Hallo, boys and girls; here is the second half of my ASLOK AAR. As you will remember, your hero bravely battled back from an 0-2 start to win 5 games in a row and recover a measure of his self-respect.
That takes us to Wednesday morning, when I matched up against Brian Brown, another member, like Stan Jackson, of our informal Ohio-Kentucky ASLer gaming group. Brian has only been with the group a couple of years, and as I don’t play with the group as often as I used to, we have only played a handful of times. But every time has been fun and Brian is a good opponent, and someone who has been quickly getting up the ASL learning curve. We decided to play a scenario from the new Friendly Fire pack, FrF54 (KNIL Before the Emperor), a 1942 Dutch-Japanese scenario (KNIL is the acronym for the Royal Netherlands East India Army, basically). This scenario is a fairly large one that will have multiple actions going on at the same time. The Japanese objective is a town; they have to control 7 or more stone building hexes in it. One force of Japanese troops–8 Elite squads with good leaders and toys–has to force its way across a stream and into the town. They are later reinforced by 5 more squads (1st line). Meanwhile, a small group of 4-4-7s and such can enter on one or both of the flanks of the town. The defending Dutch (who oddly, are portrayed with Axis minor troops!) have 3.5 5-3-7 squads and an armored car that set up HIP in the vicinity of the bridge. In the town, they have 7 3-3-6 conscript squads. They get 5 3-4-7 squads and two more armored cars to reinforce the town.
Brian’s first task was to get across the bridge. Here he got held up a bit. He only moved one mortar in position to go for smoke the next turn (saving the other mortar for later in the game, which in retrospect was a mistake). That mortar didn’t get smoke. He also didn’t have much luck initially in flushing out my HIP units. However, he was helped that my armored car, very strategically positioned, broke its CMG on its very first shot. In any case, he had to force the bridge the hard way and took some casualties doing it, though not as many as you might think he would. However, one of my 5-3-7 squads ended up holding him up for quite a while, while 2 5-3-7s that eventually broke some how managed to actually get rallied and were in the action for the end game in the town, which turned out to be important. I think the main thing, though, that decided the scenario was that, once he was across the bridge, Brian did not act as decisively as he probably needed to–those forces had to start putting pressure on the town fast, but they were just slow to get into the action. As a result, in the end game, Brian was forced to do a last rush for the buildings, with predictable results. It’s kind of a good lesson of the friction of war, how little events can add up in various ways to separate, slow down, and hinder an attacking force. But it was fun playing Brian and I enjoyed it. Plus, I was now 6-2 and had won six games in a row.
Alas, that was not to last, thanks to the worst scenario I played all week. That evening, I played Canadian ASLer John McDiarmid for the first time in a playing of another recent From the Cellar scenario, FT164 (Guts Are Not Enough), a Japanese-less PTO scenario featuring the British versus the Axis minor Burmese Independence Army, represented mostly by 3-3-6 squads with an ELR of 2. This is a small, quick playing scenario. The British have only 8 second line squads, supported by a tiny mortar and two carriers (one of them a mortar carrier). However, the Burmese have 3 3-4-7 squads and 9 3-3-6 squads, three 0-leadership leaders, and 2 LMG. The British may not declare no quarter against them, which may be one of their biggest liabilities, as it turns out. The battle is basically over the hut overlay slapped onto Board 38; the British must control all hut hexes. So the Burmese have +1 TEM at best, and thanks to the huts, they will basically never regain concealment once they lose it. Essentially, there is a brief battle in the initial British attack, as there is some open ground to cross, unless the British get very lucky with smoke, but after that, the Burmese will basically just be looking for adjacent or down shots to take, while oozing around the huts to protect themselves, if possible, by adding a hindrance here or there. They can’t really afford to stack because a lucky shot could take out a whole stack. In this scenario, I was the Burmese. John launched an aggressive attack with his tiny force and as a result suffered some early casualties (and got very lucky that he didn’t suffer an even worse fate to more units). John’s reaction to those early setbacks was a bit surprising; it was more or less the reaction of a player late in the scenario who had been getting bad luck all scenario long, rather than someone still on the first player turn. I thought it might be a long unpleasant scenario if he was going to be getting that hot all game long. However, I needn’t have worried; that was the only bad luck he got all scenario long. He consistently rolled very low, which in low TEM against low ELR conscripts, pretty much spells doom. But even leaving that aside, it was just not fun for the defender. The scenario itself may well be balanced, I can’t say, but the defender has very few decisions to make, very little to move, and mostly will simply be trying to maintain concealment as long as possible. I can’t recommend the scenario to anyone. I didn’t mind breaking my winning streak (I was now 6-3), but I did not like the fact that I had broke it on a scenario that just was not fun to play. It is best suited for solitaire play, I think.
