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VERDUN SESSIONS PART III (#49-#50)
Three quarters of the entire French army served in the 10 month Battle of Verdun. One thing the Germans were correct about was that the French would fight to the last to keep it—in the words of the German Commander von Falkenhayn, they would “bleed to death.” In the next two scenarios, we return to the two most famous forts. The terrain of these “return engagements” are very similar to the first visits to these forts; the battlefields treating slightly different areas, and both forts being the same size (Douaumont 5 B/F, Vaux 3).
The ingeniousness of the scenario on the first treatment of Fort Douaumont can only be understood if you know that the French never defended it. A German sergeant with two men walked in and captured it outright after cutting through the barbed wire, while the French were firing the artillery there! The French were enraged, and wanted it back. Fort Vaux, a much smaller structure, was only initially taken after fighting underground gallery to gallery for days. The French lost 100 dead and wounded before surrendering under monstrous conditions, the Germans 2,678 while advancing 40 yards. So who was 'bleeding to death?” (Overall answer: both sides).
French Attack On Fort Douaumont (#49)
Just as the core game of TGW had a few German counterattack scenarios in what was mainly British offensives, in this game the French are counterattacking and Racing Against Time. Both sides have equal resources—cards, HQ tokens, and powerful 4 strength artillery. The French has some good SPFs for attack, and the Germans for defense.
When I play solitaire, my pregame analysis is not that different from when I'm not. For either side, because of the exciting development of card flow, all plans are contingent on the current turn circumstances. However, I do like to make a basic plan for my side(s) to start out with. The Germans will be mostly reactive. For the French, I see an oddity that Mr. Borg has left for me...possible a hint. The third row of the French Bombardment target hexes only has 4 possible targets, since most of the row is covered by the French trenches. The other two rows will have a part in cutting the German wire, but why bother with this weak third row? Ah... I see that two Germans are isolated close to the French positions on the French Left, yet their trench is connected to the rest of the German positions, and the “moat” of trenches around the Fort itself. Taking them out and getting into the trench could be useful, even if not worth a victory point. Which brings up another important maxim in playing TGW. A captured trench becomes a covered way to support your attack! (Shell Craters from the No-Mans Land Barrage serve the same function; although with less protection you usually get more of a pathwaye toward an enemy target). If I can take the French Left Flank of the German position, I can combine a protected flank attack with a frontal assault, and that may work for me. So that's my tentative French Attack Plan.
I haven't looked at either hand of cards yet. I prefer to consider them only when sitting on one side or the other, and not in conjunction with the opponent decks. I do have to put the cards in their racks for both sides, since I like to lay reactive/defensive cards down flat that can be played during the opponent's turn, so I don't forget to play them at the right opportunity. Hopefully even if I can't try out the French plan right away, I can keep it filed for future reference, and use other sector cards to prepare to support the Left Flank attack for the French. It will probably be somewhat iffy anyhow, since historically the French failed here.
The NML Barrage lands twice on the first two rows, but on the third I do get one Shell Crater right next to that isolated enemy MG on the far flank hex. “Borg, you magnificent bastard, I read your book!” (Cue the 'Pattton' movie theme).
Both sides had good cards. As the French I was able to take out both Left Flank enemy units, including the MG—helped by one infantry fighting from that extreme flank Shell Crater made by the NML Barrage—and hit the fast moving German Officer Infantry moving up as a reserve from the village. Having a Wire Cutters card go rid of two hexes of enemy wire during the initial attack. The Germans fought back, although taking more casualties, they did reposition their Center Mortar to be able to join the fray.
As casualties mounted on both sides, the outnumbered Germans were able to play Rally and hold onto parts of the trench. The French plan was working, but their units would be too weak to be of much help in the later planned flanking attack. Score: French 2, Germans 0 of 6.
