Sunday, July 24, 2011

Shoot 'n' Scoot

On Saturday, we played another game of John Kennedy's home-made modern version of the Kampgruppe Commander rules at the Panzer Depot in Kirkland, WA. With the first of my Bundeswehr units completed, I was eager to get them in a game too see whether they had a viable life as a wargame force or whether they would fail utterly and be cursed forever. I'll save you the suspense: they'll be fine.

The scenario was yet another wee Red juggernaut aimed at the heart of decadent bourgeois society. It was a bit bigger and badder than last game, though. Plus, there was artillery. The Soviets had the following:

T-80 Tank Regiment
1 bn – 6 x T-80
2 bn – 6 x T-80
3 bn – 6 x T-80
4 bn – 9 x BMP-1/mech inf w/1 x 120mm mortar
Recon – 1 x BDRM-2, 1 x BMP-R

T-64 Tank Regiment
1 bn – 6 x T-64BV
2 bn – 6 x T-64BV
3 bn – 6x T-64BV
4 bn – 9 x BMP-1/mech inf w/1 x 120mm mortar
Recon – 1 x BDRM-2, 1 x BMP-R

Motor Rife Regiment
1 bn – 9 x BTR-70/mech inf w/1 x 120mm mortar
2 bn – 9 x BTR-70/mech inf w/1 x 120mm mortar
3 bn – 9 x BTR-70/mech inf w/1 x 120mm mortar
4 bn – 9 x T-64BV (as 3-tank companies attached to infantry battalions)
AT unit – 2 x BRDM-2 "Konkurs" w/AT-5 Spandrel
Recon – 1 x BDRM-2, 1 x BMP-R
Assets: 3 x AT-4 Spigot

Each regiment also had a battalion of 122mm guns attached. The two tank regiments started on board with the MRR coming up later as a follow-on force.

Facing this was an initial force of American and West German units:

US combat team
1 company – 3  x M1 Abrams
2 company – 3 x M2 Bradley/mech infantry
3 company – 3 x M2 Bradley/mech infantry
4 company – 1 x M106 4.2” SP mortar
5 company – 2 x M901 ITV
Recon platoon – 1 x M3 Bradley CFV
Assets: 2 x Dragon ATGM

West German combat team
1 company – 3 x Leopard 2
2 company – 3 x Leopard 2
3 company – 4 x Marder IFV/panzergrenadiers (w/Milan ATGMs)
4 company – 1 x Panzermörser SP 120mm mortar
5 company – 2 x Jaguar-1 Racketenjagdpanzer
Recon company – 2 x Panzerspähwagen Luchs

The game was played along the length of a 5' x 12' board (6km x 14km in game scale). The NATO allies started as hidden units at the halfway point. The Soviet objective was to get two battalions of any kind across the river situated about three feet behind the NATO starting positions.

Hide and seek
The Soviet recon units started well ahead of their main formations and gently probed for the decadent, dissolute minions of the warmongering, capitalist oppressors of the proletariat. The latter, bided their time and waited to react only when it best suited them.

Following the recon, Jerry Tyer on the Soviet left lead the T-64 regiment against me. Ken Kissiling, on the right, led the T-80 regiment against Steve Puffenberger's Americans.

T-64s swarm the bucolic German countryside looking for trouble
Ken's BMPs advance along a roadway with T-80s on the flank
Ivan came on strong and vigorously scouted positions that contained numbered blinds. Ken ran his recon unit around a hedgerow and exposed Steve's M1s and M3 CFV. He followed this up by swarming in with his T-80s and soon, Steve's M1s were in full retreat.

T-80s get the better of a company of Abrams

Meanwhile, Jerry was aggressively pushing his tanks over the ford against an unseen enemy who was calling in artillery strikes to try and break things up.

T-64s fording under fire
This inaugurated our use of John's new artillery rules for the moderns. In the standard game, off-board artillery is simply a fire value (the % chance for a hit) and you throw a set number of dice, usually four, to get results. In the new rules, there are multiple steps that randomly determine fire value and intensity (the number of dice). It felt a little like rubbing your tummy and patting your head at first, but after a few turns we had it down. Although we dropped trying to use any modifiers, which can affect both fire value and intensity. We all agreed that we like these artillery rules better than in the standard WW2 game.

The high-explosive fun ended after Jerry pushed his recon unit up to my position. My ambush shot on him was ineffective and after getting shot at by too many T-64s, the Panzerspähwagens ran back to temporarily better ground.

