Tuesday, 17 September 2013

L'nL System study and AAR


Heroes of the Blitzkrieg - World War II tactical system by Lock ‘n’ Load.

HoB is a stand alone game covering French (and Belgian) v German tactical actions from the 1940 period. It comes with V3 of the L’n’L series rules.


L’n’L do some nice box cover artwork - but this cover doesn’t do it for me.
I’ve never really been a fan of photographs as box art and this feels bland compared
to the really nice work done on the contents.

V3 rules cover - some box art based around around this image
done as a painting might have been a better prospect.



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Over 30 years ago, I went to a local store and bought all 4 Basic Squad Leader modules, took them home and had the most memorable of ‘out of the box’ experiences. Those games, particularly the base module, became a cornerstone to a passion for tactical gaming.

I mention this because I recently returned home with several Lock ‘n Load games / modules under my arm and on opening the boxes, I got a nostalgic blast that took me right back to the sheer delight of the day that I took possession of my Squad leader stuff.

So something felt definitely right to get that kind of connection.
I bought into this because one recent afternoon, I had a face to face infantry game of L'n'L with my friends copy of ‘Band of Heroes’ (Hi Mike). He had all the rules in his head and we had a fun couple of hours and it left me wanting to own some of this system.

This article is intended to highlight the sequence of play and some system rules and processes, wrapped up in something of an AAR.
Game parts - After getting past the rather plain box cover, we get a notably sturdy box. Three counter sheets with lovely artwork. The infantry are on 5/8ths counters, heavy weapons on 3/4" and the vehicles are on 7/8ths. The counter information is clear. Their size and layout was a draw for me to the game. They are laminated and reflective which will not be to all tastes.

The 14 scenario cards have a quality feel. Each is double sided, well laid out with the rear side having a large full colour renditions of the game board(s) that will be used.


This is one of the map overlays.

1 sheet containing high quality map overlays. 1 play aid with a turn track, together with useful reminders about common system processes. Version 3 of the series rules and four and a half pages of specific module rules which just add the right amount of flavour for rules overhead.

The main play aid with terrain and tables comes on a heavy duty, glossy card, folded down to make a 4 sided display (like you get in GMT’s Command and Colors games). A small deck of 16 ‘skill’ cards and two dice in an ‘air bag’ to protect the product while in transit.



Side by side shot of two boards, the one on the left is from
Heroes of the Blitzkrieg, the other is from Band of Heroes (2nd Edition).

Finally, on the forum boards, there have been some comments at Boardgamegeek that the HoB boards are too dark. Well yes they are darker than the other boards that I have seen in other modules, which leads to an overall drop in contrast. However, that aside, they are lovely with very striking artwork and functional. They look better in good light. They are reflective with a laminate, which some may not care for. Numbering 6 in total, they come folded, opening to 8" x 12.5" panels and the folding and finish really is precise and well done. Those liking bigger hexes will appreciate these boards. In brief, they are lovely boards that would have looked even nicer had they been a tone or so lighter.


Game markers and infantry are at 5/8", the larger weapon
team counter is 3/4", vehicles are bigger again.

Rule reading - Most scenarios have ordnance or a few vehicles, but I wanted to play an ‘infantry only’ scenario first. This just involved reading the first 16 pages, plus a later page on fortifications. There are a few graphic examples (for line of sight) and with two column print in a decent sized font, large counter illustrations for each section and a deep banner running along the bottom of the page, the rules are not that numerous and written in a fairly loose conversational style, so basically, they are an easy read.

The game has the typical helping of squads, leaders, support weapons, opportunity fire, line of sight, melee, shaken (like broken), morale checks and rallying, which are common themes of tactical gaming and for anyone used to such games, the rules are easy to assimilate.

The game is impulse driven, so players alternate activating units by hex, once everything has activated or both players don’t wish to activate anything else, then play moves to the end of turn Admin Phase.

Scenario - I have chosen ‘Phoney War - no mans land’ set in January 1940, as this is a small, infantry only scenario and ideal for starting out. Basically it concerns a border clash. At dawn under the cover of fog, the Germans attack a French forward base. By chance, other French units were nearby, returning from a night operation and they were able to come to the aid of their comrades.

The scenario lasts for 7 turns and the Germans automatically get initiative on turn 1. Victory points are awarded as +4 to the Germans if they take the building (with a good order unit) and +4 if there are no good order French units within 1 hex of that building by the end of the game. The French player earns 1 VP for each eliminated enemy squad or single man counter. There is a heavy fog limiting visibility to 3 hexes, with a chance of it slowly lifting during play (nice touch for the way that the mechanic works).


