Saturday, 25 November 2017

An Extraordinary Sequence of Events in Paths of Glory

Long-time gaming buddy Roger and I have recently turned our gaze to playing several games of the classic WWI CDG 'Paths of Glory'. I've played the game on and off over the years, while for Roger, this is his well overdue introduction to a game that perhaps more than most offers that beguiling blend of agony and ecstasy. In PoG, there is that frequent sense of 'so much I want to do' - now - but being only able to do one thing at a time.

In our first game, I took on the CP and it felt like a largely mediocre performance. The CP gained in the north on the eastern front, but the arrival of the Russian CAU Army set in train a steady demolition of the Turkish position. Then, by about early 1917, the Allies overwhelmed the Germans in the West and I folded after they were well into occupying Germany's west. Despite having played this game about 7-8 times, I've never reached the Total War phase, and this was no exception.

So, we changed sides for our next game, this time adopting the Tournament Rules. The removal of the entrenchment marker in Brussels helped the CP push westward and they were able to reach the Channel and dig in. A very effective strategy. Meanwhile, neither side had made any real gain in the east, with the Russians holding Warsaw with 3 armies. Gradually, however, the Germans and Austrians built up their forces in the east and, by the Fall of 1916,  they had the Russians on the back foot - as this screenshot shows:

As a result of the increasingly dire situation in the East, I decided to adopt a strategy of attempting to seize the initiative by setting the agenda on other fronts. Firstly, I did this in the NE, bringing the CAU Army into play and using any opportunity available to push deeper into Turkish territory (with a sense of deja vu as this is exactly what happened to me, in the previous game!)

Thanks to the Allies having the final card play of each turn, I was able to isolate a number of Turkish corps and seize control of a number of spaces through attrition.

Of course, my opponent's own strategy was similar to my own - in this case, preventing the Allies from having any real opportunity to push an aggressive agenda elsewhere on the map, by keeping the pressure on Russia.  Even if Turkey were to be knocked out, I wonder if their loss would be catastrophic to the CP cause. There are not a lot of VP spaces there.

Meanwhile, things were tough in the West. The Germans were well entrenched in their forts and in Liege.  The only way I could see making any headway at all was to simply try to launch a series of slugfest attacks to wear the Germans down and soak up replacements...and thereby keep the heat off the Russians. I also had a number of CC cards, allowing +1 drms to Allied attacks. Time to use them.

The first chance I got, I moved a French army and the BEF 5-3-3 into that notorious killing zone: Sedan.  I knew that this would provoke a CP attack from Liege, Koblenz and Metz (totalling something like 25 factors!), but I also knew that at worst, this would destroy the French army and allow the BEF to contribute to my key goal: an attack on Liege using 2, or even 3, +1 CC cards!

Sure enough, the CP hammered me in Sedan and after taking an extra French loss to remain in place, the BEF unit stood alone. In Liege, Roger also attempted to raise his entrench level to '2', but rolled too high and placed a '-1' marker.

There was nothing for it now, but to launch an attack on Liege at all costs. After some debate, I opted to use 2 '+1' CC cards, instead of 3 as doing so would have dangerously denuded my card hand.

Here is a screenshot as I was about to launch the attack on Liege:

I rolled on the 9-11 column, and got a 3, NOT good enough as I wanted to inflict 7 losses. Now I was wishing I had committed that additional combat card, doh! As we were playing this game via Vassal, I had invited the CP to play its own CC card during the log, but went ahead to do the CP roll. It was a 6. 7 losses. Goodbye most of the BEF, and I felt sure that the CP would absorb the 5 losses and stay put, given that 2 full strength armies were sitting in an entrenched position. End result - little achieved, apart from some CP attrition. I wrote: 'That's screwed it.'

But then, the unexpected took place. Roger played a 'Withdrawal' card, allowing him to restore his reduced Army, but then retreat to Aachen!  Woah. I promptly moved my surviving full strength stack from Brussels into Liege.

Pressure now on the CP to seize back the initiative and restore the situation in the West. Roger launched a 3-prong attack: Aachen + Koblenz (5+5+2 factors) vs Liege and Metz to obliterate the surviving remnant of the once proud BEF in Sedan.