Luckly, the next day I was able to get that bad taste out of my mouth. Mike Faulkner of Schwerpunkt fame had prevailed upon me to playtest a scenario of his with him on Thursday morning, and I agreed. You will probably see it next year; it is a largish Spanish Civil War scenario that will probably end up being titled A Graveyard for My Bed or something similar. This scenario features a Spanish Nationalist force (using elite and first line Allied minor counters) accompanied by some Pz Is attacking that Board 63 hill-town. They need to take a key building in that town and also the graveyard on the hill. That graveyard is a bitch, though, as it is full of trenches and units in the area are fanatic. Plus, it turns out, there’s a 9-2 leader there. The Spanish Republicans are represented by Soviet counters and depict a Canadian International Brigade–with the interesting tidbit that there is a Canadian commissar in the game (who will shoot you in the back of the neck in the most polite way imaginable). The Canadians get a bunch of reinforcements but they may be interdicted if the Nationalists can take the hill-town fast enough. This was the very first playtest of this scenario, and you never know what will happen in such a playing–the scenario could even turn out to be fundamentally broken or unplayable. However, happily, that is not what happened here. I took the Nationalists and Mike the Republicans and the scenario played very well. There were some obvious tweaks to be made but it was clear that the scenario dynamics were fundamentally sound. I think it will be a very fun scenario. By the way, I ended up winning, and though it will have to have an asterisk as a playtest scenario, I was now 7-3 and had washed away the bad taste of the previous scenario.
That scenario took us a while to play and so it was the only one I played that day, basically schmoozing in the evening. On Friday I also only played one scenario. I matched up against Andrea Pagni, the first Italian ASLer to come to ASLOK, but hopefully only the first of many. He was a very friendly person and fun to play against. We played yet another Schwerpunkt scenario, SP164 (Tanks But No Tanks), from a few years ago. This is a 1939 Polish-Soviet scenario. I took the attacking Soviets; Andrea defended with the Poles. Basically, I had to take 3 of 4 buildings. I started with 14 squads (mostly 1st line) and three T-26 M33 (crappy little tanks with no MG). He started with 12 squads (half Green, the other half elite or first line), 2 37mm AT guns, a lot of MG, and an 81mm MTR. He would later get a platoon of reinforcements that would essentially come up behind me and might threaten the one easy building for me to take. I would get 6 squads of reinforcements, including a 9-2 leader and 2 DC, accompanied by two BT-5 M34, that could enter pretty much anywhere along the edges of the forward half board.
My attack started off pretty well, and I was up on Andrea very quickly, but things went to hell very shortly after that. His dice were amazingly hot. Every roll seemed to have a 1 in it somewhere. I soon started suffering casualties at an alarming rate, which really affected my options. At one point, I only had two squads in good order at the schwerpunkt of my attack. If it were not for the fact that I was consistently able to rally units and get them back into the fight, I would have had no chance at all. Moreover, I had to play fairly conservatively, at least until my reinforcements could get up. Realistically, I was really hurting before the scenario was even half over. I did get a momentary boost in my spirits after he entered his reinforcements. My reinforcements followed his. Essentially, I had three practical options. Enter along a flank but face lots of open ground at a time when I had few casualties to spare, or enter behind his reinforcements and go right up the middle with them. Looking at how he had positioned his units, I realized he had left them vulnerable, or at least potentially so. Through some clever maneuvering, in a single turn, I managed to kill the entire platoon–only his 9-1 leader survived (though it did take out a BT-5 M34). That gave me enough hope to carry on. However, his low die rolling continued (you know you are being diced when your opponent actually apologizes for a roll!). In the end, I had to make a hated last turn rush for the victory areas, with predictable results. Andrea had really diced me, something I think he would fully admit, but he had a good set up and a solid game plan, so he deserves credit for that regardless. Anyway, I had fun playing him and I hope he comes back to ASLOK in the future, and brings some friends, too.
