#WargameWednesday – Napoleon at Ligny

img_1359Napoleon: The Waterloo Campaign, 1815; Avalon Hill Second Edition, 1977.

June 15, 1815. Napoleon has massed his Army du Nord from Soire to Phillipeville. The Prussians are aggressively deployed with parts of the army as far forward as Charleroi. The British are much more conservative, arrayed from Renaix and Oudenaarde to Brussels and Wavre.

Our first game in almost forever. I played against my boys many years ago and they have come a long way as wargamers since then. Little I is the British, and has started in a rearward, somewhat passive defense. T is more aggressive and is set up far forward; literally daring the French to come. As the French, I take the center like Napoleon did. None of our set ups are ideal as we are learning the game for the first time or once again after many years.

June 16-17: As the French move towards Charleroi, the Prussians fall back to the east. The French catch a small force at Ligny. Both sides trade a small amount of fire and the Prussians withdraw. After their passive start, the British push aggressively out of Brussels. The French turn to oblige Wellington and the two sides clash at Waterloo. After a long exchange, the British lose an infantry corps and withdraw.

After starting out in a very forward deployment, T gets very defensive and keeps falling back as the consolidating French army pushes across the Belgium border. It is the rearward deployed British who come out to contest the French, but seemingly lose their nerve in battle and retreat.

June 18-19: The Prussians are massing their forces, but the French try to consolidate forces in the face of the now rapidly massing British. Seeing a chance to attrite the Prussians, the  French cavalry go on a long raid and enter Liege with a strong cavalry force. They leave behind a small infantry force that took casualties at Waterloo. The British attack this group at Quattre Bras. Declining battle, the French retreat, but in the pursuit battle all three corps are lost! Although the Prussians have supply problems (losing a corps with Liege occupied), Blucher fails to take the bait and instead moves against the French main body massed at Ligny. The French recall their calvary force and they race to rejoin Napoleon.

Although feeling time pressure, the French (me) fails to act aggressively and instead I wait for one of the Allied players to make a mistake. The cavalry raid is intended to draw off the Prussians (T) and allow the French to take on the British (Little I) alone. The Prussians don’t take the bait, and instead the British catch a wounded detachment and in the pursuit battle get extremely lucky destroying all the units. This alone gets the Allies 1/3 of the way to victory. Now the French must fight!

June 20: In the morning light, the French in Ligny sight a strong British force  of eight corps approaching from Quattre Bras while another six Prussian corps marches from Gembloux. The French decide to stand and the Second Battle of Ligny begins. In the course of the day, the British will lose six corps and quit the battlefield. However, the Prussians stand and the battle rages on. The entire French cavalry is committed on the right, but the Prussians stubbornly stand. In the end, it is the French left that crumbles, and with the loss of a ninth corps, Napoleon surrenders.

Going into the battle the French need to destroy six British corps and four Prussian corps to win. The Allies need to destroy five French corps. At the Second Battle of Ligny, the French concentrate on the British to try and knock them out of the war. There was also extremely poor die-rolling for my French; at one point on the right wing six French cavalry corps fail to destroy a single weakened Prussian infantry corps. If the optional Command Control rule had been used the Allied attack could not have taken place like it did. Regardless, the battle ends with the British defeated, but a defiant Prussian army completing the job and forcing Napoleon’s surrender.


Comments

Napoleon plays much better than I remember. The game is rated Introductory for the rules but the strategy is demanding! Battles on the Battle Board capture the essence of Napoleonic combat. The blocks are a simple – yet effective – fog of war mechanism. Road movement limits from town to town means each General must organize their forces and ensure they have sufficient mass for battle and nearby reinforcements. We messed up the Battles rules in the first engagement, but got better as the game progressed.

The Victory Conditions build great tension. The French are racing against the clock and must defeat the Allied armies before the end of the game. The French are stronger than each individual Allied army, but inferior if the Allies mass together. The Allies really just have to survive, but the Logistics rules can force them to fight or slowly waste away if the French get to one or more of the supply hubs.

Playing a three-way game was most exciting. Both boys had their own army (relatively similar in size and power) and neither felt that they had taken the “weaker” side. Game play also keeps players engaged; in a 90 min game we got through 16 turns which included three major battles and two smaller engagements.

