Wednesday, 16 May 2018

Prepping for a big Lock 'n Load game

Lock ‘n Load Tactical has not graced the gaming table since January and I want to get the Dark July module (Kursk ‘43) onto the table soon, so this week I have had another read through of the rules (version 4.1) and set up a couple of the scenarios from the Heroes of Normandy module that include vehicles, to get familiar with things again.
Scenario graphic


This is a WWII tactical game with hexes representing 50 metres and counters representing squads, individual vehicles and individual support weapons.

This post is just something of a musing about the system, showing its great narrative character by way of an AAR.

Please use the ‘read more’ tab for the rest of this post



At the moment, Jeff Lewis is working on V5 of the rules and the impression I get is that these will offer a tidy up, some streamlining and include a few of the new rules that were highlighted in their beta version which was circulated for feedback. It will also merge (or rather re-merge, as we have been here before) the WWII and Modern sets as they have identical processes for the most part.

One of the rule proposals that didn’t make the cut was an inclusion of something that most tactical gamers would recognise from other tactical games as being ‘final defensive fire’. I am okay with that rule proposal being dropped as the system was designed from the ground up without it, so bringing it in would fundamentally change play and potentially unhinge the significant library of scenarios that have been designed without it. However the proposal was relatively gentle, with only an 18% chance of it happening on each potential occasion, which I suppose reflected the risk that the rule writers felt about compromising the system, so I can see some gamers keeping it as a house rule to customise their game and further reduce game certainty.

Lock ‘n Load now do X-Maps (sold separately) for all of their L’nL Tactical system games. These are essentially blown up versions of the standard maps and for Dark July (which expands Heroes of the Motherland), which covers Kursk action in 1943, this means that the standard single large map (22” x 34”) that the module was designed around, is now increased to a play area of two maps, while containing the identical terrain arrangement, giving a sense of expanse for the big cat gun ranges to aesthetically feel right and providing nice super sized hexes to operate in.

Using the two big maps will fit into a 4’ x 3’ space and feeds into my New Year intentions of running some Wargame Fest days throughout the year, in which I do something bigger in a space that I can ‘borrow’ so that a game that can be left up for more than one day if needed.

So as a prelude to getting the eastern front big map stuff up and running, I am just rehearsing with some short Normandy Scenarios - watch out for the Dark July replays in an upcoming post.

The scenario that we will be looking at today is Attack of Das Kochegschirr from the Heroes of Normandy base module. Basically the Germans have already made a failed attack against Benouville and have waited for some armour support before getting the attack going again.



The scenario uses two small mapboards arranged as above (I am using the X-Map versions of the boards). I have put three white circles on the objective buildings that the Germans must control by the end of turn 6 (EDIT - it is a 7 turn scenario - Doh!) and a white arrow that shows the board edge that the German attack starts from.

The character of the forces - British.
This is an elite force with good morale levels (6). They are led by Lord Holmes, who is wounded and carries the ‘Decisive’ skill chit with him, which once per game allows the troops with him to perform a double action.

The force is bolstered by a couple of PIAT’s (which being spring loaded can be safely fired from buildings) and a couple of Bren LMG’s. The troops can assault move (move and then fire but with penalties) and they get an advantage both in melee and for adjacent fire. Amongst their numbers is Private Richard, who from previous actions has shown himself to have heroic qualities. One of the PIAT’s is allocated to a half squad that has the ‘Rocket Man’ skill, which enhances their handling of that weapon.

Not being sure where the weight of attack will come from, they occupy defensive positions across the mid-board, with Lord Holmes held back, occupying the first objective. His plan is that he will be able to give covering fire when the forward deployed forces need to fall back for phase two of the battle ..... the defence of the objective buildings.

The character of the forces - German.
This is a 1st line wehrmacht force, but they also have a couple of assault squads that have heavier firepower and can Assault Move. Their morale is standard at ‘5’, but they are well led by capable leaders that have leadership modifiers and good morale. They have a couple of MG 34 LMG’s to allocate and these may be best given to the 1st line units to bolster their firepower.

They are up against tough opposition, so this time have the benefit of armoured support in the form of a Panzer IV and a StuG IIIG. They also have a lightly armoured and open topped Marder, which though useful against enemy armour, are vulnerable. against return fire or close assault by infantry. Since the British do not have any vehicles, the Marder is probably best to stay back and just pump H.E. towards enemy positions of opportunity.

