EXERT FROM APPENDIX 1 from Don Featherstone's Battles With Model Soldiers
(The book that got me started.)

"Nothing in these pages is a dictate, no word says you must or you shall do it this way. On the contrary, the book sets out from the very beginning to stimulate the reader to think for himself, and to use what he has read merely as a foundation for efforts and ideas which reflect his own temperament and character. Only in this way will he obtain maximum satisfaction from the hobby of battling with model soldiers."

-Don Featherstone 1918 - 2013

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Like a Lemming to the Slaughter

This may not be obvious :)  but I'm not always big on following popular trends or doing things in "the usual" way. So it was with a feeling somewhat like what I would feel if I ever caught myself humming a pop tune that two weeks ago,  after a series of discussions about WWII miniature rules and hexes,  I found myself mentioning to Ron that some people liked using Memoir 44 with real miniatures.  He hadn't heard of it. Which is how I came to find myself taking this picture on Friday afternoon.

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Now, just to be clear, honest and above board, let me lay out out some of the issues that I had with the game before ever playing it, based on what I had read about or seen of the game and its off shoots. I am pleased to say that none of these opinions have changed despite having had   a very enjoyable game and anticipating playing more.

1) Its popular.

2) Its gimmicky in the sense that one needs certain player aids, devices or gimmicks to play the game as written. These have to be purchased from the retailer or else jury rigged using the information which they freely distribute. This is the odd thing, the intellectual property is being given away free,  its the cheap toys, printed material and pre-made gimmicks that are being sold. To an OS wargamer brought up in an era when you bought rules and painted up your own troops and scenery, this is basically backwards even though I thoroughly approve of the free interchange of ideas and thus approve fully of them sharing the rules etc.

3)   Its gimmicky in the sense that artificial zones and cards are used to control planning, player options and the action. Now intellectually, I get it that the end result may work and its not really any different than an activation roll or some other form of friction  and the cards don't prevent you from making any battle plan you want, its just better if you plan for the mix of cards in the deck and the likelihood of drawing this or that one and what they allow you to do and these thoughts are NOT the same thoughts that a commander would have. Neither are the thoughts involved in managing PIPS and the like but that is a poor defence. The 3 zones sits well with my old translation of Vegetius' "de re miltaire" but again, I'd rather analyse the field of battle and devise my own.

4) Its popular. Ok I said that, well then, its not only popular but commits the greater sin of being popular and appears to work as a warGame!

OK so that said, how'd the game go?

About 1/2 way into the game, the American infantry finally screws up the courage to walk across the "Dead Line" and  into German artillery range. The guns open up.

Since the goal is to play TT Teasers, after a week of on line solo gaming, Ron & I agreed to play a Grant scenario as out 1st game rather than starting with any of the ones that come in the box. Ron tends to be thorough and analytic about these sorts of things so I left him to it. Since we were going to use his 20mm toys, we decided to use the rules from Winter War so we could have mortars, machine guns and the TD. He chose Scenario 1 from Scenarios for Wargames and set it up on his table which is 18x18 Hexon hexes. Not the right shape but we decided to work with it. Translating the Victory conditions was a puzzler, the scenario says that the side holding 2 out of 3 terrain objectives is the winner (the 2 towns plus the redoubt behind the wood) but in practice breaking the enemy army is often key. In the end, we decided that the American would be granted medals for capturing victory hexes in addition to destroying units and needed 6 to win but we left it open to discussion at the end based on what we felt the situation was. The scenario forces were processed into :

Defender (German):
3 field bunkers each with a basic artillery unit (75mm PAK for the Germans, 105 Howitzers for the US based on what came in the FoV boxes)
2 Tanks (PZIV)
8 Infantry stands, 2 with MG, 2 with Mortar.   (Mostly Valiant painted by yours truly)

Attacker (Americans)
Dozen's of guns and tanks and 100's of Infantry stands. Well OK, maybe that's just what it felt like, maybe it was only 3 guns, 2 Shermans, a Tank Destroyer and 12 infantry inc MG's and Mortars (again Valiant that I painted for him).