The RockyMountainNavy boys loved the game and challenged each other to another round the next day. Little I is already reading up on the Battle of Waterloo and wants to learn more. Although this game is 40 years old, it has stood the test of time well and still makes for a fun campaign.

RockyMountainNavy Family play verdict – WINNER!

#Wargames AAR: The Fires of Midway – Exploring a Wake Island Disaster

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Courtesy BGG

The Fires of Midway: The Carrier Battles of 1942 (Clash of Arms, 2010) is a Steven Cunliffe designed game that recreates carrier battles in the early days of the Pacific War in World War II. This card driven game (CDG) uses a hand management mechanic where players have Action Cards that can add to fighter combat, bomber strikes, or carrier defense.

Although the game is focused on the great carrier battles of 1942 (Coral Sea, Midway, Eastern Solomons or Santa Cruz) there is also an alternative scenario which postulates US carriers attempting to relieve Wake Island at the end of 1941. This smaller scenario pits an American Task Force consisting of Lexington and Saratoga going against the Japanese Hiryu and Soryu.

The American fleet is led by Admiral Fletcher. The Admiral Card for Fletcher is Torpedo Doctrine meaning he must always send a torpedo bomber in any strike. Unfortunately, the US Navy is using the Devestator – an old, slow, limited range airplane. Additionally, the Lex is carrying Buffalo fighters – another old, less effective aircraft. On the plus side, the US task force has nine (9!) squadrons of Dauntless dive bombers. Indeed, the Americans have an abundance of aircraft with two Buffalo fighters, two Wildcat fighters, and three Devastator torpedo bombers to go along with the aforementioned nine dive bomber squadrons.

The Japanese fleet is led by Admiral Nagumo. The Admiral Card for Nagumo reflects his cautious attitude meaning he can never “steal” the #1 Action Card. The Japanese carriers each carry two Zero fighters, two Val dive bombers, and two Kate torpedo bomber squadrons.

The game began with the Search Phase. Each side explores a grid arrangement of Search Cards attempting to locate the opponents fleet. Along the way, the players build their Action Card hand. The Japanese proved much luckier than the Americans and built a stronger hand before the last fleet was located.

In the first Strategy Phase, the order to Carrier Turns was US-Japan-Japan-US.

  1. US strike from Saratoga. Due to the longer range strike the entire strike group arrives “smoking” from fuel spent. The Japanese do not spot the strikers and there is no CAP launched. Attacking Hiryu, the strike group losses a Devastator and heavily hits the carrier.
  2. Hiryu launches its own strike package. This group runs into the CAP (Wildcat, Buffalo) and ends up downing the Buffalo but misses the Wildcat. The strike hits Lexington with great damage inflicted.
  3. Soryu launches her strike. Again, the CAP engages, but both fighters survive. The strike package hits Saratoga, but with only minor damage.
  4. Lexington launches her own strike. The range means the strike arrives “smoking” which also means the Japanese player gets to pick the target. Seeking to protect Hiryu, the Soryu is struck and, like Saratoga, there is only minor damage inflicted.

In the Admiral Phase, seeing that both sides have exhausted their Action Cards, seek to reload their hand in preparation for another round of combat. In the End Phase of Turn 1, after Carrier Carnage and Explosion Tests have been administered, both Lexington and Hiryu are sunk.

At this point both players look at their situation. The scenario Intensity is 7, meaning 7 VP are needed for victory. The Japanese player is leading 6 VP to the Americans 5 VP. Although both sides have a carrier, Japanese air fleet is half the size (six squadrons) it started with whereas the Americans still have over half their original airpower. To retreat is to give victory to one’s opponent, and the Japanese player elects to fight on. The American gladly obliges him.

In the second turn, the Japanese player steams into an area with low clouds. This means that even if the American player moves closer, the weather will make it more likely his planes will arrive in a smoking condition. In the Strategy Phase, the Americans win the first strike and take it. Although the planes do arrive smoking, they still wreck devastation on Soryu. The smaller Soryu strike gets lucky; the Americans fail to spot the strike and the CAP does not get to jump the the incoming bombers. Although the Americans mount a heroic defense, Saratoga is hit hard. Once again, Carrier Carnage and Explosion Tests are made, and although the Americans have superior damage control and can reroll Explosion Tests hoping for a better result it is all for naught. Both Soryu and Saratoga are sunk.

