Friday, 20 May 2016

Skirmish Sangin Playtest

The Taliban ambush ready to be sprung - Brits in distance at junction

Finally got around to starting the Skirmish Sangin play test, using the Reconnaissance Patrol scenario in the rule book. A British section (two 4 man fireteams, each with SA80, SA80+UGL, LSW and Minimi) has become separated from its parent platoon due to Taliban action, and is now trying to find its way home. Unfortunately it’s just about to stumble into an 8 man Taliban ambush.

Setting the game up I began to have fears over its complexity. Two A4 pages worth of ½” counters to be copied and printed out, detailed stats forms for each soldier, a 10 phase activation programme per turn which needed a grid to be drawn to keep an eye on who activates then. And then with 8 figures activating in some phases some way of choosing a random order. The rule book suggests a dice off but that was going to be crazy with 8D6, so instead I marked up some pennies for each figure so I could just randomly flip those over in turn  from the correct pool to choose who activates next – that’s actually worked really well (but you could just as easily use cards etc, just not dice!)

The Brits started with a fire team down each side of the road as they came to the T junction with the main road. They needed to exit off to the West (their right). A gun pair was sent up to the roof of a building at the junction to provide cover, and then Pte Baker legged it across the road. He got to cover safely (the snap fire option being too poor for the Taliban), but he ended up in full view of a Taliban pair on a nearby roof top who opened fire and severely wounded him and he fell unconscious. I do like the going unconscious mechanism, and even better the mandatory “mission change” ruling for Coalition Forces (if playing it as an optional rule) which means that with 1 man down the Brits main mission is not to give first aid the casualty.

The British take two casualties - but not fatalities, but two rooftop Taliban killed

Unfortunately before the Cpl Adams could respond another Taliban pair down the E end of the road took a bead on LCpl Edwards leading the second Fire Team, and he was hit and out for the count too. Looking bad and we’re only about 5 phases into the first turn. The Brits keeping rolling high (bad) on their spotting scores so fail to return effective fire until the Alpha team Minimi gets sight of the Taliban who shot Pte Baker and manage to take both of the shooters out with one burst.

Cpl Adams needs to regain the initiative so he throws a smoke grenade out into the street, just to his left, so blocking line of sight from the Taliban to LCpl Edwards, and also reducing the risk of crossing the street to Pte Baker. Cpl Adams and Pte Collins manage to get to LCpl Edwards whilst Ptes Davis & Edgar make it across the street to treat Pte Baker.

Cpl Adams puts up smoke, but the Taliban push forward through the alleys

Shoot out to protect - Pte Fox vs two Taliban

However the Taliban up the East end of the street aren’t going to let the Brits get away that easy, and both pairs descend from their rooftops – the view now obscured by smoke – and start to head down the back alleys and yards towards the Brits. South of the road they almost reach Pte Baker and his mates in one phase, but with not enough ground covered to be able to fire with their last AP – so they hold back round the corner. But then Pte Fox sprints across the road to help Pte Baker, and Pte Davis directs him to cover their rear. Pte rounds the back corner of the building right into the faces of the two Taliban. It’s not clear from the rules what should then happen – do the Afghan get a snap shot? – so I diced for who had the initiative and Pte came up trumps, so he emptied a few rounds from his SA80 into one of the Taliban who fell stunned, whilst the second Taliban tried to gather his wits – will be interesting to see what he does on his morale tests next activation.

Cpl Adams treats LCpl Edwards
Cpl Adams and Pte Collins were busy treating LCpl Edwards when the other Taliban pair came racing up to the corner house across the side street and opened fire. Amazingly their shots missed (or at least failed to wound), but then so did the reply from Cpl Adams. Luckily Pte Green who was on the roof of the house next to them heard the shots, switched his attention from the main street to the side street and opened fire with his SA80 on the two Taliban, killing one instantly.

More smoke goes up to cover the extraction of the casualties via the southern alley

On the south side of the road the second Taliban facing Pte Fox fails his morale test and scurries back down the alley. He then fails his second test and exits the game. The man hit by Pte Fox also fails his morale test, but remains prone and conscious just metres from Pt Fox. Interesting morale issue then arises - should Fox shoot him to ensure that he is no longer a risk, or let him be as he is no immediate effect - but could pass a morale test and start shooting again next phase. Pity there aren't rules for using zip-cuffs! Pte Fox decides to play safe and puts a couple of bullets into the man's legs - he's still conscious but no longer a risk.

North of the road the Brist have a string of low throws, missing spotting the second Taliban now hiding behind a low wall, or missing with their shots. Pte Collins looses his nerve as the Taliban is also returning fire and hides in the yard of the nearby house. Cpl Adams is considering chucking a grenade over the wall when Pte Green finally manages to find the target and kills the Taliban.

There are only two Taliban left now, both in the NW corner. Adams and Davis put more smoke into the street to block any possible sight lines from that direction, Adams gets Collins back up on his feet, and the two of them plus Green leg it across the road to join the rest of the section. The whole group then quickly moves down the alley S of the road past the mosque and into the orchard and up to the drainage ditch and the safety of the board edge.

LCpl Adams and the team ready to escape across the ditch to safety

In terms of victory points the Brits had 240 (8x20pts for all surviving, 6 x 10pts for incapacitated Taliban and 2 x 10pts for first aid drills), whereas the Taliban had 150pts ( 3 x wounded Brits), so not a white-wash, which is about right for what it felt like.

Overall Skirmish Sangin isn’t a bad sets of rules. The various markers take a bit of getting used to, and I need to find a simpler answer to the activation grid. The grid really is over complex and over long given that the same pattern of soldiers just repeats for most of it. My thought is to make it only 5 phases, and allow better soldiers to activate in phases 1 and 5 with most only in 2 & 3, or even 2 & 4 (but more complex to manage). The regular morale checks are a bit of a pain, but probably give a realistic feel (although Coalition morale ratings seem a bit low). Shooting is suitably deadly in the open and spotting OK – but both fail quite regularly even though we’re only talking about engagements at 25m – 50m! Snapshot mechanism is also OK. The one big thing missing is any form of suppression fire. I don’t need to spot, I just need to think there’s someone on that roof top so I’ll get them to keep their heads down whilst my mate moves (not sure what the rules of engagement are for that).
I’ve also found the rule book poorly laid out, and with no index its quite hard to find things. Rules on movement appear to be well hidden, and I could find no explanation of how to do a first aid check (except for an identification of the stat on the rosta sheets), and I had to hunt on the forum for an answer about what area effect was for MGs, and couldn’t find any reason as to why some are “burst” of what they mean. Also missing were any rules about how fast/slow people move when carry a casualty out (although I remember giving fireman's lifts in full kit with weapons  at the run in basic training...) The summary sheets are also too big/many, so I’m always chasing through about 8 sides of A4 for what I want, even in the QRS.
Given that the whole game took only 3 turns that equates to about 90 seconds of action! Things also felt very close up with all action within about 18" - 36m, whereas most helmet-cam footage tends to show engagements at around 300m, so it felt more Somalia than Afghanistan - although checking on the web it does seem that engagements are either very close or very distant, with little in the 100m - 200m range.

But over all not bad, and certainly a set I could live with after some local tweaks. They are very much a proper skirmish game (it would be interesting to compare them to the old GDW Traveller Snapshot skirmish rules which  first introduced me to the concept of Action Points in the 80s) and you wouldn’t want to play with more than a dozen figures a side.

Next up, I’ll  run the same scenario, more or less, but with Chain of Command and Gruntz. Will be interesting to compare.

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