Otto Skorzeny – Supervillain Extraordinaire

I spent a decent chunk of November playing Avalon Hill’s the Battle of Bulge (which you can read about at Castalia House). One of the neat little things about the game was that it included pieces and rules for Operation Greif and the Einheit Stielau mission. Otto Skorzeny was charged with sending English-speaking commando units in American uniforms to secure bridgeheads along the Meuse and create general havoc in the rear while a brigade of armor using refitted US tanks and Jeeps (ultimately most of this force was made up piecemeal of camouflaged German vehicles) exploited the chaos of the first day to push ahead with the retreating American columns. While the mission was not particularly effective tactically, it created massive paranoia in the deep Allied rear, with speculation that anyone and everyone could be a secret German spy, possibly trying to assassinate Eisenhower. In game, this amounted to four 0-strength units that have a chance to delay allied units moving through towns and junctions (if they aren’t ‘found out’ and eliminated) and a single piece for the 150th Pz, an average strength armor unit with a special Day-one ability to move after combat, instead of before, and ignore ZOC.

Anyway, when I was at the local indie bookstore picking up Christmas gifts, I saw and picked up a copy of Glenn B. Infield’s “Skorzeny: Hitler’s Commando”. After finishing it, my dad loaned me his copy of Charles Foley’s Commando Extraordinary.

Foley presents Skorzeny as a noble man, a brave soldier, and a hero. Yes, yes, he was all of those things during the war, Infield concurs—also, Otto Skorzeny is Red Skull.


The similarities and contrasts of the two biographies were fascinating. Both acknowledge Skorzeny’s cunning, heroism, daring, and bravery—his operation to rescue Mussolini by crash-landing gliders on a mountain top was the stuff of legends that made him a hero at home and earned him the begrudging respect of the Allies, and that was just one of many feats. While Foley’s book is not quite a hagiography, it’s certainly the sort of biography I’d want written about me if I were planning to become an international supervillain. Beginning with a wistful account from a British Commando about the brotherhood between all special forces and how the testimony of fellow commandos spared Skorzeny from the noose, it’s almost shocking that so glowing an account of an enemy’s war-time feats could be written and published not ten years after the fact. The Skorzeny that Foley portrays is one who is a good and decent man who just wants to live and let live, let by-gones be by-gones, put the war behind him and move on with his life.

Infield’s book, compiled and published around 25 years after Foley’s has the benefit of hindsight and declassified documents. While the first chunk of the book covered much the same ground, the remaining two thirds were devoted to his time after the war, including a much more thorough account of his time as a POW and his exploits (in part as a CIA asset) to further the causes of international Nazism and protect escaped Nazis from those trying to hunt them down. While many modern historians dismiss the notion of an umbrella organization for any and all secret international Nazi plotting, it’s undeniable that Skorzeny had his fingers in a lot of pies, and he was one of the most active and influential former members of the SS. This context makes the end of Foley’s tale, in which Skorzeny has begun to invest in wind farming, all the more ominous. Plus, I can now say “You know who else invested in clean, renewable green energy? NAZIS!”

Perhaps what struck me as most odd about Foley’s book was that it had not one but two epilogues. The second focused on the only tangentially related exploits of the Special Air Service, but the first included some pretty spectacular “what ifs”, going so far as to suggest that war’s outcome could’ve been quite different if the Allies had been willing to do to Petain in France what Hitler had Skorzeny do to Admiral Horthy in Hungary.

So, yeah, Otto Skorzeny is one of those guys for whom the term Magnificent Bastard was coined. Even history’s villains can produce complex figures who are admirable for their bravery and heroism despite the causes they fight for. I do know that if I ever run a WWII Pellucidar game again, I’ll probably be using Skorzeny as a big bad for the campaign. Post-war, Otto Skorzeny is funneling personnel, weapons and wealth into the inner earth via tunnels in South America!


V4V: Velikiye Luki

All this World War II tabletop gaming I’ve been doing lately has had me brush off a rancid classic of the DOS era: V-For-Victory.

Bringing an insane degree of crunch to hex-and-chit wargaming that was only possible in the age of PC gaming, the V4V series offered several lengthy “campaign” games as well as shortened scenarios. I put “campaign” in quotes, because really these are battles, granular to the battalion level, and don’t include full theater scope. So, for example, you’re not playing the entirety of the D-Day invasion, you’re playing Utah Beach.

