Bar-Lev Take 2: Conclusion

It may have been a near run thing, but once the tables turned in my favor, they turned hard.

Had I lost one or two more tanks in Syria, the Jordanians would’ve been able to punch through to my artillery and force me off the map. Things were a bit better in Egypt by sheer virtue of the fact that I simply could NOT be dislodged from El Shatt which gave me both the village and the Bar-Lev defensive bonus. Still, I only had a few troops screening for three or four times as much artillery.

The Israeli double fire rules combined with Arab morale break made all of the difference. I had nearly 100 strength points of artillery fire on both sides of the board and was able to distribute it effectively against the heavy tanks that I couldn’t get ground odds on. Any tanks that weren’t destroyed by the first barrage would easily be insta-killed by the second.

With the ground situation in Egypt slightly more under control, I made sure that I had enough bombers in Syria to keep the Jordanians from giving the Syrians any meaningful advantage. So while my tanks and planes dealt with the Jordanians to the south, my artillery blew away what was left of the Syrian center.

The Egyptians finally lost their last best bet to beat me when the armored corps bearing down from the north and wearing away at my defenders in the hills were annihilated by boatloads of artillery fire. I even freed up enough that I was able to start taking out the short range artillery that had been shelling me from Suez. With the last southern bridge blown, I was able to start pressing north again, extending my forces out in strength and numbers I hadn’t had at all until this final point.

My dad surrendered, when we assessed the situation in Syria. Though Egypt would probably be kept to a draw (I don’t know that I could actually push across the canal with anything but heli-troopers, since the Egyptians were going to start blowing their own bridges), almost all of the units left in Syria were artillery. I could’ve spent the next two turns picking apart the remains of the Syrian army with bombers and self-propelled artillery. The only reinforcements Syria had left were militia that would only activate if I came within two hexes of any Syrian village, and eliminating all units on either map grants an instant victory, we decided it was just a matter of time.

My original air strategy changed by early mid-game. Once one side had shown a bit of weakness, it really did just make sense to keep flying against it. I split my forces some, but ultimately I spent way more time pounding the Syrians than the Egyptians. The Egyptian bombers couldn’t do much because I was concentrated in such a small area that I was fully covered by AA missiles until late game. With the Syrians so easily broken, air combat turned into a snowballing massacre with each turn.

The biggest difference in how our two games turned out was that I kept my artillery alive. As the Arabs, I would not suffer the presence of any Israeli artillery and would blitz past any other targets to make sure that the long range self-propelled artillery was taken out ASAP. MOST of the Israeli strength points are out there as Artillery, so keeping mine alive also meant that my Morale didn’t break as quickly, because I was able to recycle enough light troops to keep the churn going.

Anyway, I can’t recommend Bar-Lev enough if you’re into hex-and-chit style war gaming.

But speaking of wargaming, I’ve decided to make a go at doing a retroclone of Chainmail tweaked for use with Basic D&D. While D&D updated and incorporated stuff from Chainmail, I don’t know that there’s been an attempt to update Chainmail to incorporate stuff from D&D. I mean, I’m sure there has been, but I kind of want to rewrite Chainmail as a supplement to Basic. I hope it’s a good idea, because I’ve already sunk some money into a sweet cover.

The problem I’ve had with OD&D has always been that whatever rules are there are presented in a lousy format and are kind of confusing because of that more than anything wrong with the system itself.  I don’t think I can do the bangup job that Eric Holmes did with OD&D in his Basic edition, but I want to at least try to see if I can make something out of Chainmail that folks can pick up and use in their Basic games without a lot of headache.


Bar-Lev: Israeli Victory in Sight

I pulled it out against the Arabs last night! With the Syrian air force virtually eliminated, I was able to focus my planes on taking out the last handful of heavy tanks with the help of my artillery. My remaining ground forces have been able to break out, punching through the weakened Syrian lines now that their morale has broken and all of the T-62s, T-55s and Saggers have been taken out. The Syrian center still exists, though mostly as APCs, infantry and non-self-propelled artillery. The Jordanians have finally showed up, but it may be too little too late to reverse the Syrian fortunes in the Golan Heights. Especially now that I’ve got mechanized infantry sitting in Fort Hebron.

