Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Bolt Action: Operaton Breakout After Action Review



Last week we dusted off the Bolt Action rules, and muddled our way through, with a few oversites in the rules, which we researched and corrected, at least as far as the rules would let us (the consensus still believing that an Ambush test should be based on experience of the unit attempting the test, not a straight 50/50 chance).  Ze Baron decided to give it another go, as we still had Jon’s (Curio Clashes) German and American figs at the Baron’s house, and the terrain was still on the table.  This time around we again kept units simple and attempted a straight forward game to further get familiar with the play of the game. 


The setup:  A break out scenario.  Several German units are caught behind the allied lines, having been enveloped within a pocket.  The Americans need to move from field edges into defensive positions across the width of the midline of the field and stop the Germans pull back.  The Germans goal is to break through and get their units past the Americans and off the field, back to their front lines and some well-earned steins of dunkel, and some sauerbraten (Fritz wanted Pilsner…  Fritz later died).  A roadway was set in the middle dividing the field.  Some bocage lined the roads across the midline.  On one end of the midline road was a small hamlet of houses and on the other a couple bombed out multi-level buildings.

Germans enter from the left, Americans from the Right
We had a total of six players (down from eight last week).  Since the Americans were able to select better defensive positions, they got one infantry unit per player and one HQ unit for the team.  The Germans who were forced to maneuver against the defensive positions received a bit more firepower in the form of four infantry units, and a HQ for the team.


The Americans maneuvered two infantry squads, Rangers and Paratroops, and the HQ unit into static positions inside buildings in the hamlet.  A regular infantry squad took a bombed out building at the opposite end of the road, and waited for the German advance.  The Germans, dreaming of the dunkel and sauerbraten quickly proceeded forward.  A squad of Heer Wehrmacht and a squad of Heer Grenadiers moved up the center towards cover of bocage along the center road.  An SS squad, another Heer Wehrmacht squad and the HQ unit moved left towards the hamlet.

Rangers and Paratroops move into Hamlet
Infantry move to the ruined building
The Hamlet:  The Americans got a bit bunched up and stagnate in the hamlet, limiting fields of fire and the ability of all units to effectively put down fire against enemy troops.  The German units used some woods, bocage, and walls to shield their advance till they were mere meters from the Americans positions in their warm little cottages.  The SS squad came in first, and laid down some effective suppressive fire, even with Americans having heavy cover (-2 to hit), adding Pins to the Rangers.  Casualties were light (being a veteran unit helped), but soon mounted.  Several rounds of this and a failed activation caused the Rangers to go down.  The Wehrmacht and HQ unit came in behind to support and added additional Pins and casualties.  The Rangers soon had to Rally and give up a round of shooting to remove Pins (hard to activate and shoot with 4+ pins against you), however, without supporting fire, the next round found them incurring more casualties and Pins to replace those rallied off.  Still, they did manage to inflict some casualties on the tenacious SS squad.  The Germans also effectively used the HQ unit to activate an additional squad on its turn, as well as having the morale boost modifier for activation.  Soon the Rangers were but a few, and the SS Squad quickly moved into close range (+1 to shooting) and vanquished the Rangers.  The Wehrmacht hopped a wall to attempt and assault on a house with Paratroops inside.  The paratroops, not having a good shot from the windows, grabbed a big hairy handful of their man-parts and mustered the necessary courage to leave the safety of their house and popped into the open, opening fire on the Wehrmacht.  Unfortunately, the -1 for moving and firing did not bode well and many shots either missed or caused no damage, although there were a few, enough to remove a couple men including a damage roll of 6 which allowed the American player to select the casualty.  Goodbye submachine gun.  Now facing off at close range, would this be it for our bold Para’s?  NO!!!  The Paras activated first and charged the Wehrmacht.  Closing fire was ineffective and a brutal close-quarters fight annihilated the Wehrmacht squad (bravo-yanks).  But it was a short lived victory.


