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Board Game: Baptism By Fire: The Battle of Kasserine
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Subject: Battle of Bordj Chambi Pass rss

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Mark Herman
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When I was young, I discovered the Bantam series of World War II memoirs. During Junior High School (now called Middle School) I read as many of these as I could get my hands on. Amongst the most memorable was ‘Brazen Chariots’ by Major Robert Crisp that told the story of the Crusader offensive from the turret of his M3 Stuart (Honey) tank in the 3 RTR. While I am not a collector, I have a vast wargame collection (almost all are punched and have been played) that has exceeded my available space, so I rarely buy new games unless the topic really appeals to me.

When I saw that a game titled ‘Brazen Chariots’ (two points for MMP marketing) I had to give it a look. It was at this time that I discovered that it was the third title in the Battalion Combat Series (hereafter BCS). Let me say that the BCS is what I call a classic hex and counter wargame that uses a refreshing take on brigade/battalion operations in World War II.

One snowy day in NYC I sat down, read the rules and played Operation Brevity several times to learn the system. I will say that the series rules (v1.2) are similar in style to another Gamer’s system titled the Operational Combat System (OCS). I had a great time playing the scenario and its underlying system so much so that I immediately bought Baptism By Fire (hereafter BbF, the second in the series). I recently set it up and played out the campaign scenario. As is my habit these days I tweeted out photos of this solo playthrough. Sadly, it ended in a German victory, but I intend to set it up again and aspire for a happier less historical outcome.

I am on BGG almost every day and as I went through the various online files for both titles, I discovered that while there were a few session reports there is not one tactical analysis thread for either title. Admittedly the few session reports inevitably discuss scenario strategy, but I did not see much on tactics, just the usual rules questions. So, to pay homage to a great design here are some of my thoughts on BCS tactics that I hope will spark others to discuss and step up to the plate. As a parting thought I found that all of my questions were answered by the v1.2 rules, but you have to read carefully.

My first caveat is all of my sessions so far have been solitaire and no one claims that I am a brilliant gamer, so you get what you pay for. I am going to center my discussion on what I am calling the ‘Battle of Bordj Chambi Pass (BbF, west map, centered on hex 30:16). This is not a ‘how to play’ piece, so it assumes you know the rules, but a ‘how to get things done’ piece.

Prelude
This analysis is based on the Campaign scenario (5.1) and this example is drawn from game turn 7 (20 February 1943) of my recent solitaire session. Up to this point the German offensive had taken Sbeitla (hex 30:29) with the 10th Panzer division KGs heading north toward Sbiba and the 21st Panzer division attacking toward Kasserine (hex 25:12). Kasserine fell to the 21st Panzer division on 18 February.

Southeast of Kasserine is Thelepte (hex 10:25) on the road to Gafsna where historically a DAK KG was heading north from after overrunning an evacuated airfield and supply complex further to the south. If one goes northeast you enter a constrained mountain pass centered on a town called Bordj Chambi that empties into Kasserine Valley.

I have chosen the 21st Panzer division attack on this pass to discuss some BCS tactics and hopefully offer some thoughts on useful combinations.

From gallery of MarkHerman

This is the situation on turn 7. It’s raining, so unless you fail your SNAFU roll, all activations are partial and there are no air strikes.

The 21st Panzer division consists of KG Scht (Schutte) and KG Stnkoff (Stenkhoff). Each KG is centered on a tank battlion with different combinations of Reconnaissance, Motorized Infantry, Marder III AT, and one battery of the infamous ‘88s’. One thing I like about this system is the ‘88s’ behave like ‘88s’.

It is the German turn to activate and I chose to have KG Scht open up the pass and then have KG Stnkoff pass through into the large valley beyond and victory. I will note that I have committed Rommel to lead this effort yielding a +1 DRM for both KGs when they make SNAFU determinations and 2nd activation attempts.