In the final VP calculation, the Japanese have 10 VP to the American 9 VP. The winning margin is the extra VP scored by the Japanese for locating the last fleet in the Search Phase.

Lessons Learned

One major lesson learned is the importance of damage control. Neither side really used any Repair Points and as a result the progressive damage of fires and floods made passing Explosion Tests impossible. Additionally, although the Americans have an advantage in aircraft, too many were old relics (Buffalo and Devastator) and to be effective the American carriers had to close – too close to – the Japanese carriers.

prd333620In John B. Lundstrom’s book The First Team there is a passage where the great naval historian Samuel Elliott Morison criticizes Fletcher. Following the recall order after the fall of Wake Island, Morison cites an unidentified cruiser captain who said, “Frank Jack should have placed the telescope to his blind eye like Nelson.” (Lundstrom, p. 44) This little scenario shows just how any carrier battle in these early days of the Pacific War could of gone very badly for the Americans. The Fires of Midway, although a seemingly unconventional carrier duel game using a CDG mechanic instead of traditional hex searches across the vast ocean, succeeds in bringing key points of history alive. For that reason above all else this game is recommended.

#Wargame AAR – Command & Colors: Ancients Battle of Akragas (406BC)

 

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commandandcolors.net

Command & Colors: Ancients (C&C:A) was a Christmas present for A. He likes the historical subject, but has actually played very few wargames over the years. We finally got a chance to go head-to-head in a real game and not a rules walk thru.

We started out with the first scenario; the Battle of Akragas in 406BC.  A took the Carthaginians who fielded a mostly mercenary infantry force. I was Syracuse with a seasoned force of heavy infantry.

Syracuse pushed forward their right flank drew the attention of the Carthaginians. Both sides battled to a relative tie, with both commanders gaining two victory banners. But while the right flank fought on, the Syracuse heavy infantry slowly plodded their way forward. With both the center and left flank staying in line, the fortuitous play of Line Command allowed the entire force to advance and engage in combat. The Syracuse heavy infantry mercilessly sliced through the Carthaginian line and gained the necessary five victory banners for the win.

Observations

A almost turned the Syracuse right flank, but by the time he was threatening his units on this flank had been attrited down to an ineffective condition. Being this was A’s first real game, he also failed to realize the power of the Syracuse heavy infantry and was not prepared for the fury of combat (the five Close Combat die) when the battle lines finally clashed.

Both of us appreciate the way C&C:A give the flavor of combat in the ancient era without a huge rules overhead. Expect to see this one on the table more often this yer!

 

#Wargame AAR – Panzer Grenadier Vol 1 Scenario 1: Bogdanovo (Jan 8, 1942)

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Soviet Infantry (historyimages.blogspot.com)

From the scenario setup:

ARMY GROUP CENTER, 8 January 1942: After the failure of the Führer Escort Battalion to take the village of Bogdanovo, the 6th Panzer Division took over the task.

This is a single-board scenario with a relatively low counter density. Pretty good for learning (or relearning) the Panzer Grenadier (PG) system. The scenario portrays 4 hours (16 turns) starting at the 0800 Day turn.

The Germans start on the east edge. The approach to the town of Bogdanovo is dominated by a hill about a third of the way to the town edge. The Germans decided to send the majority of their force north of the small hill with only a small force swinging around the south. The mortars set up on the hill, and a truck-mounted reaction force waited – out of sight – behind the hills ready to race and exploit any successful entry not the town.

The Soviets dug entrenchments both north and south of the town and placed their 45mm Anti-tank (AT) guns roughly evenly across the front. The mortars deployed just behind the city and the full-strength infantry strung out between the guns with reduced units deeper in the town ready to move as reinforcements.

The German north advance was led by the Panzers with infantry close behind. Right away, the tanks were engaged by the AT guns but with little effect. The tanks spent the first hour cautiously approaching the town and trying to blast out the defenders at the town edge. The defenders, taking advantage of entrenchments, digging in, and the defensive bonus of being in the town, proved stubborn and unmoving.

To the south, the small German infantry force pushed ahead the best they could, but an into a crossfire between entrenched Soviet units and others dug in at the town edge. This small force, led by a fairly competent Lieutenant, proved fragile with several units being disrupted, demoralized, and even fleeing. The Lieutenant himself failed a morale check and was not able to rally his troops in a timely manner.

