Thursday, 17 May 2018

Force on Force Afghanistan

Some time ago I painted up some 28mm miniatures to play Force on Force.  I put together a unit of British using the beautiful Empress Miniatures modern range and a Taliban force using a mix of Empress and Eureka figures. This gave me sufficient to play several of the published Force on Force scenarios. I had a few unpainted figures that had sat in the lead pile for some time, but when I heard that Too Fat Lardies had a set of modern rules with a working title Fighting Season in development, I was spurred on to complete the figures.


Sadly, we are yet to see the result of the Lardies work, but I haven't lost my interest in playing the period. The painted figures have sat unused and unloved while other projects not least WWII Chain of Command, have dominated my game time.

I have only played a few introductory scenarios for Force on Force and that was a while ago, but I was attracted to two particular features - the whole action/reaction sequence of play and the use of variable sided dice to reflect the differences in troop quality and morale.

British land from a helicopter into a hot LZ

The action/reaction sequence offered an interesting twist on the eternal issue of how to sequence player's turn and actions in a way that was flexible and unpredictable.  It offers a way to keep both players totally engaged in what's happening at all times. When you add to that the way that the different sided dice allow troops of different calibre to respond, it has the potential for a really dynamic turn sequence. This was all the more apparent when applied to asymmetric engagements.

The rules themselves get mixed reviews, not for the design of the mechanics themselves so much as for the way they are presented. I think any rules system that tries to innovate requires the rules writers to go to extra lengths to ensure they help gamers understand what they are introducing. The Force on Force rules are beautifully presented with very high production values. However, the style of the rules writing doesn't work nearly as well and their presentation is not intuitive. This is a real shame, because once grasped these are easy rules to play and I imagine they flow very well.

Using the Force on Force supplement for Afghanistan, Enduring Freedom, we picked a scenario that pitted British Paras against the Taliban.


We put together a rough table with the scenery we had and began to play through the scenario, which has two sections of Paras land in a very hot LZ and try to battle their way across a village to link up with the rest of their unit.

We made a few mistakes, both in rules interpretation and in tactical play, and we spent a lot of time flicking through the rule book and the supplement. It's hard not to agree with others that the rules suffer from a major presentation issue. I think the core rules could probably be condensed down to twelve or so pages if the rules writers focussed purely on the game mechanics in a logical sequenced fashion. There are a lot of examples and these do help but my opponent Dave and I couldn't help discuss how things could be improved.

Firstly, an opening paragraph to give a summary of the core rule concept would set the scene, particularly for the more innovative rules.  Follow this with the key rule mechanics and then finally complete it by illustrating it with a few examples.  It would make a big difference.  Quite often there's a discursive piece to explain the theory behind a rule before we actually get to the rule itself and often the core rule mechanic is buried amidst these descriptive pieces, which can make trying to find the answer to a rules question in the midst of play a tedious exercise.

To take an example. The concept that units can move and fire, in some case firing several times, is a key concept of the system, but it would help to state this clearly up front in the movement and fire combat sections. It is after all quite a departure from many other rule sets. Then explain the pure game mechanics of movement, firing and reaction. Finally, give a few lengthy examples of the rules in action.


So having said what we didn't like, what did we like? We really liked the way the quality of units varies according to the the dice they use and this determines certain abilities and responses. The Taliban troop quality is 6, in other words they roll a D6 to determine a number of factors with only a 4+ having an effect. Basically the Taliban succeed 50% of the time in most of their actions. The British troop quality is 8, so they succeed on a 4+ on an eight sided dice, a big shift in their chance of succeeding. However both sides had morale of D10, so despite the Taliban's inferior training and weapon skills, their will to stay in the fight was strong.

This is a clever mechanic that allows for many variations - just because a unit is well trained, it doesn't follow their morale is high.  The fact that your quality can decline due to factors on the battlefield is a good reflection of the impact of combat on performance.  The different sided dice is a simple solution that keeps play flowing, yet offers subtle variations without the need for record keeping.


