Tuesday, May 26, 2009

A rusty veteran and new arts of war?

Not so much 'rusty' as 'seized up'!
As I noted last month, my old buddy Mark's mayday visit was marked by his introduction to my current game of games: Combat Commander. This was going to mean more visits to Scenario 1. Fat Lipki, which I guess I've played more than any other because I've already introduced 3 players to the game (but scenarios 4. Closed For Renovation and 9. Rush to Contact are 2 alternative candidates for my single most played Combat Commander scenario). Just as well I still like the scenario then.

Following up the scenario's sitrep notes in my efforts more precisely to locate the action I was unable to locate the specific Lipki via google or wiki. I had to turn to my books for the map to the right. I also learned that the 18th Panzer Division was in Panzer Group Two's 47th Motorised Corps under Army Group Centre.

In the main map you can see the path of the bloody swathe the Second Panzer Group cut through Belorussia in those early days of Barbarossa, skirting the Pripet Marshes to their north on their way to the Stalin Line by the 9th of July. The inset map shows the lines at the end of 3rd July, the day of the scenario ('Vitebsk' is that blurry word in the German pocket near the top of the inset; on the main map, you can see Vitebsk just below the inset). The Bialystok pocket (right back at AGC's startline) was only finally reduced the day before Fat Lipki takes place; so it's easy to imagine the Germans covering their flanks while the Army Group's main body rushed, at marching speed, to catch up with its armoured spearheads.

The hard way?
I told Mark that the consensus was this scenario favoured the Russians, but he gamely agreed to random selection, so drawing the Germans for his first outing (although not necessarily in that order I must confess). We were able to get the action going quickly because Mark had wisely downloaded, printed and read the copy of the CC rules made available by GMT.

You can see our setups above. Mark's reveals that he didn't really know what he was doing- ie. how things would pan out in play, so he was angling his force towards what he could expect from mine; that is to say:
  • His squads are set up in a simple symmetrical formation, with his most powerful units in the position from which they can most easily deploy in any and all directions.
  • His junior leader is in a position from where he can lend assistance to the flank from which Mark rightly expected to face the strongest Russian attack.
I thought, at the time, that Mark's deployment lacked focus, but that's because I know the position from previous experience. For my part, I tried a variation: I put all my MG's on the right for added firepower. This turned out to be a poor plan; fortunately Mark didn't punish me for it.

The time 3 position (above right) shows what I mean about Mark's teething troubles: he's got Lt. von Karsties and his squad into their objective neatly enough, but the rest of the platoon are separated from their leaders. The time 4 position (left) shows that Mark was able quickly to bring Cpl. Winkler forward to take command; but that was time wasted while I was bringing my own troops forward. In particular, you can see that I was in the process of moving up to seize the orchard house when the time trigger came through (the fight on the western flank often goes to the player who's first to occupy this objective).

The map on the right shows the final position. Mark had launched what turned out to be a premature close combat on my left. I won an easy victory and then, IIRC, went stalking that other missing rifle squad. Where my missing squad on my right went I can't recall, but I'm pretty sure that it wasn't off the map for exit VP. At this point, with me ahead on VP and poised to gain a heap of exit VP on my left, Mark retired.

The easy way?
Starting to get to grips with the game- as opposed just to the rules, Mark was keen to play again, naturally enough. We swapped sides. Our setups are on the left. My setup was more focussed than Mark's, concentrated as it was on the tasks at hand as my plan defined them:
  • Take and hold the pond house to keep the Russian main force stuck in the woods.
  • Make a fight for the orchard house.
Mark's setup was essentially a copy of mine from the first game, including the significant flaw, for which I did punish him. And that mistake? To leave the Soviet secondary force without an MG. Why a mistake? Because only an MG will have the range to OpFire at the Germans should they venture a sprint up the eastern board edge to try and seize the orchard house in a single bound. This is what I did, as can be seen above right.

This time 3 map also shows the outcome of a purely speculative move I tried, one which ultimately only worked because Mark's MG's all broke down as soon as they opened fire! I sent a squad west, through the fields. Mark countered with a Russian squad. Unfortunately for him, my pesky hero popped up, and promptly led my squad into a victorious close combat. Then I was able to work them down the edge in search of exit VP. A first for the Germans in our plays of this scenario, IIRC.

Faced with a grinning German goon across the table from him, Mark showed his renowned resolve and ingenuity. He started working his squads eastwards through the trees. I wasn't too worried at first, and exploited the opening to dash for more exit VP.

And so the position developed as you can see in the time 5 map, above left. As for those wayward rifle squads of mine? Well:
  • The one in the SW would've been my first exited unit re-entering before Mark's manoeuvres had changed the situation.
  • The one right down in the SE was placed and dug in with the time trigger at which we paused to record the position; ie. after Mark's manoeuvres had changed the situation.
The potential effectiveness of Mark's tactics can be seen in the map on the right, to wit:
  • Objectives in play included:
  1. K, #3= 3VP.
  2. L, #4= 3VP.
  • I stood to lose as many as 6 casualty VP in and around the orchard house.
  • Mark had 2 exit VP to play for.
The sum total of all these would've been a 20VP swing, more than enough to overcome my 14VP victory margin. So, I won, but it was closer than it looked.

The evening's plan involved Mark and Badger playing CC, because I thought they'd both appreciate the opportunity to face new opponents (I know I do, when 'Uncle' Martin turns up). Knowing that Badger would be happy to let Mark choose whichever side he wished, for our final game of our first CC session, I suggested to Mark that he get in some practice. So he played the Germans again. I won, again; but it was even closer than the preceding game. In fact, the game teetered on a knife-edge at the end; and had just fallen my way when Badger made his appearance.

The right and proper way
Amiable as ever, Badger did indeed let Mark take the Germans out for another run after we'd had our dinner (another visit to the surprisingly tasty chickpeas with winter vegetables and saffron).
Tactical genius at play?

I'd decided that I couldn't be bothered taking notes, so I just kibbitzed, and rolled around in hysterics at some of the hijinks that went down in the 2 games the pair played. (I was just entering phase 1 hypomania, remember? And wasn't fully aware of it right at that moment.) The kibbitzing proved a valuable learning experience, teaching me that my natural instinct so to do would have to be controlled while I was acting as GM during CC@UK Expo'09.

My chatter's manic pace probably made it less helpful to Badger and Mark. In any event, Mark kept his cool, and treated Badger to 2 utter tankings perhaps unmatched in their clinical execution. The second game in particular saw Lt. von Karsties and his LMG squad dish out merciless execution on a huge scale as Badger decided to see what might happen if he sent his main force over the fence and through the fields. The results can be seen in the final position of that second game (above left).

And so Mark's first CC session came to an end. He'd served his apprenticeship with the game; proved his mettle; and more than lived up to his reputation as a master tactician. And he'd got a taste of the sheer delights of Chad Jensen's reimagining of Courtney F. Allen's groundbreaking design concepts. I think I can safely say that this had all proved satisfactory. Well, not quite all: he could've beaten me. ;)

Maps courtesy of:
  • Natkiel, Richard,1982: Atlas of 20th Century Warfare; London, Bison Books.
  • Bellamy, Chris, 2007: Absolute War: Soviet Russia in the Second World War; London, Pan MacMillan.
(Reproduced without permission.)

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