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…

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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!

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.