As you would expect the Taliban cannot stand toe to toe in a firefight with well trained regular troops. Not only will the regulars respond faster in the majority of cases, the Taliban will also suffer more hits and casualties. This means each player must play to their strengths and this feels right. The Taliban needed to rely on their numbers and their ability to hide and move hidden around the table. The British needed to make sure fire teams supported each other and brought maximum fire to bear. When they did, the Taliban melted away before the firepower.

We really liked the action/reaction sequencing of play.  At no stage does it feel like it is anyone's turn, both turns feel as though they are happening simultaneously, which is an admirable achievement.  It's a dynamic that we need to really explore further, I felt we only skimmed the surface of how this can play, yet we both liked what we saw.

While we laboured through this game it was only because of the rule book. We like the system and the way the game flows and so we will spend a bit of time with the rule book and get our heads around how things work before returning for more in a couple of weeks. I suspect things will move considerably faster now that we have a better grasp of the mechanics. Heck, it might even be worthy of a proper AAR.




Sunday, 13 May 2018

Sharp Practice AWI British progress

My British light infantry have had their bases flocked and their sabot bases finished off.


My intention at this stage is to have the light infantry wearing helmets as my Light Infantry in Line and to use the light infantry in the roundabout jackets and uncocked hats as my Light Infantry Skirmishers.




I was quite happy with this differentiation until Brendan Morrissey very kindly showed me the errors of my ways.  Even unintentionally people can rather publicly shoot you down in the forums, but Brendan was the embodiment of tact on the Lead Adventure Forum and used the private message function to point out that light infantry would not have been seen in both those uniforms at the same time.  The light bobs in the roundabouts and uncocked hats would have been seen from 1777 onwards, so the chaps in helmets will work for the early stages of the war.  As Brendan pointed out "Obviously it depends on how historically-minded you are - and whether or not you are just finding a use for whatever figures you have - but be aware that uniform nazis will make you aware of this publicly!".  Sage advice from someone who certainly know his stuff. If you are not aware of Brendan's research, he has posted on the Perry Miniatures website and provided input into the colour uniform sheets that come with the Perry's plastic box set.  Excellent stuff for an AWI newbie like me.  We live and learn.


I'm not going to worry in the short term, the arrangement will get me started, but I will address it in due course.  It's not like I won't find a use for both sets of light bobs, so all is well.

I've also worked on 25mm round bases that I will use once a figure is removed as a casualty.  As per my earlier post, I have painted up some of the Perry plastic British casualties and these are now based.  These are mainly to use with the centre company figures as I don't have any casualty figures for light infantry, but hey, I don't think I'm going to get too particular.






Just to fill gaps when I don't have enough casualty figures, I've created a few generic filler bases with flock and shrubs.



I've also created bases to hold mini dice to use as Shock markers. I like the idea you can use these in the sabot bases and ensure shock markers don't go astray when units move. These three types of replacement bases will give options to keep the sabot bases looking 'complete' even after a few casualties.




Talking of game markers, I've been painting up the activation chips that come with the rules.  I read recently that you are more likely to get better randomisation using the chips as opposed to shuffling the cards.  I guess it all depends on how much shuffling you are prepared to do, but for now I'll start off trying the chips.  If nothing else they are smaller and less intrusive on the table and I do like a table free of clutter.


Wednesday, 9 May 2018

AWI British Light Infantry 28mm

The British are coming along at quite a pace for the AWI project for Sharp Practice.  Appropriate I guess, as this latest batch are light infantry and so some rapid movement is to be expected.


These are Wargames Foundry 28mm, sculpted by the Perrys.  They are good, crisp castings which require very little clean up prior to painting.  I've found them easy to paint and somewhat strangely, a lot faster to paint than 20mm WWII figures.  It might just be because they are larger, but then their uniforms appear more complex.  Whatever it is, I'm not complaining.





