We played a three handed daytime game of Bolt Action on Saturday, to mark the first visit by Ian since he left for Asia in December. It was good to be back in BA after a run of Ancients games. Ian brought down his US paratroopers and Fallschirmjaegers and I wanted to include them in the game so I prepared a 1500 Point scenario very loosely based on Market Garden, as follows:
“The 101st Division has been holding the road open to Eindhoven, the first piece of the airborne carpet over which 30th Corps plans to roll in its drive to cross the Rhine. Delayed from the start, the Armoured column is struggling to stick to its timetable. The German forces have reacted faster than the Allies expected and are pulling together an increasingly powerful defence.
Place 3 objective markers along the main road, at 18, 36 and 54 inches from the Southern table edge.
The game lasts 6 turns, with the possibility of a seventh on a roll of 4,5,6.
1 VP for each enemy unit destroyed; 2VP for each objective controlled by troops within 3”.
Matt used his US troops as the relief force, with a Sherman, half track-mounted squad and an infantry platoon. I created 750 points of Heer Grenadiers for the on table Germans and a selection of Waffen SS and Fallschirmjaegers squads, a Stug and a panzer grenadier squad for the reinforcements.
The objectives were represented by oil drums, milk churns and a dog kennel.
The US paras set up in foxholes around the bicycle workshop and the dog kennel objective. The on table Germans all set up to the East of the road, with two squads and an MMG behind a hedge facing South and the rest facing the Paras to the West.
In the first stage of the game, Matt’s relief force attacked the German hedge line while the rear area Germans, reinforced by two arriving squads, attacked the US Paras. In the second stage, the relief force destroyed the hedgerow Germans and advanced on the second German line, while the rear area Germans tightened their grip on the Paras. In stage three, the relief force was stalled by the destruction of an M3 halftrack, and held up long enough for the US Paras to be badly mauled and dislodged from the dog kennel objective. The game ran to a seventh turn and ended with the Allies holding 2 objectives for 4VPs, plus 3VPs for German units destroyed. The Germans meanwhile held one 2VP objective and destroyed 6 US units. So a German victory at 10 VPs to 7.
The game was closer fought than the final score suggests. The US Assault on the first German line was quick and effective, destroying a 10 man squad and an MMG in short order. The second German line held well however, and was helped by the arrival of the Stug which first destroyed the halftrack then placed itself in ambush round the curve of a hill, threatening to enfilade a further US advance northwards. As it happened, when the Sherman did move into view the Stug only managed a ‘crew stunned’, but this bought enough time for the Germans to wipe out the US Paras.
Anybody else know the song Roads to Moscow by Al Stewart, circa 1974? A rare rock song about WWII that isn't thrash metal. Every time a German tank dies in a game, I think of the line:" Two broken Tigers on fire in the night." I was humming it last night.
Ian and I played a game of Bolt Action Tank War. We had 2,200 points each on an 8’ x 4’ table. This was the biggest game we have played so far, with every tank we could get our hands on.
Ian’ Germans had 2 Panthers, a Panzer IV, a Stug and a Puma, plus 520 points of Fallschirmjagers. My British had a Cromwell, 6 Shermans and 500 points of infantry. All tanks on both sides and the British infantry were regular, and Ian's Fallschirmjagers were veteran. I began with 14 dice and Ian with 11.
The table was quite busy to ensure we didn't have too many uninterrupted lines of sight. It was divided up the middle by a cobbled road, on one side of which were the outskirts of a village and on the other, more open farmland. We rolled four objectives which we placed in a rough line, lengthwise down the middle of the table. Three of them were in the village, which was on Ian's left and my right.
On turn 1, Ian placed a lone Puma on his extreme left; his Panzer IV in support of most of his infantry in the centre, then his remaining armour, along with a single infantry squad and an MMG, in the fields on his right. I sent all my infantry into the village in the centre, one Sherman into the open ground on the left and the rest of my armour behind the village and on my right.
I struck lucky early on, knocking out the Panzer IV and a Panther in turn 2. My dice rolling balanced out later when my armour repeatedly failed to damage Ian's vehicles, but it was a great advantage to roll so many high numbers in the opening stages.
The game split into three combats: on my left, the Remaining Panther and Stug duelled with 4 Shermans (quickly reduced to 3); in the centre, our infantry fought for control of two objectives in the village; and on my right, the Cromwell and 1 Sherman played peekaboo with the Puma. Early luck tipped the scales in my favour and by game’s end Ian had lost every tank but his Stug while I had lost just the one Sherman. With two objectives apiece at the end of turn 6 we counted points and I got a ‘clear victory’.