SS Fight from behind bocage
Wehrmacht and HQ use woods to move up

Paratroops wipe out German Squad in Close-Quarters fighting
Across the field at the bombed out building…


The infantry squad was engaged by the Wehrmacht and Grenadier squads.  The Americans inflicted some casualties and Pins on the Grens, but the both German units were able to put down some punishing fire on the entrenched Americans.  The Grens unit was eventually whittled down to three men.  However, two units on one caused the Pins to start accumulating rapidly for the Americans.  The Americans on this side also needed to Rally to get rid of Pins.  The orders dice were also in the Germans favor.  Both German units activated before the hapless Americans on numerous turns.  It was just too much and eventually the American squad was wiped out.  No need to stay and fight in the hamlet, as two thirds of the battlefield now lay open for the German retirement.  It’s Dunkel and sauerbraten, and tales of heroism in service to the Fatherland for the victors tonight.

Germans in the Distance
Shooting at Germans behind bocage
Victorious Germans move past the destroyed American position, headed for their own lines
After Action Review (AAR):  Overall it went pretty smoothly.  Surprisingly, even with six players, the play moved along pretty well, but probably in part to everyone more or less controlling just one unit.  Getting orders dice out in a timely manner also sped things up as well as each unit again had their own color to differentiate which unit was activating.  I don’t recall any major rules issues.  There was some question of splitting a unit’s fire between two opposing units, especially for units in a house facing different angles towards different units.  For that we said it was ok to split fire as long as it was on the same orders dice turn, otherwise a unit had to fire at just one opposing unit.  I’m still looking to see if there are some rules regarding that.  Use of the Rally order was effective, but without supporting fire to Pin enemy units and cover the rallying unit, the unit inevitably got shot all to hell the next round.  There was some good use of the HQ ability to activate units within 6 inches, and this was done on a couple of occasion by the German units.  The Americans set up prevented this (out of range), and they did not adjust their proximity to their other units to take advantage of that.  The Americans in the hamlet also settled into stagnate and poor visibility positions early on and did not maneuver out to lend crossing fields of fire or make use of better ambush positions.  There were several rounds where a unit just didn’t fire due to line-of-sight restrictions.  It was a wide area to defend.  The German units split their forces, two to each side, but had they early chose to push all units toward the one American unit in the bombed out building, they could have forced the Americans in the hamlet out of cover to come to the reinforcement of the lone unit, and thereby engage them on their own ground, or else the lone unit would very quickly have become ground meat and bypassed.  It can be a tough decision knowing when to be defensive and when to be aggressive.  Typically units in a good defensible position have the advantage.  But in BA we again see that multiple units coordinating fire against a single unit can negate that.  In our game, a squad of 11 men, with 8 rifles, 1 Automatic Rifle, and two submachine guns can potentially give you between 10 and 14 to-hit dice, more if your unit carries a light or medium machine gun.  That’s a lot of damn dice.  Now multiply that time two or even three units converging fire on a single unit.  Even if you needed 6’s to hit, the law of averages says you’re going to roll a 6 somewhere in there.  Regardless if you kill a man, you’ve inflicted a Pin.  Use those Pins to neutralize and slow the enemy.  BA seems to favor the side that’s most aggressive; then again, maybe it’s just the luck of the dice.

Monday, April 17, 2017

Battle for the Crossroads After Action Report

Alright: At ease.

Bolt Action Battle for the Crossroads After Action Report:

The Basement Generals engaged in some WWII gaming at Baron Von J’s last Thursday using the Warlord Games, Bold Action (BA) rules (2nd Edition).  Jon from Curio Clashes brought his most excellent American and German 28mm forces.  The scenario was a battle over a crossroads, with several other strategic victory markers locations.  At the end of six rounds of play, the side who held the most strategic marker locations wins. 