As the second hour of the attack began (Turn 5), and with the southern advance bogging down, the northern group changed tactics. The Panzers fearlessly charged into the city without infantry support, getting into pitched assault battles with dug-in and entrenched infantry. Fortunately for the tankers, the infantry was able to quickly join the fight and the Soviets were pushed back into the town.

The later morning proved to be a real slog, with lots of close-quarters combat within the town. The Soviets fought stubbornly, but the Germans kept pushing them back.

At the end of the 16 turns, the Soviets were greatly reduced but there was still a lone unit in Bogdanovo. This lone reduced sub-mashing gun platoon was enough to give the Soviets victory. But even if the SMG platoon had been eliminated, the blood 6th Panzer had paid was enough to cost them the victory (losing more than 7 steps of units).

Observations

Leaders: The Germans needed all six of their leaders to keep the advance going. The Soviets were a bit luckier; being on the defensive and being pushed back into a collapsing pocket actually simplified their command and control issues. In the past, I had often looked at the PG command rules as needless chrome, but these days I have a much greater appreciation – and respect – for what they try to simulate. What I had forgotten was the great impact of morale in PG. Units die, but units are disrupted or demoralized a whole lot more.

Anti-Tank: It is very hard for units without AT guns to have any effect on armor. In PG, armor units are immune to Direct Fire. Indeed, armor can only be attacked by a unit with an Anti-Tank Fire value of when in Assault combat [i.e. close assault – same hex]. In this scenario, the only Soviets units with an Anti-Tank Fire value were three 45mm AT guns.

Markers: I like that markers are used as an easy way to denote unit status, but as the battle starts going the stacks can get very high with units individually tracking their morale status as well as Moved/Fired.

Self Criticism: By the time the German reinforcements came up, precious time had been lost. If the force had been committed to the north they could of assisted in forcing the entry to the town. Doing so may have destroyed Soviet units before they could retreat into the city and avoided the slow grind of close assaults. Committing them early to the southern assault may have allowed a second entry on this town edge. Doing so may have forced the Soviets to defend two axis of advance, with doubtful success in doing so.

#WargameWednesday Pacific Fury Playthru

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Courtesy BoardGameGeek
I played my first real scenario of Pacific Fury: Guadalcanal, 1942 (Revolution Games) over the holidays. The game is an operational-level treatment of the naval battles off Guadalcanal. Counters represent major combatants (CV/CVL/BB/BC/CA) and transports. Each turn is one month. The game starts in August 1942 with the Americans lodged on Guadalcanal and Henderson Field operational. Each turn players must first allocate forces into one of seven “Operation Box.” Turns then consist of seven phases; in each phase the player can do only one of the following: sortie a Task Force (TF) from an Operation Box, fight or move a previously sortied TF, or airstrike from Henderson Field. The game lasts four turns (August-November 1942) and the only determination of victory is who controls Henderson Field at the end of the last phase of Turn 4.

I played an entire scenario and had extensive notes tracking unit assignments and combat actions so I could have a good AAR. Looking through the rules one more time after play, I realized I had made a few mistakes so I am not going to give you a detailed battle report because I feel the rules flubs are enough to invalidate the game results. What I will give you is my impressions of the game.

Components: A-

The map has a few annoying spelling errors (“Turn Record Truck”) but the counters are top-notch. They are thick and punch out with nice rounded corners and almost no tuft! Play space needed is small; I used a desktop with about 24″ x 18″ of real estate. The rule book is a whole 8 pages and fairly easy to follow along with. This will make a good travel game!

Game Play: B+

  • Form Task Forces/Operations Phase: The Form Task Forces step is the heart of the game and the most challenging. Each Admiral needs to decide in what order his forces will enter the game. Every Operations Phase is a choice between sortieing a new force (enter the board) or using what is already deployed. The trade-off is that using a force on the board delays the entry of new forces; wait too long and a Task Force may not get into the fight this month!
  • Combat: This can be a bit fiddly. It took me a few tries to catch on to the different to-hit and damage roll modifiers. Basically, one has to roll the Combat Factor or less to hit, with the die roll being the number of hits. There are modifiers to the Combat Factor and number of hits (which was confusing to me at first). Then, to determine damage one compares the number of hits to the Defense Factor and rolls again. If the range of the roll is correct (depending on if your hits are greater than, equal to, or less than the Defense Factor) the ship is sunk. This is where I really messed up, for according to the rules, “Any ship not sunk is still considered damaged, as long as it suffered at least one hit.” What the rules mean to say is any ship “hit” but not “sunk” is “damaged.”In my play thru I was so focused on sinking ships I forgot to assess damage too!
  • Return to Base: Another area I struggled with, especially 10.8 Forced Return. This was in part because I was struggling to clearly differentiate between a “hit,” “damage,” and “sunk.”

