New Wargame Wednesday Series: Battle of the Bulge

It’s been awhile since I’ve had time to document my wargaming here or at Castalia House, so I thought it would be worth highlighting that I’ve got a new one going that will carry us through into the new year.

Recently, I finished a series of Avalon Hill’s The Battle of the Bulge, which I’ll be going over in-depth at Castalia House.

Spoilers, the Nazis went 1-3, with two crushing defeats, a razor thin game-loss and one Strategic Victory (Two mechanized corps across the Meuse, in supply, on their way to Antwerp). But stay tuned each week to find out just how it went down!

This has been one of my favorite games in ages.

Been playing a beer & pretzels Russian Front game the last couple weeks, and may give a run down on those, but it’s been awhile since I’ve gone all out reviewing a game like Battle of the Bulge.

Part 1

Part 2

Also, playing BotB led to an impulse-buy of a biography of Skorzeny (there are special rules for his operation griffon commandos and the 150th Panzer); I don’t know that I’ll be getting many posts out of that (though I may yell at people on twitter about stuff). Still, if I ever run a “Nazis in Pellucidar” game again, I’ll probably make Skorzeny the big-bad.


Bull Run, pt. 3 (Wrap up)

In the end, Bull Run may have looked closer than it actually was. By the time the Union got moving and threatened my position in Manassas, I had far too much strength already bearing down on Centreville.

To make matters worse for the Union, the artillery regiments arrived with very little support, so that Hampton’s Legion and a few of Kirby Smith’s boys were able to ride out and harass the van while several regiments of confederate artillery made the odds astronomical. The benefits to this were two-fold: one Union infantry regiment routed was small potatoes, but having two regiments on the main road between the Union army and Manassas would buy at least a half hour before the Union could coordinate an attack on my camp. Worst case, Hampton routes, Kirby rallies his regiment back in Manassas while he sends fresh troops to stand in the way of the Union advance. The best case ended up happening and my troops on the road simply retreated back to the camp.

Further north, I had five brigades bearing down on Centreville. Jones ended up going fully around to the north from the east, forcing my dad to create a thin line to hold him off. Ewell kept pressure on the flanks with help from Holmes, while Jackson and Longstreet pressed upon on the Union camp with 8 regiments between them from the south. With Jones cutting off any retreat, the Union troops in camp were completely surrounded and surrendered around 4 in the afternoon of July 21, 1861. Presumably the bulk of the Union army spent the rest of the evening retreating round-robin by way of Sudley Springs in hopes of keeping Beauregard from threatening Washington.

Next week, we’ll be starting Air Assault on Crete. Now THAT looks like it will be one hell of a complicated game.

Bull Run Pt. 2

The first part of our playthrough of Avalon Hill’s Bull Run can be found here.

My dad & my first play through of Bull Run is turning into a big flanking battle: we’re each delivering a strong punch from our right as our lefts collapse.  The question is who will deliver the knockout blow first?

We’ve made it into early afternoon and don’t anticipate the battle reaching evening.  Bee and Bartow’s brigades were surrounded and routed from hillock just northeast of New Market, but they managed to slow the Union advance just enough to allow a number of highly beneficial pieces to fall in place for the Rebs.  EK Smith arrived by train in time to ensure that my camp in Manassas won’t be a gimme.  Stuart along with some of Smith’s rear-guard regiments have been able to pick off the union men who got too far ahead of their column.  Meanwhile, Longstreet and “Rolling Thunder”(as he will be known hereafter in this alternate universe) Jackson have been making a coordinated push through the woods towards Centerville as Beauregard has ridden out with Ewell to attack the Union HQ from the East.

Early game, Command Path rules did not seem like a huge deal, especially when regiments were being automatically activated by proximity to enemy units.  Mid game, this turned into a real game changer.  With Confederate troops suddenly eliminated from Henry Hill to Flat Run, the Union commanders suddenly found themselves at a loss for what to do.  McDowell had ridden out back across the river down Warrenton Pike to shepherd a desperately needed relief brigade towards Centerville that had four brigades bearing down on it, leaving the bulk of the Union Army without orders.  McDowell literally spent two hours riding back and forth while three and a half divisions of Union troops sat with virtually nothing between them and Manassas!

My own issues with Command Path seem rather minor in comparison.  With both Jo Johnston and Pete Beauregard respectively leading the charge and flank through the woods south of Centerville, my batteries overlooking Blackburn’s and McLean’s Fords, as well as the infantry guarding the Union Mills Ford, have been left without orders.


“First Bull Run July 21 am” by Hal Jespersen, CC by 3.0 via Commons

Bull run map

Troop movements from morning until early afternoon.  Crosses where Confederate Brigades have been routed.  (original image from BGG).