Look! Luchs
After my Luchs (Luchsen?) scooted away. I engaged Jerry's oncoming Bolshevik hordes with a company of Leopard 2s and the raketenjagdpanzer company.

Overwatch: Leopard 2s on the hills above Hannahsheim
At the same time, my Luchsen was hiding behind another hedgerow where it could call more fire down on Jerry's tanks.

Does it ever feel like all of Mother Russia is in your face?
The engagement ecevtually got the better of two of Jerry's tank battalions. The rules give Soviet units good armor penetration and good protection, but they can't hit much that's far away. The shooting has five range bands: 6", 12", 18", 24", 30", 36". Russians can only shoot out to the 24" band and have only a 10% chance of hitting at that range. At the same range, my Leopards had a 60% chance of hitting, which allowed my to double my shots while halving my odds (six shots at 30% instead of three at 60%). The Soviet tanks in the scenario also had AT-8 Songster missiles, but the Leopard 2's Chobham-style composite armor give it the advantage in defending against ATGMs.

Even though the Russians took a beating, the modern rules allow them to keep advancing while in a shaken morale state, which normally prevents a unit from moving closer to a known enemy. We also increased the number of morale failures required before a unit has to retreat for Soviet units. In addition, I gave the Russians fairly high morale (Communist ardor?) in the scenario because I wanted to ensure that they kept coming on like zombies in some B-movie. It may have been too much, but several Soviet units did break into involuntary retreat after taking a lot of hits.

While my tanks were engaged with Jerry's tanks, he moved his BMP/mech infantry up to the woods in an attempt to get in close and assault the Leopards with his infantry. I would not have survived that fight.

BMPs on the ridge moving against the Leopards in the woods
Steve had pulled back and was holding a defensive line from the larger town, Hannahsheim (in honor of Paul Hannah who loaned us his 1/300th scale scratch-built buildings) and the fields around it.

ITVs and Bradleys hold the line at Hannahsheim
More Bradleys take cover in the fields
With his M1s forced to retreat earlier in the game, Steve only had the Bradley companies and his ITVs to hold off the inexorable swarm of T-80s. Even though he sent Ken's tanks back a few times, they just rallied and came back, fewer in numbers, but just as determined.

Hannahsheim has fallen to the Red Swarm!
At this time, the follow on motor rifle regiment appeared. This was a lot of troops and looked impressive rolling along the autobahn.

Just the lead of three more battalions rolling in
More T-64s and mech infantry (with missiles) missiles come on
Up to this point, I had been following my philosophy that on defense, it's better to be shot at and return fire than to initiate a firefight and let the opponent fire back with everything he's got. This is especially true with the way we set up ATGMs for non-antitank units. Because they aren't tank-hunters, we don't let IFVs that have ATGMs fire as an action in their own bound. Instead, they can only fire in reaction within their reaction range (16"). This emulates tactical doctrine and, from a purely game perspective, eliminates the phenomenon of flights of Spandrel missiles obliterating targets 40" away (4km in game scale, which is the max range of most ATGMs by 1985).

That being said, I got cheeky and wanted to take out some tanks. In response, I got my Jaguar units shot up and forced to retreat.

Scheiß! Mein raketenjagdpanzer is kapautt!
With Steve pulling back on my left, the Leopards in the woods were in a tough state and soon to be cut off if I didn't move them. I made one attempt in my bound, but failed to pass the check to see if my tanks could move through the woods. It wasn't until John (taking over from Jerry) shot at me that I could respond by making a voluntary retreat, which took me way back beyond the smaller town, Paulshausen, and another wood.

With my forward company of Leopards forced back and my raketenjagdpanzer (I love that word) unit shot up, I had only the company of Leopards in Paulshausen to hold the line.

Defending democracy in Paulshausen
At this point, Steve decided to fall back beyond the river to rally and recover.

My false allies in retreat
Steve's manouver betrayal left my flank wide open but it also triggered the arrival of a reinforcement team:

1 company – 3 x M60
2 company – 3 x M60
3 company – 3 x M2 Bradley/mech inf.
4 company – 1 x M106 4.2” SP mortar
5 company – 2 x M901 ITV
Assets: 1 x Dragon ATGM

M60s: Great tanks—in 1961!
This was a bit of a hollow legion. The ITVs were potent, but the venerable M60 Patton had seen its day by 1985. Its 105mm gun was the same as the one on the M1 Abrams, but the armor was old school. Not quite adequate to defend against Soviet tank rounds, the armor was useless against ATGMs.

