Saturday, August 08, 2009

Back to the beastly badger baiting!

Badger's visit for gaming last night saw me still in the mood for light relief so we again eschewed Combat Commander. Left to choose, Badger opted for our old favourite, Memoir'44. We considered playing an Overlord game but we were starting late and Badger wanted to be sure we'd play more than one game. So we decided to start with the first scenario from the Air Pack, and to proceed from there.

Yellow Beach
The first scenario took us to France in August 1942 for the ill-fated Operation Jubilee, the experimental amphibious assault on Dieppe. Operation Jubilee is best known for the heavy casualties suffered by the 2nd Canadian Infantry Division in the main assault: a frontal attack on the port itself. The Yellow Beach scenario covers one of the flanking attacks made by British commandos.

No. 3 Commando's 500 men set out in 25 LCP's (Landing Craft Personnel). Their flotilla ran into a German convoy, suffered losses and was scattered. Barely a company reached Yellow Beach. Their advance channelled up ravines in the local cliffs, this puny force had to attack straight up the beaches with none of the heavy support which was to prove so important on the beaches of Normandy nearly 2 years later. You can see exactly how contrained was that beach and those exits in the satellite picture on the left: those are the cliffs at Belleville-Sur-Mer a couple of kilometres west, which you can see are the same feature as those at Yellow Beach.

Why did the operational plan involve landing 500 men in such confined terrain? Because they weren't supposed to be there at all: the flanking attacks were originally going to be airborne; it was only when the plan was revived after a cancellation that amphibious forces were allocated to these missions.

What went down
I played the Allies in our first game. I opened on my left, sending a couple of units up to clear a way through the wire. I was able to press on for another few turns before I bogged down thanks to the ever-familiar lack of cards. IIRC, Badger and I stood at 1 medal each at that point, but my first assault wave was badly depleted and I felt dangerously exposed. Badger was fortunately unable to seize the initiative while I started to develop my right flank.

Tactical genius?
With a Firefight card in my hand I was manoeuvring on each flank to get as many units as possible into position before opening fire. Badger helped me when he sent a lone unit into the attack on my right, which made that Firefight a timely play. Meanwhile I'd advanced on Le Petit Berneval ready a final assault. I eventually retrieved the situation in dramatic fashion, winning 5-1.

We swapped sides. Badger's attack began similarly to mine. He had a hight point when he played Medics and Mechanics to restore to full strength a unit depleted to a single figure, then battling to get a kill. I promptly responded, reducing it to 2 figures again. Badger cleared the wire and established his bridgehead. He even managed to clear the bunker. Unfortunately for him he'd taken too many casualties so that his final attack was weak and unsupported. I was soon able to mop it up, winning 5-3.

Pegasus Bridge
We moved on to Pegasus Bridge for one last game. I drew the Germans, who'd been convincingly thrashed by Donald when I last played this scenario back in February. The difference this time was that we were going to be using the air rules. And what a difference they made!

I got an Me109 on the board in turn 5 and sent it over to support the defenders of Pegasus Bridge. I was able to get in a couple of strafing attacks, which weakened the British attack and gained a KIA. Badger massed units to force an air check and hopefully gain a victory medal, so I decided that discretion was the better part, and the plane withdrew.

Meanwhile I'd pulled a couple of units into a defensive position in the 3-hex wood beside the Caen canal. Badger brought his units into close assault, whereupon I pulled off some fancy manoeuvring with a card combo:
  • I played Ambush on his close assault for a free attack, which destroyed an attacking unit.
  • Then I used a Centre Probe to move the two units forward into the attack.
  • Finally I played Medics and Mechanics so that one unit could recover from the effects of Badger's counterattack.
My plan worked, and I picked up 2 victory medals, winning the game 5-2.

Seasoned commander 3
Impetuous adventurer 0

These games were fun and tense, as ever; and playing 3 games in something less than an 3 hours was good too: exactly what you're looking for when you're playing a light wargame for relaxation. I enjoyed playing the air rules again, naturally enough given the results my Me109 delivered. I have shed the reservations I expressed back in March about the need for expanded air rules in M44. Sure, there was no need for them as such, but they are definitely a valuable expansion.

If I'm liking the air power mechanics more, I'm hardening in my dislike of the rules. They are poorly written by any standards IMO, let alone by the high standards of the core M44 rulebook. The Air Sortie cards are the crucial feature of the air rules. These cards differ from normal command cards in certain key ways:
  • They never go into your hand should you draw one from the deck; instead they are placed face up on the table, where they remain until you choose actually to play them.
  1. Draw a new card immediately.
  • When played they can be:
  1. Played alone to move a plane already on the map or to bring on a new plane if there isn't already a friendly one on the map.
  2. Played alongside a command card for the same purposes; in which case they count as one of the orders from that command card.
  • Once played Air Sortie cards are discarded as usual.
  1. Don't draw a card for the Air Sortie card just played, because it was replaced when it was drawn initially.
  • All of the above rules apply to Air Sortie cards with which you might start the game according to scenario special rules.
These rules so strongly contradict the familiar rules of cardplay in M44 that they are quite counter intuitive, yet nowhere is there a simple summary of the key points differentiating the play of Air Sortie cards from regular cardplay, not even in the form of a comprehensive example. The mechanics do make sense once you work your way through the rules, but mechanics as simple as these just shouldn't be so difficult to understand.

How else could a night of gaming light relief end but with yet more Ivanhoe!

Impetuous young Sir Badger had a point to prove after the walkovers to which he'd just been subjected at M44. Brave Sir John had a score to settle after the beatings he'd taken the last time we'd taken to the tournament field of honour.

We played 4 games in all to round off our evening's gaming. The scores were (Badger-Me):
  • 5-4.
  • 3-5.
  • 5-0.
  • 2-5.
Looking at these, we can see that the honours fell as follows:
  • Overall games: a tie.
  • Total points: 15-14 to Badger, who just squeaks it.
  • Ownage: Badger's whitewash gives him that.
As I'm sure gamers everywhere have thought: sometimes raw results can flatter to deceive. ;)

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