Those in the uniforms with shoulder chevrons will give me two groups of regular light infantry to fight in line as regulars, complete with a choice of leaders and a couple of musicians (drummer and trumpet).  Then there are eight figures in roundabouts and round hats who I intend to use as my light infantry skirmishers (which will only require 6 of them in a group).  With these I now have enough figures for a late war mixed force.  If I want to fudge it a bit I can use my light bobs as centre company regulars to add to my existing three groups of Perry plastic figures to make up an early war force, which gives me some options on what period I can play.  I have more centre company regulars to paint up (more Perry sculpted Foundry figures this time rather than the Perry plastics), so I will be able to field both forces with the correct figures in due course.



This lot are nearly done, they just need more flocking on their bases and then some sabot bases covered in groundwork to make it easier to move them around on the table.

Talking of sabot bases, as in my earlier post I will make up some 25mm round bases with casualty figures and use these to replace holes in the sabots when a figure is removed.  So I've painted up some of the plastic casualties in the Perry British infantry box.



Next up, the first of the Continentals.....

Sunday, 6 May 2018

The Road to Bremen Scenario 8 (round two)

The battle over the ruins of Bremen has reached the end game. My final platoon, a bunch of hardy Fallschirmjager put up a stout resistance in the first playing of Scenario 8, that victory was enough to prevent the British achieving a campaign victory in eight turns. The best they can now hope for is a campaign draw. The Germans will find it tough to hold on.  They are down five casualties and have no option to bring in another platoon. It will be up to them and any last minute reinforcements that may arrive, to somehow fashion a victory and force the campaign into another game with the chance of a minor German victory.


Much will depend on the reinforcement roll for the Germans, but a roll of four meant that nothing would be forthcoming The Fallschirmjager would have to try to attempt this alone. I decide to disband the panzerschreck team and assign the men to the squads. Each squad has two panzerfausts, so I feel as though I can afford to lose the panzerschreck in order to bring some of the squads up to strength.

The British on the other hand will be able to field a complete platoon by disbanding one of the weaker platoons and assigning men to bring another to full strength. Not only that, they will have at least 14 support points to draw on, possibly as much as 24.

In the previous game I found my defence over stretched and now, with less men, I needed to make sure I could concentrate my squads more effectively. That's easy to say, but I fully expect the British to call on a mortar barrage for support, which means any concentrated defence faces the prospect of being neutralised under the barrage. I need to concentrate to provide a tough defence and I need to spread out to avoid being caught in the barrage. Talk about being caught between a rock and a hard place.

My right flank is partly protected by some wire and that may have to be the extent of my defence on that flank. Any defenders run the risk of being isolated across the road, as happened in the last game, so I will ensure I can cover the wire, but it will be from the other side of the road. I don't plan on deploying to that flank. My defence will congeal around the centre of the table, where I think I can cover any movement around my flanks.  I'd like to find ways for all my squads to deploy into mutually supporting positions and so that's how I plan to play the patrol phase.

I decide a JoP on my left flank would allow me to cover the stretch of open space that runs across the table. If I can fall back to the rear buildings and have a squad on the left covering that open space, it may make it difficult for the British to take those final buildings. It's going to be tough, I will be outnumbered and face a lot of British support.

The British start with force morale at 11, while the Germans are only at 9. The British manage one free extra move in the patrol phase and so the phase goes as well as I could have hoped and leaves me with JoPs that give reasonable options for deployment.




Two German JoPs in the centre of the table

Before we start the Germans are greeted with the roar of British artillery pouring down in a pre-game barrage, deployment may prove tricky.

The British waste no time deploying themselves. A section moves into the buildings in the centre, while a 2" mortar team take up position in cover behind them.


A section of Carriers drives down the main road with the bren guns trained to cover any movement (or unwelcome panzerschreck teams!).





The Germans are in no hurry to reveal themselves and bide their time.  The British continue to build up.  The Carriers advance down the road, while another section deploys, this time on the British left flank, the one I don't intend contesting.