First, Sedan was duly obliterated - but caused a German army to flip - nice. No advance.
Then, Liege. Roger decided to attempt a flank attack. The result?  A 4. Success.  Oh oh.
No CC cards.....and none from me either.
He rolled on the 12-14 column. Hmm...a 1. Lucky for me - 4 losses. But due to being a flank attack, the losses had to be taken before the Allies could roll. French army and French corps duly flipped.
Then my turn, now on the 7 col.

It's a 6!

5 losses. As a result, one Army has to be flipped AND there is only one way to take the remaining losses - to destroy the corps. Koblenz is left vacant!

Roger writes: 'Hm, now the CP is screwed.'

Indeed, it is. All I need to do is advance my stack in Liege in such a way as to isolate the entire German army in the west. PoG is merciless like that. Once your supply is cut off, you can't move or attack. Remain out of supply in the attrition phase and armies are eliminated. Permanently.

The CP called it quits....and once again, Total War had not been reached. Sigh.

This was an amazing sequence of events. I think the play of the Withdrawal card was instrumental in setting the scene for what followed. Then the die rolls completed what amounted to an entirely unexpected and rapid collapse of the CP.  Until then, I had thought a long and gradually crushing defeat of the Allies was on the cards.

PoG is overdue for a revision, but remains an awesome game!

Monday, 25 September 2017

Games on the table - update

Woah, it has been QUITE some time since my last blog entry. One may be forgiven for thinking that I had gone on sabbatical and entered a gaming-free zone, but in fact there has been quite a lot of gaming going on, both 2p, multiplayer and solo.

On the multiplayer front, via the local gaming club, I've played a couple of games of Time of Crisis, the new release from GMT. This is described as a hybrid game, blending - for example - a Euro-inspired deck building component with a wargame setting (in this case the chaotic world of Imperial Rome in the 3rd Century AD. This is a most enjoyable game, well received among club members, and I hope to get back to it soon.

With local gaming buddy Brett, we have also been playing Twilight Struggle, Combat Commander Europe and - now - 1989. Brett is a newcomer to these types of games and is really enjoying them.

On the Vassal front, gaming stalwart Roger and I have recently commenced a game of Paths of Glory. Given that we've developed a stable gaming partnership that has been going strong since 2013, or even earlier, it's amazing that it has taken until now for us to finally get a game of PoG happening.

We're now half way through 1915, with me playing the Central Powers. It's shaping up to be an epic struggle, yet already a major departure from the historical script, with the Germans virtually back to their start line in the West and the Austro-Hungarians being forced back almost to Budapest by a horde of Russian armies!

On the solo front, I have just completed a first run-through of my latest acquisition: FAB: Golan '73. This is the 3rd FAB game that I have owned and I really enjoy the system....which, for the first time, takes us far into the post-WWII world, with the traits of modern warfare, including SAMs, jet air support, electronic warfare and lots of mechanisation. Here is how my solo game ended up:

This is viewed from the Israeli (blue) perspective. The Israelis won the game, pushing the Syrians back to regain almost all of the dual VP areas (those with the yellow stars within orange circles). 1VP is also earned for destroying a unit (block) that has at least 3 dots of combat strength. As per the image below, the Israeli's destroyed 4 such Syrian units, earning them an additional 4 VP. Israel won with a 6VP majority.

In retrospect, I didn't push as hard with the Syrians as I should have.....though they were able to occupy Mt Hermon via a para drop, earning 1VP and negatively impacting Israeli artillery ability. 

 I look forward to hopefully playing this one f2f soon.

Saturday, 10 June 2017

A First Face to Face Game of Coral Sea

A couple of weeks ago, Roger and I enjoyed spending the afternoon giving Coral Sea its first f2f tryout. I played the Japanese.

My initial hand draw was poor on Resource Points (RPs), but rich in reinforcements. In fact, after the first couple of card draws, I also had the 2 Truk fleet cards in my hand. Not bad at all.

It seemed to me that the imperative was to get a force on to Guadalcanal as soon as possible and construct an airbase before the Allies could show up. Within several turns, this was accomplished, with the Japanese also dropping forces on to New Ireland enroute. In retrospect, I think I took too much liberty in landing multiple land units from a single stack/task contravention of the somewhat laboured sea transport rules (a key gripe here....I think those rules need simplifying/clarifying).

