Sunday, 4 January 2015

Blow the bridge!

In the recent Issue (no 76) of the rather excellent Wargames, Soldiers & Strategy magazine, Guy Bowers (Editor) produced an article in the 'bitesize battles' series called Blow the Bridge!

The scenario is generic, suited to several periods, though in his article, Horse & Musket forces are used, together with the Black Powder rule set (modified to use half movement).

This post covers my attempts at replicating the game as outlined by Guy, but converting it to play on Kallistra hexes with my 10mm Pendraken WWII forces, using the Into Battle - WWII Tactical rules.

please click on 'read more' for the rest of this post.

Guy's scenario is based around a force of 3 brigades attacking a defender with 2 brigades. The attacker seeks to capture the bridge before the defenders can destroy it. A river runs the full width of the board and it has a single bridge in the centre portion. The defender is allowed to deploy in front of the bridge.

It will take the defender 6 turns (5 on a small table) to prepare explosive charges before the fuse (alternative spelling of 'fuze' noted) can be lit. From turn 7 onwards, a D6 is rolled to see what is happening to the fuse. It could fizzle out and must be re-lit or it could just carry on burning or it could explode. A +1 is added to the die roll for each consecutive turn that the fuse burns, it explodes on a final die roll of 6 or more. If the fuse fizzles out, that +1 turn escalator will be cancelled and the count starts again from zero.

If the attacker (Soviets) manages to cross the bridge before any explosion, then at the end of the following German player turn (i.e. they have a chance to counter-attack), if they still remain on the other side of the bridge, the explosives are rendered safe and the attacker wins the game.

WWII alternative scenario.  Guy gives a basic terrain set-up and then suggests adding other terrain to make the table look nice and prevent the attackers having clear open lines of sight that would allow them to simply bombard the defenders from afar. I will set-up as suggested and then each player will be able to roll three times on the below table and place the each terrain selection as they see fit. 

Terrain may not be placed at either end of the bridge (on the road) and each hex row  cannot have more than two hexes worth of additional features added, except if a marsh is rolled, its placement can breach this rule, but place it in a way that minimises any breach of the rule.

The Attacker rolls first with 1D6, places the terrain piece and then the Defender rolls. The players do this three times, alternating placement.

Basic map below. River, bridge, woods (E2), high ground (B5) and hamlet (H5). The river can only be crossed at the bridge. The red edge is the Soviet baseline.

Enhanced map below. This map shows how the players have added to the battlefield after each rolling three dice. The terrain has been placed ensuring there are no more than two additions per row.

Attacker - 1 orchard, place A3 to give cover as they arrive on the board.
Defender - 1 orchard, place H1 to give a firing position on the flank.
Attacker - 2 hex wood, place C4 / C5 to give cover to the front slopes of the hill.
Defender - 1 orchard, I3, a place to attack from if the enemy gets across the bridge.
Attacker - 1 orchard, E1 give cover to that line of approach, but also tanks can move through orchards without testing, so it gives a tank route around the wood if needed.
Defender - 2 hex field, F5 / F6 to give firing infantry cover and allow them to still be within 4 hex rifle range of the wooded hill.

Orders of battle: 
Attackers (Soviet) - 1st platoon of 3 rifle sections, 2nd platoon of 3 rifle sections, 1 platoon of 3 x T34/76d tanks, 1 off-board artillery mission (and 1 observer), 1 HMG. Morale Value is 5

Defenders (German) - 1 platoon of 3 rifle sections, 2 Pak 40 anti-tank guns, 2 HMG, 1 entrenchment, 1 wire. Morale Value is 4.

Set-up: The Soviets are managed by player 1. They begin the game off the board and must  all have entered play (at the red end of the map) by the end of turn 2. On their turn of arrival, Soviet troops are automatically in command. The Germans set-up anywhere between rows C and I inclusive.

Administration: The game will start at 1200 hours. Immediately after 1250 hours has passed the fuse will be considered lit and the Germans can roll on the Fuse Table (given in the magazine) at the end of every turn. The game ends at 1330 hours.