The battle I’m revisiting is Velikiye Luki. I’ll admit, when this game was the new hotness, I didn’t have the patience to play more than the shortest of scenarios, but this time I’m going full-blown, hundreds of turns, the supposedly “90 hour” “full battle”.

Worth noting, each day has 7 turns, and the full Veliki Luki scenario covers the ENTIRE battle from November 19 1942 – January 16, 1943. Thankfully, you can automate some of the functions, which takes a little bit off your hands, and you’re not going to be moving ALL of your units each turn (fatigue and disruption of units that move every turn builds up quick and severely cripple your divisions), but if you’re a micromanager, it can take a bit.

Partly because of the fact that I wouldn’t have nearly as many pieces I’d have to regularly move and implement commands for, and partly because I didn’t have a strong grasp of the system’s nuances going in, I picked the Germans, in an attempt to keep the Soviet tides from overwhelming the fortress city.

I’ve managed to make it up to mid-December, and in some regards, I’ve done better than historically, and in other ways, I’ve done much worse. The score tracking says it’s still a near-run thing, and despite some of impressive tactical successes, the gap is narrowing.

Velikiye Luki itself is doing fine at this point, but my deep rear is in trouble. In the opening days of the battle, my front line was almost completely overrun. Amazingly enough, one engineer and one mountain infantry battalion were dug in snug enough that they were never dislodged, and a few artillery batteries from the south managed to pull back to the city, but the rest were wiped out. The Red Army bypassed Velikiye Luki to the North, took the small stops along the rail line between Nasva and Novosokolniki. The van then turned south and has been just pounding the garrison of Novosokolniki ever since.

I managed to keep Velikiye Luki from being encircled, however. When I saw what would happen if the Soviets could reach the rail to Nevel, I pulled some infantry out the city to create an entrenched flank to mask the rail bridge. This provided the necessary cover for the 1st SS Motorized Infantry, which acted as a siege-breaker, preventing the Soviets who were coming around the north of the city from fully encircling. I was thinking these guys would get MVP, but the 6th Luftwaffe Field Division have proved to be the heroes of the Op.

Even if I’d kept the rail bridge open, it wouldn’t matter if the southern contingent of Soviets overran the rail on the west side of the Lovat. The 6th managed to stop those infantry who’d crossed the Lovat, and with some assists from the 1st SS Mot, kept broke the southern portion of the assault. The 1st SS made a failed attempt to relieve Novosokolniki, but quickly had to return to Velikiye Luki, because supplies were spread too, thin, and the northern encircling forces were still much too strong and still needed to be dealt with. But, with the southern forces being pushed back, the entrenched line could break and join in the push, and the 20th Mot, 6th FJ, and 291st Inf. were able to lift the siege. There are still too many Reds north of the city to take head on, but they’ve pulled back and are no longer putting pressure on the garrison. The 6th FJ has pushed too far east in an attempt to break as many Soviet divisions as possible, capturing headquarters and desperately needed supplies, and finally came to a soviet armored division that wasn’t on ¼ beet-soup rations. At this point, they’re slowly withdrawing back toward the city, in hopes that they can draw the soviets into the range of the garrison’s batteries.

Now that the pressure is gone from the south and largely off from the north and the east, and the final big group of reinforcements have arrived from Nevel, I’m turning my attention back towards Novosokolniki. I’ve GOT to do something to relieve the forces who are trapped there. I’m hoping that the soviet groups who’ve taken the junction are also on garbage rations—there’s next to no way they can trace supplies, because I’ve got all the roads covered, the rail north recovered, and the Lovat (now nearly frozen solid) fairly secure. The Soviets are getting points off me every turn they have guys in Novosokolniki, and over 2k points on casualties. If I can get it back and collect those points for the rest of the game, I should be in the clear. It’ll be up to the very slowly advancing 1st SS Mot, the remnants of Group Chevallerie, and maybe even the 6th FJ, if they can make it around or through the city in their retreat, to relieve the beleaguered security forces at the critical rail junction.

Guns of Pellucidar – Pt 3

The assault on the Nazi forward base went both smoother in some regards and rougher in others than I’d hoped. Rougher because I was using too many scales (I didn’t want a huge base, but I wanted the players to be able to tactically maneuver, so I used 500ft sub-hexes within an approx. 1.5 mile portion of the 6 mile hex). Smoother because somehow the party managed to pull it off with only three characters dying (the little Wehrmacht force made some really bad rolls).