This is the fate card that is allocated to the French player for this scenario

Special rule - At the start of play, the Germans get 8 Fate Points. Each can be spent to add or subtract 1 from any die roll (cannot use more than 2 at a time) that involves Strosstruppen (1-4-4’s) squads, but the decision to use them is made before the die is rolled.

Set-up.






A/ This is the 2 hex building that is the objective. The scenario makes it a 2 level building. The French occupy the top floor with a MMG team and an LMG armed squad with leader.

B/ The Germans will use the cover of these rubble hexes to get close to French frontal defence.

C/ The French reinforcements come on here on turn 1. This has the effect of trapping the Germans between two French forces.

D/ This is the wheatfield that the Germans move into as part of their initial movement, as they seek to get around the French flank to avoid the wire (only to hit mines).


Note - there are two event markers placed on the ground floor of the building, these relate to ‘hidden’ rule paragraphs on the scenario card, which I did not read prior to play and which come into effect if one or both hexes become German occupied.

Turn 1 (and Sequence of Play explained).

Rally Phase - Roll for initiative (automatically German on turn 1). Rally units (not applicable this turn). Pick up abandoned support weapons (not applicable this turn).

Operations Phase - Players take it in turn to activate the units in a hex and act with one or more of those units. The Germans have the initiative, so they go first.

They activate a hex containing the hero Steiner and a squad with their LMG. All advance using 4 MP’s to a wheatfield hex. This is within 3 hexes (range of vision in the fog) of the French squad in the lower foxhole. So they have line of sight (LOS) and since the target moved, it is automatically spotted by French defenders. They decide to opportunity fire.

Process - Squad firepower is 1 plus a D6 (=6), they will not get their +1 for a moving target because the wheatfield cancels that and there are no deductions for degrading terrain along the line of sight (same as hindrance in other systems), so firepower is ‘6’.
The defender rolls a D6 (=6) and adds the terrain value of its hex (wheat is zero, though as stated, it cancels the +1 fire bonus that can be claimed against moving units), so the defender result is also ‘6’. The firepower is not greater than the defence, so there is no effect (the Germans were lucky) and the German stack is marked with a MOVED marker and the French squad are given a FIRED marker, neither can do anything else this turn.

The French player now gets to activate a hex. They activate one of the reinforcement units that enter on the west side of the board. The squad carries a captured Mg43 (done in French colours - nice touch). It doesn’t get very far because of terrain costs. Because of the fog, the Germans cannot see it. The French squad is marked with a MOVED marker.

The German player now activates a hex. A (1-6-4) squad plus LMG advance across an open hex and then into a rubble hex. They intend to work forward to harass the French in front of the building. The units has moved to within 3 hexes of one of the French units in a foxhole, but it chooses to hold its fire. The German unit is marked as MOVED.

French activation - and so on, with activations alternating between both sides. Not all of the units in a hex need be activated but those that do either move or fire together.

Several activations later - A French reinforcement moves into a low crops hex and is within 3 hexes of a German squad (1-4-4), who chooses to opportunity fire. The fire passes through another hex that contains low crops and this degrades the fire (like hindrance in other systems). Squad firepower is 1 plus a D6 (= 5), then -1 for passing through degrading terrain (= 4). The defender then rolls a D6 (=2) and its terrain does not add any value to the defence (though like in the wheat example above, it does prevent the firer from getting a +1 modifier against a moving target). The final firepower (4) is greater than the final defence strength (2), so the defender must take a Damage Check.

A Damage Check is made by rolling a D6 and adding the difference between the fire strength and defender strength (2 in this case) to that score. Our attacker rolls a 6 and adds the 2 (=8), this is checked against the French unit's morale, which is 6. If the Damage Check is higher than the units morale (which the 8 is), then the fire has been effective and the unit is flipped over to its shaken side (like being broken or demoralized in other systems).

The French unit was moving when fired upon and so is marked MOVED. The firer is marked FIRED.

Note - if a squad fails it’s damage check by more than twice it’s morale value, it takes casualties (becomes a half squad) and goes shaken.

Note - The morale value of a unit is used when making both damage checks and morale checks. The difference is that a damage check is always made with a single D6, while a morale check is always made with 2xD6.

By the end of the Operations Phase, everything has activated except for the French on the upper levels of the building, as they can’t see anything for the fog.