I think this was my luckiest wargame for a very long time. Did skill come into it? A bit, perhaps. My tanks used cover more than Ian, who confessed he had put his faith in the superior armour of his Panzers rather than tuck them behind walls. In truth, an awful lot of my fire did bounce off harmlessly but if you take enough shots even a 75 will get through eventually. I also think it helped to keep my infantry in mutual supporting distance. But if truth be told, I won because I had a big fat slice of improbable luck. Bless him, Ian stayed cheerful until the last 6 was rolled. He used his Puma to tie down three tanks for much of the game: I almost regretted knocking it out on turn 6. Almost. And at least his Stug shrugged off every single attempt to pierce its armour.
We had another 500 point Bolt Action game last night. Matt and his GIs attacked Ian's Fallschirmjägers, tasked with capturing two objectives (a milk churn and a telegraph pole).
Ian had three small infantry squads, an MMG, flamethrower, sniper and 2nd lieutenant. He placed two squads and his officer behind bocage on his right; the third squad, MMG and flames in ruins in his centre-left and his sniper in more ruins in front of his centre.
Matt led three strong squads, a medium mortar and a 2nd lieutenant. His preliminary bombardment inflicted a few pins but not much else, besides killing the sniper’s spotter. He then brought his force in close together, leaving Ian’s right uncovered and pointing two squads at Ian’s left.
The game played out interestingly. Matt closed to close quarters as fast as he could, incurring some risks in the process. His tactics nearly paid off handsomely. The end result saw Matt in firm control of the objective on Ian's left but Ian was hanging on to the one on his right. Matt had got his forces at right angles to, and behind Ian’s cover (a stretch of bocage). He looked in control and had the game lasted another turn, Ian would have been hard put to hang on to the second objective. As it was, the game ended in a draw on turn 6.
There were some tense moments. True to previous form, Matt scored an early mortar hit on Ian's MMG, reducing it to paste in two rounds of firing. His mortar spotter knows his job. Make that ‘knew’ because Ian's sniper took him out soon afterwards. Matt fudged a move with one squad, but when Ian's flamethrower tried to capitalise on the mistake, it missed.
We discussed after the game whether a veteran force can perform well at 500 points since the numbers are so few. We concluded that it can, but that at this game size, one chance event can have a bigger effect on the outcome than in a game of 1000 points or more.
So the running total of BA games played looks as follows:
Matt: played 4. Won 2. Lost 1. Drew 1. 5 points
Ian: played 5. Lost 2, Drew 3. 3 points
Tim: played 5. Won 2, Lost 1, Drew 2. 6 points.
Before Matt joined us, Ian introduced me to 8th edition 40K. I had lost interest when 7th edition came out, mainly because the small forces we had built up with previous editions stood no chance against monster models like Imperial Knights, Stompas or whatever. It was great fun. Ian bundled an Ork mob, some stormboyz and a warboss down the road into my Cadian squads, sentinel, Company commander and commissar. I really liked the streamlined rules. Age of Sigmar turned me right off, partly because of the rubbish back story and some silly new models (a dwarf riding a dragon? Come off it! They will always be race enemies in my head). I loved the Old World and was sorry GW abandoned it. But 40K 8th edition seems to have improved play without ruining the universe. I will play this again.
On Wednesday we played another two games of Bolt Action. The first was the latest in our three-way escalation campaign. In this, Matt's Normandy US assaulted my German grenadiers. We played 750 points a side. Matt had a discount if he took armour and so deployed a Sherman alongside two regular infantry squads, a veteran engineer squad, a medium mortar, a medic and a First lieutenant. I brought three squads, an MMG, a medium mortar, officer and Sdkfz 251/10, all regular. Matt would score vps for destroying my units, having units in my 12" deployment zone and exiting units off my table edge. I would just score vps for destroying units. I could start hidden and place one squad in fox holes.
Matt rolled pretty poor dice for preliminary bombardment, except against my very last unit, a half track with anti tank gun. He promptly converted his 6 to a knock out so I was down one half track before the game even started. This was my only ranged anti tank weapon although fortunately I had allocated a panzerfaust to each infantry section.
I set up my three squads from left to right across the table, the left two on wooded high ground and the third in fox holes on the flat. My MMG sat behind a stone wall in the centre, facing down the road against the advancing Americans. Matt brought most of his force on table on his right, throwing his Sherman down the road and gathering his infantry sections in the grounds of the house. His Sherman and mortar were the most active in the early turns, while his infantry crept closer. Matt also brought his engineers across from his left, concentrating his whole force in the right half of the table. With no enemy in front of them and no anti tank capability besides the panzerfausts, I sent first my right hand squad, then the centre squad forward to close with the US left and try a bit of tank hunting.