The party wisely kept off the main game trail and skirted around a machine gun nest that could’ve mowed them down, had they taken it straight to the base. A jungle snake grabbed one of the guys and nearly killed him, but the medic managed to juice him up to keep him standing for the op. The snake didn’t last long against several guys with trench knives and bayonets, and the otherwise ineffective commu guy managed to put in the killing blow. Also, since they went counterclockwise around the outskirts of the base, they didn’t run into any patrols. Had they tried to go around the south side, they would’ve crossed paths with an SMG scout team.

The base was made up of 4 sandbag walls with light machine gun teams at the four corners of the base, each covering a portion of the treeline, two crude towers with observers and snipers, and some tents. The party approached from the northeast corner and not only did the observation tower abysmally fail their awareness roll, the machine gun team critically failed, so were busy smoking and chatting instead of watching the treeline.

The sniper tried to take a shot at one of the machine gunners, but just barely missed. That gave the signal to the mortar team, who began shelling the area where the tents were. The players quickly overran the gunners’ nest, but fooling around with the MG 42 and trying to get it and all of associated junk moved to the other side of the barrier cost a few guys their lives. Except for the sniper, most of the Nazis were lousy shots, and eventually the combined fire of a couple BAR gunners, the guys who got the MG 42 up and firing, the mortar fire creating confusion, and the other assault teams eventually honing in on where the fire was.

By the time the German patrols got back to the clearing to respond, all hell had already broken loose.

Really, this fight was probably a foregone conclusion from the outset for a handful of reasons. There were only about 60-80 Nazis in the hex in total, 50 of whom were in the sub-hexes the party was going through. The Allies put 130 men out of their 180-200 total, because it was a do-or-die op, so there were several teams in the hex reconning in force. They were going to win (probably), it was just a matter of how many PCs died in the process while I tested the upper bounds of how combat in this could scale.

Holes in my rules:

Suppressive fire doesn’t quite work the way I hoped in fire-fights. I need to figure a way for suppressive auto fire to pin guys who are in cover. Probably I will just allow extra attacks against targets that pop-up from behind cover to take a shot.

Sniping needs to be a bit more refined. Most of the sniping rules assume relatively close sniping range. I need something for longshot sniping. Enemy snipers will also make pretty short work of characters, since it’s not even an active save vs. death roll; the enemy sniper just has to roll under his dex, so the one sniper in the tower probably did more damage picking off the guys fooling with MG-42.

Movement rules are based on D&D and assume standard D&D distances. Doing a hex-crawl on a quasi-tactical level put it under some strain. The battle area was large enough that groups could move round-robin through several hexes avoiding combat all together, but the scale was such that folks could fire at one another from adjacent hexes and, in some cases, from multiple hexes away. The pain point was determining where in the 500 ft hex anyone was during a round and how that might have affected combat variables. By the time the minis were broken out, I got away with it by acknowledging that the positioning of the minis were not to scale combined with the fact that the party spent most of the fight pinned down but with much heavier firepower at their disposal than the Germans had.


I think that this will work out better for smaller-scale fights, like against a single strongpoint or pillbox, or against some random Aufklarung unit they might happen upon.

Also, so far this has been more of a serial wargame disguised as an RPG rather than an actual RPG, and I’m pretty okay with that for the moment. I’ve already acknowledged that this is basically turning into a tabletop version of Close Combat, which has definitely scratched an itch for me. But I would like to see a bit more roleplaying elements worked in eventually.

So long as the party stays in the immediate area of their base camp, they’re going to be under the orders of the commanding officers and answerable for all of their actions, so no murderhoboing, obviously. I’m hoping that they’ll eventually take up an opportunity to do some advanced scouting and get far enough away that they have to become a self-sustaining fighting unit in the wilds of Pellucidar, meeting some natives besides angry Lizardmen. I’d like to eventually peel away some of the military trappings bit by bit as it becomes more of a “dudes lost in the jungle, fighting to stay alive – also there are Nazis” game.

But I’m also finding that I’m already itching to be back on the player side of the table and break out DCC again…

More Pellucidar

So, my Pellucidar game is running smoothly and playing better than I could’ve expected. My initial theories on how combat would play out have all proven correct so far, but the next session will test how well firearms vs. firearms battles will work.