While the NATO reinforcements were still in column, Ken threw the might of the motor rifle regiment at my one company of panzergrenadiers holding Paulshausen. I hoped that my troops would hold, given that they were in excellent cover and had lots of Milan missiles to shoot. Nevertheless, I lost half the unit and the remainder was forced to retreat. My Leopards that were also in the town, got shot up anf forced to retreat as well. This left Paulshausen wide open to the Bolshies.

Doomed panzergrenadiers defend Paulshausen
My On my next turn, I ran the only units I could into the town: the M60s. This wouldn't normally be a wise move. It wasn't this time, either. I should have pulled back and given my tanks a nice field of fire to defend the bridge. Tanks don't do well in close combat with infantry—especially infantry liberally supplied with RPG-7s. Even if I rolled well, I couldn't shoot them up enough to prevent them from coming in—and my shooting was desultory at best. The company was completely destroyed.

On my next bound, I withdrew the other M60 unit from the town and pulled back in a line facing it.

The German-American Bund (post WW2 edition)
Now the Soviets moved into Paulshausen and in the area around it.

The Bolshies enter Paulshausen
Steve, having sufficiently licked his wounds, came back across the river and took up improved positions to stop the Red Menace from getting any farther.

Last stand
I had recovered my beloved raketenjagdpanzer unit and had been exchanging shots with John's remaining T-64 battalion. I also brought up the ITVs alongside to prevent any resurgence along Jerry/John's axis of attack. I might not have worried too much, although it was a full battalion and could have done some harm had it worked around.

Noble remnant of a once-proud tank regiment
By now we called it. It was nearly 7:00 PM and we'd been playing since noon with a short lunch break around 2:30. The time seemed to fly and we have no idea how many turns we played. With the KGC time scale of one turn being 30-45 minutes, we must have been fighting in the dark for the last few turns.

Post mortem
The modern rules are really shaping up. Despite the novelty of some of the mechanics, there seems to be a better flow of the game than with the WW2 version.

The Soviet tank fire is anemic in it's ability to hit, but when it hits it can cause some damage. Even then, at one point, John started firing HE at my Leopards because he had a better chance to hit and could inflict damage on me if I rolled "10s" for my armor saves (which I have a talent for doing). Right now, the formula gives the Soviets about 50% of the hit chance for the NATO troops. This reflects loading times, ammunition, and sighting equipment. We might need to revisit that and perhaps bump it up a notch.

I gave the NATO better commanders, but just slightly better. I think I should have made the Soviets a "0" or even a "-1". Soviet tactical doctrine called for masses of tanks and troops. A Soviet tank regiment is not something that needs to be wielded skillfully. Just mass it and bring it on. They don't need a lot of command pips to that. Even a -1 commander can get one pip per turn at worst and four at best.

I made the Soviets 8 morale and the NATO 7. I think I should have made the Soviets lower. At least a 7, maybe a 6. The modern rules let them keep coming on despite being shaken. By giving them 8 morale, they were too hard to delay.

By next game, John may have a draft of the helicopter and airpower rules. I hope to have my PAH-1s ready to go. I'm currently painting Gepards, Rolands, and Stinger teams.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Ist das nicht ein Bundeswehr?
(Ja, das ist ein Bundeswehr)

With the inherent enthusiasm of a new game interest, I've been able to complete the first units for the modern Kampfgruppe Commander rules. In no time at all, I've become Oberst Dave of the Bundeswehr. The plan is to complete a panzer brigade that would comprise the following:
  • Two panzer battalions with three companies of Leopard 2A1 tanks (each)
  • One mixed panzer battalion with two companies of three Leopard 2A1 tanks and one company of four panzergrenadiers in Marder 1A1 IFVs
  • One panzergrenadier battalion with three companies of four panzergrenadiers in Marder 1A1 IFVs and an M106 self-propelled 120mm mortar
  • One Raketenjagdpanzer company with three Jaguar 1s mounting HOT ATGMs
  • One recon company with three Spähpanzer Luchs recon vehicles
  • One artillery battery with three M109 self-propelled guns
  • Various supporting units that are outside the brigade formation, such as PAH-1 attack helicopters and LARS batteries
Looking at that list, I'm impressed by two things: First, that a Bundeswehr panzer brigade is significantly stronger in tanks than a WW2-era panzer division; second, that in 1/285th scale it's much easier and much cheaper to build a significant force than it would be in 15mm. That's not to say that microarmor is cheap, but at an average of $2.00 per model, it's less than 20% of what 15mm would cost and considerably less than 20mm or larger.

