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Subject: Defense concepts rss

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Mike Barton
United States
Spring Valley
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I almost hesitate to expound on defense concepts. The reason is that in any Infantry vs. Infantry battle, a well prepared defense is a very tough nut for attacking infantry to crack without some significant advantage. The scenarios in ASL are all balanced for the most part (please don't dwell on that statement, I know, I know...) but there may be quite a bit of perception that they are not because one side has an easier problem to solve than the other. Two relatively new players may never agree that the scenario is balanced because one side always seems to win. Well, before you put your own experience up against players who have been playing since 1977, consider the possibility that it may be that you haven't considered the real problems of the scenario.
I will tell you that certainly many of the scenarios must be replayed a few times, even by experts, before the light goes on.

It may just be that one sides solution is a little more obvious than the others, or it may be that one sides solution is completely irrelevant because the other side missed the boat entirely!! Don't sweat it. It happens even to seasoned players. There is a lot of pattern recognition in ASL. Like in chess, if you can't recognize the pattern (meaning you don't really know what to do next) then you usually enter the try-this-try-that mode.

Personally, I have always found defense to be more forgiving, with one exception... and it doesn't apply to ASL SK#1 - I hate trying to defend against an armored breakthrough without any mobile reserves. Some scenarios give you some anti-tank guns and troops armed with infantry AT weapons. In a scenario like this, opening setup is everything because it usually plays like a knife edge - everything is fine until the cut starts and then it rains and pours - and all you can do is sit and watch your units get outflanked and overwhelmed one-by-one and you are at that point counting on the enemy to blunder.

Ok, now you know my fear...

In almost every other case I like to defend.

I may live to regret this, but these are the secrets...

1. Most importantly, try as hard as you can to figure out the attacker's plan. Litterally put yourself in his position and look things over. Don't be afraid to count things out. Vital information includes:
Which of his units must always move? What roads and approach lanes does he HAVE to use? What are his options? How will I know when he is committed finally to his 'Winning Plan'? There is a lot more to this and will not be covered in a single article...

2. What kind of action am I fighting?
Delaying, Defending, or Attritting?
A Delaying action is exactly that. You do NOT have to kill most of the enemy, all you have to do is prohibit them from reaching a certain position in good order within a certain period of time.
A Defending action differs in that time is not as great an issue, but holding a position is. Preventing entry or control of a building or hilltop or some terrain objective...most of these are defending actions.
An Attrition action is one where the only objective is to destroy or break enemy units. In a pure Attrition scenario, terrain objectives are not part of the victory conditions, exited squads are not part of it, the only thing that matters is casualty VP's - either absolute or relative to the enemy.

Many scenarios combine 2 of the 3 or even all 3! Usually the more complex the victory conditions are, the more stressed out the attacker will be...but not always.

3. Always build flexibility into the defense. - Rather than choosing a defense strategy that completely shuts down one of the enemy's winning plans, it is better to choose a strategy that at least partially addresses ALL of the enemy's POTENTIAL WINNING MODES. As you might imagine, if you fail to recognize one of the winning modes available to the enemy you might lose, or have a much more difficult win than necessary!
This usually means keeping a reserve until the enemy is fully comitted to one plan or another. Try to keep the reserve proportional to your own lack of certainty about the enemy's plan. Specifically, if you have NO CLUE why the enemy is doing what he is doing, try to keep a very large reserve.

Some basic principles:
1. Spread out is usually better than concentrated. It is almost always easier to use movement to concentrate than it is to extend, once contact with the enemy has been made!
Being spread out allows you to cover more open ground otherwise available to the enemy, and therefore makes it harder for the enemy to surround your forces and place your escape routes under fire. Don't allow this concept to make you feel comfortable with SCATTERED forces. SCATTERED means the forces are cut off from each other - can't share leaders, can't reinforce each other - Always try to maintain an open path that connects ALL of your forces if possible, or at least large subsets of your forces.
2. Group units so all of them have access to at least one leader. This can also be interpreted as 'always have a place to go if you need to rout.' You can usually recover from being broken, but you can never recover from being eliminated for failure to rout, or interdiction. Let the number of leaders you are allocated in the scenario put a soft limit on the number of 'task groups' you create.
3. Deploy in depth if you can. This means don't cram everyone into a line directly facing the enemy. Leave some units free to move, and put them with a non-comitted leader. Put these 'reserves' in an area the enemy cannot place under fire.
4. Use range to your advantage. If you have long range weapons, place them in such a way that they can cover ground at ranges where the enemy cannot effectively return fire.

