Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Road To Majorski using Chain Of Command

I caught the World War 2 bug a little over a year ago, so I decided to begin building some German and Soviet forces in order to put some Eastern Front action onto the table.  I experimented with a couple of rules sets, but eventually settled on Too Fat Lardies' Chain of Command. This set of skirmish rules stresses rapid decision-making, realistic mechanics, and (you guessed it) a proper use of the "chain of command" in order to get anything done.

After downloading the rules as a pdf, I was initially put off by a perception of complexity. These rules are not your typical "IGO-UGO" rules that I was used to, and it took me a bit of time to fully digest everything. Once I got the scenario onto the table, everything made total sense. In my humble opinion, Chain of Command is an outstanding set of rules. Not only do the rules allow a rollicking and entertaining game on the table (definitely one of the most fun games that I have played in a while), but the authors are serious about historical realism and results. The rules also allow for some realistic "surprises" and instances of chaos. If you are interested in World War 2 skirmish combat, I fully endorse Chain of Command. I think the rules are simply brilliant with a deep sense of subtlety that you really have to play in order to fully appreciate.

As for the scenario, I downloaded Operation Winter Storm (22 Eastern Front Scenarios) from the Too Fat Lardies website. I selected one of the simpler scenarios, The Road to Majorski (September 5th, 1942). Basically, the Soviets are pushing along the road to Majorski from the direction of Pokhlebin. A panzergrenadier platoon is tasked with throwing back the advance guard of the Soviets and pushing ahead towards Pokhlebin. Here we have a classic meeting engagement.

The terrain is open ground with 3 distinct areas of scrub and light woods. The road itself runs from north to south. Most of the natural trenches caused by the hilly terrain offer light cover and don't block line-of-sight. There is one section of hilly terrain between opposing areas of western woods on the western side of the table that does block LOS. The areas of woods count as broken ground for movement as well as providing light cover. The open ground is covered with clumps of grass, so units moving Tactically could assume light cover here as well. There are pockets of light snow on the ground, but this doesn't affect movement at all. Remember, this is Southern Russian !

I rolled for Force Morale, with the panzergrenadiers having a slight edge of 10 compared to the Soviets Force Morale of 9. I then selected some support for my platoons. Here, I deviated from the scenario a bit. The German units are portrayed below:

The panzergrenadiers begin with 3 squads of infantry, made up of 2 MG34 teams each. Each squad is commanded by a junior leader. I added a 2-man panzerschreck team that is commanded by a senior leader. The Germans have a large amount of firepower and are able to counter any Soviet armor that enters the table.

The Soviet units are below. The Soviets have 2 squads of infantry, each with a light machine gun, and another squad of infantry made up of purely riflemen. Each squad is commanded by a junior leader. The Soviets also have a medium machine gun team as well as a T-34 tank. One Soviet senior leader controls the force. The Soviets have less inherent firepower per squad when compared to the Germans, but the T-34 tank and the MMG team could very well tip the balance.

The table is a 6' x 5' surface. After the patrol phase, in which probing units maneuver to create "jump off points," it was obvious that the Germans had a slight advantage for deployment, with 2 main areas of light woods to deploy to when moving from the off-table area. Troops are not initially deployed on the table, they have to be activated by a roll of command dice. Here is the table with the various "jump off points" designated. The top of the picture is South, so the wooded areas on the right of the picture are the "western woods" while the wooded area on the left is the "eastern woods."

The German jump-off points are in black at the top of the picture, while the Soviets have decidedly less cover to deploy to.....their jump-off points are in red.

For those unfamiliar with the system, the command dice dictate which units may move, fire, or be deployed onto the table. In this scenario, each side has 5 six-sided dice to roll with. A roll of "1" allows a team to be activated or deploy. A roll of "2" activates an entire squad together. A roll of "3" activates a junior leader, who may in turn activate a team or squad, or use some special abilities (ie order a hand grenade thrown, rally a point of shock, etc), A roll of "4" allows your senior leader to use his command points and/or activate units. A roll of "5" gives your side a point towards a "Chain of Command" die, which contains some special abilities throughout the game. Then there are the "6's." One "6" thrown means nothing. Two "6's" allow the active player to move in the next phase. Three "6's" ends the turn and allows the player to move first in the next phase. And so on.....