The Egyptians still have a lot of troops, but judicious use of artillery has also helped me thin out the armor that is coming down from the north and threatening my little southern bastion. By keeping my artillery so well screened and having so much of it, I’m now able to destroy up to half a dozen units a turns without having to worry about direct return fire. Once the T-55s and T-62s are out of the picture, I have a lot less to worry about; Saggers will still be annoying, as they match my best Centurion tanks (mostly because of the difference in troop scale between the two sides), but I no longer have to worry about situations where the Arabs can amass over 40 strength points of armor and pick off my troops in various hexes one at a time (While in theory, the stacking rules allow both sides to have a maximum potential of 24 strength in a hex, if the Israelis have 3 of their very limited supply of 8 strength tanks in a single hex, they’ve done something wrong with their troop deployment and are liable to be all wiped out by bombers and concentrated artillery fire, inflicting an in-affordable loss).

Being able to keep El Shatt fortified is really what has kept me in the game; if the Egyptians had managed to get overwhelming odds early on and dislodged the infantry still holed up there, I’d be forced to literally run for the hills. I still have some potential problems in that on both fronts I have maybe half a dozen front-line combat units trying to screen for more than twice that many artillery units. The biggest difference between my previous game and this one is that while playing as the Arabs, I made a conscious effort to break through at any point I could to disrupt artillery and leave any front-line troops for later. No sooner than the Israeli artillery would arrive on the board, I’d throw everything I could against them. And now that I’m playing as the Israelis, i’m really seeing just how good that idea was; the Israeli artillery is OP. The Israelis really CAN’T get odds against the Arab armor, but artillery ignores combat strength; it either kills what’s being shelled or it doesn’t, and the Israeli artillery is much better at seeing that it is the former that happens.

Right now, I think the best my Dad can do is fight for a tie in both theaters, which would still count as an Arab win. To do that, though, he’ll need to take back Fort Hebron and keep me from breaking through past El Rashid. He can still beat me, though. If he can punch through areas that are being screened by WW2 surplus recon cars and get into my artillery, he’ll be able to seriously mess me up. And still, I’m not doing as well in Egypt as the Israelis did historically, largely because the Egyptian Air Force is still buzzing around and keeping me from sending in air-mobile infantry to take ground on the west bank.

I’ve got to say, I’ve really been enjoying this game a lot, and it really is probably one of the best war games I’ve ever played. Anyone interested in serious old-school war gaming should definitely check this one out. And yeah, I haven’t played any other games that did a better job of integrating Air Power. Expect pretty long turns; once we’ve gotten our gameplay moving like a well-tuned machine, turns have gone from about 45-50 minutes down to mere half hours.  It’s VERY complex and will take a bit of dedication to piecing out the rules, but the rules are well organized and well written, so some careful study will put you well on your way. Most of the only rules consultation we’ve had to do has been for weird things like Israelis attacking Egyptian mobile bridges, special rules for Egyptian paratroopers, and a few other things. Just about everything else you’ll need is in the combat charts. I haven’t and likely won’t have the opportunity to play this game with more than 2 players, but it’s an exciting prospect that there is a game this well made that can accommodate 3 players and even offers a variant for up to 5 (Egypt, Syria, Israeli West, Israeli East, and Israeli Air Command + Logistics).  Bar-Lev is an excellent game, even more impressive in the fact that Conflict Games managed to crank out something this good just half a year after the war ended, and I highly recommend it to anyone who has someone willing to play it with them.

Bar-Lev: Almost Over or Just Beginning?

Tonight I either turn the tables on the Arabs and make a fantastic comeback, punching through the lines of Egyptian and Syrian armor, or get wheedled down to nothing in my untenable position as Arab forces block the highways.

