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THE GREAT WAR: THE GERMAN ONSLAUGHT—VERDUN SESSIONS Part I (#41-45)
By Chas

Introduction


TGW Expansion #2 (The French Army) offers 12 scenarios on the famous French defense of Verdun. Now that I've started playing them through for the first time, mostly solitaire, I've enjoyed the aspect of designer Richard Borg's newer style of offering multiple scenarios on the same battle. Of course, for a modern battle that took months rather than a day or two, that certainly makes sense! As I go along I record certain data on my personal Game Log such as who played each side, the game score, which side the scenario seems to favor, and general comments. My own particular experiences playing them sequentially, along with the historical commentary, are creating my own gaming narrative I thought I'd like to share. Your mileage can, and will vary. Since only one game of a scenario is not enough to determine who it favors, I won't comment on that unless on one that is particularly unbalanced; Mr. Borg usually programs in bias towards the historical victor.

I'll just note that after this expansion arrived but while I was still painting about 150 new figures in my own minimalist (“trim”) style, I first played two core game scenarios which I had not downloaded and played before, These were The Somme #17 and #18 with the British—actually the Canadians—to introduce myself to the most important new aspect of the new expansion, the Special Personnel Figures. These were the two original Kickstarter only battles, and I hadn't played them before, so they were perfect test beds for the new SPF rules, and gave me a bit of experience with them. This painting of all the new little men I ordered also now allows me enough figures to try out an unofficial 'Epic' double board format for TGW when I'm done with the expansion scenarios, both Verdun and others which follow—The Nivelle Offensive (8 scenarios; the last 4 of which include French Schneider Heavy Tanks) and the KS French Tank Module (4; Schneider and St. Chaumond tanks). Or I can have two games going on the table for four players at once, and then switch sides, round robin them, and so on. I still don't have a second TGW board, but supposedly the Samurai Battles one is the same, and I do have two of them.

Verdun was a heavily fortified defensive zone, although the French had stripped it of some of its strength earlier in the war. The game scenarios deploy defensive Fortified Positions (FP; rectangular tiles) and the heavier protections Bunkers/ Forts (BF; full hex terrain tiles). To counter them we now have the German Flamethrower SPF, which was in fact historically deployed in large numbers for the first time here in 1916. The FT--you only get one of them in the first scenarios, and only two are available at all-- is able on the proper Flag die roll to force the defenders to take the Flag die result and retreat out of the position--usually ignored by these heavy defensive tiles—and allow the attacker to enter it.

There are also many forest and building hexes present. So even when trenches are not on the battlefield in the heavily developed networks seen in scenarios of the core game or sometimes in the tank expansion, its a rough environment for attacking troops, with the defenders backed up as usual by mortars and machine guns (sometimes augmented by their particular SPFs). This of course endangers the mission. Oddly enough, I think the most important tactical aim in TGW is to preserve your infantry, without which you cannot attack any longer. In fact, my favorite 'cheap shot' tactic is to garner the winning point by using the offboard Reserve Artillery to take out a weak and vulnerable unit. Often these are filtering backwards toward or in their rear, but the RA has no range restriction or line of sight requirement.

At Verdun, the Germans units are usually present in greater numbers, but are Racing Against Time! Fortunately for the attackers, the defending artillery is too weak to fully take advantage of so many assaulting figures who, lacking the covering trench network, must often start the game or venture out into open territory; the strongest taboo in the scenarios of the core game.

The Games: #41-45

While playing the first Verdun scenario Bois Des Caures, (#41) against the French fortified zone, the flamethrower failed to force the French out of a bunker, but the Germans still forged ahead elsewhere, winning 6 to 3. But in the second scenario Beaumont, with fewer trenches present as the Germans broke out into open, only hastily entrenched country, the French stopped the Germans cold, in a 6-0 shutout! Having tried out most of of the new SPF types in the two Canadian scenarios, I tentatively preferred the Engineer and the Light Machine Gun for the defense, and the Officer and Elite on the attack, but their selection is heavily dependent on the scenario. And like everything else in any C&C design, subject the specific slings and arrows shot at one in subsequent card play and die rolls that Fate decrees!