Basic Tactics:
Delay tactics - Generally SHOOT and SCOOT
Compel the enemy to expose himself to fire by blocking his advance lanes. Use your defensive fire to break up his fire groups to give you a better chance in the advanceing fire phase. Try to fire at every unit and especially concetrate on high-yield targets like big stacks and leaders. Always fire at big stacks and leaders. Why? Nothing stops an attack or demoralizes the other player as much as killing/breaking big stacks and good leaders. Rendering a large force leaderless is the kiss of death for the attack.
Once you have taken your DF, fall back to your next defense position in the nex movement phase. This strategem is important because you always come out ahead - your fire is full effect during First and Final fire and his is always halved. He gets the -1 FFNAM, and you do not (as you withraw AWAY through cover). He has to recover before he proceeds, or else the process repeats itself with an even BIGGER advantage for you because he is advancing with less and less.
This tactic SHOULD keep a smart player from advancing with a bunch of 3 squad+leader stacks that move 6, and instead advance with deployd squads at a speed of 4.
Important concept - MAKE SURE YOU SCOOT BEFORE THE ENEMY HAS A CHANCE TO PLACE YOUR FALLBACK ROUTE UNDER FIRE!! - failure to do this is a newbie mistake and results in an awful waste of fine infantry. Specifically, if the enemy refuses to give you a shot and tries to outflank you instead - SCOOT without taking any shots. Your mission is accomplished - he's off the road and in the woods or on a less direct route to the objective.
Repeat these tactics for the length of the scenario keeping the final victory conditions in mind.

Defense Tactics:
Hospitalize and Counterattack!
When you are defending a point, if possible, do not think in terms of piling up troops on the objective, rather; defend the terrain that allows the enemy to put the objective under fire and take away his approaches to the objective. If you can, work out a defense in depth, using delay tactics on the approach to the objective and HOLDING A LINE in the objectives cover terrain (the terrain that puts the objective under fire).

When you are holding a line or a position, do it in depth. Understand that against superior forces no line can hold forever. Here are some concepts:
1. Stacking is disadvantageous. Presumably the attacker has access to enough units and terrain to concentrate fire. Let him concentrate all the fire he wants - don't give him juicy targets. Make him take the time to work the entire defense line before being able to advance.
2. Use Assault movement and the advance phase, as appropriate, to fix the line while the freshly broken troops rally behind.
3. Place machine guns generally on the flanks vise in the center, using them to cover 'roads' of open or hindrance level terrain. This typically places them at a greater range from the enemy's center so he is less able to concentrate fire on them. Understand that the enemy's primary targets (if he's smart) will be your stacks, MG's and leaders.
4. When holding a line, rallying troops is more important than heavy firepower! A squad's inherent FP against infantry advancing in the open is usually frightning enough to keep a good player from charging willy-nilly unless he is OUT OF OPTIONS! - - Understand that most players will resort to this if your plan is WORKING!
5. Use your freshly rallied troops to reinforce the line or to conduct the FINAL DEFENSE of the objective if it gets to that.

Item 5 is why it is important to protect the objective from fire and from approach.

Some scenarios severly restrict where you can set up to defend an objective. In this case, give at least SOME thought to actally using your first move to ADVANCE TO CREATE DEPTH in your defense. Don't be happy with your starting positions. This is a big loser's mistake. Remember the PRIMARY funtion of infantry is to deny open ground to enemy infantry.

Counterattacking - YES, COUNTERATTACKING!
If the enemy makes a mistake during his attack, COUNTERATTACK!
This 1)Changes the pace of the game and 2)Moves the fight away from the objective - both usually SEVERELY demoralizing the enemy!

