Monday, February 28, 2011

Global Exhaustion -- Axis & Allies style

Wrapped up our 2-day Axis & Allies Global 1940 extravaganza at Arkham Asylum. Game Store Tony controlled the Allies (with occasional helpers) while yours truly handled the Axis.

It was a wild affair, as this game so often is. It ended on Turn 7 with an Allied concession.

The basic course of the game was as follows:

In Europe I made sure to take out France in the first move, as bitter experience has shown that this is mandatory f the Axis are to stand a chance. The French are a little tougher in the latest version of the Alpha variant and they stand a chance of having a few more forces available to fight a Free French than the past versions. There was some naval/air sparring around the British Isles and a quick invasion of Scotyland that distarcted the Brits for a bit. Once they cleaned that out they tried a few raids on the conitnent over a couple of turns that grabbed footholds that were quickly erased. By game end the British had recaptured Norway, but lost most of their fleet and it was going to be a few more turns before they could threaten German territoty again. In the East the Germans were locked in a knock-down rag out fight with the Soviets but had finally started to get the upper hand. Territorial gains were not impressive but the Soviets were getting thin on the ground and it seemed likely that gains were imminent.

Italy in the meantime had a grand old time. British attention being diverted elsewhere the Italians ran wild all over Africa, the Balkans and the Middle East and even aided the Germans in France. As a matter of fact the Italians ended up with Normandy and Southern France! Meanwhile they grabbed most of Afrca, although a late-war counter attack of US forces and troops from South Africa retook most of sub-Saharan Africa. On the other hand Italy ruled all of North Africa and the Middle East, from Morocco to West India! Outlying territories under Italian rule included the Gold Coast, Madagascar and Shan State!

Competing with the Italians for top Axis dog honors was Japan, which completely conquered China, although a late British counteroffensive from India liberated a sliver of Chinese territory, Siam and French Indochina. The Anzacs were hard-pressed as well, losing most of their presence in the Dutch territories and having to devoted effort to ejecting an Japanese expedition in Western Australia. The Americans made a bid to slow down the Japanese with a massive battle that destroyed the US Pacific fleet and a large, but no decisive part of the Japanese fleet. A followup battle finished off all but one US task force and most of the Anzac navy as well. The Japanese were also able to capture Alaska and were starting to gather forces for a descent on Hawaii. Japan and Rusia never went to war, although the Japanese were about to stab the Soviets in the back.

With no good prospects anywhere and multiple Axis threats to guard against the Allies sued for terms.

The final PIC counts were:

Axis: Japan 51; Germany 39; Italy 36 for a total Axis of 126
Allies: USA 48, USSR 32; London 25; Anzacs 10; India 7; France 4; China 2 for total Allies count of 128. While the two sides were roughly even, India's industrial center (and two USSR IC) was completely wrecked by strategic bombing, France and China could build no troops and the Axis had an edge in National Objective income.

We were playing with Tech rules. The US and Italy each got Super Subs which had no game effect at all, while the Germans got Improved Mech infantry which was actually quite helpful in the fighting in Russia.

My Axis & Allies education continued. I'm definitely more comfortable playing maritime powers than continental powers. About the best that could be said for my Germany was that its position was adequate for the situation and it was occupying enough Allied strength that the other two Axis powers had a pretty free hand. Italy was much richer than its 36 IPC might suggest because of all the OIl-related income from North Africa and the Middle East. If the British aren't careful the Italians can be quite dangerous. The Japanese benefited from too-cautious British play in the early going that left China unsupported. By the time the US came in China was doomed. The Japanese were able to fight the big Pacific battles at an advantage as the US was a little too quick to intervene. It would have been better to build up strength, I think, plus too much US effort was diverted to the Atlantic side -- it wasn't enough to be a "Germany First" strategy, but it was enough to rob the Pacific fleet of the resources it needed.

In my opinion the British need to be reactive, the Italians and Anzac opportunistic and the French and Chinese merely try to exist. The Soviets have just one real strategy -- deal with the inevitable German attack.

The other three powers each have a BIG strategic decision to make and which path they choose will determine the nature of the whole game. Failing to decisively pick one of the two strategies will lead to defeat. For Germany the decision is Sea Lion or Barbarossa. For Japan it's China or the USA and for the USA its' "Japan First" of "Germany First."