The scenario called for the Soviets to activate first. They were able to deploy the MMG team to a jump-off point in a natural trench caused by the rolling terrain. Another squad was deployed to the rear of a large section of the western woods. Not bad. A couple of "5's" gave the Soviet player 2 points toward a chain of command dice.

The Germans deployed a full squad into the western woods, another squad to the rear of the eastern woods and the panzerschreck team to another edge of the western woods.  The Germans definitely have the advantage of more cover to deploy into. Most of the Soviets will have to travel over some open ground in order to advance.

A Soviet squad "jumps off" to the rear of a large area of scrub

The next phase saw the Soviet MMG team deploy into the open and put some fire onto the panzerschreck team on the edge of the woods. A couple points of shock (you can describe "shock" as morale points) were absorbed by the team. The senior leader deployed onto the table and pulled the panzerschreck team back out of visibility (a unit is visible in light woods up to 4" deep). A third German squad occupied the spot where the panzerschreck team vacated from. The western woods were infested with panzergrenadiers at this time. These troops were going to be tough to crack.

The Soviet MMG team deploying and putting down fire into the woods, directed at the panzerschreck team

The western woods become infested with German infantry

In the following German phase, the Soviet MMG team was damaged and pinned (excess shock) in place due to withering fire coming out of the eastern woods. On the west side of the table, although a steep hill blocked the LOS of one German squad, the other panzergrenadier squad again put overwhelming fire into the Soviet infantry in the opposite woods. The Soviets here were considerably hurt by the accurate German fire.

Soviet infantry considerably damaged by opposing German panzergrenadiers

The Soviets, in the next phase, gained a stroke of luck. The T-34 tank deployed on the tabletop. In addition, a full Soviet squad deployed into the jump-off point in support of the damaged MMG team.

Soviet armor enters the table, as more Soviet infantry deploy to the eastern side of the table

The German player realizes that the Soviet plan was to hold the western woods while the rest of the Soviet force, supported by the T-34, attempted to concentrate fire onto the lone panzergrenadier squad in the eastern woods. Reacting quickly, knowing that the Soviet infantry in the western woods was considerably damaged (and now pinned), the junior leader threw his squad forward over the hill and down into the direction of the enemy. During this action, the Soviet infantry in the woods was completely wiped out by further fire from the other panzergrenadier squad opposing it. Luckily for the Soviets, they were able to deploy their last rifle squad to the jump-off point to the rear of the woods. The action was really heating up.

Seizing the moment, German panzergrenadiers advance over the hill into the opposing woods

On the other side of the table, the senior Soviet leader arrived and began to rally the shock on the MMG team while the supporting rifle squad advanced to the flank of the MMG team and began to throw fire into the German infantry in the eastern woods. The T-34 was advancing in tandem, firing its hull machine guns, and the German infantry began to waver. After a couple of phases, the panzergrenadier teams both broke and routed. The Soviet plan to clear this area through concentrated fire was working.

German infantry in the eastern woods catching hell

At the same time, the Soviet infantry advanced into the western woods to replace the squad that was decimated, running right into the charging panzergrenadiers. The game's first close combat was initiated. Although the Germans had the dice advantage, the Soviet riflemen threw the Germans back with a lucky roll, defeating the Nazis by one kill.

Close combat initiated by the panzergrenadiers

....and barely thrown out by the Soviets

The situation on the eastern section of the table looked great for the Soviets, as the Germans routed out of the cover

At this point in the game, both sides were experiencing a decrease in Force Morale, but the Soviets seemed to have the edge as far as territory. They were in control of the western woods, and only had to advance unopposed into the eastern woods to take control of this side of the table's area of cover. The T-34 was in the center of the table, menacingly about to advance again. Soviet total losses were slightly higher than the Germans, but they had a larger force that could absorb some extra punishment.

In the next phase, the Soviets advanced a rifle squad to the edge of the eastern woods. Soviet fire onto the western woods from the T-34 and the MMG team caused a bit of shock but effects were minimal. In the German phase, the panzergrenadier squad that was thrown out of the western woods regrouped and threw some massive firepower into the remaining Soviet riflemen. The rifle squad, which was victorious in combat just a couple of phases ago, were completely wiped out ! The power of 2 MG34's was truly evident.To end the phase, the Germans moved their remaining panzergrenadiers deeper into the wood to protect them from Soviet fire.