The set up:  We played diagonally on a 6x9 foot table, and visually the terrain and layout was super nice looking.  A 4 way crossroad was in the center of the table with Bocage hedgerows extending out along each side of the axis of the road intersection for about 12-15 inches. Some buildings (strategic locations) flanked either end of the road that divided the Americans and Germans, as well as one at the rear of each sides area.  Units were all infantry squads, except that each side received one medium machine gun (MMG) crew.  So far so good, although, we anticipated some inevitable hurdles we have had in the past, namely that we had eight players, four per side.  BA is not well geared to have that many players.  No more than four would probably be the best.  With eight, it’s easy to get distracted waiting on your turn to move, which often culminates in a lot of talking and/or inattention to pass the time.  With only one person moving at time, it can bog down if not careful.  Also with that many players and not a lot of familiarity with the game and the new rules, there are a lot of questions that arise that that need to be looked up and possibly debated, especially if the rules are not correctly interpreted from the rulebook (partly my bad).  It took roughly two hours +/- to run the game, which isn’t too terrible.  Keeping it simple with just infantry units helped.  To begin, three players on each side got one unit, and one player got their unit plus the MMG crew.  A couple turns in, each side got two reinforcement squads.  We had enough different colored dice that each person had their own color, one dice per unit.  The dice go in a bag, and the turn is determined by the color of the dice pulled.  I tried to keep things moving by pulling the next players die while one player was making their move, and alerting the next person they were next, giving them a heads up to be planning their move.  This can move pretty quickly when out of range and maneuvering, but slows a bit when resolving battle.

Each side maneuvered forward toward the road crossing the dividing point on the table.  Each side chose to hold its MMG crew back in an elevated position that could overview the table, as they had a 36” range, and placed the MMG on Ambush orders (a rule that became an issue I’ll discuss shortly).  An American squad made it to the crossroad and took position behind the bocage.  The Germans got a squad to the bocage lined road and began pouring fire into the American squad, causing some casualties and inflicting pin markers against it.  A second German squad made it to the bocage at the crossroads and heaped some additional fire into the American squad, killing it off in a short amount of time.  One American squad made it to a bombed out three story farmhouse on the left flank (all views are from the American side), but really leave it as you had to hold the victory location to get the points, but this left them out of range to engage the enemy fighting at the crossroads.  On the right flank A German squad made it to a two-story farm house and set up on Ambush orders (another area of the rules that was misinterpreted and then debated for long while, which I’ll explain shortly).  An American squad came into the house across the street and got lightly shot up but put down some fire back, forcing the Germans into a down position after a failed order test.  Another American squad rushed the Germans in the house for some close quarters fighting (here arose the third point of contention and misinterpretation of the rules which coincided with the Ambush orders).  The close-quarters fight, as we initially played it, was brutally quick and the Germans died quickly, apparently by being down and suggesting they did not see the charge of the Americans.  Reinforcements and regular units fought primarily for the crossroads, taking turns charging into the center and laying down point blank (<6”) fire onto the opponents.  The sixth round ended with the Americans holding most of the strategic locations, although the crossroads was still contested.

Okay, now for the critique…, first the MMG crews and ambush orders. Ambush rules in BA 2nd Ed. read that on initiating an ambush (seeing an opposing unit MOVE not fire), a six sided die is rolled and on a 1-3 the ambush fails (ie. unit was not paying attention) and on a 4-6, the Ambush fire succeeds.  I initially thought I read, and put it out, that on a fail, the die gets removed and ambushing unit loses its turn.  This caused some serious consternation, rescinded testicles, and curled toenails, and garnered the question ‘Why the hell would you take the risk to use Ambush if your chance was 50/50 and if you fail you are done?’  After further review, the rules state that if the roll fails the die is SUPPOSED to go back in the bag, and gets pulled as a regular orders die, so the unit still gets to go that turn, just not as an ambush.  Oops, sorry.  I kind of believe that the Ambush roll should only fail if you roll a 1, or at most a 2, not 50/50, as most troops, at least regular and veteran are going to be pretty alert.  Hey, there’s an idea… Ambush roll depends on the experience level of troops.  Inexperienced succeed on 4, 5, and 6; Regular succeed on 3 or better, and Veteran on 2 or better.  Stupid conscripts are so inattentive.