Historical Accuracy: B

After playing thru the scenario, I went back and looked at the orders of battle for each side.  I was curious because the only reinforcements for the Americans is the carrier Hornet on Turn 2, and the Japanese can get the super-battleship Yamato and small carriers Junyo and Hiyo as special event reinforcements. The scenario obviously starts after the Battle of Savo Island (8/9 Aug 1942) since the “American” cruisers Canberra (Royal Australian Navy), Astoria, Quincy, and Vincennes are not included (they were all sunk). After a cursory look at a few sources I also have questions over the inclusion/arrival times of several Japanese ships. The American side looks a bit better, but the inclusion of, for example, Indianapolis is intriguing because the ship was not present in the South Pacific at any time during the period covered. Without designer notes it’s hard to tell if these choices were the result of design decisions, play balance, a bit of “what if”, or simple oversight.

Overall, Pacific Fury is a tight game of interesting, tense decisions. Victory will go to the better planner – although a smiling bit of Lady Luck is always helpful. The combat system is not very deep, but then again the focus of the game is the planning and getting your forces arrayed on the battle seas at the right place at the right time. Although there is only one scenario, there appears to be a fair amount of replay because, I don’t think, there will be a perfect strategy to deploying one’s forces and there is just enough Luck involved that an ironclad strategy will be hard to assemble.

Verdict – Recommended

 

Easing back into Wing Leader: Supremacy (Scenario S01 AAR)

 

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Climbing for the intercept!

I played the new Wing Leader: Supremacy 1943-1945 (GMT Games) today. I own and have previously played the original Wing Leader: Victories 1940-1942 that covers the early war years. Supremacy comes with new v2.0 rules that both clean up and clear up several rules issues from the earlier edition. The changes are few but enough that I went back to the “starter” scenario to relearn the system.

Scenario S01 Climb the Matterhorn recreates an August 1944 B-29 raid by XX Bomber Command against Kyushu. Defending are two squadrons of Ki-84 (Frank) and one squadron of Ki-61 (Tony) fighters. The Americans have to get across the board (exit the edge) before losing too many of their numbers.

The lead B-29 squadron took the brunt of the Japanese attacks and suffered three losses (out of a 9-ship squadron) and had a straggler. The squadron also ended up disrupted before it could exit the battle space. The second B-29 squadron also lost a bomber and had another straggler. This day the vaunted defenses of the B-29 did not appear up to the task for they shot down just one Tony. The Americans were actually pretty lucky for their loses could of been worse. The second Ki-84 squadron (with Green pilots) broke after their first attack and left for home without shooting down a single bomber. The Ki-61 squadron was hapless; scoring several hits but only shot down a single B-29 (and made a straggler out of another) before it too broke and headed home. Amazingly, the lead Ki-84 squadron hung around the entire fight and attacked each B-29 squadron at least once. This Ki-84 squadron refused to break for home even with depleted ammo and when fighting in a disrupted condition. It eventually accounted for three B-29s going down.

In the end, the Americans scored 16 VP (6VP x2 for each unbroken squadron exiting, 3VP for the disrupted Squadron, 1VP for the shot-down Ki-61). The Japanese scored 12 VP (3VP x4 for each B-29 shot down). This +4 differential for the Americans was not enough to avoid a Japanese victory. Given the fact that one Ki-84 squadron broke early, and the second was hapless, this loss is certainly not as bad as it could of been!

Wing Leader is more fun than I remember. I also really like the fact Supremacy comes with a mounted map. As I ease back into Wing Leader it will be interesting to go back to Victories and try out some of the early war scenarios and eventually move onto Supremacy with its late war aircraft (Me-262!). I really like the Wing Leader series because it gives context to air combat. Each side has a mission and keeping that mission focus is important even as planes flame down out of the sky and squadrons break for home after losing cohesion.