And the  first shot by the German artillery, registers a hit.

One of the challenges to this scenario is that, regardless of rules or period,  the defender just doesn't have enough troops. After thinking about it (and having 1 solo Pegasus bridge on-line game under my belt) I occupied the station with an MG, mortar and infantry, left 1 sole infantry in the main town by the river, dug in an MG on the edge of the woods and held the remaining 3 infantry and mortar in reserve, 2 of them on zone dividing hexes so they could go either way. The Tanks were placed in similar reserve positions. If I had understood the mortar rule better, I would have place one if not both of the mortars in or near the wood.

Ron put token forces on his left, sent a forces against the wood and massed the bulk of his forces in the center massed for an assault and waited for the right card. Unfortunately for him, they were all at the bottom of the deck or in my hand where I had less need for them. After bombing the town and laying down an artillery barrage,  thus reminding me of the dangers of bunching up in modern warfare and of the need for avenues of retreat, he eventually gave up and started working his way slowly through the woods.

This is a good scenario for a defender who knows how to be patient, bide his time and then launch a devastating counter attack when the time is right. With no enemy units in range, I  burned through some so -so cards trying not to waste all the good ones that seemed to be accumulating. Eventually my inner berserker could  not be denied any longer. I sent my infantry up through the woods to see what they could do. Moments later a series of attacks and counter attacks rippled through the woods, spilling out into the plain. I fed in some replacements and Ron pulled back a bit.


In the center, Ron finally decided that he wasn't going to be able to launch a co-ordinated assault which would allow him to over whelm me without taking casualties and began inching units forward and bringing his artillery into range. I shifted my tanks, waited and then pounced!  Minutes later a Tank Destroyer was burning and the Sherman was back peddling furiously. The 105 blasted away at point blank range and the wily Sherman swung around behind me and got a final hit before I could respond. It had been close but my armoured counter attack had been held.

 
In the center, the American infantry finally closed in. The first close assault on the town was ambushed by a machine gun and cut apart but just as the next one went in, my machine gun jammed (that is I had no cards that would allow it to fire). The Americans poured on the fire again then entered the front of the station, adjacent to the victory hex held by 1 wounded infantry stand. I still held all 3 objective hexes and had 4 victory medallions but Ron had 6 and I was just about out of troops. There was no way I could reasonably hold on so we let  the victory medallions speak and called it a US victory, Now if my armoured attack had managed to take out that Sherman (due to the special card + an armoured break through I had 2 rolls each of 4 dice and got 0 hard hits, just 1 retreat, I'm calling it an umarked gully ) or if my MG could have fired on his badly damaged unit, 1 hex away in the open! The only turn all game where I had no cards that would allow it!    A good close game.


Much as I hate to admit it, having decided not to let the cards dictate my plan, but just allow them to adjust how I implemented it, it was the player tactics crossed by luck and troop handling that made the difference. Since we have been looking for a fast, fun WWII warGame, not a heavy duty serious simulation, it actually fit the bill well. I think I would have been less happy without  some of the later expansion troop types but they point the way to adapting almost any broad weapon group such as light tanks as well as allowing the full gamut of anti-tank guns, heavy artillery etc. After talking briefly about this game,  ancients, hexes, C&C and Tim's blog, I feel a bit like I'm standing on a steep, slippery slope, and then, there's still that other thing.

exeunt humming "Oh  Honey, hmmm Sugar sugar...."

  

11 comments:

  1. Ross Mac,

    It was playing MEMOIR '44 (M '44) that made me realise that it was possible to write a simple but effective fast-play set of WW2 wargames rules ... hence MEMOIR OF MODERN BATTLE (MOMBAT) that uses the 'gimmicky' dice but not the tactical playing cards or the left/centre/right delineation of the tabletop.

    Another major difference between M '44 and MOMBAT is the separation of the Artillery Fire phase from the other combat phases. This is something that I picked up from Joseph Morschauser's rules ... and liked because it makes players use artillery properly.