The German armour would definitely benefit from operating in the more open terrain on the right flank to break in behind the British defences, but the worry for the German player is that to make good progress they will take heavy casualties to their infantry unless they work closely with the tanks and so pushing slowly up the road to get easy but risky access into the town may be the preferred line of attack. The Germans will need to use their tank firepower so that their infantry will not become entangled with good ordered, high quality British units in melee, fighting for the forward buildings, especially the stone constructions.
The StuG and infantry creep forward

Turn 1.
The first activation reveals the German intention for attack. The StuG IIIG slowly moves up the central road with a squad and LMG creeping along with it, using the tank for cover. The vehicle is using assault move, so can move half of its allowance and then fire with penalties. Dead ahead, in a bit of walled woodland, a British squad lays in wait, guarding the road junction. The StuG commander, his hatch doors open for a better view, ‘spots’ the British squad and fires with shell and machine gun, but to no effect, other than placing an ‘Acquisition 1’ marker on the target, that will help future shooting and not require the assault gun to go through the spotting process again.  
The walled wood

Turn 2.
The British get the initiative and with the enemy assault gun clearly looking at clearing the walled wooded hex, it is time to honourably vacate! That British squad immediately Assault Moves out of the woods hex, moving back, deeper into the terrain feature.

The StuG now has its own scary moment as the PIAT armed half squad with the ‘Rocket Man’ skill fires, striking the front armour of the assault gun. The attack value is 3 and the armour value 4, but each adds a D6 to their values for a modified hit / defence result, so that hit could be devastating, but it isn’t ....... this time!
The Germans close in

Turn 3.
The German forces have made it intact up to the British front line positions. The clock is ticking and those objective hexes seem a long way away, but the Germans have decided to use this turn to lay fire and try to break the open the British inter-locking defences.

On the left, the German assault infantry under Lt. Koch have been advancing with the Panzer IV to gain protection from it (a helpful +2). The British have been keeping their heads down, so German firers would need to pass a spotting test before firing. The reliable Lt. Koch rolls for spotting and gets a bead on Sgt. Livingston and his squad at the wooden house. Tank shells, machine guns and rifle fire tears into the British position. Apparently unscathed, they immediately pull back into woodland. The British are proving to be ‘slippery’ with a tactic of falling back slowly, while maintaining effective cross-fires.

With this potential opening, Sgt. Baumann runs out into the street with his two squads to follow the British up, but cross-fire from the flank (the walled woodland) cuts one of the sections down (leaving them shaken) and as Baumann takes his remaining men into the abandoned wooden building, they are met by Private Richard, a reliable and brave soul (hero), who sprays the oncoming Germans with his sub-machine gun. It didn’t stop Baumann from pressing on into the building that Richard had concealed himself in. A tough and brief action with intensive use of grenades and automatic weapons ends with the loss of Richard, but also enough harm to the assaulters that they and Sgt. Baumann are also removed from play!

INTERLUDE and some thinking! - at this point, I am feeling really stuck as for what to do for the best. Time is running out, the German forces are making some gains, but not quickly enough and the defenders are largely intact and with overlapping fire zones, they are making the town a potential death trap for the attackers. With the victory conditions needing the capture of those three buildings in the rear, some daring moves are needed on the German part. The loss of Baumann and his platoon have just made the German task a whole lot harder.
Germans move to the rear of the walled wood

Turn 4.
A firefight on the German right comes to nothing, so the Panzer IV and Lt. Koch on the left move towards the middle, right up to the walled woodland and the stone building beyond, for close quarter fire (after Assault Moving). The chaps in the stone building (these are tough locations in Lock ‘n Load) stand firm, but the those in woodland go shaken.

Cinematic Moment ....... Lock ‘n Load is frequently described as being cinematic and this is understandable, due to the way that action unfolds and the relative ease at which the rules deal with complex situations and possibly due to the aesthetics of the maps and also the slightly conversational style of the rules. It is often the case that the player ‘sees’ an action play out with an inner eye that delivers story lines and gets them closer to the game and dice rolls start matter. There is a sense of caring about what is happening, rather than just going through the motions id die rolling. Does that make sense?

As a teenager, I had some of those documentary type magazines about WWII and one had a photograph of German infantry gathered around a StuG as it moved through the snow into a Russian village. That very image came to mind as the German troops in this game hugged the StuG as it moved forward.

Isolating this moment in time, here we have a German Squad with an LMG that has been advancing along side the StuG. They have moved up against a wall and noticed the shaken British unit deeper in the woodland (it is auto spotted because there are enemy units adjacent to it). The German team see this as the moment to break away from the vehicle and move independently through the woods so they can assault the town centre. If they can move into the shaken units position, they will automatically put it out of the game. But to cross the wall, move through a light woods hex and enter another would cost 5 movement points and they only have an allowance of 4 MP’s.