Anyway, the game seemed to be unfurling in accordance with the historical narrative....and this was shortly reinforced when a US stack turned up off Guadalcanal and landed several land units, kicking the Japs out of their newly established airfield:

Here you can see the result of our first land-based battle, with the US spending an RP to activate the zone off Guadalcanal (with the shipping marker). While the Japs managed to repel most of the US marines, they themselves were forced to retreat to the western half of the island, leaving a single marines regiment in command of their newly dubbed Henderson Field. Cut off and disorganised, the Japanese troops have been marked out of supply. All battles in this game are conducted by each side placing relevant chits into a cup, then drawing a number of them in accordance with their units' highest tactical value. We then alternate the playing of chits. This can be quite a lengthy process, but it can also be fun. It's extremely difficult in this game to actually eliminate a naval unit, as a single disorganised result forces a selected unit to return to the closest base. Only through delivering a simultaneous disorganised + depleted result to an already depleted naval unit, can it be destroyed. As it happened, the Japanese succeeded in destroying one Allied carrier counter.  Not bad going!

Shortly thereafter, the game departed from the historical script. The Japanese returned in force and were able to land sufficient reinforcements on Guadalcanal, to boot the Americans back into the ocean.

At about this time, the Japanese were also able to send two small task forces to the northern coast of New Guinea, landing ground units and shortly thereafter, constructing an airfield south of Lae: enabling airstrikes to reach Port Moresby.  The Allies tried to send a ground force across the Owen Stanley Ranges separating the northern coast from Moresby, but soon discovered that moving land forces through the jungle exacts a heavy toll on units (moving from one land zone to another depletes, or flips, each unit). As only a single depleted unit can be re-built for each RP spent, it's an expensive and slow exercise  to attempt an overland advance. As per history, sailing around the island transporting land forces soon became  the preferred option.

This is how the situation appeared shortly after the Jap landings on the northern coast of New Guinea:

The next thing I sought to do was extend Japanese control out of Guadalcanal to Esperitu Santu, and to complete the conquest of island between Rabaul and Guadalcanal. Soon after landing a small force on Santu though, another Allied taskforce turned up to try and seize the island back. A battle ensued and the Japanese naval and ground forces narrowly persevered, sending the Allies scurrying back to New Caledonia. As soon as feasible though, they were back.....and in greater force. The short Japanese dominion of Esperitu Santu came to swift end.

The final operation of the game centred on the Allies sending a naval task force with troop transports around the eastern coast of New Guinea, intent on landing at Buna and Lae to expel the Japs from the island. Battle chaos soon ensued:

Under intense Allied pressure, the Japs were able to deliver additional land units to the coast north of Lae, just in time to counter-attack and drive Allied ground troops back on to their landing ships. Pretty fiddling dealing with these massive stacks of units and their status counters!

Not long after this, the game came to a close as I drew the final card from the Japanese deck. The final score, based on map objectives and losses:  a Japanese victory, 30 points to 19.

An enjoyable game, though some of the ambiguities in the exclusive rules in particular, can lead to some interpretation headaches. We're going to play this again and be more rigorous re the sea transport rules....which will no doubt force the Japanese to be even more careful in their spend of each valuable resource point.

My impression is that this is a pretty good game and deserves to be re-published, overhauling some of the rules and modifying the game engine in a way that would strengthen the fog of war potential so that the uncertainty surrounding each thrust and counter-thrust could be further enhanced. I salute the game's Spanish designers!

There really should be more games done on the Battle of the Coral Sea......and I feel that gaming companies missed an opportunity by not releasing a game in time for the recent 75th anniversary of the Battle.

Sunday, 14 May 2017

On the Table - Coral Sea

I've had this game for at least 5 years, but never got around to trying it out. However, noting that this month is the 75 anniversary of the Battle of the Coral Sea, NOW is the perfect time to dust it off and try this quite highly rated (7.1, BGG) game out for myself. The game was produced back in 2010 by Spanish publisher Bellica Third Generation.

The game looks great and has some innovative mechanics, including simultaneous reveal of chits to determine if a player decides to conduct a map operation or perform some kind of card play. Chits are also drawn during land or naval combat, with they type of chits available to each side dependent upon the type of assets (eg air, naval) committed to the battle.

Here a shot of the game, set up and ready to play.......

 ....and a closer shot of Japanese forces and resources that start at Rabaul:

More on this one later..........I'm going to play it f2f with local gaming buddy Roger, then follow up with another game using the Vassal module.

