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Subject: Illustrated Session Report - 'Breakthrough in Italy' rss

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Menin Gate at Midnight, Will Longstaff, 1927.
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"At the landing, and here ever since" - Anzac Book, p. 35.
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One of the things I love most about PoG is that sense of wanting to improve one's game through replay, the feeling after every game that I want to start playing again as soon as possible and try something new, reflect on mistakes I made and correct them in my next game. I wanted to write a session report reflecting on the decisions made in my last game.

I'm probably at an intermediate skill level, and I think my opponent in this game was of a similar level, so it was a very close matchup. There is much I am still learning about this game and the strategies involved. Thus my comments and lessons below may not be the best advice (and may be plain bad). I would, however, invite feedback on how both my opponent and I could have handled the situations better.

This was a http://www.wargameroom.comgame, played for 18 turns (to Summer 1918) in a little over three hours. I love www.wargameroom.com for this very reason - almost a full game in just a few hours. A face-to-face game for 18 turns could go for 7-8 hours (or more), whilst a pbem game of 18 turns could go for months. The wargameroom program (credit to Bruce Wigdor) automates die rolls, card effects, and other aspects of the game, thus speeding things up considerably. I've recreated the situations using the vassal engine (it looks prettier for the photos). The wargameroom program looks like this:



I played the Central Powers (CP), whilst my opponent played the Allied Powers (AP).

In recent games as the CP I had gone for a knockout blow on the Western Front (WF). Almost all German reinforcements were placed in Essen and were hurried to the front to crush the French armies. My experience in these experiments has been that, even with the French forces reduced to one or two armies and a handful of corps, all they need to do is fall back. As the Germans advance they are forced to spread out, leaving themselves open for powerful British counterattacks which can be disastrous to the scattered Germans. The ops required to continually ‘regroup’ the Germans and plug those gaps is difficult to manage, and against another intermediate level opponent it is difficult to get that knockout blow. If my attempts at such a knockout move fail, I find myself in big trouble as the Russian reinforcement build-up begins to take great advantage of a weakened CP Eastern Front.

Whilst I have been on the receiving end of a knockout CP offensive on the Western Front, I have never been on the delivering end, despite my many attempts. The first lesson I reflected on in playing this game was that such a gamble is very risky, and against even intermediate level opponents can be disastrous to the point of no return.

Early War

As such, whilst I played Guns of August for the event, I made no more serious attempts to press the AP on the Western Front, and instead played the vast majority of my reinforcements in the east against the Russians.

I was actually surprised at what little effect these German reinforcements had against the Russians. Due to several large stacks of Russian reinforcements arriving I was somewhat forced early on to send most of these north towards Insterberg and the Grodno/Kovno Russian forts, destroying the Polish forts as I went. These large stacks of Russians up north, however, gave some respite to the Austrians down south, and the Austrians were relatively free to slowly overpower the Russians on the Austrian-Russian border and push them back. On reflection I thought it was quite interesting that all the way through to Summer 1918 this northern area around Grodno/Kovno remained a stalemate, we maneuvered back and forth, I captured Vilna (the Russian VP city) on several occasions, only to be forced to fall back every time due to overpowering Russian stacks.



I found (almost by accident - but I’ll be sure to keep it in mind for the future) an effective mobile defensive line along Insterberg-Bialystok. Both spaces were entrenched, but the Bialystok armies would regularly adventure (or 'sortie') up and down along the Bialystok-Grodno-Kovno line to threaten any Russian armies/stacks that tried to advance. Whilst I was disappointed at the offensive effectiveness of the armies (primarily because it is so difficult to cohesively advance in the open Russian expanses), I was well impressed at the long-term defensive advantage of this position and decided to ‘harass’ the Russians, but not to press them for territorial gains. If the Russians threatened Insterberg (as they did on a number of occasions), I could move an army from Bialystok to provide a 15 strength stack with a trench. If they threatened Bialystok from Grodno, I could flank the space. By turn 18, Summer 1918, I still only held two (2) Russian VP cities but had occupied the vast majority of the Russian army throughout most of the war.

I have also found that, even when the CP do not press the Western Front and instead focus east, the slow and steady build-up of French and British reinforcements is often enough to force the CP back into Germany anyway. This AP offensive, if successful in pushing the CP back, also frees up valuable British or French forces to support Italy. In the last game I played as CP I pulled back to the Essen-Frankfurt-Mannheim line early in the game for defence. The end result was that the excess French armies swarmed over Italy and eventually overpowered the CP forces there, turning Italy (as a common AP weakness) into a strong front for the AP.