The platoon sergeant positions himself in the centre building and orders the section there to move up to the windows.





To be honest I'm not sure how to react or how to time that reaction.  Revealing myself too soon is to play into British hands, so once again I let my phase pass without taking any action.

The British carrier section takes a sharp right turn and comes behind the buildings in the centre.



Meanwhile on the British left the newly arrived section begins to work its way around that flank.




In the centre the platoon sergeant orders the section to take up overwatch positions and then orders the 2" mortar team to move tactically to the fence from where they will have a better line of sight. More ominously, but not at all unexpected, a Forward Observer turns up on the centre building.




Not content with one 2" mortar, a second deploys on the British right flank and immediately fires smoke, which drifts slightly off target.


A second 2" mortar lays down some smoke

The Germans will let things develop before showing themselves and so the phase passes back to the British.

The Carrier section drives a little further forward before stopping and the bren teams both disembark. They are slow collecting their gear and fail to make it up to the fence line as quickly as the corporal had wished.



While the section on the left flank slowly continues to edge forward, the platoon lieutenant deploys on the opposite flank and orders the mortar to continue laying down smoke. The team are yet to find their aim and the smoke round drifts into exactly the same spot as the previous one.


The Platoon Lieutenant arrives



In the German phase I decide to do nothing. The FO is a tempting target for my sniper, but until he moves up to the windows he's out of sight. However I'll need to be aware that he's attached to the centre section who are also on overwatch.

The British advance continues to develop, once again it's on a broad front and I can't quite work out the main axis just yet and so I wait.  More smoke arrives, this time on target.




In the centre the FO moves up to the windows and as expected he is within 4" of the section on overwatch.  A tempting target nonetheless.




The section on the British left has now made its way to the building in front of my wire, they are now beginning to pose a threat to my most forward JoP and will demand a response from me soon.


In the German phase I decide it's time to bring out the sniper, but the pre-game barrage has played havoc in my rear and the sniper can't make his way to the front.

In the British phase things start to really develop on their left as the section moves up to the windows that face the main road.  I will be tempted to deploy and engage in a firefight, but they will be in hard cover and with the FO on the table I will likely be smothered in a barrage before I know it.  What to do?


In the centre the FO makes contact with the battery, while the sergeant orders the carrier bren teams to take up position along the fence.  A PIAT team deploys on the right.  Dave is not sure if I've received any reinforcements and given this could come in the form of a Hetzer or PzIII N (with a very useful 75mm gun) he's not taking any risks.  The British firepower is slowly building up.



The Germans need to start to responding to these developments and small as it is, the sniper finally makes his appearance and takes a shot at the FO and centre section. He hits and gets a kill but it's a rifleman, not the section corporal or the FO. First blood to the Germans.  The sniper is positioned out of sight of the section on overwatch, so escapes any retribution.

The sniper appears

The FO team directly ahead is his target

In the British phase the lieutenant puts the carrier teams on overwatch and orders the PIAT team forward. The sergeant is busy controlling things in the centre and he puts the 2" mortar on overwatch and asks the FO to call in a ranging round. After spending time making a nice new set of barrage markers I didn't bring them to the game, so you will have to excuse the mix of elements we use to represent the explosions.



down comes the ranging shot

With the prospect of a covering barrage the British feel very confident and the centre section move out of the buildings and towards the building with the forward German JoP.  On the British left the other section advances out of the building and across the road.  My JoP is now under a lot of pressure and it really is time to act.




The German sniper can now make the FO team his sole target, this is a great opportunity to stop that barrage coming down, but his aim is off and he misses. A bit of luck here with that shot and that could have had a big impact on the game.

With that it's time to bring the first German squad into action and they deploy the other side of the building wall to the section on the British left. We are close enough for close combat, but there is not a clear path to contact and so I opt to fight it out from the windows and take advantage of the superior German firepower. We make the decision that as the British section was already at the wall, they also benefit from its protection and so both units will be in hard cover.