    I am currently re-drafting my MEMOIR OF BATTLE (MOB) rules to accommodate some changes that I think were needed (the are mainly to ensure that the combat system reflects both a Unit’s quality and any decline in that Unit’s strength as it suffer attrition), and if they work they will be incorporated into the next version of MOMBAT which has the working title of MOMBAT 2.

    All the best,

    Bob

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    1. Bob, to my great surprise, I found that I didn't mind the cards in practice. I liked the way there didn't seem to be any "turns" per se, rather a series of moves and counter moves. A little reminiscent of Crossfire actually but also reminiscent of Charge! in as much as there is no fixed time and ground scale. We are thinking about adapting some ideas from Overlord by putting a Battlegroup HQ in each sector and either allowing extra cards or else allowing for sectors without a card to roll a die as per the Overlord rules allowing the chance of an initiative move but with risk.

      I have been keeping an eye on the development of Mombat and hope it goes well.

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  2. Hi Ross,

    Mortars and MGs in Winter War? That has just gone onto my 'to get' list.

    The game looked fun and the models were very nice looking indeed - the Valiant figures are especially good looking fellows.

    The basic game for me has always been almost a game about war rather than a war game although it has the advantage of being fast and simple to pick up. Using some of the core mechanics and re-engineering them into a more familiar war game style format it relatively straightforward and works very well indeed - as Bob has proven with both MOMBAT and MOB. I own a big chunk of Memoir 44 kit and as it stands at the moment it is an expensive scenario generator for use with my blocks (funnily enough it feels better using them rather than the kit you get with the game)rather than self contained system!

    And yes you are right about the slippery slope - and guess what? The Napoleonic rules are a better tactical set that feel more like a war game.

    Go on, you know you want to!

    All the best,

    DC

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    1. DC, yes, the Mg & mortar rules are free on the web. Essentially they are assigned to infantry units. A unit which does not move can use the heavy weapon instead of its regular fire. The mortar is pretty light weight, I think it may be meant as a 50/60mm one rather than an 81mm/3". I have proposed that we use the mortars as artillery next time, the anti-tank guns as the new anti-tank guns and the 105's as new longer range artillery which can be zeroed in on a target. There is also mobile artillery which would be good for using those Wespes and SU's.

      Not much danger of getting hooked into the Napoleonic one.

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  3. Hi Ross,

    I almost forgot - loved the comment about the 'Inner Berserker'!

    All the best,

    DC

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  4. Yeah, he's impatient and dangerous. But mostly to my own side!

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  5. I really can't get comfortable with M44 in the way that I have with CCA and CCN. Discussing this with Martin and John the other night we concluded its because we are too aware of the compromises in the system for a WW2 game as we are all fairly knowledgeable about the period. In contrast, none of us profess to knowing more than two-fifths of bu**er all about the earlier periods...

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  6. Yes I was wondering how comfortable I would be with the ancients rules. For WWII its as much about Combat! and a handful of personal memoirs from people like Robert Crisp and Farley Mowat than anything more serious so while I can see some things missing that I'm used to FAO's, flanks, esp on armour, arcs of fire etc, but as long as there is a point to blasting people with big guns but still a need to send the infantry in, and a point to cover and tanks, I'm happy enough to assume that maneuvers and fire and all sorts of stuff are going on below the grain in addition to what I do as a player. BUT, when we get to the 20th C, I'm really just playing "army men" anyway, so its all good.

    -Ross

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  7. " I'd rather analyse the field of battle and devise my own."

    I have been pondering a M44 style of zoning for battles, but with the provision that a player gets to choose how to divide the table up from their point of view (within some limits, of course). So your right flank sector may not be the same as the corresponding enemy left flank sector

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  8. Something else I thought about briefly was deploying 3 HQ and assigning troops to them. The HQ could be labelled Left, Center and Right and cards assigned accordingly. But 1 game isn't enough under my belt to get me wandering too far a field (yet).

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  9. Dear Ross,
    First, let me congratulate you on making it out of the crawl space in one piece!And secondly.... The report on the battle was fun and informative. Good work.
    Jerry

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