I’ve managed to wear down the Syrian air force to just about nothing; even with only moderate air superiority, I’m usually able to send interceptors to bounce any planes suicidal enough to try bombing runs. I may finally be able to start focusing more directly on the Egyptian air force, which is really going to be one of the biggest challenges I’ll be facing in that theater. Once I get enough planes to start bombing back, I might be able to turn the tables over there.

In the Golan Heights, I’ve managed to win a couple small tactical victories and a major strategic victory. I’ve established enough of a line to create a pocket to protect my heavy artillery around my one remaining supply line. Concentrating all of my forces in that one relatively defensible area has allowed me break the advance of the scariest of the Syrian tanks AND freed me up to move some heavy armor of my own into the Syrian rear to disrupt their artillery and hopefully divert some of their front-line strength. More importantly, I just barely managed to break the Syrian morale, which will give me a HUGE advantage on that front, as I’ll only need to muster up 1-1 odds for at least a 50% chance of scoring a direct fire kill, and it will all but guarantee that my artillery will start taking out heavy tanks in droves because of the Israeli double-fire rules*. The only reason I’m able to hang on right now is that, unlike when my dad was playing the Israelis, I was able to keep my long-range self-propelled artillery from getting hammered in the initial blitz.

Things in Egypt may take a turn for the worse before they get better, as I’m going to need to spread myself a little thinner to protect my supply line. The north and central troops on the east side of the Suez have been routed finally, which frees up a decent chunk of Egyptian armor. I’ve stemmed the tide a bit of troops coming through on the south end of the Canal, but there’s still a bridge I really want to destroy. El Shatt is holding on largely because of the combined Bar-Lev and village defensive bonuses (it’s probably the last hex on the map that I still get the Bar-Lev bonus from), but the constant artillery shelling coming in from around Suez is really getting to be a pain and has cost me too many Centurions who’ve been taking point against those who’ve made it to the east bank. On the plus side, I still have a LOT of artillery that’s protected well enough for the moment; because I don’t have the numbers to get the staggering odds I need against Egyptian T-62s and T-55s, I’ll need to rely almost entirely on artillery to effectively stop the advance of the heavier armor and focus on stopping the mechanized rocket infantry and APCs with what tanks I have left. I can worry about the foot soldiers later. The other thing I have going for me in Egypt is that I’m down to such a small geographical area that I can cover ALL of my troops with Anti-Air, so yay for that!

It’s only about a week into the war and both sides are in rough shape; I’ll be getting my last big stack of troops mobilized from the heartland, but I don’t know that it’ll be enough to do more than just hold on.

*:Artillery can either neutralize or destroy units; it typically requires 2-3 times as much firepower concentrated on a single target to even have a chance of destroying a unit, however units that are neutralized are destroyed if they are neutralized twice in one turn. For the Arabs, the only way this is possible is by suppressive bombing during the air phase followed by an attack during the artillery phase. Arab artillery fire is considered to occur simultaneously. The Israeli artillery can engage in staggered fire, meaning that multiple artillery units can attack a stack separately and attempt two rolls on the artillery fire tables, while any Arab artillery firing on the same stack MUST combine its fire power for a single attack. The result for the Israelis is a slightly lower chance of inflicting casualties per roll but multiple rolls with the chance to kill units with less concentrated fire.  The way the rules describe this is “the shelling would start, then stop, then suddenly start again in hopes [of] catching the target unit out in the open”.

Bar-Lev Take 2 Continued

Did not get to make much progress last week; we only got 1 turn knocked out. While my air strategy may be paying off slightly, the ground war is going poorly on the Syrian front.

I’ve managed to leave a few thorns in the Egyptian’s side in the north, and a solid pocket of troops are still holding up around El Shatt which can screen for my artillery. The problem I’m facing now is that the Arab artillery is going to be shelling all of those guys from the west bank of the Suez while the armored units start to bring the hammer down from the North. There’s a chance that they can force me to spread thin to cover the supply roads east into the Sinai. They’re still open, but I’ve surrendered my northern and central reinforcement routes to try to keep a consolidated force.

