Promise me there won't be any squares at my funeral
It's been difficult for me to find block game opponents, so I haven't had been able to play Rommel in the Desert as much as I would like. Occasionally I play online, or set the blocks up and play solo, but, with many of life's pleasures, solitary play and the internet are but a pale shadow of the real thing.
As luck would have it, I was swilling a beer at The Townie with my old buddy Porter the other night, and he drunkenly declared his enthusiasm for Risk. "Mate", I said, "if you like Risk, you'll love my obscure games that simulate history's celebrated conflicts with colourful bits of wood."
"For example", I slurred, "there's one about the Battle of Marengo, and another one about the North African Campaign. You know, panzers and shit."
At this revelation Porter leapt from his chair, somehow managing not to spill a drop of Cooper's Red from his brimming schooner. "My grandfather was a Rat of Tobruk! Drop everything, we're playing this weekend!"
The Storm Gathers
Last Saturday (21/1/2006) the appointed weekend rolled around, and after a few work related misadventures, Porter turned up for a game of Rommel. He hadn't read the rulebook I'd sent him, but I figured he'd do okay, armed as was with a player aid, a six pack, and his natural low cunning.
We had about five hours to spare, and low tolerance for special scenario rules, so we decided to play the 3hr Battleaxe scenario, allowing plenty of time for rules reading, beer runs etc. Porter chose the Commonwealth in honour of his grandfather, so I took the DAK blocks and started setting up.
In the Battleaxe scenario, one of the German elite mechanised infantry blocks begins with a step loss, so I used that to garrison El Aghelia, figuring that I would build back the lost step in the next buildup. I supplemented this with a weak Italian foot infantry block, in case the Allies tried an end run past my base. Next I put a recon unit in Jalo Oasis, which would let me restore or cut supply as far as Ghemines, Marsus, Haraza or Bir Hacheim, should the need arise. I then placed another recon block in Jarabub Oasis, mostly to make oasis hopping difficult for the Commonwealth, but also to allow for a quick strike into Bardia if the need arose. With the rest of my German blocks, I encircled Tobruk, leaving a screen of Italians in Gambut and Sidi Rezegh to buy some time for me to capture the fortress.
Porter eyed my oasis blocks suspiciously, and set up a loose defensive line along the Egyptian border, from Sollum right down to Siwa. He then stuffed Tobruk full of units, and assembled what looked suspiciously like a armoured relief force in Sollum and Sidi Omar. (At this point he noted approvingly that Hellfire Pass was marked on the map, and I made a mental note to ambush him there later with some 88mm guns.)
The supply cards were dealt and we both groaned theatrically.
Wave the First
The game kicked off with me piling units into Tobruk, though only five at a time due to hexside limits and the use of Bir Hamat as a regroup command point. For my first five units I chose a two strength artillery block, two elite mechanised infantry, an anti-tank block, and a panzer, figuring that I could add or remove units next turn after the defenders were revealed.
The combat phase began, and the defenders were revealed to be 17 steps of motorised infantry, with no armour or guns of any sort. As infantry roll double dice for fortress defence, I handed Porter a fresh dice brick and awaited my fate. Many a six was rolled on the 34d6 in question, and my elite mech infantry were reduced to their last steps -- ouch. I had some good luck in my counterattack and reduced the defending infantry by four or five steps, but the Commonwealth had definitely gotten the better of the first exchange.
Seeing the elite DAK units in action made Porter wary of my screening units, so for his opening move he pulled back his border defenders to Sidi Omar, hoping to gather enough force to punch through my screening units and relieve Tobruk.
Clearly I needed some infantry in Tobruk if wanted to hold on to my damaged mech units, so I added a full strength Italian foot infantry block and a couple of tanks out of Sidi Rezegh, and sent an Italian infantry block into Bardia to threaten the supply lines of the Allied relief force. The next round of combat in Tobruk went much better for me: the Italians soaked up Porter's infantry fire, and my tanks and artillery eliminated all but two of his blocks. If I could hold out for another one or two turns, Tobruk and its valuable supply cards would be mine.
The Allies moved out, bypassing Bardia and engaging my final screening unit at El Adem. Porter looked at my pitiful supply situation and declined combat in Tobruk this turn. His relief force made short work of my screening unit, and I was left with a single turn to take the fortress before the tables turned. At this point I had only one real supply card left, and was in real danger of having my attack force encircled by the Allies.
I was contemplating a partial withdrawal, but my eyes fell on the recon block in Jarabub oasis. Using Rommel's move, I struck north and cut the Allied supply lines at Sidi Rezegh, threatening the entire relief force! Porter consulted the rulebook hoping to locate a Monty's move, but it was not be. I prosecuted my final supplied round of combat in Tobruk -- would it be enough to kill the last two blocks and take the fortress?
No. No it wouldn't.
One last block remained, and Porter moved in tanks and infantry from El Adem, leaving two unsupplied blocks outside to prevent me regrouping in what he thought were my killer units at Bardia and Sidi Rezegh (in actuality, a recon and a foot infantry block). Battle ensued in Tobruk, with further losses on the Commonwealth side, then it was my turn again.
My only supply left was a single dummy card, so I faced the tough choice of whether to perform a full retreat, with units dispersed to prevent mass overruns, or pull back to the hexes adjacent to Tobruk, hoping Porter had no real supply of his own. Unwilling to take the gamble, I took a pass turn and withdrew my assault force to El Gubba under fire, taking a few losses on the way, and leaving Italians at Gazala and Derna to occupy any pursuers.