I also like how easy it is, mostly, to put together 1/285th scale tanks. My Leopard 2s come in two pieces: turret and hull. Occasionally, you get a model with more fiddly bits, like the Flakpanzer Gepard AA tank or the PAH-1 helo.

The first fruits of my project are done and ready for, I hope, a successful game this coming weekend. The units are:

A panzer battalion of nine Leopard 2A1s and a M577 command vehicle. This is a pretty simple formation of three tank companies, which could be augmented with other units ad hoc.

Leopard 2s in column on a dirt road
Leopard 2s again with the M577 command vehicle in the pea patch beyond
Leopard 2 in the rough ground
The Raketenjagdpanzer (I love how appellation that rolls of the tongue) company is three AFVs mounting HOT ATGMs. More than likely this would be attached to a panzer or panzergrenadier battalion as extra anti-tank strength.

Jaguar-1s ready to launch the HOTness
Close-up (Ja das ist ein gefährliches ding!)
The one panzergrenadier unit is either the single panzergrenadier company in a mixed panzer battalion or one of three panzergrenadier companies in the brigade's panzergrenadier battalion. I only have the Marder IFVs so far. The dismounted infantry is yet to arrive.

Panzergrenadiers in Marder 1 IFVs
Marder 1 up close
A recon unit of two Spähpanzer Luchs vehicles. Mounting only a 20mm autocannon, these are exceptionally non-formidable. However, the standard groundscale makes it possible to play scenarios where the action covers several kilometers. A good scouting force is essential for spotting the enemy and, once we get the rules for it, calling in the artillery strikes before they reach your main line of resistance.

Luchs reconnoitering the pea patch
Behind the brow of a hill looking for Ivan
I've started the remaining models of the first order to GHQ. I've made another recently, so I'll be able to get the complate complement of Leopard 2s and Marders that I need for the brigade. I'll also get some infantry figures for the troops that dismount from the Marders. I ordered some Ros and Heroics infantry a few weeks back, but there's no indication that they've shipped. I wanted the Ros and Heroics because they make figures in 1/300th that are specifically West German infantry. Of course at that scale, how can you tell? With that thought in mind, I also ordered some British modern infantry because they could pass as Germans if I paint them in the moleskin color and they heavy weapons teams include Milan ATGMs, which is what the Bundeswehr used.

Once the West Germans are done, I'll start with some East Germans. I don't really need to do Russians since John Kennedy and Ken Kissling between them have—or will soon have—and entire shock army's worth of T-80s, T-64s, BMPs, and BTRs. The East Germans, being non-Russian by definition, didn't get the big boy toys. In the mid-80s, their arsenal (even up to reunification) consisted of a lot of T-55s, with T-62s and T-72s replacing the older tanks in some units. They also had BTR-50s for their mechanized infantry. Painting East Germans will be an interesting way to get some of the older cold warriors on the board. However, I think the Leopard 2s will eat them for lunch.

Monday, July 11, 2011

The Wee Red Juggernaut

The 1980s: parachute pants, The Police, and Ronald Reagan. It was also a time known as The Cold War, which most people thought might turn into The Hot War at any moment. A great deal of speculation over how that war might be fought took place among wargamers in the 70s and 80s and game companies produced more than a few tactical games about it. SPI's Red Star/White Star was one of the first, although my favorite was SPI's MechWar '77. My friend Chet and I played numerous games pitting T-62s and T-55s against M-60s and M-48s and the fields of West Germany were criss-crossed with the wires of ATGMs that flew back and forth. But these were all board games. Despite having models available since the late 60s, I've never games the hypothetical WW3 in miniature.

While there are a number of ready-made rules sets for this period, we've started our home-grown version based on the Kampfgruppe Commander rules we use for World War 2. We also decided to go wee. Rather than the 15mm scale we use for WW2, we're using 1/285th (or 1/300th) minis from GHQ, CinC, and Heroics and Ros among others. John Kennedy is doing all the work on the rules while the rest of us kibitz and kvetch, but the project is starting to take a decent, final-ish form. John has basically taken vehicle and weapon stats from other sources and converted them to the KGC scale and game design philosophy. There are still kinks to work out and we haven't established anything yet for indirect fire, air attacks, and helicopters.

We played our first game last week using erzatz values for the vehicles because John hadn't fully worked them out. We had Chieftain tanks using M-1 stats, which got evened out the next game by using Chieftain tanks with Centurion stats. The first game was enough to get me excited about painting an army, so I'm now busy painting a few battalions of Bundeswehr circa 1985: Leopard 2s, Marder 1s, Luchs, Jaguars, PAH-1 helos, etc.