1) Loss of a big critical stack that was covering his flank - USE the now-traverible ground you just acquired to surround some of the attackers with fire coverage!!
2) Poorly maneuvered troops that suddenly find themselves without an escape route - I always look for situations where if I move JUST ONE SQUAD into a position where it cuts off an advancing attacker, I do it! The assumption is that if the attacker breaks he HAS to either stay broken and under fire in his present position or suffer an interdiction, or suffer the pain of an endless low crawl.
3) A string of really good luck in the DF Phase that leaves his otherwise thick line with a lot of broken units, and no good order units can fire on your move.
4) Loss of a critical leader - If you suddenly have a situation where there are a large number of enemy units with no leader nearby, do WAHTEVER IT TAKES to isolate them from other leaders. Leaderless troops have no staying power.

I left out Attrition Combat:
Take the best parts of everything above and use them to inflict more casualties than you take. Usually one side or the other is compelled to attack for some reason. If it is you then you are effectively the scenario attacker regardless of what the situation card says. If it is the other guy then fight using delay tactics until you get to a position where you are running out of 'depth', then fight a holding action! With this combination you should have quite a few more 'killing opportunities' than the enemy. Counterattacking at the right time becomes more important since it is the effective counterattack that can inflict the greatest number of casualties.

That's all for now, men.

Mike Barton
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Mike Barton
United States
Spring Valley
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A clarification - When I mention the "players who have been playing since 1977" I refer to the playtesters/play balancers that doggedly play out the scenarios over and over before certifying them balanced. I reread it and it sounds kindof pompus. Not intended to be. Just wanted to point out that most published ASL scenarios have been blessed by a consensus and most (but not all) of the time you really can see why it IS in fact balanced if you play it enough and try everything.
This is MY experience. I would tend to question myself before the scenario. Incidentally I have been playing since 1980, but I took a long hiatus in the late 80's.
Also, ASL is a game. It's a serious game! But it's a game. If 2 players play perfect the luckier player wins. Someone is always at least a little luckier. Sometimes a lot. You should simply enjoy the event, win or lose, but always try your best, eh?
Ok men, now you know how I feel.

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Jay Richardson
United States
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One key concept that Mike did not discuss directly is the importance of knowing your troops' capabilities... their strengths and their weaknesses. I think that defense is where the nationality differences have the most noticeable impact on the play of the game.

The Germans, for instance, have good morale and great leadership. This gives them great flexibility in how they defend. They can use most of the tactics that Mike discussed, and can be played very aggressively while defending.

The Italians (ASLSK #2), in contrast, have low morale and weak leadership. This limits the options of the Italian player on defense. You just about have to assume that if a defending Italian squad breaks, it's gone for good, so force preservation becomes a key concern. The experienced Italian player will, of necessity, become a master of using delaying tactics and the fallback defense.

The Americans have that interesting combination of tremendous firepower and range coupled with weak normal morale. Defensively they want wide fields of fire where they can hit the advancing enemy with their full firepower before the enemy can close to their normal range. They also like positions that allow efficient rally rotations to be made: a 6-6-6 breaks, routs back out of LOS, is rallied in a turn or two by a leader, and then assault moves or advances back into the line... while in the meantime the other American squads keep the enemy at bay with their great firepower. It can be tremendously frustrating to the attacker to be breaking American squads with every shot, but not be able to make any progress because their high broken side morale allows them to rout-rally-and-return so efficiently!

The Russians have good morale but weak leadership, which again makes rallying broken troops difficult (although not as difficult as with the Italians). But they will often have good numbers of squads, so sacrificing units to delay the enemy's advance can be a useful tactic. The Russian national advantages really won't show up in the starter kits... in the full ASL game they get their powerful elite submachine gun squads (6-2-8), Commisars that can try to rally troops without the +4 DM penalty, and the ability to quickly dig foxholes. (When it comes to digging foxholes the Russians are the world champions... but I'm not sure what the historical basis for this is!)

Note that the individual Italian and Russian leaders are just as good as those of any other nation... but their leadership is weak because they usually won't get very many leaders per scenario. An equivalent American or British force will have many more leaders than an Italian or Russian force, and the Germans will often have more than the American or British. The number of leaders that a side receives reflects the historical performance of their leaders. This may not always be obvious, because the opposing sides in a scenario are usually of different strengths, and adjustments may have made in the interest of play balance.
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