Friday, the party did some more mapping, with orders to recon the area immediately adjacent to their new base camp. While they pussy-footed a bit more than i would’ve liked, I can’t blame them for wanting to return directly to their camp after each encounter (though they were somewhat punished for it with the first hex).

The first hex they explored, they found some Draco Lizards; rather than leave well enough alone, they took the opportunity to use the giant lizards for some target practice, not knowing that they were up against 8 of them and had only spotted 2. Some of the other lizards came at them through and from the trees. While they killed and hurt a couple, they still got a few big bites taken out of them before they managed to drive the beasts off. A perverse desire to haul the carcasses back to camp meant they were slowed down enough to warrant an extra random encounter roll, which led to a pack of mountain lions ambushing those carrying the two carcasses. It cost the life of the medic, but a few rifle shots killed or drove off the big cats.

Fireteam got some fresh blood and kept exploring, managing to ambush an allosaurus on a game trail. If the allosaurus had not rolled a 1 on its perception roll and the players hadn’t got a free round to fire on them, at least one guy woulda been ate before the beast went down.

Last hex, I rolled for a Nazi base in a forest on my random terrain generator, so I asked if we could call it while I came up with some content for it.

I’m making a sub-hexmap for a relevant portion of the hex, where I’m putting in a small Nazi forward base. Along the game trails will be a couple of strong-points, and there will be a few patrols. The main base will be set in a clearing where they’ve pushed back the treeline and set up a few machine gun teams in front of a couple crude observation towers (scoped Mausers!).

This will be a damn tough fight if my players try to attack the base head-on. The first strong-point should be a warning, but if they just come out of the treeline, especially if they’ve alerted the base with a fire-fight, they’ll almost certainly be mowed down by MG42 fire.

I HOPE that they will remember that there’s a pack howitzer setup on a mountain top in the adjacent hex and that they have mortar teams at their disposal. Otherwise, the 30-50 Nazis hanging out in this hex will not only repulse the attack but almost certainly jeopardize the Allied base camp (which is apparently just a 12 miles south of another tribe of lizardmen! ::I rolled up to see what happened to the other NPC scout teams, and those guys didn’t come back…::).

I’m actually to the point where I may need to figure out how many guys are in the US company; they’ve lost one entire team, and probably about 15 or so other soldiers (so maybe 25-30 KIA/MIA). Some of them went back with the dirigible to pick up more supplies once the mountain base was established. Some of them will HAVE to stay back at camp to keep it secure. So, I guess if I want to really ramp up the scale, I could have as many as 100 soldiers dedicated to this particular OP. I’ll probably use some handwaiving for the NPC fireteams who will be a) reconning other parts of the hex, b) possibly flanking to get a better position for the assault on the base, c) getting into fire-fights with Nazi scouting teams, d) acting as “off-board” artillery as mortar teams.

This will be the first real test of the Star Frontiers Advanced Combat Order I’ve been using for initiative by side. Up until now, initiative hasn’t mattered too much, because whether the players win or lose initiative, you’d better believe they’re going to hang tight, guns ready, and shoot at whatever’s coming towards them. A couple times against the lizard men, the lizard men got some javelins in, but guns are always going to go off first against enemies who don’t have a ranged attack. With the Nazis, though, the players will be facing substantial fire themselves for the first time.

Panzer General

Among all of the other things I need to take care of this week, I’ll be taking care of some zine related stuff, clearing my queue and hopefully be ready to move into phase 2. The stress may have gotten to me, and I was laid out on both Sunday and Monday, but I’m doing a bit better now.

When I was convalescing, I spent my time revisiting a few old SSI favorites. Inspired by playing Fortress Europa with my dad, I downloaded and got Panzer General running on my PC. The 5 Star General series was one of my dad’s favorite gaming franchises, because it brought his favorite style of war gaming to the PC in a way that was recognizable to a classic board gamer, but enhanced with all of the glitz and glam of vidya games. It also had cool play-by-mail features that were much more convenient than writing down a spreadsheet of hex-numbers and checking the daily stock-market for your dice rolls. Now, they were incredibly dumbed down compared to the earlier V For Victory series, which in many ways was one of the most ambitious translation of hex and chit war gaming to PC port ever attempted*, but they definitely scratch an itch for someone who wants real strategy games and not real time strategy games.

