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!)


Even Wittmann’s Ghost Couldn’t Save Them

March 6, 2011

Today we played the fourth scenario in the World At War: Death of the First Panzer game. It was titled “Wittmann’s Ghost,” a homage to the most famous German tank ace of WWII. On one side was Oberst Russell, trying to take back the town of Walkerburg from the Soviets with his West German forces. On the other side was Polkovnik John (me) and my commissar Comrade Kateri, defending the town with the glorious troops of Mother Russia.

The West Germans had two separate forces, a few platoons of Leopards coming from the north and a company of mechanized infantry heading in from the west. Standing in their way were elements of a Soviet airborne division, complete with a platoon of air-dropped self-propelled guns (ASU-85s). The three forces made contact early as Soviet Sagger teams and anti-tank guns opened fire on the German panzers and infantry fighting vehicles alike, but then inflicted little damage. Soon a company of T-72s arrived on the scene, taking light losses as they charged across the map to engage a rush of infantry fighting vehicles.

Things descended into a whirling melee during the mid-game, with T-72s and Soviet infantry slugging it out at close quarters with the West Germans. The Soviet tanks took pretty heavy losses, but they got the job done and eventually obliterated the West German mechanized infantry company, leaving only smoking hulks on the hill south of Walkerburg. Russ’s Leopards came on strong, eliminating and disrupting a few platoons of Soviet infantry, but after a short while, the combined firepower of the Soviets was too much for the Deutsche, and they quit the field.

This short, small scenario was a bit of a rollercoaster ride. I thought early on that I would be turned into mincemeat, but soon realized that there was only a small area of open terrain that my T-72s would have to cross before making it to a long ridge on the south edge of the map. I used this to shield my tanks from Russ’s deadly Leopards for as long as possible, which allowed me to concentrate the majority of my forces on the mechanized infantry, destroying them outright before the whole lot turned on the Leopards.

I was reminded tonight why I enjoy the World at War system so much–it’s a simple ruleset that I can not touch for months, then pick up in fifteen minutes and feel competent with. Plus, the carnage on the field after a scenario is just great to see!

Unfortunately, the Black Baron's ghost did not aid the West Germans.


Closing Ceremonies at the Summer of Victory III

September 20, 2010

Between Memorial and Labor Day, those most American of holidays, I always make it a point to declare, “This summer is the summer of victory!” Alas, it was not so this summer. But the fates were against me, I tell you. Not only was I busy writing my master’s thesis, but my wife ended up on bedrest too as we awaited the birth of our first child. And Her Royal Cuteness came a few weeks early, roughly eight days before the summer was over. So it’s not my fault, I swear.

I’m sorry to report it was a summer of defeat, though by a relatively small margin. I played 38 games and won 17, a respectable .447 win average. I also played a nice mix of games, from Cribbage and Carcassonne to the World at War series and Washington’s War.  And there actually is a small glimmer of hope in all the number crunching. In two player games, I was 15-1-2, a phenomenal record in a wide variety of war and deep strategy games. I’m hoping this means good things when Joe returns from active duty (though he’ll probably still stomp me).

So although it wasn’t a “summer of victory” in the way I wanted, it was still an enjoyable few months of gaming. And these days, I’m learning all sorts of new tricks, including…how to game with a newborn in my arms. Awesome.


Battlefield Chaos

February 23, 2010

The past five games I have played have all been from the World at War series. I’ve enjoyed my immersion in the game as it has allowed me to learn the rules, be a better players, teach the game, and develop sound strategies.

For me, one of the defining characteristics of the War at War series is the activation method. Formations are activated based on a blind chit pull. Soviet formations get one activation chit, while NATO units get two. This is meant to represent the better training and initiative of the NATO forces; the force multiplier, so to speak. However, Soviet formations are larger than NATO formations. Also, into the blind pull go end-of-turn markers. The number of markers is based on the scenario, usually two, but pull two end-of-turn markers and the turn is over.

Random activation makes for a wild experience and a grand departure from the normal turn taking in all the other games I’ve played. Proper deployment of your forces at any moment is vital. To me, the combination of random activation and positioning strategy meshes well with my idea of modern warfare.

In this game, the player isn’t some general pushing blocks around a map in an air-conditioned room. He’s the commander in the middle of a raging battlefield desperately defending a city, while trying to mount a counter-attack and convince HQ to sent him some air support for once. In this game, players must accept that some things are beyond their control.

The Blood and Bridges expansion adds to this turmoil by adding a Battlefield Chaos marker and air support to the blind pull. The Battlefield Chaos marker represents everything from weather to air cover to the situation elsewhere and HQ pulling or lending support. It is an interesting mechanic and one that can totally change the nature of the game.

