Sunday, July 25, 2021

Carnage at the Oasis (send your camel to bed): What a Tanker! AAR

We had another round of gaming recently on Dave Schueler's lawn. We played What a Tanker! from Too Fat Lardies. This was our second game since our debut WaT! game at Dave's two weeks ago. I'd played WaT! a few times before and picked up the rules at the time they were released. I've always liked them and we've talked about playing it as a group, but we never did until Dave ran a game last week. 

Dave's game was set in North Africa during Operation Crusader. The tanks we used were Crusader Is, Honeys, and a Matilda II for the British. The Axis had a short-lived PzIIf and some PzIIIjs (which historically weren't around for Crusader, not appearing until May '42). We followed that game with another using my Italians (M11/39s and M13/40s) and early cruiser tanks (A-9s, A-10s, A-13s) and Dave's Matilda.

Kevin Smyth was away for the game, but he was keen on playing WaT!, so he and I planned to play at Zulu's, but when I called to reserve the table, I learned that Zulu's was to be taken over all weekend by an event for the latest Magic: The Gathering release. Ack! At least it wasn't Pokemon. In any case, we were going to cancel the game unless we could find a new venue—and every game store on the planet was apparently having MTG events over the weekend. That's when Dave stepped up and offered his lawn again.

The game that I was planning with Kevin again featured my 1940 Brits and Italians, but was smaller scale as a 1:1 game. For a larger game with multiple players, I got to work finishing more tanks and planning an actual scenario.

I've had the tank models for many years. Once upon a time when we were younger, Kevin, Dave, and I ran an event at our Enfilade! convention that used the Advanced Tobruk board game rules adapted to miniatures. The scenario was the Battle of Mechili in 1940. I started several tank models for that and even made a model of the fort, although we used only a few tanks for the game. The rest sat in a bin half finished for years (and years). I kept meaning to get back to them, but I couldn't think of a reason why until WaT! came along. Even then, I procrastinated. It wasn't until Dave got the ball rolling that I committed myself to finishing the models I'd started.

A challenge with Playing WaT! in North Africa scenarios is that the kind of terrain that would feature in a game set in Europe isn't there in the Libyan desert. I'd been thinking for a while about how to do it and thought that bumps made from 1/2" foam insulation board could be laid under a cloth to represent the kind of micro contours that would be a feature of any "flat" battleground. I found what I wanted at Home Depot and carved/sanded out a series of small hills. The idea being that each contour would function as obstructing terrain for acquiring targets (+1 acquisition die per hill crossed by LOS) and for hitting them (-1 to hit per hill crossed by LOF).

I also created a 1" hill out of pinkboard to be a prominent feature in the scenario. I was intending to make a well and some ruins to use as the objective to be fought over, but I got lazy about buying the DAS air-dry clay I was going to use to make it. By the time I bought it, I realized that it would be dry sometime late in the day after the game. So, I improvised and created an oasis instead using a small pond from Wizard Kraft, some green lichen, and some of the cake-decoration palm trees I made into terrain for the 15mm Tarawa game Kevin Smyth and I did so long ago. They've sat in a box in my garage forever and now I have a use for them!

Finally, I ordered some of the natural lichen from Woodland Scenics to get some proper brownish scrub, which functioned as additional obstructions to acquiring and shooting.

By game day, I had three A-9s, four A-10s, and four A-13s available for the British (I also assumed I could call on Dave to provide a Matilda or additional A-13 if we needed them). 

For the Italians, I had five M13/40s, four M11/39s, and the pi├Ęces de r├ęsistance, two CV33 tankettes mounting 20mm Solothurn AT rifles. Molto formidabile!

I had to make up the stats for the CV33, since WaT! doesn't include it. I gave it a 1 for armor, a strike value of 2 for its ATR main armament, and made it fast, small, and low profile. In retrospect, I should have made it rapid fire as well, since the Solothurn ATR was semi-auto with a 10-round box magazine. I intended them to be a nuisance, not a potential tank-killer. They proved to be what I intended, so I'm good with my stats—though I will add rapid fire.

For the game on Saturday, Dave Schueler (who ran two tanks) and Bill Stewart were the British; Eric Donaldson, Kevin Smyth, and I were the Italians. 

At the start of the game, the two CV33s, which I ran, were on the one hill, which overlooked the oasis. I assumed that their presence in the game would be short lived and that I would be running a different tank within a few turns.

All the other tanks entered on turn 1.  Kevin and Eric both chose M11/39s to start. Bill chose an A-13 and Dave, who ran two tanks, chose an A-9 and an A-10. Victory conditions depended on points gained from tanks being knocked out as well as holding the oasis at the end of the game.