Both our mortars inflicted some tidy casualties from mid game having ranged in, but Matt's hits were more effective as they reduced my left hand squad to nothing, just as his right wing assaulted my left in the closing two turns. Matt mounted a concerted attack on my left, with an infantry squad and his Sherman entering my deployment zone. I had the satisfaction of knocking out the Sherman with my centre squad's panzerfaust but when the game ended at the end of turn 6, Matt had a 3 point advantage so won the day. It was a really close and enjoyable game.
Our campaign results so far are:
Matt: played 2. Won 2. 4 points
Ian: played 3. Lost 2, drew 1. 1 point
Tim: played 3. Won 1, lost 1, Drew 1. 3 points.
So Matt is the man to beat, out in front with a game in hand.
We then played a game of Tank War. Ian and Matt led two panthers, a Panzer 4 and a STUg to an easy victory against my three Shermans, Cromwell, 6pdr anti tank gun and infantry in a half track. Aww crap. With no need or incentive to close the range, the Germans sat on their baseline and took out my units one by one as I tried to get near enough to inflict damage. I did manage to jam a Panther's turret and my fire dice could perhaps have rolled higher, but I was basically doomed! At least it was over quickly.... still, the table looked good, and as Matt pointed out, it was probably an accurate outcome. I have three more Shermans on the paint bench and maybe next time, we can get enough Allied tanks into killing range before the German cats take them all out. No, I'm not bitter. Well, maybe a little...
Last Wednesday we played the third game in our escalation campaign. Each player kept the surviving troops from the first 500 point game and was allotted 250 points to spend on additional units. Ian, who lost a squad in close combat in his first game, replaced it with a squad one quality level lower than the original. The instructions were as follows.
Matt (US). "After getting the better of the enemy in your chance encounter, you are on the attack. The build up of resources since D Day has been immense, which means you may choose any asset in the army list for your additional 250 points. The practice of parcelling armour down to small infantry units has begun, to help deal with the enemy in the bocage country. If you buy a tank, pay only 90% of the purchase cost for it. Allied air superiority is also established, though there has been a worrying amount of blue on blue attacks since 6 June as pilots have still to learn their trade."
Ian (Fallschirmjaegers). "The defence line has thickened since 6 June and your command has been reinforced. To make up for the loss of 1st squad, a scratch squad has been allocated to you, made up of support troops from regiment HQ. Its quality is only regular.
With the extra 250 points, you may purchase units from the Normandy list. However, bear in mind that Allied air superiority and fuel shortages have greatly hampered the movement of armour up to the front. Panzers are still in short supply and if you choose a tank or assault gun, it must start in reserve. You may not purchase an air observer: the Luftwaffe is totally absent over Normandy at present.
You may set up your troops hidden and you may deploy as many on table troops as you like in fox holes (hard cover)."
As Matt was joining us a bit later, Ian and I played the first game between his Fallschirmjaegers and my Brits. Ian dug in on the wooded hill in the centre of his table edge, with a squad in a half track in reserve behind the hill and an MMG watching a possible covered approach towards his left flank.
I deployed a regular infantry section in my centre with a light mortar. My plan was to hold the enemy's attention with this force while working around his right with two other sections, an MMG in a Bren carrier and my command section. I was ready for losses in the centre, so placed a medic there. An optimistic PIAT team set off to hunt the Hanomag but was swiftly mowed down by Ian's MMG. I also repeated an earlier trick of losing my own MMG to snipers before it fired a shot. But this was about the limit of my misfortune as the plan to work round Ian's right worked and I won the game with a good margin of VPs. I also realised that a good use for my sniper was to hunt enemy snipers.
Sadly we didn't have time for a second full game so at Matt 's suggestion we played our first game of Tank War, with a Panther and Panzer IV taking on three Shermans (with a US half track and a Cromwell standing in for two Shermans). It was fast, fun and nail biting. My Panther took an early beating from concentrated Allied fire, leaving the Panzer IV to try and take revenge. It nearly did so too, but the game went to the Allies. We agreed this could be a lot of fun, provided we got more tanks. Uh-oh!
On 15 February we started an escalation campaign for Bolt Action, set in 1944 Normandy. We began with 500 point armies, with just platoon assets.