After that, I went out to dinner with the Schwerpunkt guys–they very graciously treated me–and then schmoozed for a bit. I figured I would get two games in on Saturday then go home Sunday morning.
My first Saturday game ended up being against Sam Tyson of Bounding Fire Productions fame. Sam’s a very good player. We ended up playing a scenario from the new Friendly Fire Pack, FrF53 (Raid into the Reich), which features a rare Polish 1939 attack. In this scenario, played on board 2a, the Poles must control two buildings (one of which is no mean feat to take) and eliminate/capture two wagons. That’s four different objectives they must accomplish. They don’t have a lot of forces to do it with. They start with 5 4-5-8 squads, a MMG, and two TKS tankettes. Any of their forces may enter as cavalry. They get 7 more 4-5-8 squads and a DC (I wanted to throw it from the horse but that didn’t happen) which can enter on the same edge on Turn 2, along that edge or a flank on turn 3, and/or along the other flank on turn 4. The defending Germans have 9 4-4-7 squads, a MMG, ATR, 50mm MTR, 12 AP mine factors, 2 Wire counters and 3 Trenches. So the Poles clearly have their work cut out for them.
This was a scenario of two halves. The first half of the scenario, nothing went right for me. I suffered a lot of casualties, had snipers, got bogged in bad places, you name it. His MMG was really deadly and got rate a lot. With very mobile cavalry and forces entering on the flanks, you’d think I’d be able to do some interesting stuff, but he had me bottled up pretty well. Halfway through the scenario I had not even taken the forward building yet, much less the other three objectives. It was too soon to give up the game but I basically didn’t think I had a chance to win. But then things began to chance. First, my elite forces finally started acting elite and passing a morale check here and there. I got my TKS unbogged and finally into the action. And I realized that his defense of the rear building was flawed–it was really set up more to defend against a forward attack than a flanking attack. I noticed a clever route where I could move right up to the building essentially unseen by the defenders, thanks to in-season orchards. Only one unit farther away could see them and in the end its fire was ineffective. Thus I was able to get up to the building, get off my horsies, and advance into the building, which eventually doomed it. Moreover, he set up one of his wagons in a gully next to the building, on the (reasonable enough) theory that the defenders could also protect it. But it actually meant that a second objective was also achievable to me. So as I went into the end game, I realized that I actually had a chance to get all four objectives. With my flanking force I could capture the back building and kill that wagon. I was also going to be able to get the front building, which by that point only had a half squad left defending it. The bitch was going to be that last wagon; he had a host of guys around it, anchored by that demonic MMG. However, as I looked at the situation, I realized I had a chance. Because I had finally gotten my last TKS back into action, I had a chance to bypass sleaze the MMG. If I could soak up some fire from the other nearby units, I actually had some units in the vicinity of the front building that, if they cx’ed, could get adjacent to that wagon. So I sleazed the MMG, which itself soaked up some fire from the other units. Another squad or so soaked up more fire. This mean that my CXing units from far away could actually get adjacent to the wagon without even the chance of enemy fire. And that’s what happened. I was able to eliminate the second wagon, which meant that on his last player turn, in order to win, Sam would have to take back one of the two buildings. One was physically out of this reach, and the other almost so, and in the end he couldn’t do it. I managed to hang on just long enough for my luck to turn and for opportunities to present themselves. So, kids, the lesson is, don’t give up. Anyway, it was really hard fought scenario and I was now 8-4 heading into my last scenario.
