Monday, February 22, 2016

A lesson in combined arms

Ender and I haven't been able to get back to Fifth Frontier War lately, but we did find the time to break out a short Advanced Squad Leader: Starter Kit scenario, S23: Monty's Gamble. Ender is just learning how to use vehicles, and in this scenario, he learned a rather painful lesson concerning why tank commanders always insist on having an infantry screen when engaging enemy infantry.

The scenario is set in 1944 Holland, with a German Kampfgruppe counterattacking the British 1st Airbourne Division after the seizure of the city of Arnhem as part of Operation Market Garden. The British were attempting to hold out long enough to permit 30 Corps to reach Arnhem and reinforce them, while the Germans were hoping to cut them off from the Rhine and capture the entire division.

Interestingly enough, this scenario played out rather similarly to the historical event, where the Staffordshire regiment managed to hold off the Germans long enough to let the greater part of the 1st Airbourne to extricate itself and retreat. The Germans are attacking from the east and their objective is to exit a sufficient number of victory points (two tanks and two infantry units are enough) off the west side of the map. The British units are all set up hidden, and I'd chosen to present a false forward defense in the north while putting all of my anti-tank defenses in the middle and south. I figured that if a tank went the north route, I'd have time to turn my rear anti-tank gun and take a shot at its weak side armor before it exited.

However, Ender took me off-guard by deciding to race his first tank straight past the town using the north road. There was nothing I could do about that, so he had 7 of the 17 VP required right there. I thought that might have been a scouting move, but then he tried to run his second tank through the middle; I held my fire with the first anti-tank gun and blew it up with the second one when it came adjacent.

That made him a little more cautious, but not enough. The last tank was already following the previous one on the middle road and it managed to avoid being brewed up by the first gun, but when it turned up the road to avoid the second one, it took a PIAT up the tailpipe. Then, to make matters considerably worse for the Germans, thinking the northern route was clear, Ender moved an entire platoon, led by his best leader, adjacent to my single squad in forward defense. The paratroopers popped up, killed the leader, and broke the entire platoon.

That essentially ended the game on the first turn; although it is theoretically possible for his second platoon to fight its way past my guns and other infantry units, they can't do that and go north to relieve the pressure my one squad will keep on the broken platoon to prevent them from rallying at the same time. We'll play one more turn, just in case, but I'll be very surprised if the second platoon even manages to cross the road, let alone the map.

Ender was more rueful than chagrined; now that he understands the concept of an infantry screen, I very much doubt he'll ever make that particular mistake again. And now that I've taken full advantage of that specific gap in his knowledge, I can let him watch the Band of Brothers episode where the British tank commander makes the spectacularly unwise decision to ignore the advice given by the American infantry screening his tanks.

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Anonymous No February 22, 2016 8:52 AM  

Going up 7 that fast may have clouded things. It is easy to get greedy, especially if you are worried about getting cautious at the wrong time.

Blogger VD February 22, 2016 8:54 AM  

Based on our subsequent conversation, I think that was the plan. He had more confidence in his armor than was justified. Interesting how games can often replicate historical intellectual development.

Blogger Thomas Davidsmeier February 22, 2016 9:05 AM  

In your opinion, what's the best way to get started on ASL? Is it just to read the rules, or do you need to have someone show you how to play before you have a hope of understanding it?

Do you play it on VASSAL with you kids or do you use a physical set up?

Anonymous Ad Victoriam February 22, 2016 9:26 AM  

It's cool to see Squad Leader still being played. I'd love to see something from Fifth Frontier War. I still have my old copy of that and Azhanti High Lightning.

Blogger VD February 22, 2016 9:41 AM  

In your opinion, what's the best way to get started on ASL?

Get the ASL Starter Kit #1. That's much simplified and you can just read the rules.

Do you play it on VASSAL with you kids or do you use a physical set up?

We usually play on my gaming table, although we use VASSAL to save the game if we're not going to get right back to it for a while.