My dad thinks I’ve won.  I think he may still have a chance to dislodge Smith if plays a hurry-up offence.  I’ve gone for an all or nothing gambit, as there’s no way I can hold that little church (red starred hex, lower portion of 2nd map board from left) for another 10 or so turns.  I’m hoping I have enough numbers I can overcome even the relief forces reaching Centerville, but a series of bad rolls could stall me out.  We’re already talking about setting up Malta next time we get together, so this game will hinge on the next few turns around Centerville I’m guessing.

One last note, It turns out that there’s very little “rallying” going on.  It could just be the way we’ve been playing, but by noon, all of my commanders were too busy driving towards the enemy or too busy being dead/captured/fleeing for their lives to spend a turn rallying a regiment.  The great mid-day stall-out of the Union advance gave my dad a chance to pull a few guys from the Rally-box, but the overwhelming majority of guys who go there are probably gone for good.

Weekend Haul + Updates (Appendix N Book and Wargame Wednesdays)

I’d been getting better about my book buying, but being in the same town as one of the best flea market book-stores in the state over the weekend meant another stack of paperbacks to add to my To-Read pile.  I’m being a bit more judicious about what I grab, simply because I have so much already, but I did not want to pass some of these up:  Sword of Rhiannon (Brackett), Hiero’s Journey (Lanier), Berserker (Saberhagen), a crumbly Incompleat Enchanter (deCamp) that was thrown in for free on account of being crumbly, as well as a book each by Norman Spinrad and Philip Jose Farmer (I don’t remember the titles offhand).  I passed up a pretty sweet looking Gardner F. Fox book in part because I’ve already got a huge stack of him in unread magazines (including the next story I have to read in the Fall 1945 Planet Stories!), but I may pick it up some other time if I make more headway in my stacks.

One guy at one of the place who has all sorts of cool toys and magazines and stuff (who I got some Astounding from before) continued to posture about how rare and expensive and hard to find Planet Stories was when I asked if he’d seen them (“Oh, some of them go for over a hundred bucks!” “most of the ones I’ve found, I’ve got for $8-$12, and I’ve got about a dozen of them” “Oh, well they must not’a known what they had!”), so if I’m going to keep collecting them, I’m probably going to need to turn to eBay (where they still mostly cost around $8-$12).  Then again, I really need to read all (or some) of what I have first.  These magazines have waited 70 years for me, they can wait until I’ve at least finished half of the stack I’ve got.

I’m about halfway through Sceptre of Morgulan, and I have so many thoughts about it, especially in light of Matthew Ryan’s guest post in which he cites Tolkien as one of his biggest influences.  His own tale is very un-Tolkienien, and while the D&D influence is obvious, the output is much more in line with pre-Shannara fantasy than it is with the sort of ‘pink-slime’ fantasy that normally comes out of D&D + Tolkien.  I am not kidding when I say it’s like “vampire-hunting in Lankhmar”.  Can the process be reversed?  Can Appendix N-like stories be extracted from D&D + Tolkien by someone who has paid careful enough attention to the implicit setting and mechanical minutia of demonology even without the benefit of directly having been influenced by those things literary forebears?  Am I giving Ryan too much or too little credit?  I don’t know, but his books are amazing and a breath of fresh air!

Jeffro’s at one of those stages of “done” with his Appendix N book that is somewhere between “completed” and “finished”, but when it is done done, you can bet I’ll be buying copies for my friends and try to bully local book clubs into reading it.  I’m hoping he will go for multiple formats, including a coffee-table edition with Doug Kovacs or Erol Otis dust jacket for myself and a student’s paperback edition I can snap up a few of for everyone else.

I was going to announce this earlier, but Wednesday came and went and a few hiccups resulted in delays, but everything’s good now.  I’ll be writing an occasional piece at Castalia House for Wargame Wednesdays.  I will not be moving my entire posting series over there, since there is a rotating weekly group of writers, but generally speaking, I’ll be featuring the first of whatever series I’m covering over there and the rest over here.  So, uh.  Avalon Hill’s Bull Run pt. 1 is up!  Part two will go up here tomorrow or Wednesday.

Fortress Europa Take 2 Pt. 2

The important lesson learned in this rather shorter playthrough of Fortress Europa is to not leave Holland a tempting enough invasion site.  If the Allies can be contained here, they will be bottled up worse than any other landing zone with the fewest eligible ports to increase their supply capacity.  On the other hand, if they are able to break-out, there will be no containing them at all and the German forces will be totally unable to form an effective line.

