[The following AAR is an abridged version of the one posted on my blog at http://triplepbf.blogspot.com/.]
Baking Bread with Lead:
VASLeague Round 2 AAR - scrub vs. LTC Paul
My second round opponent was LTC Paul who is a reservist in the United States and has a PhD to boot. We decided on S18 - Baking Bread. Baking Bread is an allusion to the tense firefight for Bread Factory #2 (those crazy Soviet names!) during the battle of Stalingrad in October of 1942. The scenario was adapted from Red Barricades, the HASL module that many consider the best ASL experience, bar none.
The plain map.
Compared to the other ASLSK scenario set in Stalingrad (such as S2 War of the Rats), Baking Bread is a claustrophobic, dense, urban nightmare. Scenario rules make all non-building terrain "Rubble" -- that is, chunky +3 TEM, 3 MF piles of broken stuff representing the detritus of intense urban street fighting. No nice trees and orchards here. VASL was able to show this with Rubble counters over the affected hexes (see pic above). Other than an ambush modifier for Russian squads (probably representing their inherent fanaticism in defense of their once-lovely city) the scenario also gives ASLSK players their first glimpse at the Soviet Commissar leader.
Hi there, my name is Ivan!
The Commissar, for those who don't know their Russian history, was a very nice fellow who followed the rank and file troops around and thanks to Stalin's visionary leadership shared command of the units with the military officer. He really was a useless adjutant except that he had the authority to perform summary executions for the political good. In ASL, this means the 6+1 leader is really a 10-0 fanatic who, thanks to his scary powers, rallies broken squads with ease. The problem being that he ELRs then Casualty Reduces anyone who fails to toe the party line. Like I said, very fun at "parties". Haha.
X's and O's. Planning a strategy.
Here's a shot of the map with some crazy markings on it. At first I was quite surprised at the size. It's a fraction of a full map, condensing a lot of urban terrain in one. If War of the Rats was anything to go by, this map with MORE units and a Gun would be quite unpleasant.
According to the historical notes, Sgt. Esser, observing the carnage around him charged his small band of Wehrmacht soldiers into the Bread Factory (marked by "V" overlays on the map). This is represented by the open blue arrow from the top left. Esser's band sets up in sight of the Bread Factory filled with Russian troops and back up by the "X" where the commissar is polishing his pistol.
Another small group of squads is in the buildings below, making the crossing into the street a (hopefully) fatal activity.
Given that I had only six turns as the Germans to take and hold the two victory hexes I couldn't be dawdling. My plan was to sweep the reinforcements from the left edge through the streets below and threaten the units on top in an aggressive advance. A subsequent reinforcement on turn 2 would support whatever position needed it. For the Russians, they would receive a mediocre stack of conscripts from the right edge on turn 3. I felt confident that they wouldn't be much of a threat if I took the factory asap.
The main problem? The Russians had a 45L anti-tank gun HIPped (hidden-initial-placement). Paul was honourable enough to email me an encrypted Word file with the Gun's HIP and CA -- to be shared when he unleashed hell on my troops. Neat eh? Not to spoil things but I gave him such a juicy target on the first turn he was blasting away with it immediately from the position marked with a "?". The Gun had Q5 and R4 in a covered arc.
Here's the first turn, set-up and ready to go.
My number one concern was the MMG and squad in P3. They were (1) elite, (2) armed with a nasty SW, (3) occupying a victory hex with a full field of fire on my incoming troops. The very first roll of the game was my Prep Fire from Sgt. Esser's group into that building for a 16FP + 2 shot.... If they failed to break the target there'd be some nasty retaliation. The final DR was an 8 for a 1MC and whew! I broke the unit. No MMG return fire (for now) and I started drawing up plans to advance on the factory. It was my first gamble of the game.
I moved a nice kill stack with a HMG and 9-2 leader to L5, advancing them to M5 later. This stack proved to be a nasty piece of work, mowing down units the entire game. I've said it before and I'll say it again... HMGs are awesome. That 7FP and 3 ROF for the German version is, in the words of my students, "sick".
After pushing a bunch of 4-6-7s into buildings across the street south of the factory I played a few nervous smoke games farther down with stacks of my slighty better troops, led by a 7-0. They were to roll up the left flank of the Russians in the south with the intent of getting some better sightlines to the factory itself -- and hopefully, trip over the HIP gun.
It's HIP to shoot people.
As luck would have it, Sgt. Esser's large stack in the N3 building was way too juicy a target. Paul unHIPed and laid into Esser's stack. The Gun turned out to be in R5 zeroed in on the N3 building. The Gun hit and a MMC broke. For the next couple of turns, the 45L Gun laid waste to the hex and was waxing squads up and down. But Sgt. Esser passed every MC and even picked up a dropped LMG later to wield it himself.
The only other thing I noted early was the nice defensive set-up in the north. The Commissar waited in R2 for the inevitable routing squads where he could easily rally them...