Sometime this summer we'll try for another Global. Stay tuned.

Friday, February 25, 2011

I'm no Wavell -- but I won anyway

In honor of the 70th anniversary of Wavell's great victory over the Italians in 1941 I hauled out Rommel in the Desert today for a go at the local game shop against Game Store Tony.

I had the Brits, while Tony took the Italians. Things got off to a pretty conventional start as the Italians advanced as far as Sidi Barrani, delayed by British mobile units and stopped. On Turn 2 I counterattacked, continuing on through Turn 3. Things actually went rather swimmingly at first, as the British armor unit rolled well and the Italians badly and most of the Italian force was blown away. Sadly, the offensive came to a crashing halt on Turn 3 as a battle that saw, for once, good die rolling by Italian infantry, including one barrage that got 3 hits out of 4 dice against tanks forced me to suspend the offensive and rebuild and restock. It was unfortunate because had the battle gone as it should the Brits would have blown a hole clear through the enemy line and it would have all been over.

The last few turns were anticlimactic and the Italians fell back to Tobruk. The British followed., but I never felt strong enough to try to push on against the Italian army after it was reinforced with two armor units. A tentative Italian counteroffensive picked off the British recon unit and the rest of the British fell back to Bardia nad Sollum and settled for a 7-6 "attrition" victory for the Allies. Definately not Wavell-like, but a win nonetheless.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

More Black Hawk Down -- A Day of Heroes now on my shelf

Based on some comment recommendations -- thanks guys! -- I picked up the Lock 'N Load series game A Day of Heroes, which depicts the Battle of Magadishu (Black Hawk Down) in part.

I've long considered picking up a Lock 'N Load game, but I've been reluctant to get into yet another tactical World War II game series when I have so many scenarios int he ones I already own that I'll probably never play. But no one else (aside from one print-and-play game) has done THIS battle on the tactical level so now I've moved into some new ground.

My frist impression after reading through the rule book is that it's essentially an impulse-based variation on the classic Squad Leader system with a similar level of complxity as the original SL -- not ASL.

There mounted board depcits the actual area of Mogadishu where most of the action depicted in he movie took place, basically the original "Target Building" area, the crash site for Wolcott's Black Hawk and a large part of the route followed by the "lost convoy." The crash site for Durant's bird was off map to the South and that action is not included.

The game depicts the US order of battle in detail down to the fire team level while the Somali OB is necessarily more generic. Both sides have leaders, "squads" of 6-10 men and "half-squads" of about 4 fighters. The US side also includes helicopters, sniper teams, heroes, medics and various vehicles. The Somalis have no heroes, but they do have weapons teams and "technicals" (gun trucks). They also have civilian mobs. Each side also has various counter depicting supporting tools such as rocket launchers, machine guns, grenade launchers and, for the Somalis even the drug khat!

Chronologically the scenarios can be divided into three groups.

The earliest scenario ("Ambush") depicts the deadly June 5, 1993 ambush that killed 24 Pakistani peacekeepers who were searching for an arms cache. This little-remembered episode was a key event becasue it was this gruesome massacre (the Pakistanis were slaughtered and disembowled) that caused theUN to go after Aidid and led directly to the events of Oct. 3, 1993.

Four squads of Pakistanis with a leader and one LMG fight for their lives for three turns against 11 units of amply-equipped Somali militiamen.

The second batch is set on Oct. 3. There's an overall "A Day of Heroes" scenario depicting the whole Oct. 3 battle on the map from the moment things started to really go wrong when Wolcott's chopper went down. There's no time limit -- the scenario ends when all the US leave the map OR the Somalis eliminate any combiantion of six American choppers, vehicles and/or multi-man counters. Victory is assessed on victory points which are mostly earned for eliminating enemy units. This looks like it could be a lengthy affair.

