World at War: Chieftains on the Warpath Session Report

April 1, 2011

25 May, 0800 hours: Colonel Rickanov hurled the small handheld radioset at the interior wall of his command BMP. Between the pouring rain and the change in orders, he knew he would have to drive extra hard to achieve his new objective, the shattered remains of the West German village of Faulbach. As he barked orders to his subcommanders, his IFV was rocked by explosions. The colonel peered through the viewport and saw a platoon of T-80s smoldering not 100 yards away. “Report! Where did that come from?” he shouted over the radio network, but the confused replies from his division were drowned out by the shrieking roar of enemy aircraft…

With our wives away at their book club, Rick and I sat down last week to immerse ourselves in the sixth scenario in Mark Walker’s World at War: Blood and Bridges game. The Soviet and British forces start at opposite ends of the map, and both are charging hard for Anhausen. As the British player, I was in command of three platoons of powerful but slow Chieftain tanks, a unit of Scimitar recon vehicles, and a mortar carrier. One airstrike and jamming equipment served as early reinforcements. After taking a look at the map, I planned to head not for Anhausen (my Chieftains wouldn’t make it in time), but for a screen of trees northeast, then to a large, wooded hill about a kilometer from the town. From there I would set my Chieftains up in good cover to rain death down on Rick’s forces as they sped up the road to Anhausen. If they made it to the town, I planned on swinging east, using the hill as cover, and leapfrogging between tree cover to destroy the rest of his force. I faced a relatively strong force of T-80s, BMPs, infantry, and various missile systems.

On the first turn, Rick cruised north, turned west at the village of Haln, and started heading for his objective. Unfortunately for me, the Chaos table came into play and a heavy downpour started, dropping movement by one hex. I began to sweat at this point, as that meant my ponderous Chieftains were even worse off, while his speedy T-80s weren’t hurt too much. But his cautious approach gave me time to get my forces in position on the wooded hill. My Tornado air support came in and destroyed…well, nothing, before it got chased off by Soviet missile fire.

My luck turned for the better about five turns in. With my tanks in position, I began directing plunging fire into the Soviet lead tank platoons, disrupting and reducing a few. Then disaster struck for Rick–a special scenario event rolled meant his objective had changed entirely! He now had to take Faulbach instead. Slowly his entire formation halted, turned around, and headed northeast in sight of my guns. By the time he was out of range, most of his tanks were gone. I quickly shifted my small force from the south to the north edge of the hill and waited. Eventually the Soviet infantry dismounted and began firing missiles at my tanks, causing me to lose half a platoon, but by then it was too late; my Brit tankers destroyed the rest of his units and headed back to base whistling merrily.

Rick’s dice were definitely against him in this game. He fired at my Chieftains several times and only managed to score a disrupt and a reduction on one of my platoons, while it seemed like my tanks couldn’t miss. However, I will say that it would have been a much different and bloodier outcome for my Brits had I not set up on the wooded hill. This gave my force two extra defense dice (1 for being at a higher elevation than the enemy forces, 1 for the woods) and thus a much better chance of ignoring hits. I think my use of the hill to slow down his force, then shifting positions to keep that good cover underscored one of the things I like about this game–that the terrain really matters and you need to plan ahead and use it to your advantage. Using it to mask or protect forces from enemy fire is key, but so is knowing when to move out of it.

Stay tuned for more World at War action on here in the near future. Russ and I will probably be playing again soon, and we’re talking about creating a campaign of sorts.

World at War: Blood and Bridges — Air Asset Imbalance?

March 22, 2011

Russ and I are both big fans of Mark Walker’s World at War series of games. We love us some Cold War gone hot, modern tanks rolling through the countryside of Western Europe, anti-tank missiles screaming down range, artillery strikes…it’s all good. We also like how World at War mimics the “organized chaos” of modern warfare (check out a great post on it here). But recently I thought I had found one sticking point, one thing that lessened my enjoyment of this series of games a bit. And that was the proliferation of air power in Blood and Bridges scenarios, especially when compared with the paucity of anti-aircraft weapons.

Playing the scenario “Separation,” I wondered how the Germans could win given their one SAM weapon v.s. two Hind helicopters and a Soviet airstrike. I wondered the same thing again when one blunder on Russ’s part (moving a self-propelled anti-aircraft unit so it was “ops complete” when my airstrike arrived on the scene) in “Calm Before the Storm” led to the total obliteration of two Chieftain platoons and their headquarters unit.

Burn, baby, burn!

After tallying up the aircraft and anti-aircraft assets used in the scenarios, it comes out pretty evenly: 27 v.s. 26. However, we must keep in mind that the aircraft are vastly more powerful than the anti-aircraft assets, with helicopters and airstrikes obliterating enemy targets relatively easily and surface-to-air missiles (SAMs) missing quite often, especially if the other player is careful to keep his valuable aircraft out of the way.