The Allied defenses are thin with the pass being held by the Welvert TF composed of 5 battalions of light infantry to include two battalions of US Rangers. The US Rangers are holding the high ground on the western side of the pass with the Algerian (French) infantry holding the pass and the eastern side of the pass. The tactical problem is the infantry project EZOCs onto Highway 17.

Anyone who has played any of my designs knows that I always integrate logistics into the system, but without record keeping or dragging supplies around the map. What I really like about this system is how it integrates command, battalion assets, and logistics into the spatial relationship between a TF/KGs HQ and Supply trains. The key problem is Highway 17 needs to be opened up before an advance through the pass can be sustained and count for victory purposes.

Partial activations allow only one objective marker (creates a two hex zone) and broadly you cannot attack any enemy units unless they are in an objective zone. The key exception to this statement is tanks (AFVs) can engage other AFVs/Support in or outside the objective zone. If it wasn’t raining it would be possible to achieve a Pass SNAFU result which allows the placement of two Objective markers and if placed in the same location, they create a double Objective. The tactical problem of fighting in the rain is you won’t see any double Objectives.
Others can disagree but I felt that the best option was to first clear the western side of the pass with infantry and then use my armor battalion to move up the pass and position it for a 2nd activation attack. Toward this end I put the German 39/609 Marder AFV into support. When you put a unit into support it is dispersed to all of the non-AFV elements of the force and yields a +1 DRM in combat adjudication.


From gallery of MarkHerman

This image shows that the two attacks resulted in one success with one Ranger battalion retreating down the pass while the 1st Ranger Battalion held its Key Terrain position. For the record I was always rooting for the Americans, so there were no mulligan die rolls. The 1st Rangers were a great example of the game telling a great story about bravery. This particular battalion had successfully foiled several previous attacks near Kasserine and it once again holds its ground.

From gallery of MarkHerman

This image shows the German Panzer battalion moving into position for a 2nd activation attack, assuming that it occurs. It cannot execute any attacks as the Welvert HQ is stacked with an infantry battalion and it is outside of the Objective zone. This is where things were at the conclusion of Scht’s first activation. The German’s pass their fatigue roll so they remain at fatigue zero. Due to Rommel’s +1 DRM, KG Scht passed its 2nd activation test and a SNAFU partial result.

From gallery of MarkHerman

The objective for the 2nd activation is the VP hex at the north end of the pass (hex 34:18). It is important to note that you cannot enter or attack a VP hex unless the Objective marker is situated in the VP hex, an Objective zone is insufficient (note I confirmed this with Dean). That is not a problem but a feature of this situation as the Welvert HQ is within an Objective zone enabling the German I/5 Panzer battalion to execute a successful Shock attack (uses one of two fire events). This causes the HQ and the 1/7 Algerian Infantry to retreat with the panzers advancing into the hex.

From gallery of MarkHerman

The I/5th Panzer continues up Highway 17 to the VP hex where it executes a second (and last) shock attack against the 2/7th Algerian Infantry capturing the head of the pass. Now the issue is the US 2nd Ranger battalion still sits in the throat of the pass and needs to be removed.

From gallery of MarkHerman

As the US 2nd Rangers are also within the Objective zone they can be attacked. Two battalions of the German 104th Motorized infantry regiment attack the 2nd Rangers. The German HQ commits its one artillery point (suppression mission) to the attack. Note that Shock attacks cannot use artillery, only air support, but since it is raining there is no air. Also note that the attack is within 7 hexes of the German HQ that has a range of 8 allowing the artillery to be used in this attack.

From gallery of MarkHerman

The 2nd Rangers were in the open and are forced to retreat opening up the pass except for the EZOC of the 1st Rangers. However, as the 1st Rangers are not in an Objective zone they cannot be attacked. I really like how this system forces you to appropriately task your units in a way that is both restrictive and accurate for this period. One other consideration is while the attacking unit MUST advance into the defender’s hex the assisting battalion MAY advance and I choose not to advance it as I want to maintain single units in each of the pass hexes so other units can stack there if necessary (two unit stacking limit).