With a new Rush and Rotation card for the French, new possibilities arose. While it would not be useful in the current Left Flank fighting, where the whole game had taken place so far, it made it possible to consider a Center/Right attack, since getting just a couple of units to advance would allow them to be supported. So for now the French attacked out of that famous Left Flank Shell Crater. Although the attack failed, the Recon card used got a VP before other action started where it would be in the way to play during a large engagement: Score French 3 Germans 0 of 6.
With another round of turns, the Germans on the French Left were wiped out, and Phase I of the French Plan was accomplished! “I love it when a plan comes together.” While the French had almost nothing left there and no VP remained to be gained in that sector, this left clear a path for French Center units to advance and take over the German trench area on the Center/Left border. Back a bit in the Center a German infantry backed up by a Mortar could hold things up and continue fighting there, but an advantage had certainly been gained. Score French 4 Germans 1 of 6. Hey, wait a minute! If I were able to take out these two units, I could win s French without having to attack the Fort defenses (including a second MG). Hmmm...
In many of these scenarios, a nice but undermanned defense requires “fire brigading”--the defender must move out of his cozy initial position to respond to smart and indirect offensive moves. In this game, if the French do well against these target units, or even advance too easily, these two defenders may decide to just pull them back and play for time. They could move back down the “moat” trench behind the Fort, or even enter the unoccupied Fort hexes (each worth a VP to the enemy, as forts are in all of their scenarios).
Now there ensued the most intense kind of combat possible in the game, as the French moved up into attack in both the Left Center and Center, and moved up on the Right. Both sides used a Combat card on almost every turn, and their Reserve Artillery. The Germans drew two Recon cards in a row and played them both. The French took out one and a half of the two defenders on the Center Left mentioned above, who did not get time to pull back. The weakened French MG on the Right Center was retreated back from the trench into a Fort hex. Almost everyone was in Close Assault, with mortars firing as well! The Germans took out the French Engineer before he could remove any wire. They the Huns played Out of Supply to retreat the French LMG on the Left, and Trench Raid to harm the French LMG in the Center and then duck back into the fort where they had started! This reenacted the historical commentary that the French got into the “moat” trench in front of the Fort but could not remain there. Score French 5 Germans 3 out of 6.
Now it got really hairy! The French got ready to play Trench Foot on the single figure German mortar, since it would probably try to retreat from close assault combat this German turn. But the Germans had no cards to do it, because three of their cards were Storm of Fire, which they had been unable to use, due to the close combats being made in the last few turns. Now all they could do was use one up, firing the three center units in the Fort, which would probably get them another VP, and hope for the best. The French lead had just become insurmountable, but at least the Germans had gotten respectably onto the scoreboard.
The German did in fact finish off the French LTMG isolated out in a Shell Crater and down to one figure and its SPF. Then the Marksman had no target, and the Elite missed against a French unit in the trench. Would the French have a card they needed to finish off the lone mortar man and win the game? Probably!
But they didn't, and had to spend the turn moving up their last reserves from the Right. Oh the Agony! Oh the Ecstasy! The endangered mortar man tried to retreat back down the “moat trench,” but the French stopped him with that Trench Foot card, and he could not even attack! But the Germans fired off a full artillery barrage at the three strong adjacent French units who might be able to chase him, even though they all had trench protection. Blammo! The shells took out a figure on the target hex but missed the other two, even though they had die on each. Then the German Elite fired from the fort and this time did take out another Frenchman. Ha ha, take that, you Gallic Gimp! Your mother was a herring!
Although still not having a section card to use against the stranded mortar man, the French played Counter Attack, which allowed them to mimic the Assault Center the German had played and attack. The French mortar missed, but two French infantry were still adjacent to their target. The first one got him. Final score: French 6, Germans 4.
How do like that, mon ami? And when you return you for a second fort game next scenario, I will taunt you a second time...you silly German person!
So the French won on points, but only by bypassing the fort until the very end. It would be pretty challenging to try and win by taking at least one fort hex, wouldn't it?
