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Monday, 21 March 2016

Victory at Sea, and Bolt Action

On the BBB front lately I have been writing rather than playing. I've worked with Konstantinos Travlos to refine a couple of his Balkan Wars scenarios and put them into standard BBB format: Yiannitsa (1912) and Bizani (1913). Together with Sarantaporo, these constitute a Greco-Turkish mini-campaign which I'm looking forward to playtesting. Meanwhile 50 years earlier and a few thousand miles to the West, I've similarly been collaborating with Andy Bailey on his Chickamauga (1863) ACW scenario (hoping to hear soon about how his playtest has gone); and finally completed the first draft of my own Spotsylvania (1864) ACW scenario. All this at the same time as working on preparations for the BBB Bash Day.

So I deserved some light entertainment and I got some, with my first taste of the "Victory at Sea" WWII naval rules, and of the popular "Bolt Action" WWII skirmish rules.

Victory at Sea
There were just three of us for this, as our fourth couldn't make it, but it didn't really matter. As the novice sailor, I teamed up with Pierre to take on Jean-Louis's USN task force: USS Iowa plus 6 cruisers and 4 destroyers. Against that I got the Yamato - largest battleship ever built :-)  - and 1 cruiser and 2 destroyers, and Pierre another 4 cruisers and 2 destroyers.

 
Massed USN top right having its T crossed by IJN cruisers;
Yamato lurks menacingly far left. 

The scenario was a straightforward "kill 'em all". While most of both navies went for "heads down, mindless charge", the Yamato and its escorts snuck off a few points to port. We disposed of the one cruiser that was trying to distract us. Pierre's force took some punishment on the way in from the US radar-aided gunnery, but Japanese torpedoes proved really lethal once the two sides closed.

Jean-Louis had to leave early so I took over the US, mainly just so I could see what the enemy ships' stats looked like. We played a couple more turns, enough for the Iowa to scratch the Yamato's paintwork and for a couple more cruisers to be sent down to meet Davy Jones. We didn't reach a conclusion but it didn't matter, we'd pushed some boats around, rolled some dice and had a good time. I've never done much naval wargaming and I feel it really needs a campaign background to make a scenario realistic (the guys are actually in the middle of a campaign, they just laid on this one-off for my benefit). But the rules were slick and quick and, to my inexpert eye, did a good job of capturing the important aspects of WWII naval warfare. Except maybe the torps were a little too deadly. Just one drawback in my view, for a multiplayer game, was the fact that only one squadron, thus only one player, can activate and resolve at one time. But the game moves fast enough that that's probably OK, especially once players are thoroughly familiar with the rules.

Bolt Action
After the naval appetizer, the main course for the day was a WWII skirmish on land. For this we were back up to full strength with four players. Pierre had created a scenario set in the last days of the Reich. I got teamed with Christophe as the Germans defending a village. Pierre's Americans attacked us from the West while J-L's Russians arrived from the East.

I think we had 2,000 points worth of Germans which came to four rifle squads backed up by a Panther, a PaK40, mortar, MG, Panzerschreck and HQ team. Our opponents had 1,500 points each: the Yanks maybe 3 rifle squads, a Sherman and some support; the Soviets a real mix of partisans, sailors, a T-34 flamethrower tank, AT rifle, mortar, commissar, and a forward air observer (whose intervention would prove quite significant).

These 3:2 odds proved to be nowhere near enough for the attackers. It was hidden deployment so Christophe and I plotted our positions on the map. The enemy duly walked into all our kill zones: the T-34 got 'Schrecked at the bridge; the sailors got machine-gunned at the ford, the partisans mown down in the open; one US platoon got mortared crossing a field, another finally got into a house but was then pinned down, close assaulted and wiped out. The Allies fell out and recriminations were flying, with the Kremlin accusing the capitalists of hanging back and letting the workers do all the work. To put the icing on the cake, the Soviet FAO called in an airstrike which went astray and effectively finished off the Soviets.

So the game was over, and Adolf's plan of resisting to the bitter end in the hope that the Allies would start fighting each other seemed to have worked. I had barely had to move a figure, just rolled my firing dice. Christophe's Panther had moved once, and one of his squads had counter-attacked from upstairs to downstairs. It may be that the Allies should have coordinated their efforts better, but I think Pierre had just been a little generous to the visiting player (moi). Merci beaucoup!

As with Victory at Sea, the Bolt Action rule mechanisms are swift and simple but with enough detail to do the job they're intended for; but again, as with VAS, they have the limitation that only one player can play at a time. I'm sure for many people that's fine, it can be fun to sit back and watch the spectacle as others roll their dice, and cheer or jeer at their good luck or misfortunes. But I want to spend as much time as possible making decisions and taking actions of my own. If a 4-player game means I am only getting to play a quarter of the time, that's a problem for me. Don't get me wrong - I still had a great day! - but I'd far prefer a game system in which the players on the same side can all act at once, so we are all in action half the time.

Let's call the naval battle a draw but the skirmish was a clear win. My total for 2016 is now:

Played: 10
Won: 7
Drawn: 2
Lost:1