Eric had a slow start, being unable to roll any drive dice to allow him to move. Kevin plowed in and headed straight for the oasis. Bill charged in with his fast A-13 (I made the A-13s fast because they were at 30 mph top speed, even though WaT! doesn't give them this trait.) Dave sent his two towards the hill where the proud Italian vanguard stood ready to repel them.

Rather than sit and wait exposed on the hill, I decided to run the CV33s forward and use the terrain to my advantage—which was already pretty good given that even in the open the tankettes were hard to acquire and hard to hit. 

But, as expected, Dave quickly knocked out one of the CV33s. 

The other, however, eluded destruction and Guido and Luigi's Excellent Adventure began. Try as he might, Dave couldn't manage to kill the remaining CV33. At first, he had me at 2:1 (or more considering the disparity of the tank stats).

We played cat and mouse behind the micro-contours and around the scrub.

He even used his A-9 to ram me.

I managed a number of pings against his A-9 and IIRC inflicted one permanent command die damage. I didn't come off unscathed, however. My CV33 was eventually down to one command die, the rest being permanent damage with concomitant losses in mobility and sighting. It was a basket case. 

The uncanny survivability of my CV3 was part luck (both with Dave's bad dice and my tendency to bounce hits even with a '1' armor value) and part the nature of the CV33 being small and low profile. It was just harder to see and hit.

While still entangled with my CV33 after ramming it, Dave's A-9 took a hit from Kevin (or was it Eric from across the table) that knocked it out. 

At this point, Guido and Luigi abandoned their all but useless tankette (claiming, of course, to have gloriously defeated the A-9 that was stalking them) and I took up a new tank to run, an M13/40, whose adventures I will relate farther below.

While my CV33 was battling Dave's tanks, Kevin—and eventually Eric—came up to the oasis and started stalking around it against Bill's A-13, which had come up along one side of it.

Bill managed to knock out Eric's M11/39 and proceeded to go past him and around the oasis. Kevin moved his M11/39 towards the hill just as Dave was moving his A-10 that direction. The clash was inevitable.

Kevin's M11/39 was eventually worn down with temporary damage until he had no dice left and had to abandon his tank. This turn of events lead to all three Italian players bringing on M13/40s—not a tank most rivet-heads think of as formidable, but against the early British cruisers, it's pretty decent with '4' armor and a '5' strike value. For a few minutes, it looked like the italians would sweep the field. Most of the melee swirled around the "Hill of Death" and the landscape there was quickly strewn with knocked out or abandoned tanks.

I had my one actual success of the game when I brewed up Bill's moribund A-13. Bill's tank had seen the wars and was fairly knackered by the time I hit it with a flank shot., although he'd knocked out one tank and assisted in reducing another.

The second to the last turn was a bit catastrophic for l'Esercito Italiano. Eric and I both lost our M13/40s, which left Kevin the sole running Italian tank on the board. My poor M13/40 went from hero to zero in one turn, although the crew survived to carry forward their one kill.

At the end of the game, Kevin and his M13/40 were hunkered down in sole possession of the oasis, which was the main victory condition. The Italians had lost two M11/39s, two CV33s, and two M13/40s to give the British 38 points. The British lost one A-9, one A-10, and 2 A-13s to give the Italians 24 points.

If we'd played out the game longer, it's unclear whether the Italians could have kept the oasis. Even without playing further it would have been only a Pyrrhic victory. Eric and I were both bringing on fresh M13/40s, but they were the last we had. The only other Italian tanks in our reserve were another two M11/39s. The British reserve was pretty good. They had another two A-10s, two A-9s, and one A-13 that they could bring on as replacements for tanks lost.

Post mortem

It turned out to be a pretty good game. It was slow at first and was beginning to feel a bit like the complaints some people have made about WaT!, i.e., that it's not deadly enough, too hard to kill tanks—especially early war. However, things got hot and we had several tanks knocked out in rapid succession.

The desert terrain scheme worked out well. It didn't play like we were on a billiard table and acquiring, aiming, and hitting across the microcontours was properly trickey, complicated as well by the oasis and "Hill of Death," which blocked LOS/LOF.

I'll fine-tune this scenario and play it at our upcoming Enfilade! convention, which we pushed out from Memorial Day weekend to Labor Day weekend. I'll also be continuing with the Desert War as I expand my collection. I picked up a box of M14/4s and Semoventes and just ordered box sets for M3 Grants, M3 Honeys, and Crusader IIs. These tanks will let me do games for the Gazala battles. I don't need to worry about Afrika Korps at this point since Bill has piles of PzIIs, PzIIIs, PzIVs, etc. I'd like to eventually expand to Tunisia '43 and get some Tigers in the game against American Lees and Stuarts. Lots more desert gaming to come.

Let's slip off to a sand dune, real soon
And kick up a little dust