flanking maneouvre on Badger's part- if he wanted to avoid the wire he'd have to go really deep, costing him time and putting his units under more OpFire.
  • Deny the use of flamethrowers and satchel charges to units assaulting the buildings from the flank.
The mines were an added layer of defence to the easy approaches to the bunker, which would have to be secure because I'd be unlikely to be able to reinforce it. I was really hoping to discourage Badger from even thinking of trying to get up that hill!

I made a small mistake at this point, setting up my fortifications with everything else, before Badger had set up his units. We said at the time that this had been to Badger's benefit if anything. Looking back as I write this I'm no longer so sure. Badger might've been more willing to consider an attempt on the hill if he hadn't seen my fortifications set up with the precise intention of driving the very notion from his mind. This might've been to his benefit.

In the event, Badger set up his entire force on the hill to the NE. He was clearly planning to try to smoke or suppress the bunker then advance on the buildings in the centre. The problem he had with his deployment that this was exactly what I wanted him to do. Badger's entire advance was down 1 axis, which left my bunker unmolested. To make matters worse for Badger, he'd strangely decided to equip an elite rifle squad with his IG, which promptly began pushing thing around the map instead of engaging its fire mission against the bunker.

The result was satisfying: the Germans never reached the road, let alone penetrated my defences. I won on a surrender.

A March in December
Scenario 20 'A March in December', features Finns ambushing a Russian column in Finland in 1939. Online discussion has already given the Finnish Sissi a fearsome reputation despite their puny 1-card discard, so I was looking forward to this one.

My Russians started strung out along the road, which effectively left me the choice of 2 hexes to leave empty. This done I attended to my leaders and weapons. The 'Raid' special rule put an absolute priority on my weapons' survival to prevent the Finns from gaining heaps of exit VP. Spreading the weapons out among my units would just let Badger pick them off 1 by 1, so I decided to mass them. I went for the centre in the end, because it gave me a hilltop firing position with the best lines of fire I was going to get. In line with this plan I put 2 leaders with this group, including my best. My other leader went in the south. I'm not sure why really. Maybe I had a sense of what Badger was about to do. I dunno. It proved a wise decision in any event.

Badger looked surprised to see that I'd left pretty much the entire northern half of my force out of command. Whether this suited his plans or induced him to change them he didn't say, but he proceeded to set up fully half of his squads, with most of his molotovs, flanking my isolated northern column on both sides of the road. They were all neatly within the command of his best leader. The bulk of what remained of Badger's force was concentrated in the SW.

The carnage as the Finns to the north opened fire with waves of molotovs was bad, but I was at least left with stragglers. Perhaps Badger was regretting his decision to add 2 molotovs to his southern force- these could perhaps've had more effect in the north in that first onslaught than they eventually had elsewhere. Meanwhile I got on with my plan, building my fire position in the centre with a move here and there to get units into place. I made what attacks I could in the south, pulled some northern stragglers into the centre, and ran a couple more off the map for exit VP.

Badger had got a bit bogged down by this point. He was engaged in a firefight against what remained of my southern units, which I meantime began to move east through the treeline to keep them safe from advancing Sissi squads. Elsewhere he was moving on my centre, but wasn't pressing hard enough. Eventually I was able to sneak in front. Unable to gain the quick and easy exit VP's which would otherwise've been available, Badger didn't regain the lead. I won with 12VP on time 8. I had pulled off a win as the Russians, but it'd been close.

Saint Agatha
It was off to Sicily in 1943 next for the interesting match-up of the Italians against the Americans in #21 'Saint Agatha'.

Drawing the Italians, Badger set up first. He put the expected HMG nest with support on and around the high spur near the centre, a platoon with a leader to cover the objective to the NE, and a couple of squads in foxholes in the woods to the SE. Two of his 3 precious foxholes for an outflung picket? This surprised me. Badger's response was to gloat about his tactical acumen.

IIRC, my plan was to make a main drive up the right with a diversionary attack up the centre. My good leader with 5 squads and all the MG's went on the right, what remained in the centre. My plan started to unravel quite soon, as Badger's picket held me up long enough for Badger to accumulate a hidden mines or 2 to drop on me as I began to push forward after clearing the picket. Elsewhere, my diversion was proving to be exactly that, as I was unable to bring worthwhile attacks to bear on Badger's hilltop units without any decent heavy weapons.

Hidden mines continued to appear willy-nilly as I struggled to make headway. I kept the game going for an extra time period, but it was all to no avail. My big push on the right had barely made the first crestline of their line of advance when it was all over. Badger won with a healthy 23VP.

A Veritable Bloodbath
The British made a welcome appearance in #22 'A Veritable Bloodbath', fighting against stubborn German resistance on the road through Holland to the Rhine in February 1945.

