Up until the last turn, I knew the title of this session report would be "How Not to Play Crete." My dad and I played this by e-mail last week. This issue of S&T is the only one he kept from his mighty collection. (As you may recall, my dad was one of you grognards in on the hobby from almost the beginning - it probably helped he only lived a couple miles from the Compleat Strategist in New Jersey - and had a huge collection, mainly of S&Ts and the classic black SPI flatpack. He sold almost all of it to fund my brother's college education, mainly to NKG - my brother has paid him back by becoming a librarian like he is.) My dad kept this S&T because his father was a paratrooper in WW2. He hadn't played it ever, though, so this was the chance for him to unpunch and play it, finally. (Actually, he gave me his copy and got a new one for himself when we visited NKG this spring.)
Since Eben Emael and Red Devils had too many simultaneous actions to play by e-mail, we settled on Crete (but not in a negative way - I was glad to do something a bit different from the other hex-and-counter games we have been playing). We initially were hoping to play Red Devils, since we both read It Never Snows a few months ago for the book discussion, but as I said the simultaneous actions precluded that for us. Crete offers that difference with the landing units and the variability of whether the Germans would get reinforcements depending on their play.
Thinking it would be a good idea do land all initial 13 German units on the first turn to facilitate capturing the airfields to get the other German forces. Turns out this probably isn't a good idea. Maybe it is, but it didn't work out so well, in part because I hadn't familiarized myself with the strategic locations on the map as much as I should have. I totally forgot about the 3rd airfield on the 3rd section of the map (perhaps in part because the unusual length of the map - compared to what I'm used to - made that section out of my view, much in the same way good Risk players know to focus on the borders of the map while most inexperienced players focus on the center). Additionally, once I had landed all my initial forces, my dad was free to move his defense of the 3rd airfield onto the 2nd airfield, since I clearly had no chance to get over there. Lesson learned for next time.
I didn't want any of my forces to scatter into the ocean, so I picked landing hexes well below the Allied forces guarding the VP hexes and roads. This also took a valuable turn away from the Germans, but it seemed like a good idea at the time. Depending on the Allied set-up, though, it's likely the Germans should attempt to land much closer to the cities than I did.
The next 6 turns or so didn't really go all that well for Germany. I did manage to get 2 airfields, but since the airfield hexes don't double the defense, I couldn't really leave them undefended. Playing somewhat timorously, I only moved 1 German unit off the airfield per turn, allowing only 1 German unit to land on top of the other 2 in the hex. In retrospect, it's possible I could have spread them out more, allowing more in, hoping to forestall Allied retaking of the airfields, but such hindsight wasn't available to me at the time - neither did I know my dad would play cautiously as well.
I suppose my dad played cautiously somewhat was because he didn't need to do much. The German units are stronger than the Allied units, but if the German player is really prolific at rolling 5s and 6s instead of 1s and 2s, as I was during the game, this results in a lot of "equal exchanges," which ends up not being very equal for the German player. In this manner, without starting almost any battles, my father soon found himself over 20 VPs ahead. As helpful as the German air force is in this game for helping turn 2:1 attacks to 3:1, they don't help pay for my poor rolling results. I can imagine the Luftwaffe pilots just shaking their heads at the poor comrades on the ground while returning back to base for some Swiss Cake Rolls and hot cocoa (or whatever they ate back in the day).
By turn 8, with very little hope of success, I moved a few of my extra-strong Sturmtroopers against the eponymous Crete troops, only to mismanage the battle and allow the Cretans to retreat (surely they would not counterattack at such poor odds). Things did not go too well the Retimo Airfield. I accidentally told my dad the wrong hexes for some movement when trying to attack some of his weaker Australian troops (before his mighty New Zealanders wiped us out) - this made it seem like I moved my forces out of the airfield to attack, instead of sending the troops next to it. My dad didn't take much advantage of this, but the damage was done. I did manage to retake the airfield at a high price, but I didn't try to replay it, since I was resigned to losing anyway.
Then, somehow, the die (I had been playing with the blue Mr. Madison's War die, just for your information) decided to do something unusual. On turn 10, for my final assault, I had managed to finagle the scant few remaining troops outside Suda for a last-ditch attempt at victory. The Luftwaffe gave it their all, the ground forces hunkered down and pulled together, and the die came up a 1: Defender eliminated. It was the only 1 I rolled all game. The Sturmtroopers took possession of Suda. This 20-point VP swing, especially without losing any German troops, suddenly made the game rather tense. Not to say that it wasn't fun: this game has a lot of neat components to it, such as the variable German units (when and if they can come into play), the German air force, the 2 different CRTs, the different results on the tables (different for me, used to mostly retreat, eliminated, exchange), and more. But just when I thought the game was lost, a glimmer of hope broke through.
My dad needed about 8 VPs or so to secure his victory, which would have helped if he could retake Retino without many losses himself. He moved as many of his forces as he could to the base, chose his CRT, and attacked. Whatever die he had been using (though not for several turns) was either rusty or belligerent: Attacker Eliminated. Instead of getting the 8 VPs he needed, he gave me over a dozen more. With 2 final die rolls, the game turned from a decisive Allied victory to a substantive German victory.
This is a good little game ("little" not referring to the medieval dining room table needed to play the entire map). With all those neat bits listed above, coupled with the experience of knowing mostly what not to do, this could easily be a game I'd play with some regularity. If Eben Emael and Red Devils are this fun, Paratroop should definitely have a much better reputation than it has now. This was a very enjoyable gaming experience (and not just because of the outcome).
Another great fun read from you on a game played with Dad