Things are much worse in the Golan Heights. My small armored contingent that came up from the south was beaten up pretty badly and the Syrians have locked up both that southern and my northern routes. I’ve created a little pocket in the center, but I don’t know how it’ll hold up against all of those Syrian tanks. Again, I’m critical of the lack of tactical depth in the Syrian theatre; being pressed up against the western edge of the map from the very beginning of the scenario makes it difficult, if not impossible, for the Israelis to take advantage of the fact that they had a sizable force just off map that came in and turned things around.

Here’s a great video that helps explain why I’m probably going to lose!

Bar-Lev Take 2

My dad and I commenced our second play-through of Bar-Lev last night, this time with myself as the Israelis. We managed to get through two turns, and my position is at least as precarious at this point as my dad’s was in the previous game.

Playing as the Israelis definitely feels different. There’s a sense of impending doom -especially in the Syrian theatre- beginning just after initial setup with your handful of relatively weak infantry units, maybe a few kibbutzes, that will have to withstand dozens of Arab armored regiments bearing down on them.

I’m testing my air strategy, alternating flights of Phantoms & flights of Skyhawks and Mirages between the two theatres to try to maximize the potential for Arab air casualties in both. So far, I’ve put a bit of a dent, but it’s too early for the effects to be noticeable. It’s like body blows: there’s not going to be a solid knock-out punch from them, especially this early, but they’re going to build up and hopefully pay off by later rounds.

My situation in Egypt is not good, but I’ve at least established a solid tactical front which I can hopefully maintain and strengthen. Much like in the previous game, the Arabs have punched through in the north and have a lot of tactical flexibility now on the east side of the Suez. However, I’ve maintained a strong contingent in El Shatt opposite Suez which I can allow myself the tactical depth to protect my artillery.

The Golan Heights are another story. Between some poor rolls and the shear outnumbering force of entire Syrian army bearing down on a few scattered infantry, I’ve failed to maintain any sort of front against the Syrian blitz. Too few troops and those that I have aren’t strong enough to withstand an onslaught of T-61s, T-55s and Sagger mech infantry. I have some armor coming up from the south, but the north is lost and I might even lose the center if I have a bad October 9 turn. I wish that the Syrian board had a few more hexes of depth for the Israelis to maneuver in.

Bar-Lev Conclusion

The game of Bar-Lev that my dad and I had been playing wrapped up last week. I managed to plug the hole in Syria and keep the pressure up in Egypt enough to prevent an Israeli comeback.

We could’ve drawn it out a few more turns, but there was no real chance for Israel to turn things around on either front.

One of the strange things about the morale break rules that is unlike any other war game I’ve played is how it boosts attack values but doesn’t necessarily do anything else. In most games I’ve played, when a side’s morale breaks, it usually does all sorts of things like negating zones of control, reducing attack values, prevents or reduces chances to rally broken troops, incurs overrun rules, etc. In Bar-Lev, once a side is broken, all attacks against units from that side receive a bonus of 1. To give you an idea of what that means, a 1-2 attack goes from a 17% chance of success to a 34% chance of success and a 1-1 attack goes from 34% to 50% chance of success. Note that those are already better combat odds than most board games give you on attack (partly because rather than adjudicating combat on a single table with one roll, both sides get to roll to see if they inflict casualties). So, rather than the game slowing down when one or both sides’ morale breaks, it becomes a bloodbath.

My numerical superiority in both theaters allowed me to continue throwing troops against the Israeli remnants; for every regiment of infantry or tanks blown away by Israeli artillery, there were more to take their place and press the assault. Once I managed to neutralize a unit or two with artillery and airstrikes of my own, I was able to move through ZOC to knock out the surviving artillery.