There are also six scenarios breaking down the Oct. 3 battle into discrete parts:

"Chalk 2's Run" depicting the move by Chalk 2 to the helicopter crash site (6 turns)
"Technical Difficulty" depicting Chalk 1's effort to do the same (6 turns)
"A Short Hop" depicting the attempt by the rest of the Rangers and Delta Force to reach the crash site (7 turns)
"Convoy to Hell" depicting the "Lost Convoy" as it also tries to reach the crash site. (8 turns)
"Stand and Deliver" depicting the relief attempt by the 10th Mountain reaction force (actually took place off map, so this is "representative" rather than strictly historical.) (7 turns - half map)
"The Alamo" depicting the overnight stand by the Ranger/Delta force near the crash site. (3 turns - night)

The final scenario ("Retribution") is a hypothetical one depiciting a renewed attempt on Nov. 14, 1993, to capture Aidid. Besides giving the US side a chance to push Somalis around instead of always being the target the scenario provides an excuse to use an M1 Abrams tank and a part of the map that doesn't see as much action in the other scenarios.

I'm going to try to get this on the tabel shortly as it looks very interesting.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

More on the new Axis & Allies air game

OK, this blog post by Rich Baker about the upcoming Angels 20 Axis & Allies game makes it look much more interesting than I thought it might be. One thing hat has been clarified is the "compatibility" of the new game with Axis & Allies land miniatures. Originally I thought this meant that the planes would be similar in scale to the existing land game plane minis but I was wrong. Apparently the planes are going to be in actual 15mm (1:100 scale) so they will be the same scale as the tanks in the land game. This is altogether different and better.
Baker mentions that there will be 20 unique sculpt depicting 30 different aircraft in the first set, including THREE different P-40s! (Flying Tiger, US and lend-lease Soviet).
These planes will be larger than most competing sets (notably Wings of War) and ccheaper as well, so I'm expecting this to be another successful launch. I'm know I'm in.
The new game will also apparently include stats for using the models in AAM, so it's a win-win all the way around.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

I Corps repulsed

Game Store Tony and I continued our series of refights of Waterloo using the 2010 crop of Napoleonic Battle games, in this case Battles of Napoleon.

Unlike our earlier encounters, however, this didn't go to the French and neither was it close.

As before my plan as the French was to ignore Hougomont and make a push on the right and center of the map. I kept the heavy cavalry on the left in Reserve to boost my event card hand size a bit and try to encourage Tony to keep his units that started on reserve on that flank (some light cavalry and light infantry) in reserve as well. I planed to avoid Hougomont and it's garrison of light infantry as well, so I hoped to be able to concentrate 11 battalions of infantry and two gun batteries against two batteries of British guns, two heavy cavalry units, four infantry battalions and one stand of riflemen -- 13 units against 8.

And I succeeded in this aim, but it proved to be insufficient. The seven battalions of infantry on the right, with their supporting battery closed on the British line but were stopped cold. Deadly British fire knocked off figures and disrupted units while the mostly ineffective French return fire and melees barely discomfited the Brits. And then the veavies came in and hacked their way through the middle of the French force, the Highlanders on the flank wearied of standing ont he defensive and joined the general advance and by the end of Turn 5 the French attack was in shambles. One battalkion was wiped out and a second reduced to a single figure, several others were down 1 or 2 figures, most were disordered or out of command or both and the guns had been overrun. This carnage cost the British little. One figure was lost from one Highland battalion and Maj. Gen. Pack fell at the head of his troops.

The attack on the center was just starting to develop by then, as I redeployed Donzelot's division from Hougomont to the sandpit area. The French atatck succeeded in taking the sandpit and taking out the British rifleman figure, but not before the French artillery unit was gunned down by rifle and counter battery fire and one French battalion sent back. By this time the Britihs reserves had stirred and were heading that way. While Donzelot and some hope of taking the objective by the sandpit it was doubtful he could hold it, while the objectives at Hougomont and behind the ridge were clearly out of the question. So I conceded at the end of turn 5.

It was in interesting experience, but I think I'll need to solitaire play the game a few more times to bet a batter handle on how to maneuver the units properly.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Libyan pilots defect

Here's an interesting development during the ongoing Libyan crisis. Today (Feb. 21) a pair of Libyan colonels flew their Mirage F1 fighters to Malta and defected rather than attack protesters.

This would appear to be a major blow to the regime's firepower. While Libya reportedly has received some 38 Mirage F1s of various models, only a dozen of those are currently operational, so loging 2 of that dozen is major loss of firepower. One suspects that the usefulness oft he remaining planes will be curtailed as well, due to regime fears about more defections.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Watching Black Hawk Down

Probably the most intense war movie ever -- it reminds me of the opening and final battles of Saving Private Ryan, except the whole movie is that way.