Blogger frenchy February 22, 2016 10:35 AM  


Having never played this game, is there a fog of war? That is to say, can you see exactly what your opponent is doing (Can units see beyond their line of sight)? I'm not sure if this is all board game or on a PC.


Blogger Conan the Cimmerian February 22, 2016 10:38 AM  

Not to derail, does anyone know of a decent war game for smartphones, if there are any?

Blogger Dexter February 22, 2016 10:47 AM  

"Having never played this game, is there a fog of war?"

To some extent. There can be units that set up "hidden" (not on the map, player writes down where they are). Stacks can get "concealed" if in the proper terrain, meaning that the opponent cannot examine that stack of units, which will be under a ? counter (though he knows that the stack is there).

Blogger The Pathetic Earthling February 22, 2016 11:01 AM  

So glad folks still play Fifth Frontier War. Great game.

Blogger fisher man February 22, 2016 11:46 AM  

I do not have the starter kits, how many turns in that scenario? I am mulling over what I would have tried. Always fun to think of asl.

Blogger Jon M February 22, 2016 11:53 AM  

I second Conan's request. You just can't tell from the ads, and I haven't found a wargame site with recommendations I trust.

Blogger VD February 22, 2016 12:38 PM  

Having never played this game, is there a fog of war?

Not really. There is HIP (Hidden Initial Placement) and Concealment, both of which are designed to provide an element of it.

does anyone know of a decent war game for smartphones, if there are any?

No, I have yet to find one.

I do not have the starter kits, how many turns in that scenario?

Five for the attacking Germans.

Anonymous roo_ster February 22, 2016 12:42 PM  

Conan wrote:
"Not to derail, does anyone know of a decent war game for smartphones, if there are any?"

Small General on the Android is good for downtime out & about. Very hex-and-counter-and-dice feel to it. Once you master a scenario and turn up the difficulty level, it can be a resource hog, though, as it crunches the numbers with intensity.

Blogger Wadly February 22, 2016 1:10 PM  

"Not to derail, does anyone know of a decent war game for smartphones, if there are any?"

Have a look at "Eastern Front: Conflict Series" by Joni Nuutinen. It is rated at 4.7 and looks excellent. I bought it ($5 I think it was) and the only reason I haven't played it much is because it is too in depth for what I want to play on a phone.

Anonymous rubberducky February 22, 2016 1:52 PM  

Man I love those old Avalon Hill style games! Wish they were more popular.

Blogger Conan the Cimmerian February 22, 2016 2:27 PM  

@12 @13 @14 ,

thanks for the replies

Blogger Ingot9455 February 22, 2016 2:49 PM  

The sign of a good simulation is that its emergent strategies mimic the emergent strategies in the real world.

Blogger Junius Stone February 22, 2016 4:28 PM  

I love ASL.

Blogger Junius Stone February 22, 2016 4:30 PM  

Oh yeah, and that armor dash at the beginning was a ballsy move. If only he had not gotten greedy...

Anonymous John Steed February 22, 2016 4:40 PM  

``...a painful lesson...`` I thought of Kyle Reese`s comment to Sarah Connor about her son`s training in the future-`` He taught us how to smash those metal mothers``.

Anonymous Bob February 22, 2016 10:49 PM  

I really wish you had more time to play ASL, Vox. I learned more from this post, and faster, than I did reading military books. (Honestly, unless I can visualize it a la ASL, I can't make heads nor tails of actual strategy).

I haven't found any particularly good phone games, but XCOM and XCOM 2 (the newer ones), available on console and PC, are both simple and extraordinarily difficult. Managing your long-term strategy and your on-field tactics is intense.

Blogger ghsaturn February 23, 2016 12:19 AM  

XCOM is actually available on Android. Nearly slagged my phone by the end of the day, still worth it.

I've had a lot of fun with Panzer Campaigns, Modern Campaigns and Civil War Battles. Also, Populus Romanus and Wargames of 1939 on the more casual fun side.

Anonymous Jack Amok February 23, 2016 1:58 AM  

The image accompanying this post made my day. The SL/ASL maps are nostalgia I don't think I'll ever get tired of seeing.

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