Allies Turn 1
Of course, we went to the second half of the first turn where the Commissar promptly claimed his first victim. He ELRed the broken Russian squad when they refused to listen to his wonderful rhetoric. My "elite" Germans did no better in N3, refusing to budge under Sgt. Esser's tender ministrations. Ah well.
Prep Fire was both "hit and miss". (In fact, if there's a general lesson that has to be made known to new players it is this: Don't depend on Prep Fire!) Paul's squad in O7 took a PB shot at my 7-0 and three squad stack and missed. Whew again from me. Then his whole line in the neighbourhood started shooting across the street -- no effect! But his newly unveiled Gun popped a few rounds (thanks ROF!) and literally popped the head off a unit (thanks Critical Hit!) and broke the other squad. Esser was left, again, with a bunch of headless corpses under his command.
Paul sought to immediately take advantage of Esser's very precarious position. He moved in two different squads from his immediate reserves to try and CC N3 (I think -- Paul's offered to write up an AAR from his side and I'll post it when he's finished it). Alas, I had a leader-led (9-2) HMG in M5 with LOS to N2 and O3, both hexes he would need to get to if he wanted to advance into N3 and take out Esser.
In both instances the HMG (and supporting squad at first) chewed up the Russian advance. I kept a LOT of rate. Now, my memory of this is hazy as I didn't pay attention to it at the time but Paul mentioned it later when we convened for Turn Two onwards -- Defensive First Fire where you keep ROF in your SW is not carte blanche to keep blasting away -- the key limiter is the MF expended to get to the hex. So, in at least two instances, I think, I kept ROF and fired a second/subsequent time on the same squad moving into the open ground hexes of N2 and O3. Having expended only 1MF to get to the hex I was allowed only ONE shot. Was this game changing? I'm not sure. I do recall that both squads who tried this ended up very dead. I apologized to Paul, I think some of my enthusiasm with the HMG might have "jedi mind tricked" him... To be fair we were both tired from the long turn and it was a Sunday night before a work day (and I certainly didn't do it on purpose!).
Regardless, in the end Paul couldn't get his guys into CC with Esser in N3. He would maintain a bastion of German fire from that building until his advance midgame.
The rest of the turn saw my 7-0 stack rout the guys next door in DFPh and my HMG, still maintaining ROF, rout the other squads on the O-line buildings. Things were starting to get ugly...
Late in Turn 1.
Little would happen until my Movement Phase when things started to develop. I pushed my 7-0 stack to the R-column of buildings south of the AT Gun and followed up with an advancing line of 4-6-7s onto the P-column. Seeing the danger Paul swivelled his Gun CA to O5/O6 where he could still keep N3 under fire and address the German first-liners threatening him directly. His TH roll was ineffective.
In DFPh, the Russians firegrouped the squads and MGs in the Bread Factory on Esser in N3 and promptly rolled boxcars -- malfing the MMG by random selection. Esser was earning his nickname of Sgt. Luckypants McRabbitfoot. The dice gods evidently favoured me this night because my 12FP+3 shot in the AFPh on the 9-1 stack of broken Russians promptly snaked for a double CR result. Maybe I should have been calling myself McRabbitfoot.
Turn 2 - Reinforcements!
As we pressed to the Advance Phase I thought I was sitting very pretty. Though the Russians still held the Bread Factory I had maneuvered a nice assault force into a kind of right hook envelopment. I was making inroads on the Factory and the Gun was just not doing its part. Of course, I suddenly realized that I hadn't yet moved my reinforcements onto the board. Paul quickly checked the rulebook and told me I had only a one turn window to move OR advance them onto the board... whew... I advanced them to L5 to support another base of fire with the HMG closer to the Factory. DON'T FORGET YOUR REINFORCEMENTS KIDS!
Still Turn 2.
The Allied half of the second turn was full of close calls. Yet another conscript unit fell to the wrath of the Commissar and Prep Firing across the streets yielded scary shots but no effect in the end. Of note was a German firegroup rolling snakes (cowering!) and their targets passing nasty 2MCs.
Though I was able to break the Gun crew (twice in the game too), it was becoming pretty clear to me that I wasn't going to attrit the Russians fast enough this way and I'd better be pushing men into the Factory soon... To make sure I got the message the fresh Russian reinforcements moved onto the board (Paul is not as dumb as I) from the east mapedge. The only thing that made me a little less stressed was the quality of the reinforcements. They were mostly crummy 4-2-6 conscript MMCs who I really could ignore for a half-turn or so til they brought their FP to bear.
Axis Turn Four
Here's how things looked around the start of turn four. I was ready to start "The Push"...
Axis Turn Four - MPh
I think that screenshot above says it all. It was masterfully executed if I do say so myself...or in other words, I diced him in Prep Fire, finally breaking both Bread Factory stacks... Cue the Elite squad with DC hanging out with Esser in N3... The 30 FP DC attack CRed two squads in that stack and the rout was on.
A, B, C, D, ...