Interestingly no one has done a comprehensive wargame of this battle as far as I know.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Axis & Allies in the air.

Apparently there's a new A&A minis line in the works, this one being primarily aerial. On one hand this isn't surprising, because there's already been land- and sea-based versions, but on the other hand I think there are signs that the collectible format has exhausted its welcome in the hobby. I know that I already swore that I wouldn't get into another colelctible game at this point, although I'd stick with the AAM and WAS lines a slong as they lasted.

So I'm not entirely sure I'll bit with the air game. I'm expecting the land game line to end soon, if it hasn't already, although it seems like the naval game has a few more sets in it. The new set is supposed to be compatible with the existing planes from the land game, which is a point in its favor, but I don't know if that's enough.

One thing that's not clear to me is how an air game can suppport the usual CMG scheme of common, uncommon and rare models. In the land game you basically had commons for the small infantry units, uncommons for some smaller vehicles and guns and rares for the large ones and those with complex paint schemes. The naval game had a similar, obvious, breakdown of commons for light units like destroyers, uncommons for units like light cruisers and rares for the battleships and aircraft carriers.

For air units there's not such an obvious breakdown as World War II era aircraft largely came in two sizes -- single engine and multi-engine. And paint jobs were generally pretty similar among aircraft without much correlation between complexity and size of the aircraft. Indeed, if anything I'd say larger aircraft tended to have simpler paint jobs than fighters did.

It will be interesting to see how they get around that.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

More evidence caution might have been in order ...

For a battle that never happened the incident involving Convoy HX-106 is actually pretty well represented in naval games.

It's Battle Scenario Two in Second World War at Sea: Bismarck, which Game Store Tony and I had already fought on the anniversary of the battle on Feb. 8 using Mongoose Publishing's Victory at Sea rules. In that battle the Germans were not able to turn their advantage in speed and gun range into a winning edge when the Scharnhorst misjudged its approach and got within range of the HMS Ramillies larger, although shorter-ranged guns.

In the SWWAS system the Germans ships' range advantage disappears, as all primary guns have the same range of 6 hexes on the tactical map. Perhaps in compensation, the victory conditions for the Germans are considerably relaxed. In order to win the British have to eliminate all the primary gun hit boxes on one of the battlecruisers, which is quite a bit more damage than the 10% required in the previous scenario.

As I noted last time, the convoy escort historically did not include the four destroyers shown in the Atlantic Navies version of the scenario. The printed Bismarck scenario does not include the destroyers, but it does include an armed merchant cruiser which also was not present on Feb. 8. While there had been an AMC with the convoy, it had left a few days before. Historically the sole escort for the convoy was the battleship. As before, I went ahead and left in the ahistorical addition to the outnumbered British OB. The historical convoy comprised 41 ships. This scenario has 40 "large" transports (2 hull hit boxes each), with the AMC counting as the 41st for victory conditions.

For the Germans to win they had to avoid the crippling damage noted above while sinking the British battleship and at least 10 merchants within four "rounds" (88 impulses). In SWWAS ships move in only some impulses depending upon speed and initiative status but get to fire in every impulse. What that meant in this scenario was that the slow British battleship was not going to get too many opportunities to adjust its position during the battle while the speedy German warships would move on most impulses.

The British were required to set up all their ships in the center hexes of the tactical map with five of the hexes having 8 transports each. I put the AMC in the lead hex while the Ramillies brought up the rear. My plan largely constrained by the scenario special rules, which required each British warship to close on an enemy ship. There's little reason to do otherwise. I planned to let the AMC harass the battlecruiser in front while the Ramillies would try to take out the one to the rear. I planned to have all the transports rush to the rear as well, hoping that the German ship in that sector would be too busy with the battleship to shoot at them.

As per the scenario instructions the German ships started on opposite sides of the map, with the Gneisenau to the front and the Scharnhorst to the rear.

As per the plan, the AMC bravely rushed forward and yapped at the heels of the Gneisenau, while the Gneisenau resolutely ignored it. The AMC picked off both tertiary hit boxes on the battlecruiser but after that could do no damage. Eventually the German ship fired some secondaries at the AMC and knocked out one gun but otherwise the AMC was unhurt at the end of the scenario. The Gneisenau concentrated its main battery on the Ramillies and secondaries at merchants, sinking several.

