Having the house to myself this weekend, I chose to geek out on gaming. I chose the sort of game I can’t afford to do with children in the house, namely table-sized, day-long hex-and-counter affairs.
First up, Ukraine ’43!
This is the new, second edition release from GMT. We had played Ardennes ’44 before, another game from the same family by Simonitch, so we were vaguely familiar with a few of the core mechanics. Ukraine ’43 has a different feel, in part because of the enormously larger scope of operations. Units move and behave slightly differently to account for their larger sizes (mostly divisions instead of regiments), larger hex-to-ground ratio, and extended time scale (each turn represents 5 days). For our first outing we decided to play scenario #1, a seven-turn opportunity to re-enact Zhukov’s August (Operation Rumyantsev) assaults on the German southern front focused on the capture of Kharkov.
I took on the role of Soviet commander, flush with patriotic spirit and a desire to crush the fascist invaders. After a promising initial turn, however, my lightning offensive ground down in to something resembling a WWI action….and not even of Brusilov Offensive quality. Uncle Joe was not pleased. I struggled to amass sufficient force to drive opponents out of key areas and lost the momentum within a few turns, freeing my opponent to create some uber-stacks of elite armored and panzergrenadier units. We did get some “cinematic” moments, like a Tiger-led counterattack to rescue a pocketed infantry division, the GrossDeutchland’s timely ride from reserve to reestablish the German northern shoulder, and repeated (and costly) frontal assaults by some brave Soviet infantry divisions.
Would I play again? Definitely! I am excited to have another go at it, especially now that I better understand some of the mechanics and can “read” the map more effectively. We realized on turn six that we had not been utilizing mobile assaults–using them would have changed the game significantly and made gameplay more fluid. Once I started applying them I made better progress, but then again some especially nasty German armored units also started to realize the joy of mobile assaulting, much to my consternation…
Lessons Learned for Next Time: Plan offensives 2-3 turns out in order to concentrate artillery (key to Soviet success!) and make better use of mobile assaults.
The weekend continued with some Chain of Command action, the Too Fat Lardies (TFL) game that has been my sole miniatures focus for the past year or more. This time we played the second game in a generic campaign we are using to experiment with the excellent TFL campaign supplement At the Sharp End. The action is vaguely set somewhere southwest of Carentan and follows the efforts of a platoon of American paratroopers attempting to blunt a German counterattack in the early days of the Normandy campaign. In our first game, the German attackers pushed back to the US outposts. Today, the plucky paratroopers attempt to delay the German advance to give the main line of resistance time to prepare.
We set up a board with high hedges (not exactly hedgerows) and the main road down which the German attack progressed. We played scenario four, a delaying action. The attacking panzergrenadiers needed to capture the paratrooper jump off point near their table edge (conveniently barricaded in a segregated field). The paratroopers had to prevent that from happening.
The patrol phase started well for the paras. They rapidly pinned the advancing German patrol markers and forced sub-optimal JOP deployments. On the other hand, the US markers were clustered in the center–the resulting jump off points were divided by the main road and unable to facilitate the rapid deployment of troops to cover flanks.
I was able to exploit this by pinning the paras in the center, then loading my left side to move up and make the position untenable. Viewers may have thought they were watching an early modern maneuver campaign. Elements moved very cautiously, the paras afraid to come in to anyone’s line of sight, but also unable to deal any damage. A late game effort to check the German flanking attack bungled on awkward terrain utilization…the resulting firefight was short, sharp, and deadly. A para sniper did put two kills an overwatching German squad, but heavy LMG return fire knocked the sniper out along with three squaddies. At that point, an approaching StuG convinced the second para squad that they had delayed the enemy long enough. Sensing trouble, the para platoon leader ordered a voluntary withdrawal to the main line of resistance.
The campaign system is great fun and adds a lot of character, tension, and additional considerations to an ordinary game. The paras, for example, were probably a little too sensitive to potential casualties and ended up playing it too safe. Neither force suffered much and force morale on both sides ended at a high 10. Needless to say, the paratrooper’s CO was not happy. One more performance like that and resources will be allocated elsewhere. The German CO, meanwhile, was very satisfied with the rate of advance and will be reinforcing success next game. The men from both platoons remained neutral, though rumors are circulating among the paras that Tigers are on the loose…