Game 1: Ian's Fallschirmjaeger versus Matt's US. Matt fielded two regular and one veteran squads, a 1st Lieutenant and a medic. Ian had two sections of Fallschirmjaegers, one of them in a half track, and a 1st lieutenant.
The scenario: meeting engagement. Back story: With the line stabilising, both sides are feeling for the enemy. They meet around the Maison Jaune, a local notary' house.
Changes to BA scenarios: Losses from this scenario may be carried forward to the next game, with the chances of recovery better for a unit that was not completely wiped out; hence, either side may withdraw units from the table at any time.
Matt arrived first, deploying his three squads together on his right flank. His left was protected from view by bocage (cannot be seen over except by troops lining the bocage). Ian brought his first section with its half-track in on his left, but brought his HQ and second section in on his far right, aiming to outflank Matt. Matt took advantage of the local superiority on his right with concentrated fire against Ian's left, with effective results. With several pin markers, Ian failed a crucial order test and was unable to withdraw before Matt's third squad assaulted his section. This spelt the end of the clash, with Ian's surviving troops linking up with the half track and departing the field. First blood to Matt's US.
Same scenario, my British against Ian's second force of Fallschirmjaegers. I deployed three regular sections, a 1st lieutenant and a light mortar. Ian had an identical force to game 1. Same terrain. I came on closely grouped on the right flank, with the light mortar in a ruined pig sty a little to the left. Ian came on opposite me but, having seen my deployment, shifted quickly to his right. My platoon swung 90 degrees to face Ian's new position. Firing was limited to lmgs and Ian's half track mmg. The British had slightly more success until Ian's MMG scored a lucky hit that removed a Bren team. Having spent most of the game manoeuvring, we ended with an inconclusive draw.
After the games we rolled to see which of our losses would return in time for the next game. Only Ian's fallschirmjaeger section that was destroyed in close combat ceased totally to exist.
In the next game, players will pay for their surviving reduced sections at normal cost, then buy more assets to the new points limit. Ian will have to replace his lost section with a regular section, so one below the quality of his original troops.
Two games in, the points table is:
Matt: played 1. Won 1. 2 points
Ian: played 2. Lost 1, drew 1. 1 point
Tim: played 1. Drew 1. 1 point
We play again on 8 March.
We fought our third game of Bolt Action last night. To a background of thunder and lightning outside the shed, Matt’s and my Allies were given a bloody nose by Ian’s Fallschirmjägers. Armies were 1000 points a side, with the Allies split 500 points apiece between US and British. We played scenario 2, where the winner is the one who destroys the most enemy units. The table was laid out to represent farmland, criss-crossed by bocage with a copse on one flank and a wooded hill and stream on the other. We used the hedgerow rules from Battleground Europe, where the bocage counts as hard cover and cannot be seen over, unless the firer and/or target is adjacent to it. The bocage was in a St Andrew’s Cross shape, with its centre more or less in the middle of the table.
For most of the game we had a stalemate in the centre and Allied left, as British and Fallschirmjägers threatened each other from behind diagonally adjacent fields. Whoever broke cover first was likely to lose a lot of men so apart from mortar fire and the accursed German sniper, not a lot happened here.
On the Allied right, the action was much faster, bloodier and ultimately decisive in the Germans’ favour. Two squads of Americans, with a Browning HMG and M3 halftrack, challenged one squad of Fallschirmjagers, a light AT gun and a Panzerfaust for control of the wooded hill. The Germans’ superior weapons proved unbeatable, with the extra shot and the Assault ability really adding to their lethality. A British attempt to reinforce the Americans fell foul of German guns in the hedge line. When this attempt was launched, Ian chose to pull back his right wing to launch an attack round the British left. The British responded by sending everybody but an MMG in Ambush to reinforce the Americans but this was too late to change the outcome. By game’s end, two Allied units had been destroyed to the Germans’ one, which was enough to give Ian the day. Moreover, as two US squads were at greatly reduced strength and under several pin counters, the result was more decisive than the small VP difference might suggest. For most of the game, fully half of the German force didn’t do more than dodge mortar rounds and lie behind some hedgerows.
A lot of soul searching later, the following thoughts come to mind.
With veteran status and a fistful of assault guns, Fallschirmjagers are very hard to beat at close range. It isn’t healthy for a regular Allied squad to race them for possession of a terrain feature: they will always have the edge.
Perhaps it's better to stand off, try to knock some Fallschirmjägers down and slow them with pin markers.
Mortars have a powerful disruptive effect. Even though the first round has only 1 chance in 6 of hitting, the target is under pressure to move before the improving odds result in a splat.