Meanwhile the Scharnhorst and Ramillies engaged in a knock-down, drag-out slugfest that brought the British to a scenario win as the Ramillies completely demolished the topsides of the German ship, knocking out all the primary (6) secondary (4) and tertiary (2) boxes as well as nine of its 14 hull boxes. Oh, and it's speed was reduced to 2 as well.

It was a near-run thing, though, as the final hit box on the German ship was KOd during the same fire phase that the Ramillies lost its last hull box! At this point the Germans could not win the scenario and the game was called. At that point, besides the Ramillies, the British had lost 9 transports so the Germans were also close to a win.

Still, the outcome of the battle once again suggested that the German naval high command's reluctance to allow its heavy ships to take any risks fighting British battleships, no matter how elderly, was not so cowardly as it seems. There can be little doubt that such heavy damage to the Scharnhorst as depicted would send it home immediately, with some risk of not making it. It's likely that the Gneisenau would not stay out on its raiding mission alone and so the sacrifice of the Ramillies would not only save most of its own convoy, but would also save all the other potential targets of the German raiding force.

The Second World War at Sea tactical system is a crude tool to use for drawing any conclusions, but it did in this case confirm the result of the Victory at Sea battle. Next week I hope to revisit the engagement one more time, this time using Atlantic Navies for what could be the definitive refight.

The battle ended on the fourth or fifth impulse of the second round and took around 40 minutes to play out.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Avast! Another great Fluxx

I'm an admitted silly card game addict, so there's no surprise that I snagged a copy of Pirate Fluxx as soon as it showed up on the shelves.

Fluxx is known as the game that you basically make up as you go along. There are just two rules to start -- draw a card and then play a card. But some of the cards youc an play are New Rules so the game changes as you play it. And the game starts with no victory conditions -- those are supplied by Goal cards -- which generally involve having two of the third type of card -- Keepers. The fourth type of card is an Action, which lets a player do one-time things like trade hands or draw extra cards.

Zombie Fluxx added a new kind of card, a Creeper, which is a sort of anti-Keeper, as it usually prevents you from winning. This proved so popular it was retrofitted to Fluxx and it played a big role in some of the new version of Fluxx, especially Martian Fluxx, but in Pirate Fluxx there are just two Creepers (Scurvy and the Shackles) and they have several counter measures available.

What is new in Pirate Fluxx is a kind of card called a Surprise, which is the first Fluxx card type that can be played during another player's turn. There are four of them, each canceling the play of one of the basic four types of cards, so now it's possible to prevent an otherwise winning play, much like Munchkin.

This adds an interesting wrinkle to the game and I expect we will see more of it in the future -- possibly even being retrofitted to earlier versions as well.

Needless to say, this doesn't add enough strategy to the game to convert Fluxx-haters into fans, but it's all good for Fluxx fanatics like myself. I don't think the theme is quite so delicious as Martian Fluxx or Monty Python Fluxx, but it's silly enough to do what Fluxx does best and that's provide a nice diversion from heavier fare or while waiting for the last player to show up for that serious game you're planning that night.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Not cautious enough

HMS Ramillies

Today is the 70th anniversary of an interesting incident during the German commerce-raiding campaign. On Feb. 8, 1941 the German battlecruiser twins Scharnhorst and Gneisenau came across the "fast" transatlantic convoy HX-106 with 41 merchant ships, a scenario depicted in both Atlantic Navies (Clash of Arms) and in Bismarck (Avalanche Press). The Atlantic Navies scenario is called "Excessive Caution," but this may be a misnomer as it turns out.

I decided to try it out using the Victory at Sea naval miniatures rules by Mongoose Publishing, with models from Axis & Allies War at Sea! The Scharnhorst is shown below.

Given that mix, I'm not sure which game deserves the most credit, but I'd call it primarily a Victory at Sea game.

The unusual thing about this battle is that the Germans, despite having a powerful force, called off their approach when they discovered the convoy was being escorted by the old British battleship HMS Ramillies. Adm. Luetjens was under strict orders NOT to risk engaging any British capital ships and so the German squadron fled. This scenario explores what might have happened if the Germans risked a battle.