As such, I still kept up a relatively strong defensive/harassing force on the Western Front. This force did not do a great deal, but ensured the French and British attacks achieved little. All my front line spaces were entrenched, and I kept a single army behind the lines to slowly entrench the Essen-Frankfurt-Mannheim line over a number of seasons.

Whilst withdrawal to the Essen-Frankfurt-Mannheim line can be a valuable defensive move, I wasn’t in too much of a hurry to withdraw there in this game. Instead, I wanted to keep the British and French occupied and feeling ‘threatened’ long enough to be able to make some decent advances against Italy. This became a balancing act of holding onto my Western Front forts as long as possible, and then, when the pressure grew too great, withdrawing to pre-prepared trenches in the E-F-M line. By the time I did withdraw to E-F-M, Italy was all but conquered and the French (and by this stage US) armies on the WF were too late in arriving to save Italy.

As the AP, if Germany does not attack on the WF I think it is important to build-up and harass/pressure the Germans on the WF as soon as is possible. Try to force them back onto the E-F-M defensive line to free up several armies to support Italy. At the very least you’ll be forcing GE replacements to be spent here, which will enable the Russians to simultaneously threaten in the east.

Mid War

By mid-game the AP had a slight edge. Stalemates had developed on most of the fronts, and card play was wearing down the VP count. At this stage Italy entered the war and, with no armies to spare, the CP SR’d two corps into to cover the holes in their defences along the borders. Italy then became a see-saw ride, swinging from one side to the other.
The Italians were slow to get replacements or to build up, and this gave the CP a chance to strike first. The Austrians brought a reinforcement and a replacement into Budapest over the next year, and these were sent to handle the Italians. The AP responded with the SR of two British armies over several turns, and balance of power swung back towards the AP. These British armies moved up to the mountain fort of Trent and looked ready to march into Germany, when the CP responded by the SR of a German army. This balanced things out, and whilst the British pushed they simply could not budge the lone German army from the heights.

Again, things settled into a general stalemate. The Austrians began to push slowly against the Russians down south, and as Romania entered the war the Austrians had to reshuffle their forces to counter the supply threat.

The clear and primary turning point came with the arrival (through reinforcement event) of the German 17th and 18th armies. Placed in Berlin, they had both traveled down to the Italian border in no time. Both the Russians and the French tried to divert the CP attention through simultaneous Western and Eastern offensives, but the regular play of replacements ensured the CP maintained a healthy (if slightly battered) balance on both fronts (ie: by healthy balance, I think the CP was the slightly weaker force in both the east and west, but there were enough trenches around to provide a decent defence and put CP attention into Italy).



Where you are the weaker force, or where you can see you may have difficulties advancing, dig-in early, dig-in well, provide a fall-back line (eg: Insterberg + Bialystok or E-F-M), and ensure you have the capacity to be able to respond to threats. Whilst I may have been weaker on the Eastern Front, I was focused on two key spaces in the north, and two-three in the south. The Russians, on the other hand, had to cover several routes, were not entrenched, and when they did try to advance the Germans could easily counter.

It may seem obvious, but it only takes a small, but critical, advantage in one vulnerable area to topple an entire front. In my case, the three strong German armies on the Italian border were enough, alongside their Austrian allies, to overpower the combined British and Italian defenders. Essentially, by keeping slightly weaker Eastern and Western Fronts I could send several German armies into Italy. Their replacements could then be built in Essen or Breslau to counter any serious threats on these fronts.

From the AP perspective, don’t let it get to this stage. If you don’t have those spare WF French armies to move as a stack into Italy, then SR something instead. Don’t be afraid to SR, despite the costs. If necessary, weaken your ‘strong’ points to protect these vulnerable areas (primarily Italy). My opponent SR’d his original two British armies to great effect, but didn’t SR any more after that. It is expensive to do, but it may be needed to defend that front. I feel that had the AP kept SR-ing or moving units into Italy, he could have held off the Germans (it’s at least three turns to move from Berlin into Italy, so it is difficult to replace German losses down south).

Late War

Slowly but surely the Germans and Austrians pressed into Italy. Both sides took heavy losses, but the elimination of the final British army against the German offensive ultimately doomed Italy. The Germans took a beating and were down to one reduced army, but they had removed the real strength of the AP defence in Italy.