Saturday, 6 May 2017

On the Table......Fighting Formations

A number of weeks have transpired since my last entry. In that time, a few games have hit my table. Most notably, has been several scenarios of Chad Jensen's WWII tactical game, Fighting Formations.
This game focuses on the experience of the Gross Deutschland division on the Eastern Front.

Over a number of weeks, local gaming buddy Jono and I played the tutorial, Scenario 1 and Scenario 4.  Here's a screenshot taken during Scenario 4, in which a German force comprising Pioneers and StugIIIs attempts to seize key objectives along a fortified Soviet defensive line:

As you can see from the above picture, the Soviets have a pretty formidable line, comprising pillboxes, entrenchments, mines and wire. Some remain unrevealed, represented by sighting markers. If the Germans enter their actual or adjacent hex, or score a hit on the hex, then these markers are revealed...possibly more of the above defences or a false sighting.  The red rimmed hexagons show the location of key objective hexes.

The situation in the above picture is that German armour platoons are testing the Soviet defensive emplacements. They had been careful to reveal sighting markers from at least a 2-hex distance in case they were mines (which, on being revealed, can be placed in an adjacent hex - simulating a unit blundering into a minefield). Meanwhile, a Soviet fighter bomber has dealt some damage to pioneers working their way up the slope before the defensive line.

You can see a round Soviet command marker in the pillbox hex. As this is currently showing its '1' setting, it can activate units within its command radius (2 for the Sovs) for the cost of 1 initiative point per unit.

I'm not going to write a review of this game, but to make some general remarks about it....and why Jono and I decided, after playing 3 games, to put it aside.

Being fans of Combat Commander, we were well primed to enjoy this game - and indeed, were attracted by the opportunity to play a system including tanks and other types of vehicles. We were also attracted by the matrix system in the game, allowing cubes to be selected for various points of initiative cost, to issue different types of orders. One of my bug bears with Combat Commander is the degree to which you depend on the cards in your hand for even issuing simple orders such as Fire and Move. This can be very frustrating. So, the matrix system was a winner.

The sighting marker system is also great in Fighting Formations. Some can reveal hidden units (kept off-board) and their use give recce units far more importance. We really liked the use of chit pulls for dealing out damage as well (such as the orange and red chits in the above image). Thumbs up too for the system of command activation and the use of return fire and rate of fire rules. The use of asset cards is great too.

All of that was good and we liked the look of the game. Sadly though, what soured the game for us was a feeling that the system got in the way of game play. The biggest gripe was the degree of time required to handle all of the mechanics associated with multi-unit combat. It's very time consuming and you have to constantly be referencing the modes of fire and various drms affecting the choice of dice to be used for offensive and defensive fire.  We had hoped for a more fluid gaming experience, but even into our 3rd game - and being more familiar with the rule-set and mechanics - the grind of working our way through various routines robbed us somewhat of actually enjoying the experience.

Even these larger than normal hexes can become very messy too, with lots of counters crammed or piled on to them. Some of the counters, esp vehicles, should have been smaller.

As a result, game play is usually quite slow and - in the heat of combat - can become tedious.

So, our hunt for a fun yet reasonable tactical simulation of WWII combined arms combat continues. The Band of Brothers series from Worthington Game is probably going to be our next try out.

Sunday, 26 March 2017

Second Bull Run - the Complete Battle - Status Report #3 - FINAL

At the conclusion to my previous update on this epic game, it was 1:30pm August 29. Union forces were pushing up from the south, threatening the Confederate right flank, and to the north, fighting was at a high tempo as the Union attempted to penetrate the Rebel defensive line south-west of Sudley Church.

So what happened?

The outcome is that both sides had exhausted themselves by the evening of the 29th. The Union came close to punching a hole along the unfinished railway line, but worn down by musket volleys and artillery fire at close range, they gradually had to give up their hard won ground and pull back to lick their wounds. The Rebs had largely been reduced to a rag-tag line of defenders by this point, with the exception of the magnificent Forno brigade and its supporting artillery, which proved decisive in unravelling Union ambitions.

To the south, Longstreet's L-Wing had pushed eastward in its goal of seizing Groveton and destroying the remnants of Sigel's Corps, but the aggressive arrival of  Porter's 5th Corps, pushing on Stuart's Hill had blunted Longstreet's ambitions, forcing him to commit Jones' Division to delay Porter and - as the situation worsened - bleed off more brigades from the Groveton attack.  Superior Rebel command initiative made this flexibility possible.