Fight for Fort Vaux (#50)
This is a wacky scenario, with the most unusual set up yet! The Germans are entrenched more or less surrounding the Fort, which is held by the French, but the French are making a relief assault from their board edge. All SPF are chosen by the players: 3 German and 4 French. You dice off to see who goes first.
And finally: “The player that moves first does the No-Man's-Land shelling roll. The player doing the NML Shelling may select any rows to shell, starting with the row of hexes closest tot he players side. Rows may be skipped, but once passed over there is no going back” Yow!
The Germans are the historical attackers at start, and have a small 14 to 11 unit advantage. On the other hand, the French trench is on their board edge, and might be vulnerable to attack, since there is no place to retreat? Which objective should the Germans go for? This time the Fort is only worth one VP collectively instead of three. But it does block many of the Germans on the far side of it from coming into an attack on the French trench. Decisions, decisions...
This scenario reminds me of the old Avalon Hill game Caesar At Alesia, where he is in a 'tactical doughnut' facing both 'inside Gauls' (in this case the French inside Fort Vaux) and 'outside Gauls'--those in their edge trenches. The French can move down their trench to the Fort to relieve it, but will have to deal with an isolated German MG in a forest Fortified Position (FP) to go that way.
Since the player going first must choose his SPF first (Rules Page 12), I need to determine the first player, who today will be the Germans, who automatically win the resulting die roll tie. The French have the option of placing them in the Fort or out in the trench.
I have chosen the following SPFs:
German: (3) Flamethrower, Mortar Spotter, Bomber
French: (4)Mortar Spotter, LTMG (Southern Fort Hex), Officer, Elite
No Mans Land Bombardment: At first, I was tempted as the Germans to shell the rows in between the two main opposing trench lines. But since the French have more units in them than I do, why not leave these rows open, and for the the enemy to advance across completely open ground?so be it! Instead, counting the French edge as Row 1, I decided to shell Rows 5-9, starting behind my main front trench, in order to give me a somewhat protected retreat area, and make it easier to advance toward the Fort with more units more quickly, should I need to do that.
Initial Battle Plans
The Germans are going to go for the Fort, because with the units inside it, it will be in fact worth 4 VP, and avoid most of the French units.
The French are going for the MG, so as to be able to support the fort and attack from the “moat” trench rather than the open hexes between the lines—unless the Germans are forced to abandon most of their trenches by being drawn into the fort battle.
“Brave fellows—they always go for the thickest part of the fence!” I believe this quote was about the original BEF. As you can see, I always do the opposite (unless I have some tanks).
The NML Shelling did not in fact back up the German trench, but did put some nice shell craters between the two NE German units and the Fort, and the entire row to the (French) Left of it past the 'moat' trenches, and some to the N of the Fort as well. Not bad! It would be a totally different game if the French had done the shelling, as they would have hit the rows between the trench lines for sure!
During the first two turns, a German Bombardment took out one MG figure in the Fort, and a Bomber attack from the south took out one LTMG figure in an adjacent Fort hex. Then the French attacked with a Mortar Bombardment Card missing, but the French Elite came adjacent and took out a German MG gunner. Then suddenly on Turn Three the Germans hit the Fort with a ferocious blitz! First playing Out of Supply to banish the German MG unit from the Fort back to the French base line and having an infantry move into a Fort he,s, the bomber unit made a close assault and rolled Three Bursts wipe out the LTMG and take ground into a second Fort hex. The Germans had overrun two thirds of Fort Vaux in one turn, and there was only one French unit (Elite) anywhere near the Fort to counterattack! What a coup de main for the Germans.
Hauling down the French flag (VP marker) over the Fort, the Germans ran up their own. Then they rolled 3 Deadly Dice to almost wipe out the counterattacking French Elite unit, and with the second German Fort occupant took out a man on the last French Fort unit. Score Germans 2, French 0 of 7. Deutschland Uber Alles!
