Recommend
7 
 Thumb up
 Hide
3 Posts

Squad Leader» Forums » Sessions

Subject: TTS Alpha Zero, 1/10/09 rss

Your Tags: Add tags
Popular Tags: [View All]
Randy Shipp
United States
Irving
Texas
flag msg tools
badge
Avatar
mbmbmbmbmb
[Note: This is a reprint of a session report originally posted by me on the Two Guys Gaming blog on January 11, 2009. Check the blog out for more session reports and reviews!]

With about an hour and a half remaining until I had to leave for a hockey practice, and despite Tim's worry that we might not have time to finish, I laid Squad Leader on the table and went into a lightning teaching session. Having just finished playing several hours of Conflict of Heroes: Awakening the Bear! – Russia 1941-42, all the concepts were fresh in our minds, so this wasn't really very hard. I estimate that it wasn't more than twenty minutes of rules before we began playing. The scenario in play was part of Alan Yngwe's Tactical Training Series (TTS). Basically, while Squad Leader originally presented its rules in "programmed instruction" fashion, much like Conflict of Heroes, and did an OK job of teaching the game's rules to the player in a manageable fashion, Yngwe felt the early scenarios did a lousy job of actually teaching the player how to manage a company of infantry and vehicles in common combat situation. The scenarios of the TTS therefore start out in the countryside instead of in urban fighting situations, where normal rules of maneuver, fire, mass, etc. might be modified.



Tim and I were playing TTS Alpha Zero: Forced March. In this scenario, eleven Russian rifle squads, led by a mediocre leader -- get used to that as the Russian! -- have orders to cross the map to rejoin their comrades somewhere beyond. They have five turns simply to exit five squads off the map within a certain range of hexes. To win, the Germans need only prevent the Russian fulfilling his orders, and he has five rifle squads and two leaders. We only needed to cover the sequence of play, fire combat, movement, and morale to get going.

Unlike Conflict of Heroes, Squad Leader has separate counters to represent leaders, and they can be pretty important to the healthy functioning of the company. Most important in this scenario, at least for the Russians, is the fact that infantry squads have a movement allowance of 4 movement points, but gain 2 movement points if they spend the entire activation stacked with a leader. This is a race to the exit area, so those extra two movement points are a big deal. Additionally, units that break under fire can only rally in the presence of a leader, so if your troops get into trouble, they'll never recover without a friendly leader nearby. Finally, good leaders, like the ones the Germans get in TTS Alpha Zero, can positively impact their troops' fire attempts, rally attempts, etc. As the Russians (we'd decided to just continue with the trend), I opted for the quickest route to the exit area, and my lone leader was going to help the first stack get there on the double.

On Turn 1, I sent one fire group of three squads into the woods in the H through J hexrows to sort of give the Germans something to think about other than just blowing my escaping troops to pieces. This was not a sure-fire plan. With only 8 of my 11 squads actually putting themselves in a position to escape, it wouldn't take many losses to make the mission unachievable. The other Russians, including the maneuver group led by my leader, made a beeline down behind the cover of those woods, hoping to swing into the exit area from the east while the fire group in the central woods harassed the approaching Germans. The Germans, meanwhile, hot-footed it down the road, ending their movement in Q2, R2, and T2 (the leaderless pair of rifle squads lagging behind). During the Advancing Fire Phase, the phasing player has the option to fire with any troops who did not fire prior to movement in the Prep Fire Phase. Those units who moved during the Movement Phase have their firepower halved for the attack. Tim saw that his senior leader, the 9-2 leader behind the hedge at Q2, had a line of sight to the woods at F4 where the Russian leader crouched, ready to dash across the road towards the exit area. The combined 8 firepower of his two squads was halved to 4 for moving fire and halved again for long range fire, for only 2 firepower. But the leaders -2 modifier to the die roll offset the terrain bonus of the woods and then some. Tim rolled well and forced a morale check on the stack. The Russian leader made his check, but was no help for two of his three squads, who dug down into available cover, broken and unwilling to advance further. The Germans then advanced near the end of the turn into the wooden house at P1, open ground at Q3, and the shellholes at S3. (Units move up to their movement allowance during the Movement Phase, then all unbroken units may advance one hex during the Advance Phase.)

The Rally Phase is the first phase of each turn, and is one of the three phases of the turn that both phasing and non-phasing player participate in. At the beginning of Turn 2, the Russian leader succeeded in rallying one of his broken squads, though I realize now that that should have been a far harder task than the way we played it: units that have been fired on since the last Rally Phase are supposed to receive a Desperation Morale marker, lowering their morale by 4. This obviously makes sustained suppressing fire on a broken unit pretty worthwhile. Sorry I screwed that up in my haste. Anyway, the Soviet leader stayed in the woods with his one broken squad while his other troops safely scurried across the road, out of sight of German opportunity fire. This, I think was the critical moment in the game. Had Tim moved and advanced during the first turn into Q4 and R3, he would have had three squads who could have at least attempted to shoot Russians as they moved across the road. A target moving in the open brings a hefty -2 to the die roll, and one of the stacks would have had a -1 leader with them, so this would have forced me to either accept the risk of moving through the German field of fire or move more slowly to the east, out of range of the Germans. Either way, it would have complicated the Russians' mission. Instead, the Russian maneuver happened almost completely screened from German view. The Russian fire team established itself in the woods at J4, ready to try to blunt the coming German attack.