Victory Conditions: The Russians win if they manage to get one unit across the bridge into the hex on the far side (H3) before the game ends at 1330 hours. They must survive until the end of the subsequent German player turn.  Anything else is a German victory.

Replay. (using Tigers at Minsk rule - free download).

Turn 1 (1200 hours) German Morale 4  Soviet Morale 5

The Soviets hold back one rifle platoon and enter the table with everything else. A rifle section and HMG get into the orchard. The rest come in on their left flank to approach from behind the cover of high ground. The three T-34's enter at A6 (far left) and are in the line of sight of the German Pak 40 anti-tank gun, which is located in the fields at F6.

The Germans put hexes F4 / F5 and F6 into automatic command and everything else tests for command. They have a rifle section forward at D2 and this discourages the Soviets from moving into the open ground around that side of the board. The Pak 40 fires at the tanks, needing a 5 or less (on a D10) to cause harm, but fails.

Turn 2 (1207 hours) German Morale 4  Soviet Morale 5

The T-34's halt to trade fire with the Pak 40. The first shot pins the anti-tank guns, but the rest of their fire is ineffective. The 2nd Soviet infantry platoon enters play behind the high ground, so the Russian advance is now committed to a drive down their left. The Soviet infantry and artillery observer emerge on the forward wooded slope of the hill, but each takes a pin result from German fire.

The German Pak 40 spends its action recovering from its pin marker and succeeds - though this of course means it does not get chance to fire now. The Germans lose a rifle section in the woods at E2, causing their morale to drop 1 point.

Turn 3 (1217 hours) German Morale 3  Soviet Morale 5

The clock dice (2D6) were doubles so both players access the Random Event Table.

Soviet event - Men of action - in this turn one rifle section can both fire and move (i.e. it gets two actions).

German event - Ambush - though they are too far away from the enemy to use this event.

The Soviet infantry on the hill go out of command, so will not get a chance to remove their pin results (this is a dangerous moment because receiving a second pin removes the unit from play due to excessive casualties). The tanks again fire and again inflict a pin on the Pak 40, but are denied the luck of getting a second pin result. The Soviets take their first infantry loss as a rifle section on the hill takes fire from enemy HMG fire located in the hamlet (H5).

Turn 4 (1223 hours) German Morale 3  Soviet Morale 4

The Soviets cannot just stand back and trade shots, they need to be moving towards the objective (bridge) if they are to stand any chance of crossing it before it blows up. As the T-34's edge forward, the Pak 40 is at the ready. It fires at the first tank, misses but retains its rate of fire. It fires at the second tank, misses, but again retains rate of fire. It then fires at the third moving T-34, misses and this time fails to maintain its rate of fire and so is marked with an opportunity marker. It will not be able to fire again until an action is spent to remove that marker. The Russian player breathes a sigh of relief - they were lucky that turn!

Their artillery observer is still pinned, so cannot call in fire.

Turn 5 (1233 hours) German Morale 3  Soviet Morale 4

The first T-34 falls to the temptation of firing instead of moving and misses. The second moves, but is hit by the Pak 40, getting a 'stun' result (it cannot do anything until it recovers).

The German HMG that is located in the orchard at H1 fires at the hill and rolls hot dice - they score two pin results on one unit, which removes the target unit from play - but its firepower score is so high that the HMG suffers a breakdown, which is permanent in this system.

Turn 6 (1240 hours) German Morale 3  Soviet Morale 3

The Soviet artillery observer (in C4) calls in accurate fire onto the position of the Pak 40 (F6). They get an accuracy bonus for observing from high ground. The field is churned up and the Pak 40 suffers a pin result. The rifle sections from the hill join in and inflict a second pin - the Pak 40 is removed from play.

Concentrated German fire on the orchard at A3 results in the loss of another Soviet rifle section. The German HMG in the hamlet (H5) has a good field of fire.