ADMIN PHASE - Remove all admin markers (such as Moved / Fired), remove ‘smoke 2’ markers and flip ‘smoke 1’ to ‘smoke 2’ (not applicable at this point). Flip or remove FFE markers (not applicable in this game).

TURN 2 - Roll for initiative, which goes to the French. Special scenario rules require a roll for the fog in each rally phase. A roll equal or lower than the current turn number lifts the fog slightly, increasing LOS by 1. A ‘1’ is rolled and the line of sight limit is raised from 3 to 4 hexes.

The French have one lone shaken unit, so that cannot rally and another that is with a hero (Felix), so that can attempt to rally.

Process - The unit’s morale is 6. Roll 2D6 (=10), modify for any leader (none), modify for terrain, anything that gives a positive Terrain Effect Modifier (TEM) reduces the die roll by 2, but low crops don’t help in this regard, so that dice roll remains a 10 and the unit remains shaken.

Operations Phase - played just the same as in turn 1.

Important - ‘spotting’, before you can fire on a unit, it must be spotted. Units that move, fire, are in the open or adjacent to an enemy are automatically spotted. Anything else must be subject to a test.

The test is simple, roll a D6 with 1 - 2 spotting anything in blocking terrain and a 1 - 3 spots anything in degrading terrain. The spotter is marked with an OPS COMPLETE marker. Units so marked cannot do anything except, fire at half strength in an opportunity fire situation or fire at full strength immediately at the target that it has just spotted (i.e.in the same impulse).




the two units marked FIRED relate to the incident of ‘spotting’
referred to below (note the mines, German units will attack across them later).

With the fog lifting and LOS now going out to 4 hexes, the French MMG team on the upper floor of the building is a threat. One of the German units in the wheatfield tries to spot the MMG with the assistance of a leader. It rolls a 1, so did not even need the leaders help. The target is marked SPOTTED and the Germans are marked OPS COMPLETE. However they immediately decide to fire on the MMG, but the dice are not favourable and the +4 defence value of the building defeats the attack. The Germans change their OPS COMPLETE marker for a FIRED marker. The now spotted MMG decides to fire back since it is exposed and will now likely draw more fire from other units, but it fails to get any result.

Off map (to the left) a German unit LOW CRAWLS into the rubble hex. This allows a unit to move 1 hex by expending all of their movement points, which stops them being automatically spotted while moving.

TURN 3. The Germans get the initiative and the fog roll results in a further lifting of the fog and LOS is now 5 hexes.

The German Hero Steiner ran out from the wheatfield in the last turn and entered a wire hex, but was wounded during his efforts. He starts this turn adjacent to a French squad in a foxhole, so with the Germans having the initiative, he can move first, advancing into the adjacent hex to close combat the French squad. Both sides have a firepower of 1, so the attack is a simultaneous 1-1 combat.

However, heroes always move their attack 1 column in their favour, so in this instance, their attack becomes a 3-2. The French kill number is 8 or better and the German is 7 or better. Both sides get the rolls they need, resulting in mutual elimination of both sides.

A German unit dashes forward and crosses the mines safely (the mines attack with a value of 1 when a unit enters the hex), entering the building on the ground floor (directly below the French MMG). This hex contains a chit called event ‘A’, so event ‘A’ is triggered. This takes me to reading some hidden paragraphs (printed upside down) on the scenario chart and basically, I am fed a storyline that causes a French wounded hero to suddenly appear in that location (from the basement).

This forces another close combat between the hero and the squad that has just entered the room - again, just as above, mutual destruction results, no doubt something to do with grenades or some such. This was a nice bit of theatre that just popped up from nowhere, adding to the flavour of play.

TURN 4.



A/ A lone German squad (with LMG) acting as a rearguard is about to be overwhelmed by the French reinforcements.

B + C/ German attackers are in flank positions around the building but suffer grievously while getting to those positions. By the end of the turn, five of the six squads are shaken.

D/ Two German squads are amongst the rubble, trying to knock out the French MMG (at E) but without effect.

E/ The MMG at this location dominates the approaches to the building.


TURN 5.
The Germans fail their few rally checks and it becomes clear that they have no chance at all of salvaging anything from this scenario. They do not have the strength to take the building and the French reinforcements are closing in. I decide to call time. I have done so badly as the German player that I really need to re-think how to use them better in this scenario. However, it served its purpose in highlighting a number of mechanics and consolidating the rules in my mind.