The last scenario turned out to be against British ASLer Dave Ramsey, attending his first ASLOK. He was a fun opponent (and almost stereotypically polite!). We played a Melee Pack scenario that had been on my play list for several years, MP15 (Just a Bit Outside). This is a smallish PTO scenario in which the Japanese are on the attack in Burma against the Americans (Merrill’s Marauders). The Japanese start off with 7 squads, 2 crews/MMGs, 2 LMT, a MTR, a 10-0 and a 9-0. On Turns 2 and 3 they get almost identical platoon-sized reinforcement groups, one of which will enter on one side on turn 2 and the other of which will enter on the other side on turn 3. The defending Americans have 9.5 elite squads, 2 MMG, foxholes aplenty, a 9-2, an 8-0, and a 7-0. They also get 80mm battalion mortar OBA with automatic first black card and a radio that automatically repairs itself–but the trick is that the OBA starts off automatically inaccurate and only becomes more accurate as the scenario goes on. So the Japanese have a good chance of being free from OBA early on, but in the end game it is another matter. To win, the Japanese have to get around/through the American jungle/hill position (overlay 2) and on the other side of the stream. They must at least equal the number of American CVP on the other side of the stream.
This was another scenario where I could not initially see how the Japanese have much of a chance. The Americans have a ton of firepower and that 9-2 leader can just chew Japanese up. The Japanese will at best typically be facing flat defensive first fire attacks. This was an issue for me as I was to be the Japanese. However, we checked ROAR and it was 4-2 in favor of the Japanese, so clearly they had a chance. So we went for it.
It turns out that, with 6.5 turns, the Japanese have just enough time that they do not have to be foolhardy. My goal was to use the middle to try to keep as many American troops occupied as much as possible, even at the cost of units, while moving aggressively to try to pinch off one or more of the American flanks, in order to shoot some Japanese units across the stream and on to the other side. I am pretty good as the Japanese and was able to maneuver fairly successfully, frequently putting Dave in positions where he had to voluntarily break his troops or stand a good chance of losing them altogether. Others, I broke on my own (when I wasn’t battle hardening or giving heroes to his troops…). However, that darn 9-2 kept rallying them, even when DM’ed, and getting them back into the action. Moreover, he was really putting the hurt to my units, just as I had predicted. Meanwhile, my striping Japanese were never getting back into anything except heaven. I was making steady progress, but taking a lot of casualties. It was not at all clear who would be able to have more CVP on the other side of the stream. It was going to be very close, and I knew that if I had to attack him in order to rectify an imbalance that I would suffer too many casualties.
Well, in the end, Dave himself unintentionally came to my aid. After many trials and tribulations with his OBA, ranging from the initial inaccuracy to not getting contact to his observer breaking, etc., he finally had his 7-0 on the other side of the stream and had the opportunity for OBA in his last player turn. He decided to try to attack a key area with it that, if successful, he might do some damage to me and would certainly make it very difficult for my last few bloodied units to get across the screen in my final player turn. However, where he wanted to place it was close enough that if it wasn’t accurate, and it went to the wrong hex, he might end up getting his own guys. You can imagine what happened. He corrected and brought down the OBA, it wasn’t accurate, the error roll was in the one direction that would get him, and it broke or killed his entire stack. Until that point, he likely had the scenario won, or could maneuver to make it extremely difficult for me to win it, but that did him in. It was game over and Dave deserves credit for a very hard fight. It was nice to end ASLOK playing my favorite ASL nationality–the Japanese.
With that, my ASLOK was over. I ended it 9-4, with several of what sabermetricians call “quality wins.” So I was happy on that score. I had also played a lot of very enjoyable opponents, so the vast majority of my games were fun as well. I got to meet new opponents as well as play familiar faces. Needless to say, I also came away with a ton of new ASL stuff, which you will presumably eventually be reading about on my website.
One little thing. Here are the nationalities I played at ASLOK this year: American, Italian, German (twice), Soviets (twice), Japanese (twice), Free French, Dutch, Burmese, Spanish Nationalist, and Polish. Ten different nationalities in 13 scenarios! What a tremendous amount of variety ASL has to offer.
I had a great time and I want in particular to thank Bret Hildebran and Bill Hayward for their much-appreciated work in running ASLOK. I hope you guys realize how grateful I am for what you do.
That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.