The Germans pour fire out of the building and inflict three casualties on the British. The corporal is one of those hit and his wound stuns him for the rest of the turn and the bren team is now reduced to a single man. British FM remains unchanged. To add insult to injury the Germans fling a grenade out of the window and another British rifleman is killed. That has immediately put a halt to that British flank move.





The next British command roll is all 3s except for a 6.  That means the section on their left will be unable to activate this phase, having their corporal out of action has left them unable to respond.  As if that's not bad enough, neither the lieutenant, sergeant or FO can respond either.

That doesn't mean the Germans aren't under pressure. The section in the centre moves up to the building, my squad is in danger of being hit from two sides. Meanwhile the third British section deploys on the right flank. This section is led by a newly promoted man and his lack of command ability means he can only put the bren team on overwatch. Nonetheless, there's now a lot of firepower on that flank.


Dave doesn't intend leaving his section on the left at the mercy of my squad and he deploys an engineer section onto this flank. No surprise they include a flamethrower team.  It's starting to look very ugly for the Germans.

Engineers with a flamethrower
Despite the pressure I have to take advantage of the weakened British section and try to see if I can break them.  My squad fires again and kills the bren gunner, that sees the team wiped out and British FM drops to 10.  The obergefrieter orders the squad to grab their last grenade and fling it out of the window, killing another two riflemen.  In two phases the British section has gone from full strength to three riflemen and a wounded leader.


In the British phase there's more grief for the section that's just taken all the fire.  Now reduced to a single team and a stunned leader they need a 1 to be able to activate and nothing is forthcoming.  It looks like they will have to face a further round of German fire.  Dave is more decisive on other fronts and the section in the centre moves into the building, but not quite far enough to neutralise the German JoP.  While that is happening the lieutenant orders the 2" mortars to fire HE at my squad, but they only manage one hit and it has no effect and with that he orders the section on the far right to move forward.

The British move in the centre needs a German response.  Having virtually wiped out one section there's an opportunity to do some damage to another.  There is a risk though that I will be caught in a mortar barrage.  My only saving grace is that the British section is now close enough to be caught in the barrage as well.  So with that I roll to see if I can deploy a second squad through the pre-game barrage.  I'm successful and we take on the newly arrived British section in the central building, but for all the German firepower the British only suffer two shock.



The British decide to pull the section back out from the central building and call down the mortar barrage.

Down comes the barrage
Only one German squad and the sniper are hit by the barrage and the squad takes a casualty.  The British take advantage of the cover offered by the barrage and a section on the right moves forward.




The British engineers decide they need to move quickly and move at double time to come around on their left flank.




The Germans try to wipe out the remnants of the British section in the street and when they inflict six shock it's enough to see the team break and British FM drop to 9.

 

The end of the phase seems like a good moment to expend a CoC die to end the turn and force the corporal to rout from the table.  When he does British FM drops a further two points to seven.  Dave has a CoC die himself and so I fully expect him to play that to keep the barrage in play and naturally he does.

In the British phase the sergeant moves forward and takes shock off the centre section and has the FO shift the barrage to the left.  The barrage manages a few hits but only a single point of shock across the two German squads.  However, as I feared, I now have two squads neutralised under the barrage.



As a result the platoon lieutenant takes full advantage to move units forward on the right and orders the 2"mortar to lay down some covering smoke to replace that lost at the turn end. On the left the engineers climb into the rubble and advance towards my squads.



There's not much I can do in the German phase as I don't want to deploy my final squad just yet, for as long as Dave doesn't know where they are he will need to be cautious. All I can do is rally any shock off the squads under the barrage.

The British are now getting poised to hit my squads once the barrage lifts and there isn't much I can do about it. The FO walks the barrage back 6”, it still covers both my squads and also limits the use of my central JoP.



I'm fortunate when the barrage has no effect on either squad, but with the barrage now further back the section in the centre moves back to the building.



On the right the lieutenant directs the carrier section teams and the section to move up on the right flank.