Soviet infantry move into the eastern woods recently vacated by the Germans

As Germans occupy the western woods, stepping over the bodies of dead Soviets

Panzergrenadiers sprint across the table to take the fight to Soviets in the eastern woods

In subsequent phases, the Germans advanced and occupied the western woods, while the other panzergrenadier squad sprinted across the table to begin an assault on the eastern woods, gaining a point of shock in the process. Rolling luckily, the squad made it across without being caught in the open by the T-34, which was covering the center of the table. The next phase saw some repositioning and regrouping, but the drama was really starting to begin.

Having accumulating a Chain of Command die, the Germans used one of the abilities of the die to interrupt the Soviets' move further into the eastern woods. The panzergrenadiers closed into combat, but the Soviets had a slight dice advantage this time around.

It was not to be for the Germans. Although the Soviets took about a half-squad worth of casualties, every panzergrenadier was killed in the fight. The entire squad was wiped out !

A dramatic close combat in the eastern woods sealed the Germans' fate

At this point, with the Soviets controlling the field with the T-34 and the MMG team, along with the eastern woods, the game was called. Casualties were heavy on both sides. The Germans only had the panzerschreck team and a half-squad of panzergrenadiers left. They had  little offensive capability at this point. The Soviets had won the day, although it was a bloody price.

I was thoroughly impressed with Chain of Command. The game was incredibly entertaining and fast-moving. Although I may have balanced the scenario too much in the favor of the Soviets (the T-34 was a game-changer) it was touch and go for most of the game.  I found out that once initiated, close combat can be totally decisive. Also, I found that you never quite have enough dice activations to do everything that you want in a turn, so some tough decision-making has to be made. In retrospect, I feel that the authors thought of just about everything when it comes to World War 2 combat. Every base was covered in a fun-to-play and historically realistic game. Both thumbs way up !

Thursday, March 9, 2017

Video Games and Miniature Wargaming?

Can the hobby of  miniature wargaming thrive with the plethora of video games available today? Some gamers today feel that the two hobbies cannot be appreciated equally; their view is that video gaming will eventually drown out miniature wargaming. Nonsense, I say. Personally, I enjoy both types of gaming for different reasons. Life is too short to be a dreaded "hobby snob."

I consider myself to primarily be a miniature wargamer.......I enjoy the artistic side of building armies and terrain and seeing a story unfold on the wargaming table in 3D. I enjoy the research that it takes to understand what uniforms and weapons were utilized throughout different eras of history. Building entire units of historical armies is a great outlet for me to escape the stresses of everyday life. Also, the hobby of miniature wargaming is a social hobby; a great time had by a group of gentlemanly gaming friends with cold beer flowing.

I also see a younger (and old geezers too) generation that is totally infatuated with video games. Let's face it, the technology of today gives gamers a fully immersive experience into another world without the effort of painting, building, and setting up terrain onto a table. My son is a great example of a video gamer. He dabbles every now and then in my miniature realm, but ultimately returns to a myriad of video games from every conceivable era of history and fantasy.  The effort involved is downloading the game onto a hard drive and then mastering the game itself with a click of a mouse, understanding the game mechanics, and a knowledge of hotkeys.  I get games offer quick and relatively easy methods to escape reality as opposed to the time and effort that it takes in our hobby. Of course, I would argue that the invested time and effort is all worth it. There are some worries that our hobby is dying out and that video gaming will hasten the death of miniature wargaming. I see more and more young people at the conventions, so that view is debatable. 

But I, as a self-proclaimed miniature wargamer, love video games as well. Here are some of the reasons why:

1. Exposure to different eras of history. Let's face it, miniature armies cost a lot of money and much thought needs to go into the decision to dive into a new era of history. Over the past year or so, after many years of solely "horse and musket" gaming, I decided to jump into ancients/medieval and WW2 gaming. History is packed with so many incredible wars and civilizations of years would be a shame to not experience these eras just because "there's no money left in the gaming budget this month."

Playing Rome: Total War years ago got me thinking about diving into the ancients "black hole" of miniature gaming. The Total War series covers a wide number of eras, including typical "horse and musket" eras, Asian warfare, medieval wars, and even the fantasy realm with Total War: Warhammer.