An MMG in ambush with a good fire lane can isolate a portion of the enemy force, allowing it to be overwhelmed. Nice theory, hard to implement. But I'm going to work on it.
Smoke! Why haven't I used it yet? It was a key part of tactical doctrine for a reason and I need to work out when and how to use it in the game.
There weren't many consolations for the losers of this game, except that we took out the German sniper and the two US squads were still standing at game's end despite serious losses. For all that, it was a good evening and the system keeps drawing us further in.
It's funny how one thing leads to another. I have been greatly enjoying "It never snows in September " by Robert Kershaw, an account of operation Market Garden from the German perspective. I have read a few books about the campaign, but all from the Allied viewpoint. I am used therefore to the broad narrative (with variations) that the Allies overreached themselves; that they had bad luck with unexpected German dispositions and the weather; and that XXX Corps lacked the necessary drive to break through to Arnhem in time. Kershaw's account however brings out just how much the Germans achieved with a motley collection of scratch formations, constantly forming new defensive positions and mounting counter attacks. Perhaps rather than focus sing on how the Allies lost Market Garden, it is more accurate to consider how the Germans won it.
The book provides countless ideas for Bolt Action scenarios, especially for those who fancy throwing every possible combination of troops together in the German force. But it has also stirred memories of a mission in one of my favourite game systems, Epic 40,000. I mean the boxed game from the late 1990s, not Epic Armageddon. We have both sets but I think the extra chrome in Armageddon tends to slow the pace down. Jervis Johnson's original rules are elegant, streamlined and for my money, they work better with large armies. And surely, it won't be epic unless there is a shed load of models on the table.
The Blitzkrieg scenario in the Epic Battles Book involves one side desperately trying to block an enemy attack, with units coming on at random and trying to stabilise the situation. Shades of Hell's Highway there. Several years ago my son Nick and I had some great games of Epic, but we haven't played it for over a decade. Time, I have decided, to dust off the figures and get Waugh! Tamrine back into gear. I just need to twist some arms to get a multiplayer game going.
Last night Ian and I played a 1000 point game between his Fallschirmjägers and my British, topped up by a US Airborne squad and MMG. We played scenario 4, Hold Until Relieved, agreeing that the US squads would hold the objective while the British would arrive to bail them out. Or not, as it transpired....
The objective was the privy behind the house in the centre of the table. I placed the Airborne squad in the house and the MMG in the garden behind a fence. We gave the Airborne their own order dice. Ian deployed in an arc around three sides, with three full squads of infantry and a fire base on a hill overlooking the house.
I conceded in turn 5, having been outgunned and completely outmanoeuvred. Ian got up close to the house early on, destroyed the MMG and wore down the Airborne in the house with mortar fire, small arms and finally a close assault. I was too slow to place my relief force between the objective and danger, and I made two major mistakes: first, I moved an infantry section up between two fires, hugging the hedgerow for cover from one side while exposing its open flank to a German MMG; and second, my own MMG, arriving from reserve, ended its first move in line of sight of a sniper who immediately wiped out the gunner. How we laughed. Oh, and Ian's flamethrower team toasted my First lieutenant before itself being blatted. Not a good trade-off for me.
Ian’s single misfortune was to close assault my surviving British section with a Fallschirmjager squad and lose. The odds were in his favour so it wasn’t a mad move, but the price for poor dice rolls in close assault is high. It’s funny how often the dice give the losing side some crumb to console themselves for a duffing up.
My main lessons from the evening:
Mortars are an excellent weapon against fixed positions.
Close assault is unpredictable, decisive and best avoided until the odds are overwhelming and/or firepower won’t be enough to do the job.
Taking cover, however reassuring the protection, can be a distraction from achieving the scenario objective. I liked the look of my section tucked up snugly behind its hedgerow, but I should have been moving it up to relieve the poor Airborne.
The German assault rifle is a beast.
As for force selection, I need more British infantry. Since the release of Version Two was announced, I have been thinking of delaying more purchases: the British plastics are bigger and harder to pose than recent Warlord plastic releases (Ian’s Fallschirmjagers are much smaller and more lifelike than my Brits) so I am hoping they get a reboot soon. But we now know that the new starter set will have new US Airborne plastics, so I guess it will still be some time before the Brits are replaced. I can’t wait that long, so I don’t really have a choice. (It reminds me of the time when GW introduced the new, tiny and beautifully sculpted Night Goblins, thereby rendering obsolete my freshly painted army using the previous, now gigantic and crude-looking multi-pose set. But I think it just has to be!)