Now, when I was a little kid, I sucked at Panzer General. And it turns out I still suck at Panzer General. Why? Because it’s HARD! I always thought my dad was amazing at it, but to my knowledge, even he never “beat” it; the difference between major and minor victories, even in the hypothetical scenarios would usually mean that he’d be set on the defense and have to play though all of the fighting retreat scenarios until managing to force a favorable armistice with the Allied Nations. I don’t know that I ever managed to get past the conquest of France. And it looks like that might still be the case.

Unlike many of the later General games, PG 1 ratchets up the difficulty incredibly quickly, with almost no real ‘tutorial’ warm-up type battles. I mean, sure, there’s Poland, but even those two missions aren’t a cakewalk by any means. If you do well in the battle for Warsaw, you’re put in charge of the forces invading Norway, where you will be getting hammered constantly by the British Navy which you can do almost nothing about. Italy 1943 (Allied conquest of Sicily) is probably the most brutal starting scenario; even when I’ve ‘won’, my forces would always be so wiped out that in the follow-up break-out at Anzio scenario, I’d be overrun in less than five turns.

The biggest issues contributing to difficulty in PG1 are:

  1. Low strength values of the units: early in the franchise history, the 5-Star games used a 10 strength baseline for units; elite units could be (very slowly and at great cost) made overstrength up to 15 (1 SP per grade; good luck having a unit survive long enough to become a 5 star veteran). This often meant units could be wiped out incredibly easily in one unlucky turn. More on that in a bit. Later general games made the unit strength base 15, which meant a much greater chance of front-line units surviving long enough to gain experience and be rebuilt.
  2. No upgrading/overstrengthing in between missions. This is one of the most frustrating aspects of PG 1. Despite promises that doing well in such and such a mission would give high command time to replenish, resupply and retrofit your troops, you never had the opportunity to do so between missions. Therefore, you would have to spend the first turn of any mission upgrading units (because god knows that Panzer IA isn’t going to be useful past 1939) and buying replacements. Again, this is something that later 5-Star games addressed, allowing you to upgrade and purchase core units between battles.
  3. Rugged Defense. This was the equivalent of rolling a 1 on the combat result table. Before you made any attack, the game would display an approximation of the casualties both sides would incur. Due to how initiative and suppression worked in PG1, these numbers were often incorrect, but typically gave one a reasonable idea of whether an attack would be suicide or not without having to check both units hard attack/soft attack and hard defense/soft defense stats. Sometimes, however, you would see a warning message stating “Rugged Defense!” This usually meant that a weaker or understrength unit that you were attacking because the predicted odds were incredibly in your favor could somehow kill half or more of the guys in the attacking unit, which would often be wiped out next turn. This result was always frustrating and disheartening and felt like the game was cheating, since you couldn’t see under the hood.
  4. Lost Cause scenarios. The defensive scenarios very much feel this way. The Allies often have just breathtakingly overwhelming superiority in numbers at times, and their losses do not hurt the way your losses do; unlike the Allies, you are only taking with you whomever survives the battle. Therefore, in a case like the start of the 1943 Italian campaign, when treated as a single scenario, you can fight to the bloody end, with the last of the Panzers heroically stalling the Allied advance into the toe of Italy after having survived both the ground onslaught and constant naval bombardment. But then you go to the next mission with your 6 surviving units and immediately lose because you just cannot make up for that difference in power. It’s like those fighting games that don’t reset BOTH players’ health bar after each KO. You can’t catch up.

Tomorrow, perhaps, I’ll go into Fantasy General, the other game I spent a lot of time this weekend fooling around with (and also ended up enjoying more), but as this has gone on fairly long, I think I’ll wrap up here.
*:The most audacious feature of the V For Victory games was the simultaneous execution of movement, something that would only be possible, especially on the enormous scale these games used, with a computer; players would painstakingly assign each unit’s action for the turn and hope that their opponent’s movements did not somehow muck up whatever they had planned. For instance, an infantry unit could be programmed to be packed up into its trucks and travelling down a road (strategic movement) while an enemy unit is slowly moving perpendicular to it crossing that same road in proper marching formation (tactical movement); depending on where and when the units will cross paths, the infantry in their trucks may end up cut off and not only fail to reach their destination but be ambushed and possibly wiped out by the unit moving in formation; neither player knows what happened until they see how their planned moves resolve.

Minor update: I’m apparently the first person on wordpress to talk about Panzer General since 2013.  How punk rock is that!?

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!