Annoyingly, it turned out that Porter was out of supply also. He passed, and the month ended. The upside for team Rommel was the recovery of my withdrawn troops, and the elimination of two of Porter's unsupplied blocks: a mech and a recon.
Wave the Second
We got a nice high buildup roll, so Porter took a supply card and swapped some of his damaged units from Tobruk with fresh reinforcements. All of my elite mech infantry were damaged, and seeing Porter's preference for an infantry defence of Tobruk, I spent my buildup points restoring some of their damaged steps and redeploying them to the front, along with the strength four mech that I was using as base garrison previously, and some guns that appeared as early reinforcements. With my scant remaining buildup points I organised my forces so that most of them could be could be regrouped with a single supply card. Then it was on again...
Porter challenged for first move, but as he held Tobruk (and with it, a potential positional victory) I knew his card had to be a dummy. It was, and I took the first move, arraying my forces in the around Tobruk in preparation for a renewed siege. The Commonwealth forces were depleted, so I vowed to hold on until the last moment this time.
The Commonwealth response took me by surprise: armour blocks streamed out of Tobruk and engaged my forces at El Adem, trying to overwhelm one group of the German blocks before they could form up with the rest of my force. Unhappily for Porter, the hex he had chosen to attack contained all of the Axis guns, and it was Hellfire Pass all over again for the Allies. Seizing the opportunity, I left the guns to mop up Porter's armour and moved my panzers and infantry into Tobruk for the kill.
And history repeated itself. Again, Tobruk was full of double dice wielding infantry, and again the Axis ground them down to the final block over three or four turns, only to be faced with the choice to stay in the area or withdraw at month's end. Even the late addition of the German guns to the fray was not enough to decide the siege, so I withdrew again, cursing and muttering. Clearly a direct assault on Tobruk was not going to work without a considerable increase in supply!
Wave the Third
So, for the next few months both sides built up, taking reinforcements and supply cards, replenishing damaged units, and redeploying to the front. I deployed a few recon units close to Tobruk, hoping to get the Commonwealth to burn some supply engaging them as they fell back, but this trick worked only twice before the Allies stopped taking the bait. At this point our supply was roughly equal, with two months left in the game. The Allies had taken severe losses, enough to guarantee an attritional victory for Rommel if Tobruk was besieged game's end. Realising this, Porter built a wall of blocks one and two hexes out from Tobruk, and left the fortress itself with only a token garrison. I lined up my forces facing his, and the final showdown began...
We were down to our final cards and moves, and things were looking good for the Axis. All I had to do was position some units next to Tobruk, survive the Aliied counterattack, and keep my units in supply. With only enough supply for a single group move, I decided to move out of Gazala, where I had the highest concentration of blocks. The Allies had invested heavily in Bir Hamat, so I avoided that hex and instead sent two blocks of damaged armour east to Acroma, and some weak infantry to the empty hexes at Sidi Mufta, Bir Hachiem, and Retma. Then, in a final fiendish stroke, I set two blocks of elite recon the long way around, attacking the defensive line via a weak point at El Adem, where only two blocks held the hex.
The combat phase rolled around, and the armour at Arcoma took heavy losses from Allied anti-tank units. My elite panzer was destroyed, and all that remained was a single step of Italian armour. The light armour in El Adem fared much better, wiping out the Allied defence (a couple of one step infantry blocks) without taking a scratch.
My forces in two hexes were besieging Tobruk now, and with good supply lines in place I could eke out an attrition victory if at least one step of the Axis forces could survive the Allied counterattack. With his final supply card, Porter made a group move of mech infantry and artillery out of Tobruk to engage the recon at El Adem, and trusted in his AT guns to finish off my Italians at Acroma. Dice were rolled and the Axis were defeated at Acroma, so now the game was down to the battle at El Adem. As the defender, I chipped away at the attacking infantry, but there were still about six steps left after damage was assigned. The Allied artillery fired, damaging my recon blocks, but leaving both in the game.
So, in the end it came down to one small handful of six dice. Zero or one sixes (the expected value), and the Axis would gain an attritional victory, two or more sixes and the Allies would have firm control of Tobruk and gain a positional victory. Porter rolled the bones, and up came two sixes, and a victory for the Commonwealth at the buzzer!
One for the history books, eh readers?
- Last edited Tue Jan 24, 2006 11:55 pm (Total Number of Edits: 2)
- Posted Mon Jan 23, 2006 4:34 am
Hey "sbszine", did you get this 'scenario' from its entry here? If so, then it was the 'one' that I had 'posted' for that here! This was from an issue of "Battleplan", which had 'reprinted' it from the "Canadian Wargamer's Journal". How close to the "time limit" did you folks manage to keep it within? Thanks for the great "Session Report" on this as well.
EDIT: Thanks for the reply here Phil, and I'm glad that they decided to include it at all with the more recent versions.
- Last edited Tue Dec 5, 2006 10:07 pm (Total Number of Edits: 1)
- Posted Thu Nov 30, 2006 6:20 am
Promise me there won't be any squares at my funeral
I got the scenario from the latest Columbia (2000 edition) rulebook, which suggested it as a good tournament scenario. I think it was originally written for Origins or some other con.
We did manage to keep it to around 2 or 3 hours in the end (despite Porter being a new player). I think it's one of the better short scenarios, because it lets you sample some of the flavour of the campaign game. The Crusader scenario is also short and interesting, but since Tobruk starts with a minefield, it feels less like the campaign game. And the other shorter scenarios begin with step reduced units, which is a bit like stepping in halfway through a game.
If anyone out there is playing with an older edition, you should download Groggy's file and check out Battleaxe.
Great session report!!!