In most scenarios (but not all), the power of aircraft is mitigated somewhat by the inclusion of rules regarding missile depletion in helicopters. Also, some scenarios include the possibility of an air cover event, which allows a player to pounce on an enemy airstrike or helicopter when he chooses. However, these are determined randomly, as opposed to on board anti-aircraft assets like SAMs and self-propelled flak guns. Though I thoroughly enjoy the organized chaos of the World at War series, I think powerful helicopters and airstrikes aren’t always properly balanced out by anti-aircraft assets in scenarios like “Separation.”

Mind you, I’m not calling for fewer aircraft, but rather more SAMs and flak guns to oppose them! This will mean that players will feel less like they are at the mercy of the dice, praying for missile depletion or air cover, and more in control as they strategically place SAM teams and flak guns in woods, etc. As Russ and I play the series more, I’ll look for opportunities to tweak scenarios that seem a little off balance.

Yup. More missiles for our poor grunts.

So, have you seen an imbalance when it comes to aircraft v.s. anti-aircraft assets? What have you done to correct this? Or do you feel this perceived imbalance fades when playing point-based victory conditions? (Heck, those helicopters are worth quite a few points!)

World At War: Separation Session Report

February 15, 2010

22 May, 1985: 0630 hours. Oberst Meik von Rogers of the West Germany Army slammed his fist down on the radio in frustration. The sudden thunderstorm had thrown everything into chaos. The shattered elements of the 613th Panzers and the 182nd Panzer Grenadiers were streaming into his area of the battlefield with Soviet recon units hot on their heels. Everything was a mess. But if he could just get his sub-commanders to calm down, he might be able to salvage the situation…

Both teachers, Mike and I took our Presidents Day holiday to duke it out in the first Blood and Bridges scenario: Separation. The West German and Soviet forces are each trying to exit off their own map side, but begin the game in random places (possibly even beginning right next to each other!). Each player gets points for one thing: number of units exited off the map. Mike’s forces began concentrated in the northeast corner of the map in and around Faulbach. I, on the other hand, had my forces split: a weak motorized rifle company in the northwest and a small but powerful recon company in the southwest.

My plan was pretty simple: use the BTR armored personnel carriers to truck the infantry to Anhausen where they would set up a defensive position near the West German exit hex. At the same time, my recon BMPs and T-80s would take the small hill southeast of Anhausen, affording them good coverage of Mike’s northern approach route. Later, the BRDM armored cars and freed-up BTRs would race east to my exit hex and blast through.

Early on in the game, Mike slowly maneuvered his tanks west between Faulbach and Anhausen, taking potshots at my T-80s as he went. I quickly learned the danger of the slow-moving but powerfully armed M48s! He disrupted the T-80s which set me back on my heels a bit. However, things changed on Turn 3 when a Soviet airstrike decimated one platoon and the formation headquarters. Later, two Hind helicopters came roaring in and made quick work of the rest of Mike’s tanks. He placed his Redeye surface-to-air missiles in a sort of difficult spot and had to spend a few turns getting them into position. They got one shot off at my Hinds throughout the game, but missed and depleted their ammo.

I plunked the Hinds down in a copse of trees within 10 hexes of the West German units and they had control of most of his movement lanes for the entire game. These guys ended up taking out two platoons of tanks, one Marder platoon, and two infantry platoons! This was the first time I had played with helicopters and…man, they are deadly. Mike’s response to the Hind problem was to take a page from my playbook and set up an infantry ambush near my exit hex. A platoon with Milan ATGMs set up in the large hills south of Faulbach and nailed two armored car platoons before the helicopter chainguns chewed them up. With that out of the way, he had no appreciable anti-armor assets left and surrendered.

Upon further reflection, I think the West German forces are badly outmatched in this scenario. Sure they get more activations than their Soviet counterparts, but they have one anti-aircraft asset to fend off the Hinds and SU-25 airstrike. The addition of a Gepard self-prepared anti-aircraft unit would greatly help, as would some rules constraining the Hinds. In most scenarios, helicopters may only a) be on the map for a set number of turns, and/or b) be forced to exit permanently after an “ammo depleted” situation. Doing both of these things would even out this scenario quite a bit.

0815 hours. Colonel Ivan Rogashevsky exhaled slowly. His recon units had quickly found themselves cut off in the rain. But the West Germans had not been prepared for the air support that followed. It wasn’t so much his generalship as it was the superiority of his equipment, but he would still take the victory–and happily, too!

Oberst von Rogers makes the best of a bad situation.

The board at the end (click for a larger image).