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Saturday, April 25, 2009

Easter extravaganza #4: Rumble in the jungle

Our trip to the chateau of doom done, we proceeded to what, for Martin, was the main event: a trip to the PTO and Martin's first taste of Combat Commander: Pacific. A noted player of the Japanese in Up Front, Martin was looking forward to seeing how they shaped up in Combat Commander, a game to which he rapidly took, pronouncing it the most exciting WW2 tacsim he'd seen since Up Front.




Send out the scouts!
We started at the beginning, as you do, with Scenario A. Grassy Knoll, which Badger and I had played in our first CC session of the year back in January. Since then, the scenario has acquired a reputation as being too tough on the Americans, as witness this thread on CC:P@BGG.

Slaving away again at the GIMP (where do you think I've been all week?!), I went first to Wikipedia in search of the Battle of Mindanao to see if I could find any information that'd clue me in about the map's orientation. That search proving fruitless, google followed, which led me to HyperWar: a hypertext history of the Second World War.

Perusing this site proved far from fruitless, including as it does:
The map and photo included here are from those sites.

Thanks to the campaign map reproduced above, I was able to make my best guess at the orientation of the CC:P map for scenario A, but I must stress that it was a guess. And thanks to the photo on the left, I got a really vivid image of the overgrown hemp fields which make the centre of CC:P map#A a virtual no-go area in this scenario. A quote culled from the wiki article linked above underlines the impact of this terrain on the battles:
[in] "the hardest, bitterest and, most exhausting battle of the ten island campaigns... another punishing aspect of the subsequent combat was the proliferous fields of abaca. To the foot soldiers fighting in the Davao province, the word abaca was synonymous with hell... these thick-stemmed plants, fifteen to twenty feet high... the plants grow[ing] as closely together as sugar cane, and their long, lush, green leaves... interwoven in a welter of green so dense that a strong man must fight with the whole weight of his body for each foot of progress... visibility was rarely more than ten feet. No breeze ever reached through the gloomy expanse of green, and more men - American and Japanese - fell prostrate from the overpowering heat than bullets. The common way for scouts to locate an enemy position in abaca fighting was to advance until they received machinegun fire at a range of three to five yards."
Just how hard can it be then?
Playing the Americans for the first time in this scenario, I decided to concentrate all my firepower in one group, the better to winkle the Japanese out of their fortifications. So I had a large firebase which I planned to send forward to the treeline; from where I would decide whether to swing north to grab the objective beside the pond; or east, across the hemp and towards those objectives on the edge of the jungle. Sgt. Savage and his lone squad were to move up my right flank and link up with the infiltrating guerrillas.

Martin's setup put paid to this plan from the get-go. Instead of a slow slog through the dense terrain, I had to deploy for an immediate attack on a Japanese strongpoint which hadn't figured in my original calculations. To the right, you can see my depleted forces bogged down just off their startline, while my outflanking guerrillas were forced to enter much further south than I'd hoped just to help me retrieve the situation.

You might also've noticed the lack of that pesky bunker? Yep, I got lucky when a dive bomber scored a direct hit on the bunker, eliminating it! Thanks to this, I was able to bring my second guerrilla unit in far ahead on my right (not quite according to plan, but good enough in the circumstances), in a position to make a move on objective 5, whose 10VP would prove decisive, as the final position - left, shows.

Even without the bunker, the Japanese forward position held out until the very last. I was able to eliminate the squad with the MMG, but there was little I could do when Lt. Dainichi and his squad found some solid cover in the remains of their bunker (damnable Trenchline event!). Fortunately, I was able to grab objective 5, and the resulting 20VP swing gave me a time 7 victory on 6VP. Phew, that was close!

BTW, that Japanese leader and squad deep into my right? They're an Infiltrator and a Hidden Unit which Martin was able to pull together. They played no part in the action; I just thought it worth pointing out where they came from.

Oh, that hard, and some!
Martin wanted to give this scenario another go and, bemoaning both my luck with the dive bomber and his own stupidity in not realising more quickly the importance of objective 5's 10VP, he offered me the Americans again. I was happy to accept.

Faced with my heavy commitment on the left, Martin adapted his setup. The strongpoint was moved to a more central position. The battalion gun and squad in foxholes gave objective 5 the cover it needed, and was to become a standard deployment.

My main thrust bogged down on the jungle's edge in the face of the Japanese strongpoint. Although I had plenty of firepower, the Japanese advantage in morale and cover meant that trading shots with them was largely futile. Recognising this, I concentrated my fire on the light mortar squad, which I was able eventually to eliminate.

Elsewhere, I brought my guerrilla reinforcements in as far forward as possible, and concentrated on running them up my flanks in search of exit VP. This strategy proved sufficiently useful that Martin was driven to some frantic manoeures to cut off my units' moves. He was helped in this by infiltrators and another Hidden Unit (that damn MMG with its pillbox!).