The two German ships have several advantages over the Ramillies, especially speed and gun range, having about a third more of each.

What they don't have is unlimited time. Given enough time the British convoy could either escape or at least disperse. The German ships couldn't just hang around at extreme range to try to pick off merchant ships. That would cause a prodigious expenditure of main gun ammunition because of the difficulty of hitting small targets at very long range. This was never the practice of German raiders. generally they closed the range enough to cause the targeted ship to stop and then finished it off with secondary guns or torpedoes. German capital ships, in fact, carried large batteries of torpedoes, in contrast to any other navy. While the game doesn't track ammo, a time pressure was added by placing the convoy 15 turns away from the board edge.

One odd thing about the scenario as presented in Atlantic Navies is that the British are given four H-class destroyers as an escort. I found this suspiciously strong, especially when I noticed that none of the British ships were named. In comparison, the same battle in Avalanche Press' Bismarck shows the convoy escorted by just one armed merchant cruiser in addition to the Ramillies. A little Google research led me to a fantastic site which provides the exact composition of every World War II numbered convoy! This revealed that not only did HX-106 never have four H-class destroyers in its escort, even the armed merchant cruiser had left by Feb. 8! The sole escort for the convoy was the battleship. On Feb. 12 a half dozen ASW escorts joined up as the convoy neared the British isles, but on Feb. 8 it was the Ramillies alone.

I decided to go ahead and leave the four DDs as depicted in the book because I thought the British needed the help, but my judgment is that they're merely a game balance/interest addition by Clash of Arms and were not actually present.

The British were faced with a dangerous approach strategy by the Germans. The Gneisenau was off to the northwest of the east-bound convoy while the Scharnhorst was due south, splitting the British response. Each battlecruiser was 38-inches from the center of the convoy, well within their extreme gun range of 45 inches.

The 41-ship convoy was represented by three "immortal" merchant ship models. As each merchant was sunk it would be immediately replaced by a new target in the same place. As about half the historical convoy was transporting petroleum of some sort, there was a 50/50 chance whether any particular targeted convoy ship was a tanker or a freighter. The four destroyers were on station at the four corners of the convoy box, with the Ramillies slightly south of the convoy.

Portraying Adm. Luetjens was Game Store Tony, while I took the British command.

The German strategy was straightforward. The Gneisenau would close on the convoy to shoot it up while the Scharnhorst kept the Ramillies busy. The destroyers would be watched, but Tony did not consider them a major threat.

I started off by peeling off three destroyers to make a run at the Gneisenau while the Ramillies turned to deal with the approaching Scharnhorst. One destroyer remained close to the convoy. The first turn the destroyers made smoke but a check of the rules revealed that the radar-equipped Germans wouldn't be hindered and so the destroyers concentrated on maneuvering instead.

The battle on the northern side went moderately well for the Gneisenau. It managed to land one 11-inch hit on a destroyer that caused some light damage (passed through, I suppose) and two damaging hits on freighters, knocking out the engines on the Kheti (a 2,700-ton freighter carrying sugar) and crippling the freighter Temple Arch (5,100 tons carrying lumber and wheat). The Gneisenau dodged a torpedo salvo from one destroyer while closing on the convoy. Unfortunately for the Germans, events on the southern side decided the action before the Gneisenau could do more.

The Scharnhorst's intention was to close within long range (for better gunnery) while staying outside of the Ramillies main battery range but the closing speed was misjudged (realistically, in my opinion) and the Scharnhorst found itself under fire from the Ramillies. The two ships spent a few turns dueling with the Scharnhorst definitely coming off the worse. While the Scharnhorst was able to land multiple hits on the Ramillies, the lack of hitting power of the German 11-inchers and the heavy armor for the old British battlewagon mitigated the damage. In four turns the Ramillies lost 8 of its 34 hull points for 23.5% damage -- significant damage but not devastating. A couple of fires were started but quickly doused and the ship's fighting ability was so far unimpaired.

On the other hand the heavy-hitting 15-inchers on the Ramillies were able to land a series of punishing blows on the Scharnhorst for 19 points of damage or 54%. Even worse, there were a couple of serious critical hits. The first one hit the Engineering Vital System, knocking out the Scharnhorst's ability to conduct damage control. This proved to be devastating when, on the following turn's critical, the Scharnhorst had its Engines Disabled, dropping its speed to zero -- and unrepairable!