As the French shuffled units from Left to Right in their main trench line, their counterattacks from inside and next to the Fort reduced the German Bomber there to only one figure (+SPF). Then the German Flamethrower reached the Fort. Hoping to get a Flag and retreat the last French unit out of the Fort, I did even better and wiped it out, now occupying the third Fort hex with Germans! Score Germans 3, French 0 of 7.
The French used an Artillery Bombard on the Fort, but its superior protection allowed the targets to ignore any hits. The Germans tried a Box Barrage against French units in their trenches close to the isolated German MG in the FP, around which the battle had been raging. The French now reduced it to only one figure. Meanwhile the German Bomber (south Fort Hex) and the adjacent French Elite (“moat” trench) had been unable to attack each other for several turns!
Desperate to reverse the tile of battle, the French played Big Show, and for a moment, did! Their now enhanced units took out the isolated German MG on the Right finally, took out the German Bomber and retook one Fort hex, and killed two Germans coming into the crucial sector on the NW “moat” trench with their Officer unit, who had just come up itself. Score French 2, Germans 2 of 7. But the Germans had twice as many figures in and adjacent to the Fort as the French did.
Making an unexpected strike, one of the two German units from the far NE, hitherto unused, now makes a Trench Raid and wipes out the French Elite, taking over once again a third Fort hex. The Huns also reduce the French Officer unit. Score: Germans 4 French 2 of 7.
The French then picked a Lice card, and realized that they could use it like Flamethrower one time to force a retreat on a Fort occupant if they rolled a Flag. But only the remnant Officer unit was still near the Fort. So the Germans went all out, using Direct From HQ to activate all three units adjacent to the French unit. It took all three in the event, but they destroyed it. All remaining French units were now in their original trench, except for that part of it near the old German MG FP, to which they had now advanced to occupy.
The French strikes back with a Recon card activating a Box Barrage against Fort Vaux. Now here is an example of Mr. Borg designing ahead to include things not yet published. Box Barrage also allows the 'Flags must be taken as retreats' clause. In fact, although not affecting the original Target Hex (NW), then roll of a Flag on the S Fort hex did force a loss, because the other two Fort hexes blocked any possible retreat from there. The Germans also lost a figure from a unit in the “moat trench.” Thanks to the Recon card, Score Germans 4, French 3 of 7.
Both sides need new plans. Because there are no VP to be gained or lost in the German rear areas, they begin to filter all of their remaining units forward. The French meanwhile play another Recon card: Score Germans 5, French 4.
The French continue, with dogged persistence. Their MG takes out a couple of German infantry in their own front trench, and one Hun unit is pulled back. Playing a third Recon card, the Score is now Germans 5 French 5 of 7. Four French infantry and one MG now face three Germans and one MG on font lines. The French, having a slight superiority here, finally consider an assault in this Left/Center area if the get the right cards, and do draw an Infantry Assault, with the rest of their hand being Left and one Center card!
The Germans continue to filter their full strength units, including their Mortar with Spotter, to the Fort area, considering targeting the two French Mortar with Spotter and MG units in trenches on the extreme French Right. These will be tough targets, but are far isolated from the rest of the French forces, and could yield the two winning VP they need. They still have their Flamethrower to use.
The three French units on the extreme Left Infantry Assaulted the German line, killing two infantry and two machine gunners. Unfortunately for the French, they were out of combat cards, and so had no help there either Disastrously for the attackers, the Germans played an MG Barrage card--had I always known that it could also be used in close assault--wiping out a unit and half of another. The German infantry than finished off the second for the win. Score Germans 7 French 5.
I think there is one more to go, but so far this is my favorite Fort scenario. The pregame decisions to be made for both sides, particularly high variability in replay, the different side options during the game, and the fighting that takes place in or next to the Fort so that it actually can change hands are terrific. And I expect its reasonably balanced if we allow for the amazing die rolling the Germans got during this first play.
(TO BE CONCLUDED IN PART IV)
Keep ‘em coming!