At around the same time as Venice fell the AP launched their big push on the Western Front. All British and French armies moved forward and the Germans (greatly outnumbered) finally fell back en masse to the E-F-M line. This freed up a stack of three French armies to help Italy, but it was marginally too late. The Austrians were strong enough to press on to Rome alone, whilst the sole remaining German army, about to be supported by a replacement heading south through the Alps, pressed west towards Marseilles and the back door to France.

Italy slowly fell. Two Austrian armies pressed south and gave the Italians little opportunity to regroup. As city after city fell the VP count slowly climbed back into CP favour.



At around this time War Status was high enough to see the US enter the war, and, after some card play, a strong US reinforcement army entered play:



They met up with the now available French stack at Nevers to face the Germans in Lyon; the AP entrenched and held the back door shut. However, the diversion of a French stack to meet this southern threat gave the German defenders at E-F-M an opportunity for a counter-attack. The French armies in Strasbourg hadn’t entrenched, so the Mannheim ‘defenders’ (three full strength German armies) attacked, won, and advanced with two full strength armies. This sent French and British corps scurrying to cover their supply lines, thus wasted valuable Ops.



The Ops used to cover AP supply routes on the Western Front were valuable because at around the same time as this single stack of German armies was causing trouble on the Western Front, a new threat had emerged for the AP in the east. New Austrian and German reinforcements (one army of each) were pressing through Romania very quickly (attacking, taking no losses, and advancing) and the Austrians were pressing deeper into Russia. With the vast bulk of the Russian forces occupied up north there was little real defence in place down south. Romania fell within several card plays, the VP marker climbed to 17, and as a German army moved in to besiege Odessa and cut off some Russian armies from supply the AP realised that the war could not be won, and surrendered their forces.

Summary: Throughout the game the only real breakthrough was in Italy - caused by the sudden arrival of two German armies. Stalemates developed almost everywhere else. The Germans up in Insterberg and Bialystok held up most of the Russian forces (from memory I think there were 8-9 Russian armies up there at some points), allowing the Austrians some small freedom to move and attack down south without being threatened. The Western Front developed into a stalemate along the E-F-M line, before the movement of a French stack south caused a threatening German counterattack from Mannheim into Strasbourg - but this never looked to seriously threaten the entire AP front.

You may notice that there was no mention of the Near East. The MEF invaded but never moved from the beaches. The Russian YLD Reinforcements were placed, but never took an Ops. Allenby arrived, moved, but never attacked. Two Turkish armies arrived, and moved to support existing defences, but were never called into action. In the closing stages of the game the French Army of the Orient arrived in Salonika, knocked out a few Bulgarians, and captured Sofia, but they were a few turns too late to threaten Constantinople. The Serbians survived with both armies in tact, in Belgrade, behind a level 2 trench, throughout the entire game. The Austrians never made an assault, and were never threatened in return - ironic given this is where the war ‘began’.
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Chris Montgomery
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Very nice AAR. Thanks for writing.
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Jonas Jacobsson
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Excellent session report! Pictures makes it so much more interesting.
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Mark D
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Good AAR, but why did the AP activate Romania? That definitely was the turning point. The only time it normally gets played is if AH is on the ropes, Bulgaria is empty(corps fighting in Turkey) and the Serbs are still around or Salonika has been successful.
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Clifford Mudd
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Thanks for the AAR. It's a nice reminder to me of the danger of playing Italy.
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Menin Gate at Midnight, Will Longstaff, 1927.
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"At the landing, and here ever since" - Anzac Book, p. 35.
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From memory, I think at the time Romania was activated Austria was marginally holding their lines against Russia. Initially the Austrians had to quickly reshuffle to cover the Romanian entry and had just a corps covering the main gap. The Russians armies in the south were also based close to Romania, so they could (and did) support the Romanian corps fairly easily at first. The Serbians were still in the war at full strength in Belgrade, and initially I think Romanian entry did threaten CP. The arrival of the Austrian and German reinforcement armies (remember, one of each) just tipped things in favour of CP in this area.
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Paul Haseler
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When playing the CP, do I want my oppponent to bring in the Romanians: Oh yes, Oh yes, Oh yes!

If playing the AP, do I ever bring the Romanians in: No no no no no no no no!

Romanian responsibilities overtax the Russians.
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juerg haeberli
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After reading that Belgrade stayed AP all game long I think the decisive mistake was not to push the NE. ( no German corps for the NE under these conditions )
It could have compensated for the loss of Italy.
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