The lieutenant is controlling the move on the right flank



I'm going to have to try to ride out the storm, at some point the barrage has to lift and while both my squads are in reasonable shape the British will have their hands full dealing with them.

The British flamethrower team is now facing my squad across the road. They are comfortably in range and ready for when the barrage lifts.





The barrage comes down with more force this phase and kills the German sniper, dropping German FM to eight. One of the obergerfrieters is wounded and stunned, but I use the campaign Fallschirmjager rule to opt not to take the morale check, the other squad suffers some shock.



The lieutenant moves forward and directs the carrier teams and the other section to keep pressing ahead.  







The Germans use their phase to rally shock but otherwise I wait to see how things develop.  This is where I could have done with some reinforcements!

The next British command phases sees the first double phase of the game. The barrage continues to come down, killing a rifleman and inflicting more shock.  Meanwhile the British squads and teams close in for the kill.




The British follow this by rolling another double phase.  Things are not looking good.  The British move into place and are now poised for the barrage to lift.





Things go from bad to worse when the next British command roll is a triple 6.  That may end the turn and the barrage, but I sense it has already done its work and won't be missed.

The FO moves the barrage back 6" and exposes both my squads to British fire.  Two sections pour fire into the building causing three casualties, one of which is the obergefrieter, who is killed.  I opt not to take this morale check, using up my two options to refuse these in a single game.



Next up the flame thrower spurts flames across the street.  It could be worse, but it's bad enough that I take a casualty, eight points of shock and end up pinned.





At that point the turn ends and the barrage ceases, although the smoke and explosions will remain for one more phase to block line of sight.

The British roll for their next phase and it's a relief to see no more double phases. The British sections pour more fire into the building and it inflicts enough shock to break the squad who fall back in disorder.




The flamethrower fires again and this time only manages four hits, resulting in one kill that reduces one of the LMG teams to a single man.


British pressure comes from all directions, as the section on their right makes a move towards my left flank JoP.




In the German phase the squad fires back at the engineers and despite being pinned they manage to kill two members of the demolition team and inflict some shock on the flamethrower team.  It won't be enough to stop that flamethrower making a final shot though.

With the mortar barrage gone and no pregame barrage to worry doubt I deploy my final squad from the central JoP.  They can catch one of the British sections in the centre in the open and their opening round of fire causes three casualties, one of which is the corporal who is lightly wounded, but British FM remains unchanged.







No surprise to see the flamethrower make a final squirt in the next British phase.  The results are predictable and with two casualties and more shock a team is wiped out and the remaining team breaks.  I use a CoC die to miss one of the morale checks, but the other brings German FM down to five. That's two squad broken, but I have two senior leaders yet to deploy.  It doesn't look hopeful, but I might be able to rally the squads and get them back into action.





The British sections in the centre get ready to move onto my central JoP, while the section on the British right does the same for my other JoP and there's precious little I can do to stop them.





At this point Dave uses a CoC die to end the turn and both my broken squads rout off the table.  Not only is that a blow to my already fragile force morale, but it leaves me with a single squad to somehow protect all my JoPs while I'm outnumbered by four to one.  I think it's fair to say the writing is on the wall and it's time for the last defenders of Bremen to accept the inevitable.

With that the campaign comes to an end.  It's an honourable draw.  The Germans cannot win this one, so my aim was to lose with as much style as possible and under the circumstances I will happily settle for a draw.  I'll only have to wonder if a bit more fortune with my reinforcement rolls would have been enough to tilt the balance and enable my doughty Fallschirmjager to hold on for another campaign turn?  We will never know, but it's been one of the most enjoyable campaigns I've played, with plenty of interesting twists to keep me completely engaged.  Those twists and variations alone would give this great replay value, as no two campaigns would play alike.

As Rich Clarke points out in the campaign briefing, this type of campaign structure could lend itself to late war campaigns on both the western and eastern fronts and is a great model to work from for anyone thinking of working something up for other campaigns in other settings.