From gallery of MarkHerman

A choice I made at the beginning of the 2nd Activation was to take the Marder AFV out of support so that it became an additional maneuver element. At this time, I send the Marder north to the VP hex in support of the Panzers.

From gallery of MarkHerman

This image and the next show two ways to that I could now move the HQ. In this image I move the HQ into the pass, but due to the US Ranger EZOC the HQ now has its MSR blocked forcing the Supply Trains off map and the issuing of an MSR blocked marker.

From gallery of MarkHerman

This image shows the HQ displacing forward while maintaining its supply relationship with its trains. This move was necessary as we want to keep the German Panzer and Marder battalions within range of the HQ to prevent any isolation effects. The KG Scht fails its fatigue roll and its fatigue increases from zero to one ending the activation. As this was the 2nd activation KG Scht is now finished.

The Allies went next and I brought in the 1st Infantry division, but they are leg infantry and can only reach the Chebka Pass around 12 hexes (miles) west of the Bordj Chambi pass. You should note that the US 2nd Ranger battalion is west of the pass, while the 1st Ranger battalion (unfortunately down to its last step) are impediments to fully opening up the pass and the Kasserine valley beyond.

At this point the Germans control 8 VP hexes and require 9 to win. Now here’s where Rommel’s 21st Panzer combo captures the critical 9th VP hex. The German KG Stnkoff now activates and gets a partial activation (remember it’s still raining).

The SNAFU result is partial and once again the 1st Ranger battalion is designated as the objective. KG Stnkoff has a different configuration than its sister KG as it has a Reconnaissance battalion with an action rating of 5 and the main reason that I held this KG back for the second wave of this attack. Recon units can create objective hexes via a recon action. Given that I need to use the one objective conferred by the partial activation to attack the 1st Rangers, the recon gives the Germans the potential to attack the 2nd Rangers with a second objective marker and open a route into the valley.

From gallery of MarkHerman

To make a long activation short, the 1st Rangers were eliminated, the recon against the 2nd Rangers was successful and the subsequent attacks created an opening in the Allied lines. The KGs second activation declared the VP hex as an objective and the Panzer battalion entered the town to capture the 9th VP hex.

The Allies at this point did not have any realistic counterattack options and I ended the scenario as a German 9 VP hex victory.

Tactical Thoughts
When you activate a KG/TF it more or less equates to a brigade force, so I will use that term in this section. What I particularly like is the system does not use cookie cutter units, but each brigade feels unique and special in what it can do with the tools (units) it has available. This tactical lock and brigade key lets you come up with interesting combinations of maneuvers and attack options to further a local situation toward a broader operational plan.

1. Objectives: A brigade can attack one or two zones each SNAFU partial or pass activation respectively. Other than AFV versus AFV or Support you can only attack enemy units that are in an objective zone. It should be obvious that when you are attacking a position where you want to create two breakthroughs or a deep penetration you will need a SNAFU pass (two objectives) or two separate activations as occurred in my example above.

a. This creates two basic objective configurations, side by side to hit an enemy position in two locations or one behind the other to enable a breakthrough and an exploitation attack.

b. The wild card is Reconnaissance which allows you to create a non-SNAFU objective giving recon units their due in a way I have not seen in other systems. This is particularly potent when you have a partial activation enabling a more dynamic attack albeit with reduced movement allowances.

2. HQs and Supply Trains: Your axis of advance is defined by the optimal 5 to 15 hex spatial relationship between your HQ and its associated Supply Train along a contiguous road. Dean is using one of my favorite designer tricks that I have used many times (see my Gettysburg and Waterloo) and Kevin Zucker has used as the basis for his command system in his Napoleonic systems. Therefore, you cannot destroy an HQ or its associated Supply Train, but you can disrupt the spatial relationship. The jump rules make HQ hunting less useful, but regardless you should be sensitive about your MSR vulnerability.

a. This MSR spatial relationship is defined by what the available road network will allow. It is worth noting that an HQ has to end its movement on a road hex, so it can go cross country, but only to switch which road it will end its movement on.

b. Pay attention to the HQ retreat rule, especially if a brigade gets cut off. You can more or less place the HQ sans its combat elements in supply. In desperate times use desperate measures.

c. It is also worth noting that if the Supply Train cannot establish a proper MSR to its associated HQ (via some road connection) it is illegal and has to temporarily (or so you hope) go off map. This as the fortune tellers say will make for interesting times, so pay attention or spend several activations sorting things out.