Of note, the Syrian Air Force was almost completely destroyed. I think that the mistake my dad made was concentrating his fighter sweeps in singular theaters. The Israeli fighter planes are far superior to the Arabs; with about half as many planes running missions, there is a 100% chance that at least 1 Arab plane will be shot down, while generally, even if the Arabs run all of their planes, they can never quite get sure thing kills the way the Israeli Air force does. We plan on playing again, switching sides, and I’m going to test this – after a few days, the attrition on the Egyptian and Syrian air forces will give me the dominance I’d need to run heli-attacks (which my dad never managed, because he could never get the needed +50% air superiority needed until the war was already lost). Unless I’m REALLY unlucky, if I split my air force consistently, I’m looking at around 3-1 or even 4-1 rate of air combat casualties.

We’ll see!

Coming soon, more reviews of old SF stories.

Bar-Lev: Almost Over

Tonight might be the last session of the Bar-Lev game my dad & I have been playing. Things slowed down a bit in our previous session, but still look to be strongly in my favor. I’ve still managed to hang on to air parity longer than I maybe should have, and if the game’s outcome was determined by how well I pulled off the blitz in the first 5 turns, I’d have things in the bag, but that’s not quite the case.

Though I’ve dominated on both fronts, my early domination has actually cost me big time in the things which had given me the biggest tactical advantages: my momentum and my maneuverability.

Breaking through in various places & using zones of control to prevent effective responses gave me a huge advantage early on in both theatres; in Egypt, punching through the middle allowed me to split the Israeli forces in two, eventually trapping a pocket around Rumani and isolating a group in the hills east of Suez, while in the Golan Heights I had managed to bring a hammer down from the north with some armor and artillery in the hills near Harfa and split the Israeli forces into a tiny pocket in the north, a central group and a few jeeps running around in the south. One of the biggest blows I managed to deal was breaking through to destroy the artillery reinforcements on the Syrian front.

On the Egyptian front, even though I managed to cut off and eliminate the northern contingent of fleeing Israelis, the heavy artillery and armor coming into the south is dug in inconveniently enough that I can’t punch through to dislodge them. I have to keep a few strong troops in the north and center part of the east edge of the map to prevent reinforcements from disrupting my own forces, since they’re no longer in a an organized front, and, since Egyptian troops can’t exit the map, I can’t maneuver around the southern artillery contingent. I’ve got a fairly large and impressive force remaining, but it’s now a matter of getting them where they need to be in the numbers that I need them, all while the Israeli artillery that I can’t quite suppress picks them off one by one.

Over in Syria, things were looking solid, but some of my southern troops were too busy chasing after recon jeeps, and I didn’t notice that the Israelis had a reinforcement entry point on the south end of the map as well as those on the west, so my dad managed to sneak a sizable force into the south. While this force isn’t quite behind my lines, and I’ve managed to scramble some troops that way, I had potentially left my entire rear open with nothing but anti-air and a few artillery pieces between this small force and the road to Damascus. Fortunately, I’d managed to route all of the northern and most of the central Israeli forces in the Heights, and, with most of my armored corps in tact still pushing south from Harfa, there’s no chance that reinforcements will be able to break through in the north and central parts of the map. But that brings me back to the issue of mobility; most of my best troops are now stacked up in the west-central part of the map, and while they’re celebrating their victory in Heights, the Israelis are trying to sneak a tough and highly mobile counter strike force south of Rafid with very little between them and the Syrian heartland.

The good news is, the Israeli morale is broken (I’ve knocked out 350 strength points of units!), meaning that all of my attacks are minus 1 (low rolls are better in Bar-Lev). The bad news is that despite their utter dominance in the northern theater, the Syrian morale is also going to break next turn as their threshold is a mere 120 strength points and I’ve lost around 115. The Egyptians are faring quite a bit better, but it will be a problem if they can’t take out those guns in the hills sooner than later.

Anyway, chances are, things will either all be over tonight (the Arabs only need to win in a single theatre or fight to a draw in both to win the game) or a major upset in the Golan Heights could reverse the Israeli fortunes. I don’t think that Israel can come back at this point for a full-blown win, given how close to sewn up things are in the Sinai, but there’s always a chance.