This was the case when I played as the British in the defense of Dattenburg against John’s Soviets. I had forced John’s units into single bottleneck approach to the city. The 1st King’s Regiment had take up a defensive position in the city and provided overwatch for the Royal Lancers who had moved out to harry the Soviets approach. And a Royal Tank Regiment was on their way to provide reinforcements and the heavy punch to keep the Soviet from crossing the Rhine. I was quite happy with my position when the Battlefield Chaos marker was drawn and a think fog covered the area. Suddenly, all my fighting ranges were reduced. The Royal Lancers’ ambush couldn’t go off. And even worse, the overwatch couldn’t cover them any more. Suffice to say, the Soviets made quick work of the Lancers and my game went down hill from there.

I know for some players, this would be unacceptable. A perfect plan ruined by a totally random event! But, I placed myself in the role of the beleaguered Brit commander trying to defend West Germany against the totalitarian forces. At the end of the day, Dattenburg was lost and it was best to retreat with the remain forces and live to fight again another day. Perhaps it is the fictional nature of this game, WWIII started by a Soviet invasion of Germany, that allows me more leeway when playing this game. Or perhaps is an understanding of history and how the tides of battles were often changed by weather or the smallest events.

But, I keep coming back to this game, because it is fun (randomness included), plays fast, and offers surprising depth.


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).


World at War: The Defense of Klappebruck Session Report

February 11, 2010

[Note: I played this scenario by myself in order to fully understand the basic rules of the World at War system before teaching it to two people later on in the week.]

Defending Klappebruck in World at War: Eisenbach Gap is no easy task for NATO forces. Team Bravo has a handful of M1 Abrams tanks, an ITV (improved TOW vehicle) platoon, some infantry units, a couple of M-113 armored personnel carriers, and an attachment of TOW jeeps. At setup, I think about placing my hard hitters on the south edge of the map to achieve quick kills. However, I remember this was Russ’s mistake last time we played the scenario–setting up too close to the map edge results in a lot of dead NATO units (the Russians activate first, after all!). With this in mind, I set forces in the woods east of Klappebruck and my M1 platoon on the large hill west of Klappebruck. These areas offer a lot of narrow (1-hex) firing lanes to destroy the Soviets piecemeal. The Soviet setup is a lot more straightforward. I do my best to ensure the HQ is safe, but still able to call in a smoke mission on the all-important first dash to cover.

Original setup (click for a larger image)

Final setup (click for a larger image)

In the opening turns, the Soviet forces do just that, racing across the wide open gap on the map’s southern edge to shelter in the forest. Smoke blinds the U.S. HQ in Klappebruck proper, but the M1s and ITVs disrupt and eventually destroy two BMP platoons east of Lansamen. Most of the Soviets make it to the forest though, and crawl through to the northern edge just shy of the river; U.S. ITVs see this coming and get out just in time.

In the mid-game, the Soviets basically bog down as they try to pry U.S. infantry and TOW jeeps out of the forest just north of the river. A big problem here is that no Soviet markers are pulled for a turn or two, which wastes the turn 2-4 free activations. Despite turns of ATGM and cannon fire, coupled with two HE artillery strikes, it takes quite a while for the Americans to be destroyed and they take a couple of BMP platoons and Soviet infantry platoons with them! From my perspective as the U.S. commander, I wait until just before that group breaks, and immediately plug the hole with my last infantry platoon, causing the entire cycle to start all over again. Meanwhile, I shift the M1s and ITVs to the large hill west of Klappebruck, which denies the Soviets a clear assault lane to the town.

Seven turns in, the Soviets are pinned in the forest (click for a larger image)

The tide of battle eventually turns, but far too late for the Soviets to win. They destroy two infantry platoons, some Dragons, and the TOW jeep platoon, but in the meantime the M1s have shifted to Eisenbach and are laying down withering long-range fire. Soviet infantry assaults the ITVs in Klappebruck, destroying them them, but the infantry runs out of time before getting to Birghoff. The final score is as follows:

US losses: 2 x infantry with Dragons, ITV, TOW jeep, M113
US remaining: M1, m113,  HQ

Soviet losses: 5 x BMP, T-62, 3 x infantry platoons,  1 x Sagger.
Soviet remaining: infantry w/Sagger, infantry, reduced HQ, reduced BMP, reduced infantry, T-62, reduced T-62

Hexes controlled: U.S. has Eisenbach and Birhoff (6 total), Soviets have Lansamen and Klappebruck (2 total)

The table at the end (click for a larger image)

In the final analysis, my Soviet plan of attack was too cautious and one-sided. I left myself no alternate routes of attack, and was too afraid to sacrifice some BMPs to knock out the M1s. This limited me to one assault plan, and when that didn’t succeed as quickly as I had hoped, I was pretty much sunk. The Americans, on the other hand, did pretty well despite heavy losses. In the future, I want to try to fall back a bit more quickly, which will force the Soviets to redeploy on multiple occasions. Playing this scenario also alerted me to the critical importance of using cover (especially your own wrecked forces!) to increase the lifespan of units. It also reminded me to use bounding overwatch as much as possible in the future.

In the coming weeks, expect to see an “Inside the Box” on World at War: Blood and Bridges, and a few session reports as Russ and I continue to duke out WW III.