3. Indirect Fire: As I was once taught by the head of TRADOC, artillery should never be in reserve. Make sure that you always use every point you have available. If you don’t have anything special to do, just shoot someone.

a. Artillery and Air barrages are very effective in this simulation. If you can catch an infantry unit in the open you will have a 66% chance of knocking out a step of enemy troops. In my example it was raining, so there was no air barrages and the HQs collectively only had 5 artillery points between them.

b. What I did not show was up north the US 34th Division HQ has 3 artillery points. The 34th had lots of useful but slow infantry, but I never missed an opportunity to hit three 10th Panzer division troop concentrations each activation. One time the 34th had a second activation with hot dice causing 5 German Infantry step losses. While you can target AFVs, you need to roll a six, so shoot up the infantry in lieu of praying for hot dice.

c. Remember that AFVs can conduct attack by fire that are barrages. They may be a bit more effective than I believe they were, but play the rules as written and when you have infantry without support take a shot if you do not have a better target.

4. Direct Fire: The one type of combat that does not require an objective zone is AFV direct fire called an engagement. I have to say I really enjoyed seeing my American Sherman tanks on occasion giving as good as they got. Over the 7 turns of my most recent campaign game the Germans lost 15 steps to the Allies 21, which feels about right. One nice trick was to use the single German Tiger tank step on its deployed side where it gets a two-hex range. I also really enjoyed putting my German 88 unit in Stand Off support allowing its associated infantry to act as the source of a long range shot, great fun and feels right.

5. Coordinated Attack: This is the purview of infantry with assault arrows. There are some AFVs that have an assault arrow, but for the most part this is the province of infantry tactics.

a. This portion of the design is recognizable from every game you have played since you were a kid and doesn’t need much explanation other than the obvious tactic of making sure you attack with as many positive modifiers as you can manage.

b. One interesting feature of this game is AFVs in defense are very vulnerable to taking losses if they are unsupported by infantry. I think this is correct, but if your first instinct is to put a Tiger tank to hold a critical location you may find there is a good chance that the infantry assault has dropped a grenade down the hatch and destroyed your ‘invincible’ asset.

c. As in any wargame infantry defends best in defensible terrain, so pay attention to the terrain as you have done since your youth.

6. Shock Attack (overrun): This is a powerful offensive tool that can breakthrough an unsupported infantry unit, but it can be overused.

a. As you saw in my example at the critical moment the tandem Panzer shock attacks opened the road. However, remember that you can support a shock attack with only one air point. So, no artillery, assist, or support is available to aid your shock attack.

b. The best defense against Shock attack is anti-tank guns in support of your non-AFV unit as Shock attacks cannot be conducted when these assets are present.

c. If you want to Shock attack a supported unit you will first have to employ an engagement that can temporarily drop support in addition to damaging the support asset that takes the hit.

Final Thoughts
I think I will leave it there, but suffice to say I have really enjoyed playing this system with the two North Africa titles that I own. I plan to play out additional BbF campaign scenarios and there is definitely a Crusader in my future. Until then…


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Carl Fung
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I might be one of the few people in the world to say, "No, Mark Herman, you're wrong" only in that it was an M3 Stuart per Crisp's book, but mistyped as M4... that is all.

Great in-depth replay and insight into the design.
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Mark Herman
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calvinboy24 wrote:
I might be one of the few people in the world to say, "No, Mark Herman, you're wrong" only in that it was an M3 Stuart per Crisp's book, but mistyped as M4... that is all.