Turn 7 (1250 hours) German Morale 2  Soviet Morale 2

It is 1250 hours, the explosives have been set and the fuse ignited, at the end phase of each turn the fuse chart will be used to determine whether the bridge has blown.

Soviet command largely fails this turn, leaving just the tanks available to spend actions. They advance out in front of the hill (D6) and the second Pak 40 (F4) opens fire and stuns a T-34. The act draws all the Soviet rifle fire from the hill and the Pak 40 is pinned. The Soviets now have two of their tanks under stun markers. The Pak 40 now has both a pin marker and an opportunity fire marker. In its turn, it can only choose one action, so will only be able to get rid of one of those markers. 

Should it get rid of the Op. Fire marker (automatic), which will allow it to fire later, though with a penalty because it is pinned. Or should it attempt to get rid of the pin (subject of a morale test) in an effort to increase its chances of survivability?

The Soviet HMG in the orchard at A3 is lost.

FUSE TABLE CHECK - Roll a 3, the fuse still burns. 

Turn 8 (1258 hours) German Morale 2  Soviet Morale 1

The original T-34 that received a stun result, recovers. It has been out of action for 25 minutes, so perhaps the previous fire caused crew casualties - who knows? 

Rifle fire from the hill finally silences the remaining Pak 40 (note - anti-tank guns always count as claiming cover benefits, even when they are positioned in the open).

The German rifle section in the woods (D2) decides to pull back into E2.
The HMG in the hamlet fires, removing another rifle section on the hill. This pushes the Soviet morale level down to zero, so everything must test to see whether it falls back. All the infantry fail and pull back 1 hex, but the T-34's pass and stand. Further loss will likely cause this attack to waver and falter, any delay at this stage will almost certainly cost them the mission.

FUSE TABLE CHECK - Roll 3 (plus +1 for cumulative turns) = 4, the fuse goes out and must be re-lit, this means the turn accumulator is set back to zero.

Turn 9 (1306 hours) German Morale 1  Soviet Morale 0

The clock dice causes both players to check the Random Events chart.

Soviet event - Minefield - They place it at F2, out of harms way!

German event - HQ suppression - the HQ has been hit, all German units will test for command this turn, none will get it automatically.

The T-34's now start to roll directly towards the bridge. There is a German rifle section in the field (F5) and a wire marker on the other side of the road (F3).

FUSE TABLE CHECK - Roll 5, the fuse burns and detonation is close, so +2 will be  added to the test on the next turn.

Turn 10 (1314 hours) German Morale 1  Soviet Morale 0

The T-34's draw ever closer to the bridge, it is now a race against time - though note, there are only 16 minutes of game clock left anyway.

FUSE TABLE CHECK - Roll 2 (+2, the bonus from last turn) +1 for accumulated turns of burning fuse = 5, again, the fuse burns and detonation is close, again giving a +2 bonus to the next turns test.

Turn 11 (1325 hours) German Morale 1  Soviet Morale 0

The T-34's advance to the foot of the bridge.

FUSE TABLE CHECK - roll 4 (+2 for the bonus last turn) +2 for accumulated turns of burning fuse = 8, the bridge EXPLODES! and the game ends as a German victory.

Thoughts and tweaks.
The game became quite exciting towards the end. A mixture of how quickly the game clock was ticking away and the ever increasing chance of the bridge blowing - though note, a '6' has every chance of being rolled each time the Fuse Chart is checked, so the game could end prematurely with even the first roll being a six.

The Soviets cannot afford to hang back and trade shots, they need to be constantly making ground on their objective and to some degree, the drawing and placing of the randomly generated terrain will likely have the most influence as to whether this is possible. I thought the terrain placement in this instance gave a fair result.

For the next playing, I would be inclined to give the Soviets a bit of help by having their artillery allowance increase to two missions (still one observer) and removing either a German HMG or Pak 40. At this point, I am more inclined for the removal to be the HMG unit.

Anyway, it was nice for a magazine article to have been the driving force for all of this - thank you Guy Bowers.

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