Monday, 16 April 2012

Game 7 : Russian Winter Offensive

This was the seventh game at the Situation room and was effectively the first anniversary of gaming. Its amazing to look at the amount of kit and terrain that is here now, compared to a year ago when the first game was played!
This game was trying to be different again. The scenario was a Russian Winter Offensive. For this, they had 2 Tank Divisions, 3 Infantry Divisions, 2 Independent Tank Brigades, 2 Reconnaissance Btns and 2 Artillery Divisions. Pre-planned barrage artillery was also available using a points system with different costs for different calibres (the higher the calibre, the higher the cost so less overall). Barrage fire was also a fixed 12" by 12" size and counted as a smoke screen for the turn when landed. These mechanics were taken from Cornish Combat Command rules. Its a quick and easy way to do pre-planned fire.
The Germans had a single Motorised Division in defence. The scenario was to have the Russians launch an offensive over an impassable river, seize the 3 main towns and stop any German counter-attack. To make this possible, the Russians could deploy 6 bridges overnight prior to the assault without detection. In addition, there were mechanics for repairing blown bridges (3 of them) over the river.
The Germans needed to hold out and then counter-attack with reinforcements. As another new approach for us, we adopted the hidden deployment and reconnaissance system from Cornish Combat Command. In essence, numbered markers are placed on table. Off-table, there is a duplicate sheet with the marker numbers and hidden troops are deployed here. Dummy counters are also allowed, we used up to 33% and then a reconnaissance "battle" is played prior to the game start and Russian deployment, to see what defensive positions or actual troops are discovered.
Need less to say and with over 20 years experience of organising very large games, this game didn't go as I envisaged! More on that after the brief account.

Pictures 1 & 2 show the battlefield with the Russian start lines to the left of the picture where you can just make out the river. Piccy 3 shows a ground level shot taken from behind the German lines, I just thought it looked quite effective. There were 3 towns, roughly equally spaced. The central town had heavier cover than the other two.
It was apparent fairly quickly that this game would play enormously different. Using hidden deployment meant that the Russian advance was more cautious that in previous games where all the kit was always deployed. In addition, German artillery on the defensive side was to play quite a dominant part, even though it was limited in numbers.The next piccy shows the central town, this would eventually see the Russians take the front part but exhaust 2 Divsions of infantry in doing so.

You can see the numbered markers used for hidden deployment. The problem for an attacker is not knowing if anything is there but more how much?
The Russians attacked along the front. On their right, the main push was by the Independent tank brigades of KV1s and T34s. In the whole main part of the game, the Germans only had 1 Tank Btn of 37mm armed PzIIIs and a company of PzIVs. This battalion was held in reserve in the centre.

The Germans tried to ambush this attack by using an armoured car squadron hidden behind cover. It never really worked as the Russians moved along the road and blocked the exit of the cover with a KV1. It nearly worked! However, what was clear that tanks, any tanks, unsupported bu infantry, cannot take built up areas. The tanks were eventually ambushed by an Pak 35 firing stick bombs and slowly, but surely, degrade by anti-tank rifle fire (critical hits) and persistent artillery. In fact, as a cameo action from the game, it was a great example a battalion of infantry in good cover fending off unsupported armour.
On the opposite flank it was the infantry attacking without a lot of armour support. The result was the same.

The Russian infantry would eventually get armoured support in the manner of KV2s and T28s and make some progress.
However, the Russian commander made the point that he was using a regiment of infantry to clear each building. Towns are nearly impossible nuts to crack. This was also a game in which the quality of the Russians was the highest we had ever used. There were Russian units that were superior to the Germans, not only kit but morale, firing ability and damage absorption ability. The one that came to mind was the Russian T34 Independent tank Brigade. You literally had to kill it, bit by bit. The days of Russians crumbling easily on morale was not too prevalent, although infantry battalions caught in the open by German artillery were usually badly mauled or annihilated.

This show the Russian armour on the right flank redeploying to the centre after concluding that towns and tanks don't really mix. In the foreground you can see burning Russian tanks and German armoured cars. The town was to remain in German hands.
In the centre the battle started off one sided as the Germans got to ambush the Russians. Again, a difference for this game is a Russian smoke screen, used to cover their advance.

The Russian attack in the centre petered out as it was clear that the un-committed German Motorised troops were able to pick the point to reinforce. We had played this game for about 3 days in all and were all quite tired (some small amounts of liquor may have had an influence on this). My idea of using German reinforcements wasn't really needed, the Germans had held the main line.
My surprise was that this was made possible by the hidden deployment and its influence on the game and how it would play had taken me by surprise. Also, the manoeuvrability of the Russians over the river with 6 bridges and the potential for 3 more, had surprised me at how slow it was. This is all good as it shows me as the game designer what factors heavily influence playability. I hope this then results in better, more challenging games. But as long as we all continue to have a good time!!

Lastly, a piccy of the players. I played German with Peter, Gordon, Graham and Steve played the Russians. Oh, and more champagne!!!!!!!!
Keep an eye on this blog because I'll shortly post a Napoleonics update!!!!!!!