At this point the Germans were defeated, as no amount of future damage to the convoy could make up for losing the Scharnhorst. We agreed that the Gneisenau would undoubtedly withdraw at high speed to avoid compounding the disaster and that the British destroyers would have called off their pursuit in order to guard the convoy. While it would tempting for the Ramillies to finish off the crippled, dead-in-the-water Scharnhorst, I believed that the realistic course of action for the battleship would be to also pull away and return to protect the convoy as well. After all, the Gneisenau was still in the vicinity and it certainly wouldn't do to risk the welfare of the convoy in order to sink the doomed Scharnhorst. And the Scharnhorst was clearly doomed, with its engines disabled and sitting just 700 miles off the coast of Canada, it would be just a matter of time before another British force arrived on the scene to finish it off.

The outcome of the battle suggests that the German high command's caution was not necessarily unwarranted. As I noted, while the Germans had a range advantage in good visibility, good visibility can't be counted on during the North Atlantic winter and extreme range gunfire was a very inefficient way to sink merchant ships. Therefore the German raiders had to risk getting closer and any misjudgment could easily bring a ship into the range of the old British ship where it's hard-hitting shells made every salvo a potential catastrophe. Any significant damage would require ending the raiding cruise at least and held the prospect of losing a capital ship. Just a few months later the Bismarck experience would show how relatively minor damage could have fatal consequences.

If I were to replay the scenario I think I'd leave out the destroyers. They were not actually present and they don't really add much to the British defenses anyway.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Sometimes it's just not in the cards ... . Memoir '44 session

Today is the 70th anniversary of the battle of Beda Fomm, where the pursuing British blocked the fleeing Itanian Army in North Africa and bagged 150,000 prisoners.

Game Store Tony, as is his custom, took the historical losers and commanded the Italians while I took the Briitsh. The night before, after setting everything up to make sure I had all the pieces I had played through the scenario solitaire. It was a crushing British win and I felt pretty good about my prospects.

But I sure didn't draw the same cards and as a matter of fact I was nearly crippled -- four of my six cards to start were probes and recons on the Right Flank (where the Brit infantry was). In retrospect I probably should have spent a couple of turns to clear out some of that baggage, but I never really felt like I had the time. Tony's Italians seemed to be drawing the cards THEY needed and he made a very determined and aggressive push against the roadblock. I never felt like I could let him have a couple of unopposed turns over there so I used every card that let me do something on that side. He jumped out to a 3-1 lead, but the real killer was when he played a Counterattack in response to my Armored Assault. My attack did some damage, killing one unit. In contrast one of his armor units fired and wiped out a 2-tank Brit unit in the center, while a second Italian armor exited off the map for medal No. 5.

His final two armor units concentrated on an elite British tank on an adjacent hill. First shot was a hit and a flag. British retreat and Italians armor assault onto the hill and attack again for two more hits a and another retreat. The final shot from range picked off the last tank and Medal No. 6 -- and game. Final score was 6 - 2.
I'd like to blame the cards -- and certainly they could have been better -- but I think I probably should have taken the time to improve my hand rather than rushing forward into battle range.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

A few observations about the Fred Jane naval wargame book

Finished reading it and a few quick observations seem to be warranted. In no particular order.

The Jane's naval wargame rules, like the contemporaneous H.G. Wells Little Wars, relied in large measure on actual physical "shooting" by the players rather than the dice-based systems common to modern wargames. In H.G. Wells case the palyers actaully fired bullets from model cannons at the enemy forces. In the Jane naval wargame the players poked holes in a paper diagram of the target ship using a wooden tool with a tack point on the end. A very odd fixation, really.

The Royal Navy wargame rules are definitely based on providing a training experience and not being a competitive game experience. As a matter of fact, competition is explicitly discouraged! One notable thing about these rules is the way that gunner hits are figured. It's a very deterministic system with the number of hits being based on how many guns are fired and for how long with no random element at all. Likewise damage is an average value. There's no provision for fluke events, lucky shots or bad fortune in general.

