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.

1024px-First_Bull_Run_July21am

“First Bull Run July 21 am” by Hal Jespersen, cwmaps.com 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!

Fortress Europa Pt 5

Tonight may be the penultimate session of Fortress Europa.  My dad and I got together last weekend and played while football was on.

We’ve fought to something of a stalemate, but considering this is WWII, that is not a good thing for the Allies.  Like in my last update, I’m several months behind the historical Allied progress.  I’ve finally made it to the Siegfried line, but even weak units are nearly invincible when in a fortress in the mountains and across a river.  It’s do or die time, so I’m forced to make repeated attacks at unfavorable odds.  My dad has opted to sacrifice his armored reinforcements for the rest of the game to take advantage of the Panzer Reserve rule; by withdrawing a little over half a dozen units in mid-fall and forfeiting any tank reinforcements for the rest of the game, on the first December turn, lots of the SS Panzer units I had killed earlier are rebuilt and redeployed.  Even with the massive reinforcements, my dad couldn’t get decent enough odds to launch a ‘Battle of the Bulge’ counterattack.  Which means there are tons of heavy tanks in impregnable fortifications rather than out as sitting ducks in the woods between the Meuse and Moselle.  “Hitler decides against launching a massive Panzer offensive through a dense forest?  Brilliant!”

Imagine how hard it would've been for us to fight through all of those red lines if they hadn't run out of gas in the forests west of the Rhine!

Imagine how hard it would’ve been for us to fight through all of those red lines if they hadn’t run out of gas in the middle of a forest west of the Rhine!

The Brits had been stalling out for some time in their own theatre, and it got to the point where I needed to just land a bunch of Americans in the north to get the job done.  I’ve managed to push through the Low Countries now and my only real chance at winning is by maneuvering around the Germans’ fortified lines and causing a systematic collapse.  My dad has refused his northern flank, but if I can get decent enough weather to fly some ground support missions, I might be able to break through.

Now that we’re reaching the end, I can see and account for all of the mistakes I’ve made.

Partisans – Even though they’re a VERY minor factor, not using my French partisans could’ve swung the game in my dad’s favor.  The Partisans are not actually a combat unit, but can be placed out at the beginning of a turn to disrupt rail movement through one hex so long as they’re not in an enemy zone of control or within so many hexes of an SS unit.

Consolidation – I spent too much time consolidating my forces and securing Brittany.  Even though my delays meant that the German forces in other districts were unable to respond, meaning I could get overwhelming numbers into France against those defenses, it cost me time that would’ve been better spent pushing forward.  The troops I sent into southern France and Italy would’ve been better in the north and central theatres and I should’ve left those areas for the Free French in Africa to handle.

Paratroopers – Most of my paradrops were used to harry German HQs.  I would drop a few elite units behind German lines, get 6-1 odds on OB West or whomever, crush it, and then be overrun by Germans who were making their slow withdraw to the Rhine.  I probably should’ve used them to get better odds against forces on the wrong side of rivers.  The few places where a strategic paradrop would’ve been helpful, either bad weather or bad timing prevented me from making the most of it.

One of the most striking parts of playing Fortress Europa is how different the gameplay is for each player.  My turns as the Allies would be 10-20+ minutes agonizing over my forces, shuffling around trying to get decent odds, tallying the strength points of all the units involved and writing them down so I wouldn’t have to recount all of my pieces for each fight and refigure the odds (because I just can’t keep track of the values of 50 counters and odds for 5-10 attacks in my head).  I’d roll through my attacks, retreat units, and do it all over again (but with reduced movement allowance and no air support) for the second impulse.  Conversely, as the Germans, my dad watches and says “Okay” when the units retreat or “Shit” when they die, then on his turn spends four or five minutes to moves the guys on the frontlines back a few hexes, moves reinforcements from the Homeland, repositions his HQs, and at most makes one attack on an Allied division that somehow got isolated at half-strength in a hex by itself.  He does enjoy playing as the Germans because he’s really good at ‘fighting retreats’, but I can’t help but feel strange that my turns have made up 3/4s of the game time.  On the plus side, it’s given him time to read the Summer 1947 Issue of Planet Stories that I’m loaning him while he takes his turns.