That, together with fearing cross-fires from McClouds men on their right, they instead take up positions on their side of the wall, resting their weapons on it and fire at the British squad that they catch glimpses of through the light woodland. You can imagine the thinness of the woodland, as the target is 100 metres away and partly exposed. The fire fails, the British are clearly hugging the ground. But it is one of those many moments that crop up in games that are typically full of nuance and both side hold their breath as the dice fall, hoping for the right result as bit of story falls from the pages of a book. There are some other systems that can do similar and others that can in truth leave you cold, with dice rolling just being a function of play. Lock ‘n Load just seems to do it well.


Above, This is the view that McCloud gets, from his position that exposes the German flank. (Kallistra hexes and Pendraken figures).

Turn 5.
The Germans get the initiative and Koch immediately leads his men into the stone building before they can be fired on. The resulting melee is not decisive and has ended up with both sides still contesting the hex. The fighting will continue into the next turn. This is the worst outcome for Koch as he has essentially lost a turn while being locked down in this melee.

The Marder I has been continually pumping shells into McClouds position with little effect, while the Panzer IV turns it’s attention to the first objective building hex, held by Lord Holmes. The fire has no effect, but the tank does get an Acquisition marker on the building so that further spotting attempts will not be necessary.

Turn 6.
The concluding turn finds the Germans fighting amongst the British positions, but with absolutely no prospect of breaking through to the objectives beyond. If this was a longer game, it feels
likely that this would be the turn that decides which way the game will go. The StuG survives another PIAT shot, but the Panzer IV, which has its hatches open for the commander to get a better view, gets sprayed with small arms fire and the vehicle becomes shaken, causing the hatches to close (buttoned up) and the crew to lose their acquisition marker on Lord Holmes’ position. It is not known at this time whether the commander is injured.

The assault has clearly lost its momentum and the defence is still in relative good shape. The Germans can in all fairness claim some unfortunate die rolls .... but those are the knocks in wargames and real life! and something has not been good enough with the German plan as they are not  even close to winning and in truth, the British have never really been put to test.

EDIT - I have no idea how I managed to ‘imagine’ this was only a 6 turn scenario, though the ‘full sized’ 7 turn scenario would not have helped the Germans in this instance.

Conclusion.
An enjoyable scenario that certainly works as a refresher, especially in highlighting the relationship between infantry and vehicles. This action does of course demand a replay as on the face of it, though a seemingly tough scenario for the German player, a faster and deeper drive by the German vehicles, perhaps carrying the two German assault sections and Koch might be the way to unhinge the British defence early enough for a realistic prospect of a German win to fall out of that .... but what of those PIATs!

This has been a good start to paving the way for the Dark July campaign.

Edit - I had that replay and included the 7th turn this time! The Germans pushed more aggressively, but that seemed to cause even more problems. Both tanks were knocked out by PIAT. The crew of the Marder have been sent back to cadet school to improve on their dice rolling skills, a British hero was generated at the walled wooded feature and Sgt. Baumann and two squads were shaken on turn 1 as they crossed open ground and then hit again to cause casualty reduction. They didn’t get going again until turn 6. The whole experience was grim for the German side. Other than some luckier die rolling, I am at a loss as to what the secret is to come even close to cracking this scenario. Has anyone else had better luck with this scenario? please shout up if you have.

RESOURCES.

COMMANDERS - my sister webspace that is a bit more magazine based than here and tends to flag up what may be on the horizon for the blog. LINK
https://commanders.simdif.com/

This links to a blog article that I did some time ago showing the gun / armour system using T-34’s and a Tiger I as my able assistants! LINK
http://battlefieldswarriors.blogspot.co.uk/2013/10/lock-n-load-tiger-trials-1942.html

9 comments:

  1. Thanks, the system does give immersive play.

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  2. An exciting engagement, Norm. Was Richard awarded the VC (posthumously) for his heroics in this battle?

    I keep L&L in my eBay searches but am still confused as to which modules are needed to play the game.

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    1. Thanks Jonathan, the first editions had various expansions. The re-prints have brought the expansion into each of the base modules .... though the big expansions (Bastogne, Dark July and Hell Frozen over) remain separate, Heroes of Normany or Heroes ofthe Motherland are both good starting points.

      Heroes (as the title of the game suggests) play quite a part in the narrative nature of the designs and can be granted by scenario, but also generated in the heat of battle.

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    2. Thanks for the suggestions. I still have my recently acquired ASL Starter sets to try.

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  3. Sounds like a good cinematic style game,it does sound like a tough nut for the Germans to crack!
    Best Iain

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  4. Thanks Iain, I am like a dog with a bone with this, I will go face-to-face on Friday and see if anothers gaming style will open this scenario up for me.

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  5. I’m unfamiliar with this game but the post madeva nice read of WWII action.
    Now I’m off to watch band of brothers. 😀

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  6. Thanks Stew - it is very Band of Brotherey ish game. :-)

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