We played again yesterday at The Panzer Depot in Kirkland, WA. Ken Kissling designed a scenario representing a the vanguard of a Soviet motorized rifle division advancing on a 7km front against a battalion of British mechanized infantry and a supporting armored battalion.

The Red Menace was played by Ken and Steve Puffenberger. Their forces were two motorized rifle regiments, which consisted of three battalions of mechanized infantry and one battalion of tanks. The tanks were all T-64s. Steve's infantry was in BTR-70s with an attached company of BRDM-2s carrying a load of AT-5 Spandrel ATGMs. Ken's infantry were in BMP-2s, which mount a single launcher for a AT-5. In addition was a reserve tank battalion of T-64s.

Ken's BMP-2s advancing across plowed fields
Deployed against them were John and me. John started with the 1/Royal Highland Fusiliers mounted in FV432 IFVs with support from some Milan ATGM assets, a mortar platoon of two FV432 self-propelled 81mm mortars, and a scout platoon with two FV101 Scorpions. Farther back in reserve, I had the 3rd RTR with three companies of Chieftains, an anti-tank platoons of two FV438s mounting Swingfire ATGMs, and a scout platoon of two FV107 Scimitars.

A column of T-64s advances past an infantry battalion in BMPs
Ken and Steve came on with their units in echelon formation. Both of them led with motorized infantry and kept their tanks back. John's units were the first to be hit. They were able to hang in a few turns and repulse the first assault. However, the Bolshevik horde was too numerous and after a few turns, John's infantry was streaming back.

Steve's BTR-70s attempt a mounted assault on infantry in a town
With John's infantry hard-pressed (and John hard-pressed with customers in the store), I decided to abandon my excellent positions and move up to meet the Slavic Sledgehammer of Doom. I took up closer positions and waited until Ken's lead units got close to open fire.

Chieftains take position in the wheat field to support the retreating infantry
I had one company of Chieftains and my platoon of FV438s that opened fire on a battalion of Ken's infantry in BMPs. While I fired with good effect, the barrage of missile fire I got in return, severely messed up my units. Reduced and shaken from the return fire, I held position for a few more turns, but my fire was less effective.

Steve's regiment in supporting echelons advancing on a town
On the other side where Steve had taken the town in another assault (this time dismounted and in force), I moved a company of Chieftains and my recon platoon to support John's infantry. As happened earlier, I got a bit shot up by a mass of T-64s supported by ground-mounted ATGMs. I retreated into a wood and remained, shaken and reduced.

I also moved my third company of Chieftains into a position in a wood where they emerged at the edge to shoot Steve's T-64s. Again, the responding barrage of tank fire and missiles shot me up. Missiles, I surmised, were getting to be a problem.

Things were looking pretty hopeless and the Red Juggernaut, somewhat reduced, was poised to continue on and overrun us. But then the Royal Scots Dragoon Guards came on the board as reinforcements. One tank company went to take up an overwatch position against Steve, while the rest faced Ken. With two tank companies and an FV438 Swingfire platoon, John had enough fire power to hurt. The resulting exchange saw Ken's battalions further reduced until his total force was less than half what he'd started with. John also took casualties (#@!* missiles), but did not suffer adverse morale and, because he had a higher hit number, didn't lose any stands.

Royal Scots tank companies move into position
While John and Ken were exchanging shots overhead, I had my two units tucked into a gully in between them where I was able to resurrect my units through a few turns of rally and recovery actions.

Having forced Ken back, John took the two tank companies over to the other side of the table to face Steve's advance, which remained still potent. Ken also brought on the divisional tank battalion of more T-64s and put them in position to move to either flank. 

T-64s moving up
The situation looked promising for a British counterattack, although except for the Royal Scots, every formation was pretty shot up. I managed to recover one tank and one ATGM unit, but my other two tank companies were badly shot up and shaken. Had I advanced my recovered units out of their gully against Ken's stalled forces, I could expect a barrage of missiles from his BMP battalions that might end me.

After playing nearly five hours—interrupted by rules discussions and pesky store customers—we called the game. The Brits held the line against the Bolshies. Despite much concern, I ultimately lost only three stands while the Soviet regiments had been significantly reduced. Even then, they outnumbered the Brits. However, it would have been difficult for either side to make progress against the other. 

The rules seem to work very well. KGC has it charms, which is why we like the system—despite it anomalies. The modern stats transfer over well and easily integrate with the KGC command/control mechanisms. In the next games, we'll introduce helicopters and indirect fire, which should add an interesting new dimension to the games.