Playing the Germans I had to set up my fortifications first. I expected to be facing a main thrust down my left towards the large cluster of buildings. So I laid the wire to give Badger the choice between going through and getting caught, or running further through the open to outflank it. The trenches on the left were an obvious choice for this position. Those on the right were placed to enable me to station my puny conscripts a hex further forward so they might open fire sooner.

Setting up as the British, Badger was just a tad put out by the vast expanse of no cover at all which his men had to cross to close with me and make an attempt at the objectives. He chose to make his major push in the west as I'd expected, putting his HMG and mortar in the woods. A few units with an LMG or 2 started in the field in the centre.

My better leader and the 2 volksgrenadier squads with the HMG and a LMG were the base of my defence, going into the trenches on the left (the rightmost 2, to widen their lines of fire against Badger's units in the woods). The other leader went on the right, with some conscript squads, the mortar and the last LMG. What remained was put in reserve in or around the rear objectives.

Badger shared my still fresh experience of watching your plan unravel straight away. Both my mortar and HMG were able to fire on his main force from the get-go, and the quick advance up the woods Badger had been hoping for didn't happen. His attempts to use the mortar to lay smoke to block the fire failing, Badger's efforts otherwise to relieve the pressure on his main force included charging a squad to within shouting distance of my mortar position before it was finally eliminated, an exercise in heroic futility if ever I saw one.

The hindrance of the gathering dusk didn't enable Badger's tattered force to regroup, and my defensive fire forced a surrender during time 4. A crushing victory!

Six Hills
We'd played scenario 23 before, so we moved straight on to #24 'Six Hills', pitting the Indian Army against the Italians in Somaliland in August 1940. Map 24 is another of the 2 desert maps, this one featuring a central hillock dominating the otherwise completely open terrain. Not really the sort of terrain in which you fancy conducting small unit actions without some armour support in other words. Just my luck then to be forced on the attack with the Italians.

Badger set up the HMG and mortar nest you might expect (good leader, squad, team, HMG, mortar) in the foxholes to the east. He put an LMG nest next door, and a squad with the other leader in the last foxholes. The remaining units were split in support of the 2 main positions.

Facing this, I hit upon what I thought was a neat trick. I split my force into 2. The junior leader and 3 or 4 squads deployed for a diversionary attack in the centre. Everybody else deployed on the right, set up to bring heavy fire down on the HMG while using the crestlines to hide some of my units from Badger's on the hill. I hoped that this might buy me enough time to win the firefight which ensued, naturally enough.

The best-laid plans rapidly unravelling was clearly in the air that night. Badger drew an almost immediate time trigger which would've brought on my reinforcements, so giving me access to artillery smoke. Before this implication had struck me though I'd cleverly used initiative to force a reroll, according to the usually smart rule of knocking back early triggers when attacking. My early artillery therefore resulted in strikes which ultimately had no worthwhile effect. Smoke, when it did arrive, proved to be of mixed value at best.

My diversionary manoeuvre did little more than give Badger some elimination VP as my units floundered in the open without a proper mission. I eventually rallied the survivors and made a play for exit VP up the left. Over on the right I was never able to crack the HMG nest, although I was holding in the open with line Italians, which I thought wasn't too bad. It couldn't last though as long as the HMG survived. Unless I'm very much mistaken, it did, helped along the way by, among other things, my losing all my MG's.

The game went the distance, leaving me with my left flank essentially gone, and my right stalled on its start line and withering. Badger won with a decisive 40VP.

Fields of Fire and Blood
The previous game concluded the scenarios from Combat Commander: Mediterranean. Badger was keen to play a scenario from Battle Pack: Paratroopers before we stopped. We had a break, and set to.

Scenario 25 is a 2-part scenario: 25a 'Fields of Fire' and 25b 'Fields of Blood'. The paratroopers in question are German fallschirmjaeger, leading an otherwise ragtag bag of volksgrenadiers and conscripts across the snowy fields of Germany in the opening day of the Battle of the Bulge in December 1944.

This is a scenario I've pored over several times since I bought it. It's a fascinating setup, which basically tests MGs' pure defensive firepower against infantry assault. The twist is that the American 'defenders' are actually in recon posture, thus denying them the the 'Defender Only' actions and the VP benefits of the clock, although they get an extra card in their hand. On the other side, the fallschirmjaeger notwithstanding, I'd much rather attack here with a regular German rifle company, even against such a small defending force. Those volksgrenadiers and conscripts are just a bit too weak and fragile. And where's the HMG? On top of all that, the 2-part nature of the scenario promised to be entertaining.