One notable thing in Jane's rules are the very short ranges envisioned. The rules devoted considerable attention to battles fought at ranges under 8,000 yards (with 2,000,-4,000 being treated as average) and his tack-poker combat system seems to assume that ships will engage in low trajectory direct fire at relatively close ranges. As it turned out, of course, the combatant navies were in the midst of a gun and fire control revolution that was going to mean that most battleship actions would take place at ranges two, three or four times farther than Jane assumed.

The small handbook written by Jane (based on internal evidence, just before the end of 1914) is a fascinating document. Obviously meant for the general reading public, the book has a bit of a jingoistic flair and also makes certain social assumptions that seem rather odd to modern ears. In particular the strong class-based personnel system used by the British is accepted without question.

Jane had some pretty insightful observations in the handbook, however, and definitely seemed extremely well-informed about likely technical naval developments, but he wasn't much of a seer on how tactical and strategic events might play out. He showed little understanding about commerce-raiding nor was there any hint of what a submarine blockade might entail. He notes that the war was expected to be over before any 15-inch gun battleships might be ready for action -- a common enough sentiment in 1914 -- and seems to have expected that a clash between the two battle fleets was imminent. As it turned out the battle fleets would not meet in action for nearly two more years and Jane, himself, would not lie to see that day.

All-in-all a very interesting read.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Picked up an interesting volume

I just bought a copy of The Fred Jane Naval War Game (1906), which is interesting in its own right, but this 2008 edition edited by John Curry includes a lot more than the classic naval game by the famous man.

Also included are:

A brief bio of Fred T. Jane by Curry

The 1906 rules by Jane, which represented the game in its mature form.

Some "Fast Play" rules by Jane

The Royal Navy Wargame of 1921, which was the official RN rules for board exercises

and finally an interesting historical piece from 1914 "Your Navy As a Fighting Machine" by Fred T. Jane.

All for under $15.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

A pause in the action and an initial assessment of Persian Incursion

Edgar and I have now completed 7 turns, so we're a third of the way through the campaign and moving into the middle part oft he third day of the campaign.

Aside from a few rules ambiguities that we've been able to work through, the game seems to be working well enough on a technical level.

The overall situation is developing more or less as I expected it would. Militarily the Israelis are overwhelmingly dominant. Aside from a few targeting errors on my part it's pretty clear that the Israelis can guarantee the destruction of any target they decide to attack. Their main constraints are time, intelligence and military points and the distance to some targets.

The Iranian military options are feeble. Except for short-range SAMs which can knock down some of the precision-guided munitions, the Iranian air defense weapons are a negligible factor and easily neutralized. Sooner or later they may get lucky and shoot down a plane, but unless they capture the pilot this will have no effect on the course of the campaign.
Iranian fighters are likewise toothless, basically reduced to hoping they manage to ambush an Israeli unit at "dogfight" range. As there's only about a 3 percent chance of this happening it is also a case of hoping for a lucky break that might, just possibly, result in a captured Israeli pilot but has no hope of materially reducing Israeli resources. So far the Iranians have lost 21 aircraft without getting so much as a shot off in return.
Showing a little more promise for the Iranians is the "missile war." While there isn't a great chance of getting through, on several occasions the Israeli missile defense have missed and Scuds have landed near Tel Aviv. So far they haven't hit anything, but this is another case where it seems likely the Iranians will get lucky sooner or later. But likewise it seems very unlikely that even a damaging hit will have any material effects on the Israeli war effort.

Terror tactics are also long shot affairs for the Iranians that have also had no effect so far.

The one place where the Iranians ARE competitive is in the diplomatic arena and the play of cards that use political points. The Iranians have, for example, managed to move US opinion to near "support" level and the Israelis have kept the Saudi route open mainly though the opportune play of a "Firm Commitment" card. That card's effects are running out, though, leaving the continued free use of the southern route in doubt. On the other hand, some excellent die rolls after the play of a few cards have moved the Turks to "supporter" status as well (despite aggressive resistance by the Iranians) which gives Israel some new options for Day 3 of the war.
It seems like the best chance for the Iranians is some combination of political events that manage to shut down Israeli access to targets before they've had a chance to do enough damage. This is a real danger for the Israelis and means they don't have the luxury of taking a deliberate pace. They can't count on the full 21 turns to do what must be done.

It's been very interesting and I'm looking forward to taking my turn as Iran, which I still think is the bigger challenge to play.