Getting deeper into the system.
Ordnance and vehicles are fairly simple to weave into the game as several of the processes are similar to those already learned with the infantry. The vehicle counters are really nice.



the front and back of a French H39.

The front shows the armour strengths (front, flank and rear for hull and turret respectfully), the 5 is the morale, the 2 is HE equivalence and the red 2 is the MG

The rear of the counter shows the ‘to hit’ table for that vehicle, the top row is range, the second row is the ‘to’ hit roll needed at that range and the third row is armour penetration at that range.

As an example of anti tank fire, lets take A French R35 firing at the front face of a PzIIIe at a range of 6 hexes in open terrain.



the counters front and rear of an R35 and a PzIIIe.

The range is 6 hexes, so looking at the top row of the R35’s To Hit table, we select the middle column as this column applies to range 8 or less. The next number down is the TO HIT number (5 in this case). Roll 2xD6 and score 5 or less to hit. The die is modified by terrain if applicable. Lets assume a hit is made.

If the die roll is greater than 2 and an even number, them the turret is hit, otherwise the hull has been hit. Lets assume the turret has been hit.

The number below the ‘to hit’ number is the penetration number, in this case ‘1’ at this range. The armour value of the PZIIIe front turret is ‘2’. Both sides roll a D6 and add their result to their gun or armour value as appropriate. If the modified gun value is higher than the modified armour value, the target is destroyed, otherwise it counts as a ‘non-penetrating hit’ and instead the target takes a morale check, going ‘shaken’ if failing. A lovely mechanic is that the Morale Check is modified by the difference between the final gun / armour values, so the better the armour did in defending against the shot, the more the vehicle is likely to pass the morale check.

By the way in another module (Dark July), under the same circumstances as above, A Tiger I tank would hit a Russian T34-76 at that range on 10 or less and would get a penetration value of 8. The T-34 front turret armour would be valued at 4.

There are less than 6 pages of vehicle rules and 1 page of artillery rules, which makes this a very accessible system.

Conclusions.
Approaching this game as someone relatively new to the system, but a regular player of tactical games, I found that things quickly fell into place during my first game. Vehicles and ordnance rules are easily absorbed because they follow some of the main principles and processes used by infantry.

This streamlining is present throughout the rules, for example, when a mined hex is entered, the moving squad is attacked in the same way that an enemy ‘1’ strength squad would attack, so you get effect without any additional rule overhead or charts etc. This sort of philosophy helps you play the game rather than fight with the rules, which also benefit by being generally free of ‘rule exceptions’

The system is deep enough to cover a wide variety of units, weapon and situations, with the series now covering subjects from 1939 to 1985, but is also compact enough for players to easily remember the rules.

It initially felt strange (for a squad game) pushing around units with fire values of just ‘1’ or ‘2’, but the finely balanced range of unit values, combat modifiers and the single D6, come together nicely to give a very credible game. The range of ‘luck’ falls somewhere between Critical Hit’s ATS (which uses a D10, providing some diverse results on a single die roll and MMP’s ASL, which uses two D6, providing some averaging of results (based around 7’s) with a gentler move to the extremes (1 in 36 chance of getting say a 2 or 12).

The relationship between the spotting rules and the effect of fired / moved units being unable to act, creates some interesting moments and tactics. As units get marked fired / moved (i.e. used) then enemy units find it easier to move around them, as there are less enemy available to opportunity fire and units can even advance to melee with impunity because ‘used’ units can’t be re-used in that turn, so small situations crop up whereby a unit will not fire because it neither wants to become spotted (why make the enemies life easier) or lose its chance to opportunity fire on a later target. This play off between both sides as the impulses pass can produce some good situations and makes the player give more thought to establishing and maintaining cross fires.

The graphics and presentation are an important part of the experience as they enhance visualisation. Not only does the terrain look good, but things like the leaders having proper faces means that you start to identify with the game and immerse yourself into the narrative that is never too far away.


half of board 22 (folded) - the artwork just speaks for itself.

I had some problems with the photography for this article due to the glossy nature of the boards and the very glossy nature of the counters, which almost have a wet look. This effect is more toned down in the British expansion (In Defeat Defiance). I would hold back from being too critical about that because it is just part of the sense that I get that the company made a big effort to make the game look great.

I opened this article by referring to Basic Squad Leader. The original base game (4th edition 1977) undoubtedly has an emotional pull on me and this Lock ‘n’ Load system is probably the nearest experience I have had to what that game gave.