With both sides grinding to a halt, Roger and I agreed upon a cessation of the battle at 6pm. Here is a snapshot of the outcome:

Jackson's divisions were able to restore the situation along the railroad. In addition, one of his divisions, supported by artillery, staged a belated - and admittedly feeble - attempt to join in the attack on Groveton. Both sides had resorted to close combat around Groveton, with first the Union, then the CSA, experiencing some success in routing enemy brigades. To the west, Porter's troops had been able to push the ragged Rebel line back to north of the Warrenton Turnpike, but this high tide proved short-lived. Worn out by their exertions and stoppage rolls (experienced elsewhere on the battlefield at this time), they had little choice but to pull back.

In this game, we opted for the rule improving Pope's performance rating....and in this battle, the Union experienced quite a lot of success in mobilising the arrival of its forces and mounting timely attacks. 

Losses were heavy on both sides:  122 (CSA), 152 (USA).

Further Rebel reinforcements were expected to arrive that evening, but somewhat fatigued ourselves, Roger and I opted to discontinue the battle and call it a day. 

The end result?  Although the CSA had succeeded in maintaining control of all of its VP locations, it was unable to sweep eastwards to seize the Stone Bridge and New Market.  After totalling up terrain points and awarding each other points resulting from our losses, the outcome was +2 VP to the CSA, resulting in a DRAW.  Historically, the battle was a minor Rebel victory. Leader losses did not seem to count towards VP in this scenario. Union leader losses were high: 

Reynolds (USA)  (!)
Hooker (USA)  (!)
Reno (USA)
Repl ldr - 9 Corps (USA)
Heintzelman - 3 Corps (USA) wounded
Sykes (USA) wounded

For the CSA:

Talliaferro (CSA)
A.P. Hill (CSA)  (!)
Wilcox (CSA) killed

Major ramifications for Gettysburg here.......

It was a great experience to set out to tackle an entire battle using the CWBS system. I continue to really enjoy the command system and the uncertainties it presents. The combat system is also superb, giving one the sense of being locked in a struggle, one in which you have a small window of opportunity for 'glory' until your own forces are themselves ground down.

On the downside, the degree of book-keeping demanded by the system began to fatigue both of us, so we look forward to trying The Gamers' streamlined version of this system some time in the future. Thanks again to Roger for participating in this major venture - salute!

Friday, 24 February 2017

On the Table....

On the gaming table currently is Unhappy King Charles!  I first purchased this game back in 2011 and enjoyed my first game over Vassal, but had never managed to get a proper game to the table....until now!

UKC is a card-driven, point-to-point game focused on the English Civil War of the 1640s. In terms of the games that I am familiar with, UKC's mechanics have quite a bit in common with Washington's War. It's a step up in complexity, but getting up to speed with gameplay is mighty rewarding. I really do admire this game and enjoy the 'cat and mouse' thrust and parry nature of it, together with planning strategic plays according to a hand of cards. As befits a civil war too, there is no single front line, with tugs of war to wrest control going on in virtually each point of the compass.

Local gaming buddy Brett - a relative newcomer to these types of games - is playing Parliament, while I am the Royalists. Last night we completed 1643, and it was a mightily dramatic turn. My royalists had an extra card in reserve - known as an 'Ace in the Hole'. In addition, they were able to play an event that awarded another card from the deck. IN ADDITION, the aggressive Parliamentarians used two combat cards during battles. IN ADDITION, the King's forces won a major battle, allowing a victory card to be drawn as spoils.

As a result, the Royalists were delivered with the rare opportunity of playing 4 cards in a row after Parliament's hand had been exhausted. Not to miss this golden opportunity, Charles succeeded in ending Essex's siege of Oxford and sending him packing, his forces choosing to disperse. More than that, Royalist forces were able to mask London (preventing it from acting as a source for tracing supply) and isolate the entire SE and E of England, resulting in at least half a dozen control markers being removed in those regions.

When it came to calculating if a sudden victory had been triggered, Parliament was just able to prevent ultimate defeat by a margin of 2-3 control markers.  

This may prove to be Charles' single greatest moment to restore the monarchy in England, but we will see....certainly it will become more difficult, if history is a guide.  

A most excellent game - hats off to its creator, Charles Vasey Esq!

Long Live the King!

Charles' army masks London....Parliament beware!
Happy King Charles?