The Germans' Turn 2 saw the superior leader advance through the woods, arriving at the exit area at about the same time as the lead elements of the Russians. In another critical moment, the German junior officer led his two rifle squads in a mad dash across open ground in view of the Russians at J4. Though their firepower was halved for the long-range fire, they rolled well. Combined with the penalty for moving in the open, the NCO and his men were devastated and scattered, a KIA result. It would now be up to the 9-2 officer and three squads to attempt to hold the line against a mostly healthy Russian force. The next turn saw one Russian stack survive an attack and advance off the board, while the final two squads were poised to do the same. The German fire base, now three squads strong, an impressive 12 firepower with a great leader, had one shot to slow them down before they'd dash off the board for the win...but the dice were not with Tim, and the game was mine!

So, what to say about Squad Leader? Well, for one thing, I think the game works pretty well, at least at this early stage in the rules. The turn sequence is logical with just one weird spot worth mentioning. You'll have deduced from my description that the game has a series of phases that you go through on a player turn. So the Russian player does all of his turn, and then the German takes his turn, and then it becomes Turn 2, and so on. This "I go, you go" structure is considered by a lot of people to be antique, I think. This game attempts to inject a bit of interactivity and simultaneity by having a Defensive Fire Phase, during which the non-phasing player's unit can fire on any unit that was in their line of sight at any time during the preceding Movement Phase. That sounds simple in theory, but in practice it's handled in a slightly weird way. In order to prevent gamey tactics that might occur if opportunity file happened as an "interrupt" (moving a less valuable unit through a hex first to draw fire, then blithely skipping through afterward with other, more valuable units), Squad Leader has all movement take place, with the non-phasing player able to mark any hex that was moved through with a crosshair marker. Once all movement is finished, each unit or group that Defensive Fires can "rewind" things and call all units that passed through the target hex back to face the music. If they break, they'll stay in that hex, otherwise they continue on to their destination(s). A little weird, but it seems to work well enough in practice. It might become cumbersome when many units moved and it becomes unclear who moved along which path. Other than that, the turn sequence is logical and quick to run through. The basic mechanics of the game are solid, and at a "guys and guns" level, there are very few overly fiddly or complex elements. I can well imagine that using all the rules for a combined arms city fight at night in the snow, etc., etc. could be lots more complex, but if the rules are learned over time in these bite-sized chunks, and if the scenarios along the way are fun, I don't really see that being an unattainable goal for me.

Regarding the TTS Alpha Zero scenario, I'll admit that it's a little stripped-down. With such simple forces, lack of support weapons or other chrome, and the simplicity of the mission and victory conditions, the scenario might seem a little bland. But I know from reading others' session reports and playing through the scenario solo several times that there are a number of quite different Russian approaches to fulfilling their victory conditions, and I believe the Germans would have to respond differently and correctly to each one, so I think the tactical problems are richer than you might think. And I know the scenario is pretty balanced. According to Advance Phase, the Squad Leader site that hosts the TTS scenarios, over the course of 204 reported playings of TTS Alpha Zero, 53.4% were won by the Germans. TTS Alpha One, the next stage in the programmed instruction, gives the Germans machineguns and the Russians an extra leader and six more squads. There, 146 reported plays resulted in a 51.4% Russian success rate.

For whatever reason, Squad Leader feels good to me. It has a few rough edges and old-fashioned notes, but newer games in the same space largely seem to solve problems with Squad Leader that weren't bothering me in the first place. I've rated Squad Leader an 8 on BoardGameGeek. As Tim and I reflected after the game, though, Squad Leader and Conflict of Heroes had slightly different flavors, and there's really no reason why each game couldn't hit the table in the (possibly near) future.
3 
 Thumb up
1.00
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
しんぶん赤旗
New Zealand
Christchurch
flag msg tools
Avatar
mbmbmbmbmb
Thanks for posting such a detailed session report. I think people who read this might consider trying squad leader if the haven't already.

I also enjoy squad leader because it "feels right." It is nice to hear that it still holds up with the latest and greatest.
1 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
Randy Shipp
United States
Irving
Texas
flag msg tools
badge
Avatar
mbmbmbmbmb
bolter wrote:
Thanks for posting such a detailed session report. I think people who read this might consider trying squad leader if the haven't already.

I also enjoy squad leader because it "feels right." It is nice to hear that it still holds up with the latest and greatest.


First off, thanks very much for the tip!

Second, I don't claim to be a hardcore grognard for years and years, so I could totally believe that my opinions aren't based on the best experience. As you say, I only know what "feels right" to me. Squad Leader, and to a slightly lesser extent Conflict of Heroes "feel right" to me; Combat Commander does not.

Thanks for the comment!
 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
Front Page | Welcome | Contact | Privacy Policy | Terms of Service | Advertise | Support BGG | Feeds RSS
Geekdo, BoardGameGeek, the Geekdo logo, and the BoardGameGeek logo are trademarks of BoardGameGeek, LLC.