Saturday, March 21, 2009

Cards, command and combat #2. Fun in Stalingrad!

And so Combat Commander hove to on the table late last Thursday.

Offered his choice of revisiting the 2 already played CC:P scenarios (we couldn't play any more because I've not yet got round to clipping the rest of the CC:P counters); playing some of the new C3i scenarios; or trying out the new Battlepack, Badger plumped for the latter. I confess I was a bit surprised, knowing how much Badger hates cityfights. All the better for me then. Off to Stalingrad it was.

Scenario 35. Spartakovka Salient
Actually we began in the small town of Spartakovka on the northern outskirts of Stalingrad itself. Set in late August, Spartakovka Salient features the early phase of the battle, as German units raced for the Volga, and a city whose name they'd've recognised, but which would otherwise have looked as if it was going to be just another landmark in what was turning out to be a glorious summer for the German army on the Russian front.

The map above right shows how these suburbs became a crucial battleground as the 6th Army tried to extend their control of the banks of the Volga into the heart of downtown Stalingrad. (Quick geek aside: Spartakovka's name has been changed since 1942, so I hadn't found a google map of the area when I created my CC maps for this report. So I can't be sure whether or not the north of my maps is true N, or just the familiar convenience. I hope readers will forgive me!)

It was apt that this 1st scenario in the Stalingrad battle pack used map 1; familiar already from so many plays of Scenario #1, Fat Lipki, it made me feel as if I was visiting an old friend, which was neat. A previous RSG game with Badger had also given me some experience of attacking from this narrow edge too.

Random selection gave me the Germans, and the luxury of watching Badger set up first (it was late, and I was happier to plan in reaction to Badger's setup than to have to try to figure all the angles in advance!). With double exit VP and a rock-solid reinforcement platoon, I decided that Cpl. Rettenhaus with a weak platoon would hold my left flank against exit attempts, while Lt. Schrader's platoon would move to the centre and set to work trying to crack the Russian MMG nest. They would redeploy as and when the arrival of von Karsties' HMG platoon permitted.

The opening phase of my plan unfolded nicely, and my men were soon in position (well mostly: I quickly realised that I had no need for a 4th squad with Schrader's platoon, so the excess squad was making its way across to join Rettenhaus). I began to bring down fire on Badger's 2 MG positions. I was doing quite well on the left, because I can remember Badger's early choice of Cpl. Kutakov as a hidden unit was determined by the fact that he'd already lost Cpl. Gordov. The centre was stalemated because I didn't have enough firepower to crack the Russian MMG nest.

Badger started infiltrating units down the eastern board edge to get ready for a dash for exit VP. Eventually he got some to the edge of the woods, and began his run. One squad got as far as hex O10, right in the very corner. There, already suppressed, it broke on a defence total of 11 due to it being moving, and became a casualty soon thereafter due to a KIA event!

For my part, von Karsties' platoon had entered and moved up to take the place of Schrader's platoon as my central base of fire. I'd then gone on to work Schrader's platoon up through the woods, using the treeline to keep out of sight of Badger's MMG, and heading NE in search of exit VP. I eventually took the lead at the end of time period 3 when Schrader and 2 squads exited, promptly to reappear in the very same turn thanks to a very fortuitous time trigger generated by a subsequent mortar to-hit roll!

The position you can see in the 2nd map put the onus on Badger to make the running in search of VP, but his forces were too weak to take the initiative. Meanwhile Schrader and his 2 squads used smoke grenades to cross the H7/N10 road. They had worked their way up to the H9 treeline before I won on a Surrender.

Scenario 36. Sea Devils
Our 2nd game took us to the streets of Stalingrad itself. Scenario 36 features a German attack on the legendary grain elevator. This meant we'd be using the Stalingrad special rules, including Rubble, Factories, Urban Snipers, Urban Melee and Overstacking. The latter 2 rules were already familiar from CC:P. The rest were new, and we were both curious to see what would be their impact on play.

Badger generously offered me choice of sides. Three-one down and so not sharing his generosity, I opted for the Germans. Badger set up his defences, and I studied the situation. I decided on a 3-pronged attack.

On the left, Cpl. Rettenhaus' cannon platoon would clear the front of the grain elevator ('Factory Complex' on the map), then move forward to occupy the SW corner of the elevator to bring fire on Russians in the building (the key rule for factories is that you can trace LOS inside the building). On the right, Schrader's platoon would tackle those Russians isolated on Badger's left flank. In the centre, Sgt. Nuschke's MG platoon would move forward to provide supporting fire for the flanks preparatory to making their own assault on the SE corner of the grain elevator.

The opening phase of my assault didn't go entirely according to plan. All 3 of my platoons made their 1st bound forward, reaching their designated positions. Badger's response to this was to pull back into the factory, out of LOS of my IG. This wasn't too bad though, because it meant that they'd be free from fire as they made their slow way across to the grain elevator.

Over to the east, Badger aggressively moved his covering platoon forward. Fearing the Russian close combat capabilities, Schrader's platoon retreated. The Russians came forward again. Schrader's platoon pulled back again. I confess the situation was beginning to concern me. Preserving my forces was one thing, but, well I was just worried that Badger's advance would stymie my attack and leave me unable to enter the grain elevator in search of the 3 special victory locations whose 5VP would, I knew, be crucial to the game's outcome.

In the end my worries proved unfounded. I can't remember what it was (we weren't taking any notes after setup), but Badger's attack faltered. His men had soon pulled back to their original positions, pursued by Schrader and his platoon. I guess it might've been the pillbox Badger was holding that had encouraged him to withdraw to an objective hex, because that went down as soon as I made the appropriate fire attack.

Quickly realising that I had no chance of dealing with the pillbox with fire attacks, I massed my platoon (now including Pvt. Herzog) and sent the whole kit and kaboodle into close combat. Against 3 squads and a +2 leader there was nothing Badger could do. Nothing, that is, except enjoy the effects of overstacking on morale when, shortly thereafter, he slapped a Rout on my units broken by his Ambushes. Still, I survived.

The flanks secure, and with the help of Pvt. Herzog, I sent some units off scavenging for objectives. Meanwhile, I made my dispositions for the final attack on the grain elevator. I had my hero with a squad sneak the westermost grain elevator special objective. Herzog and his squad were likewise positioned to grab the one to the NE. By this time I also had Rattenhaus and his IG in 1 corner of the factory, and Nuschke and his HMG units in the other.

Around this time the 1st Sudden Death check came up. The game was tied according to the visible VP's, and only my own secret objective (which we shouldn't've drawn, but there you go) was still hidden. Badger had the choice of trying to play on or not. If he'd stopped the game, he'd've won, because it gave him 4VP for objective 5 - the factory. He chose to play on. Facing the same decision again, Badger again chose to play on when he was just in front. The 3rd time the decision came up, Badger knew that I was still looking for VP's, because I used the initiative card to keep the game going. And the next time, the game was over, and I'd won.

It's a shame we (or should that be I?) screwed up the secret objective rules. Still, our mistake did give rise to one of the tensest examples of the role of secret objectives I can remember from my many games of Combat Commander, so perhaps that wasn't too bad. Badger might choose to demur, naturally enough.

Seasoned commander 3
Hardened veteran 2

- Cards, commands and combat #1. Golden Oldies
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