The third scenario is Samogneux, which has no trenches at all, only houses (with wire in front of them) on one flank, and many hills (with two Fortified Positions on some) on the other. I just have to quote from the historical summary: “Near the end of the day, Commandant Duffet reported his French forces had no ammunition, no rations, and only a few officers remained in his command. He was instructed to hold on a little longer.” Still, the almost continuous line of terrain looks formidable, and it is so stretched out from end to end of the board, as are the Germans, that there seems to be no maneuvering room for the kinds of sneaky concentrations of forces I usually try to create, as an attacking player. Although I need to get several German units out of the vulnerable open hexes where they start, and the initial No Mans Land Shelling has helped a bit, it may take lucky Reserve Artillery shots to blast some of the French positions.

But a wily student of Sun Tzu doesn't want to leave things up to luck! The mass slaughter of running at fortified machine guns--the French have two here; one on each flank--is what made me wait until after the original Kickstarter to get this game, even though I do them now for TGW, until after I was sure even Mr. Borg could produce a WWI game that would not just be a hopeless slaughter, as that war was all too often in real life.

Aha, says German me. My Short Supply gets played and its “Goodbye Machine Gun.” I was lucky to get such a great card right out of the box—my greatest use ever of this card was being French at Waterloo in C&C Napoleonics, and using this Deus Ex Machina to remove the only British unit from a one hex Hougoumont Chateau! Now back in WWI, I make an artillery shot and take one infantry figure from on of the two occupied village houses on the front line! I advance infantry units, one towards the now unoccupied house where the MG had been. I've used up most of my initial HQ tokens, but that will give my opponent something to think about!

Back on the French side of the battlefield, things look different. I don't have a card to get my pushed back MG off my base line on a dangerous open hex, but I'll use my Reserve Artillery to hit his own MG sitting out in the open, and next to two infantry units in cover less effective than a trench—on one Forest and one Hill. This missed, but I play a Counter Intelligence combat card to take his used Short Supply card at some point in the future, when he least expects it. And since I started out with 2 VP for terrain I occupy and I directed the Reserve Artillery with a Recon Center command card, the score is now 3 to 0 out of 7 in my favor! I've also used up all my starting HQ tokens, but C'est la Guerre, eh? And so it goes, back and forth.

The fighting raged most at the NW house, where it changes hands and back again, and the French reinforce it about 4 more times in various ways. A German MG provides support for a German hand to hand attack against one of the two adjacent houses in the front line, and proves able to penetrate this lighter cover terrain. Meanwhile, a German advanced unit, having been reduced to only two figures, pioneers infiltration tactics. Since it is now to weak to continue fighting with French units on its flank, even though it has taken a house, it moved toward the French baseline to take over another house, so that later units can replace it and the German side can vie for the village occupation bonus. However, the French MG unit which was originally sent back to its base line now sets up in the forest and destroys the German deep invader.

Although the German advance continues, the French pull far ahead on points, and they eventually win 7 to 3. While generally one tends to sympathize most with the French as the historical underdog who manage to hold the Germans eventually, I see that the invaders actually have a hard row to hoe. The Germans have now lost 2 of the first 3 scenarios. Will winning with them prove the greater challenge in future scenarios? Since I'm not looking at later games before I play them, I don't know yet.

At Fort Douaumont, it appears that Mr. Borg has set a challenge for the French. Can they abandon the village (1 VP) for the Fort (5 VP), in a nonhistorical solution to an otherwise very one sided situation. To do so, they will need to use the two Marksman units as a temporary stop line to cover the maneuver. There is also an FAQ: how is the 'Heavy Mortar' supposed to operate? A fellow BGG poster has suggested adding the Spotter (Mortar) SPF to that unit as a possible answer, and since the Germans are already massing on the table, I'll try that out. I wonder if any future scenarios mention a 'Heavy Mortar' unit, perhaps with a clarification.