I played the Americans. Putting the best leader with the .50 cal in the bunker in the centre with clear fields of fire was an easy decision to make. Double-checking the position I realised I had to hold 3 objectives at all costs, to keep Badger from ratcheting up exit VP. The 3 objectives to hold were obvious, and it didn't take me long to add the junior leader to the left flank position. This MMG team was going to have to hold by itself, and so needed to be as strong as possible. Another MMG went in foxholes on the right flank objective, and the last went in trenches beside the bunker, from where it enjoyed the same wide lines of fire for the purpose of firegrouping with the .50 cal.

Badger set up, at which point we realised that we had incorrectly conducted the 'Morning Barrage' special rule the implications of which had much exercised me during my setup, and the results of which had fortunately proved quite harmless. Correcting ourselves, we redrew our random hexes. Tragedy! I drew my bunker, which was promptly replaced with foxholes, halving the .50 cal's cover. Significant gaps were likewise made in my last of line of booby-trap defences.

Badger set up again, repeating his plan of driving down each flank, with his main force working through the woods to the east. He was able to push me quite hard, bringing units down the right flank, and onto my positions at one point. Deprived of its bunker, my centre just had to give at some point. When it did I had to run units back and forth a bit to stop Badger exploiting his advance into a game-winning breakthrough. I held on, for an extra time period, winning with a scant 6VP. Whew!

'Fields of Blood' began with my setup-as before, and another barrage- I lost maybe a couple of booby traps, not much in any case. We then set up the remnants of the morning's attack, a random process the outcome of which was that Badger's units were as widely scattered, in as poor cover, and as open to as many of my lines of fire as I could contrive. Some had gone into the casualty track and a fair smattering of them were broken or suppressed to boot. I then took my first turn.

With all those units of Badger's in poor cover and broken or suppressed, I just needed to start with a rout and a fire card or two to face the chance of driving a significant proportion of his units off the board immediately. I got what I needed, but in the event I was only able to eliminate a couple of units before Badger played the recover he needed. The prompt arrival of the German reinforcements put paid to any idea of a quick mop-up for a comfy VP cushion.

Badger's plan was pretty much as before. Remembering that the booby-traps were special '1-shots' he was much less leery of entering them. He brought my left flank MMG position under heavy pressure, while repeating his manoeuvre of bringing units all the way down the right flank. In fact, I think 1 of the 3 key objectives must've fallen to Badger at one point, because I'm sure he exited at least 1 unit. It was my hero who saved the day IIRC, grabbing the NW objective to seal the breakthrough again.

In the end though, with the bunker in play my centre held, and I won through to an 11VP victory.

Score
5-2
Grins :)

Afterthoughts
The first thing that Badger and I noted after our last game was that blazes had played no appreciable role in any game. A few had appeared here and there, but they'd never spread into anything significant.

Also notable was a pattern in how we went down to most of our defeats, a pattern revealing a combination of poor force division, mission definition and axes of advance. In #19, Badger didn't divide his force at all, and packed them tight to move down the flank; in #21 my centre force wasn't epuipped to do anything other than loiter as targets, while my (thus overstrong) right force went for an easily-blocked advance up a narrow board-edge terrain feature; in #22 Badger repeated the above feat; in #24 my centre force was poorly chosen and had no clear mission; in #25 Badger's advance down the right was easy to stall as above.

No matter how uninviting the terrain then, you're going to have to have at least 2 taskforces in your plan, each with a well-defined mission and the equipment to carry it out. Opting not to divide your force leaves you open to your entire plan stalling in the face of enemy action. And when the terrain is that uninviting, it might be better to avoid the temptation to try to sneak your main taskforce up one of those narrow terrain features running up a map edge. Sure, you'll have to move out in the open. But otherwise you risk getting stalled behind a point unit, unable to bring your firepower to bear. And you concede the centre. And if you're going to bite the bullet, you might as well bite it properly.

Looking back at those scenarios above, that amounts to: going up the cliffs with the Germans against the bunker in #19; bringing the American main force up through the woods and buildings in the west half of the map in #21; taking the British main force right up the centre in the fields in #22; a proper end-run platoon out on the Italian left in #24; and in #25? Well I guess that comes down to which objective you decide to go for first, left or right, and which units you want then to make the break for exit VP, and from where. I mean to say: a good basic plan is to use fallschirmjaeger to storm the western objective, but I wouldn't want to exit them if I could avoid it. I'd rather keep them in action. So I'd need other units backing them up to make the exit once the objective is secured. This would weaken the first wave over on the right, which would have to rely on reinforcements from units exited to make a major push, and so on.

Most of the remaining scenarios in BP#1 feature open maps, ideal for applying lessons learned. ;)

Related@RD/KA!
- A Winter War. Unbalanced but not broken?: we have another go.
- Combat Commander scenario 20: a viable Russian strategy and its opacity
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