I’ll admit that I can’t recommend Fortress Europa as strongly as some of the other games we’ve played.  Though at a glance, it looks similar to Bar-Lev, the latter feels much more fast paced, and the tit-for-tat combat in which both combatants roll their odds at each engagement is more enjoyable than the Attacker-only combat table rolled on a D6.  There’s way more luck involve in an attack because of the Combat Results table since getting favorable odds is difficult without use of airplanes and even then can result in the awful “Defender Retreat”, and no strategy can make up for consistently rolling bad (unlike a game like Civil War).  It has a degree of nostalgia to it, and it IS neat that it includes division, battalion and platoon counters that correspond to their historical counterparts (there is even a fun but useless 150th SS Panzer Brigade 1 strength Panzer unit that can ignore American ZOC or the Voltron-like British 79th Armoured with combat engineering abilities), but there are probably better WWII games out there.

Fortress Europa (cont) – Allied Fail

I think my Dad may finally break my streak.  Despite having a phenomenal start following D-Day, some unfortunate rolls (retreating Nazis & bad weather) and poor strategic choices have been costly.  The US armor getting bogged down by trying to cut around the south of the Massif Central to get behind the German lines only to get bottled up in the Rhone & Saone Valleys has probably hurt me the worst.  I should’ve launched my second invasion against Marseilles rather than La Rochelle, but I wanted to mix it up a bit. There were also some minor mistakes that proved major, like having an HQ just one hex shy of being able to land paratroopers in Antwerp; if I’d been able to do that, I could have landed several armor divisions behind the fleeing Wehrmacht.  Instead, I’m having to fight for every inch of ground, and my dad has made the best of the terrain in eastern France.

I don’t know if I’m “losing” or if I’m going to lose the game, but I’m faring much poorer than the Allies did historically.  This map is shows operations from late August to mid-September.  The green is about how far I’ve managed to push and the purple is where my Dad’s line is holding.  It’s the end of October and I haven’t reached the Siegfried line.

Fortress Europa

We’re going to try to wrap things up this weekend.

The origin of “Gamer”, a brief history of women in early gaming, and board games

This article on Medium is pretty awesome.  It focuses largely on my own gaming background, which is not video games, not Dungeons & Dragons, but classic war games.

Apparently the demographic skew of hardcore gaming (there is nothing more hardcore than little cardboard squares in piles representing panzer divisions pressing across the Ardennes) has always been fairly overwhelming.  In fact, for over 100 years now, gamers (or at least HG Wells) have been complaining that ladies don’t understand or look down upon their Small Wars.  While there’ve been a lot of studies into modern video games & gaming demographics, I’ve yet to see any serious studies as to why so few women are interested in hex & chit style war games, even one that just says “women gamers see women as being wholly marginalized by depersonalized male fighting forces controlled by the player in abstract as some disembodied uber general”.  One can’t make any argument about representation in these games (sure, there’s a leader unit piece for Eowyn in the SPI Gondor game, but that’s all I can think of off the top of my head); you can imagine, I suppose, that within these entirely abstract ‘strength points’ or units there might be women fighters or support units that you could pretend are there, but really it’s just a cardboard square with some numbers and something like crossed swords or a box with an x in it.

Molly Pitcher's in there somewhere!  Can you spot her?

Molly Pitcher’s in there somewhere! Can you spot her?

Though I haven’t bothered to keep my readers up to date with a play-by-play of my dad & I’s game of 1776, as I fear I might bore, I’ll probably give a detailed run-down once things are over.  (It’s December 1778, the French have arrived, given the colonists a fighting chance, but the war is far from won; my girlfriend is baffled that after 4 weeks, we’re only a little half-way through with our game.)