Recently, I downloaded Sengoku Jidai from Slitherine Games. I have always been interested in Asian warfare, but was relatively clueless about the period. Sengoku Jidai allowed me to actually see a "miniatures" game in 2D and it also offered several different campaigns. Through playing it solitaire as well as competitively with another online wargaming buddy, I learned a tremendous amount of information about this particular era. I am now open to building some samurai forces in the future.

A miniatures-style game based on the Japanese, Korean, and Chinese Wars throughout the 16th and 17th centuries

I was so impressed with Sengoku Jidai that I downloaded its sister game from Slitherine, Pike and Shot. In this game, historical battles from the English Civil War, the Thirty Years War, and the Italian Wars were also portrayed on a 2D screen.  It allowed me to especially learn about and focus on the Thirty Years War, which has been a possible era of interest for miniature wargaming in our local gaming group for years.

Another miniatures-style game that portrays the Italian Wars, the Thirty Years War, and the English Civil War

Do you know what the interesting part for both of the above games is?  They were based on actual miniatures rules and adapted for the computer.

2. Strategic games that cannot be portrayed easily on the tabletop. As with boardgames, there are many video games that give the player the strategic feel of the period. A miniatures game just can't be applied to this full strategic level.

Gary Grigsby's War In The East is an example of a game that I recently downloaded that offers the entire Eastern Front campaign of World War 2 (as well as smaller scenarios) in immense detail. Concepts such as supply, partisans, fatigue, morale, command and control, are all taken into account by the computer.  Like nothing else, it has motivated me to start putting my Eastern Front miniatures onto the table.

Gary Grigsby's War In The East is an incredibly accurate game that is featured in painstaking detail

Screen sample of War In The East

Another game set in World War Two is Company of Heroes 2. It is a tactical game with incredible graphics that really makes me feel like I'm on the field of battle. Along with War In The East, Company of Heroes 2 has inspired me to start moving on my Chain Of Command miniature project (hopefully this weekend).

3. Video games can inspire scenarios for the tabletop.  Sometimes, when I am in the rut of coming up with yet another scenario for a miniatures battle, playing a video game from the same historical era can stimulate the brain and offer new and unique scenario ideas that I haven't thought of before.

4. Video games offer seemingly endless possibilities for Fantasy / Sci-Fi gaming.  Typically, I stick to historical gaming, but for the gamer who wants to delve into the realms of fantasy and science fiction there are so many more choices than currently offered for miniature wargaming. (Although this area continues to grow more and more as evidenced by the number of games at the major conventions). Examples include not only games like StarCraft 2, but an incredible number of role playing or "hack and slash" games like Diablo 3 (2 is my personal fave though), Dark Souls, or Torchlight.  Warhammer started as a miniatures game and is now available as one of the Total War series.

Screenshot from a StarCraft 2 match

Warhammer Total War screenshot

In summary, it is entirely possible for the hobbies of miniature wargaming and video gaming to coexist peacefully.  Actually, I personally recommend embracing both........for the reasons cited above. More than ever, both hobbies are contributing ideas to each other. For example, there are several games now that are actually miniature games in 2D. Some video games are prompting miniature manufacturers to come up with figure lines.  I was so pleased that Matrix Games decided to attend as a vendor at Historicon a couple of years ago. (War In The East is a Matrix game, by the way). I was equally saddened to see that they gave it only 2 years before deciding to abandon the convention due to weak sales. All of us enjoy military history, so why not enjoy the gaming experience in every aspect possible?

Sunday, March 5, 2017

Napoleonic Dutch-Belgian Troops

Both the Kingdom of Holland and Belgium were French puppet states and allies for most of the Napoleonic wars. In 1815, the Dutch and Belgians supplied a large contingent of troops to join the British in the Waterloo campaign. Although maligned throughout history as poor-caliber troops, the Dutch-Belgian troops performed solidly in most cases throughout the campaign. At the battle of Quatre Bras, the Dutch-Belgians and Nassau troops held the field against great odds until British and Brunswicker reinforcements arrived. The presence of Dutch-Belgians are critical for any serious 1815 campaign.

My Dutch-Belgians are all 1815-era troops.

1st Dutch-Belgian brigade with attached skirmishers and artillery

2nd Dutch-Belgian brigade with attached skirmishers and artillery