(This reminds me a bit of the old Texas Revolution scenario from American history: can Fanin pull out of Goliad and add his garrison to the similarly small one at the mission at The Alamo? Historically, he failed to do so. I played this out years ago with my 54mm minis as if his move was successful and he did join that mission's defense force. But alas, the Mexicans still overwhelmed the combined force. Madre de Dios!)

The Germans played a Direct From HQ Command Card, and using almost all of their starting HQ tokens, moved their numerous troops up so quickly that the Marksmen had to defend in place rather than fall back. But during the game the French managed to move many units from the village to the fort on the other flank as planned, keeping casualties to a minimum. Eventually the Germans took one village building hex and came adjacent to another. On the fort flank, they came adjacent to the trench around the Fort and attacked there as well. Because the French got an almost solid line of units in front of the fort in its once almost empty trench, the Germans were never able to use the contiguous line of Shell Craters made by the initial No Man's Land Bombardment in the Center.

The many card plays and die rolls, too numerous to mention in this kind of article, provided quite an adrenaline rush! The Germans stormed into the village trench, and got adjacent to the one in front of the fort. While reserve artillery, being only a 2 strength on both sides was never used, the French 'Heavy Mortar'--played as one with a Spotter--got in a very nasty hit from the fort. Although the Germans initial got 2 or 3 Recon cards and thought they'd be safe for a time, the French in fact won 6 to 1, with two VP from their own Recon cards. German casualties and French VP mounted, and the dramatic end came when the French put down a Recon Center to get the 5th VP and then immediately hit a weak German unit with their single activated unit and got the win with a 6th!

As someone who has done acting, story telling, and role playing, I switch allegiances ever time the turn changes to the other side. But I am feeling a lot of sympathy for the Germans right now, they having lost 3 of the first 4 scenarios.

Across The Meuse (#45) features a number of new elements. For the first time, both sides have an pretty equal number of units. Most of the French are in a trench line back near their board edge, while two woods lines, the first held only by an isolated French FP (as are two Hill complexes on the flanks) and the second nobody at all. The Germans are advancing over a Fordable Stream near their own base line. Interestingly, the German victory conditions are 1 VP for each Forest line without French troops (rather than having to occupy them as such). So the French will have to decide if they want to stay safe in their trenches, or advance to further dispute the Forests!

The game started oddly, with the attacking Germans getting defensive Combat Cards and the defending French getting attacking ones. The Germans stormed through the middle, taking out two French Fortified Positions. They got four casualty VP, and then one for the first wood line and a second for getting into the French rightmost flank trench hex. Although eventually whittled down to only one figure by the French mortar and MG on the flank, they held on. The French MG on their left flank (La Morte Homme) harassed the Germans from there.

With both sides moving cautiously, the got on their own sides of the second woods line. This is a tactic I came up with while playing Napoleonics, and it was reinforced by being recommended by the Memoir 44 Strategy and Tactics Guide--(see my BGG review of this book here:

The French counterattacked, due to their needing a presence in the second wood line to prevent the Germans from getting a third terrain VP to win the game! The Germans beat it back, as noted in the scenario historical notes. Then the invaders took the second line, and the French had to advance a single man unit up to force the German back. But the French had to keep a single unit in the second wood line, and the Germans killed it off with two reduced units of their own, to win 7 to 1. This was the first time the French took much heavier casualties than the Germans.

It was the German's strongest victory in the series so far. The French could have used an Engineer SPF, but none were available for either side except the mandatory starting ones. Clearly the French have a weaker defensive position in this battle, and it favors the Germans. But the Germans also got some excellent combat movement combat cards and combat die rolls. Richard Borg continues to provide an excellent variety in his C&C scenarios.


(To Be Continued In Part II Seperate Post)
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Jon Snow
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Re: The Great War: The German Onslaught--Verdun (#41-45)
goo Just want to mention that I'd be happy to get questions, comments, and discussion on this series. Currently I've just submitted Part III; and Part IV will finish the 12 Verdun scenarios.
 
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