Second if the Ambush succeeds, the die is changed from Ambush to Fire and the die goes back into the draw bag at the end of turn, as the unit has given up the element of surprise, I think we let one go and let the Ambushing unit make a second ambush attack the next round.  Memory is a bit fuzzy there.

The third issue involved a unit being down, and getting charged into close-quarters hand-to hand resulting in the down unit getting wiped out… DRT (Dead Right There).  This really caused some serious butt-hurt, but in the end the aggrieved player was probably justified in his butt-hurtedness.  If I remember correctly, the German unit was pinned and down after failing an order test.  After further review of the rules, it turns out the German unit, since it did not fire that round, and even though it was pinned or down should have been given the opportunity for closing fire against the charging American unit, factoring in any to-hit +/- modifiers, would likely have whittled the assaulting unit down significantly.  Secondly, depending on how you viewed the close combat, whether facing off between an obstacle, ie. through windows (or over bocage), versus rushing into the house to fight, the rules state that if two units fight across a barrier with each other, close combat is resolved simultaneously and attack rolls are made at the same time, versus an unobstructed meeting engagement where the charging unit resolves hits first, then receiving unit fights back with whatever is remaining of is unit.

Another issue encountered was a unit charging into close quarter combat across bocage, ie. the unit was behind bocage and had to cross it to assault a unit directly across the road behind another stand of bocage.  One person thought the assaulting unit could not do this because:

A. a unit making the assault must issue a “RUN” order to that unit.

B. units can’t ‘run’ through hard cover ie. bocage/wall/woods.

However, the rules indicate you can still issue a run order to the assaulting unit, but encountering hard cover stops the run and limits you to half movement, advance order speed of 6”.  So, if a unit started right at the bocage, issued a run order but immediately was limited to 6” for encountering the heavy cover, as long as the unit could close to within 1” at the end of the movement (this is the one exception that allows a unit to move slightly further than its actual movement allowance), even if the defending unit is behind an obstacle, the assault continues and you enter into close-combat and either move up to base-to-base or fight across the obstacle, which I discussed above.  In both instances, it seems the assault would favor the defenders, as they should get closing fire (if they haven’t fire that turn already, or unless the assaulting unit starts charge under 6” away), and the fight across the obstacle causes the attacks to be made simultaneously.

Other food for thought… A bit of strategy for engagement, and strategic and timely issuing of orders helps.  In BA, getting PINS on a unit, and using multiple units to inflict multiple PINS on a unit is really important in neutralizing a unit’s effectiveness.  Also, timely use of the ‘Rally’ and ‘Down’ orders as a method of removing multiple PIN markers is critical.  And just because you have 5 PINS on a unit (-5 to hit) doesn’t mean you CAN’T hit… it’s just really really hard (Need to roll a 6 plus roll a second 6 for a ‘Nigh Impossible Shot’), but we’ve seen it done.  Good communication is also helpful.  Declare what your unit is going to do.  Try to be fairly precise as this helps eliminate confusion of what the intended action was supposed to entail.  It helps avoid the “what I really meant to do was this…” and the inevitable response “Sure you did”.

All in all there were a few missteps along the way, some misinterpreted rules, and some completely missed rule calls, ie. the number of people that can fire out of a house (2 people per window or door), and giving a negative 1 per PIN marker on the to-hit roll.  Luckily most of the discussion was good natured and constructive, and hopefully helped all get a better understanding for future games.  This was a pretty basic no frills game and we still had these questions.  More issues will arise as we get a bit more in-depth, (ie. spotting hidden units I’m sure will be one.)