I’ve managed to keep a strongpoint at the north end of the Siegfried line that may very well remain for the rest of the game, but other than serve as a mild distraction, I don’t think they will be able to make a game-changing difference.  As the coastal gunners leave their post and hop on trains back to German, paratroops and commandos have seized both Brittany and the French Riviera, and the Pas de Calais has folded to the massive second wave invasion.  Brussels and Paris have fallen and American mechanized cavalry has nothing but a few volksturm between them and the victory objectives in Germany.

My one stroke of brilliance which gives me something of a sense of victory as I go down in flames: I managed to land some Luftwaffe behind the British lines to take out their main HQ.  The British northern flank around Bremen crumbled in disarray upon news that Bernie Montgomery died in a hail of gunfire as an entire division of Fallschirmjäger landed right in the middle of the 21st Army Group’s command camp.

I’ve been fairly generous in letting my dad move his HQs up to ensure that his troops are in supply if he forgot to move them in the second impulse (family after all), but there was no getting around a dozen British units cut off from any other allied supply.  It let me regain a small foothold in northern Germany, which might buy me time for my September reinforcements (the first substantial that the Germans get) to arrive, but with most of the fortifications gone and southern Germany almost forfeit, it won’t tide me over for another 15+ turns.

Next session will almost certainly be the last.

Tomorrow: Why is a 14+ strong DCC party the most craven group of adventurers I’ve ever been a part of?

Fortress Europa Take 2 pt 1

I have the feeling that this is going to be a relatively short game.* My dad decided to land his forces in Holland and overran the Germans there before I had time to blow the dykes. Just a few turns in, he managed to knock out all of my elite SS Panzer divisions, through combinations of overwhelming odds, lucky rolls and trapping a few of my stacks between multiple allied ZOC.

I’ve managed to create some strong points in a few areas, but there’s no way that I’ll be able to hang on for another 30 turns, with allies pouring into Amsterdam and just a few hexes outside of Bremen . I mean, it’s not August 1944 yet! My dad still has one more invasion he can launch, and I’ve already denuded most of the coastal defenses so as to put as many half-strength infantry divisions on the trains as I can to get them back to Germany.

On the plus side, while he’s been taking his turns, I’ve had a chance to start reading the Fall 1945 issue of Planet Stories. Also, I’ve downloaded Panzer General out of nostalgia (I’ve got the disc, okay); now I just need to get it configured on DosBox.

*I told my girlfriend this. She asked how short. I told her it would probably be over in about two or three weeks. The idea that a 9-12 hour Avalon Hill wargame is short still breaks her mind and sends her into fits.

Fortress Europa Pt 7 (conclusion and reset)

Last night, it was pretty clear that I would be fighting for the draw.  The question was whether I could push the Germans out of Frankfurt, and the answer was ultimately no.  Even though I scored some crushing victories, the final February turn my attacks were repulsed or Nazis in the rough received the dreaded “DR” retreat, meaning that they got to camp out where they were.  10-1 odds against a half-strength infantry and a brigade of artillery ended with no results.  These defeats killed even the slightest chance of reaching Nurnberg, but I still had a chance at Frankfurt.  In March, the last of the British threw everything they had against the city and managed to drive out the Volksturm, but in trying to take the city, they had to take fire from the troops across the Main and were ultimately unable to hold the city.

While it’s unquestionable that the Allies will win the war, even in the position I’ve left them, the game ended up being a narrow victory for the German player.

Though my dad is incredibly excited to try out the Bull Run game, he wanted to make one more go at Fortress Europa, this time as the Allies.  I’m more than happy to oblige, but I’ll be sure to bring the next issue of Planet Stories with me to read while he takes his turns.

I’m trying to convince him that he should launch the primary Allied invasion in the Netherlands.  I’ve left it ill-defended, however it will put the Invasion Response Force within a single turn’s movement (even with my rail capacity bombed to crap this turn) of landing forces.  The advantage in taking the Netherlands would be that it would open an avenue straight into Germany without having to fight across the Pas de Calais.  On the other hand, it would make the primary Allied game objective of taking Paris next to impossible.  I’ve already allowed, however, that SHOULD the Allied forces somehow take all of the key cities in Germany, the German forces isolated in western France would probably surrender.  I’ll have to check the supply rules to see how that would actually work out, but I’d imagine that HQs that could not somehow trace their line back to a rail connected to Germany would not be able to keep any German troops in supply.  A turn or two of that and they’d be wiped out anyway.

Minor update:
Damn, seeing Jeffro post about Federation Commander really makes me want to crack open Imperium and give it another go.  I probably haven’t played that one since I was 10.  I know it wasn’t one of the greatest games, but man, how can you not love a game with space ships!  I mean, come on, it has a Glory marker!