As the final position - left, shows, a consequence of this was that it left the crucial objective open to an assault on my part. Unfortunately, time ran out before I could exploit the situation. Martin won with a scant 4VP.

I must also here note that this exit strategy of mine probably won't prove quite so useful in future, because we made a crucial error: the guerrilla units can only enter along the sides of the map the first time they enter the map, so exited units recycling as reinforcements have to enter on their own map edge as normal.

"Feint, not faint, you morons!"
We had another go. I decided that linking up a leader with the guerrillas was a priority, and that the left was the way to go because the trails meant that my American army units would be able to move up more quickly. So I put my firebase down in the southern corner to draw Martin's strongpoint away from my planned line of advance.

This worked, but it was about the only part of my plan that did. Well, that's a slight exaggeration, as the final position - right, shows. My move up the left went according to plan, but my firebase was destroyed in a short-range firefight with that damn Japanese strongpoint. Meanwhile, Martin's forces had been joined by the human mincing machine that is the Japanese hero, and by the Sogeki Hei, the special Japanese sniper. Facing that, and Martin's 26VP, I retired on time 4.

Confusion reigned on all sides
The quick end of that game gave us time for just one more, in which Martin took on the challenge of finding a way through for the Americans. Seeing Martin's units concentrated in the jungle, my setup was almost a copy of his from our second game; I just decided not to contest objective 3, and deployed a squad further back on my left to deal with those pesky guerrillas and their outflanking manoeuvres.



I was openly sceptical about the wisdom of Martin's setup and early manoeuvres, but as the time 3 map - right, shows, he got his units into position quickly, and was well placed to exploit down his right flank. In the face of that, I'd brought in another leader (my Infiltrator IIRC), who joined up with my squad covering that flank, and pulled them right back to a good covering position.

Also, unfortunately for Martin, that wire I'd dropped on him meant that his firebase couldn't deploy into a proper firing line. This position was to remain unchanged throughout the game as Martin pushed his other forces forward towards the vital objective 5.

Martin's push down his right proved effective, as you can see in the time 5 map - above left. I made life as difficult as possible for him with wire, but he was using smoke to good effect and covering a surprising amount of ground, which I gladly gave him as my units pulled back in good order.

Elsewhere, Martin was able to eliminate my light mortar, and his hero had arrived. I was openly sceptical (again) about Martin's choice of where Hoss went, but he had something up his sleeve, naturally enough. Hoss and his squad slogged their way through the jungle to launch an assault on objective 5. Luckily for me, I won.

Meanwhile, my left flank holding force was bolstered by the arrival of another squad. Martin's strong advance stalled long enough for me to win with 19VP on time 9. If Martin had won that close combat on objective 5, he'd've picked up a 23VP swing, which could've given him the game on 4VP, so that was a really close result. Whew!

Score
Martin
2
Me
2
:)

Afterthoughts

This is a very challenging scenario. After 5 plays, the only win for the Americans was down to sheer dumb luck. Still, the last game showed that there are tactics which give the Americans a real chance. If Martin had held back from objective 5 just long enough to pick up some Ambushes or Bayonets before closing in for the kill, then there was every chance he could've won that close combat, and the game.

In that BGG thread, I argued in favour of going up the middle of the map, that bloody hemp notwithstanding. Four more games in, I'm not at all sure of this now. This is not so much a matter of how much it'd slow you down. Rather it's the complete lack of cover. Sure, the grass screens your units very nicely, but that doesn't help your defence rolls, and the Americans' low morale means that attacks on units in the grass will usually be punishing.

Martin showed his tactical ingenuity immediately in our first game too, with a brilliant use of the Infiltrators rule (there are 3 infiltration boxes which can contain Japanese units who can be ordered to enter the board using an Infiltration order; they arrive on a Spotting marker, one of which is visible on several of the battlemaps). Instead of using some of his initial OB to occupy an infiltrators box, he left it to be filled by an Infiltration order, thus gaining a 'free' reinforcement. Now that's tactical genius!

Martin and I had a long discussion afterwards about the controversial Asset Denied order (see this thread @BGG). I was initially leery of a rule giving players control over events their real world counterparts wouldn't even know about, let alone control. A few more games in and I'm finding that the way it works out in play isn't so bad. Martin agreed with that, but is still unpersuaded. Me? I'll need to see some more games before I can really decide. Still, I can vouch for the fact that it's very satisfying slapping down an Asset Denied to break a Japanese MMG or Battalion gun that's been raining fire down on your hapless troops. That psychology might win out in the end! ;)

Related@RD/KA!
Easter extravaganza
- #1: The long weekend
- #2: Limbering up
- #3: Country-house carnage
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