Andrew Wright
United States
North Andover
Massachusetts
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Anton G., Mark K., Andy B., and myself played a four player
firefight scenario of Conflict of Heroes (#6: Breakthrough to the Mzensk
Pocket). Anton and I were the German forces, and Andy and Mark with the
Soviets.

The situation was that Anton's German force was a bit overextended, and needed
to get and retain supply against an aggressive Soviet encirclement. Andy's
Soviet forces were tasked with reducing Anton's Germans, I was to help them out
with forces and supply, and Mark was to complete the encirclement by preventing
me from doing so.

What followed was a very involved game, lasting nine hours in the end. Part of
this was the teaching and table discussion element (which sometimes got testy
:-)), and, I believe, generally bad die rolling on both sides which kept the
units on the board and the situation tense right up to the very end.

German advantages: Very nice AT guns, the typically ferocious machine gun
platoons, and a lot of fast tanks. Soviet advantages: Mega artillery support,
and the arrival of a tank killing detachment consisting of KV's and T34's, the
best of this time and theatre.

My major objective was to deliver horse and wagon supply to Anton, largely by
keeping the lane to Anton open, in the midst of significant Soviet presence,
ultimately to pass the wagons through. I had to do so without giving up the
rear, which I protected with an AT-88 mm. Anton's was to simply hold the
village outside Mzensk.

In the game, my supply wagon objective proved too daunting, as Mark's tank
killers helped to close off the road before I could get them far enough. The
best I could then do was turn the wagons around before Mark could gun them down,
but they got gunned down all the same. In doing so, he left his tanks exposed,
so with a PzIIIh and a AT-45 (?), I was able to maneuver to get some well timed
flank shots and kill two T34's.

Over on the other side of the battle, Anton's village defense was able to hold
off Andy's Soviets successfully. He did so by virtue of the superior German
firepower, and by the rank incompetence of the Soviet artillery gunners, or at
least their die-rolling luck, that made the powerful Soviet artillery less
effective than it might have been.

In the end, the fighting mostly converged on the village, where Mark's forces
and mine were essentially brought into support of Anton and Andy. The firefight
having descended into near chaos, the German approach was to attempt to inflict
as many casualties as possible to weaken the Soviet effort, while the Soviet
approach (having blown up the wagons) was to figure out a way to enter the
village with any kind of force. In this regard, both were successful: The
Soviets won the presence, but took many losses along the way, making it a very
close victory for the Germans in the end.
--------------------------------
Throughout the game, there was much discussion about the system, historicity,
and play value. I would consider this system a highly controversial one,
because it obviously breaks so many paradigms despite being a simple system
mechanically.

Why this play should have taken 9 hours is a case point. The way in which the
overall command and coordination resource is implemented with the amount of
units in the firefight led to extraordinarily nuanced analysis during play of
how to develop optimum executions. Command is implemented in the following
ways: Per unit, in that each unit performs up to its full capability, per
on-field command, in the form of variably allocated 'CAPS' (Command Action
Points) that can optionally be allocated to supplement unit actions, and per
theatre command in the form of Action cards that generate special activities,
acting like random favorable acts of god for the side that plays them.
Integrating these is a real challenge for a player, and is the main reason why
the game plays long.

Then there is the shear chaos of battle. In every game I have played (always
with Mark K.), the firefight seems to degenerate into a series of crazy-seeming
back and forth, so that lines of advance and unit coordination become scrambled.
I personally find this to be fascinating, and I suspect very representative of
the way such heavy engagements were waged. At the end of an action, and the
smoke clears, a force would look around, try to figure out what happened, and
figure out if they came out ahead or not. There is a certainly disorienting
element to game it, but in embracing that element, I am really appreciating what
it tells as narrative.

Not so with everyone though: Many other such tactical games at firefight levels
(LnL, ASL) are less rowdy but more linear, and indeed shorter for having more
rational rules-to-execution. I can easily see the point, and would hesitate to
translate my appreciation into a unrestrained recommendation for all.

Finally, I surmise that the flavor of the Soviet and German force makeup is well
simulated, where the Soviets can often enjoy some good firepower, especially
with the tanks, but are simply not able to employ it with much margin of error
within the command system. The designer has indicated that other theatres will
change this, such as in the Kursk game of this system that is due to come out,
and it will be interesting to see how he implements the development of both
armies since 1941-2 addressed by the current game.
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J. R. Tracy
United States
New York
New York
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Nice writeup, Andrew; this scenario is one of the best four-player experiences I've enjoyed of any tactical boardgaming system.

JR
 
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Andrew Wright
United States
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Massachusetts
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Yes, same here -- absolutely.
 
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