Great in-depth replay and insight into the design.
Thanks, fixed the Stuart model number. When I was a kid one of my favorite comics was about a Stuart tank fighting the Germans. I cannot remember its name, but it was something like the Haunted Tank where JEB Stuart haunted the tank and helped fight the Germans. I might have to find some of those and see if my memory is better than the reality.
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Carl Fung
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Your recollection is correct!

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Mark Herman
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calvinboy24 wrote:
Your recollection is correct!

External image
Very nice, I actually remember this cover. Thanks...
 
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Wow, an AAR written by guru Mark Herman!
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Wonderful, in depth analysis. Thanks for putting in the time!
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Carl Fung
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MarkHerman wrote:
calvinboy24 wrote:
Your recollection is correct!

External image
Very nice, I actually remember this cover. Thanks...
I have a copy of it from a re-issued Sgt. Rock comic from 1991... the Haunted Tank takes out 5 Tigers in Tunisia. We're talking an Action Rating of at least an 8!
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Dean Essig
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Thank you Mark. Indeed an honor.
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It's a great system. Good to see the Herminator trying it out.
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"If you don’t have anything special to do, just shoot someone."

And so it hath been decreed by Mark Herman! laugh
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Carl Fung
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MarkHerman wrote:
When I was young, I discovered the Bantam series of World War II memoirs. During Junior High School (now called Middle School) I read as many of these as I could get my hands on. Amongst the most memorable was ‘Brazen Chariots’ by Major Robert Crisp that told the story of the Crusader offensive from the turret of his M3 Stuart (Honey) tank in the 3 RTR. While I am not a collector, I have a vast wargame collection (almost all are punched and have been played) that has exceeded my available space, so I rarely buy new games unless the topic really appeals to me.

When I saw that a game titled ‘Brazen Chariots’ (two points for MMP marketing) I had to give it a look. It was at this time that I discovered that it was the third title in the Battalion Combat Series (hereafter BCS). Let me say that the BCS is what I call a classic hex and counter wargame that uses a refreshing take on brigade/battalion operations in World War II.
Just a quick comment on the title choice for Brazen Chariots. The original submission just called the game Brevity-Battleaxe-Crusader. Certainly not a final title choice and as the design was expanded to include the earlier battles around Tobruk in 1941, a real title choice was needed.

I found the original email where I suggested the title choice to Dean. It was a bit of a whim as I didn't think it would resonate as much as it did with players who read Robert Crisp's book. The book was just about Operation Crusader so I thought the title wasn't all encompassing, but it was a great sounding title so I had to suggest it:

On Nov 12, 2016, at 10:52 PM, Carl Fung wrote:

... oh, and for titles, how's Brazen Chariots (after the memoir of a Brit tanker in the Crusader battle).  Else Forgotten Victory, a subtitle of Humble's book.


On Sun, Nov 13, 2016 at 10:15 AM d.essig wrote:

Brazen Chariots is a good one… you win.
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Mike Traynor
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"As I was once taught by the head of TRADOC, artillery should never be in reserve." - fits well with the late Prussian maxim that 'The artillery's reserve is its ammunition.'
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Mike Traynor
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I wonder if the illustrator for The Haunted Tank got the kind of stick for showing JEB as a litch that Rick Barber did for his Jackson Lives option in Summer Storm.
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Norm Stewart
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Brazen Chariots was the second real book I read all the way through on my own, after Swiss Family Robinson - not counting many Sgt Rock comics.

Tragically, my local High School in Virginia has just changed its name from JEB Stuart.

I would really, really like to play some BCS.

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The Haunted Tank series was revived again, for a graphic novel.
Haunted Tank https://www.amazon.com/dp/1401227104/ref=cm_sw_r_cp_api_i_9x...

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I had been thinking about that book recently but could not remember the title. I read it in junior high and had been wanting to download it to my kindle and read it again. Thanks for the comprehensive replay too. Enjoyed it.
 
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