This is the incredibly ugly situation facing Paul at the start of his turn. In (A) I had taken the Bread Factory with Esser and another stack in P2 and P3. At (B), my reinforced HMG stack with 9-2 was looming over the scene. Both (C) and (D) held stacks of 4-6-7s and LMGs, only differing in leadership. The latter two stacks were now turning the tables on the Russians, covering every close approach to the Bread Factory and near enough to support if things even got close to CC. Every Russian squad of note in the area was DM and low crawling away or a turn away and conscripts. The Commissar wasn't going to win this himself... I was in a very strong position but ASL is such a nailbiting game I was far from overconfidence. The victory condition was both Bread Factory hexes and I could easily foresee some last turn CC win by the Russians ruining my plans...
My half of the fifth turn was quiet as I waited for the inevitable counterattack from the remaining Russian squads their reinforcements. Lady Luck was still on my side however. The first-line reinforcement squad armed with the LMG was vapourized by yet another very low roll by yours truly in hex T3. And of course, the Commissar offed another hapless conscript half-squad when they failed their miserably low MC.
In the MPh I even brought in my HMG stack from M5 to O5...
Paul was massing one last big push into the Bread Factory from the east. The question was whether he could mosey around the inevitable blasting from my stacks o' death.
In the interest of brevity and following the axiom of "a picture is worth a thousand words", here is the answer to that question:
OUCH! -- The Wall of Lead
They couldn't make it past the Wall of Lead. Stacks were blasting from O5, P5, R5 and the Bread Factory itself. It was a brave charge that ended in tragedy. Turn Six saw some little bit of maneuvering (one stack approached the Russians directly and the HMG stack went to good ol' N3).
On the final Allied turn the rally checks for the last couple of squads failed and that was that. Appropriately, I guess, the Commissar was the last to shoot in this meeting engagement around the Red Barricades' Bread Factory #2.
S18 Baking Bread - End of Game
Here's a final shot of the map at the end of the scenario. The last of the Russian forces huddled up in R1, their AT Gun still sitting alone in R5, and a ton of their discarded support weapons littering the field of battle.
For the Germans, the MVP was Sgt. Esser himself who, after watching his stack get blasted away, picked up an LMG and voluntarily forfeited his leadership modifier for the rest of the game -- who says there's no "Berserk" in ASLSK?
Post-Game Reflections OR Notes from the Rubble.
1. Once again, I'd like to thank LTC Paul for being such a good sport. In retrospect, I think he was a good guy for trying to the very last in the face of such long odds. He definitely passed his PMC.
2. I really, really, like S18. The more I think about it, the more I like the densely urban scenarios a la Stalingrad.
3. I think this was my very first scenario with a Gun. I wasn't too worried about it; AFVs are moving Guns after all... I think Paul did a fine job with the HIP -- perhaps he could have rotated the CA once counter-clockwise? But how would he know that I wouldn't be charging Esser on a route north?
4. A Commissar really changes the rally calculations. I'd say Paul was unlucky for the most part early, but seriously, no halfway decent squad should be failing the rally checks?
5. Gun crews self-rally?! Oh crap!
6. My counter discipline is a LOT better. My language about doing things is not as precise as it needs to be. You must always be very clear in what you intend to do, and with whom or what you intend to do it with.
Example: In the early game I prepped or DFed a line of squads in big FG. Later on, I added anothe squad into the stack in the group. When I DFed again later I said "same guys" doing the DF. Well, when I was placing the Fired markers I discovered I had neglected to mention that new squad and Paul and I had to judge what to do. Had I intended to fire with them or was I holding them back...? The answer was honestly in between... I intended neither but as a courtesy I should have been more precise in my language with Paul and explicitly said what I was NOT firing with I guess. I was a LOT more precise after that. You have to be if you're in a competitive situation -- amongst friends it's a different story.
7. HMGS still rock.
8. Seeing as I hadn't played an ASL game in anger since the last VASLeague round I was a bit rusty at first but I really had no problem getting right back into the swing of things by game's end. I was almost taking a "mini-break" from the game. There's no question it's still in the top echelon of games I've ever enjoyed and this match really reinforced that. I may dabble in Memoir '44 or SCS or Ancients or whatever but I think that ASL is still in that sweetspot of complexity, scale, and sheer nervous excitement over every single die roll.
Thanks for reading. On to Round Three!
It's sooo Hot out here...
Excellent game replay!!
This is one of the best representations I've seen.
I'd like to see more games do this!!
Excellent write up, Ernie!
Note that I won't be able to play ASLSK against you at the June TABSCon as I'll be at Origins....so, how about the one in the fall?
Excellent write up, Ernie!
Note that I won't be able to play ASLSK against you at the June TABSCon as I'll be at Origins....so, how about the one in the fall?
No probs Robin, my sister is getting married on the June TABSCON date -- stupid sister!
Stacks of MMG-HMG with a -2 leader can be VERY frustrating when they get multiple ROF...