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.

Friday, 13 May 2016

Skirmish Sangin Playtest - Setup

A small town in Afghanistan
Finally getting set up for a playtest of Skirmish Sangin. Picked up a variety of buildings over the past few months, and then scratch built a load of walls from foam-board and grout. Used my 6mm felt roads to mark drainage ditches, and 6mm cornfield markers for scrub. The road is a length of sandpaper which really needs sticking down. Not keen to spend too much on the scenery until I know I like the 15mm skirmish/platoon type wargame, although the same kit will also be used to playtest SF rules and probably even  Chain of Command!

A view down the street. 6ft x 4ft table but not all in use

Starting position for the Brits by the "floating" road!

Thursday, 5 May 2016

Blucher Playtest - Part IV (Final)

Turn 18 ish

All of a sudden it looked like the French were in with a chance. The Chasseurs started a wide left flanking move, and most of the Austrian cavalry decided to retire off the board rather than risk being eliminated and counting towards French victory points. The left flank infantry were making headway against the Austrians, despite a pesky gun battery on the flank (more on that later), and on the right flank the French infantry were again pushing forward, supported by III Corp's Chasseurs which had so far sat the battle out.

So the French commander decided on a death or glory charge on the two key objectives (marked by tree stumps), one on the central Austrian hill and one between the corn fields behind the river. Against the hill the cavalry tried to complete their flanking action and the infantry charged straight forward. The infantry got there, claimed the hill, were pushed off by a weakened Austrian Kuirassier unit which had been sulking on the back line. Then a second French battalion charged the Kuirassiers (its in the rules...), and despite losing the melee pushed the cavalry off and stayed put themselves (in the rules again...). The cavalry finally managed to make contact with some of the Austrian defenders but too late. On the other flank the Chasseurs were busy chasing two Austrian battalions as they all raced for the objective. In the meantime the Austrian guns got mauled, so did another battalion, and the Austrian Grenadiers were making mince-meat out of the flank guard French battalions. The Austrian infantry arrived at the objective just in time, turned, prepared, and met the French cavalry charge which washed harmlessly against their flanks and returned to the French lines to recover.

The French battalion (Brigade? Division?) claims a key objective

At this stage the Austrians only needed one kill to make the French break their morale level (8 units) - but the French only needed 2 kills themselves, and everyone was pretty weak. An Austrian charge against a French battalion helping guard the Hill objective failed to deliver. The Austrian commander considered sending one or two Strength 2 battalions against one or two Strength 1 French battalions - but the chances of it backfiring and the Austrians losing were too great (the rules definitely favouring defenders). In the end it was that pesky Austrian gun battery that won the victory, send a shot straight through one of the Strength 1 French battalions, 8 units lost, game over, turn 27 or there abouts.

The Austrians guard their remaining objective, French cavalry retiring in the distance

So a close run thing in the end, which was to be expected given the balanced forces. But for me the rules just have so many elements that just don't feel right I can't see myself playing them again. Pity, I really wanted to like them, but I'm really glad that I didn't spend an extra £25 on the custom 100 Day cards!

ENDEX - The Austrians win by a knock-out

Wednesday, 4 May 2016

Blucher Playtest - Part III

View from French left, Austrian cuirassiers make their flanking move bottom right

Up to turn 15. On the French left flank the Austrian cuirassiers have tried to turn the French flank but have been repulsed by three French cavalry regiment. Left of the ridge the French infantry assaults have failed to break through and the Austrians are now going on the offensive, but meeting with little more success. The centre is more or less devoid of troops, both sides having worn each other out. On the right flank the French cuirassiers charged the prepared Austrian lines to no effect. However once they regrouped and charged again they managed to send one battalion packing, just as the French infantry moved up to deliver the coup de gras. The Austrian III Corps which had been idle across the minor river has now been given orders to cross and along with the just activated Grenadier battalions launch an attack on the French right flank. However the French overall position doesn't look as hopeless as it did a few turns ago.

Infantry clash on the French left flank, note both battalions well weakened

Still finding lots of oddities in the rules:

- French light cavalry charged the rear of a retreating Austrian battalion, but not only didn't decimate it but got sent back themselves. There is some benefit to infantry in being prepared (i.e. square, see below) but apparently no penalty for not being prepared

- When cavalry charge prepared infantry their penalty is having to re-roll any success (i.e. 4+ rolls). But to my simple mind since dice have no memory it's just another roll, it's not reducing the chances of rolling those dice high - just your perception of it - so no real penalty at all

- Prepared infantry suffers no penalty to firing, odd since it's meant to reflect being in square

- You end up with loads of battalions facing rearwards as they've previously been retreated but need an activation (which at 2pts you're normally not willing to spend) to turn back around, which just all looks messy

- One infantry units charging a gun battery got 1 hit against the artillery's 0. But the rules only talk about 2x or more, or equal, not 1+. So since 1 is infinitely greater than 0 the battery got routed.

Will play out another evening of the game but then probably call it a day as I can't say I'm falling in love with the rules.

Tuesday, 3 May 2016

Battle of Lansdown - 5 Jul 1643 - Battlefield Walk

Panorama centred on East just behind the ridge

A nice day trip to Lansdown Hill to meet up with some guys from the Battlefields Trust to discuss a possible future work project and a prototype we're building based on the Battle of Lansdown,

Looking down off  the ridge from Slaughter Hill, west end of the ridge
Lovely early summer weather, and really nice when work and military history/wargaming collide. Must make sure I do Lansdown as part of my ECW battle sequence next year (doing 1642 this year). Only about 5-6000 a side.

Monday, 2 May 2016

Blucher Playtest - Part II

Got to the end of Turn 6 so far (so both sides have had three turns). On their left (near end of above photo, French attacking right to left) the French Dragoons have routed one Austrian Hussar unit, and wasted another. One of the Dragoons is in retreat though - odd that there is usually no way to rally fatigue off of a unit (it's only a special trait or a scenario condition). The Austrians are moving their Cuirassiers across to stop the French cavalry from coming around the Austrian flank, and also to defend the secondary objective on the hill.

In the centre and right its been going less well for the French. They moved quickly to occupy the central ridge but then as per doctrine decided to have a couple of turns at short range artillery to soften up the Austrian line. Artillery fire was not too effective (and with only 6 shots for the entire game, and reducing effectiveness they tend to be used judicially). However musketry was pretty devasting. At 2 hex the Austrians score a hit on 6s from 3 dice, and plus one five for the Avant Garde and French battalions. One Austrian battalion scored two hits on a French battery which for Artillery is enough to Retire (rout) it from the game! As you can see from the chits below one French battalion is already down to its last elan, and others are taking damage. Can't see the central Division breaking the line.

On the French right things are even worse. Deciding to forego a softening up but still taking musketry damage on the approach move both of the attacking battalions lost their combats, and are shown below falling back to the second line. Time to send those Cuirassiers up to test the "prepared" rules that simulate infantry squares.

Feelings so far? The game is certainly quick to learn and already playing just off the play sheets. The activation system works well, and the French are already quite separated which means not many units get activated each turn. The shooting does seem just too effective for musketry, particularly against artillery, and the melee is biased to the defender (defender wins draws) so given the impact of their musketry on troops on the way in trying to break a defensive line is going to be very hard.