Whether that is due to a complete and substantial system being delivered in around 26 pages of rules that can still be held in memory, the ‘design for effect’ philosophy of the system or just it’s look and feel (probably all three) I’m not sure. It has had me scrambling around buying up the other parts of the system and I think I have much to look forward to. I have just picked up ‘Not One Step Back’, the core Russian module and it is just a joy to own. Production levels are lovely. I think this might be a second edition. It has folded mapboards like HoB, which have standard hexes (i.e. not the white framed hexes that was first used with this system, but are still suggested on the front cover shown below).



Russian module (needed to play Dark July) and has T-34’s, JS-2,
SU-152, T-70’s and the King Tiger amongst others. It comes with
3 mounted game boards.

Solitaire - The box says 8 out of 10. This is a two player game that plays very well solitaire. I have not come across any hidden set up rules or pre-registered fire type rules and the event system gives some nice surprises to the solitaire player. One of the strengths for solitaire play is the randomly set initiative at the start of each turn and the impulse type system, that creates a very interactive flow between the sides.

Complexity - The box says 4 out of 10. I would say that initial contact with the game will be around 5 out of 10 and that after a couple of plays, 4 would be a fair assessment. With repeated and regular play, much will simply become second nature and held to memory and I could see that rating drop to even less than 4. The game also has its own module rules. They are relatively few in number and not always needed with every scenario such as mounted units or motor cycle units, so can be absorbed as needed. The rulebook has 6 pages of examples of play which also helps.

Time - Based on my few games, I am finding single board scenarios with relatively small troop numbers, taking around two hours, so it seems reasonable to put play in the 1.5 to 3 hour bracket depending upon scenario size.

Space - The boards to the game are really compact and half of the scenarios only need one board, with the rest needing two. Together with the turn track play aid, this game is ideal for anyone with limited gaming space.

Note 1 - Demo game link http://www.wargamedownloads.com/item.php?item=520&pics= it This is a free download that gives some free counters, rules and a map - enough for you to know whether you will like the system. It includes an early version of the system maps, which had exaggerated hex outlines. All the modern product has standard ‘non halo’ hex outlines. (First edition Band of Brothers also has the heavy hex outline)

Note 2 - The boards in this game are also used by the ‘modern’ module Honneur et Patrie, which covers the French forces for circa 1985 and is a module for Heroes of the Gap, which contains the 1985 Russian order of battle (and a lovely mounted large map).
Note 3 - I have had a printing problem with another item from L’n’L and I just wanted to comment here that I received a prompt and superb service from their staff - impressive, I’m really liking this company.

Note 4 - Played Band of Heroes face to face last night with a two board scenario that included a couple of tanks and handheld anti tank weapons. It gave an exciting game and helped cement those armour rules in our minds that covered tank fire, turrets, button / unbutton, spotting and close assault. As we came to each situation we just read the associated passage in the rules and that was pretty much it, so bringing vehicles in felt pretty painless.

Note 5 - Here are some quick notes about another game I recently played, posted at Consimworld LINK http://talk.consimworld.com/WebX?14@@.ee6f6d0/11199


5 comments:

  1. I've got an AAR of this scenario on my blog as well. Did you but that Russian module from miniature market? I was looking at their stock a few days ago and noticed they were out.

    There's a Lock N load convention in Seatlle in February. Wish I could make it.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Hi, I got the Not One Step Back module from a UK game store called 'Leisure Games', first time that I have used them and I thought the service was very good. The module was sent in a cardboard wrap, like the book people use.

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  3. I'm at home now, reading this more closely. The first shot you rolled a '6' correct? They have an inherent firepower of '1', correct?

    Wouldn't you add that inherent (1) + d6 (6+1=7)?
    Then the defense rolls a '6'. Wouldn't they beat defense by '1' at that point?

    I understand they wouldn't get an additional +1 for movement to the roll because of the wheat. Otherwise the total attack roll would've been 8.

    That all said, I could be wrong on all points.

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  4. Hi, hmmm, I think perhaps my presentation is confusing, it is however correct as presented.

    Anything in brackets is showing the outcome up to that point to save me showing die rolls, which is why I put the '=' sign in. So in this instance, that part of the sentence should be interpreted as;

    Inherent squad have firepower of 1. They roll a D6, which gave a result of 5, which equals a total FP of 6.

    Thanks for raising the point, in future I think it would be better to show the